The Gopher King: Chapter 8

Malindra held her head up defiantly as the rain pummeled down. She pulled her hood up and stared at the tiny green lights in the Viceroy’s eye sockets. The rainwater washed over the lich as it would an old decaying tree and had about as much effect on him. Malindra had dealt with undead in the past. As they might say in Chute de l’Ombre, this wasn’t her first day at the fair. But she had never encountered anything in this plane as confident and outright terrifying as this monstrosity. Liches were almost always arrogant to a fault, but this was altogether different. If she had to classify it as something she would have called it reckless. The Viceroy was reckless to challenge the power of a night hag. But it paid off. Malindra was for the first time in her long existence scared of something. Scared enough to do as he commanded.

She did her best to keep her voice strong, and in doing so she managed to get it to sound human again. “You have the power, my lord. You have the power.” The rain continued unabated even as undead hobgoblins continued to gather around and silently fall into formation.

The Viceroy laughed again and lowered his hands to his side. The rain suddenly stopped, and the clouds overhead dissipated as quickly as they had gathered. The sky remained dark but it was late in the day now so that was to be anticipated. “Remember that, night hag. If you want me to play the role of subservient lackey, then it will cost you. If you require my assistance to divine what happened here, that will cost you too. So dig deep and figure out what it is worth and how you intend to pay.”

Malindra looked around and held her arms up to illustrate what was around them. “Anything I can claim of value is buried under all of this.” She gritted her teeth at this turn of events. “It has to be excavated. All of this rubble has to be moved to even get at the dungeons beneath the foundation of the castle.”

Looking around at the devastated city, the Viceroy rubbed his skeletal-like hands together. “It is an impressive display of sorcerous power.” He said somewhat offhandedly. “This level of carnage and destruction is rarely seen anymore. This is either the work of a wizard intent on proving themselves, or…” and his voice trailed off, realizing he risked helping the night hag without having secured proper compensation.

Her dark eyes burned with hatred as Malindra fought to keep her composure. “Or what?” she said through clenched teeth. “Do you have an idea who did this?”

The Viceroy looked at Malindra and said, “I will know soon. I will divine all that has occurred here. You worry about how to pay for that information.” With that the Viceroy turned and noiselessly made his way around the perimeter of the immense fallen castle to round up the rest of the undead hobgoblins. As he went he wordlessly set the ghoulish army into five smaller groups. Their orders were to protect the ruins from any further intrusion. Malindra pulled her hood so that it nearly covered her face and set about to investigate the rest of the city or at least what remained of it.

Once he had gathered all of the available monstrosities and formed them up into neat and tidy ranks as a child would organize his toy soldiers, the Viceroy began to closely study these creatures. With the keen practiced eye of a professional, the lich utilized all of his tools as a necromancer to diagnose what precisely these horrors were and how they might have been formed. He picked one of them at random and had it lay down on a sizeable boulder that had once been integral to the castle’s construction. As a doctor would conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death the lich began deciphering the clues as to the cause of undeath.

Pulling an ornate dagger with tiny emeralds inset on the handle from a pocket within his robes, the Viceroy began to make incisions in different places on the ghoul’s body. There was much to be learned from this unnatural creation. The Viceroy hadn’t encountered anything like this in his dealings with undead, and soon the lich found himself enthralled with the complexity and beauty of how the hobgoblin had been transformed into this new identity. The entire time that he poked and prodded the creature the lich communicated via telepathy with it. There was more of a sentience here, albeit dwindling. The creature could answer moderately detailed questions even about things it experienced in its mortal life. Oblivious to all else the Viceroy picked at the clues it was finding and when all had been discovered, he delightedly severed the creature’s head and put an end to its existence. The research project had proved wonderfully illuminating.

The undead so meticulously arranged by the Viceroy had been created by a diabolical spell of nearly unspeakable evil. What precisely it was had yet to be determined, but the lich was duly impressed by the breadth and scope of the magic. This was a dark enchantment of one of the highest magnitudes. Once cast the spell transformed a living being instantly into something like a ghoul, the loathsome undead known primarily for feasting on carcasses that they dig up in cemeteries and graveyards. These creations were different in that they could pass their affliction on to other living creatures if they managed to kill their living targets. These newly slain corpses would then rise and begin seeking out more victims to continue the cycle. It was so sinister and utterly obscene that the possibility being able to replicate this spell gave the lich a thrill of excitement. This was the kind of magic that could turn an enemy upon itself in a heartbeat and create a cascading effect of sheer carnage.

As well-versed in tracking magical sources as the Viceroy was it was still perplexing to him who or what cast this spell. His first inclination was that only a human could have woven this magic, but there were too many elements suggesting that it was dark elven in origin. The drow elves were known to dabble in the blasphemous necromantic arts but this was a far more impressive and potent spell than dark elves were normally given credit for. That meant that whoever crafted this malediction were themselves a studied and remarkable individual. There was evidence of there having been a mystical amplifier for the magic, too. And not just one, either. The spellcaster had utilized the enhancing properties of two, or maybe even three creatures capable of boosting magical energy. There were no signs suggesting that an artifact or relic was employed but ample evidence that living beings had helped to increase the magic cast dramatically.

Amplifiers also explained the amount of destruction caused in the bringing down of the castle. However the use of multiple creatures to boost a spellcaster’s potency raised more questions than it answered. The Viceroy knew of no instance in which a wizard could harness the abilities of multiple magnifiers. On the rare occasion that he had been able to use such resources the lich had only been able to use a single entity. The lich found himself forming a begrudging respect for whoever had cast these spells.

Finding out what amplification sources the spellcaster had used would be tricky because unlike determining the source of a spell it was nigh unto impossible to figure out what had lent a modifying element to the spell. This was because magic being heightened through a living creature’s influence did not take on any aspect of the creature doing the magnifying. The only way that the Viceroy could determine the exact nature of the magicks that had been cast was to interrogate one of the undead in greater detail, or else find a corpse in all of this rubble which he could then use as a conduit to probe for information from any lingering spirits. The Viceroy was curious about what had happened for his own reasons, but he wasn’t going to do any further delving unless Malindra either ponied up some method of recompense or else he happened to stumble across more information just poking around the surface of these ruins. Even so it was going to cost the night hag dearly to ever find out anything he had discovered. The lich was only superficially aware that it was getting dark thanks to his undead sight. He was capable of doing mundane activities for literally years on end if need be.

As the Viceroy did his grisly investigative work Malindra wandered through the rubble-strewn streets of the city and made her way back towards the decrepit winery on the little hill to the south. She was disturbed by everything that she had seen. What bothered her more than the Viceroy, and there was plenty to be bothered about when it came to the Viceroy, was that Malindra had a terribly strong feeling that her sister Colldrenia was dead. The sisters had never been that close because they were night hags after all. Night hags were not what anyone would classify as social creatures. But living in exile in this horrible plane had cemented a bond between Malindra and Colldrenia that had otherwise not existed. And now Malindra felt alone. She had no idea where her other sister, Tragallia, even was. For all she knew Tragallia was dead too. Without knowing what had happened Malindra was feeling aimless and angry. She needed something to focus her rage on.

There was some activity around the winery and Malindra headed straight for it as the sun set. The Viceroy wasn’t the only one that could figure things out. She might not have his store of magical spells, but she had her tricks.

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