The Gopher King: Chapter 15

The Viceroy had discovered more than he had bargained for and in a relatively short period of time. Here on out he wouldn’t need to be anywhere near Zedem Malroy in order to get information from him as long as the gnome didn’t do anything to raise an alarm. The lich commanded the gnome via telepathy to bind the wounds on his forearm and to keep them bound and out of sight. He then instructed the cleric to be prepared for further instructions at a later date, and warned him, needlessly as it turned out, to not try and resist or confound the lich. With that the lich took the form of the hobby again and flew with great haste back to the heart of Maelonbourg.

Alighting on the top of the winery tower the Viceroy transformed again into his normal form. The normally taciturn fiend wanted to tell Malindra what he had found out and resume his work. But it was now up to Malindra how to proceed. It delighted the lich to uncover information and while it encouraged him to seek out more it was merely for the sake of doing so and not for the sake of any greater accomplishment. While the Viceroy could see himself benefitting from all of this nonsense further down the road it remained that he didn’t truly care about Malindra or her sisters. He was looking forward to his larval prize and had begun to contemplate grander plans, but these things were still in a developmental stage.

In order to not cause outrageous chaos the Viceroy opted to again assume wraith form as he went looking for Malindra in the winery. It was still daylight out and the night hag couldn’t be found anyplace. The lich focused his energies and finally he located her in what was once the master bedroom of the vintner that had originally owned this place. Hobgoblins were on guard outside of her room and were only vaguely aware of the specter-like lich as he slipped through the cracks in the door and reformed at the foot of the night hag’s bed. The lich stood silently watching Malindra sleep. He was tempted to awaken her just to anger the night hag but chose instead to insinuate himself into her dreams instead.

For her part Malindra was enjoying her rest when she became aware of the lich in her dream. This was ultimately more angering than if the undead horror had awakened her. Malindra forced herself awake and sat bolt upright as she glared at the Viceroy standing in her room.

Her eyes glowed like hot coals as she asked in a most demanding tone, “What are you doing in here, disturbing my rest?”

The Viceroy replied solemnly, “I found out who killed your sister. A group of adventurers that do occasional jobs for the Marquis of Chute de l’Ombre. If you want them, they are at Castle Cambion.”

Malindra blinked and despite her anger began to smile menacingly. “Do you have their names? Are any of them human?”

The Viceroy shifted his staff from one hand to the other and said, “Yes and yes. Two of them are human in fact.”

The night hag rubbed her gnarled hands together. “This is excellent news. We must go at once to Castle Cambion. What payment would you demand to pretend to be merely a lesser companion to me?”

The lich thought about it for a minute before answering, “I need a green stone for the end of my staff. Something large and worthy of enchanting.”

Malindra got out of bed and went to a chest she kept in the corner of her room. Digging about inside she fished out a sort of tourmaline that was roughly the size of a small chicken egg. She turned and held it out to the Viceroy. “Will this do?”

Taking the stone in his free hand, the Viceroy chuckled ominously. “This will do nicely, witch. I’ll be ready to travel in a few hours.” With that the lich returned to wraith form and he left the hag’s room and returned to his tower loft. Once there he gleefully set about placing the stone into the end of the golden staff, using magic to wind the metal around the tourmaline as a net would hold an egg. The Viceroy paused to admire his handiwork before going back down the stairs in wraith form again to await the hag in front of the old winery complex.

The night hag set about yelling orders to her hobgoblins and prepared for her journey to Chute de l’Ombre. She wasn’t going to be gone long, but she was going to need things to keep moving while she was gone. Castle Cambion was the heart of the enemy as far as she was concerned. Devious Maximus was a fiend in his own right and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Malindra was determined though to get some measure of revenge on those that had set her plans so far awry as to be completely rethought. The night hag set her heart to what kind of revenge she could exact to even the score with these adventurers and the Marquis. She would need to know more about them and the trip to Chute de l’Ombre would give her a chance to find out what else the Viceroy had discovered.

Malindra finally exited the manor of the winery to find the Viceroy standing as patient as a scarecrow a few dozen yards from the complex. The malevolent duo each polymorphed themselves into crows and flew quickly through the afternoon sky to the wildly wooded mess that was Chute de l’Ombre. On the way the two of them communicated via a telepathic link established by the Viceroy. He filled the night hag in on the names of the thrill seekers she now categorized as enemies, and the fact that whatever the tapestry had represented to Colldrenia it was now in the hands of the dark elves. He also hinted that he had a source of information within the Marquis’ domain that could prove useful in the future. Malindra wanted some way to make these ne’er-do-wells suffer for her loss and general inconvenience and the Viceroy did little to ease her indignation. Instead he quietly took pleasure in her misery and plotted how he might use this preoccupation of hers to his own advantage. It may yet turn out that the mortals in this little drama could provide the Viceroy with something significantly grander than mere momentary amusement.

The hag and lich flew into the densely forested land of Chute de l’Ombre and made their way directly to Castle Cambion. It was evident even from a distance that the place was embroiled in celebration. The two sinister creatures transformed out of their bird forms; Malindra took her favored form of a ravishingly beautiful human woman with purple hair and the Viceroy took the guise of a withered human man. His disguise was not quite fully a lich in appearance to avoid creating a panic among the denizens of this place because such a reaction was not what he was being paid for. It was sufficiently horrifying to give those present an idea as to what they were up against, but his job was to be more scenery than substance. He affected a slightly stooped appearance to indicate great age and suggest weakness. This last bit was to give any potential enemies a false sense of security. As fearsome as the Viceroy was he found it advantageous to keep his opponents, and oftentimes his allies, off balance as to how strong he really was. Malindra walked towards the main gate of the castle, striding determinedly across the lowered drawbridge towards the gnomish guards who were just now reacting to the presence of these two trespassers. The Viceroy fell in behind her, using his staff to suggest a feebleness that he didn’t truly possess.

The guards at the gate sounded the alarm and displayed no fear as they set their weapons against the night hag and her aged companion. Malindra held out her hands in s how of peace and said, “Stand aside, little ones. I come in peace to seek an audience with your master, but if you insist on impeding me I will rend the flesh from your bones and devour you here and now.” Her voice dripped with a calm threatening tone that gave the gnomes pause. Malindra didn’t slow her pace or stop. Clasping her hands in front of her she said, “I order you to stand aside.”

The gargoyles that sat in ornamentation all over the castle seemed to watch disapprovingly as the gnomes assigned to prevent intruders from entering instead not only allowed these trespassers to come in but actually led them to the central hall in which the Marquis held court. There was no quick and easy pathway to this place, and Malindra and the Viceroy did their best to mask their frustration. It was as if a lunatic had designed the labyrinth of passages and staircases in this palace and hired a team of barely functional simpletons suffering from dysfunctional spatial awareness to assemble it all from mismatched parts of older castles. A cacophony of sounds assaulted the senses as music of differing styles and volume seemed to compete for supremacy. And everywhere were the gargoyles, frozen in stone and watching everything silently. They were above doors, along the tops of pillars supporting roof arches, and in carved niches high along the walls. It was grotesque and a strange juxtaposition from the otherwise innocuous gnomes that seemed to infest this oddly thrown together palace.

When at last the night hag and her allegedly decrepit companion were shown into the throne room, they were thrust into the heart of a party celebrating the exploits of a troupe of adventurers. The music ground to a halt as Malindra strode into the center of the room, the Viceroy right behind her at a respectful distance. The lord of this land sat upon his throne and gave an audible groan as Malindra came into view.

“Aw, crap.” Said the Marquis of Chute de l’Ombre.

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