The Gopher King: Chapter 16

This wasn’t on the agenda for the evening’s festivities when the Marquis had decided to celebrate the achievements of his most popular recurring guests; a band of thrill seekers from the nearby Fanolanian town of Jivet-au-Marruse. They weren’t anything like their generous host. But then again the Marquis was a unique man in a region swarming with curious individuals.

Devious Maximus was a cambion, a rare and dangerous hybrid of human and demon. His primary attribute was his staggeringly ugly appearance; he had small black scales in place of skin, spiky white hair, and ears more pointed than any elf. His mouth had the appearance of some feral beast’s toothy maw filled with sharp pointy teeth ideal for tearing meat and inspiring fear. He wore heavy armor at all times and had a flowing cape that he seemed to employ more for theatrical purposes than any real functionality. Malindra knew the Marquis from centuries earlier when he had been just another petty assassin in the ranks of the demons in the outer planes. When Malindra and her sisters had found themselves in this place so far removed from their home it was the Marquis that had prevented their easy return to the Gray Wastes. He had seemed to make it his mission in life to make their existence a living hell with his ridiculous plots and schemes. Had he just played along with them the Marquis could have found himself a staggeringly fearsome lord in his native land of the Abyss but instead he was a self-proclaimed lord over gnomes and thrill-seekers.

Malindra smiled evilly at the reaction her appearance had provoked from Devious Maximus. She stood in the center of the room and took a look around at her surroundings before speaking. There was a polka band along one side of the room comprised entirely of gnomes, and a dozen or so tables set up haphazardly in the room to allow for dancing should the mood strike. When she did talk Malindra spoke directly to the Marquis who sat uneasily upon his throne. “I apologize for disrupting your little soiree, your lordship. But I have come to deliver a message to some people I believe you are associated with.”

The tension in the room was palpable, and while Malindra locked her gaze on the Marquis her companion the Viceroy took closer stock of the other prominent people in the room. There was a human male that carried himself as a man of the wilderness, perhaps a ranger. A blind woman who looked to be some sort of shaman or druid. An elven maiden that had the look of a rogue about her. A half-elven woman that looked to be some sort of minstrel. These were definitely the guests of honor. There were two dark elves, an elderly man and a much younger woman. There was also two orcish warriors standing on either side behind the Marquis’ throne, either of which could have been the swamp orc with shapeshifting abilities. The Viceroy knew already the names of the four main guests thanks to the information provided to him. And while he didn’t know for sure which of the jors were to be blamed for bringing about Colldrenia’s demise it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to punish them both just to be sure. It wasn’t going to be a particularly difficult task to crush all of those that had infuriated the night hag to whom he was in partial service to. But he wasn’t going to do the job for free.

The Marquis smiled broadly, and Malindra thought she saw a hint of nervousness in the man’s almost manic attempt to seem unconcerned as he exclaimed, “I’ve no earthly notion what you are talking about!”

As if on cue a huge banner behind the Marquis’ throne dropped down with the words “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” scrawled giddily across it. Without missing a beat the Marquis deadpanned, “That’s for something else. Not this. Something different.” A general feeling of horror and foreboding fell upon the assembled guests as they sense the anger welling up in Malindra.

Doing her level best to keep her fury from boiling over Malindra said through clenched teeth, “You tell those responsible for my sister’s death that they owe me a favor unless they want me to come after them. I can kill two of them in their sleep at any time I choose, and they full well know it. If they don’t want me coming after them then they need to figure out a way to unearth that which is mine from beneath the ruins of the castle in Maelonbourg. They tore it down, now they can damn well clean it up!”

The Marquis giggled nervously and said in his whiny upbeat voice, “I’ll be sure to pass that along.” This was par for the course for the Marquis. Whatever he appeared to be, or how clownish his antics, he never showed a sign of fear or actual concern. He would frequently feign such things for comedic effect, but his audience consisted primarily of himself. If others found it amusing it was even better but for the most part Devious Maximus was his own biggest fan, and he thought himself hilarious beyond comparison. From what source his courage emanated wasn’t widely known, but he was one person who knew how to giggle in the face of danger.

Malindra knew quite well the strength that the Marquis possessed inside this confusing and ridiculous castle. Even if she wanted to unleash her fury here it would do her no good. She looked up at the dome over this room and noted the dozen or so grinning gargoyles poised around the inside edge staring down at her. She turned to leave, and the Viceroy followed along behind her, still in his role as dutiful lackey. As she stormed from the room she yelled over her shoulder to the Marquis, “You be sure to let them know. And if any of them need to be reminded of my wrath I can arrange that as well.” With that the two villains took their leave of the throne room and made their way out of the labyrinthine corridors and halls of Castle Cambion. The guards gave them both plenty of room and soon enough the night hag and the lich found themselves across the drawbridge and in the wildly forested countryside around the castle.

“Why didn’t you just incinerate the fools?” hissed the Viceroy. “In all likelihood I would have backed you up.”

Malindra stopped dead in her tracks and stared in disbelief at the lich. “First of all, I wouldn’t do anything with an assurance that weak of having your help. Secondly, the Marquis is by any reckoning a buffoon, but in his own domain he commands more power than he lets on. He is of demon stock and isn’t as easy to slap around as you might think.”

The Viceroy shook his head. Centuries of being among the most powerful entities in the known world had jaded the lich. He didn’t have a clear consideration of anyone being able to best him in any contest worth engaging in with the possible exception of his Diosian peers. To him everyone was an annoyance and could be dealt with accordingly. The Viceroy’s existence could best be viewed as a series of noisome interruptions to his peace and solitude.

“So you are going to wait for them to leave this gnome-infested sanctuary to get your revenge?” the Viceroy asked.

Malindra shook her head and walked impatiently through the underbrush of the forest. “Not if they dig out the larvae. Somebody has to do it and it sure won’t be me.” She broke off small branches in her hands as she walked and said, “And if I want to exact revenge for my sister’s death it will have to be put aside for now at any rate. I need to think of something suitable. Killing a bunch of would-be heroes isn’t heavy-handed enough. I want to make more of a statement to those that they serve.”

The Viceroy asked, “And why are we fighting our way through this overgrown forest instead of just flying over it?”

Malindra stopped again and turned to glare at the Viceroy. “I don’t know, you infuriating creature. I am dealing with some anger and need to think of my next move.”

The Viceroy just stared at her and replied, “Can’t you do that at your rundown winery?”

The night hag visibly shook with bottled rage. “The idea was to calm down before going back so that those damned hobgoblins don’t see any weakness in me!”

Unable to blink for comedic effect the Viceroy said quietly, “You could snap a hobgoblin in half and feast on his heart to deliver a message that you aren’t to be trifled with.”

Malindra paused and looked at the Viceroy thoughtfully. “Yeah, ok. Let’s do that.”

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