The Gopher King: Chapter 19

The Viceroy flitted around the town all night long waiting for the people he was spying upon to arise and resume their journey. He was quite fed up with trying to understand what was being said and so he contented himself with seeing what he could learn just by watching. As it turned out he was learning quite a lot.

There was only one wizard in this town and from the looks of him the Viceroy surmised he didn’t pose any sort of threat. Likewise neither did the town’s meager militia. The only actual force to be reckoned with in this backwater cesspool of a place happened to be the people passing through it. The Viceroy could tell that the elderly dark elven man was a powerful archmage or had been at one point before slipping into full-blown dementia. The secrets tucked away inside this fellow’s brain made the Viceroy hunger to learn more. Somehow this drow elven sorcerer had found a way to create ghouls that were then able to create more ghouls. A self-replicating assault force that could grow into an army with alarming speed. What other forbidden magicks did this man once know?

The younger dark elven woman who was accompanying the former archmage was masquerading as just a simple woman on a trip with her grandfather. But the lich suspected she wasn’t any kin of the archmage, nor was she just a simple woman. There was an air about her that reeked of necromancy and other dark arts. She was in the surface world now and it was understandable that she would need to disguise her true abilities but the lengths she was going to baffled even the Viceroy in their complexity. There was more to her game, the lich was sure of it, but to what extent it would affect him remained unknown.

More intriguing to the Viceroy were the people he had begun to think of as “the troublemakers.” This unlikely set of friends seemed to be led for all intents and purposes by the ranger, Xan. It was evident to the Viceroy that he wasn’t the smartest member of the group, but he was by far the more purposeful and driven. He seemed to be the first of the gang to offer an opinion and it was inevitable that the rest of the gang would end up following his lead. The more careful and thoughtful member of the group was the rogue, an elven woman named Joss. The Lich sensed in her a great anger and pain that she kept locked deep in her heart. This dark motivation appealed to the Viceroy and he toyed with how he might be able to use it to his advantage. Joss was also the most violent and carried a stiletto that carried with it a powerful dweomer.

The most passionate and impulsive of the troublemakers was Nessa the bard. She was a half elf and was both loud and cheerful. The Viceroy hated her more than he could ever articulate. Everything she was served as an insult to the lich and what he believed in. There was something about her though that drew people towards her. Charisma perhaps was one answer, but the sheer force of her personality should have driven people away not bring them closer. The enigma of it all annoyed the Viceroy. Lastly was the blind druid, a human woman named Selena. She possessed a magic scimitar that was quite out of place in this setting and a staff that seemed to permit open communication via a magical enchantment. And despite being blind the druid had some sort of innate ability to sense spirits around her. The Viceroy had to be remarkably careful not to give himself away to her. Even in the guise of a small bird he would be identifiable to the druid as a much more dangerous entity if she focused her attention on him. This woman could easily pose the greatest threat to the Viceroy especially if she caught him out in the open where her elemental and weather spells could do the most harm.

It took four days for the troublemakers and their accompanying retinue to make their way to Avondace. They had picked up an additional person in that first town, too; an elderly elf who seemed to the Viceroy to just be an old man on his way to the elven afterlife. The lich surmised that this was what the activity was all about. The dark elves were being ushered into the afterlife after untold eons of being confined to the murky world of the underdark. This notion was borne out by the tremendous reception that the troublemakers were given at every stop along the way. It was as if the dark elves were celebrities of the highest order. Every time the troublemakers stopped, even briefly, they were surrounded by curious people and well-wishers. Nobles and aristocrats elbowed their way to the drow elves to see them with their own eyes, the first of their kind to travel freely in Fanolania for many millennia.

All along the way the Viceroy was struck by the size and vibrancy of Fanolania. There was no comparison between this vast kingdom and the small, almost petty domains of the Diosian Lodge liches. Even in its most glorious condition the ancient land of Karinthia, once possessed by the Viceroy, could not compare to the portion of Fanolania he was now seeing. There seemed to be no end to the lush farms and fertile landscapes. Everywhere were villages and towns, and the cities the troublemakers passed through were opulent and overflowing with commerce and industry. The sheer numbers of people overwhelmed the Viceroy’s senses. If the Diosian Lodge ever found itself at war with this formidable power they would have a fight on their hands the likes of which the Viceroy felt his peers would be unable to fathom. Especially if the lich lords failed to rally around one another in mutual defense. Should they act as they had acted all along, serving only their own self-interests and not caring if their fellow lodge members were vanquished or slaughtered, then the Diosians would meet their final end. The Viceroy had clung to his bitterness over his own defeat for centuries. Had his brethren come to his rescue he would still rule in Karinthia. Another scheme began to take shape in the black and soulless heart of the lich.

If he were to strike the Fanolanians as a revenge for the death of Colldrenia, it was likely that they would rally and seek to strike back at Malindra, precisely as she feared. But that was only true if they knew Malindra was behind such an attack. And it would take time for the mortals of this land to get such a counterattack into motion. By the time it had enough steam to be a viable threat the night hag would be long gone, and again it might not even occur to them that she had anything to do with it. Where then would the Fanolanians naturally vent their fury? If the only known culprit was a well-known and established member of the Diosian Lodge then they would seek to strike back at them. Here is where things got interesting. The Viceroy was adept at hiding for no better reason than he had no place to hole up at that was truly his. The lich could be literally anyplace and the Fanolanians, drunk on their own anger and rage, would lash out at any of the Sikilian Confederation, or perhaps at all of them in an effort to end the threat of the lich lords once and for all.

Should things happen this way the Viceroy would find himself in the possession of a vast collection of larvae all to himself and safely out of harm’s way as the clashing worlds of mortals and undead smashed against one another. But the Viceroy would have to make his move carefully. Any attack he delivered against the wealthy and powerful country of Fanolania would have to consist of the most potent and dramatic magic he had. The Viceroy couldn’t just knock over a castle and be done with it. There would have to be horror and plenty of it. Something monumental. Something devastating and enduring. He had to leave a proper mark and make no mistakes. If one took a swing at the king, he best not miss.

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