The Gopher King: Chapter 20

Along the way to the capital of Fanolania the Viceroy conducted a number of tests to see how well prepared the people of this land were for magical attacks. It was dismaying to discover that the clergy in Fanolania were better prepared than their counterparts in Forkanza, a peninsula right across a small sea from Sikilia, in combatting the undead. For centuries the bulk of the clerics and priests that had opposed the power of the Diosian Lodge had been from Forkanza and they had been proven woefully ill-suited to the task. There was greater power in the Fanolanian Church, though. This was evident in both the number and quality of the clergy as well as the surprisingly high number of paladins scattered about the countryside.

There were some encouraging developments for the Viceroy as well. He found that few places had wards against magical trespass, either to prevent teleportation or to foil attempts to enter an area while polymorphed. Oddly the strongest defenses in these areas were focused on the cathedrals of the larger cities. While it did interest the Viceroy that these places were off limits to him in his best disguises it didn’t render them completely off limits. Using illusionary magic he would be able to slip past these wards. There were precious few places the lich encountered that had any sort of magical alarm system to alert guards to the use of illusions. This created a number of opportunities for the Viceroy to create all manner of havoc without getting himself directly involved with a confrontation.

As the troublemakers travelled their group grew in numbers. More of what appeared to be royal guards began to tag along as did a growing retinue of wealthy landowners and their retainers. Unable to understand their language without the use of magic the Viceroy was prevented from joining in as one of them. It would have been advantageous to the lich to be able to freely associate with everyone in the guise of a minor noble using polymorph and illusion, but he was forced to remain in an animal form to remain unnoticed. The lich kept his attention on the troublemakers and while he couldn’t understand their words he could at least know where they were at any given time.

This lasted until the troublemakers arrived at an impressive fortress in the center of Avondace. The hulking series of structures dominated an island in the middle of a large river that ran through the city, and the next largest building on the island was a gargantuan cathedral. Both buildings had extensive magical wards to thwart any attempt to infiltrate them. Even in the form of a small bird the Viceroy found it impossible to get closer than one hundred feet to the fortress. He discovered he could land on the cathedral, but entry therein was impossible even through the smallest opening. The Viceroy changed form to that of a common pigeon and found a place in the great square between the castle and cathedral to keep watch for the troublemakers exiting the fortification. This place must be the heart of the government in Fanolania to justify such extraordinary precautions. The Viceroy couldn’t even begin to scry the interior of the place to try and pinpoint the location of the troublemakers.

The wait was almost more than the lich could handle. It was one thing to wait for days or weeks or even longer in the silent solitude of a dungeon or other out of the way hiding place, but quite another to have to wait surrounded by living people and creatures wandering about chattering and being a nuisance. The dim green glow in the eyes of the freakishly unmoving pigeon was the only indication that something wasn’t altogether right, and while the other pigeons sensed this oddity and gave the Viceroy a wide berth it wasn’t apparently obvious to anyone else. The one tip off that this pigeon wasn’t normal was that it didn’t poop. Even in this form the Viceroy had no need for food and thus no ability to defecate. Not that he didn’t want to. The lich sat in the square for what seemed like an eternity all the while wanting to crap on everything and everyone just out of spite.

Finally the troublemakers emerged from the castle and surrounded by an even greater number of guards, dignitaries, and what appeared to be servants they made their way out of the city and into the countryside to the west. Reverting back to his small greenfinch form the lich followed along dutifully, watching for any form of weakness. There was none. In fact, there was now in the group a human wizard who exhibited formidable powers and carried with him some sort of ward against magical scrying. There was also a priest who by their mere presence was enough to give the Viceroy pause in approaching too closely. These were no mere charlatans going through the motions to justify their jobs and titles. These were dangerous men that needed to be taken seriously.

The travelers arrived a few hours later at a magnificent palace in the middle of extensive gardens. It was the sort of thing you would expect the wealthiest elven king in the continent of Partum to possess. Satisfied that this was where the troublemakers were going to be for a time the Viceroy flittered about taking stock of the situation. There were plenty of guards here and several barracks to suggest more were available in a crisis. The lich conducted a few tests on the main palace itself to see what cracks might be found in whatever magical defenses the place had.

This was not a defensive location, and aside from the soldiers splendidly attired and equipped there were no significant walls or battlements to man. One wing of this chateau, easily the largest such palace the Viceroy had ever seen, was heavily warded with magical defenses to prevent trespass or scrying. Even illusions would be stripped away as wax from a candle if they attempted to pass. But in the remaining portion of the sprawling and luxurious building there were few such provisions. The lich thought long about this and arrived at the only conclusion he could; there were no wards on this part of the palace because there might well be cause for the powers that be to want to spy upon the people that were staying here. This led the Viceroy to surmise that the unwarded portion would be where the guests and servants stayed. This might even be where the troublemakers were.

There was a large round atrium three stories tall connecting what the Viceroy assumed to be the royal residence to the guest and servant quarters. It was capped by a magnificent stained-glass dome. Perching here, the Viceroy did a quick survey using some basic scrying methods. He located three of the troublemakers easily, but the druid was nowhere to be found. This perplexed and infuriated the Viceroy. She should have been with the others. He wasn’t keen to lose this chance to provoke a potential fight between the Fanolanians and the Diosian Lodge and he really wanted to make sure he had all four of the troublemakers in his sights when it happened. Night was beginning to creep across the landscape and he knew that he had to decide quickly what he wanted to do.

As the people in the palace went about their nightly routine and the guests of all descriptions headed for bed the Viceroy settled on a course of action. He would strike tonight, after midnight, and take all that he could from whatever victims were offered. In the dark he flew down behind a decorative parapet and transformed into his true self. He pulled out his spellbooks and began to study them carefully. It was time to lock and load.

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