The Gopher King: Chapter 21

The Viceroy had some longstanding defensive spells already in place, so it was just a matter of brushing up on some of his more terrifying offensive magic. It was well after midnight when he was ready to make his move, and he did so in spectacular style. Still in his original form the lich crept up atop the outside of the stained-glass dome. Standing on the peak of this exquisite summit he held his arms out, cast a spell, and suddenly slammed down his staff on the dome itself. There was a tremendous ear-splitting crash as the glass shattered and the Viceroy dropped to the floor three stories beneath, cushioned by levitation magic. The guards posted here reacted in shock, but they had barely time to draw a breath before the Viceroy cast another spell and snuffed it out altogether. In fact everyone within several dozen yards of the lich found themselves gasping for air as he drew all of the life from their lungs. It affected even those on other floors of the palace, who now perished without ever seeing their attacker.

A ring of green fire sprang up in a circle around the Viceroy and rose to almost ceiling height. Everything caught in it was set aflame and it obscured the lich from attacks. More soldiers rushed to the alarm being raised as the Viceroy made his way down the hallway towards where he had divined the troublemakers to be housed. These elite and dedicated guards were vaporized by the lich as he cast a powerful green fireball back down the hallway. As he strolled the Viceroy cackled with glee at the impotence of the palace defenses.

The troublemakers, true to their reputation, burst into the hallway ahead of the lich. He turned to look back before engaging them and saw both the highly ranked royal wizard and the priest he had made note of earlier. Assessing the threat the Viceroy cast one of his most powerful spells and in an instant the Fanolanian mage fell. His corpse began to molder almost immediately. The priest began to react but before he could do anything of substance the lich had cast yet another spell, draining all life from the hapless clergyman.

The Viceroy turned again to face the troublemakers and as he did so he reached down and touched the bodies of some of the guards at his feet. The newly killed soldiers began to rise anew as undead and headed back down the hall to fight anyone looking to attack the lich from behind. All of the Viceroy’s attentions were now focused on the troublemakers.

The first to leap through the flaming barricade was the ranger. The Viceroy was at once amused and surprised by this move. The undead sorcerer could tell in the man’s eyes that he knew this was a suicidal action. The swords wielded by the ranger had no enchantment and therefore could not harm the lich in any way. All it served to do was make the ranger a huge target for anything the Viceroy wished to mete out. The Lich easily deflected the slashing attacks and lashed out himself with his iron-like fingernails, leaving a gash across the ranger’s chest. Paralyzed by the lich’s attack the ranger fell back and lay stunned in the hallway.

Next was the elven rogue who leapt from her room with that nasty stiletto in her hand. Fortunately for the Viceroy her stab went a bit wild, and the lich slashed her arm, rendering her inert as well. Right behind the rogue sprang the bard and the Viceroy easily disarmed and paralyzed the half-elf. Three of the four troublemakers now lay at the lich’s mercy with no sign of the druid anyplace.

Taking a moment to take stock of the happenings around him, the Viceroy perceived that more reinforcements were coming his way. He closed his eyes and began to chant. All of the other corpses in the palace, and in fact all corpses within ten miles of the palace, began to raise up from where they lay or were buried. As one mind they began to attack any living person they encountered. This created a very potent distraction for the lich as he now shifted his attention back to the three troublemakers. One by one he stooped down and exposed their left arms, drawing blood from them into the nail of his index finger, and leaving behind a cryptic Sikilian message. He stood and looked at the three mortals crumpled at his feet.

For the first time in his memory the Viceroy felt something other than hollow rage towards a mortal obstacle. In most every other similar scenario the lich had executed his helpless prey or simply set them up for torment before their eventual demise. But there was something about these troublemakers that gave the Viceroy pause. Even as the green fires of his devastation burned and were reflected in their eyes the lich could sense a greater degree of determination in them than he had ever seen in anyone. There was no fear. No terror. He had defeated them, but they remained unbroken. These were the kind of minions he had always wanted. Strong willed and confident and determined to do things their way or die trying. Was what he was feeling respect for these otherwise weak and inferior beings?

The Viceroy wasted no more time on the idea, and instead cast the most powerful spell he had in his arsenal. The very stones of the palace began to burn with green flame, an all-consuming fire that by its’ nature could never be extinguished. To add insult to injury the lich then cast a monstrously awesome wither spell that killed every plant within a one-mile radius, turning the palace gardens into a crunchy, ugly wasteland. He laughed manically and said in his native Sikilian, “Remember me, Fanolanians! This is the rage of the Diosian Lodge!” Laughing again the lich cast a number of destructive spells down the hallways before looking back to the three troublemakers. With a small incantation he released them from their paralysis, and in the blink of an eye the Viceroy was gone.

In the wake of this unexpected assault the baffled leadership of Fanolania tried to make sense of what had happened. The royal palace of Maison de l’Iris was burning with a fire that water could not quench, undead were rampaging around the countryside, and dozens of innocent people had been slain just in the first few minutes. The troublemakers quickly gathered their wits and fled the burning palace as it began to crumble and fall apart. The King of Fanolania had not been personally harmed, but he had lost a great many of his people and the shock of the attack would certainly be felt for some time. Efforts to destroy the rampaging undead that the Viceroy had unleashed all around the area would take many days and the sense of calm and peace that Fanolanians had enjoyed for a thousand years was shattered forever.

In his small tower room the Viceroy appeared, teleporting without even a hint of error to his chair. He savored the lingering pain from the dead and dying hundreds of miles away as he ran the events over in his mind like a movie director going over the dailies from a particularly satisfying day of shooting film. There would be plenty of time for him to second-guess his actions and wonder what else he could have gotten away with, but for now he was overjoyed for the first time in untold ages. When he had finished relishing his victory he would let the night hag know the deed was done. For now he felt a little fatigued. That much spell use in such a short time had exhilarated and tired the lich. For a creature unused to the concept of tired this was a novel and disturbing feeling.

Too soon the Viceroy began thinking about the troublemakers. He might regret not killing them once and for all. It was too soon to tell. He lacked the foresight of the Patriarch of Fate to determine future events and for the most part this had never bothered him. Up until now the Viceroy had not had any long term plans all his own so exploring their viability hadn’t been an issue. Now as he sat in his wicker throne he toyed with the idea that letting the troublemakers live might cost him dearly down the road. Then he looked at his blood-spattered robes. He had drawn their blood and left his mark on them. They could be silenced, banished, killed, frozen in place, or incinerated fifty different ways at the mere thought of harm from the lich. He settled contentedly into his chair. Maybe he should have killed them. The important thing to remember was he could still kill them any time he wanted.

Then the Viceroy had an unsettling thought. Where was that meddling blind druid?

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