The Gopher King: Chapter 22

When the sun rose over Maelonbourg and Fanolania it found two countries that had been upended with a violent and traumatic event. In the great nation of Fanolania there was widespread alarm that bordered on panic at the wholly unexpected assault on the private residence of the King that had transformed the opulent palace to a smoldering ruin bathed in an eerie green fire that seemed to be inextinguishable. Uncoordinated armies of undead roamed the countryside surrounding the desecrated Maison de l’Iris and the nearby capital had sealed itself off from the threat these soulless killers presented. In the tiny country of Maelonbourg where there was little law and even less order the de facto ruler was awakened to the news that the Viceroy had returned in the wee hours and wished to speak to her. Malindra wasn’t in any mood for more bad news so she hoped that the lich had something positive and uplifting to say.

The night hag had barely settled into her makeshift throne when the lich burst into the room and declared in his booming, somewhat decrepit voice, “The deed is done. I have delivered unto the Fanolanians revenge for their meddling in the affairs of you and your sisters. As these troublemakers brought down Colldrenia’s castle in a pile of debris and rock so have I burned the palace of their king with the eternal fire of my damnation. And now they too have an undead menace to contend with.”

Malindra hadn’t fully awakened and just sat there blinking at the Viceroy. After a minute or so she slowly responded with, “And did you destroy the troublemakers? I still need them to excavate the larvae from beneath the ruins that buried my own sister.”

The Viceroy chuckled disturbingly and said, “No, I did not. But I left my mark on them, be sure of that. They will return here whether they want to or not and do exactly what I want them to do.”

Malindra leaned forward and said in her most menacing tone, “You mean what I want them to do, correct?”

The lich just stared at the night hag and replied, “You heard me. They belong to me now. There was nothing in our agreement or your negotiated deal with the Diosian Lodge that forbid me from picking up any unclaimed treasure I happened across. These adventurers are mine now.”

Malindra seethed with fury at having had her leverage yanked out from under her. She had only a tenuous hold on the individuals involved to be certain. Her ability to enter into the dreams of humans and through nightmarish torment slowly yet inevitably draw them towards their death was only effective against two of the people involved. But it was a fine place to start. Given that people prone to doing good deeds and disposed towards the weakness of compassion tended to err on the side of sacrifice for others Malindra had been all but guaranteed that the entire group would go to extraordinary lengths to prevent one or two of their own from being killed. To attempt any sort of manipulation now would bring the night hag into direct conflict with the lich she had been saddled with. This was not especially good news.

The Viceroy chuckled again and said, “I suggest you focus on the defeat suffered by your enemies and not whatever you perceive to be your own personal losses. I have proven beyond any doubt that your wrath carries weight. I have made it clear to your foes that your reach is immeasurable and that resistance to your whims is mere folly. No matter how determined or heroic they deem themselves to be there is no escaping the consequences of their meddling in Maelonbourg.”

The night hag did as the lich suggested and turned her angry thoughts towards how her opponents were now placed. The cursed wizard was right. Few options existed for anyone that stood between the night hag and her ultimate goal. Regardless of who laid claim to their bodies and souls Malindra was placed in such a way to get exactly what she wanted as long as she remained patient. Sadly it was patience that she most acutely lacked. She glared at the lich and asked, “How long until they can dig out my larvae?”

The lich stood dispassionately and gave no clues to his demeanor or state of mind. The undead were terrific at not signaling their thoughts through body language because so much of their bodies had rotted away. At last he answered, “I don’t know. Weeks perhaps.” The night hag was agitated by this response and the Viceroy held up his hand to prevent her from interrupting as he added, “But it isn’t important. You can give them time. In fact you won’t even need them. Having them here digging up the larvae might even make things worse for you.”

The night hag narrowed her gaze and she asked, “How do you mean, dread lord?”

“Given that these do-gooders can’t seem to resist a temptation to right a wrong and fight evil and all of that other ridiculous crap that mortals cling to as their justification for fouling up the schemes of greater beings, do you really want them here in the middle of your world?” the lich paused for effect while his question sat heavy in Malindra’s mind. “You know full well that if they get any whiff of a chance to do something stupid and virtuous that they will seize it. Imagine the trouble they could create by trying to free the larvae from your grasp. Or vindicate further the collapse of what used to be this country. They might even try to up the ante and avenge their own elven king’s recent humiliation. Is that what you want here? To invite trouble?”

Malindra hated the idea that the lich might actually have a valid point. Since making the acquaintance of the lich she realized that the more she listened to the Viceroy the more he made sense. It was infuriating and Malindra had begun to view the horrible creature with a grudging respect. It never made a night hag feel comfortable to realize that someone else had a keener grasp of reality than they did. It put the crone at a distinct disadvantage in the one thing that she and her ilk excelled in; sinister planning.

Malindra settled back into her chair and tapped her claws together with her elbows on the armrests. “A fair point, Viceroy. I will consider these things.”

The Viceroy didn’t leave, but instead stated almost as a seamless continuation of his previous inquiry, “As I said before, you won’t need them to uncover your larvae. I can get at your precious worms without their meddling. The question is how much attention you want to draw to your operation. If you don’t care then I can have your treasure on hand in a few days. If you want to go unnoticed then it will take longer.”

Malindra stopped tapping her claws. “How much longer?” she asked, her tone dripping with suspicion.

The lich replied, “A few weeks. Perhaps a month or more. But it is a sure thing and won’t require you to do much.”

Leaning forward again the night hag asked skeptically, “And what will it cost me?”

Chuckling with wicked glee the Viceroy answered, “One hundred more larvae in addition to my allotment and those promised to inflict your vengeance.”

Malindra scowled and asked, “What else will I need to do?”

The Viceroy chuckled again and said, “Live without me for a few days. I have a matter to attend to before we commence with burrowing for your accursed larvae. When I return we will begin in earnest.”

Malindra sat back again into her chair and asked scornfully, “Just where do you plan on going?”

The Viceroy would have smiled had he been capable of it and replied simply, “I’m going to go see a dragon about some badgers.”

Previous ChapterNext Chapter