The Gopher King: Chapter 23

In preparation for his next manipulation the Viceroy spent some quality time with his spellbooks and did his best to shut out the noise that filtered in from beyond his tower room. He took one of the well-worn books from his collection and with the patience of an undead terror with no sense of hurry proceeded to read it from cover to cover. It was a fascinating treatise written by one of the former Diosian Lodge members, a lich who had excelled in the field of magical research. Long ago that particular lich, who had gone by the title of “the Clinician of the Abyss”, had been vanquished but their writings lived on, an eternal testament to the enduring allure of evil.

This particular book dealt with the transformation from mortal being to lich. But there was a twist. This treatise was an exploration in turning a magical being, not merely a wizard or priest, into a lich-like entity. In this new form the creature would retain all of its previous powers as well as gain ungodly additional strengths of an undead terror. Specifically the book talked about transforming a dragon into a dracolich. There was perhaps no more potent machine for causing mayhem and death than this notion. Ever since coming into ownership of this book the Viceroy had admired the work that the Clinician of the Abyss had gone to. It was a thorough work and contained a number of relevant examples to support the overall thesis that turning a dragon into a nightmarish undead mockery of its true and remarkable self was the surest way for anyone to increase their own powerbase a hundred-fold. Having a dragon ally was a wonderful thing for anyone seeking to keep their opponents at bay; how much more would they be feared if the dragon was an undead vassal utterly loyal to the will of its creator?

This was the seductive idea that the Viceroy now entertained with some serious consideration. Zedem Malroy had been kind enough to inform the lich of the existence of an evil dragon not far distant and ever since that revelation the Viceroy had pondered one of two options. The first was to make a move towards shifting his territorial goals to taking over the little state of Forêt Verte and using the green dragon either in its natural form or as a dracolich to secure his hold and to allow him a greater measure of security. The second option was to transform the green dragon into a dracolich and then use it to build up Forêt Verte as a base from which to launch raids and conquests while the Viceroy remained hidden in Maelonbourg someplace to do his planning. Between himself and the dracolich there would be devastation enough to see the Viceroy capable of conquering a number of the wretched Wenigzustand, these so-called “little states” that could hardly be expected to defend themselves from the dual onslaught from a lich and their dracolich vassal. The details of his schemes had yet to be fleshed out fully, but the Viceroy thought it promising enough to begin his move to secure the alliance of the green dragon to initiate a grander plan.

While he had been reading the Viceroy had lost track of time. When he had fully readied himself to travel it was nearing sunset. With no regard to what day this would have been the lich transformed into an owl and flew from his tower towards the west and Forêt Verte. He would need to scope out the landscape and get his bearings before trying to approach the green dragon. As long as he didn’t present himself as a potential threat there shouldn’t be much of an issue. The lich made tremendously good time and it was well before the sun rose that the Viceroy had crossed over the chaotic land of Chute de L’Ombre and discovered himself in a much more orderly realm. It too was heavily forested, but there was far less underbrush and the trees here were both larger and healthier. Green dragons were renowned for their love of forests, but this degree of tidiness couldn’t possibly be attributed solely to the work of a dragon. There was the distinct possibility that the druid that hung out with the troublemakers was behind this ideal example of a wooded land. Abundant wildlife existed here, and the Viceroy could choose any number of animal forms to blend in while he scouted.

He chose the form of a raven and continued scouring the landscape. All day he crisscrossed Forêt Verte taking note of anything that seemed out of the ordinary. He found a small area that resembled a kind of grotto that had been crafted by weaving trees together and merging them with natural rock. It was too small to house a dragon and the totems around the perimeter of the grotto marked it as the home of a shaman. This then would be who was tending to the dragon’s forest with such dedication.

In the center of Forêt Verte was a hillock covered in towering trees. On the top of the hillock and right in the middle was a cleared area. The grass here had been well trampled and even a cursory glance told the Viceroy that this is where the green dragon did the bulk of its resting. There were no signs of any towns anyplace in Forêt Verte but there looked to be a handful of villages in which frog people, or bullywugs, lived. They had totems in their villages that indicated to the Viceroy that they didn’t just serve the green dragon but worshipped it. There were no villages close to the hillock and the lich surmised that this was because the dragon appreciated privacy.

The lack of civilization was a recent development in Forêt Verte. To the north, not far from what the Viceroy identified as the dragon’s hillock, were some ruins of an ancient town. The lich supposed that this had once been a frontier outpost of the old Imperium and when that had collapsed this town had been abandoned.

The Viceroy continued his flight and finally spotted the green dragon soaring high in the air along the northeastern border of Forêt Verte. Beyond this was a drab, ravaged landscape not too different from Maelonbourg. Vegetation was sparse and in the distance there were buildings made to look cruel and uninviting. This must be the orcish land of Oublier albeit from a different direction than if the lich had approached from Maelonbourg. The Viceroy studied the green dragon carefully. It seemed to be on the lookout for trouble from the orcs, or perhaps it was looking to start some trouble. From what the Viceroy had learned of the orcs there was an antagonism between them and the dragon. This could be helpful to the lich as he considered briefly his long-range plans.

As the sun set on this day the green dragon didn’t immediately return to its hillock. Knowing the orcs to be primarily nocturnal it kept patrolling along the border until it was satisfied that there wasn’t a problem. It then flew lazily back to the hillock and settled contentedly into the clearing surrounded by tall trees. The Viceroy landed in the tall trees and changed into a more inobtrusive form, that of a will o’wisp. In this form the Viceroy appeared to be a three-foot diameter globe of pulsating green light. In this form the Viceroy was a versatile flyer as well as a much less fearsome personage. Bobbing and weaving through the trees the lich made its way towards the resting dragon.

The dragon was no slouch and detected the presence of the approaching ball of light long before it could be seen. Turning to face the glowing orb, the mighty dragon blinked with incomprehension at its strange visitor. The massive winged lizard seemed to appreciate the will o’wisp being green, and it wasn’t immediately clear if this pleasing light was a threat or not. There were not many things that this particular dragon would have viewed as a threat, though. The dragon cocked its head to one side like a dog eyeing something new and interesting.

Luckily for the Viceroy dragons of this variety lean towards being moderately intelligent and cunningly evil. The lich used telepathy to make contact with the dragon and without the barrier of language to impede them the Viceroy introduced himself. “I bring greetings from the all-powerful Diosian Lodge, lords of Sikilia and destroyers of nations. I am the Viceroy and have come to offer you a gift in exchange for your assistance in a small matter of revenge against Fanolania.”

Sitting up on its haunches the dragon looked down at the glowing orb as it rose to sit level with its eyes. “I am Druuna, sovereign Queen of this forest. What revenge do you seek against these wretched creatures? And what gift do you bring?” asked the dragon. Unfamiliar with telepathy the beast was nonetheless quick enough to catch on to how it needed to project its thoughts.

The lich bobbled in front of the dragon at a respectful distance while doing its best to appear unthreatening while it answered the dragon’s questions. “We have a feud against the King of Fanolania and his troublesome minions. They hail from a town close to your domain, and an attack there would throw their schemes into chaos.” The lich looked for any sign of understanding in the dragon’s face, but its reptilian features were difficult to accurately read. “The arrogance of the elven king has led them to cross our schemes one too many times. We would appreciate you making just one attack for us in order that we can follow up with a more powerful assault. Your power and majesty is well known to us, oh Druuna the Invulnerable.” The lich was lying as there was little to suggest anyone else in the Diosian Lodge had ever heard of Druuna. “Should you agree to destroy but one Fanolanian town it would enable us to roll over them as locusts across a field.”

The dragon squinted at the glowing orb in front of her and asked, “What gift do you bring? Killing orcs is great fun but attacking the elven king and his human vassals is another difficulty altogether. You must offer me more than coins to secure my help in this adventure of yours.”

With unflinching calm the lich responded, “We offer you eternal life, my Queen. Not merely the long life of a dragon, as you are now nearly immortal. What we bring is the promise of life beyond life. You will not die, but only grow stronger and stronger with an evil more powerful than you can now comprehend. Only those of us that have achieved the immortality of a lich can truly express the unspeakable greatness that awaits you.”

There was a glimmer of realization in the dragon’s eyes as she thought about this offer. The lich was correct that the dragon couldn’t fully grasp the idea of being eternal as a lich. But she did understand strength. Power was something that she appreciated greatly. “How will I be more powerful than I already am? Nothing and no one for a thousand miles in any direction can rival me!”

Bobbling in as soothing a manner as he could manage the Viceroy replied, “I have seen the primitive bullywugs that worship and serve you, oh glorious Dragon Queen. However earnest their ability to accommodate your desires they are still mere mortals, prone to their own fears and weaknesses. How much more valuable would they be as fearless tireless soldiers with nary a thought for their own preservation? How much happier would you be to not have to rely on threats and intimidation to motivate them into absolute obedience? If they were undead they would be your perfect army. Fearless and wholly subservient to your every whim.”

The dragon looked to be thoughtful as she contemplated this possibility. She had never heard of such a thing being possible, at least not to her. “How could I control these undead? Is this the gift you would bestow upon me?” There was a trace of skepticism in the thoughts of the dragon and the lich took a bit of internal delight that his offer seemed to be making headway.

“That is precisely what the gift would grant you.” The lich telepathically replied. “That and much more. You will never need to sleep, and weariness would be a thing of the past. You would only need to eat as a mechanism to fuel your toxic breath as you spread the noxious death that only your lungs can create. As mighty as your scales are now, they will become even tougher due to the magic that will become entwined into your very being. No living thing will approach you without being filled to their core with anxiety and horror. You shall reign unopposed over not just this forest but every forest within a thousand miles.” This last embellishment was calculated to prey upon not only the vanity of the dragon, but on her love for forests. The dragon was a fierce opponent and in pure physical presence and brute force she had few equals in this part of the world. But in matters cerebral she was no match for the Viceroy. Sensing an opportunity, the lich cast a spell to help persuade the dragon to see things his way.

“Take this chance to destroy Jivet-au-Marruse. We will in turn grant you the eternal might denied all but the gods themselves as you join with the Diosian Lodge as an immortal.” Pressing his offer with the aid of spellcraft did the trick. The Viceroy could sense that Druuna had succumbed to his overtures.

The great dragon settled into a more comfortable position with her legs tucked under her like a cat enjoying a sunbeam on a windowsill. But she kept her eyes on the bobbing globe of green light as she said, “I will do this for you in exchange for your offer of eternal life and all that it brings. But I shall strike in my own time.”

The lich took the victory and decided not to push his own timetable. “As you desire, Forest Goddess.” He could afford to be patient, at least for the time being. He had other ways to speed things up if necessary. For now he had what he needed, the dragon’s acquiescence. Casting another spell to briefly place the great creature into a gentle slumber, he said, “Sleep for now, Mighty One. When you awake the process will have begun, and you will be well on the pathway to even greater heights.”

Under the control of the lich’s magic the dragon swooned ever so slightly, and her head dropped slowly until it rested on the ground. The Viceroy transformed into his normal form and approached the sleeping lizard with a mix of gravitas and caution. He chanted the entire time. The rich intonations of the ritual originated by the Clinician of the Abyss was a soothing kind of incantation, yet it oozed with the dreadfulness of its design. Had anyone been close enough to witness the interaction once Druuna had fallen under the spell of magical slumber they would have been shaken to the depths of their souls. The lich moved to the great dragon’s head and placed his bony hand upon her lower lip. Had the dragon been awake the beast could have eaten the Viceroy whole in one gulp with room to spare. Holding out a crystal bottle the Viceroy poked the sleeping dragon in the tender part of its lower gum and drew blood, which he then caught in the bottle. Allowing it to fill completely, the lich then sealed the bottle with a crystal topper and a spell. He patted the dragon’s snout and after a brief pause placed his bony finger against the still dripping wound.

The blood began to be drawn into the lich’s talon-like fingernail. The undead sorcerer began to laugh. When the dragon awoke in a few minutes much will have changed for it. And it wouldn’t be long before it began to discover how, and why even a dragon shouldn’t try and out deal a lich.

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