The Gopher King: Chapter 24

Druuna awoke to find the bobbing green light was gone, and in its place was a strange feeling that she wanted to kill something. Also she could taste blood and she wasn’t entirely certain that she hadn’t just killed something. She sat up and looked around. Druuna was mildly confused but she remembered well enough that she was going to destroy the town of Jivet-au-Marruse. After she got some more sleep she would fly down and see what was going on across the river. Druuna curled up and laid her head on her tail that wrapped around her. Soon she was sleeping and not with anyone’s magic helping out.

The Viceroy was meanwhile meandering more or less in a straight line through Druuna’s forest. He had a working knowledge from having flown over and through these woods where the nearest bullywugs village was and it was there that the lich headed. He made no attempt to disguise himself or to watch for their makeshift traps. It wasn’t even his intention to go all the way to the village. All he needed was a couple of bullywugs.

He found three of them and judging from their positioning and appearance they had been sent out to gather food. What they found instead was an undead wizard and a low-level magic missile spell that in the control of the Viceroy was sufficient to take down twice their number. Dead before they hit the ground the frog-like humanoids made a crunchy sort of plopping sound. The Viceroy chuckled menacingly as he reached down and touched each body one after the other. The three bullywugs rose up, now in a zombie state and wholly subservient to their new lord and master.

“Fetch me some badgers.” The lich ordered, and the zombie bullywugs shambled off to fulfill this demand. In the meantime he would stay here and wait for their return. This part of the forest was a little swampy with a slow-moving creek running through it. There was a wide, shallow pond a mile or so ahead where the bullywugs had built a settlement. Like everything the bullywugs did it was a ramshackle half-hearted sort of endeavor. When overhead the lich had seen elaborate totems that showed their devotion to Druuna. These totems in the various villages were the most advanced things the Viceroy had seen the bullywugs do. The rest of their world seemed to be built on a level of haphazard that only the dimwitted could view as satisfactory. Bullywugs made nothing of their own that worth anything at all, even their armor and weapons were stolen or looted from more advanced people.

It seemed hours passed before the zombies returned, each clutching one or two badgers. The furry diggers were dead because in their zeal to fetch them for their master the zombies had squeezed the life out of the poor critters. The zombies dropped the badgers at the lich’s feet and stood awaiting their next command.

The Viceroy took stock of the dead badgers in a pile and with a wave of his hand the bullywugs collapsed into a pile of moldering dirt. Scooping up the badgers in his arms, the Viceroy cast another spell and vanished from the lush forest realm.

Having teleported back to his tower room the Viceroy set the badgers down in a heap and then sat and stared into the crystal bottle filled with dragon’s blood. He would need to get more ingredients to complete the potion of transformation, but this was the hardest part and it was already done. Getting the dragon to agree to all of this was the key. Even given a push by a magical suggestion didn’t diminish the value of this one bottle of blood. This was by far the boldest step the Viceroy had ever taken on his own. He hadn’t realized how much he resented his so-called peers in the Diosian Lodge. Having a modicum of freedom and autonomy had been something of an eye-opener. The Viceroy tried to recall the last time he had felt autonomous. Had it been when he ruled Karinthia? Had it even been then this feeling that he was beginning to feel now? His memories were a jumble when it came to things of a personal or intimate nature. Spells and incantations, rites and rituals he could recall with perfect clarity. And yet he couldn’t remember his own name most of the time or when he had ever had true freedom of will. Probably when he took a potion similar to the one he now planned to give Druuna; the elixir that gave him the gift of immortality and transformed him into a lich. It had been an exhilarating experience. The not knowing was what drove him, the uncertainty of what would happen. He had never felt more alive than when he died.

The Viceroy tucked away the bottle for safe keeping and thought about telling the night hag that he was back. He wasn’t in a particular hurry. Getting Malindra gated back to the Gray Wastes wasn’t as pressing an issue as it once had been. Everything was falling into place and he had gained a good many more larvae as a result. The Viceroy was beginning to see opportunities everywhere. What had spurred this interest in the lich’s mind was a mystery to him. Perhaps it had something to do with the extraplanar nature of the night hag. Maybe it was because this task for the Diosian Lodge had specifically demanded that he interact with somebody that came closer to being his equal in mental acuity and yet was in every way his lesser. Malindra had certainly done her best to keep the Viceroy busy and in doing so had enriched him greatly. She had been the only person he had ever dealt with that could even begin to pay the Viceroy what he felt he deserved for the services he provided.

Whatever the root cause of this liberating sensation the Viceroy was determined to never again return to being a homeless thug working for his lazy brethren. There were numerous ways the Viceroy could flex his new muscles and he wasn’t opposed to trying them all. Once he had dispatched Malindra to the Gray Wastes he would take control over Maelonbourg. And from there he would begin infiltrating wherever he could to take command over the other little states nearby. Those he could simply steamroll over with the brute force of an undead army, he would. But he also knew what he wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t revel in his own vanity and sit in a towering castle to be the target of every meddling thrill-seeker that staggered drunkenly into his sphere of influence. He would use the very skills he had honed by being forced to live in the shadows of so-called “greater beings.” Through corruption and puppetry he would unite the Wenigzustand under his complete control. Anyone looking for the power behind these little thrones would find nothing but rumors, and anyone chasing down these stories would find death.

While the grand picture was taking shape in the Viceroy’s mind he busied himself with his current obligation. He gathered up the pile of dead badgers and threw them in a large gunny sack that he had found in his tower room. It must have made for a strange picture; an undead mage dressed in his regal finery with his staff in one hand and a bag of dead badgers over his shoulder. He descended the stairs and exited the winery as hobgoblins scattered in all directions to get away from him. The Viceroy paid them no mind as he strolled purposely to the abandoned former capital of Maelonbourg. The undead he had placed here in neat rows still stood at attention. They had no other orders to obey and so there they were, mute and motionless. Living beings would have found it unnerving. The Viceroy didn’t even seem to notice.

Once he had reached the massive pile of rock and debris that had been the castle of a long-dead elven king the Viceroy pulled one of the badger corpses from his bag and set it on the ground. Touching it with the bottom tip of his staff he ordered the creature into an animated undead state. Like something from a nightmare the skeleton of the creature tore free from the skin and muscle surrounding it and emerged to stare up at the Viceroy. Pointing down into the pile of rubble the lich commanded, “Dig into the dungeon.” Without any pause or fanfare the bony creation set about burrowing around the litter and broken masonry in search of the earth itself. It would not need to take a break or rest, and it would not get distracted. It would merely dig until it had accomplished what it was told to do.

The Viceroy repeated the process all around the perimeter of the fallen fortified palace. Each skeletal badger began its work with mindless zeal, and this left the Viceroy with five little tunnels that would zig zag downwards until they entered the dungeons. This was where the larvae were. Once they had found the dungeon the lich and the night hag could polymorph into some small animal, such as a rat or even a badger, and just follow the tunnels down. Once there they would assume their normal forms, the Viceroy would cast the gate spell, and Malindra would be gone with her priceless loot. No major excavations required, and no attention drawn to the activities here. A person looking for trouble would have to look harder than usual to find the badger burrows. Even if they were spotted there was still the little matter of getting down them. From inside the dungeon the lich could set whatever traps he desired to keep intruders out. He could even backfill the tunnels entirely. Liches capable of teleportation didn’t need a pathway to go to a place they were familiar with. He could literally come and go as he pleased and there wasn’t a soul alive that would have any notion as to where he was hidden away.

Standing at the edge of the ruins the Viceroy continued his speculation. Given the worst-case scenario for him this was still an ideal situation. The most annoying thing he could imagine was if somebody hauled off all of these stones in order to build something somewhere else or rebuild the castle here. It would be a monumental undertaking. At any point the lich could hinder these endeavors or end them completely with a snap of his fingers. He might even find a way to dominate the will of anyone seeking to build here and turn their own plans to the benefit of what the Viceroy sought to do. It was all so wonderful and easy once the badgers found their finish line deep under the ground.

His contemplations were disturbed by the approach of Malindra. Several of her hobgoblin minions had informed her of the Viceroy’s strange activity and she had come down from the winery to see for herself what was going on. The hobgoblins that had come with her stayed back a safe distance so as to not be affected by the terrifying aura of the lich.

Malindra seemed to be sneering as she greeted the Viceroy. “Good afternoon, most vile of the Lodge. And what are you working on now?” Malindra stood with her hands on her hips as if she was a mother that had caught her toddler digging up the garden.

The Viceroy didn’t look at the night hag as he replied, “Tunneling into your dungeon, Queen of Despair. It will take a while, but it is going to happen. You haven’t long to suffer in this realm.”

Surprised, the night hag smiled and asked, “How long do you think?”

“There is no way to know for certain.” Answered the lich flatly.

Malindra couldn’t hide her glee. She practically radiated happiness, an altogether rare and frightening occurrence for night hags. “I’ll finally be rid of this place!” she exclaimed giddily.

Turning to look at the night hag the Viceroy said in his cold and emotionless tone, “You have more to do here, crone. You will go to the troublemakers and demand that they destroy the undead surrounding this ruin. In exchange for that you will absolve them of all further debt in the matters surrounding your sister’s death. At that time I will tell you how long until you can reclaim your buried cache of souls and depart for the Gray Wastes.”

Malindra was taken aback and asked in a somewhat irritated tone, “Why should I invite them here to do this? You control these animated corpses! Just make them go away, or stand there, or whatever! You told me not to bring the troublemakers here because they cause more havoc than they prevent!”

The lich stared coldly at Malindra as he said, “I wish to see them in action. Consider it a test of their willpower and prowess.”

Almost beside herself with shifting emotions the night hag shrieked at the lich, “Why would I even consider such a ridiculous and unnecessary thing?”

Laughing softly but menacingly the Viceroy replied, “Because you don’t have your larvae yet, and you don’t want to leave without them. And if you don’t play along nicely with me I will banish you to the Gray Wastes with nothing more than the clothes on your back and a bitchy attitude.” The lich stepped closer to the crone and she took a step back automatically in deference to the undead wizard’s power. “Our roles are shifting, Malindra. You need me more than ever. I don’t see that I need you at all.”

An involuntary shudder ran down the spine of the night hag as she angrily found herself cowering in the presence of this more defiant and determined person.

“I curse the day I came to your damned Lodge.” She hissed.

The Viceroy continued laughing softly. “The entire world will curse that day, witch. Mark my words.”

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