The Gopher King: Chapter 30

The wheels of progress moved slowly in the days and weeks that followed. The Viceroy kept a close eye on everything that transpired by keeping on the move constantly and using every scrying spell he had access to. True to Malindra’s predictions the Fanolanians were gathering an army to move into Maelonbourg to restore some semblance of peace. They were going to fight the undead hobgoblins that were stationed by the Viceroy around the ruins of Colldrenia’s castle and then they were going to move against the orcs in the north. Exactly as the lich had predicted the mortals would be consumed with lesser affairs and their attention would be directed away from the schemes of the Viceroy.

A careful analysis of the troublemakers indicated that they had taken on some new members. The druid was difficult to find during these days as she seemed to be more interested in the duties of her calling than traipsing about with the others. But there was now a halfling rogue that had begun to hang about with them, and the lich had overheard her name as being Seraphina. In addition to this there was a paladin now, a fearsome and zealous man who went by the name Strohan. It seemed likely that this man would be a dangerous and unpredictable element in the plans of the Viceroy. The lich wanted to draw the blood of these new additions to ward against anything going wrong, but the Viceroy couldn’t even land a hand on that accursed druid. He would wait and see if an opportunity opened to allow him to get access to any of these spirited and resilient folks.

For the time being though the primary focus of the Viceroy was in the digging being done by his undead badgers. They were making splendid progress and two of them had managed to burrow right up against solid stone. Using his powers as a necromancer to see through the vacant empty eye sockets of the badgers themselves the Viceroy could see that these stones had been placed here purposefully and were not naturally hewn rocks that had been dug into. These were the very stones that the Viceroy had been seeking. This signaled that the badgers had managed to find the upper floors of what certainly must be the dungeons beneath the castle ruins.

Breeching these stones to find out for certain that they were the final barricade between the lich and the larvae meant a certain amount of tact had to be employed. The troublemakers had not yet finished their work and even if the lich could expedite the night hag’s departure he was loathe to do so at this juncture. He summoned forth all of the undead badgers except for the one closest to success and when they had breached the surface he gathered them up and set them all down the same hole to find a crack in the stones. He could have used magic to blast the stone out of his way but doing so would certainly tip off Malindra that her time here was drawing to a close and she would become even more of a nuisance to the Viceroy than she already was. It would be better for the lich to bide his time and let the skeletal diggers do their dirty work without interference.

Keeping a close eye on them from a distance the Viceroy went back to his plotting for his existence after all of this had ended. He could communicate with Druuna regardless of distance and he set her to learning how to control her newfound abilities. She managed to animate many of the bullywugs that had been drained of their lives when she was turned into a dracolich, and it was with great delight that she now set them to doing all manner of absurd little jobs. She had them stacking her coins in her treasure trove and polishing the gemstones. She had them gathering up rocks to barricade her loot against intruders now that she could assume a cloud-like gaseous form and pass through even the smallest holes. No longer did she require a vast open cave to enter and exit. She only needed a mousehole through which to travel. So the bullywugs walled up her already well-disguised treasure hoard so that her ceaseless diligence could be focused elsewhere.

For this the Viceroy decided to divert the dracolich’s attention into flexing her muscles against the orcs of Oublier. He had determined that this would allow the undead dragon to vent her fury against somebody without alerting the Fanolanians that she was going to be an ongoing threat to their safety. They would find this out themselves soon enough. For now though the Viceroy needed the Fanolanians to stay focused on their conquest of Maelonbourg and leave Druuna in peace. Taking her on was going to be more than taking on some mortal dragon as fierce of a fight that was in and of itself. The Fanolanians were going to need to save their strength for more important enemies. The Viceroy was going to need their power to challenge the Diosian Lodge and not waste it fighting Druuna. The lich was treading a fine line and it was only the pace of it all that kept things moving smoothly.

It worked splendidly. Druuna began to spread her wings in flight once more and soared over the northwestern portion of the orcish held lands and threw the goblinoids into chaos. They withdrew some of their forces from northern Maelonbourg to face this new threat and on the ground Druuna had sent some of her new undead bullywugs to serve the orcs notice that they had more pressing concerns than whatever loot the night hag of Maelonbourg had to offer. The effect was terrific. The Viceroy couldn’t have weakened the orcs any better and he didn’t have to lift a finger to pull it off.

With the new scourge of a dracolich now unleashed as a more potent diversion than anyone would have ever needed the Viceroy just waited for the troublemakers to arrive in Maelonbourg to carry out their last task before Malindra left. The badgers kept their tunneling going and Malindra paced more and more while the hobgoblins gathered together everything else of value that their mistress might want to take along with her to the Gray Wastes. There had been some discussion among the hobgoblins, quietly of course, as to what they were to do once Malindra was gone. It was decided that Captain Jorwan would go ahead and ask the night hag what their assignment was after she left.

This wasn’t something that Jorwan particularly appreciated. Being in charge up to this point had been relatively easy and rarely placed him in harm’s way in regard to the violent fury of a night hag. But it had to be done. He waited until after she had had a full meal before broaching the subject and even so he made sure he wasn’t standing within easy striking distance.

Malindra hadn’t given a second’s worth of thought to the plight of the hobgoblins after she left this dismal wreck of a plane. Had Jorwan not brought it up she wouldn’t have given it any thought at all. “Have you found any trace of my sister Tragallia?” she asked. “It draws time for us to leave this plane and return home. She’ll miss her chance if she isn’t back here soon. It is imperative that you finish the task of finding her and informing her before you move on to thoughts of your future.”

Jorwan shook his head. “We’ve heard nothing from her, my Queen. It is as if she has vanished into the shadows of the little states.”

She mulled it over for a few minutes and then said, “I suppose that is that then. If she isn’t to be found then I would wager she isn’t as keen to leave as I am.” She paused and then continued, “I suggest you take up the matter of your future endeavors with the Viceroy. Perhaps he will have need of your talents.”

Jorwan wasn’t expecting that response. He bowed respectfully and took his leave as quickly as he could. If there was anyone less appealing for him to talk to than a night hag it was that accursed lich. Was this what he wanted for his ilk? Did they want to serve a master that would doubtlessly be even more cruel and harsh? Jorwan had some more mulling over to do with his brethren before they went ahead and sought out the Viceroy regarding their future.

Sheckner wasn’t thrilled with the possibility of working for the Viceroy or anything connected with the lich. He hadn’t had a moment of peace of mind since watching the wizard defile a corpse in the castle ruins. When the whispers began circulating about possibly working for the Viceroy after Malindra left for the Gray Wastes Sheckner made up his mind then and there to avoid that career option altogether. He would gladly opt for anything else as a future. Anything less profane, anyway. Whatever the rest of his family and friends decided to do Sheckner wasn’t going along with it.

As it happened it was the Viceroy who initiated the conversation with the hobgoblins. There weren’t any that the Viceroy could approach in his normal form and so the lich did his speaking through the hatch in the floor of his room after having called a reluctant group of guards to the bottom of the stairs in his tower. They weren’t foolhardy enough to go up the stairs of course, so they stood below and one of them hollered up to see what the undead wizard was after.

The Viceroy’s answer to their bellow was a loud and clear statement. “When your mistress leaves for the Gray Wastes I will have use for your services elsewhere. I will gate the lot of you to another realm in the Little States to begin another project. Be prepared to move when the Fanolanians arrive to drive out the ghouls surrounding the ruins of Colldrenia’s castle.”

There was no further discussion and no desire among the assembled hobgoblins to ask any follow up questions. They dispersed to their posts and bit by bit the word began to spread that soon the loyal servants of the night hags would be tasked with another duty. The apprehension among the hobgoblins was palpable. Not one of them could be in close proximity to the lich. How could any of them begin to serve the Viceroy in any capacity other than one far removed? Most of them had been in the service of the night hags their entire lives, as had their fathers and grandfathers. There weren’t any of them that had any real clue as to any other options. No lord nearby would have any use for their peculiar brand of service. And they had to eat. They had to have a purpose. If the Viceroy was going to put them to use then it was at least something better than fighting to the last against the endless hordes of orcs to the north or the Fanolanians that were due to invade from the south any day now. They were going to be working for the Viceroy and that was all there was to it.

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