The Gopher King: Chapter 31

The hobgoblins continued to do their work for Malindra in between their own packing and preparations for departure from Maelonbourg. They maintained their pickets along the borders and kept watch over the actions of the orcs in the north. They alerted Malindra to the crossing of the troublemakers from Chute de L’Ombre into the barren, dead forests of western Maelonbourg. They knew the end was near for their work here. They began to quietly draw back towards Malindra’s lair in the broken winery. Professional to the end the hobgoblins maintained their discipline and kept any hint of trouble far from their mistress even though she was going to abandon them here when she slipped to the Gray Wastes.

The troublemakers didn’t waste any time in getting down to work tackling the undead hobgoblins at the ruins. The Viceroy kept a close eye on them personally in the form of a bobbing, hovering ball of green light. Not all of the troublemakers had made the trip, but the ranger had kept his word. He had brought with him the two new folks, the roguish female halfling and the handsome human paladin. They also had with them that strikingly bold kobold and a couple other newcomers that the Viceroy didn’t know. All of them seemed committed to the task at hand and moving carefully they began the process of destroying the undead that Malindra had demanded they fight. The Viceroy watched in amusement as the undead began to rouse and move to fight the ranger and his companions.

The battle was going to take a great deal of time and the Viceroy enjoyed all of it. He had guessed that these people were more than up to the task and they weren’t letting him down. But it took a while for the Viceroy to get everything from this charade that he wanted. Near the end of the day a considerable army arrived from the south, flying the banners of Fanolania. This was what the lich wanted to see. Normally the arrival of an entire army wouldn’t be something good. But this was precisely what the Viceroy was desiring. His marked minion was able to raise an army to do something that the Viceroy wanted done. It was worth losing the ghouls to this mockery of a battle to have determined the ability of this ranger to pull enough strings to make several thousand peasants take up arms, march into a neighboring country, and start slaughtering undead horrors. There wasn’t a hobgoblin alive that could have pulled off that feat. The Viceroy was thrilled beyond words.

When the battle was done the Fanolanians moved to the north and made camp between the ruins of Maelonbourg City and the orcish occupied fortifications of some dismal town to the north. The lich watched as they marched on and then he floated back to Malindra’s winery. It was time for her to go.

The badgers had done their work well. They had found a hole in the dungeon wall about the size of a coin, plenty large for the Viceroy to enter in a gaseous form or that of a small animal. Malindra could assume the form of a small creature too, so she could be united with her precious larvae as soon as she was able to scramble herself down the badger hole to enter the dungeon. The night hag had gone to visit with the ranger in person to let him know he had done his part admirably. Her delight wasn’t at all feigned, either. She knew it was time to finally shake the dirt of this damnable place and she was keen to get home to the Gray Wastes. When she returned to her winery she discovered the Viceroy sitting on her makeshift throne.

Before she could say anything even remotely objectionable the lich said, “It is time to go, Malindra. The work is complete. You’ll need to polymorph into something quite small to make it through the hole into the dungeon, but it is ready.”

Malindra stifled the urge to jump for joy and instead let out a low whistle. “Let’s get going then!” she declared. Part of her was concerned that the Viceroy would announce some new round of idiotic chores before she could depart. She of course couldn’t see any sign in the visage of the undead conjurer to give her a hint as to his next move. Malindra had pushed any other concerns she might have harbored for her missing sister Tragallia to the far nether reaches of her psyche and was fixated solely on getting herself home. If Tragallia wasn’t smart enough to be here when the time came then such would be her fate.

The Viceroy stood up and said, “As you command, Malindra.” With that he strode out of the room and headed for the castle ruins.

Dumbfounded the night hag followed him. She was gleeful and still halfway expecting the lich to add another hoop to jump through. The pair made their way down towards the ruins of the castle. Through the scattered remains of the defeated ghouls they walked with purpose and determination. Malindra wasn’t sure where the access hole was but the Viceroy knew it well. Anyone looking for it might never even find it because the ruins of the castle covered a multitude of defects that might be mistaken for the access point. This was something the Viceroy was counting on going forward.

When they arrived at the proper spot the lich pointed to the space beneath a shattered block. “There.” He intoned dully. “Crawl through there all the way to the end. We should end up in the upper levels of the dungeon you seek.”

Malindra hesitated and asked, “You haven’t gone down there yet?”

The lich looked at her and replied, “No. I was under the impression you wanted to be the first to lay eyes on your precious larvae.”

The night hag looked at the small hole in the ground and then back to the Viceroy. “I’m not sure I trust you, most sinister of the Diosian lords.”

The lich laughed and said, “Very well then. I shall go first. Follow along if you wish to go home.” He then turned into a misty vapor and floated silently down into the hole.

Malindra watched until every trace of the fog has vanished into the ground. It could still be a trap. That damned lich could have done most anything down there and she would be crawling helplessly towards her doom. She cursed under her breath. Malindra didn’t want anything more than to go home. That included living in this horrible place. She wordlessly polymorphed into a mouse and ran for the hole in the ground. All of her worldly belongings became a part of her new form and the night hag scurried to catch up to the lich’s vaporous form as it wafted down through the burrow.

It seemed to take forever. Her infravision was terrific but the darkness was beyond anything else she had experienced in this plane. Down they went into the deep. Moving at mouse speeds was a lot slower than she liked and the distance they were going seemed to be measured in miles instead of feet. They went for what seemed like hours before the burrow ended. This was where the undead badgers had dug all around the stonework looking for an opening. Malindra could feel the draft. The air was stale and seemed to be in a hurry to escape the dungeon she was trying to enter.

She followed the draft and soon found the tiny hole she was meant to crawl through. Malindra scrambled through and looked around. She was only about four feet off the ground in some chamber she didn’t recognize. There was an open door on the right and the Viceroy had just regained his normal form. He cast a spell and a bobble of green light appeared in his hand and then danced off through the doorway. Gesturing for Malindra to follow the Viceroy went after the levitating light.

Malindra dropped to the floor and turned back into her night hag form. Clapping her clawed hands together in girlish delight she trotted after the lich. The two of them followed the green light as Malindra tried to get her bearings. She had spent a lot of time in these dungeons in years past but now she wasn’t fully sure where she was. It took a while for her to figure it out but when she did she hissed at the Viceroy, “Down this way!” she headed down some stairs and the light bobbled after her.

The Viceroy chuckled and fell in line. He was going to be thrilled to see Malindra gone. He took stock of the dungeon rooms and corridors as they made their way down. This underground complex was vast. It rivaled anything the Ash King could boast of beneath his castle. The night hag babbled as she hurried to where the larvae were stashed. Apparently they were a couple of levels down inside the dungeon and there were half a dozen or more to go to where the hags had locked away their priceless treasure. Room after room held bits of the treasures that the night hags had accumulated over the last hundred or so years. Much of their loot had been spent on paying the generations of hobgoblins for their services. Since the castle was destroyed the remaining hoard had been inaccessible and now it wouldn’t be needed by Malindra at all. The night hag didn’t even waste a minute on any of it as she hurried along.

Larvae are a resilient lot but it still worried Malindra that they had been down here this entire time. They didn’t need to eat because of their nature as quasi-demonic beings, but Malindra was concerned that they might have turned on one another without the presence of proper supervision. The last thing she wanted was to return home empty-handed after a century of indescribable torment. The Viceroy didn’t really pay much attention to the ramblings of the night hag but contented himself with the thought she was going to be gone soon. He wanted the ordeal to end.

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