It was an old trick, but an effective one. A quick trip away, a pilfered potion of flying and a pilfered potion of invisibility and a quick trip back, just a few feet higher than before. Lothligar watched as Ignidia threw her fit, scolding the remains of her army, now disjointed, never to be under her complete control again. The best she could do was hang on to as many goblins as she could afford to pay, and that wasn't many. He held in a chuckle as she stormed off into the sky to dive-bomb some unlucky wolf or whatever, and noted her path through the sky. Then he watched what the humans did while they thought they were alone. Satisfied with his observations, he flew away in the same direction Ignidia had gone.
Ignidia, stood over the wild horse she'd pounced on, now butchered and burnt, disdain overtaking and replacing her rage. She chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of its meat as she wiped her blade clean, searching memories that didn't belong to her for answers to the situation. Her reflection was interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Shi-Domas, I bring news!" came the nasal outburst from an empty patch of sky.
"Dammit, talk to me, not to him! I'm just as much a part of this as you now!"
Let me speak. The voice rose inside her like dead fish rising to the surface of a pond. Ignidia relented. This was a struggle she'd lost before, and had lost hope for ever winning. She relaxed her muscles and let the spirit inside control her mouth, passively listening to his words.
"Greetings, Lothligar. What news do you bring for us?"
Lothligar dismissed his invisibility with a grin. "I have a better grasp on who our friends really are." He casually tossed Ignidia the Gathering Stone from his pocket, which she caught reflexively.
"Indeed? Pray tell, and while we're here, can you also tell us what happened to the Radimyr Cabal?"
"The authorities caught on, and I almost managed to turn one of them with some trinkets and blackmail, but alas, his allies are many. Evidently I missed a siege that put everyone behind walls but me. And knowing what I know of the security protocol in the event of hostile forces, someone engineered that I be left out. There are supposed to be both audio and visual cues-"
"Come to the point, pig! Where are your minions?"
"I have only the five most promising youth, who I have spent a great deal of time preparing. The half-hearts were talked out of loyalty inside the keep during the goblin siege. I heard that the half-elf seer and the mystic repairman spoke out against our cause. And that cat-woman joined them. Even the Baroness's champion chimed in. My children held for as long as they could, but they lack the skill and talent to win in a public forum. But I have other news that might interest you as well…"
"This… this is a major setback, but not crippling. What is the other news, before we work on our battle strategy?"
"Bad and worse. For the bad, the humans are going to warn Port Westvale of our attack."
"Well then I want to know whether Kemassu has completed his mission. Is the port town significantly weakened that an advanced warning will result in surrender? Have they isolated themselves and do the soldiers stand sick at their posts? Will they fight to the last man? With a reduced army, I must know that we will meet little resistance, or I must abort the invasion."
"I don't know, but I'm sure the Prince will join your camp shortly. It's not like him to be anything but punctual, and he was due to leave behind a rotten shell of a town days ago."
"Hmmf. Well, we can't attack until we know, but hopefully we could still push for a bloodless surrender with the proper show of force. Oh, before I forget, I have some bad news, too. The false prophet is back. You know the one."
"What, you mean the little shepherd? That pathetic vessel may have power, but he's never figured out how to wield it properly. He's a shell, nothing more, and the worst he can do is-"
"We have seen what he can do, and he is no mere shell!" interjected Shi-Domas, jerking Ignidia's body forward as he spoke through her. "He can undo our work if we don't let him in on the plan, and even then, he may vex us out of spite! Have you forgotten what happened in Duunvarik Canyon? Auspice Cove? Terrace! Fucking! Island?!"
"Fine, those are all very good points, but at least he's predictable. Shows up, tries to speed up one of the manifestations — helping us, more often than not — and tries to get into the palace. Pity for him he doesn't know how. In any case, we can plan contingencies for his arrival at any of our operating sites."
Hmm. Wait, before, you said bad and worse. What's the worse news?"
Lothligar turned his gaze to the distance, and, after some hesitation, spoke through a gimace. "Nerith has activated one of the Black Blades."
Ignidia followed his gaze and stood beside him, staring at the horizon. "Shit. No way around that one. Even killing the bearer will only slow it down. Hardly worth the bother at this point. Might as well just try to contain or mislead it."
Shi-Domas having returned control of Ignidia's body to her, she turned to face the Sultan of Famine once more. "Do you really trust Odigan's plan? I mean, if he was such a great fortune teller, why did he die so young? You always say he had the potential to be the most powerful of all of you if he'd had more time."
"You know, I've wondered that myself," Lothligar replied, his voice distant. "and my best guess is that it was somehow part of the plan. The notes he left don't mention it either way. And by now you surely understand how thorough they were. Besides, I'm not even sure he did die."
"But you said you found a body. His body. Unmistakably his."
Lothligar said nothing in response. He turned and produced a cigar from his pocket. Ignidia stared expectantly as he clipped the end, fumbled for a tindertwig, sat on the ground, lit the end, and took a few puffs.
"Odigan is a mystery to us all, young miss. I suspect he thought of a way to come back and is just waiting to make a grand reappearance. A big spectacle to show us up and make us humble. I mean, the rest of us found a way around mortality. Hell, I found mine by accident. You'd think the Suzerain of Death, who had time to write a veritable encyclopedia on how to conquer the world in every century leading up to the year 1100 would have a personal contingency. Then again, maybe his gift didn't include his own future. Now, instead of wasting time waxing philosophical on whether we're taking orders from a dead man or a liar, let's get to the most urgent question of all."
"What's that?" she asked, taken by surprise.
Lothligar pointed to the dead horse. "Are you going to finish all of that?"
After a moment of tension, looking from the horse to each other with narrowed eyes, both of them dove at the carcass, tearing at the flesh with their teeth and noisily gorging themselves and reveling in their competitive and predatory natures. After several minutes of ceaseless consumption, only bones were left.
Ignidia rose to her feet and spread her wings. "The sun's going down. Time for me to head back to camp. How about you go find Kemassu and see what I'm up against?" The first couple of flaps to get airborne were the hardest, but she was off the ground before she finished her request.
"Agreed!" he shouted, and with a click of his heels, he was gone.