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Blog 210: Campaign Novelization

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What happens after Delvehaven? A lot, actually. The climax of the campaign, really. The clincher. This moment of no return that sets everything into action in a way that it wasn't, previously. See below...ahaha. (Earlier chapters of the campaign can be found on Wattpad as Council of Thieves if any recap is needed, but it's probably not necessary.)

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Chapter 21: The Road to Horizon


Mathal didn’t have the strength to kick in the door of every bedroom on the second floor. She knocked instead.


“It’s Mathal.”


Her knuckles left bloody prints as she passed from door to door. Her left hand clutched a wooden stick, wand-like if not for the dark brass topper cast in the image of a griffon's head and mane. It glowed unbidden in the dark, but at least it had enough sense to keep the light no greater than a candleflame’s to avoid completely pissing her off.


“Prove it.”


Mathal squatted down to the crack under the door. Her witchlocks slithered through and turned the handle from the other side. Gorvio, coughing, crawled out from under the dust-blanketed bed with Kulata still tucked through his belt. He pulled Tarvi, unconscious and bloodied but no longer bleeding, onto the ratty carpet.


The griffon head flashed, lighting the room with the golden blaze of a thousand candles. Kulata hissed. Tarvi shook like a landed fish. Pink mist poured out from her ears, mouth, and nose.


Mathal crossed the room and flung open the window. The mist dissipated in the rain-chilled darkness. The light died back down to the tiny glow. Mathal shut the window. Kulata continued to hiss. She threw the stick to the ground.


“You take the stick. I’ll take the devil.”


Gorvio passed her the borrowed wand along with Kulata.


“Did Tarvi get possessed while I was out?” she asked between charges.


“The two of you just went up against vampires. That stupid stick just saved Tarvi from damnation to a life of undeath. Probably.”


On the one hand, that solved a problem she hadn’t even known they’d had. On the other, it meant there were three vampires, four if Moris ‘survived,’ now wandering Westcrown at night in addition to all the shadows.


Mathal scooped Tarvi up in her arms. Her witchlocks flung the bedcover and its quilt of dust onto the floor. She laid Tarvi onto the sheet, filthy gear and all.


Gorvio turned the stick over in his hands. He held it aloft. Gave it a good shake. Whacked it against the wall. He had no idea how to use it.


“Kulata, does the stick control shadows?”


“What?” the devil snorted. “Red tits of the Godfiend, I hope that’s not why you’ve gone through this whole song and dance. Because, no, it only lights up and annoys the Hell out of them.”


Gorvio cursed that stupid stick and threw it down into the dust angel on the carpet. He stormed out of the room. The door screeched shut behind him.


“I miss having hands. My ears could’ve really used those right then.”


Mathal threw her backpack onto a set of drawers, knocking up another dust cloud, and sat on the edge of Tarvi’s bed. The mattress was as hard as a rock, but there were enough beds that they didn’t have to share rooms. She looked down at the not-turtle in her lap.


“Why’d you stop rubbing?”


She flicked them in the temple, which was much more bruisable than turtle shell.


“You can’t grant your own wishes.”


“That would require me to have a soul that wasn’t currently damned to Hell, which, if you were feeling charitable--”


“No. Get some rest. Maybe you’ll magically be less chewed out in the morning.”


“Would you sing me a lullaby?”


“I just answered that question.”


“Oh, fine. I’ll do it myself.”


“No! No, you’ll wake Tarvi.”


“We undead do not naturally sleep. If I don’t have a lullaby--”


“Fine. Just give me a sec.”


Mathal’s mother had been a great siren but never much of a singer. She racked her brains for the fleeting verses of the single, half-forgotten song from her childhood that still flickered at the back of her mind. The words filtered down to her in pieces. She couldn’t control her key or tune, but she sang softly enough that wouldn’t matter much:


“There's no escape
I can't wait
I need a hit
Baby, give me it
You're dangerous
I'm loving it


“Too high
Can't come down
Losin' my head
Spinnin' 'round and 'round
Do you feel me now?”


Kulata’s snore sawed through the stillness of the room. Mathal jumped. Tarvi only turned onto the side facing away from them.


I like this song, said Chelon.


Mathal shrugged and nodded. She didn’t hate it.


--/--


After three hours of tossing and turning on her rock of a mattress, Mathal got up. She left Chelon in his warm little nest of dusty blankets and wandered into the halls of Delvehaven’s second floor. The farthest door squeaked open to a huge, echoing chamber. The domed ceiling had been painted with a night sky where all the stars stretched and aligned into a road vanishing on a horizon. Wooden stairs led up to a balcony that circled under the fanciful sky.


At the center of the floor was a raised, circular pool, ten feet in diameter. After all this time, the water remained perfectly still and clear, presumably thanks to the Azlanti glyphs glowing mint green in a ring around it. Gorvio sat on the edge of the pool, the light of that stupid stick almost entirely hidden in his backpack. He never once looked up from the water. While that could’ve easily been a quirk of his increasingly jackass personality, Mathal approached to check the pool for enchantment just in case. She dropped to one knee outside the ring of glyphs and clicked one fingernail to the stone tile.


“Let’s see.”


Her spell of magical detection failed. Gorvio fixed her with one his unreadable looks.


“What, the glyphs? They’re for the water elemental in here.”


Mathal stepped over the glyphs and grabbed the edge of the pool, her fingers over the surface of the water. The reflection trapped the vanishing road of stars in a simple circle.


“I don’t see the elemental.”


“It’s water, sentient water.”


“How do we get it out?”


Instead of answering, Gorvio snorted and half-grinned and shook his head.


“What.”


“I was trying to figure out the same thing.”


She could’ve punched him. He’d known they were after the same thing, yet he’d still gone out of his way to be an asshat. She considered just walking away. It was tempting, sorely tempting, even more than that sweet, solid punch. But that elemental clearly couldn’t free itself, and from what she’d seen of Gorvio, he wasn’t capable enough to free it by himself.


“Get off.”


“What?”


“Get off the pool. Go open a door--no, all of them.”


She herself unlatched the window-doors to the outdoor balcony on the far side of the chamber. She kicked them open, letting in the rain-chilled darkness of the real night. That would probably be more attractive to the elemental than the stale halls. She looked back. Gorvio had already opened all the other doors.


They walked back toward the pool from their opposite sides of the room. Mathal stopped just outside the ring of glyphs. He followed suit.


“I’m gonna open the binding.”


“Thanks for the warning.”


“You’re welcome.”


She stomped on the nearest glyphed tile with all her strength. The stone block cracked but not through the glyph. She stomped again and again and again, chips of shrapnel flying up her shin.


“Need some help?”


“The magic’s strong,” she huffed, bracing herself on her knees, “but the glyph’s only surface deep. Just need to break the stone enough to knock it out of the ring.”


“I got it.”


He stepped up with his quarterstaff. It wasn’t enough. They took turns pounding the magically warded stone. They broke into a sweat, causing all the dust and chips afterward to cling and coat them gray. But, spitting and huffing, the last bridge broke between the stone block and the glyphed surface. The green glow of the whole ring winked out.


The entire chamber trembled around the pool. Mathal and Gorvio staggered back. Not a second too soon. Churning water burst up from the pool into a sixteen-foot pillar that roared like a storm. It pelted them with stinging drops that cut knife-sharp streaks through their mask of dust.


Slowly, carefully, Mathal picked up the piece of stone with the cut off glyph. She raised it up for the roaring pillar to sense, hopefully. Then chucked it with all her strength out the open window-doors.


The pillar seized up toward the painted sky. It surged along the curve of the dome up from the pool and arced down to the doors like a living bridge. It crashed onto the balcony but continued to spread to the edge, vanishing between the gaps of the stone railing. It left not a single drop behind.


Mathal let out an adrenaline-fuelled cackle and dashed to the railing. The elemental surged through the lawn below to the wall above the bluff. It crashed against the stone. It pulled back but only to gather its many waters. The elemental roared up into its churning pillar. Mathal’s nails scraped into the stone with her tightening grip. She howled the water onward. Gorvio whooped between cupped hands beside her.


The elemental threw itself into a vaulting arc over the wall. It dived down, faster and faster. It broke the waves of the sea with a mighty, many-winged splash. Mathal and Gorvio whooped and howled like dogs until the last wing fell.


They pulled back from over the edge of the railing without looking at each other. Mathal settled onto her elbows, eyes fixed on the sea. The waves were too choppy to reflect any stars.


“You got your stick. What’re you gonna do with it?”


“I’m gonna take it to Fiosa. She’s our leader. She’ll know what to do with it.”


Right, Gorvio was a cog in someone’s machine.


“What are you and Tarvi gonna do?”


“I don’t speak for Tarvi, but once I get paid, I’m out of here. Goodbye, Westcrown. Hell, all of Cheliax. Hello, anywhere with less systematic oppression.”


“You should meet Fiosa before you go.”


“Why?”


“She’s an escaped slave who frees slaves,” he said, meeting her eyes. “That stays on the down low, by the way.”


“Oh.”


Everything clicked into place. They needed the shadows out of Westcrown because that left only Chelish Hellknights on patrol and their human lack of dark-piercing eyes. Night would become the best and easiest time to sneak away. Not a bad machine at all.


“How do you afford to keep running?”


Gorvio--snorting, half-grinning, and shaking his head--went right back to being a slightly less punchable jerkface.


Mathal walked away.


--/--


Chelon had two new spells for her. One turned earth to a quagmire like her own witch’s hex but one deeper and far more deadly for it. The other dispelled magic. Mathal’s fists curled bitterly, but she didn’t get the chance to dwell.


The earth shook under her feet. She cradled Chelon to her chest and ran through the haze of dust shaken into the hallway to Tarvi and Kulata’s room. Tarvi stood frozen on the bed. She looked out over the fallen chest of drawers through the window.


The morning sky had turned blood red, colored by the spiral of Hellish fire that burned up from the city to the clouds. The stones of Delvehaven scraped and groaned as the earth continued to shake. The glass rattled out of the window and smashed to the floor. An undercurrent of noise like the ocean’s surf washed into the room. They were screams, sirens, and alarms from the distance. They came from the southwest, from the direction of Aberian’s Folly.


Mathal and Tarvi looked at each other in silence. This was not the Orphanage’s ordinary, stealthy modus operandi. This was an act of war. Mathal didn’t know who was fighting who, but right now, it didn’t matter. With an attack on that scale, the collateral damage was unimaginable.


“I’ve to go help.”


“I’m going with you.”


Kulata wisely said nothing from where they’d rolled onto the carpet. Gorvio, covered in dust, braced himself against the doorway. He met their eyes, coughing, and nodded. They left Delvehaven in fast and terrible silence.

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