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Blog 212: Campaign Novelization

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This part of the campaign is the climax, so it gets climax-y pretty fast. There's this next part, another blast from the past with Crosael, the majordomo of Arvanxi, and it just ramps up after this both toward character and plot development. This book of the campaign is called The Infernal Engine, and it's not kidding. It's all about taking the characters to Hell. By breaking them. (So they can develop later, but still).

I'm pretty sure the link that I posted last time wasn't working, which is weird. But, I've put up Council of Thieves in other places, where it can be searched (AO3, FF, Wattpad). If you need a recap, it's there, but I think this chapter wouldn't strictly need one.


Chapter 23: Hubris Is My Middle Name

Mathal clutched her stomach against a wave of nausea as the door deposited them in a large, damp cavern. At first glance, the ceiling appeared with hanging cobwebs. Then the spicy, nose and throat pickling scent of mold hit. Those weren’t cobwebs.

To the west, the cavern widened and deepened into a shallow, sunken pit that formed a mostly natural amphitheater. Someone had installed drains at the bottom of the pit. As they walked over the grating, Mathal could hear the rush of water below.

“Well, we can’t have that,” said a low, husky voice that filled the air with hair-raising magic.

A single handbell clanged bright and sharp in the distance. Mathal and Gorvio clapped their hands over their ears. Tarvi, holding Kulata, froze and winced. It stopped and clanged, stopped and clanged, all without an echo despite the smooth, curved stone of the amphitheater. Instead, the ringing built in waves with every clang inside their heads.

Mathal’s older, more muscular, and shorter-haired relative walked through the gate on the far side of the amphitheater. He had changed out his servant’s livery for tattered, olive green robes and a tall, floppy hat. He’d painted his face, chest, and the backs of his arms in black whorls of unspeakable glyphs. A silver servant’s bell mottled with black tarnish hung from a thin cord around his neck.

“It doesn’t look like your new master cares as much about cleanliness as your last one,” Tarvi paused to low-five Mathal, “so why don’t you just let us through? Or escort us, whatever you’re more comfortable with.”

“I would, but I have a Coin to earn, so I tell you what: I’ll fight the runt first. You and your friend and your devil will minutes and fifty-seven seconds to reconsider your allegiances and get the Hell out of here.”

Gorvio and Tarvi both stepped up in front of Mathal.

“Oh, look, even my mortals know a bad deal when they hear one.”

“Yeah, I may not like Mathal as a person, but as an ally--”

“Get ready to have your butt served up on a silver platter, Major...No mo.”

Gorvio gave Tarvi’s shoulder a reassuring pat.

“We’ll work on those burns later.”

Their support warmed Mathal to her turtle core, but she shouldered past them anyway.

“Thanks, but no thanks. Crosael’s my big [redacted] brother. I have to take care of this myself.”

Tarvi grabbed her arm.

“No, Mathal. No, you don’t. This, right now, is so much bigger than some family squabble. Westcrown’s on the edge of apocalypse. AGAIN. Last time we turned to Hell for salvation. If we don’t stop this now, we’re going to BE Hell.”

“Then go without me.”

Mathal yanked her arm free and shoved her palm toward Crosael. The ground under the Orphan initiate exploded up into thick, grasping waves of quagmire. But Crosael’s face only split ear-to-ear with a toothy grin. His aura flared olive green over the painted whorls and the hungry swamp dried back to stone under his feet.

“Oh, you really take after her, don’t you,” he said in Aklo.

Mathal snarled over the ripping and stitching of her body under her hex. Crosael laughed and pointed to the ground under her feet.


The earth turned against her. Hostile waves of swamp rose up under her feet and dragged her down into suffocating dirt. Mathal held her breath against the scream of primal terror building at her core and clawed at the still-liquid earth. Crosael’s bell clanged and clanged and clanged in her ears, beating impossibly over her pounding pulse.

The quagmire went solid all around her. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breath. She’d entered her grave alive. Chelon shrieked with every living fear and regret at the face of death. And so did Mathal. They screamed over the clang and toll in her ears. Mathal shut her eyes and clenched her fists. Stone broke between her fingers.

Magic flooded out from her core into every fiber of her being. She burst free from the earth in a rain of blood and stone and threw herself down at Crosael with a toll-breaking roar.

Her nails raked deep across the side of his face, but he turned her witchlocks aside with one arm and braced against her second clawing with the other. Mathal opened her mouth and jumped back, spewing him with a cone of all the scorpion devil’s poison she’d absorbed.

Crosael staggered back, gagging.

“Ugh, you spit in my mouth.”

They stalked each other in a slow circle, silent save for the clang, clang, clanging of Crosael’s [redacted] bell. Mathal couldn’t cast at him if was just going to absorb her spell and throw it back. That left her with a single target.


Her aura flared and so did Crosael’s. His skin turned to metal snakescale under his glowing whorls. He cackled wildly.

“Making up for all those missed birthdays, I see. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

Crosael charged at her. His nails raked across her arm and sapped off her heat. Her wounded arm went numb as she fended off the barrage of metal claws by hair and nail. His unrelenting strikes shred the air between them to hissing ribbons. He forced her back, cutting deeper with every hit.

Mathal’s back slammed into the amphitheater wall. Nails stabbed between her ribs and into her gut. Chelon screamed and Mathal sputtered red. Strength and heat bled out in waves around Crosael’s claws. Even her witchlocks fell limp over her face. Crosael leaned in, grinning by her ear.

“Looks like we both underestimated you.”

“Alright, play time’s over,” shouted Tarvi.

At the darkening corner of Mathal’s eye, Tarvi shoved her palms over her head. Roaring water geysered up from every drain in an explosion of heavy metal grating. Icy waves surged against Mathal and Crosael, shoving the siblings apart.

Black ink bled off of Crosael’s borrowed scales in murky trails. He cursed in Aklo.

“I’m melting. That’s just perfect.”

He threw Tarvi a bird and vanished from sight.

The water continued to rise. Mathal, numbed to the bone, flailed her unfeeling limbs. She sank like a wooden-armed, peg-legged rock.

She and Chelon watched as though from a distance as Gorvio swam through the ink-clouded water and hooked her under the armpits. They broke the surface. Mathal spat and hacked up the water while Gorvio’s chattering teeth sluiced it out. He grabbed the new wand from her backpack and shoved it into her hand.

“We all want to kill him, Tarvi, but hypothermia’s a slow death,” he shouted across the flooding amphitheater. “Can we take it down a notch, please?”

The water stopped rising, but held onto its height as Tarvi swam over, her eyes burning with icy death.


If Gorvio hadn’t been keeping her afloat, Mathal would’ve sunk back below the waves, voluntarily. Instead, she finished charging and tucked the wand away. Kulata hopped up salmon-like to watch from Gorvio’s backpack.

“What the Hell were you thinking? That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever had to sit back and watch! How could you put your [redacted] pride ahead of every single person in Westcrown?”


Tarvi slapped her hand against the water, spraying Mathal, Gorvio, and Kulata.

“Family my [redacted] butt! That was a waste of time, magic, and almost your [redacted] life.”

“Ok, got it, I’m sorry.”

“No, you don’t get it. I can’t be friends with someone who’s so [redacted] irrational. After this is all over, we’re through. Got it?”

The ice water ran hot from her eyes.


“Good. Then let’s stop this stupid apocalypse.”

The water spiraled under them, churning up a roaring spray. Mathal, Kulata, and Gorvio yelped as the undercurrent dragged them back below the raging waves.

Swirling vortexes funnelled the water down the many drains and sucked them into the churning spiral. Mathal and Chelon screamed a stream of bubbles. An arm broke the surface of the water. Then a leg. Her head.

The last whirling wave washed her toward the wall of the amphitheater. She slid to a stop inches from the stone. Gorvio and Kulata went spinning by. Her witchlocks snapped out and snagged them fast in their tracks. She slid them over to her side of the amphitheater, Tarvi picking herself up at the other.

“I need a favor,” she whispered.

“I literally just saved your life.”

“You know my price, but I could cut you a special deal, three wishes for one--”

“How do I fix this?”

“Are you joking?”

“I never joke. Tarvi’s more than just a friend. We suffered together. She’s the only reason I’m here right now instead of on the other side of the apocalypse. She’s a best friend.”

Gorvio climbed up onto his hands and knees, shaking his head.

“Maybe you should’ve thought about that before showing her exactly how selfish you are.”

“Not helpful.”

“I disagree,” said Kulata. “If I’d given more thought to my past actions and their inevitable fallouts, perhaps I wouldn’t have ended up a head.”


“No, that’s purely wishful thinking. I’d never change myself for anyone but...myself.”

Gorvio set Kulata back on his pack and offered Mathal a hand.

“Look, this isn’t a problem that Tarvi has that you can just solve. This is a problem with you. As a person. But if you don’t think it’s a problem...”

He helped her to her feet and shrugged. If it wasn’t a problem to Mathal herself, then there was nothing to solve.

It was all too much to think about, especially with Tarvi standing at the far door of the amphitheater, tapping her foot. Mathal followed after Tarvi and Gorvio, a dull ringing in her ears.

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