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Blog 228: Campaign Novelization

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The campaign is closing in on that grand finale. This is the chapter where the character growth beats have to happen because that falling action is about to start falling reallly fast. There are only three chapters left! So here's where you get to see old Mathal v. new Mathal and get more background on some of the other characters.

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Chapter 39: Take Back the Night

By the time Mathal and Moris had said their goodbyes, the sun sat low and heavy over the horizon. Crosael and Rizzardo waved at Mathal and Moris in her arms from Delvehaven’s porch. Moris waved back. Mathal focused on her magic to jump over the wall and onto the path at the top of the bluffs.

The surf roared and crashed below. Mathal stuck to the road above the sea and the setting sun. The trip was longer that way, but with the shadows gone, there was nothing left to fear from the night. And her arms needed the workout anyway.

“I’m gonna leave the part where we faced your dad up to you.”

“I’ll tell them. I’d just rather not mention he’s…”

“Got it.”

“What about Silana?”

“What about’em?”

“I thought the two of you were related, ever since I met you, actually.”

“Ha. I thought you and--”

With his memory modified by the Orphanage, Moris wouldn’t have remembered Arael. She shoved that memory all the way back to the bottom of its box. The murder of an old, once trusted friend was not something she needed to think about right before meeting Tarvi.

“Yeah. Silana’s the eldest. That we know of.”

“Then I’ll leave that to you.”

They got their stories straight as Mathal crossed from the narrow, stony ocean road into Gorvio’s district. The buildings were lit but the streetlamps weren’t. They hadn’t been lit since the installment of the nightguard. That no longer stopped the odd citizen or group from cautiously braving the streets with a lantern in hand. Moris smiled and waved at every brave soul they passed.

“You’re drawing attention.”

“We were already doing that. Besides, they need to know we weren’t attacked.”

Right, humans didn’t have dark-piercing eyes. The Chelaxians couldn’t see much of their faces or pick out the lack of red bloodstains. This way Moris and Mathal wouldn’t have to fend off anyone with questions or offers to help.

“Good call.”

“Thanks,” he giggled.

--/--

Fiosa herself opened the door, eyes widening and narrowing in such rapid succession that both Mathal and Moris had to look away.

“Mathal, Moris, you’re early.”

“Hi, wow, you already know who I am.”

“Moris, this is Fiosa, she/her. She’s--”

“Tarvi! Gorvio! Your friends are back!” Fiosa shouted into the boarding house before shuffling to the side of the doorway. “Please, come in. I think we still have some cookies.”

Tarvi and Gorvio came charging down the stairs, yelling their names over the clattering wood. They jumped the last few steps and tackled Moris and Mathal in a group hug, still yelling.

Gorvio pulled himself off first. Tarvi helped Moris out of Mathal’s arms and onto his feet with his arms over their shoulders for support. Fiosa shooed them all into the kitchen. She disappeared into the pantry while they took their seats.

Mathal and Moris each managed to keep their stories straight and consistent around mouthfuls of tapioca cookies.

“What about you two?” asked Moris.

Tarvi and Gorvio exchanged a look. A lot must’ve happened over the past week and all related to Fiosa’s slave-liberating operations. They could tell Moris and Mathal, but then they’d have to swear the two in. Moris reached for another cookie, but Fiosa pushed the plate away.

“You and I should have a chat.”

Mathal barely caught the plate before it slid off the countertop.

“Oh, ok, sure.”

Gorvio left with them to help Moris up the stairs. Or maybe to give Tarvi and Mathal some space. As soon as the three left, the kitchen plunged into an awkward, stuffy silence.

Mathal left her stool to open the window and let in the cool night breeze. Tarvi gathered up the plates and put them in the sink. Mathal hopped onto the windowsill. The running water and clink of dishware mingled with the low, scattered voices on the street.

“You want to hear something funny?” Tarvi asked, her volume barely over the soft sounds that filled the kitchen.

“What?”

“When the shadows vanished, I knew it was you.”

“How?”

“I mean, I didn’t know--just some part of me suspected you’d done it. Or wanted you to have done it. And then Larko and Sclavo told us about a huge property of Oberigo’s that got destroyed in the middle of the night. ‘Razed to the ground and then some.’”

“It sunk into the sewer?”

“Apparently,” she chuckled.

Mathal’s laugh choked off mid-cackle.

“Sorry,” she blurted.

“Sorry for what?”

“You know. I said I got it. I didn’t. I do now. I really do. I was such a dumbass!”

Tarvi set down the dishes and turned off the water. She sat down on the other side of the windowsill. They both looked out into the street, but Mathal kept Tarvi’s face in the corner of her eye. She couldn’t have read that expression even if she’d been looking straight at her.

“Tarvi?”

“Yeah?”

“Can we...be friends again?”

“I think so. Yeah.”

Mathal let out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“Good. Because you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

Tarvi never looked away from the window, but her fingertips found Mathal’s. They linked hands and watched the growing number of lights in the street.

Mathal headed up to her guest room around eleven. She laid in bed awake until midnight. She didn’t fall asleep. She simply got out of bed to see who was knocking on her door.

Gorvio stood in the hall barefoot in blue-green pajamas, arms crossed. She waited for a full minute before he even looked at her.

“Is...this a good time?”

“Well, I can’t sleep.”

She shouldered past him to lean back against the rail of the second floor landing. He sunk down to a sprawl on the first few steps, head buried in his hands.

“To be honest, I was kinda hoping you wouldn’t come back.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

“If you want me to leave--”

“No. It’s not you. When you left, everything was fine. But now that you’re back, I can’t stop feeling like [redacted] trash.”

“What the [redacted] Hell are you talking about?”

“It should’ve been me who lost their soul that day.”

“Fiosa tell you that?”

“No, no. You don’t...you don’t get it, do you?”

“Get. What.”

“I knew.”

He knew what the devil’s deal would do to Chelon.

Something twinged in Mathal’s chest. Something snapped.

She could see herself killing him. She would grab his throat and tear out his windpipe. She wouldn’t need magic. He wouldn’t try to stop her.

Gorvio was already dead. Consumed by guilt. The same guilt she’d felt in the kitchen with Tarvi.

Mathal slumped down the railing onto the floor. Her shoulders shook silently.

“You’d never survive Hell.”

“What?”

She snorted and wiped her eyes. Gorvio had killed the best part of his friend, but Mathal had killed a friend, too. She’d ripped out their chest and fatally poisoned them. The difference was she could let it go.

“I’ll never forgive you for...that, but it turns out my stupid choice was the right choice.”

Gorvio raised his tear-streaked face from his hands to gape at her.

“Yeah, no, I don’t regret it. And I know Chelon wouldn’t either.”
He stayed quiet for a long time.

“So...what--what are we now?”

“I think...we’re good.”

Her stomach growled.

“And I’m hungry,” she said, pushing up to her feet. “Gonna get another cookie.”

Mathal padded over Gorvio and down the creaky stairs as quietly as she could. As she passed the dining room, a flicker of candlelight caught her eye. Fiosa stood at the window with a single candle in her hand. The elderly halfling didn’t look away from the night street as Mathal approached.

“You should be asleep.”

“Yeah.”

“Have you thought about the job?”

“Gonna take the rest of the time I have to do that.”

They fell into silence. Mathal turned on her heel toward the kitchen only to stop at the memory of their last ‘conversation’ together.

“I was too stupid and childish earlier. Sorry.”

“You were grieving. Grief takes us all on an emotional rollercoaster.”

“What’s a rollercoaster?”

Running steps echoed on the cobblestone. Not a minute later, the front door burst open. Mathal jumped. Fiosa didn’t move. Larko continued to run up the flight of stairs. Sclavo rushed into the dining room, adjusting his glasses.

“It’s today.”

Westcrown’s deadline to appoint a new lord-mayor or fall to the martial law of Lictor Richemar had come early. Fiosa had been wrong.

“Get everyone to the meeting room.”

She set her candle on the dining table and shuffled out the door. The flame had gone out.

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