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Blog 218: Campaign Novelization

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Mathal and Crosael, estranged little sister and big brother formerly on opposite sides of the field, have formed a temporary alliance after the call of their mother, the Mother of Flies (that's her actual name in the AP). What's the family situation like? Well, it ain't Mother! *whew* but it's got its own ups and downs just like any family.


Chapter 29: O Brother, Where Are We?

Rain dropped onto Mathal as gently as a stream of tears, its fall slowed by the dense tangle of trees. She raised her arms and turned her face up to the water, the first shower she’d had since the night before Delvehaven. The oaks, firs, and pines of the Etherwood soared to unnatural heights and fought the redwoods for light some three hundred or more feet off the ground, leaving the forest floor as dark as night.

“Could you put me down?” Kulata coughed and sputtered.

Crosael held open his sackcloth tote bag. The rain slicked off the waxed sides and handles.

“It’s best we hide your devil from the Ethercourt. Unless you wanted them kidnapped and ransomed, of course.”

Mathal would sooner listen to an idea from Crosael than fall for that oldest racket in the fey’s playbook. Into the tote they went.

“Which way to Mother’s?”

“This way,” he said, trampling through the underbrush under a bridge of branches hung with tumorlike growths. “I think.”

The ley-line fed trees of Etherwood were known to play tricks on the non-fey, but after the fifth turn back, Mathal could only blame Crosael’s [redacted] sense of direction for getting them stupid lost. Without her spell for the shortest cut through the forest, however, she was left plodding in the rain after him to the sound of her grumbling stomach. More regrets.

“Why didn’t you teleport closer?”

“You can’t complain about the magical transport when you’re out of spells yourself.”

“I’m not complaining, just asking.”

“Well it sounded like a complaint, so I won’t hear it, and I won’t respond to it.”

“I should’ve let them help me kill you.”

“That escalated quickly.”

Two ten-foot, six-hundred-pound, bulbous-headed ogres crashed out from between the trees. They came at the siblings with a club-waving roar.

“Sorry, hangry.”

Mathal hexed the ground. The top-heavy ogres tripped and fell face-first into quagmire. Crosael jumped onto the nearest neck. It snapped under his heel.

“How do you feel about ogre?”

Six shirtless, gray-bearded fey with pointed caps dripping red leaped from the underbrush on either side. The three on Mathal’s side swung their scythes in crossing sweeps. The heavy blades ripped red gashes through her leg, chest, and cheek.

She grunted and staggered, her back bumping into Crosael’s.

“Too sentient.”

The six redcaps and remaining ogre surrounded them on all sides. The redcaps grinned shark-like and let out a hissing cackle. The ogre roared. They charged in first.

Crosael’s bell clanged and pierced the wood’s thick silence. The ogre and fey clapped their hands over their ears, the ogre bellowing in pain.

Instead of ringing from her skull into her brain, this time the bell’s clang beat with her own pulse. She clawed at the nearest redcap. The bell sharpened her blows. Her nails stabbed straight through the fey’s toughened hide. Her witchlocks slammed its throat with force of her magic and that of her sibling’s.

The ogre roared and gripped their giant club in two hands. They swung wild. Mathal and the second redcap dropped to the ground to keep her ribs and their head from getting bashed in. The third thocked the end of their scythe into her back.

Mathal screamed. Her witchlocks surged up at the blade. They knocked it out toward the quagmire. The third redcap ran to get it, but Mathal ripped one claw through the back of their knee. The redcap fell with a cry that turned to a gurgle as she gouged its throat.

The giant club smashed down. She rolled out of the way and up to her feet. The second scythe shanked a gash down her upper arm. Mathal cried out in pain but shifted close on the inside of the blade. Her witchlocks wrapped around the handle.

The redcap chittered angrily and yanked. She crouched and drove her claws through their open sides.

The ogre’s club whirred down through the clanging air. Mathal leaped back as she threw the redcap forward. The heavy wood bashed in the fey’s skull.

The ogre looked up in confusion. Bone snapped over the tolling bell. The club dropped from their hands. The ogre dropped face-first. Crosael landed on top of them, one foot on their neck.

The ringing stopped all at once. Mathal stood slowly. Crosael walked atop the ogre and from body to body across the quagmire. She ended her hex.

Crosael hopped off and picked up the redcap he’d trampled by the back of their bloodied scruff.

“Which way to the swamp?”

The redcap answered in Aklo as well, their native tongue.

“Southeast you [redacted] tourist,” they spat, pointing in the direction.

Blood slid down the side of Crosael’s face. He snapped their neck. Somehow, the death felt unnecessary, if only to Mathal. He dropped the body and walked back to her.

“Do you need some healing?”

“Yeah. Left my wand.”

He laid a hand on her not-wounded shoulder.

“By the way, if I had all your misgivings about what is and isn’t edible, I’d steer clear of any meat at Mom’s.”

His aura flared olive green, and a cool wash of hair-raising magic stitched her skin shut.

Sure enough, by walking in the southeasterly direction of the redcap, they crossed paths with the old, narrow creek with its tell-tale bottom of red clay. They followed it down to Hagswamp, a forest quagmire thick with red clay deposits and redder algae. Mathal pulled Kulata out of Crosael’s tote so they could make some terrible comment and cut through her unbidden, unwanted pang of nostalgia.

“Oh, it’s just like Hell. But with water.”


She put them back in.
The roots of the trees had taken the shape of the unspeakable glyphs that marked the protective clearing for Mother’s rice paddies. It was the only place in the Etherwood where one could see the sky. Darkness had fallen and all the stars were coming out to play. Plumes of smoke rose from the northwest, the direction of the Maggot Tree.

A chill wind whistled over the paddies and cut Mathal to the bone. It came from the west. She and Crosael locked eyes. Without a word, they raced over swamp and stone gutter to the red, beaver-like dam rising in the distance.

Mathal ran and ran until her own breath cut as deep as the wind. Crosael was fast, but the swamp itself carried her feet. She collapsed first at the foot of the dam’s wooden ladder. Crosael dropped half a second behind her.

Mother’s hill of wood and clay stood twenty feet tall over a fifty-foot-diameter on stilts in the quagmire. A thick, deliberate tangle of roots and fungus held the ladder in place. The swamp below stank of rotting compost and spoilt milk of beetle.

“Does this bag close any tighter?” asked Kulata. “These swamp fumes are giving me a--”

Six black clouds hovered out from the bottom of the hill and drowned out the devil with their tooth-rattling buzz. Mathal and Crosael clambered to their feet.

“Mom, it’s us!” Crosael shouted through cupped hands.

The clouds of biting black flies drifted forward.

“Mathal! And Crosael!” Mathal shouted over the endless, saw-like buzz.

The flies rose up into a black, shivering wave. The swarm crashed down.


Her eyes, ears, throat, and nose didn’t fill with a crawling, suffocating mass of meat-melting flies. All those skittering legs and membranous wings surged past, itching and scratching without breaking the skin.

The six clouds whirled and gathered into a large, humanoid mass behind the siblings. As the final, straggling fly joined the mass, the swarm shrank down by sinking through a liquid sheet of gray skin. They sinking flies unveiled a mop of coarse, bark-like hair and black, sagging eyes. The naked hag stood back straight, arms akimbo, lines of flies occasionally rippling under the surface of her skin. She threw back her head with a wild, cackling laugh.

“You two! Ha! Your faces!”

Mathal and Crosael straightened up. Mathal’s face was as set as stone. Crosael laughed weakly back.

“You got us.”

“You bet,” grinned the Mother of Flies, walking up and hooking her arms under theirs. “Don’t be a fun-sucker, Mathal. You know Mommy only eats the failures. Ha!”

They stopped three steps later at the ladder. Mother unhooked her arms and shoved both their backs toward the ladder. Mathal shouldered past Crosael and climbed as far as she could away from them.

“Where’s Silana?”

“Dead,” said Crosael.

“Figures. Mathal, why couldn’t I dreamvisit you?”

“I lost my soul.”

Wild, cackling laughter erupted behind Crosael. He chimed in with a chuckle.

“Ha! No, really.”

“It’s true,” said Kulata through the muffling wall of the tote.

Mathal would’ve face-palmed. Instead she pulled herself off the ladder, shaking with growing force, and onto the dam’s deck. Below, Mother reached into the totebag and fished the devil out by the horn.


“I sold my soul to stop an apocalypse.”

“Beetle nuts on a cracker, who told you that? Was it you, redhead?”

She gave Kulata a paper-rattling shake.


“Mom, stop.”

To Mathal’s surprise and her own, Mother did. Then she threw back her head, cackling, and Kulata’s, up at Mathal.

“When you get to Hell, be sure to say hi to your dad for me.”

Crosael pulled her up onto the deck, both at it again like a couple of hyenas. Mother went for the door, stopped, and walked slow toward Mathal, head tilted to one side.

“You still have your magic, right?”

Her voice turned low and husky, the same voice she used in her hunting form. A line of flies stretched the skin of her neck so thin that it wrapped around their bulbous heads and skittering legs.

Mathal stepped back even though it took her heels over the edge of the deck.

“Right,” said she and Kulata.

Mother straightened up in the blink of an eye, her grin shrinking back to a relatively normal stretch over her pointed teeth.

“I’m so glad to see you’re still my funny little girl. Not like Silana, damn them. You see them in Hell, you beat them into lemure pudding, got it?”

“Got it.”

Mathal’s treacherous stomach growled in spite of herself. Mother and Crosael went full hyena. The image of Mother wished permanently into six swarms of buzz-sawing flies flashed through her mind.

With a quick jangle of keys, Mother kicked open the door.

“Crosael, let’s get this girl some lemure pudding!”

A black cauldron as large as a wooden bathing tub boiled over a chalk-ringed fire at the center of the floor. Thick, spiced and savory smoke piped up through the single, circular opening through the roof of the wooden hill.

Mother waded through the carpet of dirt and ankle-high fungi to a fallen cupboard leaned against the wall. She threw two bowls at the siblings and drew out a ladle and bowl for herself. She ladled out rice stewed in swamp curry, thick with veg, bugs and cubed meat.

Mathal, Crosael, and Mother sat cross-legged in the carpet a few feet from the black cauldron. Mathal set Kulata on her lap and pushed the meat cubes to the edge of her bowl where the devil could snap them up. Mother lowered her bowl.

“Why aren’t you drinking?”

“I’m...on a diet.”

Mother snorted.

“Mathal, sweetie, we’re shapeshifters. Just,” she snapped her fingers and shifted into a buzzing mass of six swarms compressed into cross-legged, humanoid form.

“I can’t.”

Mother popped back to her gray, naked self.


“I didn’t prep the spell. And my spells only cast a third of the time.”

Mother tossed her bowl into the fungi. Mathal flinched as she clapped her hands on Mathal’s shoulders. Her swamp curry sloshed onto her and Kulata.

Mother sat back on her heels. Her head tipped up to the ceiling. A slow, squawking laugh hacked out.

“You just gotta focus.”

“I cut my focus out of my chest.”

Tarvi did, but Mother didn’t need to know about Tarvi.

“You’ve got another. Chelon.”

“Chelon’s gone,” she growled, something twinging in her chest.

Mother poked the skin over that same spot with a black-nailed finger.

“Sure is. Guess that’s the one decent party trick you got out of your deal.”

“Sure,” she croaked.

Mathal raised her bowl and took a long, tasteless drink.

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