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Blog 219: Campaign Novelization

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So, after all that drama where Mother pretended to try to kill them, they need a little cooldown. There's no fight fight scene in this part, but there is more Mother-daughter and sister-brother as well as some backstory on the two big devils in the story, Kulata and Liebdaga.

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Chapter 30: Bedtime Stories


Mother had Crosael move the black cauldron after dinner, but the fire continued to burn within the chalk circle. Mathal leaned back with her elbows in the fungi carpet. Crosael laid down on his stomach, head in his hands. Mother sat on her knees and cracked her knuckles.


“Here’s the sitch.”


Yesterday morning, none other than Vassindio Drovenge had sent his agents (Orphans, not that Mother would’ve known), to ally with the Ethercourt fey and bring down the Maggot Tree. Mother’s familiar, Fmughwa the Deathgorger, was holding down the fort and had forced the attackers to lay siege, but she couldn’t hold out forever.


“Why’s Drovenge after the Tree?”


“He wants to discredit me.”


“What,” said Mathal and Crosael.


“Nobody believes you when you’re powerless.”


“Believe what?” asked Mathal.


“That Drovenge isn’t a real noble.”


“That’s impossible,” said Crosael. “His lineage goes back for generations.”


Mother snorted.


“That’s the kind of quality you get when your friendly neighborhood deal broker,” she pointed at herself, “sets you up with the archdevil Mammon. And, he only had to pay me with his firstborn,” she looked straight at the devil, “turtle-muncher.”


“At least I send my souls to Hell unviolated.”


Mother’s knuckles whipped across Kulata’s face. The devil flew into the fire. They rolled and hopped back onto their stump to the edge of the circle. The chalk flared up with a gray as deep as Mother’s skin. Kulata bounced back with a deep but silent glower.


“Why wouldn’t Drovenge just have you killed?” asked Crosael.


“I took his firstborn. He needs me to suffer a comparable loss first--keep up, Cros.”


Everything clicked. Drovenge was running for the next lord-mayor of Westcrown. If the other surviving nobles found out his entire house had been fabricated by Mammon and powered by the Mammon-worshipping Orphanage, they’d never vote for him. They’d fear that he’d use them to bend the Council wholly to his will or simply demolish it. And why wouldn’t he?


“Did you plan on giving away his secret?”


“For the right price, why not? But I’ve never had any askers. The fey are killing tourism here. Not that I mind.”


Mother got up to her feet and stretched out from finger to toe.


“First thing tomorrow, you and Crosael go to the Maggot Tree and break the siege.”


“We’re not going in as a coven?”


Mother doubled over cackling. Crosael joined in with a weak, questioning chuckle.


“Mathal! I missed my little comedian. You know I hate that touchy-feely crap.”


The coven ritual did require holding hands and singing a wordless song in the dark.


“You wouldn’t have to do anything,” said Crosael. “Just join us in a coven, and Mathal and I can do the rest.”


At three times as fast and powerful with their bonded magic.


“Please, I’m not mixing magic with Devil Aura over here. But if you really want some power, Mathal does still have a wish or two left, doesn’t she?”


Mathal stood up and reached into the fire. She winced at the hellish bite of the flames but grabbed the devil by the horn and yanked them out.


“See you tomorrow. I’m sleeping outside.”


She stormed out, slamming the dam door behind her.


It’d been over fourteen years, but her feet found the way to her favorite sleeping nook as though it was yesterday that Mother had left her, a fourteen-year-old changeling, at the edge of Etherwood with nothing but a turtle on her shoulder and the charge to ‘make it or break it, my funny little girl.’ She hunkered down against the rise at the treeline in the soft carpet of decaying leaves.


The air here had none of the sweat, piss, and staleness of the city. It smelled of green and earth. The sky above glowed softly with a sea of winking stars. A cool wind swept over the rice paddies below, rippling the water and the blades of grass. Mathal punched the forest floor. It was so [redacted] beautiful.


“If it makes you feel any better, I can’t stand this place either,” said Kulata, spitting out browned leaves.


“Worse than Hell?”


“Well, I don’t mind Hell. Or I didn’t until I cut that deal with Liebdaga.”


Mathal set the devil in her lap.


“Spill it.”


“If you insist...”


Liebdaga had been a general and commander of the conquering armies of Hell. Kulata had been their advisor. They’d been sent to make war against the angels of Nirvana. The invasion had all gone according to plan until the angels sent out a six-winged solar, their equivalent of an archdevil.


Liebdaga and the solar proved equal in power, or so the two warring armies thought. During their next-to-last battle, the solar struck down Liebdaga with a mortal wound.


“Of course, I had to make an offer. The Duke would’ve died and returned as who knew what. Then where would the war have ended?”


“What was the deal?”


“Their life in exchange for control of the devil’s armies. Behind-the-scenes, of course.”


“Oh my god.”


“There was no god in this, I assure you.”


Kulata burned through every soul they’d obtained up to that day to bring Liebdaga back to full strength although they never managed to heal the scar. As devils bound by their words, Liebdaga had no choice but to honor their end of the deal.


From behind-the-scenes Kulata held the power of Hell’s own armies in their hands. But, they lacked all experience. The armies suffered defeat after humiliating defeat, and all the blame fell on Liebdaga’s shoulders.


“Eventually, they couldn’t take it anymore and contracted a third party to deal with me.”


“Why were you their war advisor if you were terrible at war?”


“Pure nepotism. Liebdaga and I started out friends...why’d you stop rubbing?”


Crosael walked out from between the trees. He sat down beside her. He must’ve tracked her by scent.


“What does she want now?”


“Let me see your hand.”


She laid her burned hand gingerly over his. Coolness washed through her, and the red, blistered skin faded back to normalcy. They parted hands immediately after, Crosael wrapping his arms around his knees. They stared out into the clearing.


“I wanted to apologize for my behavior.”


That was unexpected.


“I didn’t get any of the shapeshifting except for,” he waved a hand over his youthful self, “but something about this place turns me back into a stupid fourteen-year-old.”


It wasn’t the Etherwood. It was Mother.


“I feel it, too.”


“...I’d always wondered what it’d be like to have a sibling growing up.”


“How is it?”


“I’m glad I didn’t. I think I would’ve killed you.”


“Tried to.”


He chuckled. When he fell silent, the whole forest did. Fraught, awkward silence.


“Goodnight, Crosael.”


“Right.”


He stood up and brushed the leaves off his dress.


“Mathal.”


“Yeah?”


“I’m glad I finally met my little sister.”


She cracked half a smile at him.


“Yeah. Me too.”


If only Mother would keep from pushing him back toward that stupid, murderous teen.


Mathal waited until his last, leaf-crunching step faded in the distance. She set Kulata on the rise and laid down in the leaves.


“Wake me if--anything.”


“Is that a wish?”


She stared at the devil until they coughed and nodded as best as a severed head could.


“Yes, of course. I was kidding, just kidding.”


Mathal laid down in the leaves, face toward the clearing. As beautiful as it was, she couldn’t fall asleep. A soft, murmured song carried under the wind.


“Oh,
The taste of your lips
I'm on a ride
You're toxic I'm slippin' under
With a taste of a poison paradise


I'm addicted to you
Don't you know that you're toxic?
And I love what you do
Don't you know that you're toxic?”


She drifted off before the end of the chorus.

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