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Blog 220: Campaign Novelization

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There's a big fight coming up. A huge fight. This is not that fight. This is the prelude fight to the big boss battle.


Chapter 31: Children of Flies

Mathal woke before dawn. Kulata snored softly on top of the rise. She let them sleep and pulled a chalk nib from the bottom of her pants pocket. She crushed the chalk between her hands and smeared a circle over the leaves. She sat on her knees at its center, alone. Something twinged in her chest as she placed her fingertips on the fallen leaves.

Mathal held her breath. Her aura flared rust red. Her breath hitched as unspeakable, unreadable glyphs wound in black lines up her fingers, her arms, and all the way into her mouth. She even had a new spell. It allowed her to spit her own venom instead of simply a toxin she absorbed.

Her eyes pricked and watered, but the ends of her mouth turned upward. Chelon had been right. The spells came from herself.

She returned to the dam at dawn. Crosael stood at the bottom of the ladder inked with glyphs with a couple of steamed, rice flour buns in either hand.

“Well, we can’t have that.”

He stuck one of the buns in his mouth and pointed at her. Mud, rain, and dead leaves floating off her and off to the pond of compost under Mother’s house. Crosael tossed her the other bun.


“Where’s Kulata?”

“Dead weight. I hid them.”

“Why not just put them upstairs? You can’t hide anything from Mom.”

“Not for long, so let’s go.”

“You know the way to the Maggot Tree?”

She kept her focus on that empty, twingy place in her chest and snapped her fingers in muggy, warming summer air. Burning magic spilt out and spread through her entire body, filling her with nature’s own guiding instinct.

“I do now.”

They trekked in a northwesterly direction, and despite the Etherwood’s shifting trees, the earth stayed true under Mathal’s feet. They cut through the heart of the wood and reached the edge of dark clearing thick with black clouds of smoke.

The Maggot Tree rose three hundred feet above at the heart of the ‘clearing,’ its maze of knotted limbs and glyph-tracing hill of roots kept all surrounding vegetation out. Nearly two hundred years ago, Mother had twisted the two dozen firs, oaks, and redwoods native to this part of the forest into this single, tangled behemoth.

The entrance to the tree was hidden within one of the many deep creases and crevices in the sap-weeping trunk, which stood a hundred feet in diameter. The other crevices housed any number of humanoid-eating vermin. Garbage bin pyres had been placed around the edges of the tree, just outside the root-glyph circle. They belched their stinking clouds solely toward the tree--that had to be the work of the fey.

Crosael nudged Mathal’s shoulder and pointed through the burning, stinking clouds. A lone, shadowy figure ran, stumbled, and crawled over the hill of roots. A subsonic cry from the heart of the Maggot Tree shook Mathal to the pit of her bones. Fmughwa the Deathgorger had called.

A dozen white blurs burst out from a high crevice and dived straight for the screaming...male.


Magic surged into Mathal’s soles. She leaped fifty feet from the treeline through the smoke and into the birdstorm. She clawed a six-legged gryph down with each hand before hitting the ground. She rolled to a stop, witchlocks slamming a third from the sky.

The other nine latched half their talons into Rizzardo and half into the roots, locking him spread-eagled to the grown. Nine razor-sharp, egg-implanting ovipositors rose out from their abdominal feathers. Rizzardo screamed. Mathal cursed and clapped her hands.

Web exploded out over Rizzardo’s exposed belly. The thick, sticky strands whipped around the white birds and left them sitting ducks. Mathal’s claws didn’t stop tearing until each of the nine, pin-like bodies seeped red into her web.

“That’s lunch sorted,” said Crosael, picking his way delicately over the tangle.

“Asmo be praised,” sobbed Rizzardo.

“It’s seems there’s been a misunderstanding--we’re cannibals.”

Rizzardo screamed and flailed. Mathal smacked Crosael’s shoulder with the back of her knuckles.

“Relax, Fakename.”

“Ahhh--” he stopped mid-scream, “have we met? Wait, yes! You’re Moris’s friend!”


“Right, yes, Mathal. And you’re what? A cannibal now? I know you ditched the Orphanage, but that is a significant downgrade.”

“Abe told you?”

“...Abe’s dead, Mathal. Get me out of here, and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Tell me now,” she said, her voice as rough and brittle as a wood chip.

Abe had indeed questioned his leadership. He’d found it wanting. So he’d hijacked the ley lines that controlled the Coin memory reader and shared his memory of Tarvi, Mathal, and Gorvio not only with Arael, but every agent who went in for debrief after the apocalypse. That had been every agent. Janiven brought in Executioner Ghontas within the hour, but it was too late.

“Everyone is questioning.”

“That reminds me,” Crosael murmured before cupping a hand to his mouth and shouting up at the Maggot Tree in Aklo, “Fmughwa! How are you holding up? One screech if you’re fine. Two if you could be doing better.”

A single, bone-rattling subsonic shriek pulsed out from the tree and shook its leaves until they pelted each other with the sound of heavy rain. Mathal instinctively clamped her hands over her ears at this distance. Even Crosael half-winced. Rizzardo, tethered in placed under web and the hooked talons of the headless gryphs, screeched back between clenched teeth.

The shriek sounded again.

“Hang in there!” Mathal and Crosael shouted back over their ringing ears and bones.

“Can...can I go now?”


Mathal wiped her eyes on her sleeve and ended her spell with a shift of thought. Crosael was right. They had a job to do, and unlike Mother, Fmughwa the Deathgorger was an innocent, giant beetle who actually needed saving. They ripped the dead gryphs off Rizzardo, Crosael helping him up by the back of his shirt.

“Let’s have the camp layout.”

Rizzardo had been the only one of his team to have survived the onslaught of the Maggot Tree, but no harm had come to the main camp. The Orphans’s fey allies had hidden it from the vermin of the Tree, and three teams of fey constantly patrolled the border. At the camp’s center, four ogres and a hill giant guarded their headquarters.

Moreover, Rizzardo and his team were supposed to have returned to the camp by whatever passed for dawn under the constant Etherwood shadows. The fey would’ve sent for reinforcements, due to arrive at any time.

“They’re all Ethercourt people except for me and Arael.”

“If that’s all you’ve got for us, then I suppose we should get going.”

Arael’s name shook Mathal, but not enough that she missed Crosael’s shifting grip on the back of Rizzardo’s shirt. She caught his eye and narrowed her own. He sighed and simply dropped Rizzardo onto his feet.

“Take us to the camp and stay behind us, or I’ll let my brother eat you.”

“Ha…,” Rizzardo shuddered, “ah, the fey’s ward won’t let you in unless you’re a fey or you’ve got a coin.”

“Take us. Now.”

They followed Rizzardo thirty minutes out from the Tree into forest that looked no different from any other stretch of forest. He stopped and pointed at the base of a redwood as wide as a bear was as tall. Mathal cracked her knuckles and squatted at the base of the trunk. This blast from the past may have been rapidly devolving into the likes of Mother’s vistation nightmares, but she couldn’t deny that the hag had given her what she needed most.


The tips of Mathal’s nails clicked against the rough bark. The barrier flared up in a wall of smoke-gray glyphs. She dragged her fingers across the trunk. Dirt, moss, and wood piled up under the nails. She shook the crud loose with a single flick and drove the knife of her hand through the warded air.


A rust red wave pulse from her hand. The red followed of the curl of each glyph it touched. They disintegrated into a rain of rust red grit, vanishing before it hit the forest floor.

A tent at the center of a large clearing magically devoid of any tree stumps appeared to the sound of roaring ogres and a hill giant’s trumpet. Crosael joined in with the ringing of his bell.

“After you.”

Mathal snorted. She turned her skin to iron scales and stepped through the breaking barrier.

The ogres charged in swinging.


The forest floor turned to a grasping quagmire under their feet and dragged them down. The hill giant jumped from head to sinking head like stepping stones. She couldn’t waste her last spell of devouring earth on a single target.

Walls of thick white mist billowed up from every side except in front, where the hulking, earth-skinned giant could see them. A bolt of lightning shot from the cloud straight at Mathal.
Crosael’s shoulder shoved her aside. The bolt struck him with a thundering blow. His black ink only flared olive green. Lightning crackled between his hands, and he hurled the bolt at the giant.

The giant had no such ink. They bellowed in pain as loud as thunder and closed the distance.

Crosael and Mathal dived to either side of the mist tunnel. Rizzardo fell back screaming onto his butt. The giant’s club shattered the ground in front of him. Rizzardo fainted.

Rizzardo wasn’t the giant’s enemy, but giant’s weren’t known for their intelligence, and he was the closest target. For now.

Mathal roared and pounced at the giant. Both claws gouged deep into their hairy flesh. Her metal-cast witchlocks slammed into their bellowing face.

A lightning bolt stabbed through her back. Her body convulsed at the charge, and she fell to ground at the giant’s feet. The giant grinned and jumped.

Crosael grabbed her ankles and yanked. The giant landed on her hair, breaking only the earth underfoot.

“Go faster,” said Crosael.

His aura flared olive green and hers, rust red. The giant jumped back up. The air held them like quicksand. Mathal leapt to her feet, witchlocks whipping the giant’s bare soles as they retracted. Crosael pounced at their leg, claws ripping red.

Lightning crackled. The two ends streaked toward her from either mist wall. She ground her feet down and clenched her fists. The lightning struck. She screamed a scream she couldn’t hear.

The giant landed hard on their wounded feet. Their shredded leg collapsed under them, bringing their head within range. Mathal and Crosael weaved around their slow-swinging club. Their four claws tore into the giant’s neck. The giant fell. Their head rolled past the mercifully passed out Rizzardo and disappeared through the mist.

Lightning crackled. Crosael stepped between the ends as Mathal stepped back. A mass of invisible fey hurtled into her. A pair of spiny hands grabbed each of her flailing limbs and hauled her into the air. The four fey pulled in opposite directions but spiralled higher and higher to the treetop.

Her witchlocks slammed at anything inches over her arm. A long, spindly fey with bulbous red eyes and the wings of a giant moth grasped their bruised arms and vanished again. Mathal snapped her fingers and cursed unheard.

Her aura condensed into a vibrating cloud of wasps. The four, moth-winged fey let go to bat at the stinging wasps on their arms, necks, and faces. Mathal spun uncontrollably into leaves and scratching branches, but they slowed her down enough for the cloud of wasps to right her.

She dived back through the leaves and tore through the wings of the nearest fey. They dropped like bundle of flailing sticks. Mathal moved on to the next nearest.

The last of her wasps faded back into her aura as her feet touched back on solid ground. Crosael waved at her from a ring of fallen fungal nymphs, mushroom caps and mold sprouting from their sun-deprived skin.

The mist tunnel vanished with the nymphs. Crosael frowned and placed a hand on her shoulder. She saw them. Twelve hairless, shadow-skinned fey with pure black blades in either hand surrounded them. But it seemed they couldn’t fly.

Mathal’s hand closed to a fist.


Thick, liquid earth rose up under the silent fey and dragged down every last one. The earth closed over them without a sound or a trace.

Without any more fey to hold back the trees, the roots snaked slow through the earth back toward their original positions. Mathal and Crosael set their eyes on the tent at the center of the disappearing clearing. Crosael waded through the slithering roots and shifting trees with their leaves rattling like gentle rain. Mathal scooped Rizzardo up in her arms before the moving forest smothered him and followed, face grim.

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