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Blog 223: Campaign Novelization

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After all the Mother(!) drama, these guys need a break, and they definitely get one here. Even as it sets up the next section, a heist of sorts.

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Chapter 34: The Squatters Club

Mathal and Crosael woke at dawn on opposite sides of Rizzardo spooning Khazrae. The two crawled to the dead leaves ten paces away from their fellow sleeping campers.

Mathal checked her pockets. She hadn’t brought any chalk and was out of nibs. She crunched her way over to Crosael and crouched beside him. Before she could mumble about borrowing, he broke his chalkstick in two and slapped a half in her palm without looking up.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

Mathal broke the half into fourths and crumbled the white dust of one of the nibs in her hands. She smeared a circle over the leaves. She had two new spells for herself. The first let her pass through barriers and other walls without a trace. The second, seemingly picked up from her brother, let her see things as they were, visible or invisible.

She let out a low cackle. Those invisible [redacted] vampires could suck it. If, for some god-forsaken reason, she encountered them again. Then again, she hadn’t counted on ever seeing Crosael again.

Her stomach growled. She crawled back over to Crosael. His stomach growled sympathetically.

“Wake them up. I’ll take us back to the city and we can get some breakfast.”

“I’m broke.”

Crosael cursed.

“What?”

“I’m not, but I’ve betrayed the late mayor of Westcrown and the Orphanage and Vassindio Drovenge by extension, so I have to lay thrice-damned low. I can’t simply walk into the bank.”

Mathal cursed. With her new spell, that was exactly what she could do. What Mother would do.

“Let’em sleep. I’m going hunting.”

As she crawled toward the woods, she shifted. Arms and legs darkened, lengthened, and bent. She sprouted four more. Her body curved and hardened to smooth, black exoskeleton.

“Go easy on the venom!”

She hissed an acknowledgment between her dagger-fanged mandibles.

--/--

Khazrae and Rizzardo woke at noon to the sizzle and pop of boar bacon skewers over the campfire. It had taken less than hour for Mathal to snare the boar in her web, but she and Crosael had a Hell of a time trying to process the meat with nothing but their nails and a few sharpened sticks. The four were too hungry to care about the wonky shape of the meat. Rizzardo immediately snatched at a half-cooked skewer. Crosael slapped his hand away.

Mathal, Crosael, Rizzardo, and Khazrae sat down to brunch at four points around the campfire. Crosael passed out the first four skewers, setting four more on the makeshift barbeque. Mathal and Rizzardo tore through them in seconds. Khazrae pulled the meat off the stick. They held the skewer between their knees and ripped little pieces off from the wonky cube.

“If you want to play with your food, hunt it yourself,” said Crosael.

“I’d be more than happy to take that stick off your hands...legs...wherever,” Rizzardo hiccoughed.

Mathal cracked her greasy knuckles in warning, but Khazrae only chuckled. They plucked up the skewer in the skeletal claw of their wing and extended it out over the fire to Rizzardo. He grabbed it between his teeth with an exaggerated growl. Khazrae laughed. Then they all did, even Mathal joining in with a little chuckle.

After a few hours of cooking and eating, the boar feast ended. They sat back on their arms and let their stomachs rest, everyone but Khazrae. The devil rose to their feet. They dusted the dead leaves off their naked bodies and shook them from their wings.

“I’ve never been one for goodbyes, so I’ll just say that it’s been a pleasure a meet you all, and we should definitely part ways before that’s no longer the case.”

Khazrae pulled the hat off their head and horns. Crosael shook his head.

“That’s not where I thought you’d put it, but it looks good on you. It’s yours if you want it.”

“Why, thank you, Crosael,” the devil smiled.

His face flushed, and he waved his hand. Khazrae waved at them all, black-taloned fingers waggling. The devil turned and walked into the woods.

Mathal’s fists closed around the leaves as she watched them disappear between the trees. Crosael’s eye caught hers.

“Just because they don’t like goodbyes doesn’t mean they won’t listen to yours.”

Rizzardo nodded.

“Go get that devil.”

Mathal stood. She ran into the woods. She ran and ran until her legs and lungs burned from exertion. She ran long enough that she suspected Khazrae had spread their wings and flown away. She slumped against the nearest tree, huffing.

The lines of the trees steadied and straightened out in front of her. In the distance, she spotted a little blot of red. She launched herself off the tree.

“K!”

Khazrae stopped. They didn’t turn, but their wings flared an inch open at the joints. Mathal skidded to a stop ten paces short in a flurry of leaves.

“Hi, Mathal.”

“Hi.”

“Did you think of a wish?”

“No. I just wanted you to know you’re my friend. I know you don’t have many of those.”

“I don’t have any.”

“You have one.”

Khazrae’s wings twitched.

“Mathal. I’m s--”

“Don’t.”

Khazrae remained silent for a full minute.

“Goodbye, Mathal.”

“Goodbye.”

--/--

By the time Mathal walked back to the camp, the fire had burnt down to embers and ashes. She, Crosael, and Rizzardo sat on a log, poking at the ashes with long sticks. They couldn’t stay in the forest. They didn’t want to stay in the forest. But Rizzardo had also betrayed the Orphanage.

It was possible Fiosa would welcome him to The Way Station, but she wouldn’t welcome Crosael. Mathal herself wasn’t ready to face Fiosa again. She was even less ready to face Tarvi. They all needed somewhere they could simply disappear.

Mathal snapped her fingers.

“I know a place we can squat. It’s a little haunted, and we might have to drive out some vampires, but otherwise it’s abandoned and perfect.”

“Will we have to share a room?” asked Rizzardo.

“No.”

“I’m in.”

Crosael tossed his stick into the ashes.

“Can you glyph the name of place?”

“Yeah.”

He passed her a full stick of chalk.

“Come help me with the circle.”

They smeared the teleportation circle out together, the leaves crinkling like brittle pages under their hands. When they were ready, the three joined hands. The circle flared olive green first and rust red second.

The world stopped spinning on the Delvehaven porch. The front doors stood ajar. They must’ve left them open when they’d run off to stop the apocalypse another lifetime ago.

Rizzardo’s low whistle echoed down the entrance hall. He immediately scampered up the curling stair.

“There’s gotta be something here we could hawk,” he called down from the second floor landing.

“If it isn’t haunted, it’s probably cursed.”

The one relic they had found here had proven next to useless.

Mathal and Crosael followed him up to the bedrooms. Rizzardo pushed the nearest door open with his foot. Metal screeched against metal. The blankets had been disturbed, but a new layer of dust had nearly covered the footprints in the old dust. It must’ve been Gorvio’s room. Crosael coughed and waved his hand in front of his face at the cloud.

“First things first--we clean this place up.”

“I’m gonna look for food,” said Mathal.

“I’m with her.”

“[Redact] you guys. Let me know if you find anything.”

Mathal brought Rizzardo downstairs and then down into the haunted basement to find the pantry. She summoned her spider swarm into every room to trigger any haunts before entry. The Natural History Exhibit chewed the spiders to a sticky black pulp. Rizzardo threw up.

They searched the pantry for cleaning materials first, food far from their mind. Fortunately. Everything edible had already been scavenged by rats, judging from the droppings. They did, however, find bottles and bottles of alcohol. They wrapped them up in a dusty, musty, moldy carpet and dragged the whole clinking haul up from the basement so they wouldn’t have to go back through the Exhibit.

“You weren’t kidding about this place being haunted.”

“Nope.”

“So are we gonna have to fight off a bunch vampires whenever the sun sets?”

“I’ll ask Crosael.”

She went back up the stairs. Rizzardo left the carpet of booze at the bottom of the stairs and followed her up. Crosael had an entire host of unseen magickal forces dusting, scrubbing, and straightening the bedrooms. He conducted them from the center of a chalk circle out in the hall where he sat cross-legged, eyes closed.

“Smell any dead people?”

“Some very old whiffs. Other than that, I’ve only smelled you, Kulata, and those three actor friends of yours.”

“Perfect!” said Rizzardo. “We’re getting drunk.”

“Not until this place stops threatening me with a fatal dust allergy.”

“I’ll bring one up.”

“Tequila, if they have it, thanks.”

Rizzardo slid down the rail of the stairs singing:

“Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strumming my six string, on my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp, they're beginning to boil.”

They started slow, but they soon stacked their drained bottles past the rail of the stairs on the first floor landing. Mathal and Rizzardo grabbed every dusty, creaking chair they could find and shoved them together under the other side of the curling staircase. They crawled into the chair city on their bellies to admire the height of their bottle tower. The dust showered down on them every time they bumped a seat or a leg.

“I’m pretending I’m being showered by gold,” Rizzardo coughed.

“Don’t do that,” Mathal coughed back.

He laughed, forehead smacking the ground. He only laughed harder. Mathal dropped her head onto the stack of her forearms, laughing with him.

When the dust and laughter settled, they rolled onto their backs with only their heads poking out from under the seats of the chairs. The high, vaulted ceiling spiraled infinitely up and away. Rizzardo pointed a finger up at the nexus of arches at the ceiling’s center.

“Old.”

“Know something older?”

“No, what?”

“Vampires.”

He laughed until he wheezed in pain.

“Not joking.”

“Oh. Sorry. Ok. Old [redacted] vampires. I bet they’ve got some old [redacted] money, too.”

“Old money,” she snorted.

She stopped.

“No, yeah! Old money!”

“Whoo! Yeah!”

“No, no, no! The vampires probably do have money. They don’t need money. They just need people to murder. Like Moris.”

“Moris!” Rizzardo sobbed, raising an imaginary toast with un-imagined feeling.

Mathal imaginarily clinked his glass. He wiped his eyes on the back of his dusty sleeves.

“Life sucks like that.”

“Rizzardo. We. Could take. Their money.”

“What? Woah, yeah! You’re right! Steal from the rich...and give to us!”

“Crosael!”

“Crosael!”

Crosael didn’t answer. They scrambled out from under chair city and scampered up the stairs on all fours. An empty bottle of tequila had rolled to a stop in the doorway of a half-spic, half-spanned bedroom. Crosael still sat cross-legged in his circle of chalk, but his head slumped to one side. They shook him awake by the knees and shoulders.

“Crosael!”

“Crosael!”

“Wha…?”

“We need your nose!”

“Nose thieves!”

“Wha…?”

“No, no. Can you smell us to the vampires?”

“We need to stink out their old money!”

Crosael flapped a limp-fingered hand at the nearest window.

“It’s almost shadowtime. Not--not tonight.”

“Fine, tomorrow.”

Mathal and Rizzardo high-fived. Crosael dropped to his back, snoring before he hit the floor.

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