Saturday, November 3, 2018

Architectural Parasitism

It starts small. A brick slides out of place, a solitary embossment on a wall. A window cracks itself in spiralling patterns. The beginning of a process which will end monumentally.

Architectural parasitism is an unusual magical phenomenon. Unlike most unusual magical phenomena, its origin is known. It’s the invention of a short-lived empire, defunct for centuries, which applied an overriding philosophy to everything it touched. That philosophy centered around the belief that life was an endless struggle of all against all, that this struggle would crush the weak and reward the strong, and that all this was good and desirable. Everything from the empire’s relationship with other polities, to the way its own bureaus and agencies were set against each other, to how its citizens spat on those less fortunate than them stemmed from this.

From that single point of infection it spreads. Alleys close themselves overnight so an infected building can grasp onto an ordinary one. Facades mutate into more imposing forms. Walkway-probosci stretch out from doorways to lance into opposing structures and siphon off their resources.

When the empire remade its own society in the image of this philosophy it turned outwards and was disgusted to find a world which did not also reflect it. It invaded and subjugated its neighbours, turning to dark methods which others had forsaken. Compassion, mercy, and doubt were weaknesses, and weakness had to be crushed. As they changed the human world, they also changed the natural world. Mutualism and commensalism were abhorrent. Flowers were engineered to devour the bees which came to take their pollen, which in turn were made to form raiding parties to assault flowering fields. Even their own cities were not spared this alteration. Buildings were enchanted to move, to morph, to consume and extract from each other and the land, expanding themselves into ever larger and more complex forms. This is the origin of architectural parasitism.

As the infection spreads, the infected buildings evolve. Spires grow out at odd angles, then snap off and crash through a building’s competitors. Windows stretch and warp to form lenses which concentrate sunlight into a beam to incinerate targets blocks away. Flammable components are disgorged and walls are thickened to become less vulnerable. Basements tunnel into the ground like roots, carrying useful matter up into the building’s body. Humans who bring tributes of stone and wood are allowed to inhabit buildings unharmed. Those who do not will be locked in and crushed, their bones extracted to decorate a doorframe.

The empire fell, and it fell hard. It could only prolong its collapse from its own dysfunctional institutions, economy, and culture through constant injection of the spoils of conquest, and eventually its conquests stalled. The empire had made the whole world its enemy, and provoked old rivals into forming an alliance of convenience. A whirlwind of foreign armies swept through the empire, freeing conquered polities, breaking the back of its military, and overthrowing its government. Its core philosophy died out with it, but the stones of its cities remained, still imbued with that philosophy’s magic. When they were carted off as trophies and raw materials, they served as the seeds for architectural parasitism to sprout in far off places.

If it is not treated, the infection will overcome the entire city. A few buildings, the early starters or simply the luckiest ones, will come to dominate, swelling into megalithic citadels. These megastructures will fight with each other, and with rogue parts of themselves, tumourous chambers and annexes which have no function but draining as much of the whole organism-structure’s resources for themselves as possible. If any humans yet survive in the city, it is as slaves to the buildings. This is the terminal phase of architectural parasitism. Without an uninfected source of worked materials, the infected buildings won’t be able to sustain their animation. Raw materials can sustain them, but only for so long, like an amphibian breathing air as its skin dries out. They’ll eventually fall apart into dormant ruins, waiting for scavengers to carry their pieces off to new hosts. What was once thriving city becomes a mass of rubble.

Treatment of architectural parasitism once it’s taken root is tricky. The simplest method is to clear a buffer zone between the infected buildings and the rest of the city, then either burn out the infection or wait for it to starve then bury the pieces in a pit far from any settlement. Alternative approaches include “taming” the infection, taking careful measures so that buildings evolve into docile, human-friendly forms, or driving spirits to possess infected buildings and crowd out the infection (which may result in a mob of insane spirits), or soaking the buildings in alchemical mixtures to dissolve the enchantment, or a number of other, more esoteric methods. The best way to prevent architectural parasitism is of course to never let it spread in the first place.

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