Thursday, November 8, 2018

This House Has Many Walls

This house has many walls, but only one entrance. Its foyer is cavernous. Carpets stretch to stained-wood horizons, their fibers waving in the breeze like a textile prairie. Its stairs are mountainous. The only reliable light is the distant glittering of crystal chandeliers. In this house made for giants, human societies scrabble for existence.

Nobody starves here. To eat is trivial: find one of the many sinks and tubs, or dig out a pipe, flood the floor, and wait for the mold and man-high mushrooms to sprout from the waterlogged wood. To eat like this is distasteful, fills the mouth with foul flavours, slows growth and brings malaise. It is a shameful thing, for those who cannot barter their way to a better meal. Better than that are the foodstuffs grown and found in the house’s pantries: dried herbs in towering bundles, stunted fruit grown in their huge, composted ancestors, links of sausages long enough to feed a village (too fresh, too familiar, don’t wonder where the meat came from), and more. Food beyond foulsome fungus is one of the rarer treasures of this house. Entire petty chiefdoms are based around its harvest and export.

Everyday materials too are in common supply. Wood can be splintered off the legs of chairs, metal smelted from nails in the heat of monstrous ovens opened and closed by chain gangs, cloth cut from drapes that hang like cliff faces. Brisk trade carries these materials between rooms, down corridors, across rattling rafters. Humanity might flourish in this house, if it were here alone.

This house has many walls, but they offer little protection. Many dangers are already within them. Other humans, who might raid for materials or continue old feuds, are the least of these.

There are dolls that walk this house’s halls, big as ogres in their ruffled dresses, with faces like all those who’ve died inside. Whatever they want, it’s not good for us. If they find people they’ll sometimes smash them and smash them until they’re scabby paste, or they might take them and play with them until their limbs come off then toss them aside, or they might carry those people into the attic. Nobody returns from the attic but the dolls. Settlements have ways of dealing with dolls: tripwires and swinging rams and the like, but travellers had best be wary of distant toddling footsteps.

There are rats that chitter in this house’s dark places. They’re not like our rats. There’s a thousand varieties, adapted to every conceivable niche and then some: rats that spring on their hind legs and snatch up prey with terrible claws, rats that lurk in murky pools that can take off your head with their horrible jaws, rats that can disguise the ends of their tails as something precious then drag you up for dinner when you’re caught on their tail’s sticky coating, to list a few. None have been domesticated yet, though some have been tamed (catching a ratptor for a mount is a mark of excellence among the nomadic warriors of this house). They’re too clever and too hungry for that.

There’s a rot in this house, seeping up from its foundations. The place has gone too long without care, too long without those who would even know how to care for it. The spawning fungus is the vanguard of this rot, some say, and the poor sorts who consume it its unwitting agents. Waves of pale insectoid soldiers march out from where the rot grows thickest, gnashing everything in their path. The subtler threats are the deadlier ones: where the inverting black smog seeps out, the creeping berserker madness, wildlife united in one murderous will, and other things which leave no one alive to record.

This house has many walls, far more than it should. Corners will turn round at strange angles, rooms open up where they couldn’t. This is disconcerting enough on its own, but these spatial anomalies are not even constant. A doorway that leads to a pantry one month might lead to the basement the next. Wanderers might find they’ve plundered into a hallway that suddenly curves in on itself, inescapable. An honoured class of architect-oracles who cast brickdust like chicken bones are ascribed the power to predict these anomalies, and their services are always in high demand. So too are the nomadic wayfarers who keep the settlements connected through their wandering networks.

The most feared of these anomalies are the basements. There are so very many basements, dug out beneath each other in an endless descent. Each basement is more hostile than the last, and stranger things are stored in lower levels.

This house has many walls, and there’s something living inside them. A family, the family for whom this house was built. A mother and a father, a daughter and a son. All massive, shattered bones and tearing flesh now, slithering around pipes and insulation. You might hear their whispers while you sleep (or their screams while they sleep). Their perspective is skewed, but they’re hungry for conversation. Why are they in the walls? How did they come to be this way? These are the only questions they’ll never answer.

This house has many walls, but few windows. There’s not much to see outside. Rather, there’s not much you’d want to see outside, and not much you’d want to see you.

There’s the garden, or at least something like a garden. It’s got plants, wicked, thorny vines that pry at the edges of the glass. Halls and rooms where the vines have succeeded at getting in are stricken from the records.

There is a beast with shining eyes and reeking, matted fur, sharper than the vines, larger half-again than the largest rat. It is a hunter, as hunting is the only amusement left to it. The beast will stalk those it spies, climbing down a chimney or unlatching a window to slip inside, groaning almost-words as it goes. It has been wounded, driven off, but never killed. The beast is patient. It’s never missed a mark. Many have disappeared on their deathbeds, leaving nothing but drops of blood and sooty pawprints. Sometimes the beast stares at the walls and weeps.

This house has many walls, and perhaps you’ll find yourself within them. Its lone, cyclopean entrance can open elsewhere, through doorways far too small to sensibly contain it. It is far more generous with entries than exits.

The settlement in the foyer is one of the larger ones known, entirely dependent on imports to survive. It’s perhaps the least immediately hostile locations in this house, but is rife with the cannier sort of debt-slaver looking to make a quick trade of an unwary new entrant.

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