Enderal:The Golden House
The Golden House
Once, when Whisperwood was still called the Wood of a Thousand Leaves and the days on Enderal were young, there lived a woman and her companion in a trading post on the Sun Coast. They were both Manufacturers, the woman of the tailor's, the man of the goldsmith's Path. Together they lived in a humble cottage on the outskirts of a small town, each following their Path. But they were both unsatisfied by what their Path had to offer, and one day the man told his companion: "Why do we live in such a simple home, wear only linen and eat but bread and stew, while on our very doorstep ships unload the most luxuriant goods and the most costly delicacies day by day?" And the woman replied: "You speak truly, my mate. I too am tired of always looking at the riches of others and languishing for them. Alas, for us Malphas chose the Path of the Manufacturers, so we must be content with simple things. Even if I sew a delicate dress of Kilean silk, it is the rich merchants that will increase their Pennies, not I. An elaborate candlestand made by your hand will emblazon a Sublime's house with its golden glow, not ours."
For a long time, the man stood silently and gazed out of the window at the meagre garden where, in the midst of some diligently trimmed flowering plants, he and his companion grew vegetables and herbs. At length, he spoke: "Were we to trade with the outlanders directly, we could leave the guilds out of it entirely. At the blessing of our Path, did they forbid us from selling that which we manufacture ourselves? No, we will not leave our Path ... we merely broaden it, and thus all we accomplish shall surely please Malphas." The woman was shocked by those blasphemous words but remained silent. As her companion gathered their most prized pieces and left the house she merely nodded, seemingly lost in thought.
Late that night he returned with a purse bulging with Pennies. The woman emptied it onto the kitchen table with radiant eyes.
Soon the man returned from the outlander's ships with ever more Pennies and trade goods. Contented, he reported that the strangers had treated him with respect and liked to do business with him. For his companion he brought fabric both precious and rare, which she used to sew expensive dresses. For himself he traded valuable pearls and gems, which he crafted into marvellous jewellery. Thus after a few moons the Pennies had turned into heavy golden coins, and the man and his companion had gained the prosperity they had desired for so long.
One night, the woman told her companion: "Now our table is brimming with the sweetest fruits from the farthest lands and our rooms are richly adorned, but still we live in this meek old house. Our proficiency should provide us with an estate in the Nobles Quarter of Ark, but no matter how much gold we amass, we are denied a life in such splendour." The man considered this and answered: "If the Sublime refuse us their manors, we shall put them all to shame with the splendour of our own house."
The following evening, the man returned home even later than usual. He did not lie down. Deep in the night, his companion thought she could hear strange noises, tapping and rasping somewhere in the house, but she did not dare to rise and see what they might portend.
As she entered the garden the following day, she found her companion in the herbal bed, fast asleep. She turned to look at the house and was stunned, for the front was utterly changed: All the window frames were embellished with golden inlays. The old door had been replaced by a grand double-leaf portal of strange, glossy opaque wood. Turning her head, she realised that the quaint wooden fence had been replaced by poles of shadowsteel, enwrought with veins of finest gold and crowned with sparkling gemstones. "This has to be wild magic," she breathed. But when her companion awoke and asked her if she liked the novel grandeur, tears welled in her eyes and she embraced him, lost for words. Still, at supper she cautiously asked how such a change was possible in but one night. "I have gained many a new friend in my recent dealings," he said smiling, and his companion left it at that, for through the garden window the new fence shone magnificently in the setting sun and eased her mind. During the moons that followed, there were many nights when the man did not come to bed. Always the woman woke to strange, hammering sounds, and always she stayed in bed, eager for the newest riches that would adorn her house come morning. Her fear had long since abated. They had a good life, finally enjoying the well-earned prosperity they could demonstrate as readily as the sublime lords and ladies. More and more gold graced their façade, and by then even the shingles on the roof were coated with precious metal. Elaborate marble statues lined the garden. A knocker with a huge, sparkling gem was mounted on the portal, and the garden path was framed by many shimmering stones. Every sundown, the whole garden was bathed in the golden light reverberating off the house.
"The people of the city seem to give our manor a wide berth," the woman remarked one day. "They just shake their heads and hurry by." Her companion gave a nod. "Yes, they begrudge us our affluence. Let them gossip as viciously as they like. It is the just fruit of our hard labour and nobody can deny us the position our Path has brought us to."
They had not spoken about their Path for a long time, and the woman cringed at the word. "Let us retire," she said. "It has been a long day."
Early next morning they woke to a babel of voices outside. A crowd had gathered in front of the golden house, led by three Keepers of the Order. Many held torches glittering dangerously in the dawning light. The man and his companion stood on the threshold and eyed the mob in wonder. "What do you want with us?" the woman cried.
"Listen to this," one of their neighbours said to a Keeper. "They cannot speak any more - it is just rasping and screeching. Nobody understands them. And look at them." Another chimed in: "Yes, those huge, empty eyes and that dark, leathery skin. Moon after moon it has grown worse." The Keeper's gaze had darkened. "Indeed, it looks like a wicked, unknown disease. Or like wild magic." Close by, a woman moaned. "The stench is unbearable. How is it even possible to build something so dreadful?"
All the while, the man and his companion listened to the exclamations from the crowd. For unlike the two of them, the people saw not a magnificent manor but what really stood there: A vast, hulking structure of carcasses almost artfully woven into a mesh of bones and branches. The whole construction was coated with dark and unnatural slime, dropping to the ground in long, sluggish strands. Large femurs bound with strips of leather made up the fence. The many statues were sewn together from various animal corpses and the garden, once neatly trimmed, now inhabited by repugnant, sickly looking plants. Skulls lined the garden path leading up to the portal - a baleful maw gaping under a giant ribcage.
"Burn it down!" came a cry from the mob. It yanked the man and the woman from their stupor. Instinctively, they raised their hands in a protective gesture and brilliant white-blue lightning flashed from their fingertips. The Keepers of the Order were thrown back and sent a number of folk tumbling. In the ensuing turmoil, the first torches were thrown at the house which soon blazed brightly.
But the two inhabitants of that ghastly structure had used the short moment of bafflement and fled inside. Later, the Keepers sifting through the cold remnants of the house found a latch in the cellar. It opened into a vast cave system full of fungi and huge, prowling arachnids. After having searched in vain for many hours, they returned to the surface, their only discovery a couple of diaries. They had survived the fire unscathed and revealed to its full extent the delusion and denial under which the woman and her companion had perceived the actually harrowing metamorphosis of both the house and themselves.
"Alas, they are out in the world now," the first Keeper said. "Malphas protect us from their brood!" - "What shall we call them?" the second Keeper asked. "Perhaps they should be known by the rasping sounds they uttered. What did it sound like again?" And the third Keeper answered: "Something like: Arp ... Arp ..."