Derak in the Scarlet City

Sunken House

You swing your arms a bit, make sure everything is in place, and move forth to step through the open gate into the yard of the Sunken house. It’s really just one of the high-built island hostels the families favour in the Estuary district, except Sunken is, well, sunken – the house is built on the slowly eroding silt banks, and while that is hardly unique in the Estuary, the Sunken house has been descending faster than most, having already lost its entire ground floor below water. The lesser buildings on either side on the embankment have actually fallen into ruin a while back, leaving the Sunken house to manorial isolation. You can actually take a road of sorts from the Lantern City, or at least a walkway, up to the house, going right thorough the remains of one of its neighbours.

The house is rather typical of Daag in its worn down glory: too decrepit for true men of virtue, but suggestive of the kind of hostel a merchant prince would maintain. And despite the maintenance problems, usefully norm-breaking: Daag has space, neighbours gone from the marshy sandbank, enough to put up fencing and a bit of manorial flair. Room enough to exercise a horse, if he brought one in for some reason. Privacy, too. That’s something no grand hostel in the Estuary has, nor could they, not for money nor love. You want a manor, you move to the mainland.

Daag’s a clever fellow, that is for sure.

Take care with him, Derak. The man ordered your death. We need to buy him off.

You can afford to ignore Papak now that you’re of the same mind about your course. An elevated boardwalk helps you across the bog. Daag maintains a bit of elevation around the house, probably by having sand brought in, but as that does nothing for the Sunken house itself, entrance is now through what used to be second-floor windows.

Although most of the house is dark, there is light in some windows on the third floor. Lamps are also lit on the outside. Might be for security. You’re not trying to sneak here, so better to be forthright on the approach and let whomever might be on guard see you.

A servant is quick to answer the door practically as soon as you step on the porch. Keeping an eye out, no doubt.

— The Sunken house greets visitors despite the late hour, an elderly doorman tells you politely. — Who might be calling, and on what business?

— I am Derak the Easterner, you say, staring at him forthright. — I seek to meet with the master of the house. We have business together.

The man opens the door, quietly inviting you in. The vestibule is dark with but the indirect light from further inside suggesting that the house is still awake. You take a seat in the dimness as the doorman leaves to announce you.

Behind the door, a large and quiet man sits perched on a stool. You can see him now that you are inside, but it is too dark to draw much conclusion. He has a bared sword laid over his knees, you think. The shoulders are so large that he has to be wearing spaulders or some such. You sit there in silence for a while, wondering whether the man is even real. Perhaps he is like Papak, only in your mind.

No, he is quite real. Daag has guards, Derak. He has a household. You should take more of the spirit now. Keep your focus.

The doorman is back in due time, attracting your attention: — Honorable Daag will see you in the dining room, master Derak.

The route is straightforward up the stairs and inwards, into the grand dining room of the house. The grand windows give landward, glinting lights of the City over the water. The room itself is cast in darkness, dinnertime over, the great chandeliers unseen in the high shadows. A few candles at the head of the table, and the lantern of the doorman.

Daag himself draws your attention, standing there in candlelight. A man once sturdy, but drawn smaller by age. Paunchy, but then most successful men are. Heavy, expensive robes. Used to sitting his days in the various taverns of the Crook. Hard buttocks, less so in the limbs. Head, however, the head of a man who would naturally seize command and make the plans. The Sit-Fence.

You look around, of course you do, in case things go awry. There are many doors here, but only one has bright light outlining its frame. Probably the parlour. The windows have bars in them, impossible to get out that way. Two silent men trailed you into the room as you came, now standing near the doorway as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Daag shows no hesitation about you drawing closer, nor do you expect him to: he could not do what he does if he held any fear for hard men. The policy is the same as always: he does not try to match your threat. Slay him, and his men will kill you. Simple as that.

Does Daag have a family somewhere in here? You don’t know, this is the first time you’re even in his house. He has never invited you here.

Don’t tarry, Derak. You need to sell the story. Remember, you want him to fence the stone. Show, no touch. Arrange a meet with the buyer.

— Welcome to the Sunken house, Derak, Daag rasps familiarly. He drums his fingers on the hardwoord dinner table. — Before you speak your piece, I must protest this meeting; you know perfectly well that I do not conduct business in my home. You have been in the City for what, three days already? And each day we could have had a sit-down in the Gram Corner, as you well know.

You realize that Daag must have noticed you staring stupidly at Papak. He looks uncertain at your silence, rarely so. Maybe he realized that you’re drugged out of your wits and might as well attack him at any moment against all rational sense.

Well of course you’re not going to do that, Derak. I raised you better. Let him rather make the first move, if he truly dares. His house, his rules. Maybe he really wants you dead, and if so, this’ll be the way to find out. I bet he doesn’t have the courage; he knows what you can do.

— Well… Daag reasserts himself, still waiting for you to say something. — Do sit down at least; you know my feet aren’t what they used to be. I will have to warn you, I am entertaining some guests, so we need to get to the point here soon. I can’t spend the whole night waiting for your tick-tocky little head to spin around to speaking your mind. I want to hear you say it first, before I say my part.

Daag sits, you sit… Papak sits as well, conspicuously scraping the heavy chair as he does. You can only see a dark silhouette of him in the candlelight. No features at all.

Go on, dive straight into the bit. No need to talk about the swamp thing at all. He’ll take it up he wants to. Pretending like he doesn’t want to hear you tell of it.

An ugly little thought worms its way into your head. Sweats break out as you remember what it felt like having a bossy… thing in your head. Hearing voices that are not really there.

Want a dialogue here?


One thought on “Sunken House

  1. A strong entry. Nice descriptions – very atmospheric – which is very welcome after a lot of dialogue, action, and hallucinations. The mansion feels both spooky and very real.

    I really like the way the hallucinations are being handled here – the reader is in the dark even though Derak seems to be sobering up.

    Papal scraping his chair is a fantastic little detail.

    I’m excited to see the story moving ahead, meeting Daag at last, and dialogues are usually my favourite parts of the story.


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