luminosity of exposed organs – 20.9

Content Warnings

None this chapter.

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“Houses cannot ‘do’ maths,” Evelyn said for the tenth time in the last two hours.

On every previous occasion she had added a little exasperated sigh — sometimes irritated, sometimes affectionate, sometimes resigned — but that final time she just swallowed. Her voice trailed off, her point unfinished, the rant forgotten. She didn’t look at me. None of us looked at each other.

We were too busy staring across the purple-lit grassy hills of Camelot, at the thing we had brought Outside.

A patented Evee-rant would have done us all a world of good right about then, which was why I said: “This one did.”

Evelyn swallowed again, then took a deep breath, steeling herself like a swimmer about to plunge into cold water. “Houses cannot perform mathematics.” She paused, then: “Let alone self-implementing hyperdimensional mathematics. They are not brains, or even computers imitating brains. It doesn’t matter if you scratch ‘one plus one equals two’ into a wall, the wall does not add up to anything. You … well … you didn’t ‘imagine’ it. But you’re being inaccurate. Your metaphors are running away with your mouth, Heather.”

Raine forced a chuckle. “Our Heather does have a habit of that, but I think this time is a little different, Evee.”

“It’s not a metaphor,” I said, gently but firmly. “I mean it literally. The house stopped the equation, scrubbed part of it out, changed the values — I don’t know how. And then once I convinced it otherwise—”

“You convinced a house,” Evelyn sighed. “Heather, it’s a building.”

“Yes! Evee, for pity’s sake, why is this so hard to believe? You’re a mage, you’ve seen the supposed rules of reality get broken six ways to Sunday. You’re standing next to a person made of wood, right now.” I gestured at Praem with a tip of one tentacle — then winced at the muscle pain running up the limb like a line of drums. Raine rubbed my back, distracting me with pressure. I hugged the tentacle, nursing myself. “Are you telling me Praem doesn’t think, or have feelings, just because she doesn’t have a human brain?”

Evelyn tutted. “That’s different. Heather, you know that’s different.”

“Why?” I demanded. Then I added, for Praem’s benefit, “I apologise, Praem, I didn’t mean to cast doubt on your sapience or self-determination, or anything like that. I’m just trying to make Evee see sense.”

From a ways behind us, as if a few feet extra distance would impart additional safety, Jan spoke up: “Oh my dears, there is no sense to be seen here.”

Nicole — even further back than Jan, practically ready to fall over backwards through the open gateway — said: “Fuckin’ right hey. Fuckin’ right.”

Everyone else ignored her — except Lozzie, who did a giggle-snort. Laughing at her girlfriend’s terrible jokes, I assumed.

Praem turned her head to glance at me — she was the only one of us other than Lozzie who wasn’t mesmerized by the view down the Camelot hillside. Praem stared, her eyes milk-white and unreadable.

I grimaced an apology. “Sorry, sorry Praem, this isn’t remotely comparable with you. Sorry.”

Evelyn said, low and contemplative, “Technically Praem does have a brain. She’s grown one, in wood-grain and dead cellulose. That’s how demons work; soul-pressure modifies the flesh to better reflect the contents of the vessel. So, yes, Praem has a structure in her head which looks very much like a brain. Though, injuring it wouldn’t injure her like one of us.” Evelyn swallowed again and pulled an awkward half-smile. “Never test that, please, Praem. You don’t have permission to sustain a head injury.”

“Large,” Praem intoned.


“Large and wrinkly. Many folds. Maid brained.”

Raine snorted. Lozzie giggled. Evelyn sighed. I forced a token laugh, the best I could do under the circumstances. Zheng — a few paces to my other side — rumbled like a steam engine in a holding pattern.

Twil said, as if this was all the most natural thing in the world: “Maid brains gotta be more wrinkly and folded than others, right? Right? ‘Cos of all the frills! Eh? Eh? Get it?”

Evelyn sighed again. “Yes, Twil. We get it.”

Raine said, “Gotta work on your joke structure, Twil.”

“Well,” I added, “I thought it was very good. Well done.”

Twil blew out a sigh. Poor puppy, she was trying her best. We were all trying to force a bit of normality, as if following some buried instinct to defend our psyches against the sight in front of us.

“Anyway,” Evelyn huffed. “My point, Heather, is that one requires a brain — a thinking-structure, whatever it’s made from — to affect hyperdimensional mathematical changes to the structure of reality.”

Praem intoned: “Heather, bigger brain. Bulging.”

Twil lost control and snorted. Behind us, Jan sighed very heavily and very sharply, and muttered: “I don’t understand how you lot can joke about this.”

Nicole said, “They’re all fucking nutters. All of them.”

“Mages,” said Amy Stack.

She was standing even further back than Jan and Nicole, her boots only just over the threshold of the gateway from Number 12 Barnslow Drive. She was only standing on Camelot’s soil because there was absolutely no way she was being left back in the house itself with only Tenny, Marmite, and the spider-servitors to stop her doing anything we didn’t want.

“Ah?” said Jan. “Excuse me?”

“Mages,” Amy repeated.

Jan let out a tight little huff. “I am also a mage.”

Stack said nothing.

Raine called back down to Stack: “We laugh because we choose not to cry! Joke or go crackers! You should join in, Amy. Got a place saved for you. Come sit on my lap, hey?”

Amy Stack said absolutely nothing. I didn’t even look, but I could feel her stare like an ice cube dropped down the back of my collar. She was not impressed.

Evelyn sighed again. “Raine, stop antagonizing our pet psychopath.”

“I’m not antagonising her,” Raine said. “I’m sure doing something, but it ain’t that.”

I had to resist the urge to point out there was a word for what Raine was doing: flirting.

Jan was right — we must all have been mad to be having this conversation right then, in the face of this unspeakable thing, with Badger still in danger, less than two hours after witnessing some of the worst violence any of us had ever seen. There was a neat pile of corpses laid out not a hundred feet away, just around the corner of the half-complete Camelot Castle. Some of us were still covered in blood. A row of looted firearms lay on the grass, just as alien and strange Outside as they had been in the English countryside. And here we were, making stupid jokes, and flirting.

Maybe Raine was right. Maybe that’s the sane thing to do — make stupid jokes with your friends and listen to hopeless flirting, to drown out the blood and the bullets. It was better than crying.

Evelyn snapped, “Can we please stay on topic? Heather, my point is, the house did not do mathematics.”

“But it did! How is that harder to absorb than … ” I gestured helplessly, down the Camelot hillside.

Twil clucked her tongue and said: “What if it’s a demon-possessed house?”

Evelyn finally looked away from the sight down the hill and stared at Twil. “What? What are you talking about?”

Twil shrugged. “You can put demons in anything, right? Like, it’s a super bad idea, but it works, doesn’t it?”

Evelyn just stared at her for a long moment, brow creased in one hell of a frown. Then she looked back at the thing we could no longer call a House. She shook her head — but she did it slowly. “No. No, that’s completely absurd. A demon in such a diffuse structure would de-cohere. And the changes it would make to the building would be … well, not unlike what we saw inside Glasswick Tower, with Alexander’s corpse.”

Twil gestured down the hill and pulled a face which said ‘yeah-see-what-I-mean’. “Duh.”

Evelyn shook her head. “This is not the same.”

“Mm,” I agreed, thinking out loud. “It wasn’t like talking to a demon. It wasn’t possessed, it was just … House. It was just a house.”

Evelyn huffed. “My point exactly, Heather. In the end it’s just a house. No brain — demonic modification or organic or otherwise. You couldn’t move it at first, yes, but that must be some layer of trick by Edward. Houses don’t refuse to move. It’s just a house.”

Evelyn worked hard to shore up the failing confidence in her own voice, to pack more quick-drying cement on her denials and justifications. But the evidence in front of us — down the hill and beyond the outline of what would one day be a curtain wall, embedded in the concrete-lined hole we’d dug for Edward’s house, and now sprouting like a mushroom of brick and beam — was a tidal wave of undeniable reality that even Evelyn could not explain away.

Twil went, “Pfffft. Come on, Evee. That’s not a house. Not any more. Looks like there’s about twelve demons in that thing, not just one. Whole damn party down there.”

“Demon party,” said Praem. “Woo hoo.”

Nobody laughed.

Evelyn rubbed at her red-rimmed eyes, too exhausted to argue further. I wet my lips and felt extremely awkward — and more than a little worried about Badger, still somewhere inside the thing. Raine cracked her knuckles and cracked a grin. Behind us, Jan shifted a step closer to July, as if seeking refuge. Lozzie held her hand. Zheng stared down the slope like a statue; even she didn’t want to go anywhere near the thing down there.

We were in Camelot, just shy of two hours after the gunfight at Edward’s House, gathered on the small hillside within the outline of the future curtain wall of the castle. All of us were present, plus Lozzie and Nicole, with some reluctance on the latter’s part — and minus Kimberly. The group call had been terminated once we’d gotten home; there was little to nothing we could do for Amanda Hopton, after all, except attempt to release the bubble-servitors from wherever they had been spirited away to. The gateway to Sharrowford — our way back to Evelyn’s magical workshop — stood open at our rear, guarded on the far side by Evelyn’s spider-servitors, and on this side by a small group of Knights and a single dedicated Caterpillar looming over the comparatively tiny structure. Evelyn had reassured us that no Outsider matter could cross back through the gate; but the House and its contents were not from Outside. We weren’t taking any chances with something escaping back into our own home.

Camelot was just as soothing and placid as always, a strange island of calm refuge amid the endless whirling vistas of Outside. The warm wind carried a scent of cinnamon and the cushion-soft yellow grasses cupped the soles of one’s shoes with every step. Purple nebula-light flooded down from the whorls of glowing crystal orbiting in the dark, cool skies. Camelot was impenetrable, not for the strength of its walls, but for the calm of its nature.

Even arrayed for war, Camelot felt peaceful and calm.

Perhaps that’s what kept the House in check.

Edward Lilburne’s House had arrived exactly where I had originally intended, sat neatly in the concrete-lined pit prepared by the Knights and the Caterpillars. The structure was buffered with great volumes of dirt which had arrived alongside it, and braced with white slabs of shed Caterpillar armour, to stop the whole thing subsiding.

The dirt — the high clay content soil taken from a hidden corner of English woodland — was not something we had considered the importance of previously. Luckily for the rest of us, Lozzie had several Knights down there already on bucket duty, far too close to the House for anybody’s comfort, extracting stray earthworms and random beetles and any other earthly life we’d accidentally transported along with the House.

Not for Camelot’s safety, though. According to Lozzie, it was far too cruel to abandon dozens of innocent earthworms here, where they’d probably run down and die within a day or two, over-exposed to the alien pressures of Outside.

I happened to agree, but we still didn’t think it was worth venturing so close to the House — or, what had been a House, until it had arrived here.

Edward Lilburne’s House had bloomed, like a giant fungal stalk.

The original structure — the one we had faced down in reality, the ordinary looking albeit old house with a frontage that had been reworked to spell out the secrets of the twin prime conjecture — was still there, still intact, sitting in its bed of soil and concrete. The front door stood open, showing nothing but black void. The windows were dark and empty. Like a shell.

It now formed the foundation — or perhaps the roots — of a second house.

A vertical stalk made of brick and beam and smoke-dark glass had exploded upward from the roof of the structure, as thick as the House itself, a jumbled amalgamation of House-parts climbing toward the sky, a perverse beanstalk of domestic matter all mixed together. Fifty feet up in the air it flowed outward, spreading like the branches of a tree — or more accurately like a fungal cap one might find on a cute little woodland mushroom, except made of brick and beam, wood and glass, tile and door frame and windows.

The structure hanging in the air was easily several times the size of the House-seed from which it had sprouted, and impossible to construct or maintain under the pressure of earthly physics and gravity. Tendrils of brick and frills of window hung down from the underside of the curved cap; nodules of roof tile ran in ridges along the top; lines of door frame formed zig-zag patterns up the trunk. Beams stuck out at every possible angle, like thorns or hairs on the stem of a fungal rose.

The thing looked as if it should be swaying in the wind, or flexing with mushroom growth, or perhaps breathing with regular pulses of air. But it was frozen solid, unmoving and stable, as a House should be.

Had we accidentally planted a seed in Outside soil? Or was this like a fish ripped from the deep sea, a corpse expanding under the lack of usual pressure? The others muttered such speculation — that the house had metastasised like a cancer, or it was trying to colonize Camelot, or perhaps that this was what Edward had wanted all along.

But we — myself and my tentacles — could not shake the image of a conjoined twin.

A House with a twin who had been sealed within its House-like body, absorbed in the womb (but what is a womb, for a house?) Only under the vastly different conditions of Outside had that half-dead twin finally bloomed upward into the open air, claiming flesh and reality for herself.

That idea made our skin crawl. We hugged ourselves tight.

At least the House wasn’t screaming, not that I could hear — but perhaps that’s only because it was intimidated by our not-so-little army.

I dislike using military terminology to refer to the Knights and the Caterpillars as a whole. They are not really an army, or if they are it is not the only thing they are, nor the most important component of their concept of self-hood. Inside each Knight is a piece of flesh, earth-born but Outsider-changed by the grace of Lozzie’s biological gifts; the same uplifted spirit-flesh resides in each Caterpillar shell, though multiplied many times over. They are a tiny, embryonic culture and society, non-human, once-of-Earth, now rooted in Outside — group-minded, spread across two different physical forms, and cradled in a symbiotic relationship with both suits of metal armour and the far less earthly biotechnology of the vast Caterpillar machines. Growing, building, talking among themselves, creating language, art, and exploring their environment; they were more than just force. To treat them as such would be a violation of an implicit trust. They had dedicated themselves to my protection and the rescue of my sister, but they had done so because they had once known me as a terrified little girl.

I was not their Queen. They owed me no allegiance. They were not mine to dispose of as I wished.

But they had formed themselves up in front of the house all the same. We hadn’t even asked.

Gleaming chrome stood in stillness and silence, arrayed in loose ranks about fifty feet back from the open front door of the House, ready to repel anything which might emerge from that unyielding black void. They had dug a deep V-shaped ditch to defend their position, and used the resulting bank of earth to give themselves a high ground advantage. Only a token force — less than a dozen — remained on the walls of Camelot castle itself.

Despite the wide variation in armament and occasional vagueness of purpose, the Knights had positioned themselves with expert intention: tower shields and lances to the fore, with halberds and spears and other pole weapons just behind. The flanks of their formation were guarded by axes and great-swords, and I had no doubt they would be capable of rapid shifts of position if need be. Those few Knights with strange crossbow-like weapons stood slightly further back, on a small rise of the landscape, ready to fire over the heads of the others.

“Wouldn’t like to be charging into that,” Raine had said when we’d first arrived and seen the Knights drawn up for battle. “Horseback or not. Bet they’re nigh-on unbreakable. Lozzie? Lozzie, hey, do your lads and lasses in shining armour even know how to run away?”

Lozzie had pulled a big silly shrug. She wasn’t the type to obsess over military matters.

But the infantry were ants compared to the heavy support.

Twelve Caterpillars ringed the House, giants of pitted white carapace with their sides turned to face the ‘foe’. Each of the Caterpillars had several massive black tendrils extended from their face-areas, poised and pointing toward the House, as if waiting for a signal to fire. For all I knew, they really did have living artillery packed into those gigantic barn-sized bodies.

An additional trio of Caterpillars formed a wall between the House and the Camelot castle, just in case. Nobody was taking any chances with this interloper, the Knights least of all.

To see so many Caterpillars gathered in one place was shocking to one’s own scale of self, in the same way as seeing a street of skyscrapers for the first time, or standing amid an airfield of nuclear bombers, or a staging ground full of tanks: their size, the way their bulk blocked out pieces of horizon and redefined the landscape, their caged energy and power and potential, the way their great internal engines set up a resonating hum in the air, just below hearing. I couldn’t help but notice the different shades of mud and dirt around the skirts of white carapace — the Caterpillars had been off exploring Camelot, in half a dozen different and unimaginable places. And they had all returned, to help. And this was only a handful of the giant wriggly friends.

The House was alien and strange; Edward Lilburne was a powerful mage. But out here, Outside, we had made something beyond monsters and magicians.

Well, Lozzie had made them. Then they had made themselves. I couldn’t claim much credit.

Out in reality, we had been woefully unprepared for a siege, surprised by sudden violence, and almost overwhelmed by the scale of the task. Here, we were all too ready to batter down Edward’s walls.

Except Badger was still in there.

We made a sad sight in comparison with the tightly-organised Knights and the impenetrable armour-hulls of the Caterpillars. The gunfight at the House and the slow horror of the aftermath had left us all drained and exhausted.

Raine put on a good front of confidence and energy, but I knew her too well not to see through to the truth: she was jittery and tired, and far too interested in the stolen gun which was now strapped over her shoulder. Twil was odd, her smiles too wide, her laughs too loud. The killing had shaken her. Evelyn was squint-eyed and hunched with effort, clinging to Praem’s arm. Jan and July were not doing too badly, though Jan’s courage and determination had faltered in the face of the fruiting House. Lozzie seemed normal, but very attached to Jan; perhaps she did not want this to go ahead.

Felicity and Nicole had me worried in a very different kind of way. On the way home, Felicity had taken a detour, to drop off Kimberly and the boy from the House at Sharrowford General Hospital. The covert drop-off had gone off without a hitch. Kimberly had even called us to let us know that the boy was being looked at, few questions asked, and Kimberly was passing herself off as a concerned bystander — and just about to leave, on foot, without supplying any identification.

But Nicole had seemed upset, even angry; she’d exchanged a few words with Felicity while everyone else’s backs were turned.

Now Felicity wouldn’t even look at Nicole, averting her eyes with dignified contempt. And Nicole kept glaring daggers at Felicity’s back — or at least she had been doing so, until the shock of stepping through to Camelot had left her speechless and shivering.

Jan was right, the battlefield was no place for lingering romantic jealousy.

Only the demon-hosts — Praem, Zheng, and July — were their usual selves. Amy Stack hadn’t been much affected by the fight and the gore, but standing on the alien soil of Camelot was making her twitchy and tense; she hid it incredibly well, as only a professional could. I was the only one who could see it so openly, but it left her just as compromised as the rest of us.

And me? Myself and myself? All the little Heathers in our shared head-space? We were not having a good time, to put it lightly.

In Camelot, blessed with the altered reality of Outside, our tentacles were visible to the others in all our rainbow-throbbing glory. But we were wrapped around our own stomach and ribs, hugging ourselves tightly to stop from falling over and closing our eyes. We ached with muscle pain all the way down every tentacle, each limb a tube of slow-burning agony.

I was still caked with far too much of my own blood-sweat; the inside of my abdomen throbbed and ached with the aftermath of reactor red-line; only Raine’s arm looped through my own kept me on my feet. We wanted nothing more than to drag ourselves into a nice dark cave, coil up in a ball, and fall into a dreamless sleep.

Not a good condition in which to assault anything, let alone whatever the House had turned into.

Raine had wanted me to rest on the car ride home, but that was impossible. We hadn’t known what had truly become of the House until we’d arrived back at Number 12 Barnslow Drive, bundled everybody indoors — followed by the screeching tyres of Stack’s raggedly blue car — and then waited while Evelyn spent several frantic minutes activating the gateway. Lozzie was forbidden from Slipping to Camelot without the rest of us, just in case Edward had any final tricks up his sleeve.

Out in the woods, we had left little behind except a great big hole in the ground where the House had once stood. The teleport had taken the foundations, part of an underground septic tank, and cut the House off from a set of buried power lines. I’d almost toppled in, but Zheng had darted forward and yanked me back.

A mysterious pit, two cars and a fountain pockmarked with massive holes, a lot of blood with no apparent source, and several dozen bullet casings.

We didn’t have time to clean all that up. Let the paranormal investigators and the Sharrowford police believe what they wanted — there was no way to trace it back to us.

So now, all minds were turned to the House.

Evelyn sighed again, more exhausted than exasperated. I looked away from the giant brick-and-beam mushroom of Edward’s house and caught a moment of Evelyn Saye, Mage, lit in profile by the source-less purple glow of Camelot, a gentle frown of intense thought on her brow, her teeth pinching her lower lip as she chewed at the problem. Praem was supporting her arm, keeping her on her feet much like Raine was with me; for a moment the family resemblance between Evelyn and Praem was clearer than ever, their features softened and highlighted by Camelot’s gentle winds.

Then Evelyn frowned harder and the moment passed. She tutted. “Badger’s fucked up all our plans. God damn him, the absolute fool. You better hope you find him before I do, Heather, because if I get to him first I’m going to have Praem hog-tie him.”

Nobody laughed. Evelyn cleared her throat and looked around.

“Joke,” said Praem.

“Yes,” Evelyn sighed. “I am joking. Of course. Though we probably should tie his hands together to stop him doing anything else so stupid.”

Raine laughed, but even she had to force the sound. “Assumed you were serious, Evee.”

“Yuuuup,” went Twil. “He’s kinda fucked it, hasn’t he?”

Behind us, Amy Stack spoke up again. “What is your plan?”

Evelyn finally tore her attention completely away from Edward Lilburne’s House and our waiting siege forces. She half-twisted in Praem’s grip and fixed a pinch-eyed glare on Stack. Nicole Web got caught in the blast zone, shuffling sideways on her crutches and eyeing Stack like a condemned prisoner.

Evelyn said, low and dangerous with cold anger: “You would know that if you’d bothered to communicate properly with us. You would also know that having one of our own inside the house is a grave liability. You should have told us what Nathan was going to do. You absolute idiot. Surprised you survived five minutes of being a mercenary.”

Stack just stared. Cold eyes shuttered against raging anger.

Jan cleared her throat delicately and lifted her head. “Operation Jericho,” she said, then pulled a self-conscious wince.

Raine laughed. “We really can’t call it that. Come off it, Jan.”

Felicity said, “Yeah, that’s … that’s in bad taste. Kinda messed up.”

“I enjoy a bit of fancy naming,” Jan said. Then she sighed. “But yes, okay. Operation big loud tooting?”

Twil spluttered a laugh.

“Toot,” said Praem.

Evelyn huffed, unimpressed. She nodded sideways, vaguely in the direction of the Caterpillars. “The large-scale Outsider creatures—”

“Not Outsiders!” Lozzie chirped. I grunted in agreement. “Cattys!” Lozzie said.

Evelyn pursed her lips. “The ‘Caterpillars’ can put out a massive amount of directional sound — possibly enough to damage brick and concrete, certainly more than enough to hurt flesh and bone. This step of our plan is — or was — to bombard the house with enough ‘loud tooting’ to render any unprotected human beings very much unconscious, possibly dead.”

“Right,” said Stack. “And now Nathan is in there.”

Evelyn gritted her teeth. “Yes, he is. Isn’t he?”

Stack held her glare. I was mildly impressed.

We cleared our raw and aching throat: “Um. Actually I think that plan would be ruined anyway, Evee. I’m … personally very reluctant to risk hurting the house itself. It doesn’t deserve that. I don’t think it even knows who Edward is.”

Evelyn sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Twil looked quite uncomfortable. But Felicity nodded and Zheng grunted; I wasn’t alone in this understanding of the House as more than just a structure.

Raine cracked a smirk. “Looks like there’s nothing else for it, ladies. We’ve gotta go in there. On foot.”

Jan cleared her throat again. “That building has no power and no water. I say we give it a day or two — or even better, a whole week. With any luck we starve him out, no need to go assaulting a fortified position.”

“Nathan is in there,” I said. “He might need our help.”


Everybody flinched — except Praem and July. Zheng’s throaty rumble was like the threat of a storm on the horizon. She flexed her massive hands and rolled her neck from side to side, sullen eyes fixed on the House.

“Zheng?” I ventured. “What’s wrong?”

Zheng just blinked slowly, focused on a thought nobody else could see. “The worm is not the only wayward fool.”

“The bubble-servitors?” Evelyn asked, squinting with disbelief. “You’re concerned about those? Seriously?”

Raine murmured, “Evee, shhhhh.”

I said: “The demon-host? The one who ran off?”

Zheng didn’t answer. She just inhaled deeply, straightening up and rumbling again. I couldn’t be sure without asking her in private, but I could have sworn she was grappling with some inner conflict. Whatever she was experiencing, it was too fragile for questions.

“No siege,” she said eventually. “Shaman. I will go alone if you do not.”

“I think we have to,” I said. “Yes, Zheng. We can’t let Nathan do this alone. And not … yes. Not alone.”

Twil blew out a big sigh. “I do not fancy going in there. Sorry, big H. Even out here, like. Just, no. No way. Fuck me. We’re gonna do it anyway, aren’t we?”

Raine flashed a grin. “Can’t leave Nate to his fate.”

“Nooooo,” Twil whined. “Don’t do shit poetry now, Raine. I can’t take it.”

Jan said, a little too high-pitched, “I am not stepping in there. By all the gods of Kadath, I am not stepping in there. Spooky houses and mages are never a good combination.”

Raine laughed. “You should see some of the places we’ve been before. This is nothing.”

“We can’t leave Nathan in there,” I murmured. “And we can’t leave … we can’t, we—”

Evelyn huffed like the brakes on a tractor. “Alright!” she snapped. “Fine! Praem, help me get— that’s it, thank you, thank you Praem.” Evelyn hobbled and huffed a few paces in front of the rest of us, with Praem at her side, then turned around and fixed us all with a razor-sharp glare. Back hunched, clutching her walking stick, framed by the purple light of Camelot and the siege on the grassy plain below, with a few strands of her straw-blonde hair tugged loose by the warm winds, Evelyn could have led me anywhere. She was, in a way. I would follow her to Wonderland, in time.

Evelyn opened her mouth, but Raine got there first: “Evee, Evee, who put you back in command, hey?”

“Raine!” I hissed. Joking to let off steam was one thing, but undermining Evelyn’s confidence was a bridge too far, even for Raine. For a moment I had no idea what she was thinking. Was she trying to intentionally pull us back from the task? Was Raine afraid this was too much for us, but unwilling to speak her mind?

Even after all that time, I still did not fully understand our Raine. She kept surprising me, every time I thought I knew her inside out.

Her words drew Evelyn’s glare to her — and drew Evelyn’s spine upright, Evelyn’s chin higher, Evelyn’s walking stick off the grass of Camelot to brandish at Raine’s face.

“Me!” Evelyn snapped. “I’ve put myself back in charge!” She gestured at Jan. “No offense to our ‘contractor’, but she’s not exactly showing any spine when it comes to walking into supernatural environments. But you and I, Raine?” Evelyn’s scowl transmuted with the force of knowledge, into a savage little grin more at home on Zheng’s face than Evee’s. My heart did a funny little back-flip. “You and me. Twil. Heather. Praem. Even Zheng? We’ve done this enough times before. We know what we’re doing. Now!” Evelyn snapped. “Listen up!”

Twil snorted under her breath. “Yes madam drill sergeant, three bags full ma’am, lickety split ma’am.”

Evelyn ignored that. She looked at all of us at once — a clever trick. I thought I was the only one capable of that.

“If we do this,” Evelyn said, “then we do it right. We’ve screwed up this kind of thing enough times before — Alexander’s castle, the cult’s house, Carcosa, more — but this time is going to be different. We stick together. We go slow. Nobody moves alone. Nobody touches anything, breathes on anything without permission and investigation first. We—”

Zheng rumbled: “You do not command me, wizard.”

Evelyn, to my surprise, didn’t even flinch. She didn’t even look at Zheng. She just pointed at her with the walking stick. “You can shut the fuck up and get in line, or you can fuck off back home.”

Zheng stiffened. I froze, too, ready for everything to go suddenly and terribly wrong. Praem hadn’t been expecting that either — she moved to step in front of Evee, to head off any sudden aggression.

Zheng rumbled, “Wizard.”

“Down,” said Praem.

Evelyn looked at Zheng. “Do you know why you’re going to do what you’re told? No? Because in less than two months we are going to be doing this same procedure for Wonderland.”

My stomach dropped. Zheng paused. “Huuuh.”

Evelyn continued. “When we do that, there can be no mistakes, no misplaced footfalls, no loose cannons. If there are, then we will all die, and it will be particularly horrible. This — this is a dress rehearsal. A dry run. Down there in that house is a dangerous mage, and I do not know why he’s not struck back at us, but compared to the Eye, he is nothing. This is the best practice we’re going to get. So, Zheng, demon-host. Are you one of us, or are you a loose end we can’t stop snagging on sharp objects?”

The aggression flowed back out of Zheng’s posture, replaced with a kind of sullen darkness. She turned to look at us — at me.

“You’re one of us, Zheng,” I said without hesitation. “You’re with us. You are.”

“Huuunnh.” Zheng grunted. “The shaman answers for me. Very well, wizard.”

“Your orders are simple, anyway,” Evelyn said. “Don’t touch anything you’re not supposed to, don’t run off and cause a problem, and … ” Evelyn paused and grinned. “If we need something killing, be quick about it.”

Zheng couldn’t help the replying smile. We breathed an internal sigh of relief. My most beloved really did understand each other, if they only tried.

Evelyn nodded, then turned her gaze back to the rest of us. “This time is going to be different — because we’re going to have an escort. Lozzie!”

Lozzie did a little hop-jump away from Jan, flapping her hands either side of her head like mock rabbit ears. “Yah!”

“I want the Knights with us. Obviously not all of them, there’s far too many to fit into that house. But at least thirty. I want them in the lead, I want them at our rear, I want them flanking us; I want the vulnerable core of human flesh protected by a wall of metal. Can you do that for us?”

Lozzie did a side-to-side head bob, then nodded in one decisive dip of her head. “I can’t!”

Evelyn blinked. “I—”

“But they can!” Lozzie pointed down at the Knights. “I’m not in charge, you know? I just give them suggestions. It doesn’t work like that, Eveey-weevey.”

Evelyn huffed softly. “Thank you, Lozzie, I know, but I’m trying to simplify things here, so—”

“Evee,” I croaked. “Wait. They’re coming to help.”

Down in the formation of Knights, one lone figure split off from the right flank and slowly began hiking back up the hill toward us. A smile grew on my face as I recognised the filigree of designs on his armour, the optical illusion of quasi-floral swirls which brought to mind the depths of a forest seen from the edge of the tree-line, filled with hidden green groves and ivy-wrapped trunks. A gigantic single-bladed axe was slung over his right shoulder. He drew to a stop a few paces from Evelyn, tall and silent and glinting in the purple light.

It was the Forest Knight.

Everyone else watched with curiosity or wariness, but Lozzie bounced up to him and hugged the front of his armour. He didn’t hug back — I’m not sure if the Knights were used to such things — but he did dip his visor-less helmet in greeting.

“Hello, you!” I said, feeling brighter already. “How … how are you? If that question makes sense, I suppose, um … ”

The Forest Knight’s blank helmet turned toward me in acknowledgement. A dip, up and down. Hello. I am well.

Praem intoned, “Good day to you.”

Evelyn cleared her throat and pointed at the Forest Knight, but addressed me: “Heather, this is the one who accompanied you to Carcosa, yes?”

I nodded. “Yes. Yes, he is. Evee, they do understand us, they really do. We can trust them — trust him.”

Lozzie hopped free of the Forest Knight and said, “Ask again!”

Evelyn looked vaguely uncomfortable as she tried to figure out where to point her eyes: in the end she settled for talking upward to the Forest Knight’s blank visor, despite the lack of eye-slit in his perfectly seamless armour. She explained once again what we needed: Knights in front, behind, and to both sides; protection and security; durable scouts and unbreakable defenders.

Before she even finished, the formation of Knights on the hillside below began to shift and break apart. Twenty nine of Lozzie’s shining giants broke formation and stepped back, their places quickly filled as the shield wall closed up to compensate. They pulled back as a group, with shields and lances, pole-arms and axes, and formed a rough U-shape behind the main body of Knights, with space for us to join them.

We all watched, speechless for a moment as the request was filled, our escort made ready.

“Wheeeeeeeey!” Raine cheered. “Good on you, mate. Good on you.”

“Okaaaaay,” went Twil. “Alright. Well. Maybe going in there won’t be that bad, like … ”

Evelyn looked back up at the Forest Knight’s eyeless visor. “Thank you. We are in your debt. As if we weren’t before.”

Praem said, “Suggestion: strawberries.”

The Forest Knight nodded at that. The movement was so slight that nobody else saw. Except perhaps for Praem.

Lozzie gave him another hug, too. Not everybody was so enthusiastic, however. Felicity and Jan both looked terrified, though to slightly different degrees. Stack watched with ice-cold disinterest. Nicole was clutching her own forehead and muttering under her breath. Zheng looked happy enough about this, but she kept eyeing the Forest Knight as if he might make an interesting sparring partner. July watched Zheng. That was a bad sign.

“Right then,” Evelyn raised her voice and turned back to the rest of us. “A show of hands. Who’s coming?”

Stack and Nicole both bowed out in silence; they would stay here with the Knights. Felicity hesitated, then sighed and raised her hand with the rest of us. Jan went white in the face — staring at Lozzie, who’s hand was raised straight up. Jan’s own hand was frozen before her.

“Heather, hey, Heather,” Raine was saying to me, trying to grab my own hand and coax me back down. “Heather, whoa, come on. You’re wiped out. I know you want to come, but you’re exhausted, your tentacles are down and out.”

“I can still do brain-math,” I croaked. “Not high-level things like teleporting a whole house, but I can still turn a bullet. I can. I’m not staying behind.”

Raine smiled, almost sadly, but with such affection.

“Yeah,” Twil said. “I’m not going without big H at our backs.”

Behind us, Jan was saying, “Lozzie, you can’t be serious. Your uncle is in there. It’s like walking into the exact place he wants you to go.”

Lozzie smiled, big and wide and oh-so smug. She spread her arms. “With all my friends to kick him to pieces!”

Jan shuddered and swallowed, a spark of adoration deep in her eyes, her face pale and sweating. “Oh, fine.” She raised her hand. “I’m in. I hate all of you people. I’m supposed to be in the back line, not getting stabbed in the front.”

July said, “You are protected.”

“Easy for you to say!”


Evelyn stepped over to Lozzie, still leaning on Praem for support. When she spoke, she pitched her voice low, almost private. “Lozzie, are you certain? Are you comfortable joining us? Nobody will think less of you if you don’t. You don’t have to watch us do the deed.”

Lozzie nodded, big and bold. “I wanna! And you need more emergency exits along-along, too!”

“We’ll protect her,” we said in a croaking voice, then reached out and wrapped one aching tentacle around Lozzie’s waist. She leaned into the hug.

A dark mote floated in Evelyn’s eyes. She gestured to Lozzie and said, “May I borrow you for a moment? I think we need one more step, here.”

Lozzie nodded. To my surprise, Evelyn took her hand and led her off a little way, only a few paces. They put their heads together for a second, whispering too softly for anybody else to overhear. Praem stood tall, pretending not to listen. Then she turned her head and looked at me. After a moment Lozzie looked up and gestured to the Forest Knight. He joined them too; Evelyn whispered something up to him. Lozzie nodded along.

“Oh no,” said Twil. “She’s got some mad plan. I just know it. Can’t anything be straightforward around here? Ever?”

“Nope,” said Jan. “That’s generally how it goes, once you’re in deep enough.”

Twil snorted. “I’ve been in deep my whole life, thanks.”

Evelyn and Lozzie straightened up. Lozzie was biting her bottom lip, her face a mask of worry. Evelyn looked determined, but also ashamed. They walked back over, the Forest Knight following along behind.

Before I could ask what was happening, one of the Caterpillars down below began to move.

A single Caterpillar broke off from the circle of twelve and moved toward the front of the house. The motion of great engines throbbed through the air. Carapace-skirts ghosted over the yellow grass of Camelot, sliding almost without friction. Great black tendrils arced ahead of the Caterpillar, multiplying from somewhere inside the main body.

“Evee?” I croaked. “What are we doing?”

Evelyn sighed sharply and looked at me with a bitter hardness behind her eyes. “We’re going to have to hurt the house, Heather. Just a little.”

Lozzie made a wide-eyed face of scepticism. “A little? Nopey-nopes. It’s gonna be a little bit more than a little bit more. Evee-weevey, don’t lie.”

“I’m not lying, I’m trying to—”

“Evee,” I demanded in a croak. “What’s happening? What are you doing to the house?”

“Oh shit me,” said Twil, going up on tiptoes for a better look. “It’s gonna pull the door open?”

Evelyn cleared her throat: “It’s going to pull the entire door off. Frame, front wall, the lot.”

“Evee!” I squeaked. “Lozzie! It’s not— it doesn’t deserve—”

Evelyn looked away from me, and said, “Heather, look at that front door. It’s a black void. I won’t send a Knight through there just to find out it kills whatever passes through. They’re not slaves.”

And she was right. I had nothing to say to that. That door itself was an unknown threat, it could do anything, as far as we knew, even to a Knight. Could I have asked the House? Maybe. But any answer I could have gotten would not have been applicable to the world of quick flesh and hot blood, only to brick and mortar.

Down in the gap between the hills, the Caterpillar moved into position.

It was a giant compared to the House — but tiny beneath the towering mushroom-sprout of what the House had become. The barn-sized white grub pulled directly in front of the door, then reached out with a dozen massive black feelers. Each one wrapped around a piece of the door frame, the front wall, the bricks of the entryway, gluing themselves to the surface with a spreading black tar.

The tendrils tightened, taking up the slack. They thickened into throbbing ropes of solid muscle. Behind the great machine, the Knights drew inward, sheltering behind the tower shields.

The Caterpillar pulled.

A great bass throb of machine-power rolled through the air, almost a physical sensation washing over us. The Caterpillar pulled and pulled, trying to move in reverse away from the House — but the resistance was greater than the mere strength of brick and beam.

The Forest Knight turned his visor-less helmet to look down at Lozzie.

“Oh!” Lozzie chirped. She suddenly flapped round in her poncho, waving her hands in the air. “Everyone plug ears and open mouths!”

“Fuckin’ hell,” said Twil.

“I’m gone,” said Stack, and she even helped Nicole back through the portal. Everyone else did as the Forest Knight had asked. Except Praem, who covered Evelyn’s ears for her.

The Caterpillar pulled again, harder.

The wave of pressure or sound or sheer energy was of course none of those things, it was something Outsider, some approximation of an earthly process. But it throbbed through the air like heat and made my eyes water. It made Twil whine and Evelyn wince and Zheng bite the air. It made the Knights down below stoop as if in the face of a great wind. It made the Caterpillar itself sink half a foot into the soil as the front of the House refused to give way.

And then — pop!

It was not the kind of sound one expected from brick and plaster coming apart in a shattering rip of building materials; that came a split-second later, after the pop. The black void in the doorway burst like a soap bubble, or a biological membrane, a sound that was not a sound, heard even through plugged ears.

Then the crash, the cacophony of brick dust and splintered wood and shattered glass; the entire front door of Edward’s house tore free in a welter of debris, along with six feet of brick frontage all around the frame. The Caterpillar rocked in place and let the torn piece of House fall to the ground.

Dust cleared, blown free by Camelot’s cinnamon wind. The Knights straightened up. We all blinked, staring, gathering ourselves. Ears were cleared. Jaws were worked up and down.

A ragged wound gaped in the front of the House, where the door had stood. Past fringes of brick and tatters of wood, we had expected to see an entrance hallway.

Instead, metal racks marched away into deeper gloom, covered in tiny blinking lights.

It was like we’d opened a shell and found a bioluminescent mollusc living inside.

Twil said, squinting down at our first glimpse of the interior of Edward’s house: “Is that a server farm in there? What the hell?”

“A — sorry, a what?” I croaked.

“Never change, Heather,” said Raine.

Jan laughed and said, “Mages. Am I right, or am I right?”

Evelyn pinched the bridge of her nose. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Come on. Let’s get down there and have a closer look. And nobody touch anything. Absolutely nothing. Understand? Touch nothing.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Cattys are strong! And big! And like to go DOOT. But only small doot today. House is not for heavy dootings. Yet. (While Badger is inside, anyway.) And it’s the Forest Knight! Wonder how he’s been doing. Very professional, those big metal boys and girls, ready for a good scrap. Anyway, this chapter is somewhat of a breather after the violence and aftermath, and before the … well, the descent. But surely Edward would have responded by now, right? What’s even happening in there? Maybe Heather knows more than she thinks she does … 

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Next week, it’s time to go indoors. Inside. Into the H o u s e??? Where Badger???

20 thoughts on “luminosity of exposed organs – 20.9

  1. “My most beloved”, hehehehehe.
    Raine will be Raine, I guess.
    If the House had even Zheng being cautious, nobody should want to go anywhere near that thing.
    I’m with Evelyn, how has Stack survived this long. She must be a combination of skill and luck.
    That “tyre” had me pause and use Google search.
    Thank you for the chapter.

    • Raine cannot be stopped from flirting, under no circumstances will she slow down.

      Mm, Zheng prefers buildings which she can fight with her fists. She can do that, even! But this time she needs to be polite.

      Stack is very cautious, very much looking after number one, and very good at it, too. Always ready to run when she needs to!

      Ah! Tyre is the British English spelling, indeed, but I suppose it is kind of archaic by now.

      And you are very welcome! Glad you enjoyed reading! Yay!

  2. Poor House, I hope it’s ok! Evie stop being judgmental… houses can do math if they want.
    Thanks for the chapter!

    • The House can get nice treats (mortar, bricks, glass) later on, for rebuilding! As for Evee, I suspect her denial is mostly just a reflexive self-defense mechanism at this point. She can’t deny the proof of her eyes!

      And you are very very welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed it, thank you!

      • She did the same thing when she learned about the King in Yellow. She is really set in how she think about the world, what is real and what is not.

      • Considering how she grew up and the sorts of things her mother tried to teach her about magic and the nature of reality, it may be that Evee really relies on a very stable and rigid notion of reality, rather paradoxically for a mage.

  3. And the Cattys marched around Jericho for three days and dooted, until the house fell down.

    Ah shit, Eddy’s mining Bitcoin.

    • If they were allowed to go maximum doot, I doubt anything could stand up to them.

      Oh no, crypto! They have to stop him before he appropriates an entire Outside dimension for that!

  4. Even the self-aware house is being turned into a cute misunderstood girl now? Are any of the sapient eldritch abominations in this story going to stay eldritch abominations? I know this is Lovecraft-lite and not Lovecraft, but it still seems to be a little much. At this point I assume that the end-game for the story is that the Heather teaches the Eye about human motherhood and the Eye creates a human avatar to be a surrogate mother to Heather and Maisie.

    • However much certain parts of my audience would love it if Edward’s House turned out to be a cute girl – no. It’s a House. It doesn’t care what Edward does within its walls, it doesn’t have a concept of right or wrong, only Houseness or non-Houseness. I can promise that if one thing won’t get a cute girl avatar, it’s the houses, both the House, and Number 12 Barnslow Drive (whose sapience has been a rather more subtle affair.)

      • You are so incredibly welcome. Thank you for reading my little story! Really, it’s the kind of thing that keeps me doing this, reminds me why I do it in the first place. If my work has brightened your day and made you happier, then I’ve done something right. I’ll keep writing and keep doing my best!

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