Monday, December 28, 2020

They Skitter

The World-Spider came, and those who heard its approach were the first to go.

It started off as a distant scratching at the door, or the rustling of thick, bristly hairs over cloth. They tried their best to ignore them.

But the sounds came closer, and grew louder, until they proved too difficult to ignore- or to deny.

Soon they entered those ill-fated minds, and took up scratching and bristling against the backs of their brains. The sounds reverberated outward across their nerves like vibrations on strands. Actions ceased to be of their own volition, and thoughts of alien origin became the norm. With time, even the frantic undercurrent wishing for those scratching, skittering sounds to stop was subsumed.

What was leftover was a vessel.

For some time, they managed to look outwardly normal- at least at a glance. Speech became halting and unnatural, and virtually all daily routines were abandoned. But they retained their shape, and general knowledge possessed by the people who once were. And these qualities were used to their advantage. Few could hold themselves together long enough to infiltrate high and mighty places, but a body with only two legs was good enough when seen from a distance. No time could be wasted in their attempts to prepare the way.

Soon they were drawn together by strands of silk that only they could see, led to empty and desolate places where they could unsheathe themselves and work unobstructed. They tapped into the underlying web beneath all things, and sent such a tremor through it that the location of the world was impossible for the World-Spider to miss. They also kept abreast of anyone or anything that has heard the scratching at the door, but has managed to resist- or worse, work against it.

Once all legitimate threats are eliminated, and the World-Spider has been summoned irrevocably, its extensions may finally know the end. When the sky is wreathed in its silky cocoon, and the soft cries of reality itself can be heard, they are the first to be unmade. All becomes twitching legs and needle-like hairs for one moment of awful exultation, but just as suddenly the writhing mass dissolves into liquid potential.

They are spared the sight of fangs piercing the heavens as the world dies, though few of their many eyes would even be functional enough to see.

Of course, even that end would be welcomed, after so long spent under the direction of Mr. Sticks.

A nest of skittering signs and rumors

  1. Dust and cobwebs are accumulating at an alarming rate all over town. They seem to return after every footstep or broom sweep.
  2. Parents are alarmed at a new game which has taken their children by storm of late. It is called "Feeding the Cellar Door".
  3. The sudden surplus of fine silk on the market has caused massive devaluation, economic shakeup, and a growing fashion war between the upper and lower classes.
  4. A curious delicacy has begun appearing in coastal restaurants catering to the fine and exotic. They call it "land crab", and it is said to originate in Other Parts.
  5. Paupers and transients have been vanishing off the streets in increasing numbers for weeks. The authorities are only becoming concerned now that a few members of their secret police have gone missing undercover.
  6. Astrological circles have been in a bit of a tizzy recently. They insist that the stars seem "wrong" somehow. No one is listening to them.
  7. A string of grizzly murders has been committed. Each victim has been drained of bodily fluids through massive puncture wounds. Specialists suspected an unsanctioned vampire at first, but those do not grow barbed hairs like the ones found at each crime scenes.
  8. Something has been eating people's pets of late. Even when they are behind locked doors, several stories above ground.
  9. Services at one of the city's chief temples were interrupted when the high priest tried and failed five times to speak their god's name. On the sixth attempt, they vomited a mass of animate spider legs that then fled into the rafters, catacombs, and dark corners of the temple. Extermination is ongoing.
  10. Increasing numbers of clerics (as well as the odd warlock) are reporting that their patrons are responding less and less to their prayers, and that their voices sound faint and somehow 'peckish'.
  11. Spells tied to conjuration or the manipulation of planar magic are fizzling, being disrupted, or having wholly unintended effects.
  12. A wealthy noble's scion was spotted departing their estate with a strange gait one night during a storm. Their family has quashed all search & rescue efforts.
  13. A geomancer from one of the frontier areas was arrested for disturbing the peace. They insisted that the earth is 'thrumming in fear'.
  14. Nearby farmland is covered in record numbers of cicada exoskeletons, but not a single cicada was seen or heard, and the next brood wasn't expected for several years.
  15. The old, disused trestle bridge seems to be under renovation now. What else are all the ropes and midnight lamps for?
  16. That band of herb-burning itinerants hastily packed their wagons and left the vacant lot the other day. Most of the locals say good riddance to them, but their manner as they departed seemed strangely mournful.
  17. The provost has ordered the urban park to be closed with no warning or explanation. The guard will not release the people trapped behind its gates.
  18. A fire destroyed large sections of the local monster hunter's guild hall. No fatalities were reported, but untold sums in specialized weapons and equipment have been lost.
  19. Some new skin disease has been making the rounds lately. The rashes and peeling are bad, but it's the crawling sensation that is the worst.
  20. The man in the handsome suit is back. He's traded his face for a bowler hat.

Orts of the Lastgod.

The World-Spider came, and only dregs were left amid the riven strands of silk.

The cocoon closed the world off from everything. Nothing--no ghost, god, or spirit--could get in or out. 

Not even the prayers of the desperate fodder could escape it. While the world dissolved, the gods in their heavens starved.

Lean times set in. Having grown used to the sustenance of prayer, the gods found their withdrawal symptoms sudden and agonizing. Even the mightiest deities withered into emaciated husks.

All of them had a breaking point.

Ravenous hunger alike to that of the Enemy gripped them, and in their frenzy they tore down and devoured the essence of their own planes and servants.

When the World-Spider moved on, as it always did and always would, the gods descended on the scraps it left behind. They devoured the emptied lands before them, for matter was naught but spirit-stuff of their own contrivance, once upon a time. They drank of the lakes of liquified thought and potential. They huffed the clouds of dust and dismay that yet clung to the ruins.

And still they hungered.

Their bloodshot eyes turned toward one another before long. The smallest and feeblest among them were the first to go. Land-spirits, tutelary deities, and the odd surviving demi-god were snapped up like morsels. But they did not satisfy. A food chain shrank as rapidly as it came into existence. "Eat or be eaten" soon became "eat and be eaten", which further devolved into the mindless mantra of "e a t".

Roiling, half-digested spirit-stuff spilled from opened bellies until the selfsame feast came to a grizzly conclusion, and the last of the gods were consumed by an encircling sea of chaotic juices.

Only, not all of the gods destroyed one another like that.

Perhaps it had once been a god of sneaking and opportunism. Perhaps it had just adapted very quickly. It couldn't remember, and frankly it didn't matter. What mattered was the work it had put in before all the other gods spilled themselves.

The last god cobbled together all of the wretched castoffs of its kin and the Enemy. With skeletal fingers it sculped an island, and with spit, glue, and hope it held it together. It even managed to scoop up a few overlooked creatures who had been floating adrift since the World-Spider's coming.

It nurtured these half-dead, maddened beings until they could scratch an existence out of the rocks, at which point the last god turned from savior to jailor. Even as it raised new shreds of land from the roiling sea, it jealously guarded and browbeat all within its domain. All formality was abandoned, and the intercession of religion was done away with. The true nature of the relationship between god and mortal was laid plain, bare, and raw: one is the reaper, and the other is its harvest; flesh and prayer are just different mediums for the same outcome.

The mortals slipped down from the jagged, hollow breast of their god. They died. They spread, multiplied, and mourned. They died. They looked out upon the sea of chaos and recoiled with fear. They died. They bowed their heads beneath the lurid, bloodshot gaze of their titanic keeper. They died. They expressed their anguish by acting in the god's image and enslaving the beasts and briars of the earth. They died.

Ages passed. The god's name was forgotten, even by itself. In its place it took the title of the Last God. 

Centuries more dragged by. The title became its name, spoken in anxious, placating tones by every soul with a voice in that realm.

The Lastgod is jealously protective of its scraps, castoffs, and orts. Dismal wealth and mighty doom await.

Rumors on the Orts

  1. Some farmland has started to moan and weep vinegar. The town would like help quieting it.
  2. The Lastgod chipped a tooth on a sacrifice recently, and smote the offending village. Now neighboring communities are warring over the ruins for possession of its rotten molar fragment.
  3. A child born under a skittering cloud has finally come of age, and must be escorted under guard to the ribcage tor where they are to be broken upon the rocks.
  4. Mud puddles forming in the Lastgod's footprints are tinged with nourishing ichor from a recent injury.
  5. A new island has risen from the roil. Settlers are already preparing fresh, noisy skinbarges to row to it.
  6. Sacrifice is fast approaching, and the herders are alarmed that every animal they slaughter seems to start rotting immediately.
  7. An old patch of forest has grown too old. The wood is spongy, rotten, and mildly carnivorous.
  8. An apprentice boneturner needs live and dangerous specimens to continue their experiments in creating bipedal animals.
  9. The Lastgod has not accepted the monthly sacrifice prepared by a nearby village, and seems to be completely ignoring it. The villagers are panicking.
  10. Harvested grains are bursting out of their silos and smothering people. Again.
  11. A plague of rampant gut fauna growth is sweeping through several towns. A dozen people have already ruptured.
  12. Part of an island has sloughed off into the roil. Its exposed face is honeycombed with dozens of deep, spiraling tunnels.
  13. A temper tantrum put the Lastgod's foot through the ground and revealed a hidden vault underneath. There is glowing in the depths.
  14. The smoky night sky opened up briefly over a mountaintop to reveal stars. Horrible, lurid stars.
  15. Clutches of rancid, undulating eggs are being uncovered in cellars and burial pits.
  16. One of the Lastgod's centennial bowel movements has left a smoking crater in a nearby acid river valley. Swarms of parasites are emerging from it.
  17. A raving prophet touched by the Lastgod has been raised from the nearby serfs. No matter how much they gorge themselves on food, they continue to waste away.
  18. Something with Too Many Legs was spotted lurking around the old temple.
  19. An ephemeral godling has congealed out of the roil to reach its pseudopods onto land and threaten nearby villages. The Lastgod must be lured over to stop it.
  20. They say someone has found a shred of spider's silk.