In a town center, off a side street just barely around the corner from bustling productivity, there is a house at the end of a tiny alleyway. This house is huge, rambling, creaking, made of clay bricks and cyclopian stones and huge heavy tiles and dark-stained wood panels. It has a hundred windows and two dozen chimneys, three front doors and a veranda that counts as a street on its own. It has doors that go into other buildings, but only open one way. It is the size of a whole district but does not take up significant space. Its belltower blocks out the sun in daytime and the moon in nighttime.
At night this house is lit up like a furnace. Cats bask on its roofs and windowsills for warmth; moths flutter around its chimneys, chasing light; a corps of Kanalsknechts in waterproof oilskins slosh in the house’s waterways; twice as many staff in clay masks maintain the house’s integrity. Everything smells like woodsmoke and coalsmoke and ash.
The house takes in three whole carriages of food every dusk, and exports a dozen tightly-sealed steel barrel every dawn. These drums are sold at a midnight auction, always to the same twelve people. Subsequently, the barrels disappear.
There is exactly one map detailing the house’s layout. It goes unused and sun-faded in a glass case in the vast attic.
The owners of this house are nine smoke-sorcerers of ill repute:
Haunt, may or may not be Forgiven in disguise. Unforgivable asshole, fair and blonde and blue-eyed, hands sewn together at the palms in a mockery of sanctity—this does not impair them, they have a bubbling belt of flesh at their hips that can form limbs and swells whenever they speak. It may burst one day. Dotes on Apathe in hopes of kindling love.
Isolat, deceptively quiet. Keeps constant sheets of smoke underneath their skin and between their body parts, able to fold themselves into essentially taking up no space. No one can explain how this actually works. Missing their left-hand middle finger, their right big toe, both their ears, portions of their scalp, and at least half of their teeth at any given time; they are wagering these parts against Toothchild in a high-stakes bet.
Forgiven, may or may not be Haunt in disguise. Very particular smoke-sorcerer, all kinds of sustaining wards and scented bandages to cover rotting putrid fetid body-horror and a very active brain. Their smoke is their cells and every instance of sorcery strips away more tissue layers, but they have inconceivable prescience over what that smoke experiences as an extension of themselves.
Toothchild, all smog-oozing sores and huge pores and a bare back like a toad’s. Youngest but the most hateful. May split their limbs into thinner, weaker ones; the same goes for their eyes and their teeth which are too numerous to count and crowd all the way down into the child’s guts. Knows every possible language, is very smug about this talent. Is wagering their heart against Isolat in a high-stakes bet.
Brine, like a wet cat made to walk on its hind legs: bandy-legged, stringy, glaring. Crusted over with foul stinking salt, eyes red-rimmed. Stolen mouths and throats adorn their forearms and talk all in unison and belch heavy clouds of smoke as a medium for sorcery. Survives only on a diet of tears—in desperate times saltwater will suffice.
Bittern Bitten, sold their peace of mind at a bargain price, then sold their future for a premium. Routinely writes up extensive information about themselves only to promptly burn it in a cage in their lungs; this is extremely convenient since the ink is purloined magic and the information itself confusing for the things tracking them down. Has running bets with Spittle.
Spittle, carries a lantern made from his own skull and carries his eyes and desiccated brains in a free hand. Stomach enchanted to carry oil rather than gastric acid, able to expectorate messy gouts of flame. Has the best memory out of all the smoke-sorcerers but extorts favors from them in exchange.
Apathe, who sleeps and in that sleep conjures up hopes in the form of oily, pungent smoke. These hopes inevitably take the approximate shape of Apathe themselves, forget their purpose, and continue maintaining the sleeping body that dreamed them. Fairly harmless.
Heckser, the most terrible among them all. Majordomo of the Lodge of Death, dabbles in poor decision-making and excessive drug consumption. Is actually a hollowed out skin filled with a stew of different smoke sorceries; this has led to Heckser becoming bizarre, present in different forms in different places. A sort of ur-magic user, an essential notion present in smoke itself.