In the House of the Worm
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by George R.R. Martin
Category: Science Fiction/Horror
Description: In a crumbling underground city on a dying planet, young Annelyn has lived a life of privilege. When he is humilated at the hands of the crafty groun hunter they call the Meatbringer, he and his high-born friends plot revenge. But Annelyn's plan goes desperately awry, leading him deep into the city's ruins--and to the ugly truth about his forebears' reverence for the mythic White Worm.
eBook Publisher: Electricstory.com, 1976 The Ides of Tomorrow, ed. Terry Carr
eBookwise Release Date: October 2005
43 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [88 KB]
Reading time: 58-82 min.
For ages past remembering, the House of the Worm had been lost in decay, and that was as it should be, for decay is but one name of the White Worm himself. So the yaga-la-hai, the worm-children, only smiled and went on as always, though the tapestries rotted on the walls of their endless burrows and their numbers dwindled each year, though meat grew ever more scarce, and the very stone around them turned to dust. In the high burrows with slit windows, awash with the red dimness of the vast dying ember above, they came and went and lived their lives. They tended their torches and held their masques, and made the sign of the worm whenever they passed near the dark windowless burrows where the grouns were said to mutter and lie in wait (for the halls and tunnels of the House of the Worm were reputed to be infinite, descending as far below the earth as the black sky ascends above, and the yaga-la-hai claimed only a few of its many ancient chambers).
It was taught to the worm-children that the White Worm comes for all in the end, but he crawls most slowly, and in the long decay there is fine feasting and the bright sickly colors of rot. Such wisdom was enforced by the current manworm and his bronze knights, even as their ancestors had enforced it for generations untold. Thus did the House of the Worm endure, though the grouns might crawl below and the sun burn out above.
Every fourth year the brightest and wittiest and highest-born among the yaga-la-hai would gather in the Chamber of Obsidian to view the sun and feast in its dying rays. The chamber was the only place for such a brilliant masque. It was high in the House of the Worm, so that all the tunnels leading to it slanted upward, and the floor and ceiling and three of the walls were sheets of fused obsidian, cold and shiny as a mirror and dark as death. For the four-years-less-a-day that passed between the Sun Masques, the lesser-born worm-children, called torch-tenders, worked tirelessly in the chamber, polishing and rubbing, so that when the bronze knights came to fire the torches, their reflections would gleam in the black glass around them. Then the guests would assemble, a thousand strong in gay costumes and fantastic masks, and the obsidian would bend and distort their bright faces and graceful forms, until they were a whirling motley of demons dancing in a great black bottle.
And that was only part of the Chamber of Obsidian. There was more; there was the window. It occupied all of the fourth wall behind the sand-filled hollow where the Manworm coiled; crystal clear the window was, yet stronger than any glass they knew. Nowhere in the House of the Worm was there another window a fraction of its size. The glass, if glass it was, looked out on a dead and desolate plain where no wind stirred; all darkness there, all empty, though there were crumbling stone shapes near the sometimes-seen horizon that might or might not be ruins. It was hard to tell; the light was very bad.
The sun filled half the sky; from one end of the horizon to the other it arched, bulking high enough to touch the zenith. Above it was unending black sky, broken by a handful of stars. The sun itself was a softer black, the color of ash, except in the few places where it still lived. Rivers ran across it, twisting ribbons of glowing red, veins of fire across its tired face. The worm-children had studied them once, in the long-ago years when they played with telescopes, and each of the burning channels had once had a name, though most had been forgotten. Where the rivers met and joined, sometimes smoldering orange lakes could be seen, and there were other places where gleams of red and yellow pulsed beneath the ash-dark crust. Best of all were the seas, two huge oceans of angry red that grew smaller and darker with every masque; one up near the rim continued on the side never seen, and a second burned near the sun's waist and often outlined the maybe-ruins on the horizon.