It’s late, I’m having A Month, let’s talk about ghosts.
Except we’re not talking about ghosts, we’re talking about hauntings, which in pillars terms is a *completely* different kettle of fish. Like, not even related to each other different kettle of fish. A kettle of fish and white rats, even(1).
As souls move through the wheel, especially on the life-to-death end of the spectrum, but also at all other points, they shed ‘dust’, little bits of knowledge and experience that under ideal circumstances eventually stick together and gain enough critical mass to form a whole new soul. As those bits tend to be shed in kith-shaped places, like buildings, and around kith-made objects, like swords, sometimes they stick to those places and things instead, and, when they reach critical mass, get stuck in them, instead of forming a new soul and returning to the wheel. Not inhabiting something with a brain, and being ‘felted’ together, so to speak, instead of sloughing off the mortal coil fully formed, personality and all, they aren’t properly sentient, and don’t have thoughts in the way a cipher could read, though they can be and often are highly opinionated with goals and motives of their own, very much shaped by the circumstances that ‘birthed’ them(2).
Before the Engwithans built the gods, this was demonstrably a fairly quick process. Od Nua’s project, which lasted somewhere between ten and twenty years according to the very scant information we’re given(3), which in its latter half directly put time, effort, and soul-stuff into ‘strengthening the very rock and metal of the stronghold’ per the wiki, built Caed Nua’s fledgling personality solidly enough it lasted another two millennia despite being primarily undisturbed the entire time in a maximum of a decade. Less directed efforts probably took closer to fifty years, but given ‘modern’ construction (which, in the case of Defiance Bay is still over a century old(4)) is primarily not haunted, and haunted places are given quite a wide berth, which they wouldn’t necessarily be if they were common, it’s a much, much slower process in the present.
This is, of course, entirely thanks to the gods and whatever causes bîaŵacs(5), the former of whom eat up all the ‘beyond side’ dust, the latter collecting up anything not firmly stuck already on the ‘near side of the veil’ and packaging it into bights, which are more like ghosts than anything else, and slow down the haunting process exponentially(6). Places that are already haunted have enough critical mass to keep new ‘dust’ as it comes, but anything that isn’t is as likely to keep it as lose more than it gained, which is why objects, being smaller and requiring less critical mass in the first place, are more likely to host modern hauntings. Older places can also trap ‘bigger’ soul bits (Neketaka and Caed Nua have both been known to take whole souls entire), and tend to have stronger options for trapping them (Caed Nua can canonically teleport things (the Whispers of Yenwood, to be precise), and presumably uses that trick to get what it wants, and we’re shown that Neketaka sweet talks surface citizens into leaping into the depths on an irregular basis, at least) as well as broader definitions to what constitutes ‘themselves’. (Caed Nua fetches the sword from half a country away, and Neketaka is complete in itself from the very top of the mountain to the very bottom of the old city, even though the old city’s been abandoned since the Engwith cast it down.)
Interestingly, whatever the mechanics of unhaunting a place actually are, simply removing souls doesn’t cut it, as despite the downstairs residents of Caed Nua systematically eating the adra titan and the souls therein, Caed Nua itself got more haunted, not less(7). As we also have no evidence of exorcisms, and what graveyards we see are placed extremely far from civilization because they’re full of skeletons and it’s known they’ll eventually be bad news for the living, it may very well be the case that there is no means of unhaunting a place, which would explain why, most ‘modern’ hauntings being either pre-Gods and therefore very old and very strong, or perfectly placed to reach critical mass more recently, which tends to come as a shock to whatever community precipitated the thing, and to all appearances has them fleeing as soon as they realize(8), hauntings are considered a curse, rather than a natural step in the lifecycle of a thing.
Caed Nua, in particular, is unusual in how quickly it became haunted (almost immediately), not in that it was haunted at all, as I’m fairly sure everyone except the original Erl of Yenwood and his crew took one look at the idea and said ‘hmm, that seems like it won’t go well’, but given Breith Nua(9) had a couple of millennia to stew, the fact it stretched out as the walls went up isn’t really unexpected, much less a surprise, though given most Engwith ruins aren’t as well explored or as notably haunted it probably felt like one. It’s even likely that the first three or so rulers didn’t even realize it was haunted, as Breith Nua was built to safeguard the statue of Maros Nua (and ideally his soul, though that didn’t end up happening), and Caed Nua was built to safeguard the Erl’s interest in the place, so, as in the current time, most of the surface effects amounted to running the household more smoothly, and, as they installed the Steward into her chair in what’s indicated to be the first Erl’s lifetime(10), up until the keep got wiped it seems likely most people assumed the weirdness was her doing.
On the surface, Caed Nua’s weirdness is shown to be small, unsettling, but ultimately benign things; doors that open and shut by themselves, plants that grow both quickly and easily despite bad weather and pestilence in the surrounding landscape, and given the house’s reputation for hospitality, despite spending anywhere from weeks to months falling apart while Maerwald was ill, it seems likely that some of the more tedious chores do themselves when the house is happy, the rafters dusted without anyone needing to clamber up that high, the shutters closing at the first sign of inclement weather without assistance, and so on. The house is pleased to have visitors, and more pleased to keep its household close, safe and comfortable, but it doesn’t mind people traveling as long as they come home again. Below the surface, however, it gives itself major repairs, catalogues and organizes and preserves its household (and is very strict about them staying where it puts them), past and present(11), walls people in with barriers of pure will on at least a temporary basis, moves furniture and major architectural details around, and takes advantage of its residents’ plots to further its own aims, because the corpse of someone who wanted to leave is just as good as that person alive and well, and much preferable to their being gone at all.
Given the house’s predilections, it’s no surprise it prefers Watchers to all other possible options; it is, despite everything, very lonely much of the time, and having anyone who can even slightly understand its wants is an enormous benefit it would no doubt go to great lengths to get, if Watchers didn’t keep coming to beat down its doors. This is a house that doesn’t care if its masters live or die, as long as they stay; given what we’re told happened to all but two of his predecessors, however many of them there were, if it hadn’t exercised considerable restraint on the adragon’s plots, he and his household would not have survived even one decade, much less multiple, and he, himself, quite mad and locked in the basement, should have been easy prey for her, but survived long enough for another Watcher to show up and inherit his mantle instead. (Incidentally, it’s also obvious that it tried to keep his soul as well as his bones. Depending on the Watcher in question, it may even have succeeded.)
I’m not entirely sure why the house is more attached to the Watcher than Maerwald (and it was pretty damn attached to the dude), but, given you can get into the real underbelly of the place, it must be, but I, as I’ve said previously, would bet it has something to do with the fact they’re Awakened as well as a Watcher, and it’s an old Awakening at that; there’s a certain level of shared experience it will likely never see again, and that’s an irresistible combination for something with the house’s peculiarities, so it isn’t a surprise the lengths it goes to entice them to stay.
Which is just to say that if Gathbin had paid the fine and succeeded in taking the house, it would have dropped a brick on him, probably two, just to make sure its favorite came home.
1: Ghosts, which we are not talking about, are souls who aren’t well anchored enough to become some sort of bodied undead (probably mostly Death Guards, in this situation), but are angry/vengeful/stubborn enough to stay on this side of the veil. Depending on the strength of the soul in question, and the particular reason it’s hanging around, they can take a multitude of different forms, from the recognizable-as-kith cean gŵla, to the barely-even-dectectable shadows. Most, if not all of them, instinctively bolster themselves with loose soul-stuff from any source they can pry it away from. All of them are bad news.
2: A haunted battlefield, for example, probably wants to keep killing people, while a haunted sword used exclusively in the defense of a person, household, or place probably cannot be induced to harm that person, household or place, and woe betide the enemy that lays hands on it, even if the feud’s been over for centuries.
3: Let’s be honest, we know where he started (son’s soul, whole, loaded into what sounds like a protoanimat, a ‘small’ (realistic) statue the big one is based off of, presumably to bring the boy back to life in a much less fragile body) and where he ended (many many many souls that were not his son’s, loaded into a very very very big statue that??? was meant to keep him safe forever???? I have no idea how the end game was supposed to work it makes no sense), but we have basically nothing about what went down in the middle, which is wild considering it involves two rival cults and a horde of scientists who deliberately turned themselves into fampyrs.
4: Defiance Bay *is* haunted, but only a little bit, and it’s definitely helped along by the machine in Heritage Hill and the animancers in Brackenbury, though the latter aren’t doing it on purpose. Similarly aged places (the chapel in Gilded Vale, Raedric’s fort, whatever’s going on under Dyrford) are not at all haunted, though they are inhabited by ghosts (or ....worse) in some cases, which is not the same thing.
5: Leading theories include deliberate Leaden Key fuckery, ‘earthquakes’ (adraquakes?), where the adra, attempting to passively draw souls and getting nothing ‘breaks the tension’, causing weird backlash, and, ‘the wheel is less functional under Berath’s hand than optimal, and shit gets backed up’. (There were others but I unfortunately did not screenshot the groupchat and therefore am working from memory. Pick your favorite or remind me of it, dealer’s choice)
6: Bîaŵacs are not a regular happening in inhabited areas, obviously, requiring a quantity of unshielded adra most people find somewhat unsettling, but they do reduce the ‘current’ of soul-stuff that might otherwise bolster a haunting, given they’re being starved of half the usual supply. They also reduce the amount of ‘shedding’ by ripping souls out at the root and shredding them beyond recognition, and bights, like other ghosts, actively reduce the chances of a haunting.
7: Consuming souls whole is presumably something of a messy process, given that non-Caed Nua examples of fampyrs and the like mostly exist on the soul essence left in kith flesh, even when they kill the person immediately before. Since Caed Nua was built on soul scraps, it’s likely it nabbed those scraps as the residents dropped them, so to speak (which definitely didn’t help the ‘there are a finite amount of souls in the titan and we’re eating them faster than is sustainable’ situation), which helped strengthen the haunting even as the residents got weaker.
8: As an aside, I don’t think anyone (other than possibly the Leaden Key) has realized Defiance Bay is a smidge haunted? It certainly helps that the city hasn’t had a minute to breathe since it was built, basically, and that the city, being solely a city, and not repurposed from something else (even Heritage Hill isn’t actively using the space the machine takes up), is mostly haunted in a way that makes the city run better, which probably isn’t noticeable to the average joe. (If, for example, you’re the poor schmuck whose job it is to clean and maintain the sewers, and you’re avoiding going down there because it’s full of oozes and mushrooms and necromancers and gods know what else (cultists), you’re probably not going to notice that under all that, it’s actually maintaining itself very well, and if you aren’t that poor schmuck, well, you’re going to assume they’re just doing their job.)
9: Breith *probably* means court, as in household not of law, though we see it all of one time so I am definitely reaching here, but as I needed a term to separate the original structure from the new construction, without conflating it with the Endless Paths, this seemed like as good a solution as any.
10: I am making a couple of baseless assumptions about what the Steward was like when she was alive, and a couple more with only very very very scant justification, but given those assumptions, it seems very likely that Breith Nua looked at this woman, brilliant, driven, a strong cipher in her own right, and importantly (unlike the Erl) present as the place went up, the whole of it her vision realized, and went ‘oh dibs’. She had, even in her own eyes, a very weird attachment to the house once it was finished, first begging to stay and start an entirely new career she’d never been trained for instead of continuing on to even greater projects in her area of expertise, and then, at the end of her life, begging to have her soul loaded into the chair so she wouldn’t have to return to the wheel and leave it behind, and I don’t think any of that was entirely natural.
11: Look I’m just saying there’s *four and a half* levels of very nice, very full Aedyran catacombs (and, uh, it seems unlikely? anybody deliberately converted anything further than level two from the previous Engwith architecture, given level 6 is half converted, and only one adventuring party ever made it that deep), and not a lot of spare corpses. Do I think the house retains and catalogues the bones of everyone it’s ever loved? Well, a lot of them couldn’t have gotten where they were by more normal means (as, y’know, everyone was dead for quite a bit before the next person came and cleaned it out), so...