Nox is a city on the Nightmare Sea, an ocean far beneath the earth. There is no light to sail by on the Nightmare sea, no sun or moon or stars, only the predatory phosphorescence of the things that live beneath its waves.
Yet some do navigate the Nightmare Sea. The Iron-Eye tribes have their own methods and many smaller cultures have some scraps of knowledge, the careful measuring of swells to give the shape of nearby isles, the migrations of the glowing plankton strands.
The greatest navigators come from Nox. They are the secret of that cities power. The Navigating Houses of Nox are the will and the engine of the city of the wind and the white flame.
They navigate by nightmare.
Whenever any conscious being near the Nightmare sea sleeps, the have Nightmares. This is true for everyone.
No-one knows exactly what the sleepers are, if they are all of one species, or utterly different beings who only happen to all sleep beneath the Nightmare Sea. No-one ever knows if they are truly alive. But the sleepers dream pained and anguished alien dreams, and so powerful are their minds that these deep dreams leak into the thoughts of all who sleep upon the Nightmare Sea.
Each person has utterly different dreams as their minds process the strange thoughts of the Sleepers, yet, with practice, certain commonalities of nightmare can be perceived.
The Navigating houses of Nox each specialise in observing and understanding the nightmares born from a particular sleeper. By sailing the nightmare sea and measuring the substance of their awful dreams, a navigator can sense their relative distance from a particular sleeper. Since the sleepers are vast and rarely move, discovering your exact distance between two sleeping minds gives you a heading, discovering the distance between three gives a position.
And so the Nightmare Sea can be reliably sailed. And so Nox rules the Nightmare Sea. And so the Navigating Houses rule in Nox. And the Navigating Houses are all mad.
The navigators of Nox must observe, remember and analyse their nightmares every night. They must dive into the horrors prompted by contact with an alien mind and become familiar enough with its inner nature that even the most surreal distortions can be easily comprehended. They must become experts in an unknowable horror.
They more expert a navigator becomes, they closer they get to the coveted position of Navarch, the ruler of their house. The Navarchs of the eight great houses of Nox form the Navigating council and, though there is technically a government in Nox, it is a wheel in their hands. The masked Navarchs rule the city and the sea.
The Navarchs are all utterly insane and their madness is shared in some degree by all the members of their house.
1. House I-Other
Sleeper - Old Not-To-Be-Here
Mask - A long cone head. Huge circular eyes with black vertical pupils leading from edge to edge. a black rhomboid straight-edged mouth and two nose slits.
Speech & Manner - The younger members of this house bring their Navarch by force and if not compelled they may run away. They are clearly in pain, bewildered by horror.
The Navarch denies any responsibility yet pushes for resolution. Intolerant of vagueness, they commit to nothing. Judges all from a position of assumed difference. Always 'you' and 'they', never 'we' or 'us'. Gives opinions like an animal being forced to comment on its trap.
Madness - A knot of pain at the heart of the world. Someone, something that should not be here. The pain it spreads is the pain of a foiled escape. The hatred that it spills is the hatred of an animal for the trap in which it is caught and cannot fully comprehend.
2. House World-Eye
Sleeper - Lord Panopticon or 'The Comprehending One'
Mask - A featureless white sphere except for two horizontal black lines for the eyes.
Speech & Manner - The Navarch has a haranguing, lawyerly manner. They push for details and perfect recollection, assume hidden meanings and secret intent. They become angry and afraid when their assumptions fail. They always assume their knowledge is correct and will predict the nature of events way outside their experience based on the slightest fragment of knowledge. When wrong they collapse totally yet will rapidly re-build their world view based on tiny pieces of interacting meaning, with no apparent memory of the collapse.
Madness - A crystal of abstraction that wishes to encode the world in full but is revolted by its touch. A slow madness, the illusion of comprehension and a reasoned perfection like a mirror webbed with hairline cracks where darkness grows. A darkness whose presence cannot be directly observed yet which yawns ever wider till the reflected splinters of that perfect world collapse.
3. House Blood-Joy
Sleeper - The Tailor of Flesh
Mask - Turquoise and squareish. A single round red eye rimmed with gold and a flat black line for an expressionless mouth.
Speech & Manner - The Navarch makes self-righteous accusations and claims of vast conspiracy. They posture and brave the assumed secret threat. They will physically attack with joy, yet always claim and believe that they were surrounded and had no choice.
Madness - A divine redemptive fire. A final last stand against the oncoming dark. The violence which renews. Joy with each swing, a horrid truth revealed and expunged with trauma to the flesh. The friend throws away their mask to show the monster underneath. All becomes clear. Mask after mask after mask, each beneath the other endlessly.
4. House Reed-Red
Sleeper - Lord Hears-All
Mask - A pale hemisphere, three pupilless ellipses of red glass for eyes. Drawn-back lids, arranged in a triangle. The nose-mouth is two short parallel black lines.
Speech & Manner - This Navarch listens very closely and demands the source of any information relating to them. They race ahead of the conversation and pre-empt any possible detail that might be relevant to their affairs. They deny all fear. They deny that they know anything but wish to know what *you* know.
Madness - Fear. Fear of the things. Fear of them listening. Listening to thoughts. Fear of being known by invasive things. To know the thing whose thoughts you hear fears you hearing them, and yet its dream is so strong that you are consumed with the fear of your own listening. Dashed back and forth by alternating tides of surveillance-voyeur power and a simultaneous dread that something observes you. Joyous superiority over the invisible subject and secret terror of the invisible eye.
5. House Shadowglass
Sleeper - The Emperor Of Glass
Mask - Like a brown-glass welding mask with a single horizontal band of green where the eyes would be.
Speech & Manner - The Navarchs hands are bound, if they are released before they speak they will compulsively strangle themselves to death. Before speaking the Navarch seems like a whining shuffling, crying bestial lunatic. They speak rarely and will do so only after taking life. When they do they are a magnificent and persuasive orator who can read and synthesize the desires of emotions of the audience into a noble-seeming goal. They will usually carry the vote.
Madness - The consuming certainty of a self-directed death. The otherness on the far side of despair. The paper world, the glass-shadowed world, the ease and quiet mundanity of harm. The beauty and correctness of a wound. They will kill everything if they can.
6. House Hearts-Ease
Sleeper - King-Queen I-am-not-me
Mask - A wide brass oval, small insectoid mouth. Huge circular eyes so large they almost meet in the centre and are wider than the mask. The rims are riveted and the eyelids are almost-totally closed, leaving a thin yellow slit running across. This mask is over-detailed and ornate.
Speech & Manner - This Navarch tried idiotic trickery when there is no need to do so. They ingratiate themselves feebly and hunger for any confirmation of self. They are like an actor paid to pretend to be them.
Madness - Dissolution. Loss of memory, loss of self. The awful sense of something slipping away, of knowing that something was there. That there are gaps in yourself. You are know who you are. You do not fit into your life. You do not fit into your being. Something has changed, the mind does not understand.
7. House Eats-Wounds
Sleeper - The Stable Gentleman or 'Our Friend'
Mask - Greenish skull-dome with round eye coverings intersecting it like spectacles with thick gold rims and green eyes. pale, tapering squared-off chin, drawn cheeks, starved slit mouth and nose.
Speech & Manner - This Navarch is revolted by and yet drawn towards its own actions. They resist any changes that come from themself. They are in two minds and two voices, conversing and disagreeing with an unheard inner voice. The inner voice becomes the outer, then they swap again, and again and again.
Madness - The consuming and yet half-consumed self. The sense of being half eaten by something and wanting to be consumed. to be absorbed, translated, made other. To think this process normal and reasonable and yet persuaded. Not to know which is valid, which is a wound of the other. Which is cursed or a curse.
8. House Clearwater
Sleeper - The Pure Philosophy
Mask - Blue-black faceless cylinder like a stove-pipe hat or an inquisition mask. Narrowing a little at the top into a kind of rim. the surface runs directly into a covering that drapes down over the chest and back.
Speech & Manner - This Navarch is adoring, romantic and forward. They are passionate and poetic in their descriptions of beauty. They are brilliantly creative and compelling in their body horror and racial loathing.
Madness - Guilty desire. A deep and sensual passion for what you loath. To adore what disgusts you and be disgusted by that adoration. The rapture of loathing. The deep deep hunger to destroy and possess.