The Empty Place
It exists. Everyone knows it does. No one tries to prove it.
It is not named, but in that fashion that sailors mark those mysterious parts of the oceans they dare not explore “Here be dragons,” so too do most maps of the eastern most edge of the River Province have a circle that marks “The Empty Place.”
It stretches for many miles, this circle, lapping beyond the lip of a river and swallowing sections of forest and grassland alike. It straddles a major highway from west to east and those who travel the road know, you do not stop here. You do not take rest here. However long you have walked or rode, you go a mile more past this place or stop a mile before you reach it’s edge. When you cross, you travel hushed and with your eyes turned down. Those who first make this journey are struck by the silence of the place. There are no communities here, though the bones of several would-be townships still litter the ground in places. The grassland is fertile and the river ripe with fish, yet no plow turns the earth and no boats ply the waterway.
Those communities that do exist near by, none closer than two miles past it’s edge, give no answer for the untouched bounty of this place. There is quiet fear in their eyes however, memories and legends of old that haunt them still. If a city wishes to go to such lengths to pretend it does not exist, for them it is best to pretend that as well. That the occasional oddly pale stranger wanders into town and speaks in a strange accent that no one can place – well, is this not to simply be expected on such a busy road? Are not all strangers oddities? That these sometimes arrive a walking statue at their back or a jittering puppet on their shoulder, like the Empty Place itself, are things best ignored.
Only the Guild openly acknowledges they know of it’s presence. The Ebony Outpost sits at the very edge of the Empty Place, where no one else dares. Just off the road, the spiked top of it’s palisade rises over the crest of a hill, not quite out of sight. Unlike most Guild outposts, the gates of the Ebony Outpost are bared and it’s banners always show the black mark of quarantine. If there is illness at Ebony Outpost though, it is a slow kind, for the Outpost has been manned for three generations now. Silent and somber, the wooden fortress seems to do it’s best not to break the silence of the Empty Place. Merchants come on invitation only, bringing supplies of foodstuffs and exotic plants, raw materials and refined goods; all the things that a community would need to survive. They leave with vats of powerful narcotics that defy all attempts at analysis and medical salves more potent than any other produced in the east.
They never meet their trading partners face to face, only the middle men of the Guild, though a few have looked back over their shoulders long enough to see the shadow of lumbering giants stepped out of a heat-twisted haze and vanishing into the outpost.
It exists. Everyone knows it. Hundreds pass through it daily. Merchants grow fat off it and communities hide in it’s shadow, but no one who lives around the Empty Place has ever seen what is decidedly not there: the city of Rubedo.
Rubedo, Red City Beyond the World
The sky above Rubedo is white and slung low upon it is a black sun, stark scarlet flames radiating around it like a burning halo. It does not move. There is no day or night, only the constant crimson radiation of the dark sun above. The golden light of the Unconquered Sun does not shine here, nor does Luna’s pale illumination. Here, there is only one body committed to the heavens, the black sun: Sol Niger.
The city bares a strikingly red tone that is only furthered by the dusky stone and brass gilding used in most of it’s construction. Time is marked not by the movements of sun and stars, but by the movements of the city itself. A circle surrounds Rubedo, marking a point where soft earth gives way sharply to miles of brass-alloyed orichalcum. A platform upon which the entire city is built, as time passes each day, the city turns and begins to rise. Out of the ground, spiral stair cases so broad they seem to have been made for the feet of giants wrap like the grooves of a screw around a pillar of endless clockwork mechanisms and enigmatic machines that churn in utter silence below Rubedo. ‘Morning’ is the moment that Rubedo sits closest to it’s black sun and ‘night’ the time when it rests level to the earth again.
Visitors to Rubedo, of which there are very few, are struck by the colossal shapes of five identical manses towering at the edges of the city, threads of brass creeping up their walls like ivy and the grasping claws of stone that cap their roofs clutching simmering black orbs, mirrors of the black sun in the sky. Faced inwards towards one another, they form a pentagram, with brass-paved roads that lead between them through the streets. These are the Five Brothers, core to the geomantic workings within the city and storehouses to the massive libraries of knowledge and records the city keeps and school houses to it's generations of alchemists. At the center of the pentagram lays a smaller but no less imposing structure – the Grand Arcanum. In a city of red, it is starkly black with flecks of gold shimmering upon it’s walls that reveal places where the tarnish has not yet spread to cover the solid orichalcum it is built from. The Grand Arcanum serves as gathering place to the Labores Solis, the ruling council of master-alchemists, but far more importantly, it is where the laboratory of the Great Work is stored.
Nestled among these titans is the city itself, a tightly packed and ordered network of ancient stone buildings and shale paved streets. Every inch of space is accounted for in Rubedo, every road and building planned and laid to perfection. The city needs no walls, it's buildings along the outer edge clustered so tightly together that only a few major roads are open to allow the passage of more than one soul on foot. Their foundations run deep, extending far into the underbelly of the platform the city rests upon. Indeed, there is far more room than there are people to fill it. Entire portions of the city are strangely silent and it's shadows often haunted by aberrations escaped from the countless private laboratories littered through the city. Some are condemned, places where failed experiments are thought better to be sealed away and left to wither than burnt out. A few have been 'modified' into storehouses or private gardens. There are no markets in Rubedo, no taverns, no places of commerce or business. There are theaters that pock-mark sections of the city, open aired structures that mark the only social gathering places beyond private residences and schools. Silent, intense, and serious, Rubedo sits quiet under a heavy air of self-oppression.
Fields and groves flourish all around the city, though the crops they grow are plants little suited for human consumption. Toiling dull eyed among the ordered rows of herbs and orchards are creatures human in shape, but lacking all features to define them as one. They have eyes to see their work and ears to hear orders, but no mouths to speak nor nose to smell. Their skin is gray and hairless. Nearly nude beyond their loin cloths, they shuffle at a slow, dispassionate gait and heave tools in mechanical fashion. These are the dross, a creation spawned from what the residence of Rubedo call Gisonen Alchemy. They serve as slave labor for as long as they live, rarely beyond eight months, then their bodies used to fertilize the crops.
The dross are but the least of the creations brewed in the laboratories of the alchemists. Rubedo is a city of dark, strange, and ancient magic. Both within and beyond Creation at once, sealed away from the world outside by sorcery unknown to any age since, it has stood since the First Age and is one of the eldest inhabited cities in the world. No one knows neither who laid the first foundations of Rubedo nor enclosed it in the veil that hides it from the world. Not even those who live there and labor their entire lives to try and complete the work left to them by their mysterious founder. He is known in records only as the First and Final Alchemist. History writes that he departed long ago, taking with him the Dragon-Blooded host who had once shared the city with him to a golden city at the center of the world. He knew that he would not return and left Rubedo in the hands of it’s mortal inhabitance and to them charged the task of completing the Great Work. He left them the tools to accomplish this, the knowledge to achieve it, though like a puzzle no explanation on how to piece them together.
That, by the records kept, was more than two millennium ago. The Great Work is still not complete. But every year, they come a little closer...
Rubedo's shelted status, it's existence as a non-place within Creation, has left the city in a unique position. They never lost the knowledge given to them in the First Age nor any that came after. Without the infringements of the Deliberative or Shogunate, without the wasting touch of the Contingent nor the ravaging of the Fair Folk, Rubedo and it's alchemists have been free to practice and experiment for countless generations. Their knowledge has increased rather than decayed. From that has spawned the art that is a virtually a religion to their society: Gisonen Alchemy.
These are the three levels of existence that Gisonen Alchemy seeks to manipulate. To an outsider, a typical resident of Creation, the alchemy practiced by the residence of Rubedo little resembles the potion-brewers art they know. At it's highest levels, in ritual and complexity, it is nearly as far removed from normal alchemy as simple enchanting rituals are from the crafting of artifacts. It is an art of genesis, transference, manipulation, and animation that is as much spiritual as chemical.
The heart of Gisonen Alchemy lay with the Eight Demon Formulas. These were the tools left to the original population of Rubedo by the First and Final Alchemist that were to be used to complete the Great Work. Their complexity is unmatched and to even successfully complete one of the eight is paramount to being a living god to a fellow alchemist. From each of these eight has branched countless lesser formulas. The useful failures and aberrations that resulted from thousands of attempts to finish one of the Eight Demon Formulas were recorded and later taught as stepping stones of knowledge. Schools were founded that followed each and experiments branched the knowledge out even further by those who chose not to peruse the Great Work itself, but instead simply to explore the limits of their chosen art.
From this ever growing storehouse of knowledge, they have made wonders. And they have spawned horrors. In their cold practical minds, both have their uses.
The Soft Tower
East of the city there stands a pillar of featureless stone that rises upwards for nearly a mile, making it easily the tallest feature of the landscape. It is rough and unworked, as if there had once been a mountain standing there that someone chiseled away until only the heart of it remained. The pillar casts no shadow, but there is a shadow near by. Stretching across the ground, it reaches out like a dark river bubbling up from an unseen channel. It’s outline is that of a tower, ornate and gothic, yet nothing stands to cast this shadow.
Though the sun does no move in Rubedo, the shadow does, spinning slowly as time passes, until it reaches the pillar of stone. The darkness engulfs the face of the pillar, sinks into it, and for an hour every day, the doorway to the Soft Tower is open.
The Automata of Rubedo are Alchemical Artifacts. They are intelligent, although the intelligence of Golems and Dolls is limited. Damage is rolled against them, not applied automatically as if they were objects, however, but they are still affected by most other effects that apply to automatons, and are exempt from those that don’t. They are created as Artifacts, and they require a similar process to increase their Essence, requiring another to do the same amount of research, materials and successes necessary to make an artifact equal to their current Essence level for them to raise to the next one. Golems and Dolls are first built as Artifact ***, and Homunculi, as Artifact *****. Although their Essence increases and they are in most respects Awakened Essence beings, only the Homunculi possess an Essence pool.
Each type of automata has their own powerful innate abilities and all can receive Alchemical Enhancements. Those are bought like Charms. The sort of enhancements each kind can be fit with is noted on their description.
They are all unaffected by poison and disease, never need to make fatigue rolls, have no need to eat, drink or sleep(although Homunculi can enjoy eating and drinking), and can only heal when repaired by a craftsman. They are cognizant enough to think independently and use their Virtues and Willpower. Unless otherwise stated, they cannot soak lethal damage with half their Stamina.
Automata use Terrestrial costs for their Essence and Alchemical Enhancements.