The wheel is a shape most perfect, the very soul of mechanics and human progress. It represents tireless labor, eternal renewal and unlimited possibility. Indeed, I believe my soul has the shape of a wheel.
- Valefor West, the World Exhibit, Airan year 2048
The age of magic had to give way to the time of reason, and it no longer mattered whether you were born with an esoteric gift if you had but the wits, your mind could triumph over matter. A new age offered untold possibilities for keen minds and adventurous spirits, and young Valefor West was one of them.
Perhaps once, being the seventh son of a seventh son would have meant an unusual destiny and eldritch power, but given the times, it just meant young Valefor had no hope for inheritance or support from home. By chance far more than by intent he saved a minor noble, and was gifted with a decrepit ruin of a fort and a knightly title in return.
His holdings were rich in wasteland and outlaws, and poor in everything else; the castle itself was once, before the Times of Change, inhabited by some occult brotherhood.
Most of their legacy he sold as curiosities, their magical and symbolic power long gone; only those too bulky to move remained. Colossal statues of forgotten gods, mosaics bearing arcane patterns and a huge organ that made no sound were some of that useless lot and then, there was the wheel. Perfectly round, of massive granite and inlaid with silver runes it was mounted within a stone ring, much like a wheel of fortune.
Overcome with ennui, Valefor entered the bare chamber that housed it. Tell me what the future may bring he laughed as he gave it a spin. Purple lightning arced over to him as the wheel effortlessly and almost without friction turned, searing him badly. As it stopped, so did the discharge.
I have paid for my success; no progress is without cost, no gain without loss. It’s just that the progress Radiance Unlimited offers is so cheap, it’s almost free!
- Valefor West
The following events unfolded thanks to a newspaper he had read the day before: lightning was explained as part of a phenomenon called electricity, and Valefor had a way to make his own thunderbolts! Off to the capitol, Temeria, he went, to consult James Canter, the author of the article, after a short discussion they shook hands, and headed back to the castle, already partners in a company they planned to found.
It was a fruitful partnership, with Valefor unorthodox inventiveness and James’ reason and analytical thought, they understood the wheel, or the Core, as it came to be named while turning it produced a strong current of what they thought to be pure electricity, fuelling it with energy set it in motion in turn. A river’s current or wind were most often insufficient to produce the highest levels of power, but the might of steam could drive, pistons thundering and vapor hissing, kettle red, the Core to heights of power.
It was during their first steam trial that Skye Walters joined them, one of the few remaining wizards, as her aetherometers had burst one and all even though her demesne was located a mile from the castle. With her aid, the duo discovered that the energy was only part electricity, but also part pure mana simply ideal to fuel many a thaumatechnological process.
From there, their ascent was steep. The Core wandered to Temeria, and the trio with it, bathing in gold brought by their company, Radiance Unlimited. First the palace, then noble estates and factories, and finally, as they learnt to construct other Cores, the streets and private homes glowed with energy provided by their works.
New kinds of golems and automata came to life using their mana-enhanced current, it powered their gliding tanks and alchemical works which were all direly needed with enemies besetting Temeria, both mundane from without and eldritch from within, for while the surrounding realms envied their wealth, supernatural entities, or ‘reality deviants’, in numbers unseen before emerged in Temeria’s streets. The guards’ lightning-swords and gatling guns allowed them to master the challenge, though.
Radiance Unlimited makes this promise to you: as long as we breathe, the light of civilization shall not dim!
- Valefor West
James Canter perished seven years after the founding, as the largest Core so far that he tried to bring online malfunctioned, searing him to ash. Thus, the original Core, seven yards in diameter, remains still unsurpassed in size, humming in the Radiance Unlimited power plant since day one. The company’s engineers venture there, to understand its design, for it is considered perfection, its stone and metal of optimal quality, its make flawless. Far and wide the company’s agents search for supreme materials to make Cores to fuel progress.
After James’ demise, Valefor has adopted his two children to inherit the company along with the three Skye gave him. While he was delighted to see the youngsters to grew into positions of responsibility as managers, merchants and engineers, Valefor was sorely struck by Skye’s descent into madness. A wizard’s grip on sanity is already strained, but she went far beyond that, hearing voices and arguing with them, sleepwalking at day or night, even attacking unseen foes. Her suffering became Valefor’s tragedy, yet one he bore with love, dignity and determination, caring for Skye until the present day.
To what purpose the Core was originally used, we know not yet let me tell you, if its makers knew of our success, they would fade with envy!
- Valefor West
Now, let’s get away from the tale, and look at the hard facts about the Core. It is made of volcanic stone with small metal inclusions, a mithral-platinum alloy for the magical markings and a rare low-friction metal for the ball hinge, called theunite.
While a large part of its making is mundane and depends on the quality of its design, some sorcery is required to activate it for the first time.
Useful Core sizes range from half a meter across, to seven meters of the original Core. Larger ones are theoretically possible, smaller ones somehow fail to function.
The current they provide is fit to drive electrical appliances, yet what it excels at is driving thaumatech, due to its dual nature. Even mages are capable of drawing upon it for mana (though risking burns in the process).
Of course, there is a catch.
Besides the pollution of the steam engines used to drive it, there is thaumic radiation that can cause phenomena ranging from unsettling to harmful, like odd lights and sounds, to sudden fires, mutation or life-like hallucinations. These effects are rare, but they do happen. The most dangerous part is the original function of the Core, which has been preserved in all its lesser copies. It was a gate to arcane realms, and even without a summoner, it can allow the passage of entities residing therein. Some are benign to neutral, but some are outright malevolent. The larger the core, the more powerful the entity it can allow through.
So far, the company blames the dangerous manifestations on some cabal of sorcerers envious of the company’s success; even Valefor West himself knows not the truth.
*Find the non-existent nefarious mages that sabotage the operation!
*The side effects have been revealed! Temeria is divided: the power is needed to drive its wealth, but it endangers the citizens. Players can be involved as opponents of the dangerous energy, or hush up the findings to prevent an outrage.
*Player characters can find themselves drawn to Temeria after a failed gate spell and be treated like demons.
*To make it safe, an expedition may be mounted to find lost cities and knowledge, to remove the Core’s primary function.
*As faithful cultists of great Kachulu, the PCs must organize the construction of a Core a hundred feet across, so that their lord may manifest in all his glory and feast upon the flesh of man.
*Temeria is threatening your homeland find the secret of their energy, and use it to further your cause. Any side effects will of course be blamed on you.
*Society will be transformed, as the mana-enhanced current will make thaumatech more accessible and easier to manufacture.