The Acibus Foundry
A vast, intricate complex of kilns and forges where the low-grade ore from the Thunderhead mines are turned into steel of unsurpassed quality. What are the secrets of the Acibus Foundry?
The Acibus Foundry stands on the western edge of the Witherdowns, a chaotic, interlaced labyrinth of hangar-like brick buildings, smoke-belching chimneys and beehive-shaped kiln structures, all woven together with a vast, intestinal skein of pipes, tanks, furiously spinning drive shafts, smoothly pumping pistons and thrumming, groaning expansion chambers.
Beyond the high, spiked iron fence that separates the Acibus Forge from the rest of the Witherdowns, a maze of narrow, cluttered avenues and passages twist and turn as they thread their way inwards among the haphazard mess of soot-stained buildings and steam-spewing machines, cut off at irregular intervals by spiked, rusting gates and chain-link, padlocked fences.
In the cobbled alleys and irregular open spaces, large cast-iron grilles bolted into the ground gush forth a thick, sulphurous vapour that contrasts with the acrid, bitter stink of molten metal that permeates the Foundry complex.
There seem to be little order or planning to the layout - indeed, it seems to have to have been grown rather than built, spreading onto the surrounding area like a metastasizing, invasive tumour.
The massive clutter of eaves, spouts and roof-peaks are adorned in bizarre wrought-iron ornaments, spiked and jagged, lending the complex a hellish aspect, further accenturated by scattered piles of smoking, glowing slag. At night, the vapour and river mists that lie thick over the compound are lit from within by the lurid glow of the cooling slag, and the arcane energies that dance like St. Elmo's Fire on the outlandish, warped metal spikes and flanges.
At the heart of the maze of machinery and architecture rises a large, cubic, windowless building, 200 feet to a side, supported by massive buttresses and crowned by a hemispherical dome. This is the central foundry, where the poor Thunderhead ores are converted - through an unknown, arcane process, into high-quality steel and alloys.
The near-fractal, intestinal tangle of arcane conduits and pipes seem to converge on the central foundry building, their convolutions becoming more and more intricate, almost braiding together before vanishing from view within the dark, forbidding structure.
Ore that is delivered to the Foundry, either by barge or by train, are pre-processed in several steps in the outlying buildings and kilns, each batch slowly working its way inwards towards the central building, where an arcanely fuelled transmutation takes place, turning the enriched ore into high-grade metal, and producing a foaming, syrupy, lava-like mass of toxic, scalding slag in the process.
Should one gain access to the central kiln, one would find it to be a spherical, ceramic reaction chamber suspended by massive spars and chains in the center of a titanic hall, and with hundreds of pipes and tubes attached to it, like umbillicals. The refined ore is fed into the globe from a shute at the apex, wherein it is processed before the purified, molten metal is poured out from a massive valve at the bottom, directly into a multitude of ceramic cast-molds on the chamber floor.
The arcane effluence in this chamber, the inner sanctum of the Acibus Foundy, is so strong that it can be felt as a pressure over the chest, and a tingle down one's spine. The intense heat and harsh effluent emanations in the hall makes this a very inhospitable place indeed, especially for one not wearing the right protective clothing.
Nowhere else in Locastus are the arcane arts used to this extent - the sheer volume of magical power being poured into the Foundry is simply staggering.
In contrast to most heavy industries in the Witherdowns, the Acibus Foundry totally eschew a Deader workforce, apparently preferring to rely on living, breathing people to operate the kilns and smelteries. Representatives of the Foundry claims that Deaders, with their many invested Power Sigils, would corrupt the delicate, fine-tuned arcane processes and wards that surround the forges.
Also somewhat unusually, the Acibus Foundry seems to take rather good care of its workers, allowing them above-standard accommodations in the many on-site worker barracks, three free meals a day in the communal cantina and basic medical services in the Forge's own well-equipped infirmary.
Even with the (for the Witherdowns) unusually high living-standard, the workers are a silent, apathetic lot, their eyes dull and sunken, their cheeks hollow and their walk the shuffling, hesitant gait of the very old or crippled. They have a pasty complexion, almost as if they were all anemic, and speak seldom, and then only in the single-syllable mumbles of the deathly exhausted. Many seem to have disfiguring diseases, or missing digits or limbs, perhaps too many even for their dangerous vocation.
The workers of the Foundry dress uniformly, in the company's drab, grey wools and heavy boots. At their work stations, they commonly wear thick, insulating gloves, face masks, hemispherical steel helmets and toolbelts.
On rare occasions, usually when drunk, the workers of the Acibus Foundry are prone to tell weird stories of ember-spirits haunting the slag-piles in the dead of the night, of strange deaths among the workers, and of broken machines and buildings repairing themselves overnight. Few outside the Foundry put any credibility into these tall tales, laughing it off as mercury poisoning and sleep deprivation, but the workers keep telling them, and with alarming consistency.
Apart from the regular workers, the Acibus Foundry also employ an unusually large contigent of security guards, large, harsh men in leather greatcoats, steel-toed boots and shaded spectacles. They all seem to be bald, and carry business-like Breech-Loader rifles, truncheons and pig-stickers.
Their task seems to be to guard the workers, as much as to protect the facility itself. Security is extremely tight, and the guards will come down like a ton of bricks on anyone not authorized on the grounds.
Johannes Acibus, the owner of the Acibus Foundry, is one of the wealthiest men in Locastus, but at the same time something of a hermit. He rarely leaves the Foundry grounds and spends most of his time in his opulent offices adjacent to the central foundry building. He surrounds himself with a large staff of all-male aides and secretaries, who manages most of his outside relations.
On the rare occasions he appears in public, people are struck by how unassuming he is. Acibus is of medium height, but with considerable girth, his greying hair neatly combed across his receding hairline, and sporting a neat goatee and elegantly curled moustashes.
He dresses the part of the successful industrial robber baron well, however; he is never seen without his stylish monocle, silver-capped walking stick and black-velvet cylinder hat.
Of Acibus's personal history, very little is known, except that he has risen to his current heights from humble origins, and that he, in his youth, used to sail with the great mapping expeditions to many faraway places.
It is said that he returned from one of these journeys a changed man, driven by ambition. The Foundry started off small, but quickly grew as it became apparent that Johannes Acibus possessed the knowledge to refine the poor Thunderhead ores into high-quality steel, the hitherto unattainable holy grail of Locastus's alchemists and arcane smelters.
He also never revealed the secret of his method, which led people to believe that he, on one of his many journeys, had found some cache of ancient knowledge that had helped him in his ambition.
Over the years, Acibus has been offered astronomical sums for his secret, but he has always declined - he just keeps producing vast quantities of his incredibly fine steel, a product which Locastus's industrial development still is dependent upon.
Johannes Acibus did indeed find something during his long expeditions to foreign parts. On the icy Lih-Pnah plateau on the distant continent of Koth, he stumbled across the alien, cyclopean ruins of a city filled with corroded mechanisms and glyph-carved basalt tablets.
At the centre of the spiral-shaped, crumbling mass of masonry and metal, in a crystal-cobbled plaza cluttered with half-finished, twisted mechanisms, Acibus and his archaeology team came upon a chained being, a transdimensional, non-corporeal entity with characteristics of both Deamon and Elemetal.
This spirit-creature, identifying itself as a Provider - an artificial being of the fabled Empire of the Ancients, constructed to synthesize, transmutate and refine raw materials into whatever the whims of its makers demanded - awoke from a millenia-long torpor and suddenly found itself... hungry. Aeons of incarceration, loneliness and starvation had turned the once beneficial spirit into something vampiric, ravenous and twisted, an evil parody of what it once was; a soul-devourer.
Acibus's followers were all summarily slain, their souls absorbed by the starving spirit, but Acibus himself was spared, and instead offered a deal. It is possible that the ancient, hoary creature recognized something familliar in Acibus's soul, a kernel of ruthlessness, intelligence and driven ambition that could turned to its own use.
The offer the Provider made to Acibus was it's services in exchange for its preferred sustenance, the sweet nectar of human souls. Under the whispered tutelage of the spirit, Acibus managed to break its bonds, and forge a psychic symbiosis with it that allowed him to smuggle it aboard a ship bound for Locastus.
When that ship arrived at the docks in Locastus, Acibus was the only human aboard still alive, but managed to escape prosecution by a carefully prepared tale of a sudden, virulent disease erupting among the crew in mid-voyage.
Acibus and his spectral companion barely waited until the fuss had died down before they established their foundry on the outskirts of Locastus, using gems and artifacts scavenged from the Lih-Pnah ruins as a financial basis, and the Provider took up residence in the bizarrely constructed central foundry.
Though much of its former knowledge had been lost to the demented spirit, it quickly relearned the skill of refining metal and, heeding its ancient instincts, started to use its power on the low-grade ores it recieved, turning them into steel of unbelievably high quality, its crystalline structure of iron and carbon completely uniform, optimal and constant. Its thirst for human life-force was (and is) slaked by a small, constant siphoning of that of the Foundry workers - the real reason why the Foundry dont use Deaders as their primary work force.
The constant leeching of soul-energy is detrimental to the workers - despite nourishing food, good medical care and comfortable lodgings, they suffer from aches, pains and infections due to a deficient immune system, and are also chronically fatigued. They also age at a significantly increased rate, and, hence, have a predisposition for cancers, heart disease and stroke.
Sometimes, when insane rages comes upon the fractured, pain-filled Provider, workers are prone to die in weird industrial accidents as the spirit of the foundry tear their souls from their flesh in an attempt to ease its discomfort.
The veteran foundry workers know that, on certain days, the many spinning cogs and drive shafts, the pumping pistons and the rumbling ore-crushers of the Foundry have a thirst for blood, and they have learned to read the signs to avoid accidents. However, they know that before the day is done, the Foundry will have harvested its sacrifice.
The Powers Of The Foundry
The vast labyrinth of buildings and machinery around the central foundry, in which the physical nexus of the Provider resides, are all infused with the power of the spirit, forming its actual physical body, able to grow and heal like a living organism, and it can rearrange its internal structure to obstruct, trap or disorient anyone within.
Intruders (or those the Provider has marked for harvesting) are led around like rats in a maze, walls and machinery rearranging around them, while the Provider suckles the sweet emanations of their terror and frustration as it draws them ever closer to an inevitable, gruesome death within the intricate machinery.
The spirit is also aware of everything that goes on within its physical shell, and will sniff out an outsider within seconds.
In a pinch, the Provider can also call in its guards, who appear human but are, in fact, human-like constructs slaved to the Provider. These warlike beings are significantly stronger, tougher and faster than any human.
Harming the Foundry is hard, but can be achieved in four ways: Annihilating the entire Foundry grounds (which will recquire something close to a thermonuclear event); Destroying the spherical reaction chamber in which the "nexus" of the Provider resides (which is, naturally VERY heavily guarded); Starving the Provider by cutting off its supply of human life-force (in which case it will, eventually, sink back into a torpor-like state, ready to be reawakened again) or by harming Johannes Acibus, whose psychic symbiosis with the Provider will allow any harm done to one part to cause the same amount of damage to the other.
Of course, coming up with any of these options requires an intimate knowledge of the secrets of the Acibus Foundry, secrets very, very few beside Ascibus's inner circle of advisors are privy to.
I'd like to thank Cheka Man, Michael Jotne Slayer and valadaar, who (in a 3am chat) helped me flesh out some of the ideas in this sub. In fact, MJS (who as I write this is playtesting the Locastus setting...) even wrote an entire poem on Locastrian industry, that was much too good to waste. Here it is:
"Fools all. They know nothing of our great work, of what we have accomplished. We will never progress while we look to a meaningless past for guidance. We have accomplished feats with our machines, steam and cannons that one can only dream of. We have Deader slaves in abundance, and that is good, for they will not notice that it is blood that greases the cogs of the Locastrian factories."
I mean, if that doesn't get you inspired, what will?
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? Responses (15)-15
Great work, Ouroboros, this is a truly dark piece that really reveals the spirt of the Witherdowns. You set up the mood perfectly, then reveal the gruesome truth. Awesome.
I'm pleased that I could help. Will you do an entry on the Bllod Shylocks? 5/5
Hi Cheka! Yep, Blood Shylocks and organ traders are coming up. That´ll be truly bleak...:-)
Very nice, very nice. As a huge fan of Bas-Lag and anything that does a Picasso on typical fantasy, Locastus really speaks to me, and this submission is no exception.
Industrial, oppressive, soul-eating... What else could one ask for?
Excellent - well described and paints a vivid picture indeed!
I believe you could use this (with some minor adjustments) in RPGs like Shadowrun or CoC. That would probably be pretty cool.
Another fascinating piece. I can only echo what others have already said. Great one, David!
An industrial revolution gone wrong! This mechanical horror does a terrific job when it comes to revealing the heavy price that rapid industrialization carries. Great work!
Very sinister location. Giving players the top part can just get you wondering what the hell is going on there. I almost didn't want to read the rest because I sort of enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what it is. I very much liked the creature and it didn't leave any questions on what was going on. Beautifully descriptive and I wish I had a game to use it in!
Is this a Wal-Mart parody?
I like the vivid description, I can almost hear the pumping steam in the pipes.
I can not believe I missed this one. Well now that that oversight has been corrected (and voted upon), I must say I do like the way this submission came out.
Factories with bound demons/ spirits magi-punk at its finest. And dark magi-punk at that.
Very nicely set up and execution. The concept and the description merge together perfectly. I like it, I like it a lot.