V.O.C. of the People
When the thirty-second seal holding back Vandagen broke in early 1618, the world began changing. Though many of the changes were immediate and dramatic, they were slow to get noticed. Most people chalked up the stories they were hearing to rumors and myths, refusing to believe the outlandish tales they were being told. For years, concrete proof that things were well and truly different was simply non-existent.
But in 1621, on a hot November day in a Batavian coal mine, a miner pulled a small, pink crystal from the ground. It wasn’t obviously impressive in any particular way, but something about this geode made the man deeply curious. He brought it to his superiors, who were also intrigued. They began studying it, and it was not long before it was discovered that this small rock — named “Orichalcum” after the Platonic metal, — had some very valuable properties.
First and most obvious of Orichalcum’s properties is its ability to generate steam. Whenever a piece of Orichalcum is fully submerged in water, it immediately starts radiating tremendous heat (nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit)—more than enough to make the water reach a heavy boil almost instantaneously. This process consumes the Orichalcum, but at a very slow rate (a 2 ounce geode can keep water boiling for over a week), making it an incredibly efficient source of fuel for steam machinery. This has had the side effect of jump-starting the industrial revolution, and many technologies that wouldn’t otherwise exist until the late 1800’s are already becoming commonplace.
The second and less obvious of Orichalcum’s properties is how it interacts with the Weird. Very little is known of the Weird, but it is known that it exists as some kind of invisible overlay that spans the globe—it is weaker in some places and stronger in others, with the stronger locations commonly referred to as “ley lines.” Strangers (those who use the Weird) must reach out to this invisible network when they are using their powers, and will often have wild and upredictable results. However, if they have access to a piece of Orichalcum (the purer the better), it can channel and focus their Weird, which will dramatically increase the reliability and effectiveness of their powers.
Within weeks of its discovery, the mine was overhauled into an Orichalcum mine, as coal became an afterthought to harvesting this new mineral. As Orichalcum’s value became known, the V.O.C. wasted no time in swooping in and immediately buying up every mine in the area and every scrap of Orichalcum they produced. As more Orichalcum was discovered worldwide, the V.O.C. likewise stepped in and purchased those as well, often before competitors were even given a chance, eagerly paying whatever price was demanded.
Today, the V.O.C. controls over 90% of the Orichalcum produced globally, and has a virtual monopoly on the market. Any competitors are swiftly bought up as soon as they appear, and those that refuse are wiped from the face of the earth (sometimes literally) almost overnight. They are extremely valuable as a fuel source, and the market for ultrapure crystals (for Strangers) is prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest of Strangers.