The Red Labyrinth: a hypothetical fifth zone

Warning: contains substantial spoilers for Ambition: The Truth.
I woke up in the middle of the night last week with a sudden idea of a fifth, interestingly distinct, Sky for Sunless Skies. I’ve done some fleshing out of the idea since. Enough that I’d try to make it a mod, if that was supported; since it is not, I grant unconditional, unrestricted rights and permissions to use or adapt any or all of this in creating official Sunless Skies content to FBG or any other applicable parties, should they wish to do so.

[b]The Red Labyrinth[/b] is the domain of the Judgment known as [i]The Red King of Secrets[/i]. The Red King is not, at present, part of any Conjunction or constellation, though it is broadly aligned with the Nepenthine Conjunction in behavior. Befitting his name, the Red King is a very large, very old star; a red giant. Before the Binary was Halved, he was something of a rival to the King Who Speaks, in that they both collected knowledge; the King Who Speaks in the Eleutherian Library, and the Red King in his own private archives. However, the Red King was never interested in compiling common knowledge or organizing it for the use of anyone but himself, at most providing occasional digests of relevant topics for his own servants to use. He was at that time motivated almost purely by selfish curiosity.

When war broke out between the Judgments, before the agreement to follow The Courtesy, the Red King sat out, but was approached by belligerents on both (all?) sides to provide the services of his servants, who were adept at ferreting out hidden information, for payment rather than for a cause. This caused the Red King to become the Spymaster of the Suns, extracting the secrets of one side and selling them to the other, in the process learning both the secrets his spies gathered and further secrets as part of his payment. It was during this period that his servants began to be structured in his specialized Agencies, each intended for investigations of a different type of secret.

Since this was eminently profitable and enjoyable for the Red King, if not for his servants, he agitated against the peace treaty which formed the Courtesy, but signed on when it was clear to him that its success was inevitable. Either from this agitation or from the war itself, however, the Red King had made many enemies. His agents, still widely spread, identified several attempts on his life - entirely in accord with the Courtesy - in a very short span. These initial attempts were foiled easily, but their rapidity scared the king. After the initial burst, further attempts came more slowly, but persistently, and on two occasions were only stopped by the narrowest of margins. This deepened the Red King's fear to paranoia, and he cut off contact with almost all those outside his Conjunction, ceasing to trade information to any Judgment outside his constellation and restricting access to his domain even to those within it. The final nail in the coffin was an attempt made by means of a subverted Messenger, belonging to another of his constellation. All signs pointed to it being outside manipulation, but in the depths of his paranoia he could not trust this. He barred all sky-paths to his domain, slaughtered his Messengers and Dragons, and twisted his kingdom into an unnavigable maze.

He did not, however, completely sever contact: his paranoia warred with his obsessive curiosity and lost. His agents remained spread across the skies hunting for secrets to bring back to him, and he maintained limited pathways to and from his domain for them to travel along. He trusted no Judgment, not even his own constellation, so all these pathways lead from his domain to the holdings of dead stars; the Garden-King's empty garden, the King of Hours' wastes of time. The sole exception was Eleutheria, domain of the Halved: while this pathway is most closely guarded of all, he fears the vengeance of the King Who Wars too much to limit his ability to observe it closely. Along these pathways, few may travel. Messengers, dragons, even Curators are barred. The only creatures which may enter the Red Labyrinth are those too low on the Chain to know of the Courtesy; those who cannot be used as instruments of murder because they would be devoured by the Fire That Follows if they were to know enough. Fortunately for players of the hypothetical mod, this permits sky-captains to pass, at least if they have secured the appropriate favors to be guided to the secret relays. ([i]Un[/i]fortunately for the Red King, this is not perfectly protective, as one of The Truth's endings demonstrates.)

Those favors will not, of course, be from the Red King himself; he would not deign to speak with skyfarers directly even if it were safe to speak with one outside his realm, which in his opinion it is not. They will come from one of the Agencies which organize his servants. There are four, each with their own outposts, servants, locomotives, and livery. The Agency of Judgments wears blue livery and is concerned with observing the direct actions of Judgments, their remnants, and their senior servants; they will pay well for knowledge of Death’s Door or the House of Rods and Chains, but also the Mausoleum and Traitor’s Wood. The Agency of Thieves, in yellow, monitors criminals, devils, and prison-wells: Cadeucus, Carillon, Piranesi, and Titania are all of interest to them. The Agency of Seeds is, appropriately, dressed in green: they monitor plants, beginnings, and the Chrysanthemum Conjunction. They have a bounty for information from the Forge of Souls, Achlys, L&S’s Nature Reserve, and Hybras, among others. Finally, the Agency of Reckonings wears midnight-black and watches the Amaranthine Conjunction, deaths, and the forestalling of the inevitable: Lustrum, Piranesi, witnesses from the Blue Kingdom such as a hired litigator, etc.

However, the Red King has become so paranoid that during his isolation he has destroyed most of his greater servants, for fear that they would rebel or be subverted against him. He has not only no Messengers or Curators, but no Logoi, no Aeginae, no children. Only the lesser servants remain, and it is dangerous for them to communicate with their king directly. In the absence of clear guidance, they have fallen to infighting, and the skies of the Red Labyrinth are host to constant skirmishes between the Agencies, jockeying for preeminent status and the favor of the king. Whether this actually please the King of Secrets is completely unclear, but the Agency’s leaderships have unshakable faith that it does.

Creatures of the Red Labyrinth

In accordance with their purpose as spies and infiltrators, the remaining servants of the Red King are primarily Shapelings. All four Agencies have War-Flukes in their ranks, and an old Londoner would recognize the field agents as being of a Rubbery persuasion. Whether this realm is their original source, and home to Axile, is unclear; if Axile dated from the time the domain was still the Red Vault, before its twisting into the Red Labyrinth, it might now be utterly destroyed. In either case, the Rubbery Agents who operate in Albion and its environs are substantially more human in their mannerisms, and particularly in their speech, than those of the Neath and the House of Rods and Chains; they speak the Queen's English quite clearly and their gait is only slightly strange, though when not focused on the task of impersonation they have a very distinct lilting accent and bend their limbs rather farther than a human is capable of. Besdies these creatures of the Agencies, there are bestial Doubters, quite similar to Eleutheria's Grievers in behavior, which attack anything which comes nearby.

A locomotive traveling through the Red Labyrinth will primarily contend with the War-Flukes, which are not very discriminating beyond leaving untouched things of the correctly-color livery. The Doubter patches are also a hazard, and moreso because the labyrinth reshapes itself often and so the location of those patches cannot be usefully mapped. Particularly if one has offended one of the Agencies, however, one will also have to contend with the agent's coralloid locomotives, which focus on their rivals but will combat a strange locomotive if they are attacked or if the stranger intrudes into an ongoing battle. And of course, as ever, cantankeri haunt corners of the sky and lash out at anyone who intrudes on their seclusion.

Rewards of the Red Labyrinth

The low-grade state of war between the competing agencies is a profitable opportunity for a skyfarer; each Agency has multiple outposts, and carrying messages and good between them is both a difficult task for their own, hence lucrative, and a substantially simpler for an outsider, hence profitable. The Agencies are also interested in port reports from across the sky; each of the four has a half-dozen locations they are interested in across the other four skies accessible to human locomotives, and their appreciation is substantially more lucrative than that of the local authorities interested in those port reports. Some locations are of interest to multiple Agencies, e.g. both the Agency of Judgments and that of Seeds have interest in Traitor’s Wood; sharing your reports on these locations with a rival agency will damage your relationship with them. Those in some favor with the Agencies also make take commissions to move agents between other parts of the sky, or locating prospective agents - Snuffers, for example, are quite sought-after - and bringing them to the Labyrinth to be recruited. Duress is rarely required, but is requested on occasion.

Gaining access to the Labyrinth will require extensive contacts with subcontracted spies - i.e. affiliation with Academe and Criminals - to learn in which port to look for their hidden relays and who to ask, and bringing a clutch of reports a particular Agency values to the appropriate port to receive enough goodwill to be permitted use it. Earning goodwill to secure relay usage will also need to be done separately in each region, though if you can contact the Agency from one of its Labyrinth headquarters locations, the positional step is obviated. While this process is arduous, it is lucrative, especially for a smuggler: because the relays are hidden, they are not inspected by the Revenue Men, and so can serve as safe routes for delivery of contraband. The Labyrinth relays, working on the original principles by which the Judgments carved the sky-paths, are also faster and safer than the Singh-Jenkins variety which work on reverse-engineered Correspondence. (They are also much quieter, speaking in auditory, radiative, and chronoscopic senses, and accordingly require only a few minutes worth of Hours to power.)

All four Agencies also openly buy red honey, starshine, and unpermitted literature at the going rate (e.g. 115 Sovereigns for a firkin of red honey), which can be a major boon to those without an established relationship to smuggling organizations, or a lesser one to established smugglers who find themselves with goods beyond what is needed to fulfill their established prospects. And while Hallidge’s is not permitted in the Labyrinth, a local group called the Courteous Ruby operates safe deposit boxes and permits the storage of both licit items and contraband. (Be warned, however, that ‘abandoned’ boxes, e.g. ones you attempt to inherit from a predecessor, are likely to have beem seized and become Agency property, and if so no recompense will be given. Arriving at a Courteous Ruby location and formally protesting will earn you at least some favor with the perpetrating Agency by way of apology.)
edited by ElseWise on 12/13/2020

Just chiming in to say this sounds amazing.

Amazing piece of story, could make a great addition to existing lore.
One thing though - there is already Spymaster of the Sun, White. We mostly get info about him … thirdhand? tenhand? … but he doesn’t seem to be a Judgement who is good on tolerating any kind of rivalry. It could good for you story - what if Red all this time had only one enemy, but this one enemy had nice habit to attack from all sides at the same time and likes to make his enemies tremlbe from paranoia. Or you can reorient Red to be … information broker? knowledgemonger? Well, something less on spying and more on information in general.