|“||Welcome to this village, a place left behind by both history and society, a place that has always been a world apart! In other words, this is another dimension, a fantasy!||”|
The Village is a large-scale simulation located on private property in Northern Europe, built by Szilard Quates' descendants as an artificial environment for their homunculi experiments to live in. By isolating the village from the outside world, the scientists have been able to keep the liquor of immortality secret while studying the homunculi in peace.
As a result of the village's isolation and the scientists' careful control, the village is out of time with the rest of early 2000s European society by at least a century.
Located somewhere in the mountains of Northern Europe, the village is hidden deep within a conifer forest whose trees have been injected with the incomplete version of the Cure-All Elixir. As the trees are immune to deforestation and all manner of natural disaster, the forest is abnormally dense by 1998 and spreads outward from the private property and beyond for several miles. On official maps, the forest is dozens of miles long and is intercut with neither infrastructure nor settlements.
A narrow gravel road, wide enough for one automobile, still winds through the forest toward the private property and the Castle as of 2001; however, the village itself has been cut off from the road ever since the long tunnel on the road in the woods was sealed off. The hill the tunnel cuts through has since collapsed, resulting in a ten-foot drop interrupting the road where the hill once stood. A buffer of cleared farmland separates the forest from the village, which the remainder of the road reaches and continues into.
The only other road in the forest leads to the Laboratory, and this is the road that the traders (scientists) use to reach the village. Along this road is a checkpoint, which only the 'iron trucks' the traders ride in are allowed through.
A river exists somewhere in the forest's vicinity, though where it is relative to the village, castle, and laboratory is uncertain.
Architecture and Layout
Most of the village's buildings are made of stone, and designed from the very start to look 'old-fashioned'. While the artificialness of the architecture escapes the villagers themselves, it is noticed almost immediately by the Immortals who visit the village in 2001. Interspersed between the stone buildings are wooden structures resembling log cabins, giving the village a patchwork atmosphere on the whole.
The village is best described as a linear settlement, with many of its buildings and market stalls lining the gravel road which serves as its main thoroughfare. There is no inn in the settlement, as travelers are an unwanted exception to the rule, and the largest building is the wooden meeting hall located in the village center.
For years, all five Fil vessels live a decrepit shed in one of the village's corners—the shack barely large enough to house them all and in too poor condition to offer them sufficient protection from the weather.
A small, deep well is situated on the edge of the village. It serves as a crucial source of water for the village, as the local river is far from the settlement.
Society and Technology
The village is an agrarian chiefdom, its residents self-sufficient thanks to the crops they cultivate to the point where they have a small agricultural surplus. Whenever a trader visits the village, the villagers trade their surplus crops for oil, fuel, cloth, and other quotidian items based off the rates posted in the back of the trader's truck.
As a chiefdom, the village's residents—seventy-six at the dawn of 2002—are led by a village Headman. The system of succession appears to be kinship-based, as Headman Dez Nibiru inherits the position from his father-in-law and his son Feldt Nibiru is expected to succeed him. While certain villagers have more influence than others when it comes to village matters, the village headman has the greatest authority in the village.
The villagers speak the official language of the European country, and wear clothes made out of natural fibers and furs as opposed to synthetic material. Their weapons range from farming implements to metal clubs and hunting rifles at least a century old, and they interpret modern vehicles like automobiles as 'iron carts' and the airplanes overhead as 'silver birds'.
Though the traders, automobiles, and airplanes are proof enough of an 'Outside', most of the villagers fear the Outside and pretend it does not exist. Any visitors who stumble upon their village are treated as 'demons' trying to lead the villagers astray—a belief strengthened after an incident in which several villagers left with a visitor and never returned. Ever since then, the villagers either chase out or kill any visitor who finds them.
These superstitious notions of 'demons' and 'monsters' extend to the Castle, which the villagers believe is inhabited by a demonic monster during the decade prior to Elmer C. Albatross' arrival. Elmer's immortal condition renders him another monster in their eyes, as it does the immortals who arrive afterwards. The villagers offer him a Fill vessel as a sacrifice one every year to 'appease' him, and view the festive ornaments he decorates the castle with as part of a demonic ritual.
While the Fil vessels are clearly unlike the villagers, the villagers only start to shun them after a few incidents in which villagers attempting to investigate the girls are 'vanished' and do not return. It is only when Dez becomes headman that the villagers' treatment of Fil worsens, evolving from shunning into outright physical abuse at Dez's encouragement. By the late 1990s, the Fil vessels are exploited for menial tasks and universally regarded as inhuman.
The Castle is a small fortress surrounded by stone walls, separate to the village and accessible by horse or automobile via the narrow gravel road. However, its thick bosky surroundings make the journey rough-going even on foot, with only the area around its gated entrance clear of trees.
The castle's architecture is cobbled together from different styles, including those from Belgium, Luxembourg – especially Luxembourg's Vianden Castle—and Denmark, with the researchers' priority during construction simply to make it look old and part of the landscape. While the Castle's aesthetics are old-fashioned, its lack of significant wear and tear make it feel far less old than it pretends to be.
The majority of the castle's roof is flat, save for the Danish-inspired conical roof of the watchtower jutting out on the south side. Contained within the external stone walls is a courtyard large enough to house stables and space besides for at least one automobile, and a garden lines the pathway connecting the front gate to the castle's front entrance. A stone well is located around the back of the castle grounds.
Upon stepping through the castle's front entrance (its proper hinges further evidence of the castle's true age), a visitor will find themselves in an atrium whose walls and floor are stone; however, the staircase near the back of the entryway is not, and the interior is far more reminiscent of a nineteenth-century mansion than what its exterior would imply.
Included in the castle's many rooms are a grand dining hall, a cozy drawing room, and a cramped alchemy 'library' whose books have mostly crumbled into dust by 2001. One of the room's bookshelves functions as a secret doorway, which, if opened, reveals an unlit subterranean stone tunnel. When Maiza Avaro and Nile first explore this tunnel, its walls save for ten yards on either end are made of wet red clay—which makes its atmosphere incredibly humid. However, when they visit the tunnel for a second time, the clay is nowhere to be found.
This underground tunnel connects the library to a small, unfenced graveyard located in the woods behind the castle – close enough that one can still see the castle from the graveyard, but detached from the road and hidden enough that a passerby would have to be looking for it to find it. At least one of the gravestones is engraved with an antiquated version of the country's main language, and appears to have been erected in the late twentieth century.
During Elmer's residency in the castle, the castle's exterior and interior are decorated with homemade ornaments in accordance with whatever holiday and festival Elmer is celebrating.
The Laboratory refers to the modern laboratory the researchers made their main base after abandoning the castle. Entering the laboratory is only possible via the gated checkpoint on the second forest road; after entering the gate, one travels through a long tunnel until they reach a large, security-patrolled warehouse with a concrete floor. The warehouse, reminiscent of a warship shipyard, is structured over the tunnel "as if to hide it."
The room which Bilt Quates shows to Maiza Avaro in 2002 is locked via an electronic keypad, and requires a numerical code to access. It contains several enormous cultivation tanks for 'growing' homunculi bodies; whether other rooms of this nature existed or still exist in the laboratory are unclear.
In the early twentieth century, Bilt Quates' grandfather's alchemy research on behalf of their mutual ancestor Szilard Quates leads him to successfully create a homunculus using Szilard's immortal cells. He and Szilard continue to make and discard several more homunculi in their pursuit of perfect knowledge, the last of which is a female homunculus called Ennis. Not long afterward, Szilard drops out of touch with his descendants and followers.
Bilt's grandfather takes the opportunity to leave America and return to Quates-owned property in the family's country of residence; there, he continues conducting independent alchemic research in a laboratory designed to look like a castle. Much of the research is based on a theory Szilard had conceived before his disappearance—that the elixir achieves immortality by fusing one's cells with 'something from another dimension'.
Though Bilt's grandfather's homunculi research initially reaches an impasse following Szilard's disappearance, he and his researchers eventually hit upon a new research question: whether or not it is possible for the minds of sentient beings from this other world to possess multiple bodies in their world. The researchers' subsequent research leads them to create two types of imperfect "Water" Consciousness Homunculi: a male homunculus which grows like humans do; and a female homunculus—Fil—which does not grow but has a short life span. By the end of the research, the researchers manage to cap the female homunculus' visible with the consequence of a drastically shortened life span. To compensate, they keep five bodies for Fil 'live' at once.
As the researchers' ultimate goal is to achieve perfect knowledge via creating a complete homunculus, Fil's existence seems like a promising step toward achieving that goal; by continuously swapping bodies to live indefinitely, Fil theoretically might be able to accumulate enough experience and knowledge until she becomes a 'true' homunculus.
For the sake of testing this theory, Bilt's grandfather and father discard all their assets and begin development for a large-scale experiment in the forest on their property; rather than sending the homunculi out into the real world, they intend to first place them in a simulated society where they can study the homunculi's growth and accumulation of knowledge in a controlled environment. The castle is abandoned as their primary research base in favor of a modern laboratory a further distance away from the village.
To this end, they construct a deliberately old-fashioned village in the forest and inject the surrounding trees with the incomplete immortality elixir around the time when Bilt is still a very young child. With Szilard's government connections backing the experiment and ensuring the village remains a secret, Bilt's father and grandfather are able to 'buy' a large number of people—many of whom are infants—in exchange for sizable debts and similar burdens. These bought individuals are resettled into the village as its residents.
Once the experiment is established, the alchemists release the male and female homunculi into the village and from then on do not interfere with village society. They observe the village only when they visit it as 'traders' – letting the villagers trade their wares without personally interacting themselves—and swap out Fil's bodies whenever one of them expires. Occasionally young villagers stow away in the traders' trucks, but the modernity of the laboratory always awes them into exploring the outside world rather than trying to return to the village.
In either 1986 or 1987, the male homunculus—Dez Nibiru—realizes that he is a guinea pig and rejects the experiment, infiltrating the laboratory to destroy his cultivation fluid and steal the 'water' containing his consciousness. He marries the headman's daughter and is promised the position of headman after his father-in-law's death, though he gives his father-in-law his 'water' before his death in order to see what will happen.
The same year as Dez's realization, Dez's wife gives birth to a son who dies shortly after the delivery. In order to protect his wife from the news, he claims that his son is merely sick and that he will take him to the traders; taking his son's body with him, he infiltrates the laboratory again and places his son's body into one of the cultivation tanks. By injecting the 'water' into the tank, he is able to possess his son's body. From then on, and continuing after his wife dies of illness, he lives a double life as the headman Dez and Dez's son Feldt Nibiru.
From then on, the male homunculus portrays Dez as a heartless, irrational chief and Feldt as his capable, likable heir, using Dez to abuse the Fil vessels and encourage the villagers to follow suit. By this time, Bilt has taken over the experiment from his own father; however, his own doubts over the experiment and guilt over Fil's short life span and guinea pig status lead him to avoid looking at the village too closely. As a result, Bilt is unaware of the abuse Fil is suffering in the village for years.
The arrival of immortal Elmer C. Albatross in December 1998 causes the villagers much grief, and they murder him multiple times to no avail. Upon taking up residence in the castle, he jokingly demands that they offer him one of the Fil vessels as a gift; they take him seriously, and offer him a Fil vessel every year as a 'sacrifice' from then on out. Not long after his arrival, Elmer stows away in the trader's truck—Bilt's truck – and discovers the laboratory, where he informs Bilt of Fil's abuse. Horrified at the news and the consequences of his own inaction, Bilt resolves to end the experiment for good.
Elmer manages to contact Victor Talbot sometime over the next three years and asks him for help in reaching Maiza; instead, Victor contacts an information brokerage and gives them the approximate whereabouts of Elmer's location. The information reaches Maiza by 2001, and he, Nile, Sylvie Lumiere, and Czeslaw Meyer travel to the village in December of that year in search of their old friend.
Maiza and the others are treated with fear and hostility by the villagers, but the Fil vessels come to their aid and lead them to the castle where Elmer resides. Elmer proves particularly cagey about the true nature of the village and challenges Maiza and the others to investigate it on their own, leading them to deduce Fil's homunculus nature before the end of the year.
In February 2002, Elmer introduces Maiza to Bilt; after Bilt goes over the village's history, Elmer confirms that he wants Maiza and the others to help him figure out a way to extend Fil's lifespan. Dez/Feldt, meanwhile, wants to destroy the village, take over the villagers' minds, and leave for the Outside, and a subsequent showdown with Feldt in the graveyard leads to Feldt losing his vessel and Fil forcibly giving him one of her own.
One week after the ruckus, Elmer infuses the well water with Fil's 'water'. As Fil's consciousness yields instantly, the villagers share her memories and experience the abuse they inflicted upon her from her perspective, shaking them all deeply. Fil and the immortals move into the laboratory, where the immortal alchemists spend the next half year working on Elmer's alchemy problem before departing the village in July. Bilt remains behind, intent on setting the village free with his eventual death.