The strange truth about the Vermillion Empire is that no one really knows much about it.
The Vermillion ruled most of the continent for at least 500 years, but The Catastrophe broke their grip and The Unwar unraveled their hold. At some point during the hundred or so years The Unwar the Vermillion quit allowing themselves to be seen in public. No one is sure quite when, but a moment came when no one alive could claim to have seen a Vermillion in person. They have been described as tall, thin, graceful, quick, and fluid. They’ve also been called cold-blooded, ruthless, and merciless, as well as passionate, lusty, vengeful, and irascible.
While the Vermillion ruled, they imposed very little in the way of cultural change on their subjects. All they demanded from a culture or nation was subjugation, taxes, and soldiers to fight in the armies of conquest. It was expected that conquered nations would make use of Vermillion currency, but not a requirement. To have a voice in the government a conquered nation would simply have to pass 20 years obeying the laws of the Empire, and send a delegation to the capital (The Vermillion Fundament). This meant that most of the many cultures conquered by the Vermillion survive in some way to this day. This is not to say these cultures were unchanged. Most were significantly altered by the rigid hierarchy and the extraordinarily harsh penalties of law. For instance, the penalty for insolence to a Vermillion by any non-Vermillion was to have one’s tongue split by a red-hot knife.
Most of what is known about the Vermillion themselves is a legacy of their penchant for building. Their architecture is as ubiquitous as it is audacious. They built extraordinary structures of unknown (even dubious) purpose, right along with massive and sturdy bridges and great fortresses. Even their practical buildings have an appearance that suggests ambitious whimsy and sometimes outright madness. The 400 years or so since The Retreat, and the near constant warfare that followed, have not been kind to works of the Vermillion. Except in the few places where war has not touched and the Vermillion are still venerated (or possibly in remote, lonely places) little is left of their works outside their territory but ruins.
The Vermillion are known to be good with languages. They learned to speak the languages of the conquered instead of forcing the conquered to learn their own. The Vermillion language is extraordinarily complicated. Very few people can speak more than a few broken words of it today. The written form of the language is somewhere between ideographic and syllabary, and is comprised of columns of tight and tangled loops and lines. To make a real-world comparison, it looks a bit like Chinese characters made out of Norse runes. Here’s an example:
Very little is known about the magic used by the Vermillion. That their sorcery was and is powerful is beyond question. It’s said their most powerful magic wielders could appear in impossible places and control another’s thoughts. Occasionally an object is located that is imbued with Vermillion magic, and even the most learned and strongest wielder of today can glean only small bits of information from these items.