NeoVictoria (the planet where our characters live) is part of a vast interstellar empire. Pax Britannica (the British Peace) writ large; it’s a bustling hive with thousands of planets and it has existed for millennia. At the heart of The Empire is Earth (sometimes called “Old Earth”) and the seat of power on that planet is Buckingham Sithen, where the Queen and her inner court live.
Now, all societies have economies and all economies have, at their core, a way to harness energy, so things can be built and moved about. Our real-life modern economy is built on petroleum; this oil-economy powers most of our industry and our homes. In the Empire, the economy is built on spiritual energy. Through magic and human ingenuity, they have devised a way to capture the essence of a creature (some might call it the spirit or soul) to use as an energy source.
There are two kinds of spirit energy sources: powerful immortals and the souls of the dead.
One of the key concepts for the construction of the worlds is how the cities are powered by captive supernaturals. The magic-mechanism that traps the supernaturals has something to do with aether (that Victorian concept) and alchemy, and is driven by rune-craft. They are bonded to the mechanism, not so much trapped in the machine as they become one with it; if you destroy the machine then the beings within are also destroyed.
Once bound, the supernatural cannot be unbound, and in some mystical way being bound to the machine ties them to the Queen. With effort, she can tap their thoughts or pull energy from them. These prison-power-centers also serve as a kind of check on the political rulers of the different planets. The energy is clean (no pollution) and has little financial cost, but there is a sense of watching.
The rulers of the planets are given the title “Royal Watcher” and charged to maintain these prisons as part of their governance duties; that’s what the organs are for, each cathedral has one. Using it, they administer adjustments, direct the power for spells and what-not, and it is a constant reminder of what could happen to them if they rebelled.
Human souls and the lesser fae make up the second kind of energy source, and are more like portable batteries. Most human souls are just a bit of energy trapped in a tiny glowing ball …they power streetlights and hand-held tools …guns and stoves …hot-air balloons and horseless carriages. Their containers have a certain shelf-life, like an actual battery, the difference being when their due-date is past, the container cracks and they are set free, to go where souls go when their bodies are dust.
Some are prisoners, trapped in this way to stop them from reincarnating. But most are more like indentured servants. Creatures (on their deathbeds) can deed their souls for some period of time and in exchange their families receive pensions or other kinds of favor. Those who are particularly useful or beloved might have their souls loaded into mechanicals (we call these cyborgs the “automatons”); they keep their egos and in many ways be much as they were when they were in-the-flesh. But such transference is very rare.
There is a vast marketplace which revolves around the creation and preservation of these containers. To be a soul-merchant is one of the most lucrative professions a citizen can have.