Alchemy is the only magic that exists in Alchemquest, and is where it gets its title from. While it is a driving cause for much of the internal conflict within the setting related to conflicts between the old world order and the new one, it is far from the only thing that is such. It is seen as mystical, but only because it is somewhat new. It is seen as incredible, but only because it isn't well understood by a great many. Ultimately, it is nothing more than another technology.
Fundamentally, alchemy is a way of channeling the innate energy of the world to achieve an effect. Anyone can be taught to do it, and very easily. However, it takes energy to channel the innate energy of the world, and while it can take a lot less energy for the person than is actually used it can still draw enough to kill someone.
There are three effects that can be performed by alchemy. It can isolate different substances within a mixture, it can transform something to a generalized essence, and it can turn the generalized essence into something. These effects are referred to as isolation, purification, and transmutation, and can be done in conjunction within certain limits. Of these, isolation is the least limited. A certain volume is covered, and everything in it naturally seperates -though this only applies at the level of a mixture, and excludes alloys. The only real difficulty comes in controlling where every ingrediant seperates to. Purification and transmutation are both limited by the same restrictions, each can only operate on a single substance, one cannot change something from one state of matter to another, temperature cannot vary, and volume remains constant with dimensions unchanging due to the alchemy.
Arrays are the reason alchemy can actually be preacticed at a meaningful scale. They allow one to maximize the effect of the energy that is drawn, essentially acting as an alchemical lever. Unlike the basic actions of alchemy arrays are very complex, requiring detailed study.
Arrays must be tweaked for several factors. Among these are every substance involved in the alchemical reaction, the location of the array, and the ambient conditions of the area. Variance in any of these reduces the effectiveness of the array, with greater variance leading to a greater reduction in effectiveness. Moreover, as the nature of the ambient energy in a given location changes the array naturally loses effectiveness.
Bhustani Alchemy is the typical method employed internationally. It gains its name due to the extent that Bhustan leads over most of the world. As a rule it consists of drawn or carved arrays that are largely permanent, and usually immobile, employing architectural tools in the creation of the arrays. As with all arrays, the end result is a complicated and confusing mess that looke like a collection of suspiciously organized scribbles.
Bhustan has an academic and industrial system for alchemists, where both parts are tightly wound around eachother. Several government run institutes in larger cities supply the vast majority of research and development, with Bhustan tending to focus upon training large groups. For the most part this has been copied elsewhere, though Kailla uses an apprentice system and Calum uses a largely decentralized system involving traveling tutors. Moreover, Bhustani alchemists are free agents, where Kaillan and Calumi alchemists are carefully watched government employees.
Aij has easily the most advanced alchemy in existence. What exactly they do is kept secret, however it is known that they have come up with a method for controlling the nature of the ambient energy on Aij, leading to a consistent energy signature. Moreover they can manage everything Bhustan can, and as a rule can do so more efficiently, though this advantage is greatly lessened outside of Aij; this ability is considered largely irrelevant. It is the secrets Aij has that makes them impressive, and there are stories of all sorts of effects that are considered truly magical. Few are verified, but some are certainly true.
Alchemy of the Kaillan Tribes
The Kaillan Tribes have a system unrelated to alchemy elsewhere. The arrays are simpler and less efficient than elsewhere, and two distinct groups are maintained, the shamen who draw the arrays -as well as tending to varying religious duties- and the people that use them, known as fonts. The fonts are all large, muscular people who maintain a state of high physical fitness, as is necessary for the unrefined arrays that are used.
Moreover the use of an array is always highly ceremonial. Several fonts are gathered, with quantity dependant on the array in use. A ceremony is performed around the array, always at night, and a mix of fresh fat and ash is drawn over the array lines. The fonts are all given a conconction that is meant to make them stronger, and the fonts begin using the array at the same time the rest of the village drinks another drink meant to lend the fonts their power.