tisdag 17 november 2015

Bookmongers of Zargosa

Ever since Prince Asphyxis of Zargosa made books and writing a controlled substance in his domain, there has sprung up a huge and lucrative black market around said commodities. At present, this shadow economy is dominated by a few major criminal factions who generally keep peace among themselves, and settle their disputes by arbitration, although occasional skirmishes are not unknown. The bigger players frequently hire adventurers (duh) as go-betweens, procurers of rare product, or general bruisers. Among the most noteworthy are:

Erknul the Antiquarian

An elderly man who runs Zargosa's largest and finest illegal bookshop from an octagonal tower in the ancient quarter behind the Sea King's Temple. His operation is protected by a large gang of erudite thugs, the patronage of several wealthy bibliophiles among the city's upper social tiers, and his reputation as a discreet and non-discriminating fence. He will move most product that is not too hot, and can generally be relied upon to not reveal the identity of either buyer or seller, although he sometimes charges a service or two to ensure his silence.

Artisan Marzuli

Erknul's former lieutenant, who has set up shop indepentently, much to his displeasure. She operates out of an old barge upriver, and is rumored to deal in books  that most other book traders refuse to handle, like the cognitively toxic tomes from far-off places like Yoon-Suin, Quelong and the Southernmost South,. She doesn't enjoy the noble patronage that Erknul does, but someone highly placed must be protecting her, considering that she manages to keep her brazenly illegal trade going. She is also rumored to keep a large terrarium, for reasons unknown.

The Corner Squires

Zargosa has the finest and largest university in the world. Students come there from all over the continent of Tlön and beyond to study law, metaphysics, natural history, rhetoric, and all the other sciences, high and low. Tuition fees are steep, however, and even though the University faculties run their portion of the city as a more or less independent fief, the book prohibition has greatly affected the availability and price of course literature.

As a result of these factors, increasing numbers of students each semester turn to a life of semi- or full time criminality. For those whose funds have run dry, there has always existed the option of working as a private tutor for the children of the wealthy, and/or prostituting themselves to the same (the wealthy, that is). More and more however,  who are either too desperate, incompetent or impatient for these lines of work, are drawn to the Corner Squires. These are simply criminal gangs of students, who make money by selling books to their peers, and those bibliophiles among the citizenry who cannot match Erknul's or Marzuli's prices. The Squires operate out of street corners in the University quarter, where they settle their turf boundaries by short and ugly street battles. There are at any time four to six major gangs, depending on the economy. The books they peddle are generally of low quality, copied by hand or on cheap printing presses. The source of their product is a matter of speculation, although it is rumored that some highly placed academics make money by supplying them with knock-off versions derived from their own private collections of books.

The Dwarven Book Masters

Those who wish to get an accurate appraisal of a given book's worth may consider paying a visit to the Dwarven Ghetto, beyond the Foreigner's Quarter on the South side of the river. The Dwarven Book Masters are unparallelled experts when it comes to the craftmanship, material and physical qualities of books, but they have no interest whatsoever in their content. (Note that this information applies mainly to orthodox dwarves, who adhere to the ancestral ways.) Since ancient dwarven religion teaches that Dwarves are the chosen tools of the Demiurge, and it is their sacred duty to constantly create the world anew, the human custom of writing by way of the repitition of a set number of letters or characters is anathema to them. Indeed, each and every dwarven text is like the Voynich manuscript, a self-contained system of signs and symbols which are created by the individual writer at the time of writing, and must be actively interpreted by each individual reader. (This is similar to the way in which magical treatises and spells are written, although they tend to follow a set of semiotic principles which are common to specific magical traditions.) There is, however, nothing that prevents Dwarves to exercise their skill in crafting, repairing and trading in books. Indeed, since the Ghetto exists in a kind of legal limbo similar to that of the University quarter, more and more of the black book trade gravitates there.

Zorlac the Philosopher

By all accounts some kind of monomaniacal collector, who doesn't get out much. He/She/They is, however, rumored to own a library of immense size and is constantly seeking out books to add to said collection, by any means available.

The Book Keepers

Zargosa, like all cities, does not maintain a standing armed force for the policing of crime and enforcement of laws. Lord Asphyxis does however employ a detachement of soldiers whose specific duty is to keep track of the book trade. Their job is a thankless one and consists mainly of keeping an eye out for "cognitive fallout", such as the appearance of a previously unrecorded building in a market square, the sudden emergence of hitherto unknown cults and organisations, strange zoological phenomena, and other signs that the baleful influence of books has once again taken its toll on the minds and reality of the people of Zargosa.