Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Unquiet Library

The Library of Tharkad-Keln is considered one of the wonders of the known world. Built in an earlier age, possibly by the mysterious Dungeon Builders themselves, the library is said to hold a copy of every written record of note in the Thystaran sphere. Hyperbole aside, the library is undoubtedly the greatest repository of knowledge currently in existence and a center for scholarship.

The library is a many-floored, conical stone structure—almost like an artificial mountain peak—situated on a volcanic plug just off the western coast of Arn. It’s connected to the mainland by a series of bridges across two smaller plugs. It seems to have powerful magics worked upon it so that it stays an almost constant temperature and humidity on the interior—though their have been times where this protection waned for unknown reasons in areas. Most rooms are filled with rows upon rows of ceiling high shelves in various arrangements made of an unknown material. Many walls are decorated with reliefs of an owl-headed man with a muscular body, dressed only in a breechclout and sandals. This figure resembles Seiptis, the Thystaran god of knowledge, in the traditional depiction—which held to derive from the stereotypical dress of an ancient Thystaran amanuensis. The presence of these images in a structure that predates Thystara’s rise is puzzling.

The library’s inhabitants and staff are demihumans called “gnomes.” This name creates some confusion as the library folk aren’t “true” gnomes (those being part of an ultraterrestrial incursion from the elemental planes), but instead an offshoot of halfling stock. The gnomes came to Tharkad-Keln sometime before the Thystaran Empire reached Arn, perhaps as long ago as the collapse of the Thalarion Hegemony, which is believed to be the fallen, final remnant of the Godmaker culture in Arn.

At first, the library merely provided shelter for the proto-gnomic tribes. Over time, the scrolls and codices found therein began to take on a cultural significance for them. Wars were fought between tribes occupying the natural philosophy and literature sections. Annals written from oral tradition dating to that time suggest there was once a bloody chieftain who rose to found a dynasty from the recesses of the culinary stacks. Even into historic times, when scholars first began to make pilgrimages to the library, care had to be taken to pay tribute to the various gnomic gangs that lurk in less traveled wings and move about through secret passages to prey upon the unwary.

Over time, the halflings came to see the books and learning as of preeminent, almost religious, importance. Generations changed them from a culture of savages to one of scholars. The old tribal system was replaced by guilds which are involved in various aspects of tending the library and serving visitors; there are guides to help pilgrims, runners to carry messages, and guardsmen to enforce the peace.

Thystaran records recount the first visit of their scholars to Tharkad-Keln over a hundred years before the fall of the Empire. The leader of the gnomes, named Atoz Yoron (the “brek” cognomen had not yet been adopted), is already given the title of “magister”—a title which survives to this day, though currently there is rule by a magisterial council rather than an individual.

The gnomes have developed an unusual supplementary language which contains a number of monosyllabic affixes that are reference codes to bibliographical citations of accumulated gnomic wisdom. This allows the gnomes to communicate very complicated and/or detailed bits of information in a concise fashion. This language isn’t secret, but neither is it actively taught to non-gnomes.

Another distinctive gnomic accoutrement is the geithi stick. These walking staffs serve as a sort of curriculum vitae. Gnomic scholars have glyphs representing their major scholarly accomplishments carved upon their geithi sticks. Approval for each glyph carved must be given by a peer review committee, and a dictionary of authorized glyphs is held (predictably) in the library’s gnomic culture section.


Canageek said...

Wow, I want to visit this place, or use it in a game of mine. Excellent work! I can't wait to finish reading through your blog and can't believe the pace at which you turn out material!

Trey said...

Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. If you use it in a game, let me know how it goes.