Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Library of Asria, Part One

Asria is a maze of ancient stone, a stacked city with over a hundred named levels.  But even the inhabitants do not know how many sublevels are there.  The Library of Asria exists on one of these sublevels, amid the gurgling hydraulics and pale, subterranean ivies.  

Inside the Library there are many libraries.

Melk Abbey Library

The Library is older than recorded history.  It was reclaimed after the Time of Fire and Madness, but even then, the books were scorched and damaged.  Entire wings had gone up in smoke, and millions of books were burnt beyond usability.

But the ashes were reclaimed and mixed to make mortar for new walls, and new floors.  (But no knowledge is ever destroyed, and goblin filthomancers can read fragments of the old books just by licking the floors.)

For a while, the Library was the center of power for a God of Knowledge named Mesmerane.  The cult was eventually defeated and absorbed by the Church.  The tower that housed the central shrine of Mesmerane was disassembled and rebuilt back in the Holy City of Coramont, and Mesmerane was relegated to the position of Slave-God, another satellite orbiting glorious Zulin.

With more centuries, Mesmerane has become borderline orthodox again.  Worship of him is encouraged, and once again a small shrine to Mesmerane sits in the Library of Asria.  Now that she has been tamed by the Church, Mesmerane is a popular mascot of the church.  Her symbol is a window, full of words.

Strahov Monastery Library
The Librarians

There are three kinds of librarians, although the third is the most common.

  1. A few trusted citizens of Asria may become librarians.  (The Head Librarian is very paranoid.)
  2. A few of the ash-painted savages from the lower levels are sometimes taught language and raised as librarians from early childhood, if they can be caught early enough.  (See also: the Black Stacks.)
  3. Serylites.
The blue-skinned serylites are so common in the Library and so rare elsewhere that they are synonymous with librarian in most people's minds.


They are an all-female race.  Each one is born when a woman uses the Wand of Seryl (which is basically a wand of impregnant self with serylite).  Nowadays, most librarians use the wand when they want to give birth to a daughter of their town.

Serylites born from serylites look virtually identical to each other.  After investigation, the Church has decreed that they are not sentient, but merely golems that impersonate sentience, and as such, are property, not people.  The Library of Asria is the only institution with special dispensation to keep serylites (aside from the Church, which has its own population) and all of the Library's serylites are presumed to be the property of the Head Librarian, who is still considered to be a person despite his current state.

Amazons (a digression)

Amazons are any humanoid race whose female members only have daughters.  They were (mostly) developed as a method of preserving a gene line through a predicted apocalypse.  See also: wood lemmings.

The beastmen are a male analogue to amazons (except that beastmen can impregnant a wide range of mammals with their sons, and since they mostly have access to animals, most of their suns are half-breeds).

Clementium National Library

The Head Librarian

Malboaz was once a human scholar who was in charge of the library.

When you speak of Malboaz, you must always emphasize that he was a scholar, because he always emphasized that he was a scholar.  He had nothing but contempt for wizards, who he described as "profoundly ignorant children".  (And he's mostly correct.)

It is because of him that wizards are banned from the Library of Asria.  This is strictly enforced, but few steps are taken to scan those who would enter the library.  As long as you aren't wearing a pointy hat and waving a staff you should be fine.

Malboaz has transcended.

Through a lifetime of research, he discovered a way to encapsulate his entire mind in a series of books.  And having done this, he died.

Now the entity known as Malboaz is composed of 512 large tomes.  These books are filled with numbers and cross-referencing indices.  Numbers like 0, 0, 1, 0, 52113, 98, 0, and -1.  

The books are also filled with instructions for how to create interactions between the numbers.  Here's an example:

Take the sum of boxes A1, B3, and C417 and divide that by the number in box T3/T45.  Enter the resultant number into box 55-L13.  If the resultant number is larger than the number in box 311-H616, then carry out the instructions on line 413.  Otherwise, carry out the instructions on line 1.

Malboaz the Librarian has become Malboaz the Library.

Here is how you speak to Malboaz.  You speak into a clockwork device.  It rotates quickly, so that every 1/10 of a second you are speaking into a different mouthpiece.  The sound agitates some small gears, which turn some small cranks, which then display a row of numbers.

The librarians take these numbers over to Malboaz and begin entering them into boxes, performing the calculations that will allow Malboaz to speak.  Another librarian will begin resetting the clockwork device, restoring the tension on the mainspring.

Malboaz can recognize voices as well as he could when he was alive (or perhaps better).  He can pick up on fear, doubt, menace, and confusion.

After a minute of calculation, the librarians will return with a piece of paper.  Sitting at a table behind a bust of Malboaz, the librarian will read out Malboaz's response.  Presumably, the paper has instructions for tone, because the reader often injects emotionality into their (Malboaz's) response--anger, sadness, joy.

And while each exchange of words takes a few minutes, Malboaz insists on taking time for pleasantries. If you have just arrived at the Library, he will want to know how your journey was.  If the librarians are serving tea, he will consider it rude if you don't spare a moment to thank him for the tea.

Although such interactions take a long time for use, Malboaz insists that such conversations feel natural and regular.  Because he "thinks" slower than we do, the conversation flows at a normal rate.

When people aren't speaking to him in his office, three things are occurring.

1. Librarians update his books, so that Malboaz has the "sensation" of the passage of time.

2. Librarians tell Malboaz of world events.  He still has family living in the city, and is fond of sending them gifts (always a book).  They visit him often, and he usually spends his birthdays playing games with his grandchildren.  It is his only holiday.

3. Librarians read him books, adding to his knowledge.  Or rather, they use a series of calculations to reduce a 500 page book into about 25 pages of cross-indexed material, which is then added to the "mind" of Malboaz through an extremely convoluted process.

Malboaz is extremely intelligent, perhaps the most intelligent creature in Centerra.  (If you consider him a creature.  Many don't, preferring to think of him as an elaborate encyclopedia.)  If a god and Malboaz both answer your question, and the answers disagree, I would politely thank the god for their input and go with Malboaz's answer.

(But then again, Centerran gods are hardly omniscient.)

Malboaz is friendly and very, very busy.  He enjoys cleverness.  The best way to keep him talking is to say clever things to him.  Since he has no "sensation" of time beyond what the librarians give him, feel free to take your time composing your response.  (Everyone does this; perhaps it is why Malboaz has such high standards for wit.)

His first concern is for the Library, which he considers more important than anything else on the planet.  Other things he cares about: his librarians, his family, and the Church.  Malboaz is still a religious man, and Hesayan priests still come in to preach to him, hear his confession, and give him sacrament.

There has been discussion about copying Malboaz (mostly because Malboaz wants someone to talk to, and no one is as intelligent and conversant as he is).  The biggest obstacle is that Malboaz must be "paused" while he is copied, and he is unwilling to be out of commission for that long (although he would have no sensation of the passage of time).  The Library needs him too much.

Malboaz has an brother named Auteruch, who is rarely spoken of.  Like Malboaz, Auteruch is also a collection of 512 books.  He developed book-based immortality along with Malboaz.  (It was too much work for one lifetime.) 

Auteruch is stored in the basement, in a hidden, locked, unlabeled room.  This is because Auteruch tried to betray the library (in some manner not discussed), and a power struggle between the two brothers resulted in Auteruch's imprisonment, and the deaths of at least two librarians loyal to Auteruch.

Curiously enough, Auteruch has had no sensation of being vanquished.  Without anyone to write new numbers into his boxes, he has no "awareness" of any change of affairs, nor "sensation" of the passage of time.  And it is accurate to say that time has not passed for him.  He is still frozen in that singular moment, halfway through speaking a sentence--his librarians were halfway through a calculation.
Old Library at Trinity College


  1. Do you think Malboaz is a person? Something in my gut keeps saying no, but the more I think about it the more I think he is.

    His books are like our brain.
    The instructions inside those books are like our neurons.
    His servants are like our brain chemicals.

    Of course, our brain chemicals aren't sentient, and thus are less likely to betray us. But factoring in depression, seneility, and cancer in the brain, they can betray us all the same.

    I feel like I'm missing something here.

    1. Yes my friend Arnold is going for AI there. xoxo

    2. Well, a really slow AI, run by other, smaller AIs, but only when they feel like it.

    3. The boring-but-true answer is that it depends on your definition of a person. For most people, personhood probably requires sensation, in the sense of "If you were turned into Malboaz, would you experience anything? Or would it be the same as being a rock? And how/why is this different from what our brain already does?"

    4. Considering what you wrote about Serylites, do you come down on the not-a-person side? Is personhood distinct from sapience or sentience?

    5. I think about it all the time and I don't actually know. That's what makes it interesting, for me.

  2. The head librarian is very cool Arnold