Printer's Devils

By Moe Lane


Hell does not have a legitimate publishing industry, obviously: if they did, then they'd have to publish books, and of course you can't let books be freely available in Hell (if you could, then it wouldn't be Hell in the first place). What few actual books exist are usually props, exhibits or prophecies. None of the Princes are really interested in changing this, either: after all, they can get books if they want to, so who cares about anybody else?

However ... Hell does have a literary subculture, in it's own inimitable fashion. The basic format would be familiar to anyone that lived in a totalitarian society: books of poetry, prose and drama circulate in a furtive fashion, endlessly copied, read, then passed on again - and all underneath demonic noses that range from vigilant to uncaring. Of course, this being Hell, there are unique problems.

The first problem is creating the works in the first place. As has been noted elsewhere, Hell is extremely short of resources, at least among damned souls. Most printers use simple mechanical presses cobbled together from whatever scraps of metal and wood become available (when they haven't resorted to bone - or even less savory materials). The average publisher husbands his or her movable type as if it were gold: any of them will cheerfully murder another for another twenty E's. There's also the issue of paper and ink. Don't look too carefully at the ink on a book published by the Infernal counterculture - in fact, try not to too closely examine the paper, either.

Reproduction of books is a problem, as well. Most printers are constantly moving, even in Shal-Mari or Stygia (the two places where damned souls have the best hopes of bribing their demonic overlords into looking the other way): the average print run of a book is usually half a dozen copies. Unlike human samzidat networks, photocopiers or mimeograph machines are not available to help get the message out. Hell, secret wars have been fought for the possession of a working stapler. Most underground books in Hell are thus hand-copied and crudely stitched together (need I say, don't examine the stitching too carefully), not to mention falling apart from the number of hands it's passed through. This is not a place to appreciate books for their artistry.

That leads to the third problem: the words on the ... well, best to think of it as 'paper'. Most corporeal literature isn't very well received in Hell, you see. It's too hopeful, too happy, too naive to resonate with the inhabitants. Equally unfortunately, actual writing ability is in short supply among the damned. The result of this is that most of the books circulating among the various networks would be considered by any objective observer as being not worth the trouble to publish. Monotonously despondent verse, incoherently self-contradictory subversion, ungrammatical rants and a certain amount of whining are the hallmarks of Infernal literature. It all gets read anyway, of course: the level of intellectual stimulation is really that low.

The centers of the Infernal literary 'movements' are, as mentioned above, Stygia and Shal-Mari: the bribery's easier, and more likely to work. Most customers are from those two Principalities as well, but these books can end up anywhere. What passes for an elite among damned souls usually have a volume or two hidden away in their meager personal possessions, although very few actually dare to read them - even in Hell, pretensions to intellectual ability is a popular pastime.

Oddly enough, for the most part the Princes don't bother to stamp out this little practice - either they don't really care, or else have noted that it's acting as an inadvertent safety valve. Demons will take immense gratification in beating up any soul that they discover carrying around a book - if they feel like it. It's a useful justification for punishment (not that one's really necessary, of course), but not really a burning issue. Indeed, some demons find it amusing to commission a printer to publish one of their manuscripts and have it disseminated. For one thing, the demons are often better writers...

Seed: The Inevitable Belial Slam

Every so often, a gem or two gets discovered in the muck. Well, not a gem - but maybe a crystal or two of potassium nitrate. The metaphor is deliberate: the latest piece of not-quite-crap offers to be quite explosive, if prepared correctly.

The book in question is called 101 Things to Do With a Dead Prince of Infernal Fire, and it's actually not too bad, by Hell's standards. In fact, one or two of the crudely drawn pictures might even raise a chuckle on Earth. This has made it the Instant Classic of the Infernal Samzidat circuit, naturally, and some of the choicer illustrations are even getting painted on walls.

Needless to say, Belial is not amused - although some of his colleagues are - and wants to find the author responsible, now. He's managed to prevail upon Kronos to loan him a Balseraph (Seraph) of Fate to get to the bottom of this - and has handed him off to a group of investigators (the PCs, naturally). Objective: find author, find printer, drag them back to Belial and duck.

Needless to say, this is an excellent opportunity to get a good look at the Damned intellectual subculture, such as it is. Feel free to toss in your favorite cliches, from poseur-Goth to beatnik to white-bread book circles - heck, use all of them at once. Needless to say, the Balseraph is probably going to be near his Use By date by now (Balseraphs of Fate with the Seraphim resonance tend to not last very long. Funny about that), so the longer he's with the PCs, the twitchier - or actively murderous - he'll be. Toss in a few cartons of clove cigarettes (worth their weight in refined plutonium), and you've got a seed.

Now, the natural inclination is to have Kobal and/or Michael ultimately responsible, right? Shame on you. Furfur is a much better choice: the humor's certainly in his style, and it's been kind of fun being a little more subtle for a change. Of course, he's already soul-killed the printer and scattered the press across Hell, but since when has that ever stopped a clever demon?


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