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So we know printing presses exist in Thedas, and we know paper is relatively cheap in Thedas, because both of these things have to be true for Varric to be an internationally-bestselling writer of trashy fiction.

And in the real world, the popularisation of the printing press created an information boom that was every bit as massive and revolutionary as the invention of the Internet, and a corresponding spread in sedition.

So consider the following:

City elves, hiding presses in their homes, using tiny, barely-readable type to compress the entire Canticle of Shartan onto a single A4 pamphlet. “Read this and then burn it,” they warn, as they pass it discreetly in the street. In some homes, Shartan is tinder every Sunday.

Anders is not the only mage with his own press. In the mage underground a fierce battle is waged in paper and ink, a natural extension of the arguments among the Fraternities. The Libertarians, Aequitarians and Isolationists pass pamphlets back and forth with such haste that sometimes the ink has barely dried on the page before three responses are posted through the door. Loyalists are rare in the underground, but their occasional output has been known to cause the entire paper supply in a small town to dry up as rebuttals flow in. The Lucrosians charge two silver apiece for their pamphlets, and are generally ignored.

(Sometimes mages escape with books, or find a rare copy in their wanderings. These are preserved and jealously guarded, copied as many times as the ink will allow. Amaranthine is a known hub for the underground magic tome trade... how else would the Warden-Commander find a book on blood magic there?)

(And sometimes those mages are elven, and the books are not about magic but about history, and the city elves print those, too, binding them with care and placing them somewhere anyone can go and look, because it is their history, and now their book, and it belongs to all of them, every single one.)

Paper is not as eternal as the Stone, but the Stone rejected surface dwarves long ago, and so they write their Memories onto paper and copy them relentlessly, storing them in endless libraries and warehouses across Thedas. If one archive burns, then the Memories will live on elsewhere. They write tales of Orzammar, too, and copy what they can from expeditions to recover lost thaigs, for one day Orzammar will fall. On that day the Stone may be lost, but the paper will live on.

It’s rare for casteless dwarves to be literate, but the surface is a land of opportunity and Sigrun is not the only one to learn. They have little interest in Memories, but a great deal in stories, and they tell tales of Paragons that Orzammar would never allow: Branka was off her nut, Tethras once fucked a bronto, Aeducan stole the invention which made him Paragon from another dwarf. Perhaps the stories are true, perhaps they aren’t, but they heal wounds their readers have had for so long that they had forgotten what it was like to be whole.

(One day a mage hands one of their manifestos to the carta dwarf they’re buying lyrium from, and a whole new group of furious essayists are born. It begins as simple venting - they do not have the mages’ academic training - but they learn quickly, and soon their newfound skills find a new target in the Merchants’ Guild for its perpetuation of Orzammar’s caste systems. One essay has a print run of 5000 and is read by at least twice that number of dwarves. It makes its way back to Orzammar, and soon the few literate inhabitants of Dust Town are doing readings to a dozen of their friends at a time, crammed into tiny buildings with guards posted on the doors.)

The Chantry bans private printing presses, but the nobles protest, because they need their weekly slander mags to keep up with the Game - and truthfully, many of the clerics like to read those as well. (Only to be informed about the depravity of the modern age, of course. They certainly don’t enjoy such scandal.) Templars raid homes, but the mages and the elves are careful, and the dwarves have lyrium to offer in exchange for silence. The Chantry tries to discourage literacy among the lower classes, but a learned child is a blessing upon his parents and unto the Maker, and the lower classes can spot hypocrisy a mile away.

And so the information age sweeps Thedas. The people are angry, the pamphlets impossible to stamp out, and the revolution draws ever closer.

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July 2016

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