Friday, December 26, 2014

Illyrians of Note: The Demimonde

Just above the ranks of the criminal underworld but falling just short of respectability, there exists a shadowy, ill-defined "half-world" populated by a motley assortment of artists, poets, entertainers, and others whose profession and temperament leave them stranded on the fringes of polite society. Their unique position affords them the chance to mingle (in certain contexts) with all levels of society, and may be found lounging disreputably at theatrical premieres and gallery openings, making introductions at bohemian soirées, and slipping out of unexpected bedrooms just before first light.

magician4.jpgDoctor Perdurabo

This mysterious foreigner has attained a considerable notoriety in the short time he’s spent in Illyria, and the ruined abbey he’s purchased in the countryside is rumored to be the site of occult ceremonies and frenzied rites of the most depraved kind. He has put it about that he is seeking a young female accomplice to serve as his “crimson altar concubine” for some unknown but vaguely sinister purpose.

Madame Zazu

Depending on the source of the gossip, Illyria's most sought-after clairvoyant and medium is an exiled "Queen of the Caravans", the fugitive mistress of an Azerbaijani oil tycoon, the reincarnation of Queen Hatshepsut, or an obscure provincial girl with a gift for accents and cold-reading.    Whatever her true origins, her seances are well and rapturously attended, and
her Tarot readings and consultations (always held in her small but fashionable lodgings in the New Town) are booked almost a year in advance.  She offers no clear explanation for her mysterious powers of prognostication, save that she works with the assistance of a "spirit guide" in the form of Zalmoxis of the Getae, an ancient Thracian warrior-king whose bronze sword hilt she wears on a silver chain around her neck.


Laszlo, the People’s Poet

An impassioned young man of upper-middle class origins, Laszlo maintains a fashionably dilapidated squat above the fire-gutted ruins of a printworks, from which he publishes broadsheets and handbills proclaiming his fiery but inconsistently-defined ideology. The building was scheduled for demolition some time ago, but the authorities are in no hurry to tear it down, as the location is well-known and easily surveilled, should the nightly gatherings of University bohemians ever develop beyond posturing, sesquipedalian demagoguery, wine-bibbing, and the swearing of fearful oaths. It is considered a rite of passage for junior police officers to attend such meetings undercover, dutifully taking notes in suspiciously crisp leatherbound journals.

Vera Petrović and "Freddie"

A middle-class divorcée turned essayist and playwright, Mrs. Petrović (she has retained her married name) presides over a raffish and often combatative (the last meeting was broken up by police after a pistol was discharged into the ceiling) salon in a small coffeehouse at the edge of the Old Town.  Wits, dandies, and flaneurs of all stripes are drawn there, and the resulting verbal fireworks are breathlessly related (though always under the zealous pen of the censor) in the morning editions of Illyria's rival newspapers.  Mrs. Petrović is most often seen in the company of "Freddie" (full/real name unknown) a free-spirited American sculptress with whom she shares a modest apartment overlooking the parade grounds. Mrs. Petrović has politely, but firmly declined subsequent offers of marriage.   


The Great Clown Pagliacci

Currently playing the Capital for a series of sold-out performances. A bitter, depressive alcoholic who may snap at any moment now. Suffers a recurring delusion that he is God imprisoned in flesh and every day lived as a man is his punishment for creating humankind.

Olympia Gautier

The reigning prima donna of the Illyrian stage, the pale, striking Gautier rose from playing an assortment of slave-girls, maids, and ladies-in-waiting to the ingenue roles with a swiftness that garnered the astonishment of critics and the envy of her peers. Her hypnotic gaze, shockingly naturalistic portrayals, and a certain indefinable something have made her the most talked-about commoner in the Capital, and speculation is rife as to her origins (her name is almost certainly a fiction), amorous entanglements, and the tendency of actresses contending for the same parts to succumb to bizarre and unaccountable reversals of fortune which serve to take them temporarily (or in one recent case permanently) out of the running.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Illyrians of Note: Crime & Punishment

A twisted funhouse mirror-image of Illyria's storied aristocracy (see previous entry), the Underworld is populated by no less sensational personalities.  Indeed, the more notorious members of the criminal element make a far greater impact on the lives and livelihoods of many in the Capital than do the glittering worthies found on souvenir portraits and picture-postcards. The tenements, back-alleys and dimly-lit basements where they hold court are the patrimony of your characters, and the gallimaufrian patois of thieves, beggars and whores their native tongue. Below are just a few of the more notorious of these, who may well serve as allies or rivals (or both from one minute to the next) of your characters, along with some of those charged with bringing them to such justice as may be had in Illyria.

gTnzO0v.jpgMagda the She-Wolf

A hard-bitten former prostitute, pickpocket, and smuggler, Magda keeps a watchful eye over a small horde of orphans and runaways in a cavernous warren beneath the Old Town. She shields and chastises her young charges with equal ferocity, and her “little mice” in turn act as her eyes, ears, and light-fingered hands throughout the Capital.


“Butcher” Piet

If backstreet rumor and the shrill warnings of moritat-singers are to be believed, the always-dapper Piet is responsible for innumerable violations of the laws of God and Man. For all the atrocities he’s credited with, no scrap of evidence has yet held up in court, and he walks the streets a free man-- to the consternation, awe, and terror of all. He is rumored by many to be The Devil Himself (or at least a close relation) and Piet has made no attempt to refute these speculations.

The Vrána Brothers

Boško and Bogomil Vrána appeared on the scene seemingly out of nowhere about 5 years ago.  They claim to be identical twins, and they do in fact exhibit a disquieting simultaneity to the point of finishing each other's sentences and occasionally speaking and moving in perfect unison.  As to their physical appearance, no one can say for certain, as they never appear in public without one of several matching pairs of bird masks in a variety of styles.  If bar-room gossip is to be believed, these masks are not removed even in the presence of intimates.  Of the two, Bogomil seems to be the more intellectual brother, and appears to be au courant with the latest trends in music, literature, and art.   Boško has the simpler tastes of a sporting man-about town, and may be further identified by a sharpened Art-Nouveau thumb ring which he employs to pluck out the eyes of those who offend his many whims.  The two have taken up residence, along with a retinue of enforcers, toadies, and hangers-on, in a lavishly-furnished townhouse in the heart of a fashionable quarter of the New Town.  From here, they direct their ever-expanding portfolio of criminal enterprises, including blackmail, theft, racketeering, prostitution, ,sport-rigging, and murder-for-hire.

Young Frankenstein6.gifCommissar Kaltenbach

Obsequious to his superiors and snobbish to all beneath him, the Commissar is a thick-headed, preening martinet to whom the ins and outs of policing play a distant second to the cultivation of gleaming brass buttons, boots spit-polished to a mirror finish, and crisply-executed salutes.


Chief Inspector Sobotka

Bitter, sardonic, and frighteningly competent, the Chief Inspector was himself a graduate from one of the many informal thieves’ academies which flourish in the crook-backed alleyways and dilapidated tenements of the Old Town. As such, he is intimately familiar with Illyria’s criminal underworld and rarely misses a trick. He is hampered only by the contempt of his superiors and the resulting lack of funds and manpower to realize his ambitions.

Sergeant Popov

Ever-amenable to a discreet payoff in the form of a flask of schnapps, some perfunctory sexual gratification, or a modest amount of cash "to buy perhaps some toys for the children," Sergeant Popov  strolls serenely though the streets of the Old Town whistling a jaunty music-hall ballad and absent-mindedly twirling his polished oak truncheon.  Popov projects the image of a jolly, easy-going, genially corrupt policeman, winking indulgently at little transgressions and leaving the citizenry more or less in peace.  For the most part, this is true, but Popov drops his avuncular mask with alarming speed when his stream of "honest graft" is challenged or threatened in any way.  More than one recalcitrant citizen has woken up in the hospital, bones broken, fingers crushed,  and jaw wired shut after a particularly enthusiastic thrashing from Popov himself or the patrolmen under his command (whose ranks include no less than 3 adult male representatives of his massive brood, which at the time of this writing number thirteen).