The Keykeeper Syndicate
Knowledge is power. You get the knowledge, you get the power, bada bing, bada boom.The Keykeeper Syndicate, often known as simply the Syndicate, is a rather ominous criminal organisation that seeks to collect and withhold knowledge under the belief that free knowledge shall ruin the world. They often feature in quests run by the Kartovian Exploration Society and come up regularly in conflicts involving the Keepers of Divinity and the Mages Guild, as well as other comparable organisations - despite not being the primary target of any of these, or really having any connection to them altogether. As spreaders of chaos and powerful - if doubtfully sane - individuals often rise to the top of the Syndicate, it should come as no surprise that their methods of obtaining the knowledge they hoard (and of securing the fact that they are the only ones to hold that knowledge) are often capricious, unreliable, and often outright dangerous to far more than their intended target. Adventurers are advised to be wary of the Keykeepers, and to never make deals with them - no matter how sweet a deal the Syndicate may offer.
What's that? You want to know how to cure that disease? We hold the keys to that vaccine, sweetums. Pay up.
As a crime syndicate, the Keykeepers have fingers in every pie. They run joint operations with a number of lesser gangs to command and control trade, levy severe tolls on locals in multiple countries across Valathe, and are regularly implicated in extreme cases of smuggling - whether their cargo be simple books, magical items, or sapient beings. They are not afraid of explaining the agenda behind all of this. In fact, it's in their name. Too many people with dangerous powers are appearing; there needs to be a lid on all of this excessive knowledge getting out. The common folk don't need to know that the world is round, or that arcane magic can open rifts in the world. They'd be happier without that information, in fact. The Keykeepers seek to take knowledge out of the common man's hands and keep it all to themselves, to dispense as needed (with a hefty donation). Indeed, they have already provided the cures for various rare disease outbreaks. However, coincidentally, it isn't sure how those outbreaks began in the first place.
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The Keykeepers were started about a decade after the Kartovian Exploration Society began their work on the Codices of Istralar and Beyond. Many peasants were beginning to have ideas entirely outside their stations because of the deep knowledge the Codices shared; indeed, the Codices being so widely available and having so many talented interpreters around lead to a massive boom in the amount of educated peasants, even in the poorest of villages. Naturally, the nobles were less than amused with their peasants beginning to call accusations of "dictatorship" and "self-perpetuating autocracy". Though some took the route of violently oppressing these peasants and others allowed them to blossom (leading to the Vostene Republic being formed, amongst other changes), some few already had many contacts in the darker corners of the world. Backed by dark forces and existing criminal organisations, the Keykeepers formed to fight this renaissance of knowledge. Their transformation into a full-blown crime syndicate was gradual, as more organisations began to ally with them, more powerful individuals joined them, and darker forces began to make them offers. It only took a few decades from the Keykeepers' foundation, in retrospect, and this without open funding by nobility. Despite this, the Keykeepers are not amazing at their job. Knowledge continues to spread unabated. The tidbits they do keep away, though, are typically lost forever to the rest of the world.