Industries of the Niben: the Sload Soap Refineries
Produced by order of the Conclave of Guilds
Alchemists accustomed to the rarity and high price of Sload soap elsewhere in Tamriel are often surprised at this product's relative abundance in the Niben Valley. In truth, this version of Sload soap is alchemically less valuable than the "true" product, due to its degenerate origins and the Nibenese focus on cosmetics over alchemical usage. Trade with the Sload has, of course, been illegal across the Empire since the First Era, and any samples to be found in alchemists' or perfumer's workshops today are more than likely acquired through illegal means. Not so in the Nibenay, where purified, low-grade soap forms the basis of a thriving market in salves and lotions, all guaranteed to keep the skin young, increase agility and virility, and cloud the mind to the best of Niben ability.
One would be forgiven, however, for abstaining from these products after learning the way in which they are produced. The Niben soap industry, being denied the natural source for its soap, now relies on a limited number of Sload grubs, alchemically suspended in an embryonic, non-sentient state, all of which were plundered ages ago during the Thrassian War. In the great soap-tanks of Lake Rumare and the Niben Bay, these grubs are fed on masses of rotting fish and crab dredged from the river, until they grow to gargantuan proportions. When a grub has reached a sufficiently massive size, the so-called soap-cutters come to lop large pieces off the creature, leaving the kernel mass to regrow, and process the cut pieces into the soap so beloved by the castes of traders and priests.
In this way, the Niben refineries have made a profit from the same regenerating grubs for centuries. Soap refineries of this type can be found along the river in Bravil, Mir Corrup and on the Imperial City's poorer, more industrial islands. Since each refinery only uses its own specimens, a piece of soap can often reliably be traced back to its firm of origin due to the unique signature features each grub imparts on its product: Desmos & Sons' opalescent white, the creamy film of St. Circe's soaps, Sickleweed's grainy texture, etcetera.
These features also serve as a means of trade protection. The limited resources and esoteric trade secrets of the soap-cutters make this profitable industry very entrenched and resistant to growth. It is in practice impossible to start a new firm in a legal manner, since obtaining a grub requires one to either buy from the Sload (which is illegal), buy from the refineries (which is impossible), or steal from them (whereafter the product would be instantly recognized by any specialist). The existing refineries live in constant fear of their rivals' spies and sabotage: an expertly used bag of salt could very well decimate an entire grub population. Indeed, recent aggressive business practices have all but destroyed the Bravil firms, putting further strain on a limited market. These unpleasant business practices, coupled with the occasional rumor of escaped feral Sload in the Imperial City's underground, have given the refineries an unpleasant reputation as of late.
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Part of a little series on industry and commerce along the Niben. The details of this text are dependent on their practical implementation in-game, and are subject to change. Should be a fairly common and inexpensive book, something like a travelogue or a guide for merchants.