May 2020

We are the empire’s subtle hand
Trimming weeds across the land
A single cut, the hand that wields
Makes gardens from neglected fields

If the Grassblades are the Verdant Empire’s elite troops, the Sickles are its secret police. Operating in secret, small units of Sickles serve as spies, scouts, and assassins. Access to their networks and resources is one of the major benefits of being the Verdant Emperor. In fact, of the past five emperors, three have been elevated to power by the Sickles and the two that were not reigned for less than eighteen months each. Of course, two of the three were later deserted by the Sickles as well, since there is often a price to their loyalty.

As a consequence of the frequent civil wars wracking the empire, the Sickles have become more militarily focused and inward-facing, prioritizing internal threats in the heartland over external ones. Sickle offices in the remote Inland Sea provinces tend to be understaffed, underfunded, and operating on outdated information gathered by unreliable informants.

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Like blades of grass we stand
And blades of grass we fall
No matter what our orders
We give each task our all

While certainly not the majority, or even the plurality, of troops in the Verdant Empire, the Grassblades are by far the most disciplined and respected. Dressed in distinctive green with leaf-bladed swords, they stand as the physical fulfillment of the Green Emperor’s promise. One unit of Grassblades is raised from every province, thousands strong.

“A blade may die, but never the grass.” In times past, the Grassblades were the uniting force of the empire, expanding its territory and guarding against invaders. However, the latter days have seen most of them dispatched to fight in endless heartland wars over the throne, leaving just a few elderly reservists and raw recruits for the further provinces, often in nominal command of unreliable militia, fickle mercenaries, and the other unreliable troops often derided as “Cuttings.”

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The Verdant Empire was founded by navigators on the Inland Sea, moving away from the overcrowded heartland to found colonies on the coast. Connected by vast webs of trade and protected by a powerful navy, these colonies spread outward to encompass much of the hinterlands beyond. They shared a common language and culture, more or less, and for centuries the elites of the various cities dreamed of uniting them under a single banner.

It fell to the Green Emperor to actually unify the empire, in his struggle against the Red Usurper who sought to do the same. The name of the empire came from the proclamation the Green Emperor sent out upon his victory, in which he promised “a nation as fast-growing and resilient as a verdant field of grass.” Much of the imperial terminology, from the Grassblades to the Sickles, grew out of this metaphor. In latter days, some came to call the Verdant Empire brown, faded, or dead as an ironic counterpoint.

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The Verdant Empire’s end was a slow collapse, and the Inner Sea was the place it was felt the most. Beginning in the Fifth Age, the hinterlands were gradually abandoned by Imperial troops because the expense of garrisoning them was too great, and those troops that could be spared were generally of low quality, useless for anything other than holding static fortifications against lightly-armed raiders.

With more and more of the countryside left to its own devices, the Inner Sea soon became the lifeline between the Imperial heartland and those cities that were too large and too wealthy to give up. Ferries running up and down the great rivers and through the Inland Sea were the lifeline between cities like Iskandria and the heartland. Carrying food, materials, troops, and passengers, these ships were often decades old and ramshackle, with many additions and modifications that made them less than seaworthy.

With few skilled shipwrights left, and those that remained busy with naval ships to fuel the ambitions of power-hungry Imperial governors, the ferries were left to their own devices, and they frequently ran aground, capsized, and even sank.

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The survey team had left relatively little–a simple shelter with an inflatable airlock that could sustain an oxygen atmosphere, and some scattered tools and supplies. Brogan groused at length over the comms about how messy and unprofessional the site was, and how bad the violation of ‘take nothing but data, leave nothing but footprints’ had been.

“An archaeological survey, even a sloppy one, is better than this,” she said, once the crew had successfully repressurized the habitat.

“They left us what we needed to survive,” said Dragovic. “For that, if I run into them, I’m buying them drinks.”

“Be honest, Bogan,” said Neilos. “You were hoping we’d have to try pressurizing an alien burial chamber.” He cocked his head at the imposing ziggurat that was visible looming over the shelter, with individual crypts stacked like building blocks.

“Of course not,” said Bogan. “After however long those things have been there, they won’t seal well. I was hoping we’d have to do a little light alien graverobbing, that’s all.” She sat down very heavily, and collapsed onto her back.

“There is one thing I don’t get,” Dragovic said. “If the law’s so strict about opening the tombs, why didn’t they drop the hammer on these guys? They must have noticed things were missing from the manifest.”

“Well, that one’s easy,” Neilos said. “They weren’t an official expedition. They were tomb raiders, like us–potentially.”

“And you know this how?” said Dragovic. “If you have a data pipeline, I hope you’re not using it just to look up trivia.”

“Because you can see where they tried to get in,” Neilos said, lazily pointing at the ziggurat. “Or, I guess I should say where they did get in.”

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Yeah, I know it’s a bit of a shock, coming here and seeing things so different. You know, a lot of folks used to practice what they’d say when you finally got loose, what you needed to be brought up to speed. I thought it was a lot of nonsense, so I suppose that’s why you game to me.

We called it the Stop. A little area, maybe a half-acre or so, where everything was just…crawling. At first everyone gave it a wide pass, because he had no idea how big it was. There was just you and that bird, like bugs in amber. But once the street stopped being maintained, we could see where it stopped. They stuck up a warning sign and kept on living.

But anybody with eyes could see that you’d come out eventually.

What’s that? What caused the Stop? You’re asking the wrong guy. It’s like I said about the old flooded city…somebody did something, and stuff just stopped working like it was supposed to. You ever notice I never say the name of that city? You knew it, I knew it, but nobody’s been able to say it. Whatever they did over there, it’s bad enough that not even the name survived.

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Mass Market Groceries and Books
While Lowellwood is too small to support a full-sized grocery store, and far too small for its own bookstore, by combining the two into a single unit, it is a surprisingly viable business. They were separate businesses until 1975, with the bookstore operating as the Lodestone Occult Reading Room and catering to the once-vibrant spiritualist community on the island. Much of the old stock is still onhand in the bookstore half. There is nothing unusual about the grocery half other than the consistently outstanding quality of their fish, which come from an unnamed supplier.

The Wreck of the SS Lola
Lost in a powerful Force 10 gale on the lake, the SS Lola’s remains have become a navigational hazard and occasional target of recreational divers braving the chilly waters. Once piloted by E. Keane, the Lola foundered soon after his death and went to the bottom with a cargo of alpacas, payroll for local businesses, and seven crates whose contents were redacted from the manifest.

Lowellwood Civic Building & Museum
Commissioned at the height of the postwar tourism boom in 1927, the Lowellwood Civic Building houses most of the island’s offices and functionaries. Thanks to automation, a decreased population, and the 1982 abolition of for-profit llama farming, the building was too large for its intended purpose by 1970, which led to the unused portion being converted into a museum.

St. Kilda’s Academy for Wayward Youths
St. Kilda’s prides itself on offering a rigorous boarding school experience intended to prepare troubled youth for careers as public administrators. Local luminaries such as Edward Manseford, K. D. Brewster, and Phoebus T. Klaus can be counted among its alumni. Students enroll in one of four Houses–Hirta, Soay, Boreay, or Dun–and many of the school’s rituals and traditions date back over a century. The disappearance of several Dun House students from a mid-century class continues to excite gossip in the village to this day

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It can be difficult to sex porcelain teacups at first; you may need to wait until they are coffee mugs to make a proper determination of which will grow up to be teapots and which will be pitchers. Remember that while you can have several teapots, it is inadvisable to have more than one pitcher, as they will fight to the death for dominance.

Once you have an adult teapot, you can easily use her to breed additional cups. She will also lay unfertilized cups if no pitcher is present. The pot will keep making cups until she has a full set; at that point she will go brewdy and make tea to fill her hungry children with.

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The tales and song of eons past
The gods and their decisions
Were vested in the highest priest
His body covered with incisions
Each mark he made upon his flesh
A story it represented
The mantle passed to someone fresh
When the body no longer bled
The priests they trained for many years
An apprentice in their keeping
They spoke their wisdom in the ears
Their successor oft was seeking
Until the day the strangers came
And made war upon the people
The priest did fall like cornered game
And his apprentice was left too feeble
When both were dead, there was no one
Who remembered all the stories
Ten thousand years of life had come
To an end with no more glory

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The Green Note
This jazz club started life as a speakeasy during Lowellwood Island’s days as a Prohibition haven, and the music has kept right on playing to the present day. There were difficulties–like a short stint as a juke joint in the 50s and a disastrous discotheque period in the 70s–but The Green Note has persevered. There are still nightly shows from local and roadshow artists, as well as the highly-regarded Green Note Jazz Days festival over Labor Day. It’s widely believed that playing at The Green Note kicks musical careers up a notch, leading to future success. But why do they musicians almost always sing for free?

It’s Bean Real
A hot new beanery on the rise, It’s Bean Real combines artisan roasting techniques with classic architecture to form a heady brew. With the strongest, cheapest, and creamiest coffee for leagues around, some have grumbled that master barista K. D. Brewster is unfairly undercutting the competition, but the coffee shop still follows an ideosyncratic schedule and imposes a strict limit of two cups per customer of the house roast. The house it is built into, the Manseford House, was reportedly unsellable for years, though no one quite remembers why.

Keane Beach
Named after E. Keane, a longtime ferry operator who drowned offshore after delivering a cargo of llamas, this beach is the closest point on Lowellwood to the mainland, allowing it to be seen on clear days. It’s a great place for a family picnic and also serves as the island’s auxiliary port. The lake’s eddies and currents mean that it’s also a great place to find things that have gone missing in its waters–they tend to wash up here.

Warwick Arboretum
A beautiful place with plenty of carefully manicured trees and plants, Warwick Arboretum was donated to Lowellwood by eccentric resident Edward Manseford, whose only condition was that the trees be planted in a very specific configuration and replaced if they ever sickened or fell. Mr. Manseford’s will, in fact, declares that the arboretum is “property of the self-same trees and their natural descendants and adopted heirs” until “such time as the true Owner reveals themselves and claims that which has been held in trust.”

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