Sunday, May 2, 2021

Artpunk Apéritif: Leonoct Lane

Summary: This is a peaceful commercial street in the prosperous mountaintop city-state of Starling & Shrike. You will find it to be a safe and quiet respite from a world of blood-soaked esoteric madness, antediluvian conspiracy and industrialized destruction.

I’m outlining this place because I want to present a location that contrasts as strongly as possible with the Artpunk and Starling & Shrike Detective adventure locations that I’ve already posted.

Relentless chaos is exhausting and uninterrupted normality causes restlessness. You can arrange a trip to Leonoct Lane when the party is exhausted.

This city, Starling & Shrike, practices a form of state capitalism in which each youth must complete a 14-year agōgē to become a mercenary detective or state finance agent if he or she wishes to gain full citizenship. The graduate can do what he or she likes after graduation but most end up practicing their profession, paying dues to S&S in exchange for state services.

It is a cold, quiet, prosperous and remote city. It is built on a mountaintop and almost everything besides power, water, stone, ore and lumber is flown in by airplane.

It is an enterprise for the production of a maximally deadly and profitable form of mercenary for a world-age characterized by industrial aristocracy, efficacious esotericism, hinterland shamanic warlordism and animistic instantiation.

It is strict with its citizens when they are in the city and unforgiving towards its permanent residents. It tyrannical towards children undergoing their training.

The city's policy is structured such that you’re unlikely to encounter any kind of creature or enemy here. S&S detectives generally experience their violence elsewhere.

The city itself has many peaceful and prosperous places.

Leonoct Lane, for example. Take a walk down the lane and you will see the following: 

The Follies
A dark, winding restaurant.

The Nigel Grim Counting House
Detectives send coins from all over the world here.

River Island Butchery
A butcher shop supplied primarily by airplane.

Lionel Leonoct Library of Detection
The world's foremost reference library for detectives.

Archer Armatures
A pistolsmith specializing in the engraving of firearms.

Widow’s Walk
An apartment building favored by young detectives and working class permanent residents.

The Zugzwang
A chess club by day and a dancehall by night.

The Valerian Caracole Botanical Garden
A maze of trees with a tower-top greenhouse.

The Follies

You enter by the open kitchen and see a troupe of young men in shortsleeved shirts working diligently above cutting boards and frying pans around a central oven.

Spices and garnishes hang high upon the walls and open ice boxes of steak and seafood sit beneath the workspaces.

The entry hall shares a wall of wine with the kitchen and there are many little tables with delicate white tablecloths and chairs set at uneven angles so that diners aren’t squared up on each other adversarially.

There are little chairs and benches by the door and a woman from Diadem comes to greet you. She asks you how many and leads you into the dim, decorated tunnels of this place. 

The woman from Diadem leads you down a winding corridor set with many dressing screens behind which are an assortment of lustrous tables decked with tulips and wine. The curves of the Follies are unknowable in a single visit.

You can sit in the center off the hallway so that others may see your suit and your lady’s neckline, or in the confines of a shielded cubicle of dressing screens in the corner. Embroidered upon the screens are butterflies, shooting stars, garlands, dogs and vines, and there are paintings and photographs from the city’s history and the wilds of the world on the walls.

Each bathroom has an open secret. In the Men’s there are photos of naked women posed upon settees in boudoirs, and in the Women’s there are leonine portrait prints of powerful men in profile; a cleft-jawed condottiere in cuirass, a painted, brilliant-eyed bandit tribe chieftain, a young industrialist with a cocked eyebrow and a half-cocked smile, and a smoldering, bullet-scarred detective whose pale hair is tied back in a soldier’s queue. 

This place is a cafe by day and the sun pours through windows which are hooded by night. Espresso is served, and cortado, affogato, cappuccino, carafes of rich black coffee and little glasses of sweet white wine. The specialty is snowmelt, a cup of whipped cream with a splash of black coffee over the top. This most sober and republican delicacy is eaten with a long spoon.

The Nigel Grim Counting House

“Blow your cut?”
“Blew it to Nige.”

This is a counting house where monetary dues paid to Starling & Shrike are weighed, measured, assayed and sorted by the resident Finance Agent and his staff.

Coinage from around the world is stacked on tables in neat ziggurats or overflows from open drawers. The money is waiting to be logged, assessed and portioned off to the iron treasury beneath Council Hall.

S&S agents may enter this place freely even if they don’t have any business here. It’s thought very unlikely that an S&S agent will steal from this place, though S&S agents do occasionally break the law in preference to revealing their financial recklessness or failure to complete contracts.

A 9mm machine pistol is hanging holstered on a wall for the Finance Agent to use in defense of this place. This is an object of quiet amusement for detectives, who don’t usually even bother to carry inside S&S.

.999 gold bullion is the standard payment for state-sourced S&S contracts. Individual agents can take contracts for whatever reward they please, but S&S advancement dues can only be paid in gold and silver, or paper money from city-states with a gold or silver standard. 

These dues cover the agent’s attendance of state skill academies. The agent may also use his dues to requisition supplies, equipment, and services from the city such as specialized research reports and tutoring on subjects beyond what’s offered by the seasonal training courses.

Approved Currency

An ancient, peeling sign with the words “Council Hall” painted on it hangs from the ceiling over a table heaped with a great mass of currency approved for the treasury. This old sign stood in front of Council Hall for seventy five years and has been repurposed rather than decommissioned.

Bombaryx Guilder
Obverse: A ridgeline which is emitting Zs from its highest point. This commemorates a hill assault during the Unknown Islands War between Bombaryx and Mandrake where the defending aristocrat’s entire retinue was catatonic on heroin. 
Reverse: An image of a great, global machine with a mysterious output.

Diadem Gloriette
Obverse: Tower surrounded by upwards-facing lightning bolts. This is in celebration of the Navel of the Mount tower, which was built with extreme rapidity. 
Reverse: A pair of arms holding a bundle of towers like rolled-up blueprints.

Starling & Shrike Sterling
Obverse: An eye embraced by a laurel wreath. This is an S&S coin from the time when S&S still minted currency.
Reverse: A pyramid with buildings carved out of the tip; a stylized representation of the mountaintop.

Troutbridge Shiner
Obverse: This coin originally depicted Samuel Fishmonger, a Troutbridge founding father, dressed soberly in a stiff-collared jacket, halfruff and tricorn hat. It has been altered by a bandit tribe to suit its own leadership. They recut the surface of this coin to represent the visage of their chieftain Xoruthorax, whose tricorn has become a triple-spiked crown of horn, his ruff now a network of feathers, furs and animal tails, and in his newly-added hand he holds a petrified snake as a scepter commemorating his (pyrrhic) expedition into the Place of Things. His face has been ritually scarred with scrollwork gust-of-wind patterns and he sticks his thrice-cut tongue out in a warrior display, flexing it so that two of its tips point up and one points down. It is intended to lend him a serpentine aspect when he is viewed in a side profile. 
Reverse: An image of a bridge over a river; this has not been modified.

Vineforest Dame
Obverse: An hourglass superimposed over the borders of the Vineforest. This is a revanchist symbol indicating the former full domain of the Vineforest Dukes. Much of the Vineforest is currently held by the Red Charter Companies and the Free Cities of Tourmaline Gorge (who are also mutual enemies).
Reverse: A wild boar whose bristles and spikes are javelins.

Substandard Currency

A sign with a red X painted on it hangs from the ceiling over a table with a number of odd coins laid out side-by-side. This table is for substandard currency that has been disapproved for recirculation.

City of Leagues Assignat
A tin coin emblazoned with a twelve-pointed device; a central ring with six chains linked to little iron spheres. Naval star shot. The reverse of the coin is the same as the obverse but concave, as the image has simply been stamped through the tin like a bottlecap.

Great Loom Memoriam
This coin commemorates a feast in which the cities of Ascension, Archzenith, Diadem, Troutbridge and Great Loom agreed to make war against the Cynthian Empire. The heads of state are depicted raising swords together over a cornucopia. Great Loom is the least militant of these cities and this was a special event in its history.
The rear of this coin sports a mummified book in honor of Great Loom’s twin industries of weaving and bookbinding.
The coin has been debased by clipping. It should have a slightly wavy rim which can be detected by rolling it in the hands, but this is missing and the exterior has a uniform circumference. 

Cape Cittacotte Castellan
Obverse: A city’s outer walls with towering flames emerging from the city behind them. This symbol celebrates the Cape Cittacotte Renaissance.
Reverse: The face of Marsawa Lumar. She was a logistician, financier, and alliance-making matchmaker among the cities and tribes of the Heroön Coast.
This coin is a fourrée; a copper core with a wrapping of silver foil. Lumar's face has a deep scar across the cheek where a Finance Agent jabbed the coin with a dagger after weighing it in his hand. This revealed the coin’s true nature underneath a eutectic layer of alloyed copper and silver. It will be sent to a silversmith for melting down; the agent who sent it in will receive a small credit for the value of the silver.

Aleator Ivory
Unmarked ivory chips from the tribal Aleator people. A young agent sent these in hoping to gain some kind of value, but he knew well enough that this is not an accepted currency for advancement dues. A curator from the Tribes Museum will visit at some point and examine the coins but is unlikely to acquire them. The museum already has a lot. The coins will probably be sent to the Quartermaster’s Department to be used in future dealings with the Aleators.

Gilded Skull
A gilded skull from the bandit tribes. A patch of this skull’s scalp was preserved with pine resin so that its great black ponytail could remain upon the crown, tied against itself like a creeping caterpillar. The skull was mailed directly to Nigel Grim by the agent whose tribal allies paid him with it.
If no buyer from the Anthropology Institute acquires the skull, it will be sent to a goldsmith and then on to the morgue for cremation.

Blacklist Currency

There is a freestanding black rack of iron shelves holding a number of normal-looking coins, but some of them sport eerie imagery.

Now, few of the coins in this counting house were acquired directly from the mints of friendly states. In fact, many originate from blacklisted producers; international pariahs for whom Starling & Shrike detectives may not contract.

Legitimate clients sometimes pay out coins from blacklisted city-states secondhand to Starling & Shrike agents. However, S&S agents are also permitted to seize assets from people who they lawfully kill or capture, unless a contract stipulates otherwise, and so many of these coins were taken directly in such a manner as well.

Seized assets sometimes also include real estate, famous art, automobiles, ships, and airplanes, though the seizure of real estate requires the consent of locally governing authorities. These assets are considered the private property and can’t be used for advancement dues unless the agent liquidates them.

There are dozens of blacklisted city-states. Those most proximate to Starling & Shrike are Archzenith, Grimwall, Feyglade, and Bounty.

Archzenith and Grimwall have waged wars of aggression, Feyglade has been subjugated by heartless prairie nomads, and Bounty engages in slave raiding. The city of Bombaryx will soon be added to the list due to a state security purge in which several visiting S&S agents were hanged from the city’s Panopticon.

An S&S detective cannot kill the agents of blacklisted states except in self-defense or the defense of allies. There are, however, a number of organizations which are categorically outlawed by S&S. A detective may freely deceive, rob, kidnap and kill their members.

Small teams of S&S agents occasionally even organize heists, cons, and assassinations against outlawed organizations. The Council doesn’t encourage this kind of skulduggery because it darkens Starling & Shrike’s reputation, but nor do they interfere beyond defining limits on conduct involving outlaws. Detectives are not allowed to brutally torture or sexually exploit outlaws, nor are they permitted to ransom them or use them as confidential informants (no “catch and release”). To be clear S&S agents are permitted to kill them without warning or confine them indefinitely.

The most prominent of these outlawed organizations are the Cynthian Empire, the Red Charter Companies, and the Crag of Songs Killers.

The Finance Institute considers it very important to inspect the condition of currency from blacklisted and outlawed mints for debasement, clipping, current figureheads and newly-appearing themes. After a full documentation has been made, the currency in this category will be melted down and recast into ingots at the Starling & Shrike treasury.

Bounty Shilling
Obverse: A vast phalanx of men marching into a cave. They are subtly linked together at the neck by chains. This is in commemoration of the greatest haul ever taken by the river slavers of Bounty: a vast and overloaded prison hulk sighted off Cape Cittacotte. They simply hooked it up to a tugboat and hauled it off to a mine. Cape Cittacotte has made no inquiries after the prisoners.
Reverse: A great apple in the shape of a prison hulk. Its flesh is made up of welded-together corrugated iron sheets and there’s a breathing tube for a stem.

Grimwall Plate
Obverse: This large sterling silver coin depicts an armored cyclops about to swallow a screaming warrior whose torn-off arms lay in the dust beneath. This represents Grimwall’s surprise conquest and sack of Mandala. This was accomplished largely by tank.
Reverse: The tanks were then used to haul a vast quantity of Mandala’s marble to Grimwall; as such, the rear of the coin has an image of a monopteros supporting a mountain. The Mandalan Colonnades are now the Pillars of Grimwall.

Atrialic Alembic
Obverse: An herbal bouquet of digitalis, opium and quinine. These are the City of Atrialia’s chief exports.
Reverse: A legion of hard, wild-eyed women standing in varying states of explicit interest and disinterest. This is based off of a painting commissioned by the Atrialic tyrant Goval panegyrizing the city’s prostitutes.

Red Charter Reserve
Obverse: A beautiful wreath of mustard plants. This is in homage to mustard gas. The Companies regularly use it to secure RGOs held by determined defenders.
Reverse: An oil rig bristling with flak cannons and buoyed by sea mines.

Archzenith Seneschal
Obverse: A warrior in a muscle cuirass and horsehair helmet sodomizes another man whom the warrior has gripped by the long and elegant hair. The warrior carries a fourfold shield bearing the crests of Archzenith’s four noble houses. This coin commemorates Archzenith’s subjugation of Palmgrove, which Archzenith subsequently stripped of much of its male population to work in the mines. Palmgrove’s great artists have also been specifically imprisoned and since then have disappeared.
Reverse: Palm trees seeming to bow submissively in every direction. A banner flies along the rim of the coin emblazoned with “Circumvallation      and      Debellatio”. The coin is .999 gold, an exceedingly rare and impractical material for coinage. This reflects the impossible wealth now spilling from Archzenith’s mines in the wake of the ruination of Palmgrove.

Cynthian Apple
Obverse: The front side of this dinner-plate gold coin bears the incandescent likeness of Sir Narelenia Steliana, Her Expeditionary Claimant to the Kadwan Coast (“Her” being the Cynthian Queen). This man is responsible for organizing the conquest of the Kingdom of Kadwa and will be granted lordship over it should he succeed, which he hasn’t yet. These huge coins are used almost exclusively for rewarding agents, bribing foreign leaders, and paying auxiliary troops who often chop the soft coins up like pie to be shared out among them.
Sir Steliana sits on a throne with his legs crossed ostentatiously over a plump arabesque ottoman; his tunic is gold just like his actual one, but his tights and riding boots have been set in jet. This stone will come off or become cracked should this coin be subjected to rough handling.
Reverse: The Cynthian Queen sitting on a battleship in the manner of a maiden riding sidesaddle upon a dolphin. She wears a kind of voluminous kimono set with thousands of warships growing from branches in lace. A vast pheasant sits upon her shoulder with its tail flowing down her body and its head lovingly curled around her neck. Her thin hands are draped around the soft body of the pheasant. In one hand she cups a handful of saffron and with the other dangles a misericorde by the tip.
Butterflies flit around her locks in a halo.

River Island Butchery

The showroom of this pleasant-smelling wooden building has an open floor plan halfway ringed by cooled cases and charcuterie racks.

There are wooden closets along the wall where game from the nearby woods hangs: venison, elk, and pheasant are sold here cheaply on consignment from hunters. This is commonly eaten by detectives who are just starting out.

Meats have been flown in on refrigerated flights for the more prosperous. There are stone-boned and pillowy porterhouses, powerful racks of ribs, towers of toulouse sausages, scallops from the Wine, salami, salmon from the rivers, sweet and flaky sheepshead, bordelaise, demi-glacé, pork rillettes, fish pâté, guanciale, ‘Nduja, beef tagine with raisins, bucco in twine, lamb loin terrine loaded with pistachios, and cured pig face cooked 16 hours with herbs in the cheek and prominently piled upon a pale silver platter.

There’s a vast and rolling selection of charcuterie prepared by the butcher on the top shelves of the cooling cases. Ruby roast beef, tallow-wicking pastrami heaping with spices, hearty hunter's pâté of boar shoulder and duck meat, and white cubes of cured fatty pork meat dusted with cayenne. These last delicacies are solid but seem to turn to liquid when bitten.

There is also a bucket of dehydrated liver treats for the city’s working dogs.

The butcher’s specialty are cuts of River Island Hog from a pig farm near the slopes of Starling & Shrike. This is one of the few continually-inhabited sites in the region which is away from the mountaintop itself. Everyone knows they are taking a risk by going there, but agents in need of true peace still travel to the farm to sleep in gas lantern yurts along the murmuring river bisecting the property. The place is notorious for an adventurous farm cat who selects a yurt and bed to sleep in each night. It is a minor tradition to bring this cat little pieces of meat from the butcher.

The River Island pork chops make people look at the ceiling and laugh when they taste them. The white bacon is almost all fat except for a hint of pink on the inner crescent. This is the most delicious bacon you’ve ever tasted and it leaves the pan filled with translucent fat once you’ve fried it for just a minute or two. There is also dark sirloin bacon for more conservative tastes.

The butcher makes some of this pork into sausages which are, to varying degrees, experiments (e.g. egg, cheese and bacon sausage).

There are heaps of cheap, gleaming cream pork belly (a common instrument of futures speculation in the city-port of Periapt) and pork fat to grease pans with. 

The butcher sells a few sundries from racks near the door. He has loaves of sourdough delivered from a bakery a few lanes down, and there’s rich butter which is as soft as custard on the block.

There are fragrant burlap sacks of slick coffee beans which the butcher imports in competition with the city’s general stores.

There’s a walk-in freezer containing whole cream with the fat on top for the coffee. You will also find whole ducks and chickens in little nets, chunks of chicken with the skins still on, and stews imported from foreign restaurants and caterers. These come in tin cylinders and have their contents and origins written on them in paintbrush.

“Duck and pork confit, pork belly sausage, white kidney beans and breadcrumbs atop.
Ascension Aeromarine caterering department - Ascension

“Garlic, sea robin, anise, scorpionfish, saffron, monkfish, velvet crab, bay leaf.
Lid chamber sauce - Saffron, garlic, olive oil, cayenne 
Eviratee - Doveshoot Down

mix sacks over rice
paprika cayenne garlic pepper oregano celery
shallot + wine pork sausages
deep fried pork & rice sausage in quail w absinthe glaze
shrimp & oysters
Duke & Margrave’s - Dom.o. Mandrake

The butcher shop has an oven for preparing its own charcuterie. On Saturday nights when people are drinking at the Zugzwang he and his staff set out tables on the street and bring round cuts of meat straight from the oven which can be paid for by the slice. If you want some of what’s on offer you toss a small coin into a little tin bucket at the center of your table.

The butcher can make change for silver but if you want to change gold coins you’ll need to run next door to Nigel Grim.

The Lionel Leonoct Library of Detection

This is the world's foremost reference library for detectives.

Once might assume that this is the only library of its type, but the Feyglade secret police also have a small one too. It's pathetic by comparison and the secret police have suffered several bloody shakeups in leadership as a result of escaped dissidents.

Lionel Leonoct has two wings divided by a grassy reading courtyard: Literature is to the left of the entry hall, and Ways to the right. 
There is a Map Room behind the Entrance Hall before the Courtyard.

    Literature Wing

The Literature Wing contains works on the history and culture of almost every city-state, down to the most hermetic. It has treatises on the systems of international trade, copies of the missives and newsletters of NGOs, the minutes of watchdog organizations and charitable institutions, and studies on underground organizations and conspiracies from Anrcho-Syndicalists to antinatalist murder cults to millenarian monarchists.

There are cases full of artifacts taken from bandit tribes, underground religious sects and defeated Cynthians between the bookshelves.

There is a rack for books and pamphlets written by avowed enemies of Starling & Shrike (whose agents are viewed as assassins, labor spies, saboteurs and agents-provocateur by a healthy percentage of the world’s population). There is even a selection of Baroque, fantastic and pitiless Cynthian literature. 

There is a reference room in the rear of the wing which contains the genealogies of prominent families across the world, as well as biographies of prominent detectives of the past, national leaders and founding fathers, and Starling & Shrike case studies of the greatest villains (human and otherwise) faced by the city and its allies throughout history.

    Ways Wing

This wing sports a selection of how-to manuals which could turn a police chief's hair white. It begins with housebreaking, bombmaking, interrogation, the organization of guerrilla movements, eavesdropping techniques and devices, clandestine communication, smuggling, and hand to hand combat.

The most prominent book on mêlée written by a Starling & Shrike agent is entitled “The Death Struggle”, by Iron Finger (nom de plume; the incredibly graphic case studies depicting stomach-churning killings of Starling & Shrike’s foes could certainly lead to a directed reprisal).

The section continues with a number of technical manuals on somewhat more civil topics such as locksmithing, gunsmithing, engine mechanics, belaying, trapping, frontier construction, telecommunication, and the arrangement of simple machines.

This wing’s academic aisles contain a vast literature on forensic science, criminology, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, environmental and visual search patterns, autopsies, propaganda and pamphleteering, vexillology, numismatics, heraldry (aristocratic, merchant, military order, and Cynthian), and a corpus of psychology to rival the University of Troutbridge.

There’s a dark, densely-stocked legal archive containing the full law codes of many city-states, and it even has works on the customs and founding myths of many bandit tribes. These could be considered literature, but many bandit tribe lawspeakers base their rulings on the behavior depicted in their legends.

Notably absent from the Library of Detection are books on hardcore engineering, mathematics, art history and reference, architecture, mainstream fiction and philosophy, and books about Starling & Shrike itself. All of these and more can be found in the grand public library next door to Council Hall.

The Library of Detection is open only to full citizens and trespassing is grounds for losing one's residency, lest we forget S&S is not some paradise.

    Map Room

This room has thousands of rolled up blueprints for the most important public facilities of many city-states. There are pull-out topographic maps of their surrounding geography, and special cabinets hold maps of important passes and canals.

Archer Armatures

This is a pistolsmith specializing in the engraving of firearms.

The display room smells of machined metal, gun lubricant like a mild engine grease, and black coffee kept boiling and burnt on a campfire stove resting on a glass gun case.

There are a vast variety of schematics and sketches for modifications which can be performed upon the .45 semiautomatic pistol issued by Starling & Shrike to Detection Academy graduates. These can be found in little cardboard books scattered around the display cases and ammunition tables or else just tacked onto the walls.

Almost every modification depicted in this literature pertains to the engraving of firearms.

After an upbringing of stricture, repetition and conformity, most graduates are eager for self-differentiation. This is just part of the wing-spreading process; almost every new agent is eager to experience the world and apply their abilities (with a degree of trepidation), and the freedom experienced upon being released from the academy can be overwhelming.

Many freshly-minted agents end up spending their first few contract payouts on lavish clothes, cutting-edge appliances, fine dining, and top-of-the-line motorcars (which they soon discover are of limited value to globe-trotting detectives). Outfitters, real-estate agents and would-be mistresses know to look for fresh-faced young S&S agents stepping off of planes in their black-and-whites.

This is all regarded as an inevitable part of the blossoming process and new S&S agents receive extensive counseling on money management, international legal norms, venereal disease and the effects of corpulence or garishness upon their social desirability before receiving their first plane ticket.

If you walk around to look at the decorative designs in the booklets and on weapon pieces ready to be installed, you will first see various famous detectives from Starling & Shrike’s history, from a detective who arrested over a thousand suspects without ever having killed anyone, to a Council Inspector who killed 94 suspects before being devoured by a labiothorax in hiding.

From Starling & Shrike’s only billionaire investor to the Grayscale Saints, who were itinerant problem solvers who devoted every red cent of their profit to charitable works.

From images of the flintlock pistol and rapier issued to S&S graduates a century ago to modern instruments of annihilation like howitzers, bombers, machine guns and tanks.

From knights, cuirassiers and cataphracts, to naked and painted bandit tribe headhunters and their bloody harvests.

Snakes, scorpions, mongeese and eagles. Hippogriffs and lammasus, unicorns with serpents coiled around their horns. Lions, cheetahs, boar and bear. Cock, bull, mustang. Tyrannosaurus rex. More rarely, the dove, skunk, and porcupine.

Mothers, fathers, consuls and cousins. The famous bounty hunters, lawmen and vigilantes of foreign history.

Vistas of Starling & Shrike’s encompassing forest or visions of the shining city on a hill. Esoteric sigils of vision and foresight, leylines under starlight, runestones, fanes and sanctums, the religious iconography of the Fates, the Sun Lion, and the Burning Eye.

This gunsmith only works silver, black and pearl. The standard-issue handgun is silver with mother of pearl grips, but it is common to make it all-black, all-pearlescent, or silver with black and white racing tile, zebra, or dazzle-pattern grips.

S&S player characters may add other colors to their standard-issue firearms, but NPC Starling & Shrike agents will not.

It’s the players’ right and prerogative to be the exception.

That said, NPC S&S agents do sometimes commission fantastically opulent and ostentatious firearms for use when they are not wearing their traditional clothing. Some agents never wear traditional garb when they’re off the mountaintop; others wear it continually as a kind of advertisement for employment, call for aid, and statement of legitimacy.

Some notes on ammo:

There are all kinds of ammo for sale here: anti-cuirass FMJ, hollow points, wadcutters for the subterranean paper-on-wire shoothouse at the Trigun Academy, subsonic and overpressure to taste, and exotic experimental and particularist ammo such as snake shot, ricocheting steel shot, controversial “double-helix” expansion rounds, and explosive bullets for combat missions against a select few outlawed enemies.

All ammo is .45 caliber because the S&S standard-issue pistol and submachine gun for hazardous duty are both chambered in .45. Shotgun shells and 30.06 rifle cartridges are available from a wilderness outfitter a few streets over, and 9mm is imported in small quantities by the Finance Institute and the Council inspectors. Finance personnel carry weapons abroad, but they use a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. It inflicts smaller wounds than the .45 but it has a greater margin for error due to its capacity, which is double the .45’s 7+1 load. The Council Inspectors use 9mm on an individual basis when using fully automatic machine pistols.

Widow's Walk

This stucco building has a tall and narrow wrought-iron gate. This leads to a mail foyer with a white mosaic floor depicting a horse with a sword through its body being cradled by a grieving satyr. Beyond this is a well-vegetated courtyard with a clear fountain. Water streams from stone peacocks in the fountain in place of tails. Doorways to the apartments surround the courtyard.

This is the tallest building on the lane at three stories and there are several walkways built along the roof which offer splendid views of the botanical garden, Starling & Shrike’s cityscape, and the forest around the city. By day you can smell the coffee from the Follies; by night you catch the kitchen.

These apartments tend to play host to young detectives and finance agents who enjoy spending time in the city, and working class permanent residents.

Many young detectives do maintain residences outside the city, especially those intending that their children will not become citizens of Starling & Shrike

Older detectives tend to purchase homes in the residential areas near the edge of the mountaintop.

The Zugzwang

This place is a chess club by day and a dancehall by night. It is named onomatopoeically for a highly linear creature once encountered by explorers in the Bogs of Burnfast.

Permanent residents play live music at night. Sloshed detectives sometimes get up to play solos.

Foreign musicians are barred from Starling & Shrike. The Council wishes to keep heroin and syphilis out of the city. They maintain the severe policy that the city is for some things and not for others. 

As a result, some detectives travel to Starling & Shrike only when they are required to.

The walls are painted a dark, avocado green. The archways are cherry red, as are the window frames and the climbing floral designs which cover a third of the walls. The floor is a mosaic of smoky white tiles and greenstone.

Chess tables and chairs are set out during the day but at night they are carried away to the basement. 

There is a staircase up to the loft and down to the bathrooms. The banister is cherry red and has black, ornate supports with the wrought iron outlines of fulminating, fumigating boiler-dragons and their gusty breath.

The darkened loft has carpeted red columns embraced by embroidered vines. The stone cellar floor is so polished that at first glance it seems to be flooded.

The bartender, Simon Merenkel, was raised in the forest surrounding Starling & Shrike by a small group of exiles. He was taken in by the city as a permanent resident after making a heartfelt petition and ended up using his knowledge of the wilderness in service with the Starling & Shrike liaisons who choose to embed themselves with select foreign militaries.

He has recently decommissioned from an S&S battlefield forensics team embedded with the Tungsten Crypt militia. 

Merenkel prowls around the bar leering at people, scratching himself and wiping his nose. His voice is loud and rough and his eyes are wild like he’s beholding Red Charter storm troopers in their hideous gas masks, not patrons.

He loves to drink and bully meek patrons, and few will place food orders at the Zugzwang when the cook calls in sick and he steps into the kitchen, but his free disposition makes him popular among mannered young detectives and he has many friends among the veterans of his war.

There are chess sets in the Zugzwang with pieces carved and painted to represent the archetypal agents and assets of a number of city-states and organizations. The creation of these sets was the last project of a far-travelled S&S agent who was paralyzed from the waist down when a fugitive shot him in the crypt city of Thanofane.

He carved many of these pawns from his own eyewitness experience. Some, like the Cynthian Queen, are by necessity carved from imagistic representations familiar to the agent.

He completed a number of sets but died of septic shock before declaring that he’d completed all of the sets he’d intended to; certainly he had been party to conflicts he has not represented here. 

The chess sets are grouped by enmity. The following are publicly available for use by passersby:

-Starling & Shrike
-The Cynthian Empire
-The Red Charter Companies

-City of Troutbridge Navy
-The Grimwall Column

-Anarcho-Syndicalists/The City of Leagues
-The Tourmaline Gorge Task Force

-The Dominion of Mandrake
-The Kingdom of Kadwa
-The Royal Conurbation of Bombaryx

There are a number of other sets in the backroom which only S&S detectives in good standing may view.

The Valerian Caracole Botanical Gardens

This is a small, densely-wooded botanical garden.

The shaggy trees of the taiga fill this place with the scent of spruce and fir. You will find alpine plants in most of S&S's parks, but the plants here are seasonally rotated in and out of greenhouses and cooling sheds. The cypress and fig of the dry summer climates around the Wine have been put away in the greenhouses now. 

A little flagstone trail winds through the trees past curved stone benches in the garden’s deep recesses.

You must make a number of correct turns along the botanical trail to reach the rotunda, which is an ivy-girt marble colonnade. Underneath it is a wrought iron stairwell winding around an alabaster statue of Valerian Caracole, a Starling & Shrike detective who gave his life exposing and dismantling the Hallucigenian Diadochi. He is considered a national father to several city-states which were secretly under antediluvian control at the time.

The stairwell leads into a greenhouse dome covered in ivy atop the rotunda.

Butterflies flit in the garden in the summer months but they’ve been netted and returned to their nursery in the greenhouse now.

The pupae were taken a prize by a Starling & Shrike agent acting as a forward observer for a unit of Diadem Arachnids during the cutting-out of the Cynthian battlecruiser Natural Right.


  1. This is delightful in every sense of the word. Each one of these places was a joy to read about.
    "The River Island pork chops make people look at the ceiling and laugh when they taste them."
    This was essentially my reaction to this piece. An absolute joy to consume.

    1. Awesome. I'm very happy to hear that. It was a joy to write, though it was a much more challenging and involved process to edit to a base level of completion than my more action-oriented or story-based works.

  2. A curiously restful read, especially in comparison to the Panopticon or the Dominion.
    I keep trying to find a proper term for the atmosphere of Starling & Shrike without just calling it a 'City of Detectives'. 'Mercenary Burgher Republic' sort of fits, but isn't really quite right.

    1. That was the hope! I’ve been meaning to say I enjoyed your rundown of Fading Suns and I was curious for more about how they characterized the inner life of the primary religion in the setting but I’ll ask you again tonight.

      Mercenary burgher republic is certainly an accurate high-level description of the city, though of course to explain the experience of being in the city and to give the reader some predictive power about its behavior would require more explanation. Conceptually it is sort of a union of a number of highly disparate peoples (Hesse-Cassel, Switzerland, Sparta, hardboiled depression-era American detectives removed from Chicago and Detroit, the Pinkertons, the Jedi, the Jedburghs, the Roundheads, the ronin, and sort of like a civilized Norman thing where you have the fuck hardened and trained out of you in a rough tradition but then you go out to adventure in the world of politicking lords and burghers, wars, tribes and ruins). That said, I depict it based on feel; I can feel what it should be and what it shouldn’t, and I flesh it out based on that intuition.

      If I ever do a story involving S&S the nature of the city might become clearer but I’ll probably continue to develop the world for adventure rather than do any new narrative in the short term. I do have at least one brief narrative written involving people who are NOT Starling & Shrike agents and I may post that at some point after some editing


Art - First Run