Dibly was pleased to see the warm and welcoming lights of the Kingís Road Tavern glowing in the darkness ahead of them. The city of Endhome itself was a dark mass in the distance, brooding and quiet.
He and his companions had just survived another foray into the depths of ancient tombs, defeated many abominations that dwelled therein and came out again with treasures like they had never seen before.
His friend Mitsu appeared to be quite knowledgeable about the ways of magical things and had already thought of treasures they would sell and ones they could use themselves. All in all it was certainly more wealth than Dibly had ever seen in his life and he was a bit overwhelmed.
Part of him wanted to take one of the many sacks of coins, sneak in the city, and find some fun, but Endhome seemed a pretty tame place for that. Heíd all but resigned himself to a few drinks at the Kingís before retiring to the room that he kept there. A few locked doors and a soft bed sounded very good to him right now.
"Dibly, youíll come, right?" grunted Bull as he goaded his tired and skittish horse up next to the rogue.
"The city, of course! We canít just stay here. It would be dishonorable to not celebrate our fine victories in proper fashion."
Dibly glanced at the rest of the party. It had been a long ride back from the hills and each of the others had already begged off from Bullís invitation. Dibly was tempted to follow suit, but he felt a special kinship to the muscular lug and felt the half-breed didnít want to go drinking alone.
"How do you propose we get in? The hour is late and the gates were shut at sundown," queried the rogue with a smile.
"Thatís your job, Rogue," laughed Bull with a big fang-filled smile.
The others of their party were dismounting in front of the Kingís, pulling off packs and sacks of gear and treasure, and giving the care of their mounts over to the yawning stablehands.
Dibly and Bull dropped to the ground from their own horses. Dibly retrieved a small sack of gold coins and a pair of daggers. The rest he put under the care of Mitsu. Bull left all his weapons and armor with his gear.
Bull was proud of what theyíd accomplished and what a tremendous warrior heíd become. His body was very strong now, his muscles like bands of iron and his war yell near deafening. He wasnít worried about protecting himself in the city.
With a wave to their friends, Dibly and Bull walked away from the Kingís Road into the darkness.
The walls of Endhome had been built hundreds of years before and were maintained when time allowed. Dibly and Bull walked along the well-trod path that circled the town, looking at the wall for an easy place to scale it. They walked quietly when passing beneath wall sentries and appeared to be unnoticed.
Finally, Dibly found a spot that looked like the kind of place his brother Enos would have picked; the rocks were old and rounded on the edges, mortar was loose in several places giving spots for hand and foot holds.
That said, Dibly had never had his brotherís monkey-like climbing talents. His strength didnít allow him to haul himself up and around stuff easily with his arms. For that reason, heíd rarely practiced climbing.
"You climbed pretty well back in the tomb," began Dibly. "so Iíll hold on to your back and you just climb to the top." Bull grunted with less enthusiasm than annoyance at the suggestion.
"Oh, come on, you could carry the whole party and climb up the side of a mountain. I mean, look at yourself," he lobbied, punching Bull lightly in the arm.
Eventually, the half-orc agreed and once Dibly had a firm hold on his tunic, he began to climb. Endhomeís wall was thirty feet tall and topped with a varied height palisade of sharpened wood shafts. It took Bull almost no time at all to reach the top. A quick look to ensure that no sentries were near, he hauled them over the stakes. Without pausing, he slipped over the inner edge of the wall and climbed down into the city.
"Well done, my friend!" said Dibly quietly as he dropped off Bullís back. "Your strength is as prodigious as St. Cuthbert himself!"
"I know," said Bull with a feral grin.
They were crouched in a narrow alley behind some nice homes, two and three stories, attached. The ground was littered with benign refuse so there was little to mar the ever-present odor of smoke that hung over the city.
Dibly led the way as they moved through alleys to find larger streets. The city was fairly quiet. There were the odd dogs who trotted down the streets looking for their friends. Cats slunk in the shadows preying on rats and mice. City guard could be found making rounds along the largest thoroughfares. Dibly kept to the smaller streets as they explored.
Heíd been in the city a dozen times so far, but there were still large areas that he had yet to explore. They neighborhoods where the three leading families lived looked interesting, but there were more sentries there, so it was to be avoided.
They walked down streets lined with established merchants, treasures and trinkets on display behind barred and magically-protected glass. They passed through the crafters district where a few artisans were still at work shaping metal or using the powers of moonlight to enhance their goods with a few spells.
They wandered past the Wizardís Academy, a few lights still burning in some of the towers, but otherwise it was silent and dark. Dibly walked on the far side of the street as they passed its entrance. Now that heíd seen those gargoyles in action, he wasnít about to provoke the ones looming over the Academyís gates.
At long last, they found some life in the waterfront quarter. Here the curfew was rarely enforced as sailors from all over the world were looking for some entertainment after their long voyages.
First came the brothels where painted women made catcalls after Bull, predicting the size of his manhood and offering him bounty free of charge. The half-orc seemed either embarassed or unswayed by their attempts as he walked on by. Dibly thought they could have stopped for a little while, but when Bull didnít pause, neither did the rogue.
Next came the maze of Viktlmarkt, a small market and bazaar that never really closed, though the calls of the barkers became more restrained at night. Dibly urged Bull to take a detour through the bazaar which the half-breed reluctantly did.
Dibly was still fascinated by the variety of goods that could be purchased in Endhome. In Viktlmarkt, there were mostly foods and goods come off the ships in the bay. Rare spices were sold next to sides of raw meat, and that next to farmerís greens and woven silks from far-off Azkazan.
The silks caught Diblyís eye so he purchased a few scarves to use a presents. He chatted a moment with the merchant, a kindly-looking old woman with ruthless haggling skills.
When he turned around, he found that Bull had bought some food. It appeared to be roasted and charred leg of a fairly large beast, though in Bullís grip it seemed somehow appropriate. He was happily tearing into the flesh, spices and sauces staining his mouth and chin. He held the hunk of meat out to Dibly, who smiled and waved him off. Bull jerked his thumb over to the meat-seller and Dibly passed over coins for the purchase.
They wandered through the rest of the bazaar without spending any money. About half of the stalls were shuttered or tied closed with canvas so it wasnít quite as interesting as it would have been in the daytime.
Dibly was just about to step back on to the Wharf Road when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. There was a narrow alley leading away from the Viktlmarkt and back behind the buildings on Wharf Road. If you didnít know where to look, it would be easily missed.
Diblyís curiosity was piqued when he saw a young man dart into the alley. Bull followed his friend over to look at the opening. It would be a tight fit for the muscle-bound Bull, but doable.
"Letís see whatís going on here," said Dibly quietly. He proceeded with caution, looking all over for some sort of alarm or trap. His wariness was rewarded when he spotted two tripwires set about ten feet apart. After showing Bull, they stepped over them easily.
After the wires, there were no more traps as they wound through the zigzagging alley. At long last, they came out in a place the like neither of them had ever seen.
It was sort of a strange shadow twin of the Viktlmarkt. It was filled with wood and canvas booths the same way but after that, things were much different. There was a stall that was dark inside and dark smoke drifted out from under its sides. Another was filled with lights, dancing and twinkling. A group of wizened men sat in a circle smoking pipes and creating dragons from the smoke. A woman with many tattoos and a snake curled around her neck and shoulders drifted by them, giving Bull the same avaricious look the whores had.
It took Dibly and Bull a second to realize that the snake was all she was wearing.
The place was hidden in a maze of narrow alleys and forgotten courtyards. On the inland side were the boarded rears of old buildings and homes. Toward the sea was the solid and unbroken walls of the wharf warehouses, taverns, and merchant houses. Not even a single window looked out over this market.
"Care to take a journey?" asked a thin man dressed in black cloth with many folds. Dibly could not see his hands, but his lips had an odd stain to them.
"No, thanks, just got back from a trip tonight and my butt is still saddle-sore," replied Dibly amiably. The manís look lost all interest and he drifted away without another word.
They came up to the men making smoke dragons. One of them stopped long enough to talk with them.
"Itís all in the magic of the pipe, my friend," said the bald little man with a grin. "Place any sort of weed in and light it. The smoke will be strong and sweet to your lungs, and when you send it back to the airs it will obey your dreams for awhile."
He refreshed the pipeweed in his own pipe and handed it to Dibly for a try. Dibly took a long drag on the pipe, impressed at the flavor of the weed, and then let it run back into the air.
"Now just picture something..." prompted the little man. Dibly thought quickly and soon the smoke was taking the shape of the snake woman. He was stunned at the detail it was able to take, from the flicking tongue of the snake to the shadow of her tattoo. In a few moments, its began to fade and disappear.
(Pipe of Dreams: New Magic Item. Wondrous Item, Silent Image spell, est cost: 470 gp. Smoke / illusion stays as long as the smoker smokes and concentrates on the image. When first created, it can materialize up to 440 ft away, although it always begins as a trickle of smoke from the mouth of the smoker. The image can be as large as 5 10-ft cubes of volume. It canít move out of that volume once created. Can be used 3 times a day. The image makes no sound, has no texture or temperature. It is smoke. Can be as visually realistic as the smoker prefers, to the point where a Will save is required to disbelieve. Or it can remain simply an obvious figment of smoke and vapors.)
Dibly was very impressed and though he resisted the temptation to purchase one on the spot, he kept it in mind for some other time.
His amazement was cut short when heard Bull snarl from nearby. Turning he saw his massive friend standing toe-to-toe with a man nearly as big and muscular. Dibly was confused until he saw the belt of orc ears sewn into the manís belt.
"There will be no violence here in Glimrmarkt," said a pot-bellied dwarf as he walked resolutely up to the two would-be combatants. On his right fist was a black metal gauntlet that appeared to gleam cruelly in the torchlight of the street.
The man with the orc-ear belt saw the dwarf and immediately stepped back from Bull. "No offense meant, Tar, no offense," he said quickly.
Bull looked back and forth between the two. He saw the gauntlet but was still making up his mind when the dwarf grabbed Bullís leg with it. The half-orc collapsed first to his knees and then the ground. His body quivered violently until the dwarf released his grip.
Tar walked up to Bullís head.
"There is no violence in Glimrmarkt, my friend. Do we have an understanding?"
Bull was slowly regaining control of his muscles and Dibly could tell he desperately wanted to attack the dwarf. The rogue deftly stepped in.
"Iím sure he does, Mister Tar. Youíve made it quite clear to him, me, and everyone around. No violence in Glimmer Market. Yessir, weíve got that down. Solid," babbled Dibly as he helped Bull to his feet and struggled to herd him down the street and away from the frowning dwarf.
"Gnnna klllll hmmmm," slurred Bull as Dibly puffed and heaved to help Bull walk.
"Probably, my friend, but not today. Not today."
RODRIGO AND SECRETS
Dibly and Bull made their way out the north end of Glimrmarkt, popping out on a real street two blocks from the Waterfront. There had been many side passages and dark openings along the way but Dibly didnít want to risk another run-in with the nasty dwarf.
By the time theyíd reached the street, Bull was moving on his own, though one side of his face was still slack, making his speech even more difficult to understand than usual.
The north end of the waterfront was dominated by the tall buildings of the merchant houses. Each house almost looked like a seaship itself, an odd reflection of the masted beasts at rest in the harbor. The largest of these was the House of Gaspar, one of the three ruling families of the city.
Dibly was surprised to see quite a bit of activity inside, shown through the open ornate double doors. He could see a great hall almost three stories high inside. Men and women rushed in and out of the building. Inside they appeared to be making deals and payments.
Before Dibly could step out of the way, he was run into by a man in a cowled cloak. Dibly kept his feet, but the man went sprawling, his cowl falling back.
Rodrigo of the Grey Cloak!
Dibly gave him a smile and hand up. He quickly drew his cowl forward again.
"Thank you, sir..."
"Dibly Grissom, at your service. Anya and I visited you at the Academy. Iím sure you recall her," teased the rogue.
"Ah yes, I believe I do," replied Rodrigo solemnly. "Your friend, the wizardess, is not with you?"
"No, she preferred to rest back at our tavern. She isnít much for carousing and getting blind drunk," explained Dibly with chuckle.
"No, I suppose she isnít," laughed Rodrigo, recalling elvesí famous resistance to man-brewed alcohols.
"What brings you out on such a late night as this? Bull and I are obvious. We donít know any better. But Rodr..." began Dibly before Rodrigo hushed him.
"I am on an important errand and I would prefer if as few as possible recognized me. I wish I could explain further, but I am held by strictest confidence." He began to move away. "Enjoy yourselves, though I doubt youíll find what you seek here."
And with that Rodrigo was gone.
"You know," said Bull quietly. "if heís a wizard, why didnít he just disguise himself with magic, rather than that silly cloak?" Bull shook his head and resumed looking around for entertainment or a good brawl.
"A very good question, Bull. A very good question."
ANOTHER ROUND, TAPMAN!
They headed back south down the docks and toward the livelier nightlife of the waterfront. They soon found themselves at the start of a series of taverns and dockside dives. The places looked like they ranged from the disreputable to the downright dangerous. Anyplace that looked safe was already closed for the night.
The wide cobbled space between the buildings and edge of the quay was filled with all sorts of cargo in chests, sacks, barrels, and boxes. Sailors stuck with guard duty lounged on top of the cargo smoking pipes, playing dice or enjoying the pleasures of the local trollops.
It was almost three bells past midnight and there was a small trickle of sailors stumbling out of the taverns and back to their ships. Dibly could spot a few dodgers and wharfrats loitering in the shadows, ready to steady any stumbling men while relieving them of his purse. Dibly looked at them straight and shook his head. They faded back into the shadows more.
Perhaps there were ways that he was protecting Bull rather than the other way around.
Tiring of their walking, they picked a lighted tavern at random, paid for a pitcher of expensive ale and found a seat at a large table with other folks. At one end of the tavern a naked woman was dancing to the music of a sleepy flute-player. She was a heavy woman and her dancing only kept the interest of some in the room.
At the table next to them, a motley gang was egging their female member to go up and show her how it is done. All Dibly heard was, "You wear the chainmail bikini, and Iíll dance for you!" That seemed to end the subject. As far as Dibly could see, she was modestly dressed, though she would likely appear quite beautiful in something more revealing.
Bull knocked into Dibly to give him his drink. In order to last the night, Dibly began taking one swallow to Bullís drained mug. It was the only way he could even appear to keep up with his half-orc compatriot and their four new found friends.
The one across the table that everyone called one-eye (even though his eyes were both fine) kept asking riddles and whoever didnít answer the riddle first had to drink. It did not take long before Diblyís sight was blurring and he walked carefully out the back to relieve some of the ale heíd rented.
As he pissed, he looked up and saw the bright stars above the city; the same stars heíd sent his dreams to as a child on Watcher-on-Marko. He smiled as he reflected on how he was now living those dreams. It wasnít anything like heíd expected, it was better.
By the time heíd gone back inside the tavern, one-eye was passed out beneath the table. The rest were trying to remember one of the riddles from earlier and having a hard time of it.
"Bull, you ready to go?" asked Dibly, leaning over a table of empty pitchers, cups, and steins.
"Can you still see straight?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Then we arenít ready to go."
While Dibly considered the half-orcís logic longer than heíd care to admit, he eventually got Bull up and moving. He paid their tab and led Bull out the door. They headed out in the chilly night air and turned south to walk along the docks.
"Here, here!" said Bull as he grabbed Diblyís collar. The move, meant to get his attention, took Dibly off his feet and left him dangling a bit. Bull noticed and set him back down. Dibly brushed at his clothes to get them back in order and then looked to see what his friend was pointing at.
Pollyís. The same cheap dive that Dibly had met Bull only a month before. He could see Bull was flexing his muscles.
"Okay, hereís how we need to do this. Youíll go in first. Grab a drink. Wonít be long before someone challenges you to arm wrestle. Here," said Dibly handing Bull a small stack of coin. "use this to wager for a few matches. Lose a couple. Donít win any too easy."
Dibly looked around to make sure no one was paying any attention to them. "Iíll come in later. First time, Iíll bet on the other guy. When you beat him, Iíll start betting on you. Keep taking who comes until they all quit or until I give you a signal. Iíll say something like ĎThis guy is unbeatable!í. When you hear that, lose the next match and weíll leave with our winnings."
Bull looked at the smaller man like he was completely insane. Shaking his head, he walked over to the dive and went in. Dibly sighed and followed him. At least it would be entertaining to watch.
Pollyís was still crowded for the late hour. A man with a hide-covered drum was beating out a cadence and telling dirty jokes during the pauses, much to the merriment of the crowd. It looked like there was a whole shipís crew packed in there as well as plenty of locals. The brothel houses had set up shop in the dive with at least five girls celebrating with the sailors and taking them one at a time behind the red curtain behind the bar.
Dibly didnít like the mix of people too much, but he didnít really have a choice. Bull was already chugging ale and boasting about his strength to the sailors. Some of them obviously disliked his orcish blood, but he was also riling up the local strongmen. Heíd have a contest soon.
Dibly focused on getting something to eat. Food was not Pollyís strong suit but he made do with a loaf of hard bread, some chicken fat and an onion. A few cuts with his dagger and he had a few poor manís meals.
By the time he was munching, Bull had already won a few matches. A progression of tough men had sat down with him and gone away in defeat.
Finally, a huge man, fat over muscle, was convinced by his friends to take Bull on and avenge the honor of Blue Terraquin. The man, Fat Edo, sat across from Bull and thumped his elbow on the table. Bull grinned, showing his fangs and their hands clasped.
As was typical in bar-room contests, the match began as soon as the hands met so it was nearly over before it began. Edo was strong and bent Bull nearly to the table. But Diblyís friend recovered and forced his hand back up to even. Both were straining, sweat popping and their faces turning red.
And then Bull roared. It was loud and ferocious. Dibly could feel his heart skip a beat or two.
The match was quickly over as Edo seemed to lose heart. Dibly glanced around to see peopleís reaction to that roar. It stopped most in their tracks. It dampened the spirits of the whore-fondlers, at least until the girls hustled them behind the curtain.
What had been harmless revelry had been dropped toward grim a few notches. Dibly figured that more than a few of these men had fought true orcs at some time, most likely losing friends or brothers in the battles. A true orc roar could curdle a weak manís stomach and release his bladder, and Bull seemed to have gotten plenty of the roar blood in his veins.
It had been made very clear to the sailors that they were trying themselves against an orc, half-breed or not. The time was good to leave.
"Well fought, well fought," called out Dibly. "A cheer for the victor, to Bull! Huzzah Hurrah!" There were only a few weak voices joining Diblyís. He quickly pulled out a small grip of gold coins, slapped them on the bar and got to his feet.
"The mighty Bull thanks you and gives you a round of free ale. Enjoy!"
As the rest of the revelers switched their mind from rampaging orcs to free ale, Dibly hustled his friend out of Pollyís and back on to the docks.
"This is getting to be a habit, my friend," muttered Dibly as he drew his cloak around himself against the chill of the early morning hours.
"Peshuck chak halth kethul," spat Bull. Not understanding a word of orcish, Dibly just looked at him blankly.
"May the die by choking on their own bowels. An old orc saying," he explained.
"Lovely," replied Dibly as he steered them away from Pollyís and any lingering ideas related to that place.
A WARM BED
The night was getting quite late and Dibly was getting tired. A long dayís ride followed by wandering and drinking had worn him down. Whether it was by his decision or not, his feet led them back to the houses of easy women.
There were a couple beauties relaxing in the front parlor when Dibly and Bull came in. They looked a little sleepy and neither looked eager to confront the idea of laying with Bull.
"Ladies, the hour is late. We come seeking warm beds for a few hours. Weíd enjoy your company though all we seek is sleep," said Dibly. He poured the rest of his coin sack out. It was enough gold to have bought the women for three nights, but heíd rather give it all to them than tempt them by keeping any on his person.
The women smiled and Dibly felt they were genuinely pleased to be able to simply sleep. The one with the dawn-colored hair led Dibly away as the heavier girl took Bullís hand.
When Dibly fell to sleep with bare Arinera in his arms, he slept peacefully and did not dream.