We tried very hard to get the book out before the end of the year, but the end of the year is of course when Real Life(TM) does its most wicked work on our creative time. As an apology, we give you three locations you might wander into in the streets of Bilbali, three locations where adventures come thick and fast.
Playa Grande (“the big beach” in Estalian) is the largest beach in the city, and throughout the summer is full of people enjoying the sun, the sand and of late, even the waters of the blue Suenos. The shore is also crowded with pavilions and stalls for those who tire of the sun, but few do: rich and poor, local and tourist alike enjoy taking to the water wearing clothes so indecent they would shock Countess Emmanuelle. The fashion standards of this popular new pastime have led to the beach gaining another purpose, too. It being almost impossible to secrete even the smallest dagger in a bathing costume, a state of political détente can exist on the Playa. In a city where politics is soaked in blood, this provides a vital safe ground for discussions, and more politics is discussed on any given sunny day on the Playa than in a month at the palace, all under the veil of joyous waterside frolics. Even the Queen herself has been known to come down to the water’s edge in her sedan chair, although it remains as yet unclear whether she enjoys the activity or simply needs the political vantage point.
The only people who do not swim are the staunch clerics of Myrmidia. With Mother Temple decrying any form of indecency, the priests take a dim view of the bathing fad. As yet Aquila Hembre lacks sufficient power to outlaw the practice, but his sermons are becoming increasingly critical of the activity, and it would only take a few public incidents of immorality to transform his rhetoric into proclamation. In the meantime, the fortunes of many are made and lost on the golden sand, and the common epithet of those who have been soundly out-manoeuvred there is that they hate the Playa, not the game.
Bilbali is like unto a steamtank of salesmanship but it deals so primarily in its staples of wine, women, jewels and sucre that the little things are often forgotten. Manuscripts, for example, are not the common trade of the Bilbalin streets. Yet sometimes they can be the most valuable things of all.
Those who would seek such knowledge should come to Bilbali Books, but they must bring great wit and couraghe, for the shop is not designed to be friendly. Their collections of books is wide-ranging but totally unorganized, and sorting through the roof-high piles and twisted shelves is a skill of both physical and mental dexterity. What’s more, the proprietor Don Bernando Negres, is a wild-eyed lunatic, known to accuse his customers of being daemons sent to kill him. More than once he has leapt unannounced upon people entering his store, attempting to put them in a sack to send back to Chaos Wastes. His assistant is no better: the gigantic hairy fool with a mountain-man’s beard does little besides chuckle to himself and claim to be part troll – and smells bad enough for it to be true. Buying books there is always an adventure, but if it is treasure maps or ancient diaries that are sought, there is simply no equal, and the “quirky” staff do help keep other treasure-hunters away.
Caza Blanca means “the white hunt”. To a sailor, this means whaling, searching for the white plume that indicates one of the great mammals has surfaced. In the underworld of Bilbali, the white hunt is a slang term for the assassination of royalty, and by extension, the political machinations that are built on and around the practice. As Queen Juana is the royal most targeted for assassination in Estalia, if not the entire Old World, the caza blanca is played constantly and ardently in her city. The protégés do little to stop it, assuming they could – all they can do is round up the usual suspects of ne’er-do-wells, a group to which any assassin would never belong. So the deaths continue, and Ricardo Arnaz, the proprietor of El Lustriador, will be damned if he isn’t going to make money from it.
On the surface, El Lustriador appears to be a popular taverna with a slightly seedy reputation; wealthy enough to pay off the protégés so it can provide gambling and whores and contraband whisky to those willing to pay the prices. The real business takes place upstairs, where the rich and powerful of the city don’t simply plan assassinations, but bet heavily on their outcomes. Odds are given not just on whether the target lives or dies come the morning, but also how far the assassin gets within the palace, how he gains entry, the method chosen for the killing, and how, if ever, he is eventually stopped. It is considered cheating to arrange your own assassination, but paying others to foil one you bet against is perfectly legal by the group’s standards.
When politics fails to provide such games to wager upon, the gamblers rely on Ricardo to provide ne’er-do-wells and treasure-hunters with grand and elusive goals to pursue. The group particularly enjoy giving tasks to travelling adventurers, for such people are wildly unpredictable and touched by some strange hand of Fate, making the gambling extremely exciting.