The Gray Mouser slipped into the Plaza at the Fountain end as silently as if he had come to slit a throat or spy on the spies of the Overlord. His ratskin mocassins were soundless. His sword Scalpel in its mouseskin sheath did not swish ever so faintly against either his tunic or cloak, both of gray silk curiously coarse of weave. The glances he shot about him from under his gray silk hood half thrown back were freighted with menace and a freezing sense of superiority.Meanwhile, the Mouser's boon companion, Fafhrd, found himself, as he so often did, in a parallel predicament, bidden by his own supernatural tutor, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, to seek out the same location -- the Plaza of Dark Delights. The Plaza is home to all manner of strange and debauched shops and entertainments:
Inwardly, the Mouser was feeling very much like a schoolboy -- a schoolboy in dread of rebuke and a crushing assignment of homework. For in the Mouser's pouch of ratskin was a note scrawled in dark brown squid-ink on silvery fish-skin by Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, inviting Mouser to be at this spot at this time.
For there the vendors of drugs and the peddlers of curiosa and the hawkers of assignations light their stalls and crouching places with foxfire, glowworms, and fire-pots with tiny single windows, and they conduct their business almost as silently as the stars conduct theirs.Recently, a new shop has opened up in the Plaza, one whose peculiarly dressed proprietor dares to "defil[e] the Dark Plaza with glare." The Mouser begins to think that perhaps it is this that Sheelba has sent him to investigate, a fact confirmed separately by Fafhrd as not only Sheelba but Ningauble too appear to him in the shadows, a fact that worries him:
There are plenty of raucous spots a-glare with torches in nocturnal Lankhmar, but by immemorial tradition soft whispers and a pleasant dimness are the rule in the Plaza of Dark Delights.
Moreover that those two bitter wizardly rivals would have joined forces, that they should apparently be operating together in amity ... Something of great note must be afoot! There was no doubting that.The two wizards explain to the red-headed northerner that beings known as "the Devourers" threaten Lankhmar and that it is his task to defeat them.
"The Devourers are the most accomplished merchants in all the many universes -- so accomplished, indeed, that they sell only trash. There is a deep necessity in this, for the Devourers must occupy all their cunning in perfecting methods of selling and so have not an instant to spare in considering the worth of what they sell. Indeed, they dare not concern themselves with such matters for a moment, for fear of losing their golden touch -- and yet such are their skills that their wares are utterly irresistible, indeed the finest wares in all the many universes -- if you follow me?"The two wizards bid Fafhrd to assist them ousting the Devourers from Lankhmar before they ensnare its population into buying trash in exchange for "good money and even finer things," in effect stripping the City of the Black Togas -- and eventually all of Nehwon -- of its valuable items. Fafhrd initially has no interest in such a plan, at which point Sheelba plays on the northerner's friendship with the Gray Mouser.
"It was intended that you have a comrade in this quest, a fellow soldier against noisome evil -- to wit, the Gray Mouser. But unfortunately he came early to his appointment with my colleague here and was enticed into the shop of the Devourers and is doubtless now deep in their snares, if not already extinct. So you can see that we do take thought for your welfare and have no wish to overburden you with solo quests."For the sake of "that poor little gray fool," Fafhrd undertakes the alien wizards' mission and, with that, one of Leiber's most memorable stories of the Twain kicks into high gear.
I'm finding that, as I get older, I enjoy Leiber's writing, particularly his early stories of Lankhmar, better than I did as a younger man. There's a delightful world weariness and cynicism, shot through with playfulness, that's very attractive to me. "Bizarre of the Bizarre" is a terrific romp, one that, I think, nicely showcases Lankhmar and its most famous denizens. Re-reading it reminded me of just how much D&D owes to Leiber for many of its most basic conceptions. It's a pity that he's not more widely read and lauded, even within the RPG community, for, as this story reveals, Fritz Leiber had a powerful influence on the founders of our hobby.