"Hail friend," called out the warrior with the green tower shield.

Sashi turned around, startled out of his daze in the grotto.  He was doing the grotto run, as he so often did, half-asleep… the grotto was far too routine for him now to be of much use as a learning tool, but there was scant else to do around Shoushi these days.  Mu had fallen into a routine:  go out, spy on a banderling/drudge meeting place, draw them out one at a time if possible, kill them quietly in close combat, see if they had any pertinent information about the relationship between the two tribes, and then run through the grotto like a zombie.  Truth be told, he never managed to find anything out from the banderlings, as they were usually dead before they could be questioned, and it was not as if Mu could speak bander.  However, they did occasionally litter their various meeting places with interesting scraps of paper, some of which were informative.  If any of this sounds in the least bit interesting to the reader, it should be noted that Mu had garnered absolutely nothing in the way of further leads from these assassinations, and would often turn down an opportunity to cull the banderling herd in favor of chatting idly around the mage shop, an activity which seemed like the height of excitement at this point..

"Ho there, sir."  Mu sized up Durrac, the fellow who had greeted him.  If anyone looked out of place crawling through the grotto, it would have been Durrac… obviously quite well-versed in the art of cutting things into little pieces, and very well outfitted.  For one who had spent as much time around Shoushi listening to rumors as Mu, it was easy to surmise why Durrac was there.

"Pray tell Sashi, have you seen a…"

"… key, sort of reddish in color, with a blue stone set into the handle?" Mu finished.

"Yes, exactly!" said Durrac.

"I have seen many of them… the slinkers sometimes carry them.  My shiftless no-good lazy half-brother Ogopogo and I have accumulated several over the past few months."

"It is imperative that I find this key," insisted Durrac.  "Would you happen to have one on you?"

"No sorry, I don’t carry them around… it’s hard enough for me to wear this infernal armor Ogo insists I need.  Although from the number of people asking about this key, perhaps I should just carry a lot of them, maybe set up a shop somewhere," he mused.

Durrac laughed, and casually said, "If you could help me find such a key, it would be worth five thousand pyreals to you."

Mu’s jaw dropped, but he quickly closed it.  Five thousand… that was enough to help equip about a half-dozen new and impoverished adventurers so they would not die all the time.  Or it could fund spell research, which Mu was desperately in need of resuming.  Or, most importantly, it might be used to bribe Sachiko into letting him sleep at the spire unmolested for quite some time.  Or… no, it would not have been right to take money for a key as common as the one from the grotto.  Besides, the bribery thing would have never worked.

"Hmm…" said Mu, "my drunken half-brother may have a few on him… do you know where the Spire of Serenity is?" Durrac nodded.  "He, uh, lives in there, retired from the world of hunting, his will broken after a portal accident.  I’m sure he could help you."

"Much obliged… if my quest here fails, I shall look him up," said Durrac, as he headed off down the passage.

"Hey, you’re going the wrong…" cried Mu, but the impetuous Durrac was already out of earshot, traversing the length and breadth of the grotto in search of a key which was probably in the other direction.  Shrugging, Mu continued on his way, intending to get back to the spire and shake Ogo awake.


Ogopogo Mu was a bit older than Sashi, and bigger.  The trained swordsman and archer was an adventurer and explorer of no small talent, but after being trapped in a portal that was supposed to lead into some sewers beneath Hebian-to, he seemed to have lost all will for adventuring.  He bequeathed some of his ratty armor to Sashi, whom he had tormented in their youth due to the latter’s bookishness, and now Ogopogo spent his time carousing.  He would often sleep through a good part of the day in a secluded alcove in the Spire, where he was mysteriously left alone by Sachiko and the other keepers.  Perhaps, thought Sashi, they saw Ogopogo’s shattered spirits, and wished to allow him to stay there while he healed his mind.

"Spirits is right," mumbled Sashi, finding Ogopogo snoozing in a corner, smelling faintly of pricey sake and cheap perfume.  How such a disgusting lout as Ogopogo could be allowed to sleep here while a scholar like Sashi Mu was not was well beyone Mu’s reckoning.  Then again, as a rather overfocussed sort, Sashi never really noticed the sly grins that Sachiko occasionally exchanged with Ogopogo, belieing the sort of "enlightenment" they occasionally reveled in.  Ogo commonly chuckled to himself, musing how even a retired swordsman such as himself could still get more girls than a nerd like Sashi ever could.

"Ogo, get up.  I have a job for you," said Sashi as he poked Ogo with a stick.  Even armor-clad, Sashi did not like to get too close to Ogo, remembering all too well their youth, when Ogo would feel the need for sport and savagely beat Sashi, rationalizing to their mother that it was a "traditional and necessary means of training for Sho youth".  Although this roughousing did provide Sashi with the basics of Sho unarmed combat, which would serve him well in later years as his constantly low mana reserves ran dry, it also imbued him with a dread of being in physical contact with his half-brother.  He much preferred to deal with him at a distance, where his sorcery provided at least a modicum of threat.

Snorting, Ogopogo roused himself enough to prop himself up on one elbow.  "Eh?  Sashi you wretch, this had better be important enough to warrant rousting me from my dreams!"  He casually snapped the stick being used to poke him.

"Ogo, there’s a guy… Durrac.  He was in the grotto looking for one of those worn old keys."

Ogopogo Mu snorted.  "Oooh, must be a really important quest.  Why these out-of-towners want those damn things is beyond me, but I’d gladly trade them for a couple of drinks! Not like we’re exactly short on the damn things."

"The key is apparently some sort of item required to complete a quest.  According to some papers I’ve been reading, you need to get five other…"

Ogo sat up and cracked his knuckles with a sound like firecrackers going off.  "You know, boy, that’s your problem.  Always got yer nose buried in some damn book or other.  You have no idea what real life is about.  Quests, swords, people who want these lousy keys… none of them will put a pillow under my head or a wench in my lap, two things which you seem to be lacking these days," he guffawed.

Sashi sighed; there was no use trying to explain these things to Ogo.  "Well, regardless, he may be coming here soon for one of the keys.  I mentioned that we had some, and he said if he fails to find one, he’d stop by.  I want you to give him one."

"Piss off!"

"Ogo, he really needs it.  I want to help him."

"Let him crawl around in that mudhole forever like I did.  He’ll find some."

"He was desperate.  He even offered me five thousand pyreals, but of course I cannot think of taking such a sum…"

That woke Ogo up.  Five thousand…  "Err, when did you say he would be coming by?" he asked, with a gleam in his eye.

Sashi tried his best to look strict.  "Ogo, even if he offers the money, don’t take it.  This is a good deed we are doing here."

"Oh, right right, of course.  Good deed.  Generosity.  Hail Ashtest and all that… lemme get cleaned up."


"Cleaning up", in Ogopogo Mu’s case, could be a ritual that required hours, as it was so rarely done and involved the removal of an incredible amount of contaminants from his clothing and body.  Worried that Durrac might not think to walk around to the bath annex and recognize the furiously scrubbing individual as his half-brother, Sashi waited patiently in the middle of the spire for Durrac, should he happen by.  Eventually the waiting turned out to be a good idea, as Durrac ran in the door, green tower shield bearing a few more scratches, blade still stained by that purplish stuff which drudges use instead of blood.  "Hail Sashi!"

"Hi there Durrac."  Sashi had never grown accusomted to the Aluvian tradition of greeting people with "Hail."  "I take it that you were unsuccessful in your search?"

"Yes, blast… is your brother available?"

"I shall fetch him immediately… please wait here."  Sashi trotted off to the bathouse, where Ogopogo was tossing on some still-damp clothes.  "Ogo, he’s here.  Get out there and help the poor guy… I have to go meet a man in Eastham about some tapers."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever.  I’m going."

"Remember… do NOT accept any reward!  Good deed, remember?"

"Oh sure, sure, praise Ashtest, good deeds, generosity killed the cat, sure…" mumbled Ogo as he walked over into the central room.  Sashi was so self-absorbed with the anticipation of new experiments involving waxy, smokily-burning candles that he didn’t notice Ogo’s stifled chuckle as he strode into the spire proper, where Durrac was expectantly waiting, now joined by a companion by the curious name of Adun Touridas.  Strange names these whiteskins have…  "Hail there and all that, you must be Durrac," he said.

"Yes, you must be Sashi Mu’s brother!"

"Yeah, don’t rub it in… well, the little guy said you were looking for a key, right?"

"Indeed I am… it is of utmost import that I find one!  Sashi mentioned that you might have one of them?"

"Oh sure, sure, maybe, lemme take a look…" Ogopogo rummaged around in his pack while Durrac waited.  In truth, he searched around a bit longer than was necessary, as it was hard to miss the by now gigantic ring full of them, but he didn’t want it to look too easy.  Carefully separating one of the red keys from its dozen or so identical counterparts, he withdrew it.  "Ah yes, I seem to have one left," he said, placing the key into Durrac’s open hand.

"Excellent!  With this key, our quest nears its completion!  I can feel the Sword of Lost Light’s weight in my weapon hand even now!  This is a great day!"

"Thank you very much, sir.  You have been a great help," added Adun Touridas.

Ogo began to worry… although certainly pleasant to receive, thanks and appreciation wouldn’t get him any closer to being drunk that evening.  "Err, no problem… gents… umm… Sashi mentioned something about a trade note?" he asked sheepishly.

Durrac smiled.  "Oh, of course.  Here you go, sir," he said, pressing a note into Ogo’s hand.  Ogo glanced at the note, and with some difficulty, managed to make out a large letter "C" on it.  With even more difficulty (and no small amount of lip-moving), he managed to discern the value of the note… 10,000 pyreals… this is more than twice the money I made in my whole career as a ruthless killer and robber! he thought to himself.

Even Ogo was embarassed at such a huge reward.  "Sir, this is too much… it’s twice what Sashi… err… I mean it’s a lot!"

Durrac dismissed the comment with a wave, as if this amount of money was nothing he was worried about.  "No, keep it.  Enjoy your pyreals, good man!" he said, walking out of the spire with Adun.

"Oh, much obliged sir," Ogo gushed, attempting a traditional Aluvian low bow and failing comically.

"And say thank you to your brother Sashi as well!" called out Durrac.

"Sure!  Hell, I’ll kick him for ya if you want!" shouted Ogo joyfully.  As the elder adventurers left, he began to think of the ways in which 10,000 pyreals would make his life deeper and more meaningful. This would keep me drunk for at least… uhh… a week! he thought, being none too swift numerically.  It could pay for any number of floozies from nearby Hebian-to.  Maybe it would even get him his own home, although as of yet such a thing was completely unknown in Shoushi, or indeed in all of Dereth.  The possibilities seemed endless.  Soon, Ogopogo Mu would be a man of power, or at least of cold hard cash, which was probably better.  Soon, he would go do something great.

If only he could figure out what.  Maybe a drink would help him decide.


Grumbling, Sashi Mu walked back to the spire through the drizzle of rain that fell on Shoushi.  His experiments had been as fruitful as they usually were, which is to say, completely useless.  Not only that, but he had managed to spend almost 3,000 pyreals on those foul tapers, burning them one after another in misguided combinations, watching his investment disappear before his eyes as an amused Belbeca sold him more and more of them.  Maybe he should have agreed to a reward for the key… no, it would have been, well, not quite dishonest, but certainly unseemly.  After all, was not the good will and high regards of one person worth more than all the pyreals in Dereth?  These thoughts comforted Mu as he paused under the spire’s awning, waiting for the worst of the water to fall from his armor before setting foot inside.

"Ogo?  Ogo!" he called out, hoping to hear of the delivery of the key to Durrac.  Getting no response, he worked his way around the spire, looking for where his sot of a half-brother might be located.  Eventually, he found him, dead to the world, an empty bottle of liquor in his hand and a most curious grin on his countenance.

Sashi Mu spied a small piece of paper lying under Ogo’s pack.   This was curious, for as far as Sashi was aware his brother hated reading.  Moving the pack aside, Sashi drew in a quick breath… it was the 10,000 pyreal note, and it bore the signature of Durrac!  That idiot… he silently cursed his drunken fool of a brother.  Why, who knows what sort of good this money would have done in the hands of its original owner… it could feed the poor , or equip new travellers, or even fund magical re…

That last thought stopped Mu in his tracks, as he stared at the note and felt his considerably lightened purse.  What sort of wonders might he discover with such a windfall!  However, being an honorable sort, he forced himself to dismiss the thought.  Carefully and quietly reaching out, he managed to retrieve the note from under Ogo’s pack.  Placing it in his own, he tiptoed away from his half-brother, who was no doubt dreaming of all manner of illicit expenses.  "I’ll have to return this note to Durrac soon, and apologize for my half-brother’s boorishness," he whispered to no one in particular, as he prepared to enter the rain.  Standing under the awning once again, he looked out in the direction of Eastham, and a small smile crept into his lips.

If I SEE him anytime soon…

 

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