Eastham… a decidedly barbarian town, what with all the pleasant yet undeniably foreign Aluvian shopkeepers and cattle out in the open being raised for indelicate meals of stinking beef.  Sashi Mu was no altruistic saint, and could not avoid feeling a bit uncomfortable in these surroundings, but Eastham did have a number of things going for it, namely a well-stocked mage shop and those super-soft overcomfortable Aluvian feather beds!  Like most towns, Eastham was full of hard-working craftsmen… so hard-working, in fact, that they never seemed to go to sleep.  This was much to Mu’s advantage, as it was relatively simple for one of a Sho’s relatively diminutive stature to sneak up the back stairs of the blacksmith’s shop and quickly doze off into a refreshing, restful sleep.  It had been quite some time since Mu had slept like this… dreaming of being able to cast magic that worked well, of earning his black sash in unarmed combat, of being able to hold onto his money for more than a few days, or finally getting that hot girl at the Shoushi grocer to notice…

"’Ere!  Piss off, you lot!"

*WHACK*  The handles of a pair of tinsnips snapped smartly against Mu’s head; if Mu had not been too tired to remove his armored cowl, it might have bruised more than his ego.  "*snort*… whu… huh?  I… uh…" he stammered intelligently.

"What the hell!  You lousy foreign devil!  Get out o’ my bleedin’ bed!  Crikey, you e’en got yer damn boots on!"  Mu barely managed to roll out of the way of another swing of the tinsnips, which landed in the sheets witha muffled thump even as Mu landed on the floor with a louder one.

"Uh… Mr. smith, I can explain… see, I am but a weary traveller, with little to support myself, and I have been walking for…"

"Shut yer bleedin’ hole!  You damn Sho, you come into town with yer damn ‘et-i-ket-tee’ and yer raw fish dinners!  My bed will prolly smell like halibut for weeks!"

"Sir, begging your pardon, but properly prepared sashimi has no noticeable odor, and we Sho are scrupulously cle…"

"OUT!"  As the smith advanced on Mu with the tin shears, point first, Mu found himself exiting the premesis by jumping out a nearby window, landing badly on the cobblestones.  As he nursed his sprained ankle, he looked around the street to see how widespread his humiliation would be.  Fortunately, no one was in sight, but as he limped sourly away, he could swear he heard the giggling of the local healer woman as the smith led her up the stairs.


Mu was in Eastham to train himself and continue his magical research with the benefit of a well-stocked shop, but as he was a bit low on funds, he decided to take a walk down to Rithwic to see if he could make a few coins along the way.  The path from Eastham to Rithwic was fairly hazardous, but Mu had gotten slightly better at ambushing and murdering creatures at range before he was in any real danger, and this was a good place to assassinate larger drudges, outcast monougas, and the occasional banderling whelp.  There were other dangers too; Mu had once faced down a rust gromnie, a beast that Ogopogo Mu had warned him about, and managed to slay it by searing it magically over and over as it charged.  Its dying attack on Mu nearly tore the shocked mage’s leg off, and so he resolved to leave the gromnies alone for the time being.

It was raining in Rithwic, as it always seemed to be in the white man’s lands, as Mu crossed the bridge, passing a couple of folks who were in a conversation.  Mu overheard one of them refer to himself as "Zep de las F", which brought back a memory of another time when the guild of F had ruled over a good portion of Britannia by the halberd, gang e-bolt, and mastery of web publishing and story techniques.  Intrigued, Mu approached the traveller and inquired, "Pardon me, but might I ask what the ‘F’ stands for?"

The stranger looked at him and replied, "A naughty word."

"F-ckheads?"

A pause… "Yes."

Sashi Mu proceeded to have a pleasant conversation with the member of the legendary guild, while his companion kept trying to jump off of the bridge into the river (eventually succeeding, at the cost of a great deal of internal injury).  Zep claimed to be the only F in Dereth at the time, with the exception of Pleaque.  The two discussed the world for a time, and eventually came to a strong and common consensus… portals sucked.

Eventually, like everyone else, Zep tired of Mu’s prattling and proceeded to hurry off to a local labyrinth.  Mu would have tagged along to see what happened, but his fear of portals and the underground they might eventually lead to overcame him, and so instead he sold his captured loot off in town before proceeding back to Eastham, there to spend all of his money at the mage shop.


Belbeca, the local reagent seller, worked out of the back of the healer’s shop, which worked out well for her since the healer was oftentimes on the second floor of the smithy.  Despite her simple clothing and barbarian shaved pate, she was no doubt extremely wealthy, judging from the amount of money that chumps like Mu kept spending on bizarre ingredients which usually went up in smoke.  It was for this reason that she gladly volunteered to be a guinea pig for Sashi Mu’s experiments, and she would stand amused for hours, watching Mu burn component after component, requiring him to resupply from her over and over.  Mu often wondered about the possibility of getting formulaic help rom an  "archmange" such as Belbeca, but realized that not only would sharing information be a blow against the unwritten mages’ code, if would cut down on her profit margin dramatically.

 

It was while Mu was purchasing his dozenth hundred-pyrael bit of corroding metal that a man wearing a brash golden helmet and the most outrageous pants Mu had ever seen entered the shop and began experimenting as well.  Alden Hisnith was apparently a student of the various enchantment schools, which seemed at the moment to be far more interesting to Mu than his weary old battle magic.  Mu basically knew a number of ways to combine ingredients and ritual to hurt something at range, and that was about it.  However, War magic did produce some of the most able sorcerers in Dereth, as evidenced when the Gharu’ndim mage Sunam al-Qaraf entered the shop.  The two joked and conversed a bit about Alden’s research, which Mu secretly listened to most carefully, as magery was a secretive and elusive art, and any hint of how it worked was coveted, even though Alden’s information would probably be of no use at all to the fledgling sorceror.  Not fooled at all by Mu’s pathetic attempts at subtlety, Sunam approached Mu, who quickly turned away and pretended to be whistling tunelessly.

"What are you researching there, Sashi?" he inquired.

Trying to regain his composure, Mu simply replied honestly, as the truth was no less absurd than any lie he might come up with.   "Well, War magic… I am currently wasting amazing amounts of money trying to see if I missed any 1st or 2nd circle magics, and then I will waste more money failing to discover the secrets of higher magics."  Mu sighed inwardly as well as outwardly; the path of the magi was lonely and secretive, but above all it was expensive.

After a few more inquiries as to Mu’s knowledge, Sunam al-Qaraf invited Mu into his "classroom", which Mu gladly agreed to enter.  The need for magical knowledge was so compelling that Mu was willing to endure anything for a pointer in the correct direction.  As they left the warmth of Belbeca’s shop and entered the rain, Mu followed the mages into the darkness, into their "classroom"… which turned out to be a wet, muddy spot which was disgustingly close to a penned-in cow.  Shuddering, Mu tried his best to hide his repulsion as he tried to find a relatively dry patch, eventually giving up and taking a seat in the mud with Sunam.  Truth be told, he would have preferred to stand throughout the lesson, but that would have been presumptuously rude to one’s sensei, even if that sensei was a hardy Gharu’ndim who thought nothing of taking a seat in the mud.  And there it was that secrets and theories were whispered, questions answered, and light bulbs over Mu’s head were lit, while Alden tested his newfound theories on the hapless animal, who expired some time thereafter, only to be shortly replaced by a haggard farmer who had grown used to such events.  No doubt the local mages paid a subsidy to the cattle ranchers in order to experiment on their animals in this manner.

After this lesson, Mu realized a bit more about the way that magic worked, but true to the mages’ code, Sunam had not given away any formulas, as if Mu was some groveling newbie asking for anything and everything under the sun outside the Shoushi blacksmith’s.  However, the hints he had given Mu encouraged the latter to run off to the shop once more, where a smiling Belbeca gladly relieved him of even more money and stood still as the subject of numerous experiments which still did not work, but at least now there was hope…


 

Afterword

As the unwritten mage’s code prohibits the indiscriminate sharing of magical secrets, none of the lessons of Sunam al-Qaraf have been reprinted, except for this one, a valuable insight into the branch of magic that Sashi Mu is currently studying.

 

 

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