"Hey!  Wake up you lout!"  A sharp kick in the thigh snapped Mu out of his slumber, and he stumbled into consciousness as he scrambled to avoid falling off the Spire of Serenity, where he had dozed off.  Sachiko, the spire’s caretaker, was most displeased, and she was as bad at maintaining decorum at such times as she was good at maintaining the Spire’s immaculate cleanliness.

"Huh?" he mumbled, regaining his balance.

"Dirty street rats like you, always falling alseep up here!  Young man, this is the Spire of Serenity, not some eta boarding house!" screeched Sachiko, advancing on Mu with a dangerous-looking dustmop.  "Why don’t you go get a real job, maybe earn some honest pyraels, huh?  Get yourself a roof over your head instead of snoring your life away in the Spire!"

Mu straightened his shirt, carefully backing away, keeping an eye on Sachiko’s mop hand.  "Uh, sorry ma’am, I was… uh, contemplating the universe, and… uh, well…"

"OUT!" she hollered with finality, smacking the mop against the floor for emphasis.  Mu was out the door.

"Bitch…" he mumbled, kicking a few pebbles on his way out into the street.  She did have a point though… bad enough to be an "adventurer", that is to say, one who spent his life crawling through the dirt, finding humanoids to kill and steal from, but as a mage, Mu was always haunted by the need to earn more and more money, squirrelling it away for the day when he would have to spend lavish amounts on magical components for spell research.  And so he ate scraps, washed himself in a stream instead of the ofuro, and slept fitfully where he could for little or no money.  This was the life of the Sho adventurer, well-known to vassal, liege, and ronin alike, but Mu had memories of a time in the barbaric lands of Britannia, where he could rest his head at night inside his own house, confident that there was only a 1 in 10 chance that robbers would break in and steal everything he had before waking.  And so it was that Mu often found himself unable to resist the lure of a roof over his head and a dry warm mat, whether it was in a private place or not.

Sighing, Mu resolved to go and blow off some frustrations the way he usually did… by entering the Shoushi Grotto, where a tribe of drudges could be found attempting to gain control of the area, and see if he could get out alive, taking a few of the catlike enemy to the next world on the way.  It was not that he had anything against the drudges in particular, but the animosity between Sho and drudge was long-standing, and the two had been warring on each other for so long that neither remembered exactly why.  In any case, it was a good way to brush up on his battle magic, which was sorely lacking, and to pick up a few ill-gotten pyraels.

The grotto was a well-known haunt for neophytes such as Mu, but occasionally a noble or able warrior could be found within, on a particular search, training his vassals so that they might become more able murderers, or just slumming.  Occasionally Mu would recognize someone in the depths of the grotto, and such was the case when he turned the corner and, to his surprise, saw the imposing figure of Duri Gallant, a well-versed Aluvian swordsman and archer who had been in Mu’s impromptu squad on the day of the great invasion.

"Hail there," greeted Mu.

"Well met, Sashi."

"What brings you to this drudge-infested litterbox, eh?"

"Ah, looking for clues, adventure, and whatnot…" said Duri.  As a lordless warrior, Duri had a lot of time on his hands to undertake missions on his own initiative, and so wandered Dereth looking for a purpose.  It depressed Mu a bit, as he remembered his time in Britannia, ever purposeless and so broken by the conditions there that he could never bring himself to make one for himself.  "Would you happen to know anything about where I might fit a peculiar key I found?"

"Hmm, you mean a worn old key, sorta rusted, with a blue stone set into the handle?" Mu inquired.

Duri’s eyes lit up.  "Exactly!  You know of it?"

Mu chuckled bitterly, and jingled around in his pack, eventually producing a veritable ring of them.  "I find them every once in a while.  Never could find out where they went… I sell ‘em off to a junk dealer when they clutter up my bag," he replied.

Duri sighed… even though Mu’s fighting abilities were nonexistent and his magery weak, none could doubt the infectious power of his jaded depressiveness.

"Hmm…" said Mu, "perhaps they go somewhere else?  There’s nowhere else in here that I know of, and I practically live in here."

"Maybe… but where?"

"Another set of catacombs?  I hear Shoushi’s Revenge is close… never been there, though."  Mu shuddered… he rarely ventured into any other labyrinths besides the grotto, as his friend Ogopogo Mu told tales about how he was trapped inside a portal leading into a set of sewers for close to a week, the doing of some vile magic whispered about as only a "bug".  The haggard ronin was finally rescued by a benevolent spirit called "Ashtest", but since then was a broken man, content with staying at home and occasionally beating up Sashi to stay in shape.

"Hmm… let us investigate.  My interest is piqued!" claimed Duri.

Mu had nothing better to do, so he agreed.  As they hacked and crawled their way out of the grotto, Mu asked his eternal question… "Say Duri, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about higher-level magics, would you?"

"Eh?  Nope, been a man of the steel my whole life."

"Ah, okay," responded Mu.  True it was a long shot, but Mu’s only real interest in life was the research of new magics, magics that might be able to get him out of his state of squalor and sleeping on out-of-the-way floors.  To this end, he was constantly posing questions about magics that were so blatant as to be considered a serious faux pas by mages who were in the know.  However, this was never a factor, since Mu also had a remarkable talent for asking magery-related questions of warriors, shopkeepers, and sewage handlers, and so while he never got any answers to his inquiries, neither did he offend anyone too much.

Shoushi is ever-full of all types of adventurers, and assembling a war party is typically an easy affair.  Within minutes, a sizable assortment of people had gathered in front of the smith’s shop, and Duri had learned from the charity-minded monarch Jonnyg that Shoushi’s Revenge, while close geographically, was probably a good place for the entire party to die in record time.  However, he did offer to personally show the group the way to the Green Mire, a labyrinth which was supposedly more to the group’s abilities.  Sashi Mu recalled Ogopogo telling him about trying to find the mire… a set of directions from Jonnyg led him north, before he had gotten horribly lost and found himself being lunched upon by a rust gromnie.  This story, and the fact that he was still convinced that dungeon portals were cursed somehow, were a bit dissuading, but Mu had heard rumors that occasionally scrolls of magical knowledge could be found in extremely unpleasant areas.  With any luck, he might be able to survive the trip and gain a bit of sorcery for his troubles.

After a seemingly infinite number of delays, the fellowship headed out of the north gate and loped off toward the mire.  The journey itself was relatively uneventful, as the greatest enemy to be found on the way was disorganization.  "Hey, I had to reconnect, fellow me…" "What sort of monsters at the mire?…" "Hey, fellow me please…" "ne1 got xtra armor?…" "FELLOW ME!…"  Once in a while, the party was accosted by an unwise lone red wasp or drudge skulker, who would charge the veritable army for about 3 steps before falling under a hail of magical assaults, arrows, and cries of, "laaaag".  Mu wondered how the group was going to divide the value of a recovered dagger umpteen ways among the party members.

At long last, the group had forded a stream and managed to come to a set of spires, in the middle of which was a swirling haze, indicating a mystical portal.  This was the entrance to the Green Mire, and also a spectre out of Mu’s nightmares… the belief that once entered, a portal would swallow his being until some godlike figure could get him out, was a powerful one.  He regarded the purplish gateway with suspicion.  "Uh, this is safe. right?"

Most of the others had already entered, while the few that were still on their way shouted encouragement:  "Haha, only safe until you emerge on the other side!"… "LOL, lets go!"… "buk buk buk".

If only these places were accessed by doorways, like any sensible place… oh well… Shrugging his shoulders (an action that was actually possible in Dereth, Mu held his breath and leapt in…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

Beseeching the gods for assistance was by far more likely to succeed here than in Britannia, but like all powerful spirits, they tended to get pretty busy.  "Give it a few minutes, it may be a ‘lag’ issue," counseled Ashtest.

"My apologies, but this looks exactly like what happened to Ogopogo not so long ago.  I will be trapped in here!  Trapped, for the crime of wishing to explore new areas!" whined Mu.  "Am I doomed to go nowhere but the grotto for all time?"

"Please submit a full and complete report of your problem to me… I shall see to it that appropriate action is taken."  Mu nodded and grumbled inwardly… of course, these sorts of things were to be expected, since he was one of the first people allowed to travel in these new lands, but the echoes of the evil red gods of Britannia rang through his mind… I cannot help thee with that.  It was perhaps an unfair comparison, but old habits die hard.  And so Mu began the long and painful process of extracating himself from within the grips of the portal, attempting to break through and losing consciousness again and again, for the next several days, until he could finally emerge on the inside of the Green Mire, where he discovered that it was far too dangerous in the first place.

Offered the choice between certain death within, and escaping to the surface via another portal, he hestitated for a while, until an onrushing mosswart barker encouraged him into one of the escape gates.  As he waited for the gate to (hopefully) get him back to the surface world, he resolved that, until he could trust these accursed mechanisms, he would restrict his hunting to the grotto and the surface world, where one could see where one was going.


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