As he progressed along the mage’s path, Mu began to feel more and more the worst drawback of magery.  It was not the physical weakness that went with the territory, as he had diligently applied himself to a home-exercise program, eventually allowing him to wear a modicum of uncomfortable, odor-trapping armor without causing his knees to buckle.  It was not the constant need to replenish his stock of smelly, foul spell components.  It was not even the obvious inferiority of mages to swordsmen in combat.  The worst part was the fact that after engaging the enemy in battle, he was required to simply sit around for long stretches of time, waiting for mana to return to him, waiting for the universe to begrudgingly dole out the resources allowing him to stand and fight the most banal of enemies without having to run away like an idiot.  The scarcity of mana was a constant problem, and seemed to often occur in the middle of combat.  At such times he was often forced to fall back in desperation to his pathetic hand-to-hand training, a tactic that always left him breathless and wheezing, only effective after the target had been weakened to the point where a grazing blow from his arthritic fists would be noticed.  The thought of retiring, maybe starting anew as something sensible like a swordsman, had often crossed his mind, but through a combination of laziness and his irrational curiosity for magical knowledge, he continued to struggle along, hoping one day to be able to team with a group of able adventurers without forcing them to stand around all day while he meditated.

Naturally there were some better choices of schools which would alleviate this problem to an extent, and Mu was always moaning inwardly about not applying for one of those fields of study. He had been seduced by the imagined spectacle of facing down hordes of enemies who would cower at his might, standing helpless as mystical death rained down around them.  It only took a little while for the fallacy of this idea to become apparent, as not even common rats thought twice about charging the spindly Sho, ferociously tearing into his ankles, apparently unfazed by Mu’s pitiful knowledge of the arts.  After such embarassing encounters, he would often spend time in the shopping district of Shoushi, where smarter mages like Theleb K’aarna would unabashedly test their magics on him, magics which allowed them to replenish their mana quickly after such demonstrations.  While outwardly polite and authentically impressed by such deeds, each one made him stew a little more in the knowledge of his own inadequacy… the impression he would make by tossing around a bolt of lightning was quickly forgotten in the face of the fact that Mu was taking a nap after every such spectacle.  Given his already shaky status as a transient napper at the spire, Mu decided it would be best to limit the need for such respites, and thus just trudged around town morosely, watching the life magic practicioners get all the girls.


He still occasionally visited the grotto, although by now it provided little in the way of battle experience or even wealth for him; murdering drudges in their homes had provided him with a short-lived, yet profitable, dagger and throwing dart black market fencing operation in the past.  Occasionally he wondered what poor revolutionary army was being saddled with such a quantity of inferior armaments.  Probably the drudges themselves, forced to reclaim the inadequate weapons of their assassinated brothers over and over again.  No doubt one day the drudges would notice that the weapons were the same ones they had purchased a week earlier, and then conspire to kill Ven Ounan, the sleazy blacksmith/arms reseller of Shoushi.  When that happens, though, they would ironically be armed with daggers and darts, and thus should provide little problems for the local citizens, who would be very well equipped thanks to the drudges’ own treasury funneling their way through Ven.  Indeed, the greedy merchant could count on the protection of everyone she ever dealt with in town, as the gratitude for her blood money would far outweigh any moral issues the admittedly immoral public might have about its source.  The whole distasteful situation weighed heavily on Mu’s conscience, but the fact that at least he wasn’t tailoring all day as he did in Britannia allowed him to shut out the moral implications of his dealings with Ven and become a willing drudge-mugger.

It was on one of his visits to serve some tragic injustice to the drudges of the grotto that he happened across a lone adventurer, sitting on the floor with an air of confusion about him.  "Can I help you with something?" Mu offered.  Such was his custom in the grotto when encountering someone who seemed unfamiliar with its surroundings, and of the life of a travelling killer.  They reminded him of himself when he first set foot on Dereth as a clueless new adventurer, without the slightest hint of where to go or what to do or the horrible implications of choosing a life of war magic.  It was too late for this poor soul though, in that regard; the sickly sweet scent of hawthorn from his reagent pouch and the powdered onyx soot that clung to his hands gave away his profession to Mu, who had long since grown sick of these ever-present reminders of his ill-conceived career.

"Yes please, I seem to be stuck down here… where is the exit?  I don’t see a door anywhere."  Mu sighed… the fact that outside of town proper, the concept of a "door" as an entrance or egress was seemingly unknown was a point of irritation to him.  What insane architect thought up the idea of using those infernal portals to get everywhere?  Any sensible person would have simply cut a hole into the mountain to get into an underground labyrinth, but nooooooo…

"There are 2 exits from here… one back near the entryway, and another all the way through, but that one is guarded by some rather irritable elder drudges."

"Ah… okay.  You’re a sorceror, right?"

Like I needed to be reminded of that… "Yes, I study the school of the arm, as do you, I gather."

"Yes… I’m having some problems with my research, can you help?"  Mu immediately took a liking to the young sorceror, as he did not ask for a formula like so many others did, as if spell knowledge was in the public domain, free to everyone who wanted it.  Many newer mages, although competent researchers, seemingly did not understand that spells became more diluted and weaker the more people knew about them, and so simply blathered out their formulae without a thought to the ones before them.  Researchers who, like Mu, had wasted thousands on thousands of pyreals trying to find the correct combination of components, words and motions to harness the mighty power of magery to perform some truly amazing feat like weaken oneself or cause one’s own armor to rot away.  Whenever Mu came across one of these individuals, he kindly but pointedly explained that magic was not a series of recipes to be disseminated freely, and of the consequences thereof.  He usually left these encounters with a feeling that he had done something worthwhile for the world of mages, while his subjects left believing that Mu was a pompous ass who didn’t have a clue.  In a way, both were correct.

"Sure.  I can teach you some of the basics; let us go to the mages’ shop, Mr…."

"Testerx," the man replied as they made their way out.  What an odd name… must be Aluvian.

"Ah… here we are…" said Mu, having led Testerx through the surface portal, not without some trepidation, as he always felt that any portal had the malicious intent of trapping him therein.  "Let’s head off to…"

"I pledge myself to your service," said Testerx.

This was a shock.  Although Mu had learned something of the massive pyramid scheme known as the "allegiance system", he had as of yet had no desire to be a part of it.  Vassals and lieges and all that claptrap reminded him too much of the dreaded "guild", an artifice in which a number of people banded together in order to ensure the common good, enjoy each others’ company, and have a k3w1 web site.  The last of these was usually their only legacy, as everyone disbanded a month later in boredom.  However, Testerx had spontaneously pledged to be Mu’s vassal, which was not only something that brought into question Testerx’s judgment, but a nigh-sacred bond that nobody took lightly, even the normally irreverent and socially ignorant Mu.

"Umm…" stammered Mu, "no need for that, really…"

"Why not?" inquired "Yeoman" Testerx.

"Well, pledging to be a vassal is really quite serious, especially for one as new as yourself.  It’s a commitment that should only be volunteered for under deepest consideration, to a person who you feel can provide you with guidance and support adequate to your needs.  If ever broken, other lieges might be suspicious of your motives.  It is a bond which, once made, can…"

Testerx yawned.  "Pfft.  Whatever.  Where’s the shop?"

Mu shrugged in surrender.  "Thisaway…"

Mu tried to ignore the amused glances of the shopkeeper as he, with difficulty, began to instruct Testerx in the methods of magical experimentation which would probably be a source of immense frustration to him throughout his career as a mage.  Mu stammered his instructions as to the proper sequencing of ingredients, how to conserve them, how to get the stench of birch out of one’s hands, and other important bits of knowledge to his charge as myriad customers, including a naked man who referred to himself as "This is just a test", ran in and out of the shop.  The vendor looked like she was ready to bust out laughing at "Jinin" Sashi Mu, until the latter insured her silence with a pleading look, as well as a healthy purchase of goods at somewhat inflated prices.

Testerx turned out to be an apt study, and an understanding vassal, as he refused with forced politeness Mu’s continual offers of cash and further instructions.  Mu had no idea what to do, but these all seemed like things a liege would do for a vassal.  In fact, Testerx progressed in his studies faster than Mu had, mastering a fourth spell of the school of the arm almost instantly on his own.  No doubt soon he would master all the ways in which battle magic can manipulate mana to perform the same damn thing.  As it was apparent that Testerx was on the correct track, Mu was content to leave him to his own devices in the mage shop, giving instructions on how best to quantify his results, i.e. go murder some drudges and sell their belongings to Ven Ounan.

Walking down the cobbled paths of Shoushi, Mu reflected on his new status… an allegiance monarch.  What did it mean?  He felt a little different, and as he considered his situation, he began to think that perhaps this was a stepping stone to something greater.  Certainly, the folks around town regarded him differently now that the news was out, or perhaps he was just imagining things.  However, somehow the fact that Testerx had pledged himself to his service inspired him to become a good liege, and a prominent figure in the community of Shoushi.  Yes, monarchs drew great respect, and rightly so, as others who saw their inner worth had pledged themselves to apprentice under them.  Surely the mere fact that Mu now held the title of "Jinin", no matter how humble in the scheme of nobility, would have a palpable effect on his presence.  Soon even the creatures and beasts that roamed the land would understand his position of authority, and act accordingly.

His walk had brought him a little bit outside of town, where he spied a common rat looking for food.  As the rat regarded him, Mu felt that it was time to assert his new presence.  "Yes, sir, mister rat, that’s Jinin in front of my name.  See it and know that I am Jinin Sashi Mu, leader of men, and no common rabble for you to nibble on.  Go look for your scraps somewhere else this day, and bother me not with your pathetic annoyances, as I have much to ponder, and much to accomplish.  Such is the burden of royalty, but ’tis a burden I bear most willingly.  Know this, and show respect due a person of my stature!"

The rat bit him.


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