"Ooooh, look, a piece of paper with those things on it that you read and stuff!"  Hearding Rabbitsbane was excited about his latest acquisition, a note he had picked up somewhere.  Sashi Mu had been an avid collector of such things in his previous life, mostly scraps of paper which held valuable information about quests he hadn’t the slightest bit of interest in.  Ooh, the Sword of Lost Light… fat lot of good that would do him.  He might be able to slice cheese with it, or else admire its craftsmanship before slipping and dropping it through his foot.  It seemed most of these notes tended to lead somewhere unpleasant, deadly, and ultimately of questionable profitability.  Still, it was something to do…

"Hey, what’s up?" queried Katyara, once again a blade wielder.

Mu sighed.  "Looks like Hearding has found some sort of note with the words ‘Come Here If You Are Tired Of Living’ on the front in really big letters," remarked Mu.

Hearding was reading the note over and over.  "Mei dungeon… huge cache of Sho weapons… dangerous tunnels… what do you think?" he asked, passing Mu the note.

Mu scanned it briefly.  "Welp, looks like your typical invitation to the lifestone… the word ‘dragon’ here seems slightly less than inviting," he said.

"Could be interesting… let’s check it out!" said Hearding.

"I’m game," replied Katyara.

"Uh, ok."  Mu was always convinced that any party-type adventure to any remote area that they knew nothing about would result in huge amounts of death and destruction for himself and his allies.  Of course, as a career pessimist, he though this about any adventure at all, but on his solo forays at least he didn’t have any witnesses to laugh at him when he inevitably fell over with an axe in his side.

After forming a fellowship with an appropriately heroic name, the three travellers trudged off into the hills, following Hearding’s somewhat shaky directions.  "Think the drudges are still as thick out here as they were yesterday?" mused Mu, wondering if they were going to have to stop and deal with huge camps full of the litterbox-smelling creatures anytime soon.

The answer should have been obvious.


 

"There’s just no end to these things!" whined Mu, even as he plowed a shockwave into a skulker, sending it mewling into the arms of whatever drudges pray to.  It was theorized for a long time that drudges were wholly unintelligent creatures, which seemed to explain their mindless attacking patterns and suicidal charges, but Sashi Mu knew better.  Having studied the creatures for as long as he did, he could tell that they did posess some form of thought; indeed, if his assessments could be trusted, even skulkers were often smarter than the average barbaric fighter-type.  However, they seemed to be lacking in several key areas, namely tactical organization and mercantile savvy… these drudges, like so many others, were using thirdhand Ven Ounan daggers.  Piecing these bits of information together, along with their seemingly uncontrolled breeding habits, Mu could only surmise that they followed some form of fanatical theocratic social order.  It was not unknown for human cults to use rapid breeding as a rather silly means to achieve local dominance over other religions, and for the drudges at least, it seemed to be working.  It was estimated that on the island of Dereth there were somewhere on the order of 100,000 drudges, as opposed to the handful of humans that were currently holding them at bay.  Was it only a matter of time before the drudges rose triumphant?  If they ever did, Mu would probably go into hiding, as his traditional fish-heavy Sho diet would make him a favorite main course rather quickly.

Katyara and Hearding were busy polishing off the last enemy in their efficient, elegant, don’t you wish you could use a sword you mage loser manner.  "Fun stuff!" exclaimed a breathless Katyara, pausing to examine the knives borne by the dead.  "Hey… I think I pawned this piece of crap last week!  Feh…" she muttered, tossing the thing aside, lying down for a quick respite, cushioning herself against one of the dead skulkers quite casually.

"Ewww…" grimaced Mu.

"Oh try it, you prissy mage.  Drudges are really quite comfortable when they’re not trying to gut you," she replied cheerily, carefully settling in against a skulker’s chest, its shockwaved ribcage crackling and crunching as it conformed itself to fit her body.  "Squeamish, eh?" she chuckled.

Hearding settled for propping his boots up on a catlike corpse.  "Hey, this isn’t bad!" he exclaimed.  "I should get a couple of dead drudges for picnics!"

"Yeah, you guys do that… I’d rather not get up covered in fur, smelling like… uhh… a drudge, I guess."  Mu awkwardly found a patch of grass that wasn’t soaked in blood and took a rest himself, pausing to curse and toss several rocks out of the way, much to the amusement of his companions.


 

"A portal… figures…" grumbled Mu after the team had made their way all the way to the supposed location of Dungeon Mei.  Mu was well aware that not all creature lairs had to be accessed via portal; there were a number of places where the enemy lived above-ground, in vast forts or towers where they would wait patiently to be killed by archers.  "Any idea what’s inside?"

Hearding squinted at his note.  "Nope, doesn’t say."

Mu imagined all sorts of really unpleasant things that would be inside:  banderling ravers, mosswart shamans, oh maybe a limestone golem just for variety.  It would be hard to imagine how a golem would have wound up in an underground labyrinth, but Mu was convinced that if they knew he was coming,  they would have figured out how to do it just to spite him.  Oh well… better to be in a group, so that his gear could be removed more conveniently from his cooling corpse should it come to that.

"Let’s go," said Katyara impatiently, already hopping through the swirling purple mist, Hearding hot on her heels.  Sighing, Mu trudged through, wondering where (or if) he would wind up…

"Rats… sigh…" was what Mu heard Hearding say as he popped into existence.  Indeed, he could hear a whole assortment of the little scavengers on all sides of them.  Mu wondered why they didn’t simply navigate the many open doorways and tear him to bits, rather than hanging out on the insides of corners and such.  Then again, as long as they were isolated, neither could the group attack them easily.

Katyara already had her ridiculously big shield up, although one might wonder what such a defensive placement might do against an enemy like giant rats.  "Bring it on!"

Mu glanced over at Hearding, who was also hauling around a shield.  Sho shields were, like most such devices, primarily wood with metal banding and some hides for added resilience.  They were also absurdly big.  Big enough for more than a single fighter… hmm.  "Hey guys, let’s advance tight like this… block them in with a shield wall, and I can snipe at them from in between you!"

Hearding chuckled.  "So, what you’re saying is you want us to eat the damage while you hang back and have a force bolt party, is that it?" he joked.

"Sir, I am miffed that you would think I would place you in danger in order to reduce my own risk!" Mu stated.  "Besides, you have more hit points…. pleeeeease!  I love these boots!"

"Feh, actually it sounds okay," said Katyara.  "After all, he does suck.  Let’s do it."  Before Mu could think of a way to reply to this latest assault on his abilities, the two began to shuffle forward, getting the attention of a small pack of rats on the other side of the door.  Mu positioned himself carefully, found a small opening in between the shields, and drew his wand.  It was at this point, of course, that every rat on the floor turned around, looked at him and his ridiculous piece of magical paraphenalia, and charged directly past the shields and their bearers to attack the mage.

"Typical…" grumbled Mu, as he began his litany of fizzling attack spells as the rats tore bits of him away, while Hearding and Katyara gleefully hacked the rats to pieces from complete safety.


 

It turned out there were a number of other adventurers in the Mei dungeon as well, someof whom were relaxing in a small antechamber when the party, dragging a still-wounded and whining Mu along, ran into them.  "Careful about the cellar," they said.  "Zombies down there."

Mu thought about this, as he used the valuable respite to re-apply his assortment of horribly ineffective warding spells on himself.  He had run into zombies in the swamps north of Sawato in his previous life, and they had been something of a problem for him then at his considerably higher level of experience, but then again he was hunting solo.  Surely a zombie would pose only a minor threat for the three of them together, plus whomever else was down there.  Comforted by these thoughts, he followed Katyara and Hearding down a series of ramps, and ultimately into a large temple-looking room.  He immediately recognized a number of other adventurers hunting therein, including Dnasty-Storm, Kala Bon, and others who were natives to the Shoushi area, even if some of them were unlucky enough to not be born Sho.  "Hi Kala!" he called out just as a zombie dug itself out of the earth nearby.

Immediately it was surrounded by a number of fighters, swinging away with enchanted blades and axes, the lone zombie apparently fighting solely with its clawed and decaying hands while pressed on from all sides.  Mu sighed… no doubt they would soon make short work of their hapless fistfighting enemy.  Spying an opening in the press, he tossed a lightning bolt through it, in a show of solidarity.

The zombie immediately turned, looked at Mu and his wand of uselessness, and gestured in the air.  A gigantic whirling blade manifested itself and whipped at Mu, gutting him to within an inch of his life.  Staggered, he ran off, desperately trying to heal himself.  Holy… third circle war magic… maybe if it gets distracted by…

He never even saw what the second spell was.

 


The run from the Shoushi lifestone to the Mei dungeon was a long one, and pleasant for a lone apprentice mage like Mu.  Ducking past a number of drudge camps, mosswarts, and some ungodly powerful-looking thing called an Obeloth Lugian or something, he found himself back at the portal.

He found his teammates on an upper floor, killing a swarm of rats while they waited for Mu to return.  After shakily helping them to polish off the remainder of the vermin, thus justifying his otherwise useless presence, he gingerly accompanied them back down into to basement killing floor, where the other adventurers were still engaged in combat.  Cautiously tiptoeing over to his corpse, he started rifling it, only to realize that it had already been looted.

Hearding dropped a scroll and some pyreals into his pack.  "Already looted ya.  Hey that’s a nice scroll…" he chuckled.

"Oh, ha ha ha," grumbled Mu, giving his own corpse a swift snap kick.  A couple of quick fights, some looting, and looking at zombies from what they hoped was a safe distance later, they decided it might be best to return to Shoushi and pawn their goods despite Kala Bon’s inquiries to Mu about remaining to absorb some damage.  "Let’s get the hell out of here," whispered the weary mage to his friends as they stuffed their packs full of junk to sell to Ven.

"Hmm, way out over here?" asked Hearding as the group navigated a series of intersecting ramps.

"Maybe here," said Katyara, as the two started doubling back over several possible exits.

"Damn fighters…" commented Mu.  "Here, the way out is up here, through this big mass of white and yellow," he said, indicating the enormous horde of drudges that were now surrounding him.

Oh well… at least they helped me get back to Shoushi… thought Mu as he dusted off his clothing at the foot of the lifestone, trying his best to ignore the amused looks of the local merchants and adventurers as he prepared to deal with the weakness that comes with resurrection.

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