With little else to do until his teammates returned, Mu took to investigating Ven’s current stock. Truth be told, Mu made up most of his armor from the cast-offs of those poor souls who devoted their entire existences to camping out in the grotto, looking for gear. It was inevitable that these folks would find themselves straining under an enormous weight of bizarrely colored leather garments, studded armor, and moderately good weapons, which they would then sell off to Ven. Mu, in turn, would re-invest his drudge silverware racket profits into purchasing refurbished armor, some of which turned out to be quite reasonable. He had just purchased a particularly sturdy-looking cowl from Ven when he saw that his friends were approaching the city gates. Checking his color coordination, he removed his brown headgear and pulled his new purchase over his head…
"Ack… what the hell!" The cowl was crafted from one of those deceptive hides that changed colors once aired properly, most often to the nauseating white that now masked Mu’s head. "Ven you shyster!"
"Wha… you said you wanted a better cowl! That one’s better!" replied Ven, barely able to contain a guffaw. She was telling the truth… the new cowl was in fact more protective than Mu’s old headpiece, though not versus ridicule.
"But… I… look at it! I can’t wear this! You knew it would turn white!"
"Hey, look, I just deal in armor and weapons. You want a fashion consultant, try the tailor," she replied. "Hey, maybe you could get a vassal and present it to him! They’re sure to be soooo grateful," she ribbed, knowing full well how talking about allegiances made Mu uncomfortable.
"Enjoy your pyreals," grumbled Mu, quickly removing the ridiculous cowl and stuffing it into his pack before Hearding and Katyara were close enough to see its pallor. "Uh, hi guys! Hope your trip was uneventful… say anyone need a good studded cowl? Kat?"
"No thanks… hang on, I gotta pawn this junk," she said, jogging over to Ven, who had regained her businesslike composure.
"Hearding? It’s umm really good…"
"This isn’t one of those cowls that looks normal in your hand, but when you put it on turns this totally ugly white is it?" asked Hearding suspiciously.
"Uhh… oh forget it," said Mu. "Ogo can use it as a pillow or something."
"Really, I don’t need a cowl, but I’m sure it’s not that bad… hey, put it on so I can see!" asked Hearding with a malicious glint in his eye.
While the group was still sorting out the division of blood money, Mu overheard someone asking something of Jonnyg, Dnasty-Storm, and Zoish, who were nearby in the square. Offers of employment? Weird… as far as Sashi Mu was aware, pretty much everyone in Dereth was more or less a lone wolf, teaming up for convenience and mutual survivability from time to time, but basically there was little, if any, social order. So-called monarchs were really little more than masters of bribery, paying people in pyreals, knowledge and items to swear allegiance. However, there were no clearly defined lines between the three primary heritage groups, except perhaps in the field of architecture. Monarchs were not really interested in doing much except gaining more vassals and adventuring, which is pretty much what everyone else was doing anyway. And certainly no one was actually paying anyone else to work for them, except under the formerly outlined guise of patronage. His curiosity was piqued when she approached the group, apparently having met with limited success talking with Jonnyg and Dnasty.
Perhaps it was just the fact that Mu had been soloing too much, but Ebihara Kimiko’s request to hire an "escort" seemed a bit out of place to him. Not that it was unknown for things like this to happen…. Britannia was rife with companionship-for-hire, an arrangement which usually wound up enriching the seducer and embarassing the seducee, as a transcript of their liaison would inevitably be reprinted in some scandalous publication. (Mu found this sort of journalism particularly distasteful because he had never been able to exploit it himself.) However, Dereth was a new continent, with a new populace, most of whom had not yet approached the level of effete boredom usually associated with licentious activities, with the possible exception of the ever-fecund drudge population. Plus, she looked pretty young for that sort of thing.
"I seek the services of a good swordsman to accompany me to the drudge camps. I cannot fight there alone."
Well, that clears that up. "I’m afraid I’m of no use with a blade," replied Mu. "I see from your garb you are a… sorcerer, correct?"
"Yes, I practice war magic," affirmed Kimiko. Inwardly Mu sighed… in his gloomy opinion, the path of the sorcerer was doomed without support from the school of the heart, or some other, more reasonable skill. The normal way that a "sorcerer" was schooled focussed all of his attention on the art of hurting things at a distance with mana in a number of visually pleasing ways, and not much else. Such was Sashi Mu’s old life, a life that primarily consisted of sitting around cursing himself for being so limited. However, the rudimentary nature of war magic was a blessing in disguise, as it made research all that much simpler, and so Mu had developed an urge to apply his experimental abilities to more interesting and involved fields. This seemed more encouraging than being overwhelmed immediately with the hundreds of spells available to devotees of creature/life, a crush of information that would have in all likelihood pushed Mu into swordsmanship out of frustration. (Actually, when one looks at it like that, maybe there is no good point about war magic.)
"What schools do you practice?" inquired Kimiko.
"War and Life," Mu answered, silently patting himself on the back for at least getting that right this time around.
"I would gladly pay you for any spell formulae you might be willing to share…" she offered. Well, at least she isn’t saying "cna i hvae soem spelll fromulas??/", thought Mu, watching her fumble in her pouch for a thousand-pyreal note, which was obviously representative of most of her savings.
"I do not want your money for magical knowledge…" said Mu. "It would be against… um…. the mages’ code or something."
"Oh…" she looked disappointed.
"Well, I will gladly tell you about the basics of first circle research. How many spells do you know right now?"
"Three," she replied, a bit forlornly. Mu sighed inwardly again… those would be the same three everyone gets when they graduate from sorcerer’s college, creating an illusion of might and power until time proved them to be 3 different ways of accomplishing the exact same thing.
Mu began teaching Kimiko about the basics of spell research, not that it would necessarily do her any good, but he really didn’t want to see her blow her life savings buying the knowledge from some idiot down the road. It was true that Mu had paid for spell knowledge in the past, but it was always as a gift after the knowledge had been rendered, never as a price. This didn’t make the act any less morally ambiguous, but it was some good BS for him to think about whenever he felt cheapened by paying for other people’s hard work.
As Kimiko scurried off to the mage’s shop to begin her life of expensive misery, Mu’s companions began to speak with him. "Hey Mu, can I be your vassal?" chuckled Katyara.
"Good lord, what are you insane?"
Hearding was quick to jump in. "Hey, maybe you could be Kimiko’s patron. God-Emperor Sashi Mu here we come!"
"Puh-leeeeeeze…" whined Mu. "Umm… lets’ get over to the general store to drop off this other junk. Quickly…"
"Yes, oh fabulous monarch!" The trio headed off to the shop, while a sullen Mu considered the benefits of paying a visit to the Altar of Bael’Zharon…
"Boy, up close that wand is pretty powerful looking…"
Mu blinked at Katyara’s comment. What was it about killing tons of creatures that made everyone see everything as an innuendo? (Or was it just him…) He considered the piece of horribly bulky gear he was now required to haul around. Surely the architects of mana channelling could have come up with a better talisman than this! Was it an intentional joke by the universe on mages everywhere? No matter… the wand was an integral part of the high art of the mage, and what better time to explain it eloquently to his travelling companions, that they might show proper respect for Mu and the… tool of his trade.
"Uh… thanks… I think… umm…" he stammered.
Katyara didn’t take her eyes from the wand. "You need to have it out whenever you cast? I mean, you always seem to be holding it."
"Err… well yes, the time to equip and de-equip is… a disadvantage in combat…"
"Oh, I bet… I mean look at the size of that thing!"
"Uh, yeah, it’s kind of a pain really…"
"I dunno, I think it’s impressive… lot of power there…" she remarked, travelling the length of the by now trembling device with her eyes.
Mu tightened his grip on it for fear of dropping it in his inexplicable nervousness. Shifting his grip, he loosened the collar of his cowl. "Is it hot in here?"
Hearding could barely keep himself from rolling on the ground in hysterics watching this whole conversation. While Hearding was himself a casual student of creature enchantment, and therefore also cursed with the wand, he was fortunately also a swordsman, and so usually had his hand filled with steel rather than some absurd adult toy. Unable to contain himself any more, he decided to blow off some steam with an appropriate spell, retrieving his own mystical phallic symbol.
Mu managed a nervous laugh at Hearding’s joke, while Katyara was inscutable as always. Did she know how things were beings construed? Would she give a rat’s ass if she did? The answer to both of these questions was probably negative, but Mu couldn’t consider these possibilities in a rational manner… he was thinking with his wand, as it were.
Having sold the odd lockpicks to the shopkeep and divided up the remaining money, Katyara retired for the evening. "It was a good adventure… we should do this again sometime soon," she remarked.
"Yes, it was rather exhilarating…" commented Hearding, the vestiges of a smile still crossing his lips. Mu stuttered some sort of affirmative.
"Take care… enjoy yourselves!" she said cheerily, walking off towards the local inn. The pair watched her go, only speaking after it seemed she was safely out of earshot, taking the opportunity to rationally discuss the important events of the day and the deeper meanings implicit in what they had seen and heard… ending their day in shared, sober contemplation.