"This can’t be good," muttered Jin Lee as she watched Kynn’s form materialize near the small outpost, while in the distance the alien laughter of the Virindi echoed in the hills of the Direlands. This was the second time this had happened in a short span, and so it seemed that Kynn was unsuccessful in recovering his property. It was a dangerous expedition, to be sure, only Kynn and Zashi Watta against a group of Virindi, but it had seemed feasable enough for the two of them to engage a like number of enemies. Too bad their dozen or so brethren were hidden just out of sight over a ridge. No doubt the ensuing magical assault must have been pretty at least.
Kynn sighed and took a seat in the grass, waiting to see what happened to Zashi. Before too long, though, the spear wielder was sprinting back to the outpost, hard to miss in his assortment of absurdly flashy golden armor, a seemingly perpetual sneer framed by a shining kabuton. If there was such a thing as a Spear God, he would have probably dressed like this, and with similar mannerisms, no doubt. Staring off into the distance, Zashi carefully preened his snow-white moustache as he commented, "Those Virindi certainly are unpleasant."
Used to Zashi’s mode of speaking about insanely powerful enemies, Kynn managed to remain composed as he added, "Well, the Tusker and the assortment of Obsidian Golems didn’t help matters any."
"Oh, those would be no bother for me. It was simply a matter of numbers," said Zashi, now pausing to admire his current weapon, God-Spear #473 in his collection.
Jin was peering over the balcony by now. "Are you OK, Zashi?" she asked. Concern seemed appropriate, as Zashi was her patron’s patron in the vast pyramid scheme that was the Kynn Collective.
Zashi glanced at her, finally satisfied with the state of his facial hair. "Of course," he affirmed. "I do run remarkably quickly, you know."
"Oh, of course," answered Jin. "It’s just that… well, about a dozen Virindi and their servants… well, it seemed like it would be exceedingly dangerous…"
"Hah! Only if they can catch me!" guffawed Zashi.
Kynn was examining his belongings, fretting over the additional equipment he had left behind. This business was getting very expensive very quickly, to the point where Kynn could not leave his lost equipment out there to rot. "We need more people… where is Sashi?"
Zashi simply snickered at the idea of the idea of that… mage… being of any use on such a mission. Jin replied, "I think he’s off in the foothills, testing his war magic."
"He would be helpful, if only as a distraction… if he could stay alive…" murmered Kynn.
Zashi regarded his monarch in his typically un-vassallike manner. "Really Kynn, the poor mage might at best absorb an absentminded blow from a Tusker before his usefulness would be outlived," he chortled, not noticing Jin Lee’s darkening glance over her wand.
"Sashi can, uh, stay alive, I think, long enough…" said Kynn.
Poor man, he must be suffering from blood loss… thought Zashi. "Oh fine, I’ll see if I can track him down… after a quick cup of tea, that is…" he said, strutting into the house, his gleaming armor reflecting painful sunlight into the eyes of his two companions.
Meanwhile, Sashi was indeed testing the effectiveness of his war magic on a nearby hill, invigorated by the recent improvements in the mana economy. "Eat hot circle IV death, scourge of the Dires!" he cackled, as he chanted words of power and burned expensive components. It was all worth it though, as a feeling of omnipotence and glee corsed through his veins as he watched the enormous ball of frost rotating towards its target, and within seconds the vicious Blue Phyntos Wasp was dead.
It was while he was examining the flash-frozen corpse of the enemy that he became aware of a voice speaking in his head. "Sashi Mu… Sashi Mu… your liege lord requires your assistance…"
He froze in place and wondered what was happening. Tenatively, he thought back, "Is that you, God?"
"Close enough…" came the reply, and Sashi became aware of Zashi Watta’s face regarding him in his mind. "Come to the outpost right away. We require a targ… powerful mage to help us recover Kynn’s belongings. We will be getting them back from approximately one dozen Virindi and their servitors."
"Virindi…" murmured Sashi. The Virindi were a mystic race of beings who levitated above the ground, wearing loose robes and bizarre masks so as to hide their appearance. No one had actually seen one unmasked. They were astoundingly powerful, and said to be scheming, manipulative beings who may in fact be the true masters of the dread Olthoi whom Asheron had unwittingly loosed upon Dereth, destroying his own people. Rumor had it that there were Virindi overseeing each town during the recent invasion of humanoids, uninterferingly watching from secluded hilltops with olthoi bodyguards. They were powerful magicians, without the shackles of the "spell economy" and "casting time" that plagued Mu and Jin, and fearsome in single combat.
Mu knew of the Virindi, and had refined an advanced strategy of running away really fast whenever he saw one. "Uh, not much I can do there… they resist everything I have… besides, I’m busy here with YEEEEOW!"
A gromnie had waddled up to him while he was engaged in telepathic discussion, and was now showing its appreciation for a mage on his turf by vomiting gallons of highly caustic acid all over the screaming Mu, who was now tearing off in the direction of the outpost.
"On my way."
Before too long, the trio was on a sandy hilltop, peering out at the area where Kynn’s bodies rested, in that curious upright position they had been assuming as of late. The group was delayed slightly because Sashi, a notorious miser, had paused at the outpost to sell a backpack full of junk weapons and dinnerware he had looted from dead monsters, amd had forgotten to change the coins in for lightweight trade notes. After some hemming and hawing, he had to leave the coin on the ground, since in the Direlands it’s better by far to be poor than slow, an axiom which Sashi often conveniently forgot when it was time to fund his voracious mana charge habit. Still, his eyes kept changing focus from the target area to the place far behind them, where somewhere on the canyon floor, over seven thousand pyreals sat mocking him cruelly.
"There appear to be two Virindi and a Tusker Guard ahead, no doubt part of an advance guard position ahead of the main camp," observed Zashi.
Kynn agreed. "We will have to deal with them… no use in running past them to the bodies, they would simply hit us in the back."
"Very well then… tally ho!" cheered Zashi, as he impetuously ran right into the middle of them. "Ah, did not notice you there, sir," he said, noticing the tall looming figure of an Obsidian Golem who was blended in with the cliff face.
As soon as Kynn and Zashi had engaded the enemies in melee, Sashi Mu tenatively followed, preparing to cast spells from a relatively safe position. Naturally, as soon as he was within about a hundred yards of the conflict, all enemies immeidately started running directly at him, shaking off and resisting the hapless mage’s attacks. A crushing kick from the golem and the momentum of a Tusker ramming directly into him helped start him running like a fool, pausing only occasionally to heal himself and try additional war magic, which was of course ineffective. He eventually resorted to weakening the defenses of the myriad enemies to better allow Kynn and Zashi to more quickly
hog the experience kill the creatures, which of course they did.
"A good fight," claimed Kynn, who was no doubt feeling some of his lost life essence returning with the energetic conflict.
"There, that wasn’t so bad!" proclaimed Zashi cheerily, sitting down to rest.
"Unnngh…" groaned Sashi, whose prostrate, bleeding form lay collapsed on the rocky ground, only stirring when he had enough stamina to wearily stand and transform it into sorely needed magical energy. He had done this about twice, and was asking for medical assistance, when Zashi sprang up and proclaimed, "Onward!", charging at the area of the Virindi camp with Kynn.
"Wait… I…" called Sashi, but it was too late. Healing himself as best he could, he limped after the duo, who were already in the process of trying to recover Kynn’s goods from what appeared to now be twelve Virindi, two more Tuskers, and a pair of golems.
Things did not quite go as planned.
Mu and Kynn sat glumly around the lifestone, staring at each others’ now-partial armor, when Zashi came trotting back to the hut. "I say, that didn’t go quite as planned," he opined. He cocked his head for a second, listening to the whine of his dog, who had somehow accompanied him to the Direlands without being eaten. "My poor pup requires his walkabout. Please do try and come up with a more feasable plan by the time I return, will you?" he quipped, jogging merrily inside the hut to retrieve his pet.
Kynn stared at the ground. "I don’t know what to do. I don’t think that stuff is retrievable," he said.
"Well, I’d have to agree there… not like I could survive the trip at full power anyhow…" confirmed Mu, who was feeling a bit chilly due to his sudden lack of a breastplate.
At this point, Jin Lee came out to regard the recently-dead, having finished her calisthenics routine, which involved lying down, jumping up, and casting Stamina to Mana several times in succession. "Okay, I’m helping," she said adamantly, and with that, began to unsnap buckles and loosen straps.
Mu just stared as pieces of studded leather fell away from her body. "Uh, Jin, not that I don’t appreciate what’s happening here, but this hardly seems like an opportune…"
"Shut up fool," she snapped. "I’m going with you."
Kynn and Mu both glanced at each other for the briefest of moments before returning their gazes to the young mage, who was now shimmying out of a pair of enchanted leather leggings. "You can’t be serious," said Mu.
"It’s extremely dangerous. You might not last very long," confirmed Kynn.
"So what? I’ll run in wearing my skivvies, and die. No biggie. Got a crappy wand, Mu?" she asked, now standing in a pair of sheer briefs and an unfortunately unflattering tank top that every woman in Dereth seemed to wear. Must talk to the tailor about that… thought Mu, as he absent-mindedly pulled out his silver staff, one of the only pieces of equipment he owned now that did not eat mana charges like candy, and handed it to her. "Thanks."
Han Fu, an archer/swordsman who had sworn allegiance to Mu in a fit of drunkenness long ago (but was too proud to admit that he had made a horrible mistake), poked his head out of a window at this point, apparently having just woken up, and observed Mu, Kynn, and Jin all in various states of undress. "Uh, I’m not interrupting anything here am I?" he asked cautiously. In days past, he might have been a little more brazen in his observations, but ever since Mu and he had untertaken the trip to the altar of Bael’Zharon to shuck off the deceptively self-serving "protection" of Asheron, a perceived impoliteness became a much more serious issue, as it could well earn him swift and painful destruction at the hands of Kynn’s collection of nekodes, or an unpleasant tingle from Mu’s most powerful magical attacks. Would that Asheron were more discriminating in who received his "protection", as a great number of them used their perceived invulnerability from others like themselves to act in the most rude and vulgar ways imaginable. In the world of Bael’Zharon’s Chosen, however, good manners can often mean life.
Fortunately, the situation was explained to Han before another long and boring conversation could make its way into this chronicle, and he was also prepared to accompany the group into the jaws of death, possibly convinced by the absurdity of the whole situation as well as Jin’s new outlook on fashion. Jin was just handing over her equipment to her handmaid and picking out a pair of enchanted running shoes for Mu to buy her when Zashi returned, his hound looking relieved and his spear coated with the blood of a number of creatures. Glancing briefly at the entourage, he noticed Jin and remarked, "I say Jin, are you planning on doing something foolish like coming with us… like that?"
"Yup," said Jin, sliding her feet into the slippers, feeling the rush of magic run through her as a brief light show indicated that they were active.
Zashi sniffed. "You would last approximately two point oh four seconds out there. You might as well stay."
"I’m going, I’m dying. End of story," she said with finality, and not even Zashi would argue further.
Kynn and Mu arrived at a creature-free rendezvous outside of Virindi lands before the others did, followed closely by Zashi. All three were superb runners: Kynn and Zashi through extensive training, Mu through his unparalleled cowardice. "I say, I AM remarkably swift!" crowed Zashi.
"Hey speedy, where are the other two?" asked Kynn, noting that Han and Jin were nowhere in sight.
"Oh I have no idea," said Zashi, unconcerned. "Say, what sort of spear do you think goes best with my outfit?" he asked, modeling a number of insanely powerful weapons.
A quick magical inquiry informed Mu that the pair, having lost sight of Zashi, had assumed that they were to continue running down a swampy river, and were continuing to do so now, dodging attacks by all manner of overpowered enemies, as the turnoff they were supposed to take receded far behind them. A little bit of messaging, and soon Han and Jin were running back up the river, past the same assortment of creatures, who were no doubt somewhat amused at the event. "Wonder if Jin will make it past the silver rat…" mused Kynn as they waited.
Amazingly, both Han and Jin made it, although Jin was somewhat haggard, having been slashed in a few places and burned by a lich’s assault on the way. While she was healing, Mu paused to make sure that Zashi was aware of something important. "Zashi, quick point of reference: when you see the mage lying down a lot and saying ‘Puish Zharil’ over and over, do not attack anything for a while."
"Young man, I assure you I have no idea what ‘Poo-wish whatever-you-just-said’ means," scoffed Zashi.
"It means, I have no mana, I am exhausted, and I am about to die." replied Sashi coldly.
"Well, now I know!" sneered Zashi. "Are you all ready now?"
Jin had been bandaged sufficiently, and shook off Han’s efforts at "precautionary theraputic massage". "Ready."
Kynn went over the new plan. The three of them… Han, Jin and Zashi… would run into the camp, hopefully getting the attention of the various death machines therein. Kynn and Mu would limp in, attempt to avoid confrontation, find their corpses, retrieve their belongings, dodge attacks, heal, and hopefully get out of there without further losses. Mu quickly glanced at Kynn’s unarmored legs, and his own chest, now protected with a thin slice of leather, certainly more of a psychological protection than any real buffer against a Tusker’s charge. Jin was expected to die. Han might die, but hoped to lose only equipment he could spare. Zashi summed up his own fate in his usual catch phrase, "I don’t die."
It was time. "Zashi, go," said Kynn, and the spearman rushed unconcernedly into the camp, garnering the attention of the demigodlike beings. "Han, go… Jin, go…", and the remaining two decoys rushed into the fray. "Good luck Sashi," Kynn said, before rushing down the hill.
"Oh?" said Mu, tearing his gaze away from the admirably brave and somewhat underdressed Jin as she lead a train of four Virindi away from the target area. "Oh, uh, you too…" he muttered, running down himself, desperately looking for his body.
The next couple of minutes were experienced as a frantic collection of scenes, what might be called today a pasted-together bunch of fragments from the cutting-room floor of an insane filmmaker. Sashi had no time to think… he would spot a golem casting a shock wave at him, and barely dodge out of the way before sidestepping the whirling double sickle attack of a Virindi Master, as he watched his life essence being drained by yet another Virindi. Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of Zashi taunting a pack of enemies into following him, or of Jin speeding through the camp with two Tusker Guards on her skyclad tail, or of Han desperately zigzagging behind a boulder to bandage a wound before taking off again, but he couldn’t stop to think or do anything about the situation.
At last, he came across his body, quite accidentally tripping over it as he desperately ran from a Tusker. He managed to somehow double back past the enraged creature and regard his corpse, in that disturbingly lifelike standing position… Over the space of about a minute, he managed to retrieve his goods, by stripping the corpse of an item, then being bashed away by an attack, desperately healing, and circling back to retrieve another, until he had fully recovered. "Huff… done… huff" he panted, as he tried to make his way out.
"Fall back!" ordered Zashi from somewhere… Mu couldn’t tell, as all of his energy was now spent in trying to escape, the same Tusker on his trail. He had almost made it to near safety when he felt a Virindi drain him of his last remining stamina. Slowed to a crawl, he barely managed to down a flask of rejuvenative, yet foul-tasting liquid, and took off at a staggering run, the fetid breath of the tusker pursuing him quite a ways before it lost interest and turned back. Still, Mu did not dare to slow until he saw the smiling figures of Kynn and Jin Lee beckon to him from a nearby rocky outcropping, on which Mu promptly collapsed like a dead, though happy, man.
"I can’t believe that worked!" exclaimed Kynn, quickly fitting himself into his chain leggings. "And Jin survived!"
Jin herself bore only a few marks from her suicide run, and sat drying herself of sweat with a small bandana. "Did everyone live?"
Mu made some inquiries. "Of course I lived," said Zashi. It was a while before he found out what had become of Han… "Back at the house. Got lost again…" the archer replied, sheepishly.
The idea that not only had Kynn and Mu recovered all of their property, but that no one had died during the operation, made them all so light-headed that they sat on the outcropping laughing, oblivious of the certain death that lay not a few hundred yards away, for a long time, before Zashi’s voice snapped into their heads yet again: "Are you coming back or what?" he demanded.
A quick gate and a short jog later, the group was reunited at the outpost, still giddy with disbelief. "I can’t believe Jin lived!" exclaimed Kynn.
"Jin lived! Amazing!" confirmed Mu.
"Yeah yeah okay I get it, Jin lived. I don’t need to hear it every minute, you know!" snorted Zashi, who was busy looking over the vendor for even more spears, as usual.
"Say Kynn, did you know that Jin lived?" quipped Mu.
"Yeah! Jin lived!" chuckled Kynn.
Zashi stared at them both in turn. "I have two words for you folks," he said, "and they ain’t ‘Merry Christmas’."
"Happy Hanukkah?" asked Kynn.
"Feliz Navidad?", continued Sashi.
"Oh wait I know…" said Kynn. "… ‘JIN LIVED!’"
Zashi grumbled, "Yeah whatever. Oh and by the way… YOU’RE WELCOME!" he snapped, stalking out of the house on the trail of yet another hapless Ravener.
Jin Lee was at that moment walking down the steps from a small room above, where she had washed herself in a basin and retrieved her armor, which was carried under one arm. "Here’s your crappy wand Mu, thanks," she said, handing him the staff.
"No, thank you," replied Mu as she gave him the enchanted running shoes. "No, keep these…" he insisted, pushing them back into her hands.
"You paid for them… besides, I already mooch enough gear off of you," she answered, returning them yet again.
"Don’t be silly.. not like I have any vassals who are stu… courageous enough to study magery," Mu replid, retrieving a stencil from his pack and finding a spot on the slippers to engrave a message, knowing Jin’s penchant for sentimentality. Carefully manipulating the stylus, he inscribed:
"To Jin Lee, in commemoration of the day she saved all of our asses by being naked."
Jin accepted the shoes.
"This has been a most remarkable day," commented Sashi.
"Yes. This may have been the most fun I’ve had in these accursed lands yet!" exclaimed Han, knocking back a saké.
"It was fun!" said Jin, who was finally getting dressed.
Zashi came back. "Jin, I need your services…" he proclaimed, carting under his arm an assortment of magical armor and weapons that still smelled faintly of Lich Lord, no doubt unidentifiable by the spearman.
Kynn looked at Mu, realizing the mage would just as soon be out of the house before Zashi started commandeering his services, for in fact mages tended to be excellent item appraisers… at least they were good at something. "Time to burn away the vitae…" he said, heading out of the house in pursuit of unsuspecting creatures on which to wreak havoc, with Mu following closely behind, eager to get back his vitality through the tried and true method of murdering creatures different from himself, as any honorable adventurer would know.