"Nice grouping…" mumbled Mu, staring about him at the drudge corpses around him.  Drudges were infesting the land; it was impossible to move more than a quarter mile down the road without encountering a bunch of them sitting around a fire, apparently involved in some sort of deep conversation before they broke and swarmed over the sightseeing travellers.  It had become customary for Mu to jog a little ways out of town if he was in need of money; within one minute of the Shoushi walls, he was sure to encounter at least one camp full of the humanoids, carrying an assortment of pathetic recycled weapons from the Ven Ounan arms network, an assured source of income for further component purchases.

Was this all there was to drudges?  Mu often wondered this as he methodically went about killing the anthropomorphic felines.  Ultimately, no one had ever learned the drudge language, and no drudge had ever been captured alive to study.  Most people viewed them as mindless pests, things to be exterminated from the immediate vicinity of human settlement, not that they would stay away for long.  Still, they could use tools and weapons, and could use fire, and wore loincloths for protection against the elements.  Would they not have some sort of rudimentary society?  Mu had researched the history of the drudges, but the information he found in the archives was sketchy at best.  No doubt they were used as slaves by their stronger bretheren, perhaps even as a food source, and there were rumors of drudges experimented on by the Virindi to make fearsome fighting drones.  Certainly a subjugated race would have been bred for stupidity and a lack of organization, but then why were drudges not accompanied by overseers, perhaps a banderling or a tumerok?  They may be escapees, or perhaps they truly were stupid and aboriginal, left to breed on the mainland until "harvested" by their erstwhile masters.

Did the drudges know about their situation?  Were they organizing secretly to rebel against the larger humanoid races?  Drudges were the weakest of their kind, but surely they had sufficient numbers to deal with their oppressors, if only they could organize… which required language, a hierarchy, and most importantly, a leader drudge who might inspire and command the drudges to victory.

Mu shuddered at the idea of an organized drudge horde… although losses would be great, the idea of every drudge on Dereth simultaneously assaulting the walls of Shoushi was a disturbing one, and the drudges would possibly even win.  From there, thy might expand their power base, contact other drudges, and take more towns…

"Unless someone can get through to them, get them on the side of the humans… well, the Sho, anyway…" mused Mu.  Could it be done?  These thoughts went through his mind as he trudged along the road aimlessly, pulling his cowl forward against the rain which started to pour.  Glancing about for shelter, he spotted a nearby house where perhaps he might be able to rest for a while.  Maybe they would even grant him a bed.  A bed…


"Rrrnow then, as me say," purred Krrilrri, "we make big grrroup, rrreal big, make big fight and get bigger grrroup."  The words came hard, the concepts fairly alien to the drudge vocabulary, which had mostly to do with hunting, fighting, making kittens, and fear.  He thought hard before saying anything; this process was often easier when they were inside the small Sho house they had captured from its former residents, without the continuous distractions of rain, harsh sunlight, and the pesky skirmishes with the soft people.

Rreowrra looked at his companion, his flat black saucer eyes betraying no glint of understanding or even recognition.  "What you say?  Hungrrry…" he mewed.

"Not worrry, get much meat if big grrroup, better hunt, eat much rrrow.  Need arrrmy."

"No arrrmy!  Purple ones and grrreen ones and little grrreen people not allow!"  Rreowrra was obviously worried about the reaction of the tumeroks, banderlings and mosswarts, who had been their masters for a very long time.

"Rrr… get big arrrmy, thrrrow off bonds of opprrression!  In a frrree and just society rrruling class not opprrress prrroletariat!" insisted Krrilrri.

"What mean prroletariat?"

"Common drudge prroletariat, not strrrong enough, but big numberrrs, fight back, be frrree!"

"Frree?"  Rreowrra didnt’ know what the sound meant, but he liked it.  It sounded like meat when it was "made dead".

"We make big grrroup, hunt togetherrr, make bigger grrroup, hunt morrre.  Soon soft people be meat, drudge be powerrrful.  Make island drudgeland.  With powerrr make collective reprrresentative rrrepublic of drudgeland and me make me prrresident drudge, give drudges much meat."  There may have been a hint of glitter in Krrilrri’s eye as he said this.  "Then all drudge hunt, me get much experrrience points from allegiance and get level five!"

"What level five?"

Since neither of them knew, the question was soon forgotten.  "Firrrst drudge need stop getting made dead all the time.  Make soft people stop killing drudge, kill soft people instead maybe, or soft people and drudge fight togetherrr…"

"Soft people no like drudge!  Make drudge dead, no meat.  Soft people hard to kill, not like little longear things." protested Rreowrra.

Krrilrri had thought about this, an act which he did sometimes, earning him much respect from his fellow drudges.  "Soft people have much weapon.  Get many weapon from soft Ven girrrl-person in soft people place.  Maybe drudge and soft people no make dead for time, let drudge kill purple and green and little green people.  Then drudge strrrong.  Drudgeland."

Rreowrra was almost to the point of worship at the mental faculties of Krrilrri.  He had no doubt whatsoever that Krrilrri could lead the drudges out of scattered aboriginal oppression into greatness.  Surely if this happened he would get much meat, and maybe even a mate and much happy-happy time, if he was "in" with the intellectual drudge from the beginning.  "Drudgeland good!  Then eat soft people?"

Krrilrri had not thought this far ahead, and was thinking of how to answer when there was a knock at the door, disturbing his train of thought.

No one was more surprised than Sashi to find the door being opened by a drudge; if the drudge was surprised, it was not recognizable to Sashi.  Drudges… in a house… they really CAN be civilized! he wondered, as the yellowish feline stared at him.  Maybe I can make contact…

"Rreowra!  Soft person!  Meat!" cried Krrilrri, all thoughts of organizing a revolution gone with the sight of the Sho, the wand in his hand a familiar cue to drudges that this might well be easy prey.

Mu sighed as he looted the cooling corpses of the two drudges.  What a silly thought, drudges being organized.  Oh well… more junk for Ven… he thought, carefully picking up a couple of small blades and a charm one of them had been wearing.  He paused to consider something he had found on that same drudge… a small book, well-worn:  Guide to the Allegiance System.  "Hmm, poor soul who lost this is probably dead by now…" he muttered, deciding to leave it behind, as it was heavy for his weak mage’s frame and not worth all that much.  And so it remained on the floor of the house as Mu trotted back to Shoushi, having never noticed the crude highlights in crushed plant dye that were scattered throughout…

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