A bewildered, oddly pleased expression decorated Musashi’s face as he took inventory of his one remaining "secure" dwelling.  "Reagents still there… my weapons haven’t been moved to Kagero’s bank for ‘safekeeping’… my cloth is where I left it… the place isn’t looted clean… hmm…"  After only a week away from Sosaria, Musashi had fully expected to return to a looted and emptied house with some annoying graffiti scrawled on his signpost, or at least most of his belongings gone and a note from Kagero whining for more reagents right away.  After all, the other times he had been looted, it had seemed only one evening between a full and appointed home and an empty box in the woods; the lucky rogue of the week who took Musashi’s housekeys off of the somewhat absentminded Kagero certainly worked with all possible haste.  The shock of returning to his home and finding that it had not been burgularized left Musashi with only one logical conclusion to come to.

"Kagero is gone."

As Musashi was a somewhat restrained individual, he failed to do a little dance around the house while shouting for joy, yet the faintest hint of a smile belied his sunlit thoughts.  Musashi had almost never smiled since coming to this strange barbaric land, and one would think that some sort of injury would befall him from the act of contorting his mouth into such an unusual pattern.  In fact, all he felt was a bit of soreness and protest from facial muscles that had forgotten how to smile, the pain of which went unnoticed as his thoughts raced.

"I’m free!  No more all-night tailoring sessions and wasted days selling useless clothing to people who don’t really need it!  No more last-minute 10,000 gold spending sprees for reagents that will either be used in some insane Kagero experiment or taken by a looter about 5 minutes after I put them away!  No more… no more drudgery!"

Like a newborn babe taking his first steps into a wonderful new world, Mu stumbled towards the door, squinting at the light from the seldom-seen sun as he opened it.  "It’s so… bright…" he thought, gazing with wonder at the land before him.  "How strange that I have never noticed the greenness of the grass", he thought to himself, then remembered that his only glimpses of the outside world were hurried glances at the ground to make sure he did not trip over a rock as he portaged some cargo into or out of the house, like a pack mule.  A mild breeze carried the scent of hyacinths to his nose, and rabbits hopped by merrily.  Musashi stood there for about 5 minutes, just gazing at the splendor, as birds sang from nearby trees and butterflies lit upon his shoulders, spreading pollen from the flowers in the nearby fields, playing their part in the unending and glorious cycle of life that just now was apparent to Musashi.

After he drank in the wonder of this vision that had been outside his door all this time, Mu tossed his keys to his doorman and decided to go for a trip.  "No business today… this is my day of… rest." he said, the last syllable not forming easily on his lips, unused as they were to forming the word.

 


Musashi’s world froze for a moment as he cast Recall, and after a few seconds of limbo (always a tenuous time; he had been trapped in this zone of non-existence before) his view turned dark, as he materialized inside a hollow yew tree near the Lost Order of Akalabeth’s village.  He peeked cautiously outside the large hole in the trunk for a moment; such paranoid measures may have seemed out of place to anyone else, as Mu was coming to an area controlled by powerful allies, but he had learned to be extremely cautious when coming to this area.  More often than not time would slow to a crawl in this place, leaving Mu at the mercy of a dozen hell hounds or something similar that had been gated to the clearing as he attempted to escape extremely slowly.

Satisfied that he would probably not die within the next 30 seconds, Mu emerged from his craven retreat and stepped onto the grass of the village.  "Hmm… no one around…" he thought.  Standing in the empty clearing he felt even more out of his depth than ever; normally, he would walk (very slowly) into the clearing, and exchange greetings with whomever happened to be standing around, then quietly stand there and observe, an oblivious outsider to the workings of the guild (and society at large, for that matter), content to watch the proceedings from a quiet corner, gazing with wonder at the flawless skill of the sparring fighters and the awful quality of their clothing.

It was while wandering around the woods a bit north of the village that he first heard the ettin.  Charging through the underbrush, one head snarling at him, the other looking about for any allies he might have had, it towered over the hapless tailor by a good 7 feet.  With a small yelp, Mu started darting through the woods, funbling in his pack for a weapon and calling for help on his Lost Order guild comm crystal:  "Ettin… *huff*… north of village… *puff*…"

Eventually he grasped a handle, and retrieved from his various bags a stout bow crafted by the grandmaster bowyer Woody.  Drawing it out, his free hand then fumbled around in his quiver for an arrow… these Britannians made some amazing archery equipment, including their arrows and quarrels, deadly projectiles so light and thin that they were normally carried in lots of 100 or more.  Extremely useful, yet they tended to be difficult to fish out one at a time.  Finally grabbing one by the nock, he drew it out and admired its workmanship.  Straight, true, fletched well, a perfect complement to his longbow.  True, a heavy crossbow had been recommended to him, but the look of it was so awkward, and it really clashed with his…

*POW* The impact of the ettin’s stone maul on the top of Mu’s hat woke him out of his absent-minded reverie, and he reflexively whirled and fired an arrow point-blank into the ettin’s abdomen.  Running back for distance and firing as the ettin charged him, Mu managed to make some serious headway, as he remembered his previous experience with ettins… big, intimidating, but somewhat lacking in finesse, to the point that even a cowardly tailor could beat the hell out of one.  This overconfidence earned Mu a few more contusions as he foolishly let the ettin too close a few times, and he was in the midst of healing his wounds when Northstar of the LOA jumped out of the nearby underbrush, responding to Mu’s earlier hails.

Naturally, Northstar was a better fighter than Mu (as were most LOA guild members, or anyone for that matter) and drew off the ettin long enough for Mu to heal shortly before the creature fell to a hail of arrows.  (Northstar graciously let Mu have the killing shot, which pleased Mu to no end, as word would spread of the event with him painted as the victor by word of mouth… mostly his own.)  Striding as arrogantly and confidently as he could with a recently cracked rib, Mu stumbled over to the corpse and gently lifted the lid of its pack to have a peek inside.  "112 gold…" mumbled Musashi.  "Northstar, you want the… ahem… loot?"

"Split" said Northstar, in accordance with the unwritten code of ethics regarding monsters slain by multiple attackers.

"No no, please you take it.  You deserve it" said Mu.  Actually, sixty-six pieces of gold more or less might have meant something to a pure fighter, making do with loot from impoverished monsters, but would have made no difference to Mu, whose tailoring income had been ridiculously high in the past.  Even after his regularly scheduled fleecings by Kagero, Musashi was a rich man by many standards.

"No no, it’s fair to split," protested Northstar.

"I insist," said Mu, who had played out this scene several times in the past.  After a team effort in a dungeon or an aboveground monster encampment, he would quite publicly refuse the gold, thereby enriching the other members of the party, in the mistaken belief that doing so would spread word of his generosity when, in fact, he just didn’t care about pitiful monster loot.

"You sure?"

"Of course."

Finally, Northstar took the loot and was off (probably thinking, "I make so much money killing powerful monsters that this paltry sum doesn’t matter").  Mu continued his walk, wondering at the exhilaration he felt after such a struggle, now and then admiring the straight grain of his bow, and just enjoying life, when the ogre appeared…

 


Hours later, Mu had made it to a road.  Aimless wandering and a constant stream of monster attacks (it must have been "Get the Tailor" day) had lengthened his journey.  Miraculously, Musashi had not been horribly murdered, although he did come close when he foolishly and insanely put his bow away and decided to try and use his rudimentary and long-neglected knowledge of jiu-jutsu on a troll, who gazed in amusement at Musashi as he attempted to put a badly executed finger lock on him before clubbing the tailor in the head with a pair of rock-hard fists as Mu attempted a hip throw.  Shortly after this experience Mu decided he was better off sticking with his tried and true archer’s tactics… run away when they get close enough to hit you.

Now that he was on a road frequented by other travellers, Musashi forgot about his old rule of never travelling directly on a road, since encountering anyone outside of town had historically been a prelude to watching your fellow traveler pick through your belongings in the greyish haze of the afterlife.  Instead, he sauntered slowly along the road in a direction that felt vaguely eastward, pausing now and then to peek into a vendor’s bag, or to admire an unusual grove of trees, and generally enjoying the feeling of walking about without a care, oblivious to the impending feeling of doom that stalked him everywhere he went, not caring about the pressures associated with being a merchant.

After a bit of this aimless wandering and encountering absolutely no one and nothing on the road, it began to get dark and Mu stepped off into a small clearing to make camp for the night.  He rummaged through his pack to see if he had remembered to bring along some refrehment, and discovered that he had been carrying his priceless rune collection all this time, in addition to an unwieldly amount of valuable reagents. "Foolish, should have left them at the house… oh well, surely I can defend myself, now that I am well equipped" he thought, just as he noticed that he had neglected to carry his magical broadsword of force, as well as his supply of greater healing potions.

Mu shuddered as he suddenly realized he was walking about completely alone, with only a dwindling supply of arrows and a bow, with about seven thousand gold in valuables.  He considered recalling to a bank and depositing the excess, but a sort of macho imperative came forth in his mind:  "I shall continue walking to Vesper, regardless.  I will not lose these items to a wandering creature or pickpocket.  I will not be murdered and looted on the way.  I think I can.  I think I can…"   Chanting this over and over to himself, no doubt convinced that the more he said it the truer it would become, he drifted off into a fitful sleep.

 


For hours Mu travelled alone the next day, seeing not a soul this whole time, except for the bored and overworked vendors that lined the road wherever buildable land was to be found.  Most of them seemed to be little more than doormen, with no wares to show, many guarding their master’s keyring much as Mu’s own employee did.  (At one time Mu had attempted to set up a shop, but there was little demand for clothing, as it never seemed to need replacement, and the scraps of magical weapons Kagero left lying about the house were usually too poor to garner any interest from passers-by.)  The wonder and reverie that had possessed Mu from the time he first squinted at the light outside of his miserable home was giving way to a feeling of boredom, similar to the malaise he felt when running errands around the shops.

Around dusk, Musashi spotted a naked man running about a few houses.  Upon sighting Mu, the naked man ran just out of sight; when Mu walked a bit further up the road, he saw the man’s tracks led him onto someone’s porch, possibly behind the person’s doorman, where he was hidden. "Overpaid butler," thought Mu.  "Surely he should give out some warning, rather than let the fool conceal himself on his master’s doorstep… ah, they must be in league somehow."  Mu continued walking, giving the area a wide berth, and began browsing the neighboring vendors, staying just out of reach of the hidden rogue, toying with him (probably not the wisest thing he could have done, considering what he was carrying).

Finally, after about ten minutes of aimless shopping, he proceeded down the road.  This apparently enraged the frustrated would-be thief, who leapt out of hiding and began hurling insults at the lone tailor.

"Gimme yr stuf bich!"

"Oh please…"  Mu kept walking.

"Wuss."

*zzz*

The thief followed Musashi and went into a combat stance, producing a prodigious heavy crossbow (Musashi didn’t want to know where a naked man would hide such a contraption).  At this point Mu stayed on his toes, ready to run like hell should a bolt come sailing his way, but the thief just stood there, brandishing his weapon menacingly.  "I cn kik yur ass" the illiterate highwayman jeered.

Mu wondered what was going on; maybe this thief didn’t realize who he was, and that he could easily be beaten by a naked man with a crossbow, when he recalled an obscure new law, one that allowed pathetic victims to report their own murderers from the afterlife, as long as they were not the aggressor.  "What a world", thought Mu, "where a hardened criminal way out in the middle of nowhere is loathe to kill a weakling tailor due to some obscure new law, far from where any guard might hear my death rattle."

Eventually the thief, finally realizing that Mu was not going to fire first, and had in fact begun browsing the vendors again, put his crossbow and quarrels back to whatever hidden pack he had miraculously produced them from, and wandered back, calling out "Pussy" as he went.  In a way Mu was disappointed; nothing had happened for such a long time, even fleeing for his life might have spiced up his journey somewhat.  Picking up an exceptionally well-made halberd (an inelegant, yet fearsome-looking weapon) at one of the few legitimate shopkeepers, he proceeded on his way.

 


It was near the Vesper/Minoc crossroads the next morning that Mu started encountering people.  He wandered by some mounted individuals who eyed him through their skull-helmets, a couple on foot who  appeared to be sparring but quickly hid when they saw Mu approach, and some other travelers whom Mu would have said hello to, except that they sped up and ran right by, no doubt possessed of that same healthy dose of paranoia that Mu was now ignoring.

As he was rounding a bend in the road, one of the mounted riders trotted up, soon joined by a bone-helmed companion on foot.  "IN YOUR FACE" screamed the footman, no doubt to attempt to drown out the mystic syllables "Corp Por" that Mu caught.  Mu slowly turned from the vendor he was looking at, trembling hands reaching for the bow, when a fizzling sound and the acrid smell of burned and wasted reagents indicated that the energy bolt had failed.

Counting his blessings, Mu readied his bow and was drawing a slender arrow when the mounted figure also chanted "Corp Por", which was again followed by a puff of smoke as the words of power had no effect.

"Wtf… Corp Por!" the mounted one intoned, as his companion once again chanted "Corp Por… IN YOUR FACE".  Bracing himself, Mu once again caught the stench of burning nightshade and the air was briefly filled with black pearl dust, much to his would-be-attackers’ chagrin.

At this point Mu knew he would have to run soon, since even without energy bolts his assailants would no doubt be hauling heavy crossbows, the weapon of choice for mages (and thieves, and knights, and just about everyone).  However, they just stood there, glancing at each other as if some sort of hidden dialogue were taking place.

At this point Mu was incredulous… was this some kind of a joke?  For what seemed like a very long time, Mu stared at the two would-be attackers, and they stared back.  Then, slowly, Mu shook his head sadly and with as much false confidence as he could muster, proceeded to nock an arrow.  The attackers fled back down the road, Mu’s incredulous nervous chuckling carried on the air in their wake.

 


With some small measure of relief, and a few more deftly avoided pickpockets, Musashi ducked into Vesper.  Past the inn, through a small gateway, he paused to reflect on his journey on a narrow foot bridge.

"Well… that was… err… interesting… I think…" he said to himself.  Aside from a few interesting encounters, his trip had been mostly incredibly boring, walking along a dirt footpath and pausing occasionally to consult a map.  However, he had been FREE, without obligation, without worry (well, except for his excessive baggage), and had basically had a relaxing trip across the continent.  By HIMSELF… for him this was a huge accomplishment.

"This is great!" he said aloud.  "I now understand why people have a good time here, even with all of the danger… they don’t get mired in the drudgery!  Perhaps I can continue to espouse this philosophy.  Who needs a bigger house anyway?  I’m doing fine.  I can buy what I need, and live sparingly, walk about, do things maybe… *gulp* meet people.  Such possibilities… this land has opened its heart to me, and is waiting for me to explore it.  And I can start RIGHT NOW!  Life is good!  Life is good!  Life…"

He paused as he saw some of the pickpockets from earlier coming into the periphery of vision.  "Aha…" he thought to himself. "I have made it into town… these rapscallions will not think to touch me here."  As he was thinking this last bit, he felt a fumbling in his pack, as a bit of black pearl was taken from him.  He chuckled and called out to the fleeing thief, "Aha, you wretch!  I fear your ilk no longer, for I have undertaken a vast journey by myself, and have proven myself to be of fair mettle!  You should have tried your pilfering earlier, as all I need do now is call for the town gu…"
 

*CONNECTION LOST*

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