Saturday, October 13, 2018

Master of Strings Ch56: The Sly and the Serious

Leo darted and weaved as his opponent came at him fast. The Ranger was quick to be sure, but he was also just as strong. Leo deflected what he could, since the Ranger just powered through all the blocks he threw out.

There was no doubt that in a fair fight, this ranger would best the magus, but this wasn't a fair fight. While Leo couldn't use his spells, Leo had picked up a new trick to seal his victory. He lept back and slid his hand along his Rhoka's edge and left a fine, unnoticeable trace of his magic along it.

Leo darted in and went for an easily blocked overhead chop followed by a light quick slice, one that normally the thick hide on the ranger would have buffed away, but the blade was enchanted with Accurate Strikes and flicked through the hide like paper.

The ranger winced and rolled to the side, griping the hampering wound to his side. He stared at Leo's blade, thinking it a trick, but Leo's enchantment had left, as it could only stay on for a few seconds at most. The ranger cursed under his breath as he flicked his blades ignoring the pain and lept back into the fight.

Even wounded, the Ranger was still Leo's better in bladesmanship, and his two blades gave him more options to strike from. Leo continued to back pedal waiting for a opening presented itself. As he did he rolled to the side and grabbed a handful of the loose dirt on the ground to use.

The ranger saw it coming and just as Leo threw his dirt, The ranger's cloak was there to deflect the particles. Leo's eyes wide, the Ranger stepped forward with his blades deflecting Leo's next swing and kicked the magus square in the chest.

Leo rolled, his breath lost, and before he could recover a scimitar slashed at his sword arm. Leo was suddenly neck to blade against the ranger's assault and the ranger whispered in a gravely voice, "Give it up."

Leo reached his left hand up as if to call for a surrender, but in a flash he let his blade go and used the feeling he had left in his right arm to grip the ranger's hand to hold back the blade from his neck. Meanwhile the left hand grabbed the Ranger's hood and yanked it down over his head.

With a mighty heave Leo used both legs to kick the ranger up and over his head, Leo gripped his blade again in his right hand and turned up with a spin around to face his opponent. Leo smiled and said, "I don't need my right hand to beat you, since after all..."

Leo threw his blade over to his left hand and said, "I am left han-"

"No!" Shouted the man in the hat in the other realm, shouting at the skinny man using Leo's sheet.

The man in the hat continued, "You are not pulling a Princess Bride right now."

"What's Princess Bride?" Asked the tall helmeted man holding Alaroc's sheet.

"Oh my God!?" Shouted everyone at the table at the tall man.

"You've never seen Princess Bride!?" Asked the stout man with glasses holding Cruxis' sheet.

"No... should I've?"

The skinny man shouted at him, "YES! It's only..."

The man known as Jones put up his hand and says, "Not right now! We'll show him after. For now the Ranger stands and moves to attack again since you only kicked him 10 feet."

The Ranger attacks again with both his blades, only this time Leo holds the line. Both exchange rapid flurries until the ranger sees and opening and thrust. To bade for him the opening was fake, and Leo brings his knee up to knock the blade off course and held the other sweeping blade at bay for a split second with his wounded arm.

It bought Leo just enough of an opening to thrust his rhoka in and pierce the Ranger's chest. The Ranger's powerful swift movements lost nearly all their force and he stumbled back before falling to the ground.

The crowd exploded as soon as the man hit the ground. They had felt cheated when Zilo spared Carly's life in the previous round, and they finally got the blood they were expecting. Leo stood there for a moment, not hearing the crowd. He had pulled small capers when he fought off guards to be sure, but he'd never outright murdered a man.

In his head he thought it would have been easier, he'd gone through the steps, but never guessed the toll of the results. All he could do to get over it was to not think about it, instead he would focus back on the crowd, so he turned on his heels and waved to his audience.

Leo was led back to the pit fighter's area where his friends greeted him and the next two fighters began readying themselves.

"That was amazing Leo! What a game of cat n' mouse!" Shouted the buzzed Alaroc with Zilo looking to the arena employees carting out the dead body.

"Shame about Tieber, he might have had a family back home." Zilo said as he shook his head. Cruxis stood and walked up to Leo pointing his finger to him.

"Leo you didn't have to kill the man! Freya teaches to celebrate life not snuff it out! He was honorable! I saw him offer you a way out!" Scolded the paladin. Leo pointed right back and said,

"And lose out bet!? No way buddy, besides this is a tourney to the death! Forgive me for acting within the rules!" Cruxis folded his arms and turned to follow Alaroc up some stairs to the fighter's viewing platform. Zilo turned back to Leo and said,

"Don't worry Leo, I saw your eyes after it happened. It hit you hard, and that's what makes you a good man. Next round is starting, you coming with?"

Zilo's words gave Leo pause and the magus sat on a bench shaking his head, "It's alright, I just need to process this for a bit, besides Cruxis doesn't seem too keen to me right now." Zilo patted Leo on the shoulder and made his way up the stairs.

After a few minutes the samurai and nobleman fencer advanced to the arena and the rest of the fighters in the room ascended the stairs. The moment they all left Leo snapped out of his trance. He was troubled by the death to be sure, but he'd have been a terrible ne'er-do-well to let things like that dwell on him, and so he snapped in order to do a little mission of his own.

Now that the fighter's room was clear of the fighters Leo silently cast Major Image to appear still sulk to himself to the guard in the room. He then got up and began rifling through the other fighter's belongings. Leo figured he could win more fights via blackmail than via study.

As he began to make his way into the first bag he suddenly felt his illusion vanish, followed by an indignant voice shouting from the bathroom door. "By Freya! You scum!" Leo rose and turned to take another lashing from Cruxis, only to be stunned silent.

before him stood the stern armored fellow with the immaculately polished blade. His helm still hid most of his face. His hand was steady as the aura of Dispel Magic lingered on his hand. "First you take a life, then you invade people's belongings. If the officials allowed it, I'd strike you down where you stood."

"I wasn't... What I mean to say is-" Leo stammered, taken a back still by the fact it wasn't Cruxis on his back. The man marched forward and retrieved a holy symbol he had under his half plate hanging from his neck.

"You see this, you degenerate, This marks me as a Paladin of Freya and she teaches to respect others, something you clearly need work in. I've got my eye on you, now get up there and watch the fight!"

Leo, intimidated, hopped up the stairs to join his companions. His lecturer joined the group of fighters shortly after. While his companions watched the fight, Leo's thoughts dwelled on the paladin he just met.

Why did he hide his symbol while Cruxis displayed his openly on his shield. Why was he still down there while the rest walked up foe the fight right away. Leo mumbled, "Was he there to snoop too?" Leo it seemed had something to keep him entertained during the tournament.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Master of Strings Ch55: The Arena of Kernin

Zilo awoke to the sound of a mass score of people rumbling and rambling. He looked to the window to see Cruxis staring. Leo looked to be waking as well while Alaroc looked to be unconscious beside his bed, still clad in his armor from yesterday.

Zilo rose to the window and looked out to see beyond the town's limits and saw a massive influx of hundreds of people settled in, what looked to be, makeshift camps. They all looked to have hunkered in near the town side by the arena, and some looked to be waving regional flags for a handful of symbols Zilo semi-recognized.

The symbols were on some of the fighters Zilo had looked upon yesterday. To have garnered such followings, they must be made of stern stuff, but nothing to daunt the optimistic bard. He readied himself for the day, dawning his weapons and armor as Cruxis and Leo did the same.

Once all three were prepared they kicked Alaroc awake.

"HUNZA! Wh- what!?" Woke the warrior in a fright, his shock reverberating in his helm.

"We got a match to get to." Spoke the Paladin, hiking his thumb out the window toward the arena.

"Oh. Bully then! Let us away." Said the man failing to wipe last nights stains away. The three friends began to make their way to the arena at the time they were told. They needed to fight the crowds a little, but not horribly.

Upon arrival they descended to the warrior pits to see a few of the other warriors from yesterday had already arrived. There was also a table full of fresh food of all varieties. Zilo smiled and walked to the table to grab a hold of a fresh apple, when he heard a woman's voice cut the air with a heavy tone.

"Enjoy it welp, it'll be your last." Zilo turned about to see the lean brunette woman from yesterday cutting and seasoning some fresh meat from the table.

"I doubt that, back home I visit the market every morning to get fresh veggies, and old Donovan always gives me a fantastic deal on apples."

"Well old Donny must be a dullard, apples are fruits boy."

Zilo thinks at that for a moment and responds, "I suppose you're right miss, I'll  endeavor to note the difference. I'm still not fully on the up and up on the sun grown confections of this world."

The woman's eyes widen as does her smile, "Well ain't this lucky, my first one is the simpleton of the group."

Zilo furrows his brow and responds, "Hey now, that's not very nice. Who are you anyway?"

The woman finishes up with her meat for a few moments before warranting a reaction. She stands and points her short sword at Zilo, saying, "I'm Carly 'Crimson' Carver. I drew the number 2 lot for the matches, meaning that you are just like this meal of mine."

Zilo looks down at the meat, which looks very well seasoned and gets the message.

"I'm flattered you find me delicious, but I'm afraid I'm already taken, not that you aren't..."

Zilo is cut off as Carly dowses her blade in oil and lights it a blaze. she then responds in a low tone, "You're dead meat." As she finishes she swipes down to the table and cuts off a piece of the meat, searing it as she passes the blade. Zilo nods a few times before turning back to his allies. The three of them stare at Carly transfixed and intimidated.

Zilo snaps them out of it by pointing to her and saying, "She seems great, should be a fun match."

After the group finished up eating, Zilo marched out with Carly for the first match. The arena had changed over the day's rest. It was now booming with hundreds of people cheering and shouting. Carly doesn't react to this in the slightest, she merely walks over to her starting position.

Zilo smiles and waves to the crowd, he begins clapping and blowing kisses as well. The crowd rages in response to the bard's actions. After a few more moments of playing to the crowd the official motions Zilo to his opponent.

Before he knows it the match is begun and he charges at Carly with his silver longsword, but 5 feet from her he freezes. Her actions have him stunned. She is stoically stood, fearless, waiting for him. In his hesitation she jumps forward and chops with her short sword.

The bard deflects the attack with his sword before he loses his shoulder. She lets out a spine tingling battle cry and thrusts at him right away. Zilo side steps around the attack and places both hands upon his sword standing opposite her.

"Do you see this blade, fool?" Says Carly, cutting the boom of the crowd with her voice. Zilo looks upon the sword closely to notice it has dozens of notches on it. Carly flicks out a dagger and points to the notches.

"For every person that dies to this sword I mark it, as you can see I've gotten rather good at it, and now." Carly niches another notch into the sword. "I've saved you a spot."

Zilo freezes, He'd fought plenty of monsters and evil beings, but none as confident in death as she.  He tightened the grip on his blade. Carly darted in with a horizontal slice and Zilo deflects it with a turn of the blade, followed by a kick as she passed him by.

Carly rubbed her side where the bard kicked her and smiles maliciously. she charges back in again with a flurry of thrusts and chops. Zilo back pedaled as she came, flicking his sword with practiced skill. Before he knew it his back was to the wall.

Carly's thrust became far more frequent and closer. With the shorter range Zilo's long sword was no longer able to block as easily, and so the bard needed to shift bit by bit to avoid the stabs. The blade went thunk over and over as it was planted in the wood wall behind the bard.

Every time Zilo tried to flank around, her blade cut him off. As he tried to come up with a way out of his corner he felt a deep cut in his gut. As a reaction Zilo back handed Carly off of him, making her spin back to the ground.

Zilo grimaced as he pulled the blade out and threw it back to Carly's body. After a moment or two Carly rose and stared at Zilo, licking the blood that formed on her lip. But as the crowd roared at her bold reaction, Zilo saw something they did not.

A tear also fell from her eye, and with that, Zilo knew how this fight would end. He gripped his left hand to his wound to hold it in place and put pressure on the wound. He extended his blade out in front smiled.

Carly chucked and said, "You finally ready to be a man."

"You first please." The bard retorted. Carly scowled and charged in again, only this time Zilo flicked his blade and sent her sprawling back again. Zilo marched forward very determined and at a modest pace to avoid aggravating the wound.

Zilo is the one on the attack now, using his sword's longer reach to keep Carly from moving in closer. Carly's intimidating demeanor tried to maintain, but she very quickly switched to a panic mode.  Eventually, from Zilo's onslaught, she loses her footing and Zilo kicked her down and before she could react, Zilo's blade was at her neck.

"Yeild, Or else..." Zilo leans down and takes her short sword away with a face of morbid intentions, and continues,"This notch will not be for me."

Carly shivers and responds "I YIELD!!!" Zilo's face returns to his jovial manner and he plants her blade in the ground by Carly. She looks dumbfounded as Zilo begins to mend his wound with a spell. She sits up and asks, "Wait, what was that?"

Zilo smiles to her and says, "Theatrics doesn't compare to skill, and you aren't the only one who could have been a better actor than fighter."

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Master of Strings Ch54: The Sword Masters

After their last venture Zilo and the others were happy to get back to the bar and lay about. So for the next week Zilo rested and finally got time to benchmark Aria's progress with her bard training. Zilo was hopeful when she had demonstrated understanding of how being a bard worked, but she had yet to connect the philosophy to the magic.

"Sorry, but your tasks will need to continue." Said the bard shaking his head. Aria leaned in and exclaimed in return.

"Why!? I've succeeded at most of the tasks you've given me for the last half a year! Even without you here to guide me while you travel around! Dema be damned, I helped you on our last job!"

"true, but if you need to ask then you aren't ready. You are at the make or break stage, the time to split the boys from the bards."

Aria falls back into her chair and protests, "There must be an easier way to do this."

"No doubt there is, but this is the only way I know how." As Zilo leans back he notices young Clay walking over to the couple. He bows respectfully and says.

"Mista Zilo, Father wants to see you in his room, and he wants you to bring Cruxis, Leo, and Alaroc too." Zilo stands up and ruffles the kid's hair before saying."

"Thanks buddy, but just call me Zilo, Mister sounds way too weird." Zilo turns back to Aria and gives her a light kiss on the head and a smile. She returns the smile sarcastically, with an eye squint and a playful nudge, before the bard makes for the bar.

As Zilo trots off to drag Alaroc off of the bar, Aria kneels down to Clay, who is fixing up his hair. Aria smiles and says, "I still don't think a bar is a good place for a child, but if your going to be here, you should look your best."

As Aria leans in to straighten the boy's hair a sparky leaps from her mouth as she hums a tune, and in an instant the hair is straight. She leaps back in shock while the boy looks at her confused.

"How did!? What?" Babbles the confused woman.

"Thanks for fixin me hair, Aria. I best go clean the counter now." Says the boy before skipping away.

Meanwhile Zilo found and wrangled the requested adventurers and they all arrived in Maldrek's office behind the bar.  Maldrek looks up from some papers and addresses them, "We got a job that I need one of you to go on."

"A client wants us to win a tournament held in a city about 2 days away. Problem is I don't know which of you to enter. The competition is in swordsmanship, so which of you do you think would be the safest to send?"

All four of the swordsmen raise their hands, followed by an immediate double take between all four of them. Maldrek, feeling the ensuing argument, throws the job form at them and attempts to shove them out, unsuccessfully.

Alaroc smiles under his helm and says, "You truly think you all are better than me, this is a contest of skill, not magic. I am the clear choice." Maldrek strains to push harder.

"I've been trained in combat since I was a boy. You are a drunk who is lucky at best. I am the best option." Remarks Cruxis adjusting his new blade at his hip. Maldrek walks back over to his desk.

"Both of you has such rigid ways to combat. We need someone who's got some surprises for the competition, things they aren't expecting." Smiles Leo as Maldrek begins thumbing through his spellbook.

"I was worthy of the Sword of the Lich King! If that doesn't... He best bud, what you doing there?" Says Zilo as Maldrek finds the spell Hydraulic Push and forces the four of them out into the main room before slamming the door shut.

The four of them stand in the bar, dripping, as they begin to make their way outside toward the cart. You would think that during the two day journey to the city of Kernin the four of them would have settled on one of them, but the argument persisted. It continued that way until they met their employer, a short craggy looking dwarf with graying dirt colored hair named Kratar Frushnor.

"Ya see boys, norm'ly you'd ne'er see hide nor hair o me or me kin even touchin this piddly little human tourney. However, me great great great grandah's prized blade, Canyon Cracker, looks tah be the prize for this contest."

Leo rubs his temple and says, "Man your voice hurts my head." And in an instant Leo has a war hammer to his knee, and he is hopping around in pain.

"You lis'en tah me ya hag welp! Da only reason I need you is that dey donnut want me using me hammer in a sword scuffle! So I need one of you tah win back the Canyon Cracker for me. Speakin a which, which one of ya is my boy?"

All four of the warriors raise their hands as the dwarf stares them down before bellowing out, "PERFECT! With four of ya there are four times the odds!"

The four friends were a little shocked, all except Alaroc, who was already a bit buzzed. They all began giving high fives and such, until the dwarf turned and told them, "As a warnin, ya'll may be lads in laurals, but the rest won't scoff at killin ya."

Leo straightens up at that before saying, "Killing!? I thought this tourney was just a matter of skill, like to first blood!" The dwarf looks at him like he's an idiot and responds.

"Are ya daft boy? These games are bloody as orcs giv'en birth. Some figh'ers might show ya mercy, but most a da time they plant a their blades in yer chest."

The warriors all hesitated at that, but the bard broke the tension with a shrug, saying, "Well then, I guess we have to win now, and if we face each other, we just don't take up gardening with swords."

Alaroc pats the bard on the shoulder and gives him a thumbs up before the two of them march into the fair grounds to register.

Cruxis and Leo look at the two optimists and Leo says, "I'll bet you 20 gold the bard goes down first out of the bunch of us."

"Zilo's more skilled than you'd think, I'll take that bet." The two shake hands and begin walking Leo smiles and jokes.

"Better not lose to him on purpose."

"I said he's skilled, not that skilled."

After the group registered they were given a random number and put in a line up with 12 other swordsmen. Zilo had number 1, Leo had number 4, Alaroc had number 9, and Cruxis had number 16. The Rest of the warriors looked to mostly be human other than a few other races, but each looked to be of a different style of combat.

First was a brunnette and lean woman, clad in leather with piercing green eyes, and a single short sword. There was a rugged, hooded man obscuring his face with a short beard and two curved scimitars as well as some thick hide armor.

The next looked foreign with sectioned plates for armor, a helm that had both antlers and a face mask, and a long curved katana at his hip. Next was a tall skinny blond man with a thin mustache and a noble attire. Attached to his forearm was a regally engraved buckler and at his hip was a matching thin rapier.

Next was what looked like a peasant, but his steely hazel gaze gave away his mettle. He had slicked back short brown hair and dressed in a simple cloth garb and pants without any shoes. Without a sheath to speak of the man held an odd double curved light blade, known to some as a Waveblade.

The most nefarious looking was a man with a scarred face covered in stubble and loose fitting clothes underneath a long trench coat with deep pockets and under the coat was a cutlass inside of a metallic scabbard that looked to be edged like a blade itself. On the more honorable looking side of the line up was a man clad head to toe in plate mail with few openings to be seen with a metal shield on his back and a well crafted longsword to match.

The next swordsman was the first nonhuman, it was an elf woman with long braided blonde hair and light blue eyes. Her armor was elven mithril shining with blue accents. On her back was a long elven curved blade, and to both sides of her hips were twin dueling swords.

Next was a red headed man with an excited face and some thin scale mail over a fairly large build. Besides his youthful glow the most stand out thing about him was a blade that looked to be a great sword, only practically double the average size. measuring 5 feet long and almost a foot wide.

Next was a lithe blonde female half-elf with a thin set of padded leather for protection, as well as a thin, but sharp, double sided blade. She twirled the blade off to the side waiting for the show to get underway. The other half-breed in the line up was a tall, muscular half-orc with the green skin and black hair and eyes of his kind. He sported haphazardly made chain mail and a menacing great sword on his back.

Last was another notable patron, he looked to be outfitted with a heavy, but well made metal half plate and a large metal shield, he had a helm obscuring his face, but his lower jaw looked to be set sternly in place. His blade looked the most impressive, shined, polished, sharp, and engraved. It was a blade made for a man of duty and one who clearly maintained his gear religiously.

The combatants looked around at the others in the line up, sizing up the competition, knowing that tomorrow morning the people next to them were likely to be trying to cut them down.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Master of Strings Ch53: The Ride Home

Zilo yawns, stirring awake slowly, just in time for a bump on the trail to force him all the way back up and painfully holds his wound from the fight with the Hobgoblins.

"Uuuuuuuurrrrr." he groans gripping his gut.

"Hey buddy, come here often?" Smiles Aria next to him with a snicker. Zilo smiles back as he pops off a few cure spells to make the pain bearable enough to sit up, he looks around to see Maldrek examining two revolvers, Sparky self bandaging a nasty looking wound on his chest, and May outside the canopy driving the horses.

"Scared us did, think sleep all day." Garbles Sparky as he bites off his wrap for his chest. Maldrek looks to Zilo with a quick side glance before getting back to work looking through his guns.

"So... did we win?"

May shouts from the front in a mocking tone, "Nope, got blasted to Morta's realm, even Maldrek, being Maldrek, got a ticket to the good half of death."

Zilo smiles and remarks, "Well obviously, What's Maldrek done that you'd call bad?"

Everyone in the cart looks at Zilo in surprise before Maldrek interrupts, "Good to have you back, Zilo. Paperwork for your death would have been a nightmare."

Aria raises an eyebrow and says, "We have paper work?"

"Do you think all I do in my office is count my money."

"Yes" Bluntly states Sparky. The wizard shrugs before aiming his left revolver out the back of the cart, and spinning the cylinder.

"Eh, maybe seventy percent is money counting, but still though." Zilo finally takes notice of the revolvers and chimes in.

"What you got there, Maldrek?"

"The things that saved us, that's what, I made these with the ingredients you, Leo, and Jin Shi gathered. I call them my Rune Revolvers."

"You made those?!" Asked Aria in a shocked tone

"All wizards know how to make make Magic Items. Or at least the smart ones do. Figured I'd throw my skills into the ring."

Zilo puts out his hands and asks, "May I?" Maldrek looks to both his guns then back at Zilo, he begins to slowly put them away and says, "I'd rather not, besides, they only work for wizards, otherwise the runes wouldn't even swap out."

"Well then can you tell me how they work?" The bard continues.

Maldrek sighs and takes them back out again and begins letting the cylinder spin.

"Each one has 6 magic runes on the cylinder rather than bullets, The theory was to imbue each with another kind of projectile to cover my bases since I'm limited to the spells in my book."

The cylinder stops on a grayed out rune, and Maldrek continues, "but it looks like I didn't pack enough in them cause they only shoot once each, but still really helpful. If I'm right, the rest should recharge after I tinker with them a bit, like with my spellbook."

Maldrek looks to be putting them back away, but Aria snaps her finger to catch his attention.

"Hey, you can't just leave it there, what do all the shots do?"

"Why didn't you ask an hour ago!?" Snaps the wizard. Aria pokes Zilo in the face and says, "I was worried about the bleeding out boyfriend!" Zilo playfully bites at her finger, making her recoil it and stick out her tongue, before they both look back to Maldrek along with Sparky.

"Well the left gun has runes for fire, force, ice, necrotic, poison, and wind. I only used the first three yet, so fire shoots a focused fire bolt, Ice freezes over a small area it hits, and force pushes a target away with immense power."

Maldrek flips it back to it's holster and puts forth his right gun, "This one has runes for lightning, sonic, illusion, psionic, acid, and antimagic. I've used the first 4 for this one.  Lighting is quicker than fire, but not as heavy with a shock, sonic blasts people with enough air vibrations to disable them for a bit, illusion makes something look different until I cock the hammer back, and psionic only works point blank, but it mind wipes the enemy."

Zilo raises an eyebrow with a smile and asks, "Which is your favorite?" Maldrek points outside to the back of the cart at a blank staring bugbear samurai tied to the back of the cart and walking. He is carrying a stuck in rocks goblin shifter.

"I'm tied between force and psionic."

"My money is on the illusion." Responds May from the front, lifting up the severed head of the hobgoblin wizard, Artak. Aria and Zilo both turn away in disgust.

"Anyway Maldrek we're just about back, and it looks like the others are finally back." Follows up May pointing at a drunken wobbling helmeted figure at the bar counter top. The heroes enter back into the bar after Maldrek gives the mindless Stlunk the order to standby.

Clay looks up and a small smile crosses his face before it fades immediately again. Leo is scamming a few patrons at a small game of cards. Alaroc drinks up another gulp alongside Jin before Alaroc slips of the stool and lands on his butt. Cruxis rounds out the bunch serving the drinks behind the counter.

May gives a curt nod before retreating upstairs, while the rest disperse to some chairs to rest after their long mission. Greetings and stories about their respective journeys get exchanged. Zilo hoists Alaroc up and says,

"Hey bud, remember that hobgoblin Maldrek who gave us a run for our money?"

"AYE, How is that blighter!?" Drunkenly shouts the warrior. Zilo Smiles and says, "Well our Maldrek beat their Maldrek."

"Damn right." Says Maldrek as he crosses behind the bar. He shouts over to Aria  to take over for Cruxis. Aria sighs and gets up to it while Maldrek walks with Cruxis and says,

"Paladin of mine, I tested the guns, and I think they'll work, give me a few days, and I can get you that sword, come with me, we'll talk shop."

Cruxis' eyes light up and he responds, "Awesome! All I was thinking about was how I needed something with more omph in that devil realm."

Meanwhile Sparky and Leo sit as Leo starts to teach the little firebug how to play cards. As Leo spots Cruxis and Maldrek taking off Leo shouts, "Yo Cru! They made it back before Sunday, you owe me 5 gold!"

"Later! Gimme a day or two!" Shouts back the paladin.

Meanwhile upstairs May takes Artak's head and, after an hour, sets up a mount to put the head up on the wall. She grips her scythe and examines her chest to see that the Arcane Mark had finally disappeared. Under her breath she whispers,

"Another one down."

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Master of Strings Ch52: The Rune Revolvers

May knelt down and made use of a few healing spells to stabilize Zilo, but no amount of magic could get the bard up and moving again. As she used what few spells she had, Stlunk's massive shadow rose over top of her with his blade ready to carve right through her.

Luckily for May and Zilo, the blade was halted mid swing by Aria, holding her short sword with new resolve.

"Stay away from them!" Shouted the bardic apprentice shaking as she stood. Stlunk gave a smirk as he used his left hand to land a devastating punch to the woman's gut, kicking her up off her feet and sprawling to the ground holding her gut with her free hand. The huge bugbear remarked in goblin with a mocking tone before suddenly being sent to the ground by a shock-wave of fiery energy.

Sparky had bolted through the air and landed one of his burning punches to the gut, landing daintily in front of the wounded bard and knelt shadow hand. Before he could respond he was blasted by an Acid Arrow from the Hobgoblin wizard, Artak.

Meanwhile Maldrek faced the goblin shifter, Jik, had turned into a speedy little Dienonychus with razor sharp claws. Maldrek's new twin revolvers spun their chambers independently, seeming to wait for the creature to make a move. The creature jumped and the wizard dropped down putting his left gun forward and chamber stopped.

Jik would have bore down on the defenseless wizard before a loud boom emanated through the cave. the shifter was blasted point blank, not with a bullet but with concussive force. The tiny dino was hurtled into the air from the blast, before impacting the 50 ft high ceiling. Upon impact the Shifter  reverted back to his goblin form and fell unconscious, remaining planted into the rock crevice he had made.

Maldrek stood back up beginning his revolver spinning again, only with the rune that had glowed a grey translucent color faded into just an engraving on the left chamber. The entire room was stunned silent as the wizard smiled with his successful creation.

Artak shouted in goblin toward the wizard, and Stlunk charged in response. Maldrek smiled confidently as he raise his left gun again, stopping on the same rune, only this time his gun only clicked from his shot. The wizard's face turned from a face of absolution to a face of sheer terror as the samurai slashed him across his shoulder. The wizard only barely managed to avoid the lost of his left arm thanks to a last second dodge and his Mage Armor.

"Why would you just stand there!?" Telepathically scolded May.

"I thought I could shoot more!" Responded back Maldrek who was currently running from his attacker. "Sparky incoming!" Continued Maldrek as he ran at the goblin with the bugbear close behind.

Sparky stood wearily, trying to shrug off the acid on his chest, firing off some of his Rays of Fire from his fingers. Stlunk seemed to be very well trained though, slicing the rays out of the air with his blade in quick flashes. Maldrek looked over his gun and finally saw his rune for force had faded. He cursed under his breath and got the chamber spinning again.

May finally had stabilized Zilo and turned to help Maldrek, who put up his hand and quickly thought, "May, keep on Artak, Me and Sparky will handle the big guy." May hesitated before running at the enemy wizard. As she approached, the wizard raised his hand dismissively and cast Force Punch.

May seemed to get hit, but her body faded into shadow before disappearing and she shot out of the shadow behind Artak landing a clean blow to the surprised wizard's flank. The wizard stepped away as May flicked her scythe clearing the blood from it, and said,

"Learn some new tricks, cause I have."

The wizard grimaced as he flicked to a new page and cast Tail Strike. Suddenly a 7 ft long draconic tail emerged from his robe and began swiping at the woman. She hopped up and away to avoid it, but unlike a normal weapon this was alive, and reacted after the miss to curl back and smack her out of the air off to the side.

Maldrek and Spark stood between Stlunk and the downed Aria and Zilo. Aria began to struggle to her feet, but Maldrek signaled for her to stop and thought,

"With all due respect, you are useless in a fight like this, protect Zilo, act only if approached."

Aria looked a little hurt, but the charge of the bugbear cut her off, and she scrambled over to Zilo's side. Maldrek and Sparky both rolled to avoid a wide swing, with Stlunk continuing at Sparky who was barely able to stand thanks to the acid burning and dripping down to his leg.

With pinpoint precision Stlunk hooked his blade down under the goblin's arm and cut up into it, both disabling his arm and lifting him up. Sparky sprung to action trying to throw another burning punch, but the swordsman was faster from his training, spinning from the lift and back handing the raised goblin down and to the side.

Sparky crashed into the ground, face first with a thud, unresponsive. The samurai turned to see Maldrek leveling both his guns at him. Maldrek let loose both guns with a bolt of fire from the left and a streak of lightning from the right.

Stlunk had tried to swat down the fire bolt with his blade as before, but the follow up from the bolt of lightning forced the swordsman to skip the theatrics and simply roll forward. The orange rune of the left gun and white rune from the right faded as Maldrek quickly spun and set his left gun again and fired a bolt of ice at the bugbear's knelt leg.

The man's leg was frozen to the ground and Maldrek lost the left light blue rune before aiming the right gun which was newly set and sent our an unearthly loud blast of deafening power. Stlunk had to react by shielding his ears, which was just what the tiefling needed.

He raised his right gun again dashing forward and closing the distance without fear of the blade and swapped his faded red rune for a glowing yellow one. Maldrek's face resolved he whispered, "This is for my friend." And he pulled the trigger followed by a small blast of yellow whisping light.

At first nothing seemed to happen, but as the wizard lowered his gun and began making his way toward May and her opponent, the samurai just stood there with a blank, unthinking and unfeeling expression.

May was fighting tooth an nail to try and attack around the long tail of Artak, but was having no luck. Normally her long scythe gave her the reach advantage, but his tail was just too maneuverable and reactive. Artak was smiling and calmly applying a bit of salve to his back wound as his tail continued assaulting the woman, bring her down to her knee.

Maldrek leveled his gun aiming at the wizard, sweating. He had swapped his left gun to a new rune, held his breath and fired, but nothing came out. Maldrek charged in and was quickly batted away by the tail. Artak laughed and snapped his fingers to dispel his tail, looking to both wounded opponents.

"It seems neither of you can thwart my spells, I guess its time to end this with... wait...WHAT!?" Shouted the wizard as he frantically flipped through his spell book, as he did so Maldrek smiled and snatched the book from his hand waving it mockingly.

"Whats the problem my friend? Can't read infernal huh? Such a shame. May!"

"Huh?"

"When wizards lose a spell book we lose all our magic. Now, remind me, didn't you have words to discuss with Artak here?"

Maldrek cocks his gun's hammer back and the spellbook's text returns to goblin as if an illusion had been dispelled. May took a second to process the events, but then smiled devilishly as Artak shivered in fear. She hopped up, Scythe twirling, and hooked it about the Wizard's neck, leading him to the war room section of the cavern and said,

"Artak, if you would please, step into my office. We have so much to discuss."

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Master of Strings Ch51: Cavern Catastrophe

The 5 heroes stood facing the 4 goblin elite. The goblins each trained in their respective manners of sword and sorcery to kill Sword and Sorcery Inc. The were the bugbear Samurai, Stlunk, the goblin Shifter, Jik, and the two hobgoblins, the rogue, Tikal, and the wizard, Artak. All of them besides Artak were charging Zilo and Aria in the no man's land of the cavern.

Zilo snaps his hands into action grabbing his whip Maldrek threw to him in the left hand and unsheathing his sword with the right. He brought his sword up and out, blocking the stab Tikal. Aria winced as Jik leaped at her, but Zilo's whip yanked the goblin from the air. Stlunk however looked poised to cleave the bard in half.

Sparky and May dashed forward to assist, and the little sorcerer flicked out one of his rays of fire to make the bugbear falter, but he tripped on a rock and instead scorched Zilo's back, which was immediately followed by a katana slash from shoulder to hip from Stlunk. May on the other hand swung her scythe in front of Zilo to force the 3 Goblinoids back from the wounded man.

Meanwhile both wizards snapped open their spell books and both mimicked each other in their mother tongues to keep their spells hidden from the enemies. Both cast the spell Haste upon themselves and their allies, and with the burst of speed that followed then both then cast Mage Armor.

Zilo, spurred back into force by Haste quickly fixed himself up with Cure Moderate Wounds. He then snapped out his other hand, dropping his whip to use Mage Hand and begin his ghostly performance, invigorating His teammates even further with his battle melodies.

Aria faced off with the little furry goblin, assuming that with this small a foe, she should have the best chance... at least before he began to Wild Shape. The shifter's back hunched and his fur grew thicker, his face more pointed, his claws sharper, and his body, at least 5 times larger, until standing before Aria was now a Dire Wolverine.

Aria spun about, only to see Tikal, cutting her off from behind, when suddenly Artak shouted out words in goblin. Both the Wolverine and Thief turned their attention to Zilo as the Samurai sheathed his blade, came to a kneeling position by their wizard. He rested his hand over top the blade, and closed his eyes in meditation.

Maldrek cursing that he was speaking goblin decided to even the playing field and then some, by casting Telepathic Bond on his 5 employees. Followed right away by a Magic Missile aimed at Artak. Unfortunately the hobgolin saw this coming, casting Shield to negate the missiles, followed by resting his hand upon his bugbear bodyguard and imbuing him with Heroism.

With their mental link made the group began speaking across minds,

"We should all be able to share thoughts here, Sparky, what orders were given when he spoke."

"Make hat guy dead dead before he undead dead."

May's voice chimed in, "He thinks Zilo is still a lich. We should use that!"

Maldrek responded, "But what if...? You know what, No, let's try your plan. Zilo, fall back, rest of you, hold the line."

Aria swung wildly at Tikal, who turned and easily parried her blade, followed by a snap of his scimitar across her hip, forcing her to hobble. Just as he readied a killing blow, Sparky leapt in and used his new burning punch attack to force the rogue back in a shock wave of fire.

Jik in his new form charged in to make quick work of the two, but suddenly a spell was cast from nearby,

"Command! Revert!" Shouted May. As the bear sized wolverine came at them, it suddenly changed back into it's tiny goblinoid form, allowing May an easy enough time to use his confusion to run up and punt the goblin away. Aria gave May a thumbs up from her bent down position, and May returned it with a small grin.

The Samurai rose up and his eyes met with Zilo's signifying that he was Challenging the bard and began making a B line directly at Zilo. The bard breathed heavy and stared down the charging warrior, before and his eyes began to shift to light blue before a pulse of energy erupted from Zilo and black shadow encased his body.

When the shadow cleared, death could be felt on the battlefield and Zilo's body was encased in the armor of the Lich King as he slowly strode forward. Recalling what he could from his hazy state back then, Tikal turned and fled down a tunnel way. Stlunk stopped in his tracks, now fearful of what he'd heard of this form.

Artak's face went pale fearing he might die this time, and cursed himself for not prepping a Teleport spell. The only Goblinoid elite to show no fear was Jik, for he looked to have his attention focused else were. He began bounding toward the Lich, and in mid stride changed form into a Dienonychus, bolting faster than ever directly at Zilo.

The dino-goblin bolted past the lich managing to avoid a sword swing and the dino lept up, not at Zilo, but at Maldrek. Maldrek's Mage Armor took the first talon, but the second managed to break through and cut the wizard across his face. This wound shattered the Concentration maintaining the spell Major Image.

Zilo's form was returned back to a simple bard in the face of everyone, and Artak, in his shocked relief laughed pointing at the defenseless bard and shouting in goblin for Stlunk to finish this. Meanwhile the thoughts of the SSI adventurers lit up.

"Maldrek! Issue! Help!" screamed Zilo's thoughts.

"Damnit, I suspect this little animal vermin would see past it." Cursed Maldrek.

"Why no Say?" Questioned Sparky.

"May sounded excited, I didn't want to be a jerk." Thought Maldrek apologetically.

Zilo turned to him with a smile and thought, "See buddy, your getting better alre-"

The bard's thoughts were interrupted as the samurai waded forward and with one fast as lightning swing he performed a deadly Sword Saint Iaijustsu Strike. Practically cleaving Zilo in two across his waist, the blade cut deep enough to make it halfway through the bard, and Zilo could do little more than fall back convulsing.

Aria stared in disbelief, tears welling up, and she turned at Maldrek, holding her side and walking forward, "Maldrek, I take it back!"

"Huh?"

"This whole week you've been off your game something horrible, ever since I told why you are a jerk. I take it back, if being a jerk is why you can do what you do, then I'd rather win with a jerk than die with a sweetheart."

Maldrek's eyes flicker with an intense focus as he turned back to Zilo's body. He was still breathing, but just barely. Maldrek put away his spellbook into his bag, and began digging in his bag. His thoughts flared up, returning to communication by telepathy,

"May use every spell you have to get Zilo stable. Sparky, you and Aria and try to hold off the two grunts. I will not let my friend die a second time in one week."

Sparky's thoughts hesitate and he responds, "Second ti-?"

"MOVE PEOPLE!" interrupts the wizard. As the adventurers moved into formation Maldrek takes out twin Revolvers with cylinders inscribed with twelve different magical runes, six on each. As he cocks back the hammers of each he gives them both an intense stare and the cylinders spin about before locking into place.

"Guess now is as good a time for a test drive as any." Whispers Maldrek.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Master of Strings Ch50: Careful how you Hide

Maldrek, Sparky, and May navigate their way down the caverns for a few more minutes. Maldrek stops, having finally formed his lies.

"May, do you recall Zilo's plan for when we killed the royalty of the Storm State?"

"The poison in the punch? Yeah, but I heard that you-"

"No not that, the infiltration. Zilo pretending to be a famous traveling performer?"

Meanwhile in the other world, a rather large bald man with glasses controlling Sparky speaks up.

"Wait a second, why won't Maldrek tell us?"

The spiky haired man with tattoos and Maldrek's sheet shrugs and he says, "Maldrek is going through a lot right now. On top losing the closet thing he has to a friend, he's trying to organize your assault without coming off as a jerk. He's got a thing about that now."

The woman who is controlling May leans back and puts her hands on her face frustrated, and says, "Oh my god guys, May is itching to kill this Artay.. Artoo."

"Artak," Responds the man known as Jones.

"Him."

Suddenly at the table, the man with the hat, and Zilo's sheet begins playing a video out loud for the table. The man known as Jones stares the man in the hat down and scolds him.

"I told you only play songs when you perform or are playing for a fight. Also find some new songs man, that one doesn't even have a violin."

"You try and find good battle theme instrumentals with only violins, There's only like 12 on all of YouTube"

The spiky haired man smirks and says, "You picked a violin man."

"Can we focus!?" Says the woman. The spiky haired man flinches from her outburst before leaning in and saying, "So yeah Maldrek tries to tell them both that he's having Zilo, and Aria sneak into the mayor goblin's house as performers, I'll make the Bluff Check."

And with the sound of a die rolling along a table Maldrek expertly weaves a fantastic fallacy for his two friends.

"You really think the two of them can pull it off? They don't even speak goblin."

"I lent them a scroll of Comprehend Language. They should be fine, I trust Zilo."

Maldrek turns as May and Sparky raise their eyebrows at that, until Maldrek waves them along. He breaths out a sigh of success for now. After the three of them trek forward for another few minutes they finally come to an opening.

The cavern opens up to torches and campfires letting smoke rise up into more tunnels higher up. The rocks on the ground of the huge hollow cavern are similarly shaped like the tunnel ways leading here, only they look to form small benches and tall 6 foot high walls. The walls look to separate out larger rooms that seem made to be war rooms, and other pseudo military outpost rooms.

Scampering around the giant cavern are what seem like hundreds of small green and grey goblins running errands, scraping in little brawls, or cackling in small groups. Marching along the rock decor are some hobgoblins either in single file or  alone, but still structured. The last of the roving goblinoids are the hulking bugbears meandering around or hopping around pushing rocks away for the watching hobgoblin commanders nearby.

The macro view of the cavern is inspiring for evil beings such as goblinoids. They are coordinated, but uncoordinated, lumbering, but agile. Sparky looked to the home he might have had, May looks to the targets of her malice, and Maldrek looks to the next obstacle for him to out think. The wizard motions for the two of them to retreat back and he puts down a blank scroll to begin laying out a plan.

After a minute or two the scroll has a mock drawing of the cavern layout and Maldrek has summed up his battle plan. Sparky looks at May and with wide eyes and says, "We gon win?"

May looks at the little firebug then back at the map and says, " Spark, I've been with Maldrek way longer than you, this plan looks okay, but the end might look like a gamble. that's only cause Maldrek has an ace in the hole he's yet to go over."

May looks to Maldrek, who looks focused down on the scroll. She smiles and says, "It's Zilo, you told him to do his thing at the last second and give us the opening we need." Maldrek's body doesn't move, frozen. May snaps him out of it by dropping her hand to the tiefling's shoulder and rising.

"Yuppies, good good plan." Says Sparky, nodding enthusiastically. Maldrek rises as Sparky and May move to get some rest before they attack in the morning. Maldrek reaches to his hip and takes out Zilo's whip.

"What is wrong? My plan is... flawed? Damnit... We should go, we should strike when we have more people, or we might end up losing anoth..." Maldrek stifles his mouth as he lifts his head to the cavern.

The next morning the goblinoids continue making a base out of the cavern in large groups of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. Toward the sectioned off war room in the back stands Artak surrounded by the hobgoblin rogue from the attack on Aria's farm, a bugbear dressed in dirty robes underneath some segmented plate mail with leather joints and a curved blade to his hip, and a goblin without a shirt, but fur on his body and pointed nails that form to small claws.

Artak speaks his native tongue as he motions to the rogue, "Anyway now that you are back we can continue our plan to-." The hairy goblin's nose twitches as he turns to the entrance and says, "Some thing smells... wrong, something like..."

"What is it?" Asks the bugbear.

"Incense perfume... from a heretic priestess."

An explosion of energy blasts from a Channel Energy  from the cavern outside of the war room. the 4 rush out of the to see May standing there, spinning her scythe surrounded by fallen goblinoids. May and Artak's eyes connect. Artak's eyes glow with the spell Detect Magic. He smiles and flips his words over to common in a snap.

"The sneaky Cleric. Do you know how long it took to unite those troops you just wiped out."

"Maybe try casting Haste and round up a few more, shouldn't take as long next time." Shouts May with a smarmy smile.

Artak whistles twice and another large group of goblins round the corner behind the war room and from the walls behind May as well. May looks to be totally surround. Artak begins to walk forward smiling and saying,

"Alright then miss, I think we should have a chat. I'm very curious about how you found... Wait a minute." Artak's face turns panicked as he stares at his troops behind May. May smiles and responds.

"Well looks like you already replaced one of the goblins. NOW SPARK!" Shouts May as she turns and runs at the goblinoids behind her. As soon as she hits her stride the goblinoids explodes in a Fireball. As the smoke settles Sparky stands among the ashes of the troops and he turns in stride with May toward the tunnel.

Artak fumes and points to the tunnel that they are making for, shouting, "After them!" The 4 leaders and the troops give chase into the caves. Artak storms forward after them keeping Detect Magic up to track the mark on May's chest or the blood in Sparky's veins. As they run down the straight tunnel a single figure appears in front of them.

Maldrek stands determined with an aura of the spell Nondetection, a ball of sparking electricity in one hand, and his spell book in the other. Artak's eyes widen as he reaches for his spellbook mumbling, "buh- I- you-"

"I believe the words you're looking for are, 'they have a Maldrek,' LIGHTNING BOLT!"

Artak snaps to the page for Dimension Door just in time to get him and the other 3 leaders out of the tunnel, but the goblinoid soldiers funneled and packed into the narrow straight away were all vaporized.

The three goblin leaders escape back to the large empty cavern and turn back to the tunnel to see a bolt of lightning streak out and fizzle away. The leaders look to Artak who grits his teeth and growls before turning to the rogue and motioning for him to go hide. The three that are left look to the three heroes that exit the cave.

"I don't believe, we've met mister, Maldrek was it? I'm charmed, I am Artak, leader of the Goblin tribe of Tak."

"Oh yeah, just look at them all." Comments May. Making the bugbear and goblin clench their fists and grit their teeth, while Artak stays composed.

"You seem very impressive, I commend you, that was a brilliant plan, but now with that done I don't believe that anyone needs to get hurt. So just leave the cave before I need to end you and your motley band."

Maldrek grips the whip at his side and shouts across the cavern, "At the start of this job I'd have said okay fine, let bygones be bygones, but no. You made this personal for me, and my friend, Z-"

Artak had already made the signal for the rogue to strike as he offered the olive branch, unfortunately for him, timing was not on his side. At that very moment, Zilo, Aria, and the rogue came flying out of a nearby higher outcropping that the rogue was positioned on. Atop the over hang was the exit portal from the spell Shadow Walk.

The three flying figures fell between the two sides of the fight. Aria landed on her butt, rubbing it in pain and said, "Dammit Zilo! Why did we get shoot out!"

"Shadow Walk is a funky spell. You pick one spot to appear and it likes to decide, 'There!? but I like you over there'."

Maldrek is at a loss for words as he sees Zilo standing up and trying to get his bearings.

"Zi... Zilo?"

"Hm? Need something buddy?" Says Zilo as he turns and smiles. A single tear forms in Maldrek's eye before he remembers the situation and throws Zilo his whip shouting, "Behind you!" As the goblinoid elite charge in.

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