Saturday, November 21, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 140: Knight led Astray

Cruxis stood by the side of the Umie Xunchu watching for any approaching threats. The many guest mingling and chatting with her made it have a low rumble of discussion background noise as the Paladin shut his eyes to try and block it out. 

His focus was shattered as a familiar voice broke through his veil.

"Xunchu! I've been looking all over for you!" Said Prince Kranoc reaching out to hold her hand among the crowd.

Cruxis took a few steps over to interpose between them and he spoke, "Hey milord, sorry about stealing her, but there was a problem and-"

"I don't wanna hear it. She is my fiancé and we need to be together for this event!" Shouted the prince, gathering the attention of all the nearby nobles. Cruxis glanced around to notice the growing tension in the room and held his tongue before speaking carefully.

"Lord, I am to guard this ball and was just... guarding Xunchu, nothing odd about that right?"

"Secondly I'm your prince! You need to make sure that-!" Xunchu takes a step up to the Prince and says, "Now now, how about the 3 of us head outside for some air and Cruxis can explain everything, huh Kranoc?"

The prince's rage subsides as Xunchu grasps onto him and Cruxis looks about as the nobles begin to go back to chatting privately, likely about the foreign prince's outburst. It would probably be a good idea to remove the three of them from the awkward atmosphere.

They make their way through the crowd out to the empty balcony and the couple lean over the wooden rail as Cruxis keeps his eyes on the door in case anyone approaches. After a few moments of the two of them whispering behind him Cruxis hears the sound of Xunchu scream and the sound of someone falling over the rail. 

The paladin turns to see Kranoc's shocked silhouette as he says, "What the!? Someone just yanked her off!?" Cruxis rushes forward and looks over the edge. As he sprints he shouts,

"Damnit Kranoc, she has assassins after her! Just get out of my-!" Cruxis looks over the edge to see... Prince Kranoc at the bottom of a 15 foot fall groaning on the grass bellow. The prince's voice comes from behind the paladin and says in a sinister tone, "You don't say?"

Cruxis is suddenly shoved over the rail and he twists his body about to snatch onto the edge with his right hand. The prince on the balcony hops up to balance himself on the edge of the rail as his arms begin to morph into claws.

The doppelganger lifts his claws and begins to bring it down to slice at Cruxis' face. The paladin kicked off the bottom edge of the rail and slammed his forehead into the being's nose. This forced him back and Cruxis managed to barely balance himself on the rail. Cruxis hopped down and drew his blade and shield and spoke, 

"Where is Xunchu? Speak and I will spare you!"

"Hehehe. Maybe you shouldn't get into shouting matches when you need to be guarding someone."

Cruxis grits his teeth and the doppelganger leaps off of his hands and kicks against the paladin's shield. Cruxis takes a swipe at the fake prince, but misses and re-assumes his defensive stance. The doppelganger sweeps low but finds himself at the end of a sword pointed straight ahead. 

In the other world the one known as Dave crosses his arms and speaks, "These guys are chumps!? I expect more out of enemies this late in the game." As he rolls 3 times and says, "25, 19, and 16."

The one known as Jones who became frustrated says, "The first two hit. Also you guys are Level 12, the stuff on your level could wipe a town single handedly. Besides the boss fight last session was the combat climax. This is a role play one." By the time Jones finishe,s Dave has finished rolling for damage and speaks," 18 damage, is he bloody?"

Back in Lidan the doppelganger holds his chest as he now has a gaping wound and shoulder bruise. He breaths heavy as Cruxis mocks, "Ha, looks like I wont even break a sweat." The Doppelganger chuckles lightly as he reaches into his pocket, which now seemed to have a scroll in it.

The doppelganger produced the scroll and shouted, "Summon Monster 8, Hamatula Devil." From the paper a portal manifests and from it erupts a humanoid lizard-like creature covered in spikes with a menacing smile.

Cruxis' eyes go wide as he quickly flanks around the new devil and slashes the doppelganger in twain, he then looks back at the devil and his face goes pale as it remains.

In the other realm Dave's eyes are as wide as Cruxis' as he says, "Why is he still there!? The caster died!" Meanwhile Jones gains a smug smile and he leans back saying, Who knows, maybe if you make an arcana check on your turn I can tell you, but right now its the devil's turn."

The barbed devil leaps at the paladin and sweeps both his arms about to clasp onto Cruxis, then once the fiend wraps around Cruxi's waist the paladin is punctured by dozens of the devil's barbs. Cruxis coughs up a bit of blood and shakes the devil off of him only for it to try and hold onto him again.

Cruxis raises his shield and and holds it back as he activates his smite and stabs at the evil being. With a solid thrust to the devil and a flash of the paladin's red crimson smite the devil's barbs extend and stab at the paladin's sword arm. The devil rears back in pain before it begins to slink about stalking the paladin.

Cruxis searches his memory for how this devil is remaining in the material plan, but he can't seem to find a good answer. His thought is interrupted as the devil dashes at him in another attempt to give him a deadly hug. The paladin swipes to keep the creature at bay, but when he accidentally scraps the devil the barbs extend and wound him more. 

Cruxis used lay on hands to fix a fair amount of the damage and defended himself with his shield to keep the creature at bay. He continued to heal as best he could while avoiding attacking the devil. Once he had regained enough health he let loose and swung over and over taking more and more hits in retaliation.

The devil tried to throw as much damage back, but he was forced off his feet as Cruxis continued to take more and more damage. Eventually Cruxis went down and just as the devil believe he had won Cruxis in his falling state shouted, "Hero's Defiance!"

Cruxis' wounds knitted together just enough to allow him to make one more strike and cleave the devil in two before it exploded into a cloud of ash and was taken away by the wind. He breathed heavy as turned back to the ball room.

He looked to see the main chandelier was falling from the high ceiling toward the floor about to crush and shatter glass all over all the guests. He wondered to himself, "WHAT HAPPENED!!!"

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 139: Devil and the Death Dealer

May sat there stuffed into the cupboard of the with a doppelganger posing as a guard just outside it. She sat there waiting, she hadn't struggled to much as two of them ambushed and trapped her in the kitchen supply area before the ball began.

The doppelganger posing as a guard must have gotten bored shooing away the servants since he tapped on the cupboard behind him and spoke, "Hey, you awake in there?"

May chimed in, "Do kidnappers normally chat up the beautiful damsels?"

"Beautiful?" Remarked the guard as he turned to the cupboard which suddenly banged as May thumped the wooden door.

"Jeez, you got some attitude."

"I hear that a lot, what do you want?"

"All the other folks we took out fought back, you just agreed to be captured. Why?"

"Well that's not an easy answer, but... I guess I don't like the good prince and I don't even know his bride to be. People die all the time, why should I risk getting hurt to save a stuck up jerk like him and his woman." May squirmed a bit in the cupboard before she continued.

"Sure the Black Daymio were one thing, but we had the advantage there. We ambushed them and we held all the cards. How by Dema were we to counter doppelgangers, you guys really are a huge X factor."

"You thought a lot about this huh?" Said the guard.

"I'm an assassin,  I think a lot about how to kill people, in fact I can even point out the things you could have done to make this work better." At that the guard turned fully to the cupboard and laughed a bit. He spoke, "Really? You think you could have done this better than us?"

"You ever hear about the massacre in the Stormstate, I was the one who beheaded the king and queen, and trust me, there are some messy things you forgot to take care of. For example, is that maid still dead behind the potatoes?"

The guard glances over to the pool of blood spilling from the potatoes and he says, "Maybe."

"Well I'm guessing she's there because you all didn't know about the sewer system in the castle, the royals keep it secret only known to the royal guard. Perfect place to dump a body, I kept a map on hand in case I wanted to do a side hustle while protecting the nobles round here, gimme some light and I'll show you."

The guard looked over to May's knives and poisons across the room and shrugged as he unlatched the cupboard and began to open it. As the container opened May spoke, "Being an assassin has taught me..."

May leapt out of the cupboard and snatched around the doppelganger's neck with the rope that was tied up around her hands. The ends frayed from the magic of a Spark spell. May did a flip over the guard and yanked down as hard as she could, beginning to choke him as she finished, "Always get the target when they are alone!"

The guard began to struggle and morph his form, but as his neck got skinnier May flicked the rope around her knuckles and put even more pressure on as she says, "Better chance staying a guard, a malleable neck is just easier to strangle."

The guard began to force her back, but May snapped up her leg and dug her heel into the back of the guard's calf. Forcing him to the ground on his knees. She leaned down and spoke, "As much as I hate the brat prince, what I hate more is being showed up. So I refuse to lose to some rank amateurs who get by on shapeshifting instead of actual skill!"

With a sickening snap the doppelganger falls to the ground as May lets the rope hang from her hands and dusts off some of the pantry dust from her dress. As she began to lift the body the door opened to the kitchen.

There stood Maldrek staring at the dead guard as May dropped his shoulders and she speaks, "Oh good, don't worry its an assassin, can you hide the body for me?" May strolled over to her equipment as Maldrek rolled his eyes and dismissed his Locate Object spell.

May spoke, "So what's the situation?"

"Doppelgangers, 2 dead including this one, and one being interrogated by Zilo. Cruxis is sticking to Umie like glue, she seems to be the target. There are 3 more we need to..."

Maldrek had put away the body and was stunned as May had taken off her dress to conceal her knives . She turned to see Maldrek starring and she produced a knife in a threatening manner. Maldrek turned away as his shade of red went deeper and he continued, "3 more to track down, best method is to check their blood, Doppelganger blood turns black after bleeding. Which by the way..."

Maldrek began to turn toward May but a knife flew past his nose and planted itself in the wall. The blade had a bit of normal red blood on it as May spoke, "You can look now." Maldrek retrieved the knife and turned back to May who was now redressed with her concealed weapons. As Maldrek went to hand back the knife she stared at him and said,

"Nuh uh, you make a mark too. This is the sort of long play I would pull to get close to Umie. Show me your blood."

"I told you about the blood, why would I-?" Before Maldrek could finish May drew and threw a dagger into his bicep and a plume of blood squirted out. As the blood dripped and remained red Maldrek gripped his arm and winced.

May gave him a smile and cast Cure Light Wounds followed by Mend to get him ready to mingle again. Maldrek rubbed his arm and she said, "So any plans to get the last three?"

"Not yet. I'm going to find Zilo, if he's learned anything then maybe we can get more information, you stick with Cruxis and watch for anyone who... well"

"Anyone doing what I would do."


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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 138: Now it's a Party

 Zilo kept an eye on the door as Xunchu entered rubbing her arms, looking down at the dead doppelganger. She looked to Zilo and asked, "I told them all and they will be here soon... So you know about these things?" Zilo turns over to her and speaks, "Only what I've read. They can mimic anyone's appearance and voice, as well as the ability to read thoughts to sell the act. Maldrek should know more. He's the one who lent me the monster manual I saw them in."

As they finished, Maldrek and May entered, May was, for once, wearing a dress that wasn't fashioned from leather and black cloth, but instead a purple silk formal dress while Maldrek was dressed in a formal black suit with a red dress shirt and boots. Neither had their scythe or sword, but hidden under their outfits was Maldrek's guns and a pocket spellbook, while May hid her daggers with poison vials.

Maldrek looks down to the dead body and says, "Is that!?"

"Doppelganger, it was pretending to be Ai so it could get a shot at Xunchu. Said that it was from the Black Daimyo."

May hangs back her head and sighs before saying, "fantastic, they made one last hurrah as a noble."

Maldrek assumes his thinking pose with his hand on his chin and begins to form a plan as May kneels down to look at the body. she looks up to Zilo and says, "Not a bad plan to be honest, pose as the best friend to get close then kill her on her own."

Maldrek gets out of his stance and says, "But there's the chance of more." May narrows her vision at Maldrek and says, "Really? How many you think?"

Maldrek shakes his head and says, "At most around a half dozen, Doppelgangers can make small gangs, but never any more than that, and I think the Black Daimyo must have hired them before we killed them off."

May's face goes tense as Zilo wipes the rest of the blood off his sword before taking a step forward and saying, "So Maldrek how do we counter them?"

Maldrek looks to Zilo and says, "Best method is a blood test. Once a part of a doppelganger's body leaves the main body it reverts. Their blood turns black shortly after its spilled." May sarcastically shakes her hand and motions out to the ballroom with her arm and says, "Sure get a sample from every party goer here, that won't be difficult."

Xunchu comes forth and says, "Well let's cancel the event then! I don't want to die."

Maldrek shakes his head and says, "No need we can handle this, but I need you to do me a favor, do your best not to let on that you know about the attacks. If there are others here then they might have a back up plan if they get caught. I'd rather deal with the plan we know not the uncertain back up."

At that moment Cruxis entered into the bathroom, in his full armor, but polished to attend such an event. He sees the body and says, "By Arete! What is that!?"

May chimes in, "Doppelganger, Black Daimyo hired them to kill Xunchu, Maldrek says there are 5 more we need to worry about." As May finishes speaking Maldrek's eyebrow twitches and he brings his hand to his chin, and proceeds to continue thinking. Zilo, May, and Cruxis continue speaking while Maldrek forms some sort of plan.

Cruxis says, "Well if that's the case then one of us should guard her out there, I volunteer."

May shakes her head and says, "No way big stuff, It'd look weird if a man was with a bride-to-be on the night of her engagement rather than her husband, I can blend in as one of her maids."

Maldrek's eyes spring open and he says, "May give me a knife." May looks to Maldrek incredulously and the Tiefling responds, "I don't have my sword and I need someway to test them, I need a knife." May nods and walks over to Maldrek handing him a knife handle first.

As he grabs the knife he jerks it away and cuts May on her hand, She rears back, holding her new wound and Zilo shouts, "Maldrek what the hell!?" Maldrek holds the knife up to Zilo and says, "Just making sure." In a flash the blood turns black and Zilo's eyes dart over to May.

May grimaces and leaps at Xunchu with her nails morphing into claws, but Maldrek snaps out his pocket spellbook and casts Hold Person. May is held in place with her claw inches from Xunchu.

Maldrek dramatically closes his book in his palm and says, "She seemed sure that there were 5 more, might have been confidence, but couldn't take the chance."

Maldrek backs up to push Xunchu against the wall as he drops the knife and takes out a gun from his coat and speaks to both his friends, " Both of you, I want blades on skin right now." Zilo and Cruxis unsheathe their swords a bit and cut the tips of their fingers. Both bleed naturally and Maldrek lets out a sigh of relief. He puts back his gun.

Zilo point to the knife and says, "And you...?" Maldrek looks down to the dirty knife and says, "I could have killed her right now as I pinned her to the wall. Besides, that knife is filthy now." He brings his attention back to the doppelganger May and he says, "Seems this one has done something with May, I'll go find her."

Maldrek then points to Cruxis and says, "Cruxis you stick to Xunchu like glue, don't let her leave the ballroom." He then Points to Zilo and says, "Zilo, get as much information out of that deoppelganger as you can."

Zilo nods as Maldrek casts Spark to burn the old doppelganger body in the bathroom away, Cruxis and Xunchu leave the bathroom. Zilo turns his gaze over to the trapped doppelganger. It looks to sweat as it stays there still. Zilo's violin flicked into the air and a ghost performance began. 

Since he needed things from the doppelganger Zilo made use of the Dance of Kindled Desires thrusting and waving his hips and his puffy shirt coming slightly undone and as he locked onto the doppelganger's wants he knew he could give it. It wanted to leave without getting hurt.

Zilo ended his dance by moving in and embracing the Doppelganger as it fell into his arms changing it's hands fully back into a hand and Zilo spoke in a deep knowing voice, "So it is life you desire, fear not, I can show you life."

"Thank you," Whispered the Doppelganger, blushing slightly as the door to the bathroom opened to show the two of them embracing inches from each others' faces and a party guest froze, slowly closing the door and spoke, "I... Um... I'll try a different bathroom."

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 137: Uninvited guest

Zilo and Ai arrived at the Umie residence to see that the grand throne room had been decorated with all forms of eastern style decor that had not been present when Zilo last visited. The decorating must have taken weeks to make perfect. As he walked in the doorway he looked about for his friends, but was dragged away by Ai who seemed to have a fair amount of strength for a girl her size.

Ai dragged him over to Prince Krannoc Deneval and Umie Xunchu who seemed to be chatting up a number of local lords. As the bard and lady approached the royal couple, Xunchu turned to see her old friend and immediately threw out her royal face, turning into a giggling schoolgirl.

"Ai, thank the Gods you came. These nobles won't stop badgering us with question after question."

Xunchu begins to count off on her hand, "When is the real wedding? How many heirs do you plan to have? Are you truly leaving Lidan for Deneval? It's getting tiring."

While Ai comforts her friend over the matter, the Prince glances over to Zilo then back at Ai before he says, "I must say Zilo, you do have a way with finding powerful women."

Zilo turns confused to the Prince and the Prince continues, "A heiress to one of the richest family of a nation, a Draconic Elven knight, and that little vixen from your tavern."

Zilo's face lights up and he says, "Well Tess is just a friend, Aria is the one I needed that favor for. She's the one for me."

"Who?" Comes a soft voice from the two woman as Ai looks to the two men with a confused look. Zilo's face contorts to panic as the Prince sips on his sake and says, "Our bard friend here has a woman in Deneval he plans to marry she's-" Zilo clamps his hand over the Prince's mouth, but the damage was done. 

Ai looks on the verge of tears as she stares at Zilo. The Prince, taking advantage of Zilo's distraction removes the hand from his mouth and threatens, "Remember what happen last time you laid a hand on me bard?!"

Zilo, refusing to let the oppurtunity go to waste returns back with, "I beat you in almost every single challenge you placed, now I must see to... where did Ai go?" The bard turns back to see Ai has gone missing and the Prince turns to see that his own date is crossing her arms.

Xunchu berates the two, "Well done you both drove her off in less than five minute of her arrival." Xunchu turns and leaves the two of them to contemplate their choices. In a bathroom off to the side of the throne room Ai is crying. After a few moments Xunchu opens the door and calls out, "Ai! Are you alright?!"

"In here." Says Ai's voices from behind a privacy screen. Xunchu approaches and begins to speak, "I'm so very sorry about Zilo. If I had known I would have warned you. I met him back when Krannoc had that duel I wrote to you about when... Ai?"

As Xunchu spoke Ai charged out from behind the screen and grabbed Xunchu's neck lifting her clear off the ground and beginning to choke her with one hand. Xunchu looked at her best friend in shock as the small noble girl's face began to warp and shift into a grey form. She grew a few inches and her hair reformed to match Xunchu's followed by the kimono and face also reforming to match Xunchu's outfit and face.

The being that was Ai spoke in Ai's voice, but mid sentence her voice warped to mimic Xunchu's, "So sorry my lady, but your friend has been dead for at least a week now. The Black Daimyo sends his regards." The being pulled back it's arm to form it into a menacing sharp claw, but as it came forward it was stopped just before impact by a silver arrow that streaked by and pinned the arm to a wall.

Zilo stood in the entryway to the bathroom and notched another arrow before shouting, "Ai, I think we should see other people! I don't have a thing for Dopplegangers" The shape changing assailant hopped back, reforming it's arm to escape the arrow holding it on the wall. It ran and took cover behind the protective screen as two more arrows flew and pierced the paper barrier. Zilo unsheathed his blade and ran to the barrier as he shouted to Xunchu, "Stay down, I'll handle this!"

As Zilo rounded the edge of the screen he was stunned still as there behind the barrier was Aria. In his moment of hesitation The doppelganger leaped out in the form of Zilo's fiancĂ©, slashing at his torso. As he stumbled back from the wound, the doppelganger tried to press it's advantage with another attack, but Zilo flicked up his sword and intercepted the lunge and in a clean swing cut the arm off in an instant. 

The beast slammed Zilo's unprotected side to the ground into the cowering Xunchu as it made a break for the exit. By the time the two had regained their footing the enemy was gone, a few moments later the Prince came running in and said, "Zilo! Ai just ran out of here crying again! What did you do!?"

Zilo marches to the door and says, "It's not Ai, it was a doppleganger that was after Xunchu."

"What!? Well go get it! I'll guard Xunchu." The Prince puts out a hand to shake, Zilo does so and makes for the door, but at the last moment he notices a bit of black liquid on the cuff of his sleeve. After a quick recalling of his knowledge of nature. Zilo turns back and asks,

"Krannoc back when you came to our bar, which of my friends held back your two men?"

The Prince turned back to Zilo and said, "Well that was Leo of course."

Zilo turns back and smiles, "You're right, good memory."

The Prince smugly shuts his eyes and says, "I could never forget a moment from that ni-"

The Prince's gloating is cut short as a sword pierces his heart and Zilo says to the dying creature, "Too bad Krannoc was drunk as Cayden Cailean that night." Zilo pokes his own temple and says, "But the mind you've been reading this whole fight was sober as a Paladin.

The Prince reverts to the true doppelganger form of lithe and grey features with his blood flowing red but changing to black shortly after it left the body, same as the blood on Zilo's sleeve. Zilo flecks the blood from his blade and says to Xunchu, "Find Maldrek and the others. Seems the Black Daimyo had one last Ace up his sleeve."

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 136: The Ball to be

The heroes collapse onto the grass on the edge of the park lake. Maldrek is the first to stand up again and dust off his robe before saying, "Right then, all we have left to do is attend the Ball, then head on home." Zilo pops up his head and remarks,

"Wait! I still have to go!? I thought we were done!"

May smugly smiles as she stands and says, "What's the matter, afraid of waltzing in with a noble woman on your arm?"

Cruxis begins to stand as well and says, "The three of us should see about getting dates as well, to blend in a bit better."

Maldrek looks to May and says, "Luckily May can just go with one of us." At that may looks to the two of them and begins to contemplate, "Would I rather go with a half-orc or a half-devil? Boy you really know how to spoil a girl."

Both men look a little bit insulted and May shrugs and says, "I guess Maldrek."

Cruxis glares and says, "Why him!?"

May points at him with her thumb and says, "He's a good father, plus he's got at least half a brain."

Cruxis sulks and Zilo pats him on the back and tells him, "Chin up buddy, don't forget you beat the Black Samurai, girls love heroes like that!" Cruxis stands back up straight and smiles to cover his pain. The three heroes say their goodbyes to Zilo, and return to the Umie residence while the bard questions his destination.

"I could do my rounds in the taverns," Zilo stumbles from fatigue as he walks out of the park and continues, "But that bed back at the Rai's has a really soft mattress... and man I could go for a quick nap."

He then freezes up remembering the determination of Ai, but his own exhaustion endures and eventually wins as he walks into the mansion and collapses onto the bed. Hours pass as the bard regains enough strength to make it through the day. As he wakes up and begins to get ready to go out into town to do his bard thing, he hears footsteps making their way down the hall.

He spots Ai who looks into the room and he is stunned still like a deer in torchlights. The girl gives quick nod and smile before she says, "Morning Zilo, good luck today." And... she begins to walk away. Zilo blinks as she walks off in silence.

Any wise man would just let this happen... But the bard darts out of the room and takes off after her and asks, "Ai, are you okay?" The girl looks shocked by the bard's question and she says, "Of course, what makes you ask?"

She looks to the bard and he just tilts his head and says, "You um... just seem off."

The girl smiles and gives a little bow before saying, "Well I rarely get to see you in the mornings, I just figure you were getting ready to go do some performances in town. I wouldn't want to keep you." And she just walks off. Zilo blinks a few more times, but eventually just shrugs and heads out into town.

He plays at the usual spots he had become expected to play at in the city over the last month before he returns to the Rai home and by instinct he sneaks into the window of his room but he stumbles as he enters when he hears,

"Welcome back" from Ai, sitting there near his mattress. The bard smashes into the ground and looks at her ready to fend her off, but she instead stands up, dusts herself off and smiles as she speaks. "Father thought a new mattress would be in order since you've slept on the old one for weeks, so I thought I'd ready it for you."

Zilo raises an eyebrow and asks, "And you intended to break it in or something like that right?" She giggles and responds, "You're funny Zilo, but no, after all it would be indecent for a noblewoman to do such things before being courted."

She gives a quick bow and exits the room while speaking, "I hope the mattress is comfy for you." Zilo watches her carefully as she leaves, the moment she is gone he obsessively examines the mattress to ensure it is not some sort of trick.

After he is done he talks aloud the strange way Ai is acting, "She hasn't made a single advance on me, I wonder what her deal is. She's caught me vulnerable enough times that I may as well have been served up on a plate. She must be up to something, probably waiting for me to lower my guard."

As he talks it through he feels the mattress which seems much softer and more comfortable. He succumbs eventually and falls asleep, waking up in the morning. He readies himself and makes his way to the door of his room, but gets a surprise as he opens it.

There stands Ai head hung and shaking. The bard speaks causally, "Morning Ai, did you nee-" he is cut off as the girl leaps forward and tackles Zilo to the ground and shuts the door with her leg. On the ground Zilo is stunned by this as the girl shakes and begins to speak with a tremble in her voice,

"I-I over heard you l-last night, s-s-so I guess I can tr-try to give you what you want." Her hand trembles as she presses it on Zilo's chest and works its way down to his belt, but the bard quickly grabs her hand and stops it. The girl opens her eyes that she had been forcing shut and the bard says, 

"Please do not! Don't want that!" Zilo hefts the girl off of his body and stands, dusting himself off and says, "I would never force anyone to do something they don't want to do, and strangely you don't seem to want to do it." The bard speaks a silent thought "Like how I don't want to do it or Aria would kill me."

The girl takes a minute to think about Zilo's words and she smiles up at him and says, "You're a good man Zilo Realms." And with that last smile, one more genuine than the ones she flash him yesterday, the bard's doubts were cleared. This girl means him no harm.

For the rest of the week leading up to the ball Zilo spent a bit more time than he had before at the Rai residence now that Ai seemed to have changed her outlook a bit. Finally the last night had come as she dressed in a very elegant silk kimono and Zilo cleaned and styled his usual attire as he would to attend any formal event.

The lord and lady of the house wished them a lovely evening and after a few hours one of the guards approached the heads of the house with a look of fear in his eyes.

"Lord and Lady, it seems the grounds keeper has found... you'd both best come with me." The two lords followed the guard to the small lake in the courtyard and they see a waterlogged body laying on the edge of the water. It was bloated and discolored, making it hard to recognize, but after a few minutes of the lord talking with the guard about the body, the lady finished looking over the body and comes to a grim conclusion as she jumps back toward her husband.

The lord knelt to comfort her as she screams and turns to him with tears in her eyes before she speaks, "It's-it's Ai! Someone murdered my girl!"

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 135: Escape the Lair

 In the other realm, the man in the hat, the one known as Dave, the woman, and the man with the tattoos all celebrate the defeating of the warriors of the Black Daimyo, with the man known as Jones looking over some papers behind a small screen.

The man in the hat speaks to the one known as Dave, "That was incredible Dave! What did you call that class!?"

"Holy Vindicator, Jones let me start leveling in it after we left the Storm State." Answers Dave.

The woman speaks,"Why haven't you used it then?"

Dave lifts up the sheet that records Cruxis' abilities and says, "If I use it I have permanent bleed damage, so I saved it for when we needed it."

The conversations are silenced by the rattle and tumble of a few dice from the direction of the one called Jones. The four friends all widen their eyes as Jones writes down the result behind his screen. The man in the tattoos is the one to speak, "Jones... What are you rolling?"

Jones fiddles with something behind his screen and then looks to the man saying, "Who knows? Maybe a perception check will find out.

They all roll with varying degrees of reaction. The man in the hat is the first to speak with his head in his hands, "Negative one."

The woman goes next, "fourteen... Negative one! you need to level your perception."

The man in the hat looks up from his slump and smiles, "But it's way funnier this way."

The one called Dave and the man with the tattoos both state their rolls, but none beat the woman's roll. The one known as Jones proceeded to take out his phone and set a timer as the player's attention returned to the table. With that May looks about the room that had just been the site of their duel with their enemies. She saw that the ceiling slowly was beginning to drop a series of rocks and dust. 

"Guys I think the ceiling is..."

"Hey guys, that Tinker guy left his cool staff!" Shouted Zilo over May's deduction. Maldrek began to look it over before saying, "Well it looks to be fire based, might make a good present for Sparky."

"Guys, we should really-"

Cruxis comes over to the staff and asks,"What does it do?"

Zilo shakes it a bit and says, "Well he waved it a bit then-"

"GUYS!" All four of them turned to May who pointed at a crack growing on the ceiling of the room. All but Zilo reacted with fear and shock.

"Was that always there?" Asks Zilo as Cruxis turns to a sweating Maldrek and the paladin asks, "Tell me you have another Teleport spell!"

Maldrek shakes his head and says, "I came for a fight, not for express shipping! RUN!" Maldrek, May, and Cruxis begin running out of the room, with a befuddled Zilo trailing behind beginning to put together the danger.

They bolted out of the war room and into the throne room where the rest of the columns from the previous fight had fallen, Making the ceiling begin to warp. Rubble from the columns looked to be blocking the way. May lightly hops up onto a column and reaches down to help up Cruxis since Zilo and Maldrek are resourceful enough to figure it out themselves. Zilo proves this by also flipping up over the column

Meanwhile Maldrek snaps up a Fly spell and shouts, "I'll scout ahead and keep you up to date on what's ahead." Maldrek begins to gracefully swoop about in the caverns past the throne room as he began to hear some echoing music coming up behind him.

He tilted his head to see Zilo, May, and Cruxis running at double their normal speed from a Haste spell as Zilo's violin ghost performed a song to Inspire Competence so that they might more easily avoid obstacles as the ceiling fell above them. 

The group high tailed it through the dungeon room that had held May, Cruxis, and Maldrek onto a room that Zilo had not yet seen. It seemed to be a hallway with two ways to go, and Maldrek stopped looking down both ways. Zilo looked behind them to see the dungeon room cave in on itself and shouted,

"Come on now which way did you all go!"

May shouted back, "We were captured and blindfolded! Who the hell would know!"

Cruxis just immediately decides to run down the left passage way, and the rest of them in panic decide to follow. They come to a perfectly square long hallway with a lever at the entryway Maldrek stops and floats in front of the lever and says, "This probably-"

He is interrupted as Zilo grabs his robe and pulls him into the long hallway. The moment that they step into the hall arrows begin to fire from all angles of the walls, and May shouts. "These things knocked us out! Don't get hit!"

May and Zilo begin to cartwheel and spin through the hallway, avoiding the poison on the arrows. Cruxis lifts his shield and uses it to cover his face as he just keeps running. Luckily the arrows all manage to harmlessly bounce off his protection.

Maldrek actually was the safest since his flight prevented him from touching the pressure plates in the hall. Zilo and May's Dexterity made it simple to dodge any arrows that came their way. The crew continued to run as fast as possible. 

The group began to make some headway against the collapsing tunnels behind them. They came to a new room and Zilo could see all his friends past Maldrek starting the next room off with a jump off. Zilo mimicked the jump, but as he looked down he could see a room full of a bubbling green liquid. 

To the left and right of the room were slanted platforms to hop scotch between, but Zilo had leapt into the exact center while May and Cruxis took off jumping between them. Zilo thought fast and acted faster thanks to the Haste. He cut his buckler off by the straps, wounding himself a little and threw his buckler down with a spin. 

As the buckler hit the surface of the acid Zilo stomped onto it making an indent in the acid's surface and made a feeble hop to reach one of the platforms. He stabbed his sword into the surface giving himself just enough purchase to stand away from the liquid. 

He then pulled out his blade and easily jumped over to the tunnel his friends had went through. As they began to flee into the next room as May decided this time to slows down a bit to run parallel with Zilo and shouts,

"Zilo jump in 3, 2, 1, NOW!" As the two of them leap and Zilo looks to see a pit of spikes downward as the hallway opens and he suddenly slams into a sheer slick slope. May during the leap had taken out some daggers and began to climb her way up the slope. Zilo didn't quite have the heads up to begin to climb so he began to wobble backward as Maldrek flew past him with Cruxis hanging below the flying wizard.

Zilo acted fast and snapped out his whip to crack it out and snatch it onto Maldrek's leg. The wizard lost a lot of his momentum and the whip jolted, making Zilo lose his grip and making him need to snatch the whip again before firmly grasping it.

Maldrek now getting use to the weight strained his way up the slope holding Cruxis and being tied off by Zilo. As Maldrek reached the top he let down the paladin and Cruxis grabbed the whip and yanked Zilo up the rest of the slope in one pull.

The friends stood in the familiar spike trap room that separated them when they entered the dungeon. the pressure plate was given a wide berth and looked up at the way out... which was blocked by a giant boulder.

May shouted, "Cruxis, You're the muscle move it!" 

"You are crazy, I can't push a boulder off a hole from inside the hole!"

Zilo looks up at it still catching his breath and says, "Maybe magic!?"

Maldrek whips out his spellbook and says, "I got it!"

The tunnels behind them slowly begin to make their way over to the heroes until it looks like their room is next when Maldrek snaps up his hand and shouts to Summon Monster and then out of a gate of pure magic forms a large sized Earth Elemental.

Maldrek points up to the boulder frantically and orders,

"Dig us out! and make something to climb!"

The giant rock being spirals upward and crashes into the boulder making a perfect hole in it, as well as deforming the sides enough for hands and feet to get a grip on and let the group climb out.

The heroes frantically climb up and into the room they first entered before darting around the entryway and diving headlong into the waterway. Finally they surface outside as the new morning sun greets them for escaping the lair of the Black Daimyo.

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Saturday, August 22, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 134: Black Samurai Vs Holy Vindicator

Cruxis and the Samurai stand staring at each other as Zilo retreats over to May who is knelt down healing Maldrek. The head of the Black Daimyo, the Black Samurai steps forward and twirls his blade before clasping it with both hands and speaks in his deep intimidating voice.

"By the blade that swings for glory and the true honor of a warrior, General Susumu will lead me to victory in this duel."

The samurai's eyes beneath his helm narrow and his presence expands to silence all other noise in the room. Zilo, May, and the barely conscious Maldrek freeze, scared to even twitch in fear that the tall blade master would strike them down from across the room. Despite his heavy armor, in a flash, the man slices at Cruxis.

Cruxis isn't ready for the attack and is blasted backward by the strike on his chest plate. He stands again just in time to block an overhead cleave by the samurai then try and thrust back. His heavily magicked sword, Permafrost was just barely enough to pierce the thick armor on the Samurai, but he is immediately knocked off balance by the hulking opponent with a sweeping kick.

Cruxis rolls to the side narrowly avoiding another swipe by the samurai, but as he rose he was beset upon by another flurry of advancing slashes. He continued to make his movement backward away from the samurai. Cruxis tries to mount an opposed attack, with two swings at the samurai's midsection, but after taking the first strike and barely reacting to it, the samurai flicks his wrist up and cuts along Cruxis' wrist to force the attack to falter.

The counter forced Cruxis to lose his grip on his blade and it flew past the samurai about 2 meters away. Seeing the blood flow from his wrist, the paladin Laid on his hands to stem the flow before attempting to make his way back over to his blade. The samurai tries to cut down the paladin, but Cruxis manages to deflect the swing with his shield.

As Cruxis recovers Permafrost the samurai changes his stance, where he had held it forward with both hands, he now let it come to rest by his hip pointed back and down with both hands in the same grip. Cruxis moved, shield forward.

Time seemed to stop as the samurai performed a dash forward intended to Strike True. Zilo had experienced a much weaker version of this strike, but this man did it with much more devastating results. Cruxis' blood exploded from his chest as his plate mail fell from his shoulders, cleaved clean in twain.

The samurai back to advance toward May and Zilo who both rose until another sound was heard. From behind the samurai the sound of a dagger being unsheathed was heard. The samurai turned to see Cruxis once again, with one hand on his wound using more of his Lay on Hands knitting together into a scar, and the other hand grasping a knife while his sword and shield lay on the ground.

Zilo shouted "Cruxis! Stay down! I can-"

"NO!" Shouted the wounded half-orc. As he stared at the Black Samurai he continued, "I can do this, but you have to promise you will not try to help! I do not know if I can avoid hitting you!"

Zilo's eyes narrowed as Cruxis lifted the knife and plunged it into his own palm, but where normally blood would shoot from the hand, instead there was a crimson light. The samurai fully turned back to his old opponent, and Cruxis pulled out the knife and stabbed his other hand. Cruxis held out his hands and his shield and sword shoot off the ground back to his hands before he shouted,

"I bare the Stigmata of Freya! I am Cruxis Valior, Holy Vindicator and you will fall before me!" Cruxis' eyes explode with a similar crimson red light and his wounds that he held disappeared as he cast a cure spell to a degree he had never been able to heal before. The wounds that glowed on his palms however continued to bleed their crimson light.

The samurai ran at the warrior and as he tried to slash at him Cruxis blocked with shield before his hand shot forward with sword in tow. The light on his hands sparked forward and also pierced through the samurai's guard leaving a series of wounds on the man's hip. For the first time since the beginning of this encounter, the Black Samurai reacted to the wound with a grunt.

The samurai jumped back off the blade and held his sword shaking. Cruxis flicked the blood from Permafrost as he lifted his shield up and shouted, "A Vindicator's Shield never falters!" And his shield began to glow the same crimson light as his hands.

The samurai charged and sliced with the shield deflecting the attack, only this time it was Cruxis' turn to hold no reaction as his guard didn't budge a centimeter while the katana of the samurai was bounced off by a great force. Cruxis stepped forward and slashed at the Samurai. The samurai only barely manged to deflect the blade as it swung along his own blade mere inches from his face.

Cruxis followed up the swing with a bash from his shield, forcing the warrior back. The Black Samurai was now the one on the back pedal and began to step backward as he breathed calmly and closed his eyes. In a flash he stepped in, and looked to be trying to shatter Cruxis's shield arm with a hard swing, but the warrior managed to move fast enough to avoid the shield arm entirely and slash across Cruxis's unguarded chest.

Cruxis spat up blood and fell to his knee as the Black Samurai hopped back again. While the Vindicator had unleashed his new power, he was still mortal and had lost a significant amount of blood. With each passing moment more blood flowed from his palms. He stood and healed himself again with the last of his cure spells to undo his body's damage, and still, his palms bled.

As Cruxis looked at the Samurai he could tell that this man was on his last legs. Cruxis stepped forward with the poise and authority of a holy warrior and as the Samurai moved to swing, Cruxis swung his sword upward and the katana flew from the Samurai's grip before Cruxis had thrust Permafrost into the chest of the Black Samurai. It was over.

As Cruxis drew his blade out he felt a grip as the eyes of the Black Samurai flashed back to life and punched the unprepared paladin in his jaw. Through an Unstoppable Resolve the samurai was making an Honorable Stand as he pulled Cuxis' blade from his own chest and moved to decapitate the dazed paladin.

But as he went to strike he stopped and fell to the ground, with a Cruxis' knife planted between his legs. Cruxis's crimson light dissipated as May and Zilo rushed over to heal him. Once May arrived at his side Cruxis whispered with half closed eyes, "Good tip May, a bit of underhanded tactic might be good here and there."

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