Saturday, January 19, 2019

Master of Strings Ch69: Brotherhood

Cruxis and his brother Aakif stood firm with their crimson white blade auras pointed right at each other. Aakif moved in first and the two long swords clashed with the crimson mist blasting off the edges from the force of the air. Cruxis swung his shield in to knock into Aakif's head, but his brother deflected the attack with the bulk of his shoulder gear and a twist of his head.

The two of them disconnect with both of them gripping to their symbols of Arete, Aakif shouts out to be blessed with Righteous Vigor while Cruxis invokes a Litany of Defense to counter that. Aakif's strikes now became more precise every strike he made, but Cruxis' shining newly warded armor was the perfect counter to this more accurate assault.

Next Cruxis activated his blade's new enchantment and the mist that already coated the blade now crystallized and froze in the air as an enchantment of Icy Burst, but Aakif fired back by casting Lesser Angelic Aspect to resist damage from the chilling weapon.

Back and forth, the two of them used spells that had on hand to try and gain an edge, only to be quashed by the other casting the precise spell that countered theirs. unlike Zilo and Leo's spell slinging match, these two keep their quarrel much more intimate, never resorting to explosive or ranged attacks, just simply their swords and shields.

After a few moments the auras of the two paladins flickered around shining and distorting any light that came their way and their clashes shook the dust at their feet with every blow. Cruxis was astounded by Aakif's swordsmanship, he was never this skilled in their days in Arete's temple. In their matches before Cruxis would normally emerge the victor.

Noting this, Cruxis noticed that Aakif wasn't even looking to his blade when he defended with it, but rather focused wholly on his assault. It was reckless, and yet Aakif held his ground. After their latest clash Cruxis raised his shield but poked over it to ask, "You're defense is more fool proof than Helreginn's kite shield Aakif, you must've trained from dawn til dusk to have skill like that."

Aakif breaths heavy from the clashing, now with a cooler head, and holds his sword aloft and snickers, "I do train much, but sadly I cannot take full credit. This blade has been enchanted with the blessings of a guardian and a defending grace. With it, my defense can shift from simple to stalwart at my will. Come, I'll show you."

Aakif drops his shield and extends out his blade goading Cruxis in. Cruxis smiles and charges in with a shield bash, but Aakif leans left and knocks it away with the flat of his blade. Cruxis spins off the deflection and tries a back hand cut, but again, Aakif's blade catches it on the vertical. Cruxis follows through on his spin and tries to crash his shield into his own blade to push past the defense, but Aakif's blade angles down and Cruxis' two weapons slide up and over his target.

Aakif twirls around low as a result of the deflection, and Cruxis thinks he sees an opening, but Aakif's blade springs to life as his back is turned and flicks up to knock the icy blade away inches from Aakif's shoulder while his eyes remain averted. Cruxis looks in awe after seeing the display of defense, and leaves himself open for a swift heel kick from Aakif finishing his spin.

Cruxis stands ready, now on the defense for a follow up attack, but flinches as Aakif picks his shield from the exact spot he left it in. Cruxis bites his lip and remarks, "You didn't take a single step, incredible."

"Time has many advantages, Arete teaches that the blade shall cut the way to peace, and so I've made sure my blade can protect as well as slay."

"A noble venture, but I fear I have picked up a few trick as well." Cruxis drops to a guard stance, flicking his shield past his lower torso and back into position. He motions for Aakif to attack him as he had just attack Aakif before speaking, "Care to see them?"

Aakif smiles and says, "I'd be delighted." And the man attacks with an overhead swing and Cruxis predictably raises his shield to block, only at the moment of impact the shield falters and flips off to the left of Cruxis guard, falling away along with Aakif's swing. Aakif looks up shocked from the audacity of forgoing your best defense, only to feel a sharp horrible pain in his shoulder.

The Crowd explodes from the first significant blow of the match and Aakif stumbles away as he feels his shoulder become soaked down to the arm. He feels for and removes a dagger planted in it. He chuckles, followed by a Lay on Hands to repair the damage. Cruxis chuckles back as he snatches his shield off the ground in the same exact motion Aakif had.

Aakif tilts his head with a playful grin and points to the dagger with his blade, asking, "You learned to be a cheater in your time deserting."

"I've met two men, both with noses glued to spell books, and they taught me two important things. First, cunning can be the decider between living and dying, and no oaths can change that. With your head stuck in the scripture you probably wouldn't notice me gripping a dagger under my shield rather than the shield. The second man taught me a bit about that blade of yours."

Aakif looks to his enchanted blade as Cruxis continues, tapping his own magic blade as he does, "I looked at a few different options for crafting my blade Permafrost here. I looked at the defending and guardian options, but my friend warned me that I can't gain that kind of defense from nowhere, and it would come at the cost of my blade's edge. So I figured you can't attack and defend at the same time, or at least not very well."

Aakif's face hardens, but then relaxes again before he shakes his face and he readies a stance, saying, "Its... good to know you've made new friends since leaving."

Cruxis's resolve finally shows a bit of relaxation and says back, "That isn't the same as forgetting the old you know... and I think you know that."

"I-I-... Yes, you always tried to convince me to sneak out down to the city. I always told you the sisters would be testing us on the scripture, but you always complained saying it was boring reading and rereading it all the time."

"My little field trips were important too, its why I became a better fighter than you." Aakif squints at that, but his face eventually breaks and he chuckles, "Yeah, you're probably right... Hey Cruxis, You don't need to tell me, but... Why does Arete bless a dropout like you with her power to smite?"

Cruxis looks to his blade with the crystal blood mist melting away and he says, "Its actually kinda simple, as our prayer goes, 'I am the sword that forges ahead for peace.' She said you were on a violent path, one that she put you on, and if she simply took your power, you'd be resentful."

Cruxis taps his blade to his own chest and motions out to the whole arena, "So she put all this on, so that I might bring you back to the light you swore to stay with."

Aakif's eyes flashed as he fell to his knees. both his shield and weapon clattered to the ground with the auras he had accumulated disappearing. Cruxis' own aura faded as well as Aakif put words to his feelings, "So I wasn't sent for you, I was sent... for me."

"I only learned moments ago, but I must know... are we still brothers?" Asks Cruxis extending a hand. Aakif looks to the hand, smiles and grips it, standing alongside his brother. The reformed vengeful man looks to the stands and shouts to them, "I, Aakif Harlix, concede. The match goes to Cruxis Vailor!"

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Master of Strings Ch68: Arete's Adversaries

Alaroc wobbled his way back to the fighter's pit and Cruxis and Aakif both turned to face each other. Aakif rose first and sauntered toward the stairway down, letting out a short whisper as he pasted,

"No more running."

Cruxis' face was solemn  as he rose to walk down as well. As he turned a hand grabbed his elbow and he looked back to see Leo with a face contorted in pain. The Magus seemed to be trying to speak, but was having visible issues saying words. After a moment Leo turned over to Zilo and nudged him in the stomach.

Zilo looked back to see the two then took a moment, before seeing what was needed, he then stood and gripped Cruxis by the shoulder. The bard smiled and said, "Cruxis, don't worry, No matter your past, we will still be allies when that fight is done, remember that."

Cruxis gave Zilo a weak smile and nodded before walking down to the arena. Alaroc walked up to join the two of them, out of breath and tired, Zilo got to work fixing him up with some bandages. Alaroc meanwhile stared down at the two paladins, both of which assumed the same stance with their swords and shields, if not for the fact Cruxis lacked a helmet, you'd think they were perfect copies.

When the match began the two of them remained still, as though they didn't even hear the signal to fight. It felt like minutes pasted as the two of them just stood doing little other than breathing. You'd expect the crowd to boo at this, but they too remained still, the tone of this fight was unlike any that had come before.

"What are they up to?" Remarked Leo and Alaroc turned, still gazing at the two stood fighters.

"They are fighting, maybe not physically, but fighting for the first move. If they have trained since childhood together, then they likely know exactly how the other would respond meaning they won't move without a decisive gambit. In all that armor it makes little sense to move more than you need to."

After another few moment Aakif lowered into a more relaxed position and walked forward firmly striding toward Cruxis. Cruxis didn't flinch waiting till his friend got within 2 meters before taking a step forward and thrusting his shield out.

Aakif dropped his right shoulder to absorb the impact, being shifted back a few inches and raised his shield up to block an overhead swing from Cruxis' blade. Because of the swing, Cruxis drew back his shield for his attack. Aakif with his blade down from his dropped shoulder brought his sword up into a rising slash off his back hand.

Cruxis' shield arm was unprepared and if not for his chest plate the blade would have split his head in half, but all it left was a cut upside his left cheek. Cruxis drew back, likely to regroup, but just as he landed on his back leg he instead darted in and as Aakif returned to he ready position, He was suddenly cracked in the face by Cruxis' shield, losing his helmet in the process.

His head flicked back and he now sported a crooked nose for his overconfidence. Reacting off the pain Aakif flicked his sword across his midsection with the tip pointed at the ground. even without looking directly at it, he redirected away Cruxis' next stab as it approached Aakif's armor covered abdomen.

The fight continued in this manner, both warriors instinctively reacting and altering their tried and true training to try and catch the other off guard with only minor cuts and bruises to show an progress. the crowd was swaying left to right as they watched the rhythm of the fight go back and forth, with a quick cheer every time either one received another hit.

The heroes in the stand were not seeing the injuries though they looked at the eyes of the two fighters. Aakif's eyes were focused and unwavering, they were the eyes of a solider facing the enemy on the battlefield. Cruxis looked to be sporting similar eyes, only his eyes wavered. He was clearly trying to reach the same state as Aakif, but failing to do so.

"This doesn't look good." Said Leo biting his lip.

Zilo sighed and said, "Of course not, Cruxis needs to take the rhythm back and keep it before Aakif can."

Alaroc rubs rubs his chin and says, "How would you do fighting a man who knows you so well? Trust me, this match is not one of tactics and strength, this is a battle of wills, and that is what Cruxis needs. Not the rhythm."

Cruxis is batted away by another bash of Aakif's shield.  His armor now sports a handful of dents and niches from some focused sword strikes. Aakif returns to his ready stance and twirls his blade, as well as closing his eyes. Cruxis' eyes widen in fear, and he mumbles, "You wouldn't, you can't..."

"I am the sword that forges ahead for peace, the slayer of those who stray to violence. Arete of the bloodstained blade, lend me your strength to do what is needed."

With that chant the blade Aakif holds becomes coated in a new aura. the blade looks to be covered in a crimson mist that floats about on the wind, only to fade as it leaves the area of the blade, and the handle up to the forearm of Aakif is covered in a pure white aura made up of not a mist, but of ethereal stands that seem to stick to his arm while also flowing with the wind. This was a smite blessed by Arete herself.

Cruxis' body stiffened as he stared upon this. His teeth grinded and his grip tightened as his eyes became full of rage. He shouted at his former comrade, screaming,

"WHY! Why would the Goddess condone this kind of thing against one of her own! Aakif, this is sacrilege what you attempt here today!" Aakif swings his blade, the aura of the red mist and white stands following in the blade's wake. the swing hums with the power of the divine, silencing Cruxis as Aakif settles into a ready stance.

"You have lost the right to know her will, deserter! I listen to what she tells me, I still have faith! If she wishes me to slay a traitor such as you, even-"

Aakif chokes a moment, lowing his head and whispering to himself, before raising it again, with small tears welling in his eyes as his face shakes and quivers, "Even if that traitor is my brother. I shall do so without question!"

Cruxis looks to his brother's face, seeing the turmoil in his eyes, and it all makes sense to him, his sword and shield feel far to heavy to move as Aafik rushes in, shouting a battle cry, and pierces through Cruxis's armor.

Cruxis' eyes close and in a flash he sees it all, and accepts that if his death will give Aakif peace, then he accept this burden. As he falls he hears a voice, the same voice that he heard as he lost to the barbarian on the previous day, and while he thought to know why he should fall today, the voice tells him more that what he had thought.

Cruxis' arm flashes down and catches the ground before it shoots him back upright and slams his pommel into Aakif's temple. Aakif fades back as Cruxis stands in his ready stance and closes his eyes, chanting,

"I am the sword that forges ahead for peace, the slayer of those who stray to violence. Arete of the bloodstained blade, lend me your strength to do what is needed."

And in a flash Cruxis' blade matches with Aakif's aura, and Aakif stands bewildered. The shocked paladin stares and his turmoil is replaced with utter shock as he wavers to speak, saying, "b-b-but, h-how?..."

Cruxis twirls the blade about to get the feel of it and settles it pointing at his brother, and the paladin with the newly focused eyes says, "Come, and I'll show you."

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Master of Strings Ch67: Knight vs Dragon

Tess, after using her Form of the Dragon ability stalks around as Alaroc twirls his Energy blade in his left hand and his Dragon Slaying blade in his right. Their eyes lock and Alaroc raises his dragon slaying blade at his opponent and levels a Challenge at her.

"By my honor as a Knight, and by the blade I brandish, I will not falter in this challenge I face." Alaroc's eyes focus in through his helm and he and his skeletal steed, Twenty-Four. Tess begins to flap her wings and take to the sky.

Alaroc and Twenty four begin to dash about the arena as the dragon begins raining down Breaths of lightning that make her previous Lightning Bolts look tame. Alaroc and Twenty-Four manage to avoid most of them though, as Alaroc shouts out, "Tandem Evasion! Shake it off!"

Once he shouts it, Twenty-Four's movements become much quicker as Alaroc's eyes keep on the above dragon. Every time she lets loose a breath attack Alaroc's boot knocks into the left or right of Twenty-Four's rib cage, and the horse takes no time in bolting to the side to avoid the bolt.

By the end of rain of lightning the arena had taken most of the attacks, as Alaroc and Twenty-Four stand mockingly motioning for Tess to come at them. In the sky Tess lets out a toothy smirk as she swoops around and dive bombs at Alaroc.

Alaroc puts his Energy blade out in front defensively keeping his Dragon Slayer off-hand, waiting for the ideal moment. Tess's new form may only be the size of a Very Young Dragon, but it's ferocity is like that of an ancient dragon.

Teeth, claws, wings and a tail assault the man, with a few of the attacks managing to connect with the knight. Twenty-Four keeps swaying to keep Alaroc atop him as Alaroc twists his Energy blade around deflecting and redirecting some of the claws, He then follows through with a stab from the Dragon Slayer as it's runes spark to life.

Alaroc manages to scratch at the wing and cut down it, disabling it's flight capabilities. Tess scrambles about flapping her good wing and roaring into the air. She twists into the ground landing low and stalking.

"Lets finish this buddy, time for the Bone Rush" Alaroc and Twenty-Four let loose a Cavalier Charge at the downed dragon, but right at the faithful moment Twenty-Four is stopped in his tracks. Tess holds the beast back gripping right where the horse's haunches are.

Before Alaroc can even snap a pun, he and Twenty-Four are twisted up and slammed into the ground. Twenty-Four breaks apart and forms back into his portable form, Alaroc stands again looking at Tess and smiles.

"Been liftin?"

"Dragon supplements. Best thing in the world to get bigger"

Tess begins to streak in like a snake and snap at Alaroc. Alaroc stops the attack with a flick of the Energy blade, but with a sweep of the tail Alaroc is tripped down to the ground and Tess is upon him immediately, digging a claw into Alaroc's gut.

Alaroc winces  as he felt the blood of the stab drip down his midsection. He kept his eyes locked on the Dragon's face. He refused to looks down, both because he didn't wish to see the damage, and because he already knew what to expect, his garb cut through like wet paper.

Alaroc kicked up and managed to get Tess far enough away that he could get enough room to swipe his Dragon Slayer and cut into Tess's shoulder. Once again Tess squeals in pain as the runes of the blade did their job, making her rear back and take up a stalking stance.

Alaroc rises slowly, keeping the Dragon Slayer out pointed at her. Fear of the blade kept her looking as Alaroc took his Energy blade and...

"No" Said the man in the hat toward the helmeted man.

"What do you mean no? Long as I make the Con check I should be able to-"

"Brilliant energy doesn't do that, it just passes weapons and armor."

The man known as Jones interrupts and says, "It's only a +4 enchantment, he's got room for Flaming as well."

The man in the helmet smiles as he grabs a Twenty-Sided Die, but Jones points to the man, and says, with a smile, "Oh hold on buddy, first Alaroc needs to make a Heal Check."

"AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH! Justia's Spear!" Screams Alaroc as he presses his Energy blade to his wound and from his overly sensitive tapping on the wound rather than pressing on it solidly, he looks to only make the wound larger, even though the bleeding stops.

Alaroc's eyes go sour as he stares down the Dragon. The Dragon smiles and begins to form back into her Elven form, holding her wounded shoulder that forms back with her. She twirls her two sided blade as her graceful form finalizes and says,

"That blade of yours was unexpected, but from the looks of it I don't think I need much more pressure to make you pop, and so I ask again. Surrender."

"No can do. Long as at least one of my arms is working, I won't stop fighting."

Tess's eyes begin to spark back to the green eyes of a Bronze Dragon and her skin gleams again. She sparks with power as she says, "Thanks for the info."

Tess blasts forward and slashes at Alaroc who flashes his Dragon Slayer out to defend as he throws his Energy blade up and changes his grip to his left on his blocking Dragon Slayer. He then snatches his Energy blade out of the air with his right hand and swipes it around and into Tess's unguarded hip.

Tess stumbles back as Alaroc winces to move from his gut. Tess glances down to her burned wound and back to Alaroc. Alaroc smiles and says,

"Just cause I can't use the Dragon Slayer, doesn't mean I've no chance."

"Noted, you are stubborn."

Alaroc thinks back to his training with his mother and father for the life they wanted him to live and he responds, "It's hereditary, you may have dragon blood, but I've got the blood of something much grander."

Tess and Alaroc stand facing each other down and Tess charges in to slice down her blade, but Alaroc blocks it with his Dragon Slayer, then as he tries to pull the same maneuver as before, Tess blocks the energy blade with her clawed hand. As they lock weapons their faces turn stern as they exert power, and Tess seems to push back against the struggling Alaroc.

She smiles and says, "You stand no chance, no matter your blood. I am stronger, smarter, and more skilled. What do you have?"

Alaroc's eyes shift about as he smiles and says, "It's not that I have something, It's that I lack something else." Tess tilts her head as Alaroc grins and says, "Fear."

Alaroc lets go of his Energy blade, leaving himself wide open, and at risk. Luckily Tess and her claw falters as he brings his right hand up and across, clocking Tess right across the chin. Her head spins along with her body, and she falls to the lightning scorched floor. Alaroc stands, shaking from his wounds and the lightning still in his body, but victorious.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Master of Strings Ch66: Alaroc's Unrest

Zilo and Leo arrived back in the rest area, drained and hurt, their magic almost totally depleted. Leo looked too see the unconscious Alaroc. The guards walked over to Cruxis, who was looking over the drink addled Alaroc.

The guard spoke, "One of the other fighters dropped out, so get your friend ready. He's got about a minute before he's up to bat."

Leo walks over to see whats up, while Zilo took a seat to look at the closed door to the arena, hearing the murmurs of the crowd beyond. While in his trance someone sits down next to him.

"I suppose I don't have to worry about you beating me then." The bard looks over to see Tess smiling there, sitting with him. The man smiles back and responds,

"Suppose not, too bad, I was looking forward to that fight. Would have been a fantastic final match, but you aren't guaranteed a spot either. Alaroc is very skilled." Tess looks back over here shoulder to see Leo and Cruxis trying to make Alaroc fight worth, Cruxis coaching him with patting his hand, while Leo is much less gentle and slaps the man's face a few times.

"I'm not all that worried, wish me luck." With a small pat on the shoulder Tess walks out. Meanwhile Alaroc is finally beginning to wake holds his head and says, "Ho man that's a bangin, can someone get me a drink real quick?"

Alaroc is very quickly and roughly thrown through the arena doors and slides along the ground on his face. He holds his head and rises up again to see Tess standing there taking out her double sided blade. Alaroc in response retrieves what looks to be a simple hilt from his belt rather than his trusty dragon slaying blade.

The match starts and Tess leaps forward twirling her blade and swiping a few times at Alaroc. Without any alcohol, Alaroc is far more capable of dodging, and with only a few swift hops and ducks he is in clear attack range.

He flicks out his hilt and out of it forms what seems to be a blade made of light which Alaroc swipes in and it connects with the elf's blade. The two lock together and-

"Wait a second! Is that a light saber?" Asks the man in the hat from the other world. The tall man in the helmet responds.

"Yeah, pretty much I got it from some of the demons we fought." The man known as Jones nods along with the tall man, but the man in the hat grimaces and follows up with, "Then why did it just connect with the blade?"

Jones shakes his head and says, "I'm not gonna break the bank just to come up with a new mechanic like that, so I just made it do flame damage and make it highly magicked." The man in the hat typed away on his laptop and says back, "Dude, that's already a mechanic, here."

The man known as Jones looks to the laptop and reads it quickly, his eyes widen and he snatches the Alaroc character sheet and erases and writes on it, as he does he says, "Yeah, this is just what I needed, didn't know this enchantment was a thing. Here you go, anyway, what does Alaroc do now?"

Back at the arena Alaroc winds back his blade and swings again, this time as the attack comes in Tess' blade doesn't block the attack, instead the light sword passes through the blade and right at Tess's torso. Tess snaps back just in time to avoid the swing and she stands off against Alaroc again.

Alaroc looks to his blade in a self surprised tone himself, "Brilliant Energy blade, not bad eyh?"
Tess spins her blade around and responds back, "Dangerous to be sure, but not as bad as you'd think, especially for someone like me."

Alaroc tilts his head questioningly as Tess shuts her eyes before opening them back up again and her light blue eyes have shifted to fill with a green piercing orbs taking up he entire eyeball. The surrounding skin of her body began to give off a sheen, much like bronze in color. Her new scaled body also seems to spark with power of electricity with every movement of her body.

She still looked relatively similar besides he eyes being swapped, but once her form shifted a bit she raised her arm and pointed to Alaroc, electricity sparking as she did, forming finally into a Lightning Bolt spell.

Alaroc snaps to attention in time to dodge, but too little too late, the electricity courses through him. Alaroc shakily stands again and dashes in and makes an over hand slash the blade looks to be about to cut into Tess, but she brings up her arm and catches the blade.

Alaroc's face goes blank. Tess smirks with a toothy draconic grin and speaks, "Brilliant Energy is a rather helpful method of attack, only really affecting living matter, luckily for me, I have these natural armor scales here, and..."

Tess pushes back against Alaroc despite her elf stature she still easily overpowers the larger, stronger looking man, as she continues, "My blood also lends me a bit more strength as well." Tess twists the blade away from her body and she sighs, "I don't wish to kill you boy, so I ask that you surrender now and avoid me having to make you surrender."

Alaroc looks up, struggling to push back against the woman and he responds, "Yes, that would be the smart thing to do, but Ma didn't raise a coward, and I still have a few tricks."

Tess shakes her head before she sweeps the ground under Alaroc. Alaroc instinctively leaps away from the swing, only to see that Tess' grip isn't letting up, and without grounded footing Tess has no issue hurling Alaroc up and away.

Alaroc impacts on the wall hard on his back, falling forward onto his knee. Tess cracks her neck as she advances forward, no longer leaping and dancing, but stepping heavy with her new copper scales across her body. Alaroc reaches back and takes out a bone, throwing it forward and forming Twenty-Four.

Alaroc leaps up onto his trusty stead and charges in, taking Tess by surprise. This leaves enough of a window for Alaroc to make a swing from above, nailing Tess in the shoulder as she fails to raise her arm in defense.

With the force from the swing and the speed of Twenty-Four, Tess gets blasted back and her shoulder is heavily injured. Tess tries to raise her arm after she recovers and fires off another Lighting Bolt, but aboard Twenty-Four, Alaroc's speed is much too much for The wounded elf.

Alaroc closes in and points his blade at the downed Tess and says, mockingly, "I don't wish to kill you girl, so I ask that you surrender now and avoid me having to make you surrender." Tess chuckles and looks up to Alaroc and says, "Fine, so you have some tricks, but care to allow me one more attempt sir knight?"

Alaroc prompts Twenty-Four to canter back and Tess smiles before her beautiful hair and elf features melt away and her armor melts into her body, along with dropping her weapon. The body becomes more beastly ending with a bronze dragon being present in the arena rather than Tess.

Alaroc pounds his fist into his hand and remarks, "Oooooooh, Dragon, I though you reminded me of something, well sorry bout this sista, but, you may have screwed up, cause..."

Alaroc retrieves his dragon slayer in his right hand as he passes his energy blade to his left, as he smiles and says, "Dragons, are my specialty."

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Master of Strings Ch65: Spell swords

Zilo shook off the sleepiness from his previous night as he and Leo prepared to walk into the arena. The bard stood nervous as the magus looked cool as could be. The two of them lined up and the crowd cheered ready to see the two friends attack each other.

The moment the fight began Leo whipped out his spell book and quickly cast the Vanish spell before even drawing his blade. Zilo breath deeply, but rather than taking out his blade, he reached for his violin, and began to play, mumbling something like a spell.

The crowd looked on as Zilo let out steady notes from his instrument, then, in a flash Zilo's violin rose up and he spun around taking out his sword and blocking nothing. Leo formed up behind the bard with a shocked expression. Zilo smiled with closed eyes and said,

"Echolocation, shouldn't have told me your plan old friend." Followed by a swift round house kick that the magus rolled to avoid. The two of them circled as Leo smiled and said, "Well good, I was afraid you'd go down too quick, but how about we make this interesting?"

Zilo circled back smiling as well, "I'm listening."

We each take a minute, get out all our spells we need out of the way now before we go all out."

"Sounds fine to me, let's get at it."

Zilo's violin floated to his shoulder, and Leo's spell book flipped open in his left hand. Both casters simultaneously shouted the same beginning spells.

"Haste! Cat's Grace! Bull's Strength! Bear's Endurance!" After those 4 the two casters began to bridge out with their more specific spells and powers with Leo shouting,

"StoneskinTactical AdaptationMagus Arcana Flaming burst and Accurate Strikes!" Leo's aura becomes visible from his newly found speed and enhanced body, his skin no longer moves like flesh, but armor, and his blade is covered in fire, but the fire doesn't flicker, it is condensed and sharpened to resemble an extension of the sword that would fill the middle of his rhoka. Zilo responded in turn.

"Eagle's Splendor! Heroism! Inspire GreatnessSpellsword!" Zilo's aura equally matches Leo's but his smile and eyes shine with sharpness. His body also looks to gain a golden sheen and his violin begins playing an alteration of his battle tune, but more focused and faster paced, energizing himself further. He finishes by flicking out his wand of lightning bolt and melting it into his blade making it spark with the power of lightning.

The two magically charged warrior stand with their elementally focused weapons intertwined with power. The crowd was worried as they stopped fighting, but now the crowd erupts seeing these two master spell swords stare each other down with the arcane arts at their back.

Zilo makes the first move, flicking his blade out and shooting a bolt of lightning at Leo. Leo jukes to the side, letting his hardened skin absorb most of the remaining electric charge. Leo's blade flies out at Zilo the bard flips up and away avoiding it narrowly, but Leo twirls in return an cuts Zilo with a light chest graze, cutting past his armor like tissue paper and scorching the surrounding armor on the bard.

The bard lands, ignoring the wound as he retrieves his whip in his left hand while thrusting forward with his blade. The rhoka fulfills it's design purpose and Leo catches the blade between the twin edges through the torrent of fire in-between.

Leo goes to punch Zilo's face, but the bard is a fraction quicker as he avoids the fist with a shift and headbutts Leo in the skull. The two split apart and Leo holds his head, regretting headbutting the hardened skin and quickly repairing himself with a Cure Wounds spell.

Leo darts to Zilo's flank and makes a Spellstrike with a casting of Vampiric Touch to regain some health of his own. Zilo is struck and his life drained as the blade hits him with a burning arc. The strike ended up being so accurate that the blaze found a weak point on it's own and blew back Zilo in an explosion.

Zilo flipped through from the attack, but managed to use his skilled acrobatics to readjust and land in the crowd on the stairway down to the front row. He quickly lept into the air and aimed his blade, charging for a lightning bolt. Leo rolled to dodge the bolt, but the Zilo waited for himself to land from his leap to actually fire, surprising Leo and making the bolt hit home and scorch a line along the arena ground.

Leo knelt heavy on the ground before raising his arm prepared for a Fireball, but Zilo snatched his violin out of the sky after sheathing his blade and began to play a mesmerizing tune somber tune. Leo was scared stiff, it was Zilo's Dirge of Doom, meant to strike fear into those who hear it. Zilo advanced ready to strike down the fearful Magus, but Leo had planned for this.

The magus smiled and with a flash he lept up and swiped at the violin, no longer feigning his fear. Zilo barely managed to snatch his instrument from the air with his whip, and spun on the back swing to connect with Leo's blade as he drew his blade again.

Leo caught the attack and charged up another spell in his off hand, releasing it and blasting Zilo back again with a Burning Hands spell.

Zilo was now feeling the pain and his morale spells were waning in the face of Leo's spells, every time he got close Leo countered him. It was then when Zilo's eyes widened and he put away his weapons, taking in hand Harmony, forming it into a bow.

"You have me best with swords, but this is no longer a tournament of only swords!" Remarked Zilo as he flashed with his magically enhanced speed and accuracy to fire arrows quicker than the crowd could register. Zilo's Inspire Greatness tune rose up again, furthering his accuracy and skill.

Leo dodged the first, but the speed of the second caught him off guard, planting itself in his shoulder. Leo's hardened skin was good, but it could only stand so much before being used up, so he charged Zilo's volley avoiding what he could, but half of the arrows hit their mark even as the magus dodged. His stone skin shattered as he approached and charged up a new spell to try and take back the flow of combat.

Leo tried to slip up Zilo with a Fireball but the bard dived off to the side and avoided the core of the explosion, even managing to loose another two arrows as he went. Leo once again was pierced, this time with enough force to send him back and down to the ground fading. The arrows weren't fatal, but they did have the magus out of commission and thinking that Zilo who been the one to pass to the next round.

Leo came to a horrible realization at that. Cruxis would win their bet... Leo would not let that happen. He had enough in him for another few spells and one last attack. After a few moments Zilo  approached and looked to the crowd still waiting for a verdict.

He suddenly heard a snap and looked to see his bowstring was cut by a floating dagger from a Mage Hand. The bard shouts in panic, "AGAIN!? BUT-" Zilo turns to see Leo standing manipulating mage hand with the glyph for silent spells in his spell book. Leo smiles and tells the bard,

"Quieting Weapons your Echolocation is void." Zilo reaches for his blade, but Leo is too quick and manages to slash the Bard's sword arm before he can retrieve his blade. The bard reaches for snaps and returns harmony to bo form, but the string remains cut and Zilo has no choice, he smiles to Leo and says,

"Guess I don't notice things, I surrender Leo, well done!" The two friends lock arms and the crowd erupts seeing a display as magical as that was worth forsaking the old rules.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Master of Strings Ch64: Moonlit Barding

Zilo and Alaroc stayed awake longer into the night with Zilo telling Alaroc the details of his time being raised in the Plane of Shadows up until he came to the material plane. Alaroc's sight may have wobbled here and there, but his attention didn't waver as his friend spilled his past before him.

"Takes a cunnin mind and Adamantine balls to cross a dragon, bully tah you Zilo." Complimented the cavalier as he lifted and drank down his mug. While Zilo wasn't as far gone as Alaroc, he was by no means sober, he shot a finger gun to his friend and said,

"Yer darn right my man. But nuff about me, what about you? How'd you get here."

Alaroc froze as his head lifted from his head down position and said, "Yer parents' never taught you, basically the dad takes his-" Zilo splays out laughing and shouts, Noooo! Ya loon! Get here in life!"

Alaroc's expression cracks as he laughs back and shakes off the drunkenness a bit to tell the tale.

"Well, me pa was a strict son of Dema. Always had me tryin to learn bout the world to turn out better than he was. Ma was different, but just as demandin. She taught me the way of the sword and horsemanship. She wanted me to know how to handle meself. both a them were larger than life though, let me tell ya."

Alaroc leans back looking off wistfully and continuing, "Pa had been a great leader since he was almost half my age, and people respected him for his council and how he could so objectively weight consequences. He was always thinkin, and I thought he'd never make a wrong choice."

Alaroc leans back in and spreads his arms wide, miming swinging a sword, "And Ma was devastating, wasn't as much a leader as Pa, but when she defended her home, the guards at her back would rest easy, since half the monsters were already as good as dead."

"Was she like a guard captain or something?" Asked the bard. Alaroc lifted and stared at his mug and said, "Sure, that's how Pa met her. He picked her for the job, another brilliant decision of his since they fell in love. Still are too, far as I know."

"They sound incredible. Might we meet'em one day?" Asked Zilo. Alaroc put down his mug and sighed as he poured more ale, "Mine ain't in another Plane like yours, but I don't think that'll happen. It's kinda complicated, We're on bad terms since..."

Alaroc swigged down his drink but that last swallow did him in, and his head went swimmy and heavy. Before the cavalier could steady himself he was off the stool and face first on the ground. the bard looked down to the cavalier and began thinking to himself.

"I wonder if me and Aria would make good parents? Is it weird for me to think that? How long we been in this? Almost a year? I think? Is it too soon? Well first's marriage. I should get a ring. What's her ring size? I could ask. No, stupid, then she'll know. Best to wait. Prolly too soon. But then aga-"

Zilo's Thoughts are shattered as someone new takes Alaroc's spot. The bard's gaze is double, but he manages to focus enough to make out who it is. It's a woman, thin, piercing light blue eyes and silky blonde hair down to her lower back. Elven ears, that was the clue Zilo needed, she was one of the competitors.

"Hello there, You're one of the swordsmen competing right?" She asks with a light inviting tone that tickled Zilo's ears.

"Yes ma'am, just celebrating the ruling on my friend." Says the bard lifting his half full mug. The Elven woman nods and continues, "Of course that's why I wanted to speak with you, I wanted to thank you for that ruling, it means I can let loose for the rest of my matches. You see I also have a bit of magic about me."

Zilo looks her up and down, before casting a bit of Detect Magic he can feel a primal power come from her body, but she giggles and says back, "It's rude to invade a girl's privacy sir." Zilo's face swaps to shock and he bows his head.

"OH, I'm sorry ma'am."

She smiles warmly, "It's fine, you could at least introduce yourself first though,"

Never missing the chance Zilo hops up with a twirl and a bow, stumbling a bit from his drinks and proclaiming, "Zilo Realms! Master of Strings! At your service my lady!" The Elf woman smiles and stands with a curtsy in turn and says,

"Tessa'ladra Hare'nela, of the Western Tower Elves, though most of the common tongue call me just Tess." She raises back up and she tilts her head and asks, "So with your friend lost to the drink, seems you have some free time, care to let me thank you proper with a stroll around town?"

Zilo looks down to Alaroc and considered helping him to his room, but without Cruxis or Leo it would be far too much effort. The bard shrugs and says, "I don't see why not."

Tess smiles and offers her hand. Bardic etiquette kicks in and Zilo offers out his arm and leads the lady out of the bar. As they wander out the door Leo, from the window, peers out to see the two with a neutral face.

"Out with another lady huh?" Leo looks down to his spell book on the desk, "I feel like Aria would want me to prep an extra Fireball."

Zilo looks over to his new elven friend Zilo as the two waltzed around taking in the night sights of the city. He asked her, "So now that we are introduced, May I ask what kind of Magic you wield?"

The Elf smiles and squints and says, "Planning to tell your drunk friend how to beat me?"

"Oh yeah, you would be facing him. No, that wouldn't be fair if I did that, I'm not like my friend Leo."

"The Magus?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"Not hard to tell when you are also a magus, even though our powers are a bit different."

"How do you mean?"

"I'm a Bloodborn Magus. My magic comes from my magic blood."

"So like a sorcerer."

"Sorceress, and yes, only I can take a punch. Bit of Elven Combat Training goes a long way."

"You'd be surprised, I know a little guy who can dish out quite a bit of damage, saved me from marrying an orc with his left hook."

"Suppose I should thank him then, otherwise you'd be stuck with the missus rather than helping me win the tournament."

"You haven't won yet, I'm still in the running." Responds Zilo with a smirk.

"Fair enough, anyway, I told you mine. What do you got?"

"You've hardly told me anything, Knowing you're a sorcerer-! Sorceress, means nothing without your bloodline."

"Deal, but only if you explain yourself after."

"Fine. So what's in your blood?"

"I've got a bit of Draconic blood, Bronze to be specific, not just that, but I've refined it quite a bit, and I'm now what you would call a Dragon Disciple."

"Really, Dragons from were I'm from wouldn't even consider mixing blood."

"It's very helpful in a fight, not only is my magic even stronger, but my skin and body is hardened and strengthened thanks to my training."

"I feel bad for Alaroc, anyway fair is fair, but rather than tell you, how about I show you." Zilo takes Tess off his arm for a moment. Zilo takes out his violin and begins to play a somber lilting tune that seems almost to harmonize with a moonlit air of the city square.

Slowly the people of the town still awake move to their doors and windows to here the performance and watch on in a trance as Zilo uses a small amount of magic to fascinate them, but leaving Tess unfascinated to show her his magic.

As the performance comes to an end Zilo stands looking at the elf staring around to see the people looking on.

"A bard? Don't see many of those."

"Same could be said of Dragon Disciples, anyway, this has been fascinating, but the night grows late, and we have matches tomorrow, would you like an escort back to the Inn?"

"I would be delighted Sir Realms." Says the woman with a smile. The two walk back to the inn and as they part ways in the hall and Zilo Closes the door, Tess stops to gaze at the bard's closed door for a while, thinking,

"Humans' dark cousins seem more pleasant than ours it seems. Pleasant dreams Fetchling Bard"

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

Master of Strings Ch63: Friendly Night of Drinking

"To Zilo! Not only did he save Cruxis, but he's ensured us a victory in the tournament!" Shouts Leo raising a drink.

The four swordsman of Swords and Sorcery Inc. clang together their mugs of ale in a tavern connected to their inn. the tournament's matches came to an end and it was now night back at the inn the fighters were provided.

"Wasn't anything, just had to show Matrix that swords are nice, but swords and magic are better." Cruxis pats Leo on the shoulder and says, "You deserve thanks too Leo. Without you Zilo wouldn't have had the opening he needed."

"EEey! I helped too." Slurred Alaroc. "He onlyyy managgged thanks tah me letterrrr." Zilo raises his eyebrows to that and retrieves his now mended bag, stating, "Actually, I lost my bag during the climb. I never got to hand the letter over." Says Zilo retrieving the letter.

Alaroc pops up and casually takes the letter back. "Ah, no harrmm, no foul friend." Alaroc's letter slips and wafts into his mug and the cavalier downs the drink.

Zilo looks to the cavalier and asks, "I've been wondering Alaroc, now that we aren't limited to swords, what are you gonna do? We all have magic but-" Alaroc slams down his mug, shaking the table, and pointing at the bard.

"Do you think me a one sword pony! Not so! I have but the one pony, Loyal twenty-four. Also the elves gave me a nice gift for helping them find their lost armada!"

"You plan to use that? Good thing I'm not facing you next."

Leo looks solemnly to the paladin, finishing his drink for some courage and saying, " About that Cruxis, your next opponent. He may not be as easy as you think."

"Don't worry, I saw when he defended me from you, his skills are second to none, but he's no match for me when I have the gods helping me from the start. Freya may have helped me recover, but Arete guiding my sword will be unbeatable in combat."

"Well just so you know he too is a... Wait you have two gods? Is that allowed?"

"Why wouldn't it be? I'm a paladin, not a cleric."

Alaroc tilts his head and responds, "Wha?"

"It's cause of Cleric Domains." Says Zilo from one side of the table. He seems to be holding up a small notebook and he explains,

"I asked May about it while we hunted the hobgoblins a while back. Clerics like her pull their power from worship and devotion to a single god, that god responds in turn and lends them their divine power. They only go into one church and devote their lives to that church. Think of them like a spear, focusing one point to be an effective weapon."

Zilo motions to Cruxis and continues, "Paladins, from what I've researched, work different. They are more like a mace than a spear, a lot more bulk and unfocused on one spot."

"How crude." Says Leo calling for another drink from the barmaid.

"Not at all, I said a mace, not a club. maces still need to be cast and forged like spears, but in a different way. Paladins actually spend much of their early years studying all gods, mostly those of Good and Law. They value each God equally and travel on pilgrimages to each church to study, only once they have a connection to each do they settle on one real set of values, but the connection is still there to each god."

Zilo motions to Cruxis and asks, "That right? I only got a cleric's impression from May."

"Mostly, yes, We don't use domains like Clerics, and we do connect to many gods, but we can't really use that connection for a back and forth to the level of a cleric, but in our pilgrimages we also have to train as we go, the road is rough, and many times I was attacked in my travels."

Zilo leans in and says, "Out of curiosity, which God did you decide to serve?" Cruxis' face goes a bit red and he scratches his head and he says, " About that, I would like Freya since I was raised by the Clerics of Freya, but Arete matched my style far more I couldn't really decide at the time."

"And so he ran instead!" A fist hits the table as a man they do not recognize stands by the side of the table. Cruxis' eyes meet with the man and his jaw drops as the rest of the heroes flinch away in shock. The man has green eyes and a shaved head with remnants of brown on his scalp.

The man grits his teeth as Zilo makes a double take and asks, "Were you just waiting for us to...?"

"Aakif!? Is that you?!" Interrupts Cruxis.

"Yeah you deserter, happy you finally recognize me."

"You four know eachodar!?" Says Alaroc with his eyes swaying around a bit as he points to the two of them.

Leo's eyes darted about as the two men stared each other down. His eyes final snap wide and he says, "You really are a Paladin!?"

"You're bald!?" Says Zilo with a legitimately shocked expression on his face, moreso than Leo or Alaroc.

Aakif ignores the three of them and leans over Cruxis imposingly and says, "You look good, glad to see you found some replacements for me and the sisters of Freya."

"What do you want Aakif?" Says Cruxis seeming to be more curious than threatened.

Aakif stands straight and responds, "I just wanted to make sure your friends know your truth before tomorrow. I'll show you that a follower of Freya is superior to a follower of nothing." And Aakif spins on his heels and proceeds away up the inn's stairs.

The heroes all watch as Aakif saunters away before turning to Cruxis who looks down to his drink and sighs.

"Aakif is right, I never technically finished my pilgrimage. A paladin needs to take 5 years after their 16th birthday to visit each church and return to their home church. I've been traveling for nearly three times that amount."

Leo tilts his head and asks, "So you worship all the gods, but didn't settle on one god? But aren't... You know what, I've stopped caring. I'll stick with spell books, much more straightforward." Leo leans back content to stop listening, retrieving his spellbook with Secluded Grimoire.

Cruxis turns to Leo and Alaroc and continues, " Me and Aakif were orphaned and raised by the sisters of Freya, we couldn't become clerics for her, so paladins seemed the next best way to pay her back. We left for the pilgrimage at the same time, as brothers, but we got separated and I felt a different calling, decided to see the world rather than sit in a church waiting to be sent out."

"Rough break buddy," says Zilo. Cruxis stands and begins to walk off Alaroc points to his half finished drink and asks, "You gonna finish dat?"

"Not in a very merry mood right now, I'm turning in early."

The rest of the group watch as their friend mopes up the steps, Zilo looks back to the others and says, "Well so looks like tomorrow will have an interesting fight."

"More than just them friend." Says Alaroc leaning over to the bard.

Leo takes his nose out of his book and asks, "Zilo if you had to pick your biggest weakness, what would you say it is."

Zilo perks over to Leo and says, "Oh gods  I don't know, cute animals I'd say. They demand my attention when I spot them."

Alaroc points at Leo, but looks at Zilo, "Friend, Leo's match was right next to yours. That means you two will be fighting tomorrow too."

"We Will!?" Reacts the bard in shock. Meanwhile Leo snaps his book closed with a smile and says, "Paying attention and noticing things, perfect for my stealth spells, good luck tomorrow Zilo." And the magus also walks up to sleep.

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