Saturday, August 11, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 48: The Goblin Caves

The half-orc barbarian claimed that normally those of the goblin clans emerged from a large cave toward the mountain range. None of the orcs had ever ventured into the cave before and lived, according to the orcs.

On the cart Zilo and Maldrek are forming theories while May and Aria are taking care of Sparky in the back of the cart. Zilo remarks, "Do you think the lost orcs were overpowered by the goblinoids? Like maybe if they have Bugbears?"

"It's possible I guess. An orc would still have the edge in a fight, but if it was an ambush a bugbear would have the edge. That or the goblinoids out numbered them, but a cave would make it tough to flank in."

Sparky shouts from the back, "Gobs no probOW!"

"Hold still!" Responds May as Sparky sits up on his cracked ribs Zilo snaps his fingers and says,

"He's right! The hobgoblins and bugbears would be limited, but goblins would be fantastic cavern fighters thanks to their small size. With enough of them, they could take down an orc."

"Oh please! No way a scrawny goblin even in a group could take down a hulking orc scout." remarks Maldrek with a dismissive snarky grin before he remembers the events of the orc camp and quickly puts on a nervous smile and says, "Other than our scrappy little firefly here, of course."

Sparky flexes his arms only to strain his ribs again and let out a small yelp. as he grips his mid section he turns to may and says, "May can fix with her 'powers, right?" When the goblin says powers he waggles his fingers a bit.

Aria forces the goblin back down and says. "Not before I set your bones back, If you're healed before we straighten them then you'll heal weird. Just let us finish."

"Fine." Grumbles Sparky getting his bones set back and wincing as they go. Aria sits back to let May begin using healing spells. Aria speaks to the Goblin, saying "By the way Sparky, thank you for covering me in the fight, you saved me an Zilo, big time."

Zilo shouts back, "Yeah little guy, we owe you. If you ever need a favor, just let us know."

Sparky, now fully healed sits back up and smiles with a thumbs up, "Sparky welcomes they."

Maldrek face palms and says, "We really need him to go to a scribe and pay to learn common better, anyway, there's the cave up there."

The group exits the cart and Zilo begins applying some hobgoblin make up to the group. Maldrek's horns were a small issue, so he put his hood up to hide them. The cave looked to be shaped into the side of the mountain, mostly structured from an existing cave, but is chiseled on the edges to make entering and traveling into it more easy for larger groups to navigate.

The group, with the sickly skin and pointed ears of the goblinoid race, entered the cave and after a few minutes of walking they came to a fork in the cave with sign written in goblin. The group seemed worried before Sparky came forward and read through the sign. After a few moments he pointed his thumb to the left passage.

"This the way for groups."

The group squints at the fact that they have a group entrance, but shrug an walk along. The left passage did look slightly better shaped anyway. After another few minutes more of walking the group came to a hole into the ground of the cave that looked to be a one way trip down.

"I don't like this." Says May with a grimace.

"This the way to go." Says Sparky with a shrug.

"I know, but jumping down holes into the dark is a bad sign, remember what happened the last time we did that?"

"...No", says Sparky with a head scratch. Maldrek shakes his head and pats Sparky on his scalp, saying, "That's cause you were down that hole buddy, as was the Dungeon mother."

"Dungeon mother?" Asks Aria. The four adventurers turn to her in tandem and all respond at the same time,

"Bad times."

Zilo smiles and says, "Whelp, last one in's eggs gone bad." Before leaping in. Maldrek slaps his face again before jumping in himself and says, "okay, so we'll need a scribe for the both of them."

Aria looks to May with a head tilt and says, "well... I think its sorta cute." Before leaping down herself. Sparky hops up to May and grabs her hand with his toothy little smile and says, "Mayhaps May gut may be in wrong may."

"What?" She speaks back before Sparky drags her over into the hole as well.

Zilo was sliding along the smoothed out stone and blinks out his eyes to see a bit better with his darkvision. As his eyes opened to see with heat instead of light he spotted the slope seemed to be getting very steep, and then even more steep. Eventually the bard was in free fall as he went off the slope and could see a giant source of heat only 50 ft down.

"GODS NO!" Shouted the bard, his voice echoing in the huge cave. Fearing his fate he reached for his belt and snapped out his scorpion whip and managed to wrap it about a craggy rock above him on the slope. He breathed deeply as he looked above, hearing more people approaching the slope.

"GUYS It's a trap!"

As he finished Maldrek came sprawling over the slop and fell past Zilo faster than the bard could act. Maldrek fell about 30 ft as he frantically looked through his spellbook before he cast Fly On himself, and flew back up to Zilo.

"That is Lava! How is this a group entrance!" Shouted the wizard.

"I don't- OH COME ON!" The bard was interrupted as Aria came flailing over the slope.  As she pasted Zilo, he kicked of the wall and angled his body to catch up, he grabbed onto her and the two of them disappeared into the lava bellow.

"ZILO! ARIA!"

As Maldrek looks down to try and see if they had gripped the edge or not he remembers May and Sparky. He rises back up and then takes out a wand, he points the wand to the slope and shouts, "Web!" And a collection of sticky stands shoot out from his wand and as the woman and goblin approach they become suspended in the strands, looking down at the lava pit.

"Gods that was close." Sighs May with relief.

"Maldrek save Sparky, good good Maldrek."

"Whatever, I gotta go for a sec." Quickly responds Maldrek, panicking. He flies down to look for any trace of Zilo and Aria... but he saw nothing. On his way up he made note of another cave way, but it was too far up for the two of them to have retreated into. May was struggling to get more comfortable.

"I found a cave to keep going, I can carry you both over to it." Responds Maldrek in a monotone manner. Sparky looks down to the cave he speaks of and back to Maldrek and asks, "Aria and Zilo there?"

Maldrek bites his lip and takes a moment. "Y-yeah, I sent them on ahead to scout the caverns, Aria's intuition and Zilo's shadow familiarity make them ideal scouts."

"Sounds good, let's get moving." Says May, getting somewhat loose. As Sparky and May get safely out of the web, Maldrek floats over to the rock face and collects Zilo's Whip. The Tiefling grips the whip firmly as he hides his face from his other two companions.

"I'm sorry, my friend."

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 47: Goblin versus Orc

Zilo is dragged outside by his bride to be, as Maldrek and the rest of the crew finally let the shock wear off and begin springing to action. The Chief's daughter hoists Zilo up and presents him to the curious orcs watching. Zilo the entire time is struggling to release himself.

Aria walks up to the half-orc barbarian translator and asks, "Hey big guy, Zilo kinda can't get married to her, he's sorta taken by someone."

"Who?"

"Me." In an instant the half-orc grabs Aria by the wrist and hoists her up to hang next to Zilo. The translator shouts in orcish about something, which makes the daughter stare daggers at the smaller woman and growl. She turns back to the translator and asks, "What are you doing!?"

"Telling tribe you challenge Artka's stake to her groom, and that the dispute will be settled in the old way."

Aria looks back at the woman and gulps before asking, "What's the old way?"

"Barehanded combat to the death."Remarks Maldrek looking through a book on orc culture he grabbed the other day.

"HOLD ON A S-," before Aria can finish she and Zilo are jerked along toward a small ring made with a shoddy looking, but sturdy wooden fence. Zilo is tied to a post by the wayside from both his hands and Aria and Artka take up spots on both sides of the ring.

"Is there any way I can not do this!?" Asks Aria to the translator. The barbarian stops to think for a bit before responding, "you can have a champion fight in your pl-" Faster than a cheetah Aria spins around and throws Sparky into the ring in her place, as she hops back over the fence.

Sparky lands on his face before slowly raising his eyes to meet with his opponent. Artka is at least 3 times taller than him and looks to have even more muscle than that. Sparky stands up and puts up his tiny little fists.

Sparky looks back to his cheering section to see Aria sighing in relief, May giving him a thumbs up and a weak smile, and Maldrek, who looks to have made a hat using Silent Image, is placed it over his heart, and is uttering a short prayer to Morta.

Sparky faces down his hulking opponent as the chief approaches opposite the hanging Zilo. The cheif raises his hand, and after a short moment of waiting for the crowd to calm he swings down his hand, and the fight begins.

Sparky raises his hand and shouts, "Boiling Blood!" And the female orc falls to the ground with her arms shaking. On the ground a small smokey vapor rises from her pores. Maldrek smiles from the side lines and says, "Brilliant, the orcs failed to realize Sparky doesn't need a book for spells."

As Sparky turns to give a thumbs up to his team he is suddenly grabbed from behind and hurled headlong at the fence. Sparky scrambles to his feet to look at his opponent. Artka's face doesn't look to have the pain the goblin imagined, rather she looks to be currently in a state of sheer unbridled rage. Artka Shouts,

"RRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWHHHHH!"

Sparky rubs his head and says, "Boiling Blood normally make people still."

"That spell makes orcs stronger Sparky!" Yells Maldrek from the sidelines, remembering. Sparky undoes the spell, making Artka's body stop steaming, and her face relaxes a bit. Artka leaps forward and pounds the ground at the goblin's feet. Sparky leaps up over the punch and lets loose two of his Fire Rays from the tips of his fingers. The shots impact on the Orc's face and chest leaving burns on her body.

Ask Sparky begins to scurry away again the Orc snatches him by the leg and flings him up and down into the fence. Sparky is continuously bashed into the fence another 3 times before he becomes somewhat coherent and shouts, "Elemental Body!"

Sparky's dirty goblin skin is suddenly covered in fire and the Orc throws him away in pain. Her hand is covered in burns now as the flame covered goblin flips and lands on his legs with a bounce. Leaping off of his bounce he winds back his hand and hurls a small ball of fire at the orc. The ball lists along before hitting the woman in the chest and it explodes into a blast of fire out 20 ft.

Sparky breaths heavy and releases his fire elemental form, but just as he does Artka rushes out of the flames and punches Sparky solid in the face as her skin and hair still flickers with the remnants of flame.

Sparky is once again flung into the fence, as he wobbles back to his feet he says, "Tiny Sparky not liking big lady."

Aria and May wince over and over as Sparky is battered around the ring. May turns to Aria and asks, "Look, far be it from me to tell you how to defend what's yours, but is Zilo really worth this?"

Aria winces, and says, "I mean, Sparky didn't really complain about fighting. Maldrek, do you think the little guy will be alright?"

Maldrek looks to be sweating as he watches the fight. He doesn't seem to be listening.

"Maldrek?"

Maldrek's eyes turn back to May and Aria. His face looks hollow, and full of dread as he speaks to them in a timid voice and says, "Who wishes to shoulder the burden?"

Time coalesces back to Maldrek and an unconscious Sparky laying down in his office.  The past version of Maldrek chants as he controls a ritual spell with his spellbook.

"Your power may be impressive, but in a city you might not have enough self control. Dema be damned you might even kill us in the field, and so I'm using this Geas on you to hold your power in check. You will only use your full power when you hear the following phrase..."

Back at the orc camp May leans over the fence and shouts.

"Hello barkeep, I'm Alaroc! I'll take a water please!"

Sparky was under the boot of Artka when his eyes spring open and a fire in his eyes ignites he stares down the orc and with what little leverage he can find, he punches the bottom of her boot and shouts,

"Burning Hands!"

The goblin's punch explodes out into a cone of fire, blasting the Orc up off the goblin. with a spin and a leap the goblin is up in the Orc's face and unleashes another Burning Hands. The goblin's timing is flawless, his punches impacting seamlessly with the power of the cones of fire that come with them, forming more of a burning punch rather than a burning hands.

This time the Orc is blasted back into the fence and as she looks back to the goblin he look to be charging another ball of fire, only this one is much more destructive. As the goblin lands
 he steps forward and hurls the ball like a baseball.

"Fireball!"

In an instant Arkta, and a fair number of the observing orcs are lost in a giant sea of fire and smoke. everyone's eyes are on the crater that was formed, but Sparky looks to the sky. In the Sky, Artka is falling toward the goblin, with her fist ready for one more try at squashing him. The Goblin just smiles and yells one last spell, wiping his arm across the horizon, making 3 more balls of fire.

"Scorching Rays!"

Sparky points his hand right at Artka, sending off one of the rays to hit her square in the face, sending her spinning toward the ground. He then brings his index finger down and curls his arm around his other arm in an upper cut motion. The second ray mimics his motion and slithers along the ground and blasts into Artka, blasting her into the air again slightly.

With a giant horse stance stomp forward Sparky points his last finger up around and down. The ray mimics this, flying up and like a jet stream angles down into the floating up orc and slams her into the ground with a heavy blast in the chest.

The crowd falls silent as the Orc woman lays there motionless and the little goblin stands firm staring at her with a grimace. The goblin looks to the audience and raises his fist into the air and shouts, "SPARKY STRONG!"

The crowd erupts into a frenzy of cheers and rush forward to lift the little goblin into the air cheering Maldrek and the girls smile as they waltz over and untie Zilo. Maldrek chuckles and says, "Shame, I was hoping to be your best man."

Zilo falls onto Aria's shoulder as he gets the feeling back into his limbs, he smiles playfully at Maldrek and says, "Maybe next marriage, thank the gods for Sparky."

Sparky wanders over to the group, he now looks to be in even worse shape than after the fight. He scrambles up onto Zilo''s back and says, "We go now please!"

"What's your rush little guy!?" asks May.

"Now Zilo taken. They want me!" The little pyromaniac points back to a group of about a dozen orc and half-orc women all winking and blowing kisses at the goblin. Maldrek stifles a laugh as he turns to the translator and asks for the location of the hobgoblin lair. After watching such an incredible fight, he is more than happy to tell the wizard everything he wants.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 46: The Hunt Begins

Maldrek takes a moment to tell Clay to watch the bar while the group begins to leave for their adventure. Aria  frowns at this saying,

"You really think its smart to leave a child in charge of the place? Shouldn't one of us stay with him?"

"I don't want to do it, but each of you are vital to taking down the band of goblinoids. Also I think Clay is more capable than some of you for this task. Come, we're losing time."

The group of five make their way to the local barracks and inquire to a guard about a recent escape from the dungeons. The young guard exhales and says, "Yeah, happened last night, one moment everything was fine, then as a guard was walking by on patrol the room suddenly was empty and the wall had a huge hole in it"

Maldrek rubs his chin and as he opens his mouth, Zilo seems to have read his mind, and says, "We are the folks who put away those bandits, would you mind if we took a look at the cells?"

"I guess that's not a big deal, long as a guard is nearby. Wait here I'll find someone for you." The guard went inside and after a few minutes he returned with another guard, who motioned for the group to follow.

They came to the cell. Like most dungeons the accommodation were stark, little more than a bucket and a splintered cot with chains on the wall for when the prisoner got rowdy or needed to be punished for something. The walls were solid stone rather than bricked with a barred window above eye level.

What stood out was the hole, as it wasn't chiseled or blasted open, but it looked more like the stone wall had warped and made a perfectly smooth hole like it was naturally formed that way. The group began to look around, Maldrek investigated the hole for only a few seconds then shouted back to the guard, "Is the guard that discovered this on duty still?"

"That'd be me actually, sir."

"Convenient. You're sure that you didn't hear anything?"

"Nope, was just making my rounds and noticed the hole, could see the moon right through the thing."

Sparky was about to poke what was left in the bucket as May pulls him away and turns to Maldrek, saying, "What you thinking boss?"

"This was probably our wizard friend using Stone Shape and on top of that he may have Silenced the the spell. This Hobgoblin is very different from their ilk, most are too stuck up in their own hierarchy to bother learning creative methods like this."

The guard scratches his head and says, "What I find weird is that he bothered to save the half-orc."

Zilo squints to the guard and asks, "Why is that odd?" Aria interjects for her guy and says,

"The Orc and Goblin tribes in this area kinda hate each other, and that includes half-orcs. Orcs are kinda extremely tribal and crazed. That doesn't mesh well with the Hobgoblin's military mindset. Luckily the hobgoblins tend to live somewhere underground while the orcs roam the planes to the east."

Maldrek looks back to Aria and says, "You think you could show us to those planes Aria?"

Sparky's jaw drops and he reacts with, "YOU WANT GO TO ORCS!? Mam always say no good be big angry sorts."

Maldrek points out to the terrain past the hole and says, "Unfortunately these hobgoblins are somewhat skilled. there are no tracks I can spot at all. If the half-orc with them is anything like his tribal brothers head want to get as far away from his cell mates as he can get. My bet is he returned home to the rest of his Orc brothers."

The four other adventurers gulp before hanging their heads and agreeing with his logic. They all return to the bar and ready the wagon with Presto and Vivace. Aria drives the cart and after about a half day of travel they spot some smoke on the horizon. They get off the wagon and Maldrek says,

"There is no way that we don't end up needing to knock some skulls. Jin would have been perfect for this. Regardless, Aria, watch the cart."

"What!? No way!"

Zilo sees Aria turn to him and turns to Maldrek, "Yeah, Aria can handle this Maldrek."

Indignantly Maldrek turns to the two of them and.... stifles his face. He very clearly looks to be in pain before he says in a weak voice, "Fine."

Aria gives a happy little hop and adjusts her short sword as Maldrek opens up his spellbook and conjures an Unseen Servant.

"Jeeves, make sure the cart is safe for a few hours, we need to go take care of something." Says Maldrek handing the reigns off to... what looks like nothing.

"Of course, Sir." Responds an unknown voice that drives the cart back down the road.

The group approaches a large Orc encampment. They span the entire hillside with small fires and ragged tents surrounded by large burly orc and smaller, but just as dangerous half-orcs. They all seem to be resting since most Orc tribes in this region only move at night to more effectively raid small villages.

Zilo stops the group from marching in and reaches into his pack, saying, "From the few words we shared with the half-orc last time, I can tell that if we walk right in there, we are dead. Everyone take cover behind those rocks. I have something that will take care of that."

May looks to him questioningly and asks, "What?"

"As I've said many times, I learned many things at the Umbral Bard Academy about being a spy if needed." Remarks the bard who produces a roll out tool set of different brushes, grooming utensils, fake hair, and makeup.

"I had to learn how to disguise myself as a multitude of races randomly at any time, making humans look to be orcs should be a cake walk. May you're first, sit here." Continues Zilo grabbing a handful of grass that he cuts with a dagger.

The bard begins to rub the cut grass on May's face while he explains, "Aria file down some twigs into fake tusks for me while I work on the skin. Grass like this will make a great base coat of green."

After applying enough Grass remnants to May's face he balls up the grass then reaches into her shirt and says, "Plus with whats left I can stuff your outfits to look like we are larger than we loo-"

Before Zilo can finish May slaps him for reaching into her shirt and she say angrily remarks, "I can handle stuffing my own shirt you idiot!"

After about two hours the group looks much more orc-like. Zilo and the women didn't have enough time to stuff enough grass to grow another foot and be Orc sized, but they very easily looked like half orcs. Sparky was the only one who stood no chance with his height, but Maldrek had a rather good idea to put him on his shoulders and raise his cloak.

With this, Maldrek's horns were hidden, and with them stacked up they looked much more orc-like as a result. Zilo's disguises didn't look entirely real, but at a glance the Orcs wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Like a charm they walked into the camp and managed to avoid detection.

They got all the way to the outside of the Chiefs tent, where they planned to interrogate him secretly to find the half-orc from the hobgoblin raid. Unfortunately that half-orc found them instead.

"HEY YOU!" Shouted a familiar barbarian half-orc, who stomped over to Zilo snatching away his hat and revealing his mane of silver hair that was hidden in the hat.

"I'd never forget this hat! The hat of the dirty human who beat me!" Shouts the Orc, gathering the attention of those nearby, who began to mumble in orcish.  Zilo was stunned frozen, cursing in his need for his stylish fashion choices.

The group was thrown into the Chief's tent before the massive 8 ft. tall Orc with graying hair, and muscles that made him look more monster than man covered barely by some hide cloth. Beside him was an equally intimidating female Orc with beaded hair and piercing eyes. She stood almost 7 ft tall and had a few more hides than the chief, but only barely.

The adventurers all sat on their knees as the chief and the Barbarian spoke back and forth in orcish. as they spoke the Chief pointed at Zilo and Laughed for a moment. The Barbarian nodded and the chief let out a deep laugh as the female stared at Zilo, seeming to look through him before she joins them in orcish, never taking her eyes off the bard.

"I don't like that stare." Whispers Aria under her breath.

"Aria Jealous?" Questions Sparky who's words make Aria question the little goblin's sanity a bit more.

The barbarian grabs Zilo and asks, "Hat Man! After you beat me, is it true you beat Artak?"

"Who?" Squeaks Zilo shivering in the half-orcs grip.

"Magic Hob Man!" Shouts the giant man, Zilo then turns to the chief and female nodding enthusiastically, thinking he could use this to save their skins. The chief leans back in a chair made of bone rubbing on his stubbly gray haired chin for a few minutes before pounding the arm of the chair.

He turns to the female orc and utters a short phrase in orc. In response the female smiles devilishly and walks over to Zilo, taking him from the barbarian's grip and holding him firm in her own. Zilo looks over at the half-orc and asks, "What is this?"

The half-orc stops for a bit, like he is trying to recall the word before finally uttering, "Your bride."

Zilo's four friends' eyes widen as they take in the woman who looks practically twice Zilo's size and all of them blink a moment before imagining them together, and grimacing. Zilo shivers as he looks into his new fiance's eyes and responds with,

"Not again."

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 45: This Time it's Personal

Zilo spent a few weeks not traveling across the lands on a dire mission and instead performing at the bar and doing minor side jobs along with May, Jin, or Sparky. Leo, Cruxis and Alaroc had yet to return from their quest to find the lost elf armada, and Zilo finally had the time to help Aria do some more intimate Bardic training.

Aria falls flat on her face as Zilo daintily dodges her and trips her. "Careful not to hurt that pretty face." Remarks the Bard with a grin as his student stands back up gripping her training short sword. Zilo flicks up his training sword as well as she goes in for a two handed overhead swing, Zilo lifts up his own blade at an angle as he slowly walks forward.

Aria's blade deflects off to the side off the angled block and Zilo gives her a fast hit on her butt as she tries to recover from her blunder. "You are thinking too much. Try to fight with your feelings you have about opponent over your form or your strength, but be careful that those feelings don't over take you."

"How the hell do you fight with feelings?" Says Aria, frustrated and confused. Zilo stops for a moment and points back to the bar from the spot in the plaza they are practicing in.

"What is the first thing Alaroc would order when he gets back to the bar?"

Aria tilts her head for a moment before saying, "Baiju, easy."

"How do you know?"

"Alaroc loves variety, and hates the taste of one kind of drink sticking to his tougne. So after a few weeks of nothing but grog, he'll want to get ride of the taste as fast as possible, even if that means taking the harshness of baiju."

"So you know because you know him?"

"I suppose so, but how does his drink taste matter?"

Zilo flicks his sword back toward her and says, "I have never seen Alaroc attack a target twice in the same way. Since if the first way didn't work, it shouldn't work the second time. That's the sort of man, and fighter he is."

Aria looks down to her blade and then back at Zilo. "Alright then 'master' let's go." She didn't get the feel for her master's lesson right away, but after a few more rounds of thinking it over, she got it.

Aria and Zilo square off slowly pacing around in their assumed arena of combat. Zilo moves in and prepares to make an attack on Aria, but the woman holds firm. Right before the bard lands a blow to her side, he stops. In the next instant he is struck by the woman and staggers backward holding his nose.

In a nasally voice, the bard says, "Nice hit, if I may ask, what's my deal?"

Aria smiles and puts up two fingers, "You are an adaptable guy, hence why I couldn't ever really break your defense, you just react to quick. The only chance I had was to counter rather than be countered. Second, you are too nice. I knew you'd never actually strike me hard, and when you didn't I had an opening."

Zilo stows away his sword and says, "I'm impressed, you get the idea, but it took you quite a while to do so, and many hits from me. In a real fight you gotta get your opponent's tells in real time, and that isn't easy to do off the bat."

The two dust off their lighter gear in preparation to return to the bar. As Zilo bends down to pick up his bag he feels a sharp pain from his rump and turns to see Aria holding her sword again and says, "Now we're even, my friend."

Zilo smiles and embraces Aria around the waist, saying, "I hit you way more than that, I don't think we are even quite yet."

Aria lightly blushes with hesitation and says, "Well... maybe I can pay you back, hm?"

Zilo smiles and... Is immediately snatched away by his collar from behind.

"ZILO THERE'S AN EMERGENCY!"

"I told you, May! It wasn't me who burned your new dress, it was Sparky!" The bard instinctively yelled. May takes a second before pointing him in the face and says, "First off, you let him in my room! Second this isn't about that. It's about this!" She shouts as she reached for and pulls down the top of her blouse.

Zilo immediately turns and shouts, "May, I'm flattered, but I'm with Aria now, and though we may have had a fantastic life together this is something you just need to accept and... OW!" reacts the bard as the woman belts him on the head.

"Not those you fool, this!" She says as she points to the mark on her chest that says 'loser'.

"I haven't been able to wear low cut clothes for weeks, and its all cause of that degenerate of a hobgoblin. We finally have a lead, his men we arrested just broke out of the castle dungeons."

Zilo thinks back and then recalls, "Oh yeah, that was when I destroyed the Zal family's house with a shout." Zilo turns back to Aria and then says,"That was also the day we met! Tell me, do couples celebrate first meeting in this plane?"

Aria grinds her teeth and says, "Believe it or not, I wouldn't want to remember that day." Zilo's face goes long and he responds, "Shame that. Either way, let's go tell Maldrek, He'd want to know."

The three walk back into the bar to see Maldrek watching the bar while Aria was training. May tells Maldrek about the news and he says, "I don't see the point in that May, we'd only be risking getting killed for pretty much nothing, best to just let bandits be bygones."

Zilo shrugs and says, "Welp, guess that's that."

"NO! Maldrek, we've agreed on a lot of things, but I want to take these guys down, their leader embarrassed us! This cannot stand!"

May turns and runs up the stairs. Aria leans over the bar and says, "You really rustled her rats."

"It's not a smart move, with the bandits back out they'll only have an escape bounty on them. If we wait for them to get back to business, then they'll get a bounty put on them, no doubt. By then the others will be back and it will be a much more easy fight."

Zilo crosses his arms and says, "I agree, but that doesn't mean I like it." Maldrek furrows his brows and responds, "You too? I thought you'd have my back, Zilo."

"It's cause of how you're doing this Maldrek." Says Aria, getting Maldrek's attention.

"Maldrek, as a boss, you are absolutely making the right call, it's why I stayed working with you. You are a smart man, but you are also a jerk."

Maldrek is taken a back by that comment. "A... jerk?"

"Yes, you don't always need to think like a devil, part of you is human. That wasn't your employee disobeying your orders, that was your friend looking for you to be by her side."

Aria runs up the stairs to make sure May is alright, leaving the fetchling and tiefling alone at the bar. Maldrek thinks over what Aria said and turns to Zilo, "Am I a jerk, Zilo?"

The bard goes silent... taking more than a few seconds to come up with the right words. Then as he turns and opens his mouth.

"Yuppers." Says Sparky from below the counter before Zilo can speak. Maldrek lays his head on the bar and Zilo begins to speak.

"But like not a jerk-jerk, just a jerk. Those are two whole different things buddy. What does a goblin and..." Zilo double checks the stairs, "bartender know, I mean sure she's self made, good at judging people, and rather smart herself, but what does that amount to?"

Maldrek pounds the table, and shouts, "MAY! Get your stuff! We've got some hobgoblins to hunt!" followed by the sound of preparation from above.

Zilo smiles as Maldrek stands straight then points to Sparky and Zilo as May, "You two as well, gonna need the whole team for this, Zilo, go find Jin."

"Gone Jin." remarks the goblin.

"What do you mean he's gone!"

"He say, he gone, be back later."

"Damnit, we need to move now if we want to pick up the trail!"

As the two women rush down the stairs Zilo assures, "Long as we have you, we got this buddy, We already took goons, we just need you for the wizard."

"Without Jin's eyes, it would take forever. I need him for the lay of the land, We've never had a job in that terrain around the city."

"I can help."

The four veteran adventurers all turn together to see Aria standing there with her arms crossed.

"I've live outside the city my whole life and Zilo thinks I finally can fight like a bard. Plus I want to take down the guys who tried to take apart my family"

The three turn at the bard and he responses uncomfortably, "um... well.... I guess technically... she did sorta beat me in a dual."

Maldrek shrugs and says, "Good enough for me, I'm gonna take a chance on you kid, you're off the bench." All but Zilo walk out to the cart as the bard continued out of earshot.

"After losing like a few hundred times, while I was using a sword I wasn't use to, and while I guess I went easy on her.... I'm sure she'll be fine." he finishes with a shrug.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 44: Settling Up

Zilo, Leo, and Jin made their way back to the ship and after their encounter with the ice devil  and put together all the items they needed during the voyage back. After counting them up, they learned they only needed 3 more items: a fan used 8 times by a pure maiden, poison capable of killing a man, and a flask of holy water blessed by Arete.

"Well thank the gods, these ones should be a cake walk compared to the rest." Says Leo letting out a sigh of relief.

Jin rubs his chin and says, "It would probably make sense for us to split up, can any of you get the poison, I'm still new to Deneval."

"I've been there longest so I guess..."

"I got this." Interrupts Leo, stopping Zilo before he can finish. Leo then continues, "I may not have been in Deneval long, but cities are always the same, I can find a guy."

Zilo smiles and says, "Alright I'll get the fan then."

Shortly after they agreed they arrived back in the city, Jin headed straight for the bar with Falx to find Cruxis for the flask, while Leo... kinda disappeared into the city. Zilo stopped by a luxury items store, and bought a new fan that the shop owner promised that it was never used.

Satisfied the bard went back to the bar to see Jin leaving the bar and heading to the religious section. Zilo yelled to him as he walked off, "Find him!?"

"Morning sermon! Heading over now! Falx and the stuff are at the bar for Maldrek." Responds the monk, spinning and walking backward to shout back. Zilo throws Jin a thumbs up before entering the bar himself. He walks up to the bar counter to see Aria, the pile of collected items, and Falx, who is handcuffed to the bar's tap and grumbling about it as well.

"And my kin returns, hello lowborn." Shouts Falx sarcastically. Zilo gives him a little salute before focusing back on Aria, who hasn't moved her eyes from the bard.

"Hey Aria I-"

"Stop. Zilo we need to talk." Aria cuts in. Zilo is momentarily taken a back before sitting at the bar and answers back, "Alright, shoot."

Aria takes a few seconds to fill and slide a drink down the bar to a waiting customer before turning back to Zilo and asking, "Are we a thing?"

"No we are two things, a human and a fetchling." Aria squints at Zilo, who is smiling like he is a genius. she shakes her head and then says, "Look I'm not saying I'm opposed to... us, we had a really good night before you took off."

"Oh yeah, sorry about that, Maldrek-"

"I know, he told me, no big deal. Just please check in with me next time you need to head out."

"You got it, babe." Says Zilo still smiling like an idiot. Aria looks off and suddenly shouts,

"Hey Clay! Get your dad out here now!" A young boy who looks to be about 8 or so throws Aria a salute and scampers over to Maldrek's office behind the bar. The boy has light hazel eyes as well as a round face full of freckles and some short, light brown hair.

"Who's the kid?" Asked the bard.

"Maldrek picked him up from the orphanage after his mission, figured he could help out around the bar in case the rest of you head off on a mission." Aria grimaces and continues. "Not sure I like that though."

Zilo smiles and responds, "Giving a young boy a home and family, why is that bad?" Aria looks at Zilo with her lips pursed before shrugging and smiling. "I suppose you have a point, so anything cool happen while you all were traveling?"

Zilo crosses his arms as he looks to Maldrek approaching. " Yes, but I should wait for-.Good timing Maldrek, Me, Jin, and Leo got most of the stuff, just bits and bobs left to get, Which reminds me!" Zilo hands off the fan he got and says to Aria, "Fan yourself exactly 8 times please."

Aria momentarily looks at the fan perplexed until Maldrek gives her a nod. Zilo begins to recount his information while she begins to fan.

"So we discovered while getting the Lich tooth that the Dwaves of Craghold we met with were killed, the whole city."

"What!?" Responds Maldrek with a face full of shock.

"I had the same reaction, so we think that the elves from the nearby kingdom did it, so while stopping there to resupply we decided to investigate."

"What did you learn?"

"The elves did have an armada made up, which we looked into, but we found a dead end at the mountain top. It was a warping of the planar variety housing devils, figured you would know how to proceed."

Maldrek stops and thinks, "Devils huh? Leo, Cruxis, and Alaroc would be the best call I'd say. Good work Zilo, once the rest of the gear is here put it in my office. you can rest up for a bit, you deserve a break" Zilo gives Maldrek a small nod as he begins to walk away.

Aria hands the fan back to Zilo and shouts, "Wait a sec Maldrek! I needed to tell you something." Maldrek turns and looks at her.

"Remember I told you I found a guy I liked."

"No. No I do not." Says the Wizard with a blank expression. Aria is left aghast at that and needed a moment to continue her reveal.

"Well, me and Zilo are... a thing now, I guess." Maldrek's expression doesn't even flinch.

"I did it buddy! My first material plane girl!" Zilo flashes double thumbs up as Aria giggles. Maldrek blinks and responds, "Will this affect either of your jobs? I really don't need my employee's pining for each other in the bar or in the field."

Zilo keeps his thumbs up and says, "I've been suppressing my emotions since birth, and courting in my home is lucky to get a smile. I can keep it in check."

Aria looks to Zilo and says, "That sounds absolutely terrible. No wonder you are the way you are."

Zilo shrugs and says, "Hey, you know how to pick'em."

Maldrek waves them off as he heads back to his office and says, "No flirting on duty, give me that, and when you're off, do as you like."

Zilo offers Aria a high five, which she returns with a delightful grin before spinning about and returning to her bar duties. Zilo hops off the stool and takes to the stage. As the night begins to fall on the city of Deneval the bard's melodious chords float away into the night air.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Misadventures of Ink Ch2: In the Pits

Ink meditated on the broken temple block. The stinging pain emanating from his fractured arm did little to distract the two-tailed kitsune from his thoughts. From what he could tell, he was deep within the catacombs of the ruins and most likely in a convoluted area designed to kill off intruders.

 Around him were piles of broken brick from the collapsed stone floor nearly fifty feet above him. Whatever was in this room previously laid crushed underneath the rock. When the original architects designed the temple they must have put in that enticing button for kicks and giggles.

"When you see a button, you have to press it." Ink thought to himself, refusing to admit that his lack of self-preservation and common sense was what caused this mess in the first place.

With a sigh, Ink opened his eyes and perused his travel bag. Using the supplies that weren't destroyed by falling stone, he made a rudimentary splint for his forearm. It took a few tries to get the knot just right; he was more used to wiggling free of rope, not actually tying it.

The tod hung his arm around his neck to remove the weight from his damaged shoulder. He wouldn't be climbing any time soon, so he looked for an exit. Having a fair amount of dungeoneering knowledge, he knew trap rooms like this had secret entrances for the owners to loot the bodies of the fallen.

Despite the room being of modest size, the rubble made it difficult to search the walls for doors or passages. After a few minutes, he found the path he was seeking, the “hidden" door eroded with time. In front of that door, however, was another interesting find: a small ratfolk lay unconscious near the wall.

His head laid in a small pool of blood, but Ink could tell that the rodent was still breathing. The fox closed in and carefully flipped the rat. He used a rag to stanch the bleeding and tied a makeshift bandage around his skull. Satisfied by another successful hackjob treatment, Ink smiled and waved his tails.

Ink decided that the best course of action with a broken arm and an injured rat was to stay put until the creature could take care of himself. Expecting to be waiting a while, Ink found a suitable block to sit on and continued his meditation.

Without a reference to keep track of time, it felt like hours before the young rodent finally stirred. He sat up with a dazed looked on his face and assessed his surroundings. It was when he saw Ink that he jumped with a squeak. Ink opened an eye and found his new friend awake. With a smile, he hopped of his stone seat and padded up to the rat.

As with any rodent-based race, the ratfolk stood a good foot shorter than the five-foot fox. “You're awake! Finally,” Ink said in his usual sassy tune. “I decided to be nice and wait for you to finish your little nap. You should be happy; I waited hours for your sleepy butt!”

The rat shrunk up against the wall. “S-sorry. Um, thank you?” he replied, still unsure of the situation. He studied the vulpine's arm and noticed the rudimentary treatment he had performed on it. Remembering what had happened to him, he brought his hand to his head and found it wrapped with cloth. “Oh, you, um, fixed me up too, huh?”

“Yeppers! Couldn't just leave you bleeding on the floor like that. So, anyway, what's your name? Mine’s Ink!” The kitsune proudly exclaimed. His cheerfulness was either contagious or irksome, depending on who was asked. The rodent allowed himself a small smile despite the pounding pain resonating within his skull.

“Uh, my name’s Robin.” Robin’s daze started to wear off and he noticed the rubble-filled room. “What happened? The last thing I remember is the floor giving away and falling.”

“Ye-ea-ah, about that. You see, I may or may not have pressed a button which may or may not have caused the entire section of the temple to collapse.” Despite admitting his folly, Ink retained his cheery face and his tails seemed to wag more. It took Robin a second to parse through his blunt confession.

“I thought I heard a clicking noise from around the corner! Why would you press a button when you don't know what could happen!? How is that the trap that caught you and not the countless pitfalls and pressure plates!?”

The stupidity of the fox boggled Robin’s mind and Ink showing no remorse or regret, aggravated the rat. If anything, Ink seemed to be more elated that someone else pointed out his dumb mistake.

"Damn foxfolk", he mumbled under his breath.

“Since this is your fault,” Robin started, reaching up and jabbing a finger into Ink’s chest, “You're going to get me out of here.” He crossed his arms and huffed at the fox.

“No problem. I'm used to this!” he replied with a confident smile.

“I bet.” The rat murmured.

With a quick search, Robin found his tome unharmed but dangerously splayed open near the small pool of blood. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for his shattered shortsword (or ratfolk longsword, as his coworkers liked to call it) or his crushed supplies drenched in water.

He regretted not splurging on a metal canteen. With a sigh, he salvaged his bag and stored his book. He then sheathed his broken blade, figuring it would still make for a decent dagger. When Robin returned to Ink, he noticed that the tod didn't carry any weapons of his own, not even a knife. With a grimace, he padded behind the confident fox.

The rough stone floor was covered with loose debris, stinging the ratfolk’s bare feet every now and then when he wasn't paying attention. Still fuming, Robin was quite content with their walk remaining silent. When Ink broke the silence, the rat pursed his lips.

“So-o-o, what are you doing here? Looking for treasure?” Ink asked, turning his head to the young man. “I came here cause a nice elf lady told me this place hadn't been touched for centuries.”

“Well, she was right. There was quite a few good finds here. Unfortunately for you, my guild already looted the place a few days ago,” Robin replied with a smirk.

“Wha-a-at? Aww man.” Ink slumped, disappointed. “Wait, why are you still here then? Shouldn't you have returned with them?”

“I was interested in the texts and glyphs carved in the walls, so I decided to stay.”

Ink looked the rodent over. “Was that wise? You're pretty small and poorly armed. What if bandits came through?”

“I can handle myself, thank you!” Robin huffed, clearly offended. “I would have been completely fine if some bumbling idiot didn't set off the easiest trap to avoid!” His small voice boomed through the cavern.

“Pointing it out every other minute won't change what happened. You gotta learn to relax.”

“And, pray tell, how does one relax stranded in a dark filthy hole deep in the earth!?”

Ink gave him a lewd grin, one that answered the stuffy rodent’s question before Ink had to explain. “I can think of a few ways.”

Robin blushed, the redness on his face barely visible through his short grey fur but easily apparent on his bare ears. “Absolutely not! Especially not with you!”

“What!?” Ink replied with a tone and face of feigned ignorance. “I didn't even say anything.”

“Oh, you don't need to. Just focus on getting us out of here, preferably with the head on your shoulders.” Ink said nothing but strode on with a jaunty demeanor.

The duo continued into the increasing darkness. Neither of them had a torch, but, being the bestial races that they are, they each possessed darkvision, allowing them to see clearly without a source of light.

After a few minutes navigating the twisting temple halls, they spotted daylight around the corner. Elated and excited to be free, Robin rounded the corner with quick steps, only to be disappointed with what he saw.

The rat found himself in a large, man-made pit carved into the mountain. The walls were completely smooth, making it impossible to climb out of the hole. Along the floor were decayed skeletons and rotten remnants of wooden spikes jutting from the earth.

Looking up, Robin saw a makeshift rope bridge that a couple guild members erected for safe passage across the chasm. He remembered where they were: he crossed this chasm before, his party deciding to avoid attempting to explore the lower levels due to the danger and inaccessibility.

Ink walked through the passage, took a quick look around, and whistled, the shrill noise echoing throughout the pit. “Yeah, we aren't climbing out of here. I'm good, but not that good. Guess we're trudging through the darkness again.”

Ink nodded toward the doorway across the pit. The door was half-decayed and on its side a few feet away. The duo started toward the door but before they made it halfway across the area, three figures emerged from the darkness. Despite the acoustics of the cavern, their footsteps were inaudible.

The first person to emerge was a burly half-orc standing at least seven feet tall with rippling muscles and heavy metal plates covering his shoulders and chest. Behind him was a wood elf woman with an evil sneer that screamed her criminal intentions. Her hand was partially raised and engulfed in swirling black clouds.

The last one to reveal themselves was what Ink could only describe as a furry lizard-shark creature. It was barely clad in any clothing or armor and carried a large, thick, square-tipped glaive on its back. The weapon look far to large for the creature's lean build.

The woman stepped forward and spoke up, her voice just as condescending and maliciously sweet as her race and demeanor implied. “Lost, boys? Do you need help getting out of here? We’d be happy to give you a hand.” Robin bristled, his nerves on edge; this woman gave off all of the wrong signals. He was about to reply when Ink stepped forward, his walk almost a saucy strut.

“No thanks, miss, but thanks for asking. We’ll be on our way" he replied.

Despite Ink's cheery expression and attitude, Robin thought he heard some sinister undertones. Like a flip of a switch, the tension in the area skyrocketed. The two stared each other down for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the elf broke eye contact with the fox and turned her attention to the shark creature.

“Kill the rat and loot the corpse, but try to keep the fox alive; he’s worth his weight in gold.” The creature stepped forward, unbuckling the blade from its back. The other two receded into the darkness, leaving the beast to its work.

It stopped a few yards away from Ink before bending forward and screaming a loud, bestial cry from its gaping maw. It charged and swung its heavy weapon at Ink with surprising ease. At the last moment, Ink leaned to the side, the glaive barely an inch from his face, and went to kick his assailant.

Ink’s slender leg made contact with the creature’s side and knocked it back a few feet. Robin, watching the melee from the side, noticed a faint aura around the fox’s limb. Ink followed up his strike with a punch from his good arm, but the creature batted him aside. Despite its slender build, it had quite a bit of strength. With its other arm, it effortlessly swung its blade at Ink yet again.

Again, Ink dodged at the last possible second, but as the blade was still close to his unguarded body, it lit with a crackling blue light and a wave of thunderous power blasted the tod’s flank. Ink was sent flying into a wall where he briefly stumbled. In the split second he was recovering, the beast lunged forward with a devastating strike, adrenaline in it's eyes.

It would have connected, but as the glaive was about to make contact, ethereal chains suddenly appeared and bound the assailant in mid-air. Ink turned and saw Robin, thick tome in hand, chanting the spell Hold Person and conjuring the arcane bonds from his outstretched palm.

He snapped his book closed and the creature froze in place. With its body immobile, all it could do was stare menacingly and growl through its clenched jaw. Ink moved from his position and slumped against the wall. “The Hells is this guy?” He bleated, struggling to catch his breath. Robin walked up to the collapsed fox and held out his hand. Ink took it and righted himself, still a bit overwhelmed.

“This,” Robin started, pointing at the creature, “is a sergal, and they are nasty beasts. Barely smart enough to be classified as people, yet they are ridiculously talented at hunting and fighting.”

“And it can use magic? Didn't you say it was dumb?” Ink asked, remembering the shockwave that decided the battle.

“It’s a special sorcerous magic only sergals can use.” Robin pointed at the creature’s blade; glistening runes etched along its length. “They can channel their magic through their weapons. It suits them perfectly since it relies more on feeling the magic rather than knowing how it works.”

“Huh,” Ink simply replied.

 He walked up to the imprisoned sergal and punched it in the head, sending his life energy directly through its skull. It when out like a candle, and fell unconscious. Robin released his magic and the creature landed unceremoniously on the floor. He then strode up and tapped its cheek with a bare toe.

“Did you kill it?” The rat asked. Ink shook his head.

“Nope, but it'll be sleeping for quite a while. Scrambled its brains with a hefty dose of ki.”

Ink looked at the passage that the sergal’s companions disappeared into. Regaining his cheery demeanor, Ink nodded toward the tunnel. “C’mon, let's get going. If those guys are skulking around down here, there's gotta be something interesting!” The fox jauntily marched forward, Robin padding behind.

As they walked through the darkness, Robin turned to Ink. “So, you're a monk, huh?” he asked, giving the kitsune a questioning look. Ink gave him a toothy smile. “Honestly, you don't seem like one.”

“I get that a lot. People expect us to be all neutral and calm and junk, and most of us are. But that's so-o-o boring. My master had a hard time taming me and always wondered aloud how I can manipulate ki without being calm and disciplined. To me, chaos is calming. It makes me feel alive.” Ink trailed off with that last sentence, his smile wavering.

“Does it relate to that happy-go-lucky attitude and lack of common sense of yours? It’s almost like you're trying to kill yourself.” Ink shrugged with a crooked grin.

“You got me. Well, the happy attitude and commons sense part. I'm not actually suicidal. If I thought through every little thing, I'm sure I'll fall into old habits and life would become boring again. Without a little excitement and the risk of death, living is just...” He paused for a moment to find the right word, “tedious.” His face became somber. “Sorry for dragging you into this.”

“You know what.” Robin said. “I forgive you. You're still an idiot and your philosophy makes no damn sense, but who am I to judge? At least you're making it up by escorting me.”

Ink gave him a sincere smile. “Thanks. That actually means a lot to me for some reason. You know, I have to admit, you're pretty cute. When we get out of this death hole, you wanna do something afterward? Dinner?”

“Um, you do realize I don't...” Ink stared on hopefully with his toothy grin from earlier as Robin's train of thought escaped. “Eh, fuck it, sure. But you're buying.”

Ink leaned down and patted Robin’s rump, eliciting a squeak from the rodent. “Anything you want, sugar,” he replied with a saucy tone. Robin sighed and shook his head, rubbing his temples.

After another few minutes of fumbling in the dark, the duo closed in on a torch-lit chamber. The two peered around the corner and saw the half-orc and elf from before. The large green brute stood uninterested in the center of the room while the elf studied the carvings on the wall. In her hand appeared to be a map or diagram of some kind, but they couldn't make it out from their location.

“What do we do now?” Robin whispered, retreating back into the hall. Ink contemplated a few ideas before coming up with a plan.

“Okay, I've got it. I'll rush out there and strike the elf before she has a chance to react. When the orc turns to face me, you jump out and restrain him with your magic. I'll finish her off quickly, then we can both handle him. Sound good?”

Robin nodded. “That's a pretty good strategy, coming from you that is. Let's do it!”

“I concur. It is a pretty good plan,” a sinister yet sweet voice behind them agreed.

The duo turned to find the elf looming behind them, her face contorted to an evil sneer. She chanted a quick incantation of Burning Hands and thrust her brightening palm toward the two. Ink grabbed Robin by the collar of his shirt, pulled him close, and dove out of the passageway at an angle. Moments later, an inferno blew out of the tunnel where the duo previously stood.

Ink quickly stood, Robin still in his arm, as he faced down the advancing orc and the prowling elf, the latter skulking out of the once-again dark tunnel. She stepped around splotches of molten rock, dodging Robin's Fire Bolt without a single glance, almost like this was just another day to her. The Minor Illusion of the elf examining the walls dissipated behind them.

The elf snickered. “So the foxy has good reflexes and the mousey is a little wizard. No wonder Sora failed us. Usually we admonish him for eating corpses, not becoming a corpse himself.”

Robin, flustered at the sudden shift in power, stepped forward. “Why are you attacking us!? We're just trying to get out of here!”

“Aw, honey, it's because you might be hiding treasure from us. And even if you two just happen to be broke, slavers would pay a pretty penny for beasties anyway. Plenty of sickos out in the world who would love to break in a sentient pet.”

Robin bristled, but was unable to think of a retort. He'd heard stories of bandit encounters and the occasional skirmishes between guilds, but to face down two actual criminal-types had him hesitant. Ink grabbed his shoulder and gave it a squeeze before conversing with the bandits with his usual disarming smile.

“Surely,” he began, his body giving no indication of hostility, “we can come to some sort of agreement? We've handled your friend quite easily, so you must realize we are competent fighters ourselves. Plus, we didn't kill him; he's asleep back in that pit.”

“Oh, you're so sweet giving our dog mercy, but we honestly don't care for him. You're living money, so we'll take you instead.” With a snap of her fingers, the orc rushed forward and with his two-handed sword still sheathed, he brought the covered blade down toward Ink’s skull.

With the same fluent motions he displayed earlier, he dodged every swing at the last second, but unlike the wild creature before, the orc gave the tod no time to exploit any weaknesses. The brute’s efficiency and practiced movements gave Ink very little to work with as he danced around the blade.

The elf laughed and raised her hand, an orb of light building in her palm, but she quickly dispelled it and ducked to the side to avoid another Fire Bolt whizzing by her face. A few loose hairs burned as she bent back to avoid the flames. Quickly straightening herself, she flung a sickly green orb of an Eldritch Blast at her rodent assailant, which he blocked with an Shield.

The two pairs fought on, Ink doing little more than dodging his opponent and Robin struggling to hold back the elf’s onslaught of destructive spells. Growing irritated with the kitsune, the orc swung at him with a free hand and managed to knock him back.

When Ink stumbled, the brute turned toward the other pair and charged toward the physically defenseless ratfolk. He unbuckled the sheath from the sword and threw it to the side, deciding that a quicker end to the ongoing fight outweighed a slightly larger wallet.

Robin saw the orc charging him but could not move from his position; doing so would open up the opportunity for the elf to end him herself. The orc stomped forward, mere feet from the rat, and brought his blade down.

A tear rolled down Robin’s cheek as his life flashed before his eyes. Before the blade came down halfway, Ink jumped in from the side and pushed the ratfolk away. Robin looked up as the orc’s heavy blade split the fox in two.

“INK!” Robin screamed as the body collapsed in slow motion. His heart began to sink, but before he could give up hope, a shadow appeared behind the orc. Fading in from the darkness was a completely healthy, naked Ink, save for his damaged arm flailing behind him. Robin gazed in amazement and confusion as the bisected fox dissolved into a shadowy mist, leaving behind the torn clothing that Ink shed.

Before the orc could react to the trickery, Ink twisted in midair and with murderous grace, he slammed his foot into the side of his head. His limb crackled with life energy as Ink poured the entirety of his ki into it, resulting in enough additive force that the orc’s neck snapped with a sickening crack.

 His head was ripped from his shoulders and was sent flying into a nearby wall, completely shattering in a bloody explosion of flesh and bone. Landing amidst the fountain of blood flowing from the orc’s still standing body, Ink turned his gaze to the elf. Her face contorted from her smarmy visage to an expression of surprise, bewilderment, and rage.

Screaming at the top of her lung, she shouted a chant for a powerful Fireball spell; as she wove her words, a massive sphere of flame materialized over her head. With a flick of her wrist, the Fireball zoomed forth.

Robin, regaining his composure, ran in front of Ink and threw up his last Shield, but to no help. The fireball detonated, blasting the bestial duo across the room. Robin landed on his back but quickly flipped over, slamming his hands on the ground using Mold Earth to forming a wall of earth between them and the elf.

Moments later, a barrage of blazing flames and eldritch bolts peppered the wall, eating away at the crumbling surface. Ink braced himself against the barrier and tried catching his breath. “Damn, I hate fighting casters. Nice wall by the way.”

Robin turned to him, still on all fours and breathing heavily. “Thanks, but it won't last long. I'm exhausted. I probably have one more big spell left in me before I'm out.” He lifted himself to his knees and spun, reclining himself against the wall.

He felt every thud as the deranged woman’s onslaught peppered it. He drew his short-sword-turned-dagger and stared at its cracked length, trying to come up with a plan. Suddenly, his vision grew hazy, his eyes glowing a dull blue, as he was drawn into the reflective surface.

The world around him was hazy. The blasts from the elf’s spells sounded distant and the thudding was nearly unnoticeable. He turned toward Ink, the outline of his nude body blurry yet the rest completely in focus. “This wall’s not gonna hold,” he said, his voice muffled. “I'm going in. Try to cover me.”

“Ink! Wait!” Robin heard himself say, the voice more of a vibration in his skull than actual sound. But it was too late; the fox had already turned the corner and bolted toward the warlock. He danced around her flurry of spells with grace that would leave members of her race envious as he advanced.

He was close enough to leap at her, but as he applied more pressure to his leg, he slipped on a hidden Grease slick. The elf’s face contorted into a sinister grin as she shot barbed ethereal chains of a Hold Person spell from her arm and trapped the off-balance fox. She raised her free hand and incinerated the tod in an inferno of black fire.

Robin awoke, his vision suddenly cleared. He quickly looked around and saw Ink preparing himself for his next move. “This wall’s not gonna hold,” he unknowingly repeated. “I'm going in. Try to cov-"

“I have a plan Ink!” Robin interrupted, his features frazzled. Ink turned to the rodent, who then confided his strategy.

The elf continued to sling her spells, her rage and adrenaline fueling her need to destroy the killers of her partner. “Come out you bastards! I'm going to fry the eyes from your skull and piss in the sockets!” She screamed.

Suddenly, she saw Ink jump out from the side of the barrier and barrel toward her. Shifting her attention from the molten slag that was once a wall, he began flinging a flurry of Fire Bolts and Eldritch Blasts at the tod.

Ink jumped over, dived under, and sidestepped each spell as he made his way forward. As he went to step into leaping distance, he saw the woman’s face shift into a grin and dark chains start to materialize on her arm. Ink flashed a quick, knowing grin back, confusing the witch, as he shortened his step and sidestepped the hidden Grease slick.

With her free hand, she fired more spells at the fox who in turn evaded not just them, but every puddle of oil and grease peppered around the caster. Bewildered that he managed to avoid every single trap, she desperately tried to lead him into a favorable position to ensnare him; if she missed with her chains, it would give him the opportunity to take her down.

Growing frustrated, she thought of a new plan to trap the fox. She flung her fireballs around the tod, igniting the pools of oil and creating a blazing inferno behind him. Unlike the puddles that Ink could simply jump over, the pillars of flames blocked off his avenues of escape.

Soon enough, the elf managed to lead him into a dead-end with his last remaining option being to charge at her. Without hesitation, Ink bolted toward the elf, leaping into the air to unleash a flurry of kicks. Unfortunately, his gambit was too predictable and the elf easily ensnared him with her chains.

Laughing maniacally, she conjured black flames in her free hand. She pulled her arm back to launch the demonic inferno, but suddenly, a sharp, nasty pain shot through her spine. It was so intense that she couldn't utter a cry or scream and her body froze in place.

Her concentration faltered, causing the flames to disperse and the chains to fade into ethereal smoke. She slowly looked over her shoulder and saw a broken sword jutting out of her back. As the seconds passed, a hand materialized, followed by an arm and, soon enough, the recently Invisable ratfolk.

She grit her teeth, admonishing herself for allowing the two animals to pull a cheap trick on her. She barely uttered a curse as she collapsed onto the ground. Robin stumbled back and landed on his rump, his breathing heavy as he realized what he had done. Ink offered him a hand and, after a moment of rest, the fox pulled him up. He collapsed into Ink.

“Gods damn it! I can't believe I did that!” he cried, pushing his face into Ink’s plush chest. The fox laughed and patted him on his head.

“You did great! Your plan was amazing and you took down the crazy bitch yourself!” His toothy grin returned in full force. Robin let go of Ink and looked him in the eyes with a sheepish smile.

“Thanks,” he replied. He then noticed Ink’s lack of clothing. “By the way, why are you naked? Couldn't you have just made illusions of clothing as well?”

“Well, you see, my little fuzzy friend, replicating a fatal wound in a split-second is a little too unfeasible, let alone in combat. Real clothing helps mask the fake wound just long enough to pull off a feint against even the most capable fighter. My master called it ‘Shedding’.”

“Couldn't you have worn something underneath to avoid exposing yourself?” Ink stared at Robin with a blank look. “I'm guessing you never thought of that.”

“Nope!” Ink wagged his tails and smiled. The fact that he didn't show any shame in his nudity drew many conclusions for the rat, but before he could question them, Ink shoved his face into his. “I'm starving. Let's get out of here!”

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Master of Strings Ch 43: Coincidental Consequences

Zilo and Leo were thrusted into the shadowy veil before they crashed headlong into Jin. The three of them rub their bruises before standing. Leo grabs Jin by the collar and pulls him close.

"The hells are you thinking! Leaping into a shadow mountain before getting backup!"

"I want to prove that I'm stronger than whatever is here, after both Jemma and the bandersnatch I need to prove I'm still good at this."

Zilo immediately grabs onto both of them and the friends fall to the ground as Zilo shushes the two of them. The three of them now have a better chance to observe their surroundings. The air is stale, misty, and rather dark, but not too dark not to make out figures in the distance.

The landscape is rough and craggy with unstable footing make of rocks, but there also seemed to be figures fighting on the rocks, but not moving. They looked to be stationary, frozen in the the middle of a small scale war. Zilo is more able to make out the figures as elves, being lead by strange figures.

The figures on one side look to be a wolf man, a short elf, and a half ling in a large hat and cloak, while the other side is led by a scrappy human, an armored human, and an elven warrior. Both sides look strong, but their stillness was unsettling. They also gave off an metallic sheen.

The cold air had affected the figures as the surface. Their metallic skin had bits and pieces of frost on them. All that said, Zilo hadn't force his friends down due to the figures, but the being among them.

A 12 foot tall bipedal insect-like humanoid stalked around the figures. It had long pointed back antennae along with the face of a preying mantis. In it's hand it held a giant spear that let off a aura of frost that glowed pale blue like the rest of the creature carapace. It's movements were exact and quick as it looked around, balancing itself with it's long blade-like tail.

"What is that?" Whispered Jin.

"A Gelugon, normally referred to as an Ice Devil." Said Leo biting his lip. Zilo fished out a paper and elbowed Leo and said, "You aren't gonna believe this, but..."

"I know, Maldrek has it's Antennae on the list."

"How does a giant bug man count as a devil, I was expecting a pitchfork and horns." Remarks Jin.

"Well you see-" as Leo begins to explain, the Ice Devil's antennae twitch, it's head whips around and it stares dead on at the three prone adventurers.

"Scatter!" Shouts Zilo, being the first to identify the devil's movements. The creature floated up into the air, and in a rough, deep, and exacting phrase it waved it's hand to the ground, and out came 2 large skeletonal beings with long scorpion tails.

Jin charged the first being and with a quick cartwheeling jump he brought his foot down into the left creature's head, and managed to avoid the snapping of it's tail as he landed and lept back. Leo knew these creatures, Osyluth, bone devils. He also knew that casting spells directly at them might not work, so he instead opted to sheathe his blade in lightning and strike at the other bone devil.

His strike hit hope with a thrust up into it's body and it's chest cavity cracked on the impact. The creature reeled back as it crouched down, ready to leap at the magus. Zilo's tunes began to fill the dark cold void with some manner of hope as he tested out his newest ballad, Inspire Greatness. He played tunes that invigorated Jin with power, and with every note played Jin's body seemed almost thrusted forward, continuing to strike at the opponent he faced.

In a matter of moments the devil opposite the monk was decimated and faded away into dust in the dark void. As Zilo and Jin breathed relief, Zilo was struck by the bone devil Leo had been facing. The devil had lept higher than Leo expected, and flew over him, making a dive bomb directly at Zilo.

Zilo held his shoulder that was stung and as the venom worked it's way into his body he felt his strength begin to fade. Leo turned to his friend and had planned to intercept the fiend from behind, but as he charged the ice devil sideswiped him and planted it's spear into his hip.

The spear froze his side in an instant as Leo winced from the incredible pain. He felt his body freeze and slow. As the devil's tail reared up to pierce Leo's skull Jin lept at the devil and hit it wit a mighty drop kick before landing and darting forward to land a heavy sidekick in the creature's center of mass.

Leo was wounded, and partially frozen, but breathing and standing with Jin against the devil. The creature raised it's off hand and a swirl of magical energy gathered in it's hand. Before the two warriors could react the devil let loose a Cone of Cold. Both Leo and Jin felt their bodies become heavy as Ice as all the heat in their bones was blasted away.

After the spell faded the two of them stood shivering as the devil began to approach, but just before it let loose another Cone of Cold, the other bone devil tackled it's master into the ground. Zilo ran over and began casting Cure Moderate Wounds at both of them.

"I must have been frozen a bit too hard, is that devil helping us?" Asked Leo.

"I used Charm Monster to buy us time, now get up." Responded the bard. Once Leo and Jin were back to being able to stand they look to see their charmed ally impaled and fading on the ice devil's spear. The creature floats up and raises both hands with magical power and slams it down into the ground, casting Wall of Ice before rising high into the air again.

Zilo takes aim with his bow nailing the creature in the chest as Jin runs up the side of the wall and hurls himself up at the devil. The devil tries to bat him away with the blunt side of his spear, but Jin manages to wrap his tail around it and flip up and over the swipe, landing on the devil's shoulder. Jin begins to try and pull the monster's antennae off, but he isn't able to muster the strength he needs.

The devil begins to cast Ice Storm to try and crush Leo and Zilo. Leo and Zilo withstand the first impacts of the attack, but they doubt they can hang on for the next round of attacks.  Zilo continues to play his song to bolster Jin's body, but it still isn't enough.

 Leo scours through his pages looking for the spell he readied along with a tool he picked up for this moment, While the group visited the magic section of Deneval. Leo takes out a small rod and shouts "Flourish!"

The rod extends out 30 feet and Leo smacks into Jin on the devil and shouts again, "Bull's Strength!" Energy rides along the extended rod and Jin's muscles explode, busting his shirt out from underneath. In one mighty heave he tears off the devil's antennae. The devil screams in agony as it falls to the ground.

The wall and storm vanish as the devil rolls around holding it's head in pain. Leo points to the way they came and shouts, "We need to go now!"

The three of them get the lead out and plunge themselves back through the shadowy veil, just barely managing to avoid another blast from the monster's Cone of Cold.

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