Saturday, February 22, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 118: To the Happy Couple

It took a few days for Zilo to return to his former self. Luckily Aria had been practicing her magic and she proved capable enough at healing him back to his prime. Clay meanwhile proved rather capable of keeping the tavern running while Aria stayed at Zilo's bedside.

With their time alone, they had plenty of time to plan their future together. Aria figured that the wedding could be held at her family's farm since it had finally been fully restored. While the farm was modest, and far from a dream location, Zilo agreed, but he made her agree that they would hold off on the wedding until he could get in contact with his parents back in the Plane of Shadows.

Aria agreed, and after about a week of the three looking after the bar, the rest of Swords and Sorcery Inc. came home from Shadeville and Aria showed off her new engagement ring to them. Jin, Alaroc, and Cruxis lept for joy and piled around Zilo patting him on the shoulders. Leo nodded knowingly and walked up to the bar to get a bit of wine to celebrate.

May gave Aria a hug and began pressing her on who the maid of honor would be. Aria gave her a snarky stare as May smiled in return saying, "I knew you were a smart girl, Zilo's gonna need that." Maldrek meanwhile was kneeling down and explaining to Sparky what marriage was. As Maldrek began to explain the action of "going on a honeymoon" Zilo approached him.

"So, Aria tells me that human marriages, like human duels, also require a second, a 'Best man', they call it." Maldrek clasped the bard on the shoulder with a smile and said, "You need help finding one, right?"

Zilo clasped Maldrek's shoulder back and returned, "Sure do, know anyone with some demon horns, red skin, and glowing red eyes?" The two friends embrace and pat each other on the back.

The rest of the night turned into one of the tavern's legendary nights of celebration. Revelry was had by all and with love being the prime motive for the party, love became something that not just Zilo strove for. Zilo sat by Leo, who had been looking to a blonde woman across the tavern. She was laughing with a group of friends but Leo seemed fixated on her.

Zilo inquired, "See something you like?"

"She's been here a few times before, but never with a man. I've been trying a different approach every night. None of the attempts have worked yet."

"Ah, well why not?"

"Maybe I was never good looking enough, think you can help me pick an option?" Responded Leo, pulling out his pocketbook of hair samples. Zilo nodded a few times, and closed the book back up.

"Just go talk to her as you are."

"No chance, what if it doesn't work? Rather she hate another face than hate mine."

"Look, if your that nervous, I'll give you a bit of a boost." Said the bard as he stood up from the bar and made his way to the stage in the eastern part of the tavern. The bard focused for a moment, as he rarely used this melody, but broke out into an ballad meant to Inspire Competence rather than his usual battle song to Inspire Courage.

Leo suddenly felt as though he knew the exact perfect line to use, and smiled. He stood and made his way over to the woman, pushing back his hood and revealing his face. He steeled his resolve and stood by the women, and as he was about to open his mouth, the woman interrupted,

"About time you came up to me." Leo was stunned and lost his words as she giggled and stood up to continue, "I picked you out weeks ago, but the only men who tried anything were not that tall fella with the devilish smile like you were."

Leo blinked twice, but rolled with it, and got a table alone with the woman. Zilo smiled as his friend began to work his magic, he finished up his performance and began to walk back to the bar, but was addressed by a familiar voice, "With skill like that, you would have smoked me last time I heard you play."

Zilo turned to see 4 men in peasant robes, but two of them stuck out. There stood Prince Kranoc Deneval and royal tutor, Luther Strain, along with two larger men who presumably were their bodyguards in disguise.

Luther looked rather disguised with the celebration around them, while Zilo squinted at the royal appearing in their tavern again after the last time when he was thrown out by the bard. Zilo stood opposed to the group when the prince raised his hands and said,

"Hold, I have no wish for trouble, In fact, I have come seeking your help. I hear that this celebration is from your coming betrothal, well I have an offer. I to have found a woman to marry, you may remember her from our duel in courting the fairer sex. She is Umie Xunchu, the dove of South Lidan,"

"What does that have to do with me?"

Luther stepped forward and speaks, "The prince must attend a ball in Lidan hosted by Umie's father to seal the courtship, but the Queen fears for the prince's life."

"Then why not go with the royal knights?" Luther rubbed his temples and sighed before explaining,

"The Han Kingdom would think it a breach of trust between the royals of Deneval and those of the Han if we send a whole contingent of knights." Prince Kranoc continued, "But some royal vassals to accompany me, that is allowed."

Luther speaks, " And so we come offering a deal, if you ensure that the Prince's proposal goes perfectly, we will pay you well."

Zilo's eyes widen but his gaze glances over to Aria, who has taken the stage to fill in for Zilo. Zilo then gets an idea.

"I'll do it, and you'll pay the standard rate for my allies, but I have a more personal request." The Prince raises his brow and asks, "What would that be?"

"I wish to marry Aria in the royal castle." Luther scoffs and laughs at the request, but the Prince cuts his chortling short by saying, "Done." Luther's eyes flicker to the Prince and he speaks, "Milord the common folk are not allo-"

"What harm is there Luther. The man will insure I will have lasting love in return for Me doing the same for him. I cannot think of a fairer trade."

"But-"

"I've spoken Luther. Take Sir Thomas and make the arrangements." Luther sulks. He and one of the two large men left the tavern. As soon as Luther was gone, the Prince exhaled a heavy breath and he spokes less confidently.

"Thank you so much Zilo, I thought you might still hold a grudge after our issues"

"The past is the past, and the only time to revisit it should be for a chorus."

The Prince shakes Zilo's hand up and down, thanking him repeatedly. Once he has done so the Prince remarks, "Bring those who would fit into a royal ball and meet at the castle tomorrow at noon."

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 117: Race for Love

Zilo had been saved by Leo from his would-be killer, Carten Manos. Zilo looked to the trail toward Deneval to see Maldrek, Cruxis, and May also making their way toward Shadeville. Each one of them looked very cross from having to walk for the last week and a half.

"Zilo! You just had to do it, didn't you! This was our job, not yours!" Leo continued to scold him.

"Hey it's not that big of a problem. Besides we ended up solving the case anyway." Maldrek's head perked up at this and he asked the bard, "Really? You found the killer?"

"Yes, but it looks like he got away."

May slapped her forehead as she asked, "Which one of you idiots let them get away?"

Zilo silently pointed at Leo with a bit of a mischievous grin on his face. Leo slapped down the hand and shouted, "How in Dema's name is it my fault?! I just saved your butt!"

Zilo smiled as he turned his face and in a pompous tone he retorted, "From the killer, who is currently floating to safety."

Leo made a double-take, looking back and forth to the river he just blasted Carten into. Understanding, Leo stamping his boot in anger. Maldrek let out a bit of a chuckle before turning to Leo and saying, "Welp, best get swimming Leo."

Leo, Maldrek, and May began to scan the edge of the river as Zilo turned to Cruxis and asked, "Hey, if you all are here, then who's watching the tavern back home?"

"We left Aria in charge, but Clay is there to-," Zilo's eyes widened in shock, remembering the hitman that would kill Aria in 3 short days. He whistled for Presto to come over. He mounted the horse with a few winces from his many cuts and arrow wounds. He took off, not waiting to explain to the others.

He could hear the shouts of his confused friends at his back as he and Presto took off toward the Capital of the land. He was very hurt, but still conscious and still determined to get home before the hitman would strike.

He regretted that he returned the Shells of Sending to Maldrek a few months ago when Aria finished her bardic training. A message back home to warn her would have been a great help. He shook the thought aside, it was too late for regrets, all he could do now was return to save the woman he loved.

After the first day of travel, Presto and Zilo were tired, but Zilo refused to let the horse stop. Vivace wouldn't have taken this kind of forcefulness, but Presto's more tame nature and keener mind let the horse see what its rider was feeling. While Presto was not able to comprehend the worry Zilo held, he did see the stress that the bard was feeling, and continued to push himself, and didn't resist for the rest of the race home.

As the second day fell to a close, now Zilo was the one at the edge of collapse. He was wondering what the harm would be in just closing his eyes and letting Presto follow the trail himself. His eyes fell and he saw the black shade of sleep fall over his vision, only to see Aria, with a dagger in her chest.

The bard jolted up from his snooze and with renewed vigor continued. He had considered a lot on the road with only his thoughts, and his feelings towards Aria. He had known her for a short time all things considered, but he knew that losing her would something he couldn't bear. She may fight him on somethings, and she might not laugh at all his jokes, but her wit, her spirit, her confidence, he would not let those things be snuffed out.

The third day came to an end, and night fell. Presto raced into Deneval with Zilo astride him. Both horse and Fetchling's eyes were bloodshot as Presto collapsed in front of the Sword and Sorcery tavern. Zilo rose to see the torches were out outside, forcing him to use his dark vision. The door was off its hinges. Broken off by a tool of some kind. The only light was from inside by the bar torchlights that had yet to be snuffed out for the night.

The bard tried to rise, but his body wouldn't do it. His wounds from his battles had worn him down, he had lost too much blood, and the ride had been grueling. His buckler and sword weighed him down like shackles on a prisoner.

He brought his right arm over to undo the fastenings on his buckler. With his left arm freed he could undo his belt and free himself of his sword. He could stand, or at the very least lean on the walls of the tavern. He looked around; the chairs had been flipped up for the night and the floor was left half swept. He could see toward the bar was Clay with a wounded temple and barely moving.

Zilo lurched forward but fell from his weakness. He then slid to Clay's body and nudged his boot. The boy awoke and looked at Zilo.

"Z-Zilo, is that you sir?" Zilo couldn't even speak from his mouth drying out halfway through his third day of riding. Clay did his best to stand with his head cracked from the bar counter. Zilo sat up and began to fade a bit, but he was awoken from the sound of someone falling from the staircase to his left.

He tilted his head to see Aria, breathing heavy with cuts along her shoulder and her side. She was gripping her shortsword. Aria's eyes slowly open to see Zilo, half dead and barely holding on at the bar with Clay.

"ZILO!?" She shouts as she scrambled over to him, she places both of her hands on his gaunt cheeks. Clay then says, "Aria, you okay?"

Aria's eyes flick over, noticing Clay's wound, and she casts Cure Light Wounds on both the boy and her man. While the wounds did close, Zilo was too exhausted to move anymore beyond small actions. By the time she finished, a man had finished walking his way down the stairs.

In his hands were a pair of daggers. He had a hood on, with a short brown goatee poking out. He was dressed up in a leather jerkin just as the thieves of the Green Dragon Guild had been. This was Jake, Wisp's hitman to kill Aria for disobedience.

Aria rose and held her blade forward. She charged the man with a thrust, but the man easily deflected it and cut another wound along Aria's left forearm, making her lose the power to grip her weapon with both arms. Zilo looked to Clay with his eyes frantic, pursuing his lips and sucking in air a few times.

It took Clay a little bit to realize Zilo needed a drink, so the young boy snatched a bit of wine from behind the counter and popped it's cork, flowing the contents into Zilo's mouth. With a cough and a sputter, Zilo's lips could move fully again, and he spoke weakly,

"My... boot..." Clay got to work taking off Zilo's boot as Zilo watched his student fight. Aria began to calm down now that she had to defend a boy and a bard. Jake would try to flicker his daggers about, but Aria began to deflect them.  As Zilo observed this, he began to smile as he saw her eyes.

She was doing it, she was reading her opponent like he had been trying to teach her. Her eyes focused on his face, not his weapon. She could see his attacks before he made them, like how bards are trained to fight when they are required to. Zilo let out an instinctive grin as he felt something be put in his hand.

Clay had found it, and now was the time to use it. The bard's arm shook as it rose and pointed at the killer attacking Aria. and with a weak voice, Zilo spoke.

"...Lightning... Bolt."

A streak of power flew out of the wand Clay had given him and punched the killer square in his side. He was blasted out through the wall and the tables that were between the wall and the bar were set ablaze as the man was knocked through the wall and out into the streets. Zilo's arm recoiled from the blast and the wand was sent spinning as Aria looked to Jake to make sure he was done and dropped her blade.

Aria looked to Zilo, whose head was drooping with a grin of happiness that everything managed to work out. Aria ran over to Zilo and began to look him over as she began to ask him,

"Zilo, what happened!? Are you okay? Who was that man? Where did...?" Her questions were all at once stopped as Zilo wordlessly asked a question of his own. He had reached his hand into his pocket and produced something he was holding up to Aria. He had an engagement ring and with the ring was a questioning stare into Aria's eyes.

Aria's hands covered her mouth and nose as her eyes began to water. She was just as speechless as the bard was right now, only managing to get across a small nod in agreement to Zilo's proposal. Zilo's arm faltered and landed on his leg, still pinching the ring. Aria reached down and slipped the ring onto her finger before clutching onto Zilo. Both smiled warmly as they took a few moments together before beginning to tend to the bar.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 116: Release the Arrow

Zilo had finally evened the playing field with his horse Presto by improvising backward galloping with magically hastened speed. Carten Manos, the moon elf mercenary, was not distracted by the silly display for long. He began unleashing more arrows at Ziloand Presto.

Unlike before, Presto and Zilo were much better at weaving around the shots now that they could see them. Well honestly, Zilo didn't need to do much, Presto was the one avoiding the shots, leaving Zilo free to return fire.

Since Zilo was firing back at Carten who was running forward, the first arrow that nailed the elf hit harder than he was expecting. The silver streaking arrow planted firmly in Carten's left thigh and blasted the leg out of his foot stirrup on his horse.

The archer shouted in pain as he looked down to his leg. His gaze shifted back up to Zilo, he gritted his teeth as he looped his leg back into the stirrup and muttered through the arrow in his teeth, "Alright, letsh shee you dodge thish then." Carten took three arrows out of his quiver but slipped two of them through a loop in his saddle.

Zilo saw him shoot the first arrow simple enough, and like before, Presto moved to avoid it, but suddenly, Zilo's torso got demolished from two pinpoint arrows to his right arm and his gut. He looked down, questioning where the arrows came from. Zilo looked up and a bit of blood spurted from his lips.

Zilo tried to pull some more arrows, but his muscles strained from the action. Without his legs to ground himself, his shooting had all come from his arms and his core, which now had two arrows planted in them both. Carten must have used that first arrow as a Ranged Feint before shooting both arrows simultaneously without loss of accuracy, a Manyshot.

No spells left and his ability to shoot hindered, Zilo wasn't looking to be able to keep this up, but that was not the end of his misfortune. With their backward running method neither had really been keeping an eye on the trail. They had not seen the fork in the road and the sign directing travelers leaving this land. One way continued all the way to Deneval, and the other lead to a small bridge over a river that led out to the coast.

Presto backward galloped butt first right into the sign and the horse and bard were forced down to the ground. Carten advanced, pulling the Arrow of Slaying from his teeth. Zilo snapped up with his hastened legs to see Carten was only 25 feet from him, and moments from releasing his shot that would slay the bard. Carten had a giant grin on his face.

Zilo focused, making Harmony return to bo form and his violin rose into the air. He had no more spells but that didn't mean he was totally without magic As his violin began to play Zilo's Dirge of Doom. Carten and his horse suddenly jolted with a primal fear from the performance, and the horse flew up on its hind legs, throwing the archer from it's back.

Carten fell to the ground with the Arrow of Slaying landing upright stuck in the ground and the horse fled back toward the city, and away from Zilo. While the fear may have subsided, the loyalty of the horse to its master was not stellar and the beast continued to flee for its life. Carten rose from the ground, wincing as he put weight on his left leg and clenched his teeth as he starred at Zilo who returned Harmony to bow form. Both men attempted to draw and fire an arrow, but both winced.

They both starred and both lowered their shots. Zilo spoke first. "Can't imagine shooting is easy with that leg grounded."

Carten replied motioning to Zilo's stomach and shoulder, "And I'm sure shooting with those both isn't very pleasant either. In that case, shall we settle this with our blades?"

Zilo squinted, looking over Carten's equipment again, seeing only his bow, and no other weapons. Carten grinned as he shifted his hands to both the top and bottom of his bow and the middle grip released the two bow arms. Once released the bow's metallic sharp design made total sense all at once. The bow's arms split to be similar in function to twin scimitars. The middle grip floated magically to Carten's leather strap for his quiver.

Both snapped the arrow shafts from their wounds and they prepared for the combat. Zilo grabbed his whip, adjusted his buckler, and unsheathed Scherzo as his bow became a bo and returned to his violin. The violin began playing a melody of Inspire Greatness and Zilo charged, thinking he finally had the advantage. He swung Scherzo, but the strain in his arm from his wound weakened the strike, and Carten easily blocked it with an overhead cross of his blades before planting his boot in Zilo's chest.

Turns out Carten's mercenary experience was not just in archery, and his follow up was to dart in and slash Zilo's brow and send his hat out and flying. Zilo's speed, song, and magics were just enough to bridge the gap though, as Carten's clear skill with a blade trumped Zilo's own natural ability.

The exchanged of blades had a flurry of blocks and slashes being dodged, but Carten proved a bit more underhanded than the simplistic bard. He threw his left blade away for a split second but was suspended by the bowstring that still connected the two scimitar grips. With his new freehand Carten's arm snapped back to the quiver and faster then Zilo could reach the arrow was stabbed into Zilo's left shoulder before taking the Stabbing Shot and performing a maneuver that intimidated Zilo.

The Archer tossed the arrow up, threw out the bow grip from his chest, reconnected the blades into a longbow, notched and fired the arrow at his fleeing horse, ending its cowardliness with a head shoot from 200 ft away. Zilo faltered as any person would after seeing that and began taking a few steps away.

Carten grinned with satisfaction  tilting his head to his weapon and said, "Impressed, you haven't even seen half of what Sanguine Fury can do."

Carten returned the Sanguine Fury to its twin-blade form and swung the two from the 15 feet Zilo had backed up. in the swing he flicked two switches in the grips and the blades released from the hilts, flying forward on two wires that were stored in the hollowed grips. The blades flew in the air, and Zilo hopped to avoid the sweeping attacks.

He lept over the low sweep and blocked the other with his buckler, but the force sent him spinning down. Carten flicked the switches again and the two blades returned to the hilts pulled by the cables. Carten tried to make his way to Zilo with a dash, but his leg made him move too slow. Zilo returned up to his feet and snapped his whip out to catch Carten's good leg.

Zilo pulled and tripped Carten onto his back, and Zilo tried to stab down with his blade. Carten again crossed his blades and deflected the direction of Scherzo to the ground past Carten's shoulder. Carten snapped one of the blades out of the cross and swept it about at Zilo's Legs. Zilo did leap in time to avoid it, but his whip on Carten's leg was cut and made useless.

As Zilo landed, the elf swung his blade, releasing it again and the blade flew out and gashed into Zilo's leg. Zilo retreated, throwing away his cut whip and pointing his blade out at Carten. Carten rose, and looked at Zilo, smiling.  Carten made his way over to the stuck Arrow of Slaying and aimed it at Zilo. The bard tried to move in a timely manner, but his leg made that difficult. His movement stopped when he was starring right down the sights of the archer.

"Goodbye. You put up a good fight, but like all the others, you will die."

Carten pulled back the arrow, but then the bowstring just fell apart. This was not like it snapped, something unseen cut the string. then a voice shouted out,

"Forceful Strike!"

An invisible blade slashed down Carten's shoulder to his hip, and Carten was blasted by a huge amount of concussive force and he was flung into the river by the fork in the road. Zilo blinked a few times before being slapped by some invisible force and hearing a familiar voice.

"You idiot! Gone for less than two weeks and nearly dying on the side of the road!" Zilo rubbed his cheek and squinted forward, finally remembering the voice,

"Leo is that you?"

Greater Invisibility finally wore off, and the hooded frame of Zilo's magically gifted crook of an ally, Leo appeared before him with his Rhoka being returned to its sheath.

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 115: The Rival

Zilo runs with love as his motivation out of the Green Dragons guild and back to the Stumbly Giant Inn. Wanting to take off as soon as possible, he gets out a saddle from the cart and throws it onto a horse, not caring which was which. With a slapdash tightening and the horses getting a fair amount spooked from Zilo's state, the bard leaps onto the horse and cuts the barding connected to the cart.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the horse he picked at random was Presto, who blasted out of the stable nearly throwing Zilo from the saddle as he did. The temperamental stallion wasn't as fast as his partner Vivace, but was also better at taking orders and was, according to Aria, much smarter than an average horse.

Sadly what Zilo needed now was speed, but it was too late to change now. So once he regained his grip he and Presto were out of Shadeville and onto the road. All the while the bard was speaking,

"Three days, was it? Yes, three days until the killer makes his move. Took us a week to get here, so if I don't stop and move fast I might make it before he can-" Zilo's ramblings were interrupted as Presto's gait was halted as the beast threw Zilo forward and collapsed on the ground.

Zilo scrambled over to the horse, and began to look him over. It looked like his back left leg had been hit by an arrow. As he looked at the wound, he rushed and ripped the arrow out, but he then heard another horse coming up from the town, followed by a slightly deep and hateful voice,

"I cannot believe it. Hello again."

Zilo looked up to see a dusk elf male in a light leather tunic with pulled back long black hair. His face showed angular features and some light red eyes that were opened wide in shock. He was holding an oddly shaped longbow that looked to be constructed of metal sharpened edges that connect into the bow's grip in the middle. Zilo raised an eyebrow at the man before speaking,

"Hello? Sorry, I'm not too good with faces."

"Understandable, last we met it was night and it was a fair number of months ago. My name is Carten Manos. I'm what you would call a mercenary, taking jobs all along the coast and isles in the east."

The man drew an arrow from his quiver with blinding speed and aimed it at Zilo, before continuing, " A little over half a year ago, I traveled to the tower elf kingdoms. I had heard their bow masters might help me refine my skills. I was wrong, but I did earn some gold guarding their fortress during the nights."

Zilo's mind clicked, he remembered the tower elf fort. He had broken Jin and Leo out when they got arrested. He had also had an all-night archery showdown with an elf, this elf. Zilo grit his teeth. Presto had, during this time, managed to stand up, but was sporting a horrible limp.

Carten had Zilo with his pants down, but then he lowered his aim and spoke, "I do hate unfair fights, So I'll tell you what. I'll let you fix your mount and we can make this a bit more sporting. You may take off, and I will follow, we will exchange shots and the may the best man win."

"Fix my mount?"

"Don't play dumb, I know you have magic of some sort. You healed when I shoot you off the fort wall."

Zilo cured Presto's wound with a cure moderate wounds as he remarked, "You have a better memory than I friend." Carten sneered and spoke back, "I am not your friend, you are my enemy. I marked you for death that night and failed, but today I have magic of my own."

Carten reaches into his bag of holding along his hip and spoke, "Arrow of slaying evil outsiders." And he retrieved an arrow, just like the kind he found that the murders of Shadeville had been done with. Zilo made the connection when he heard arrow of slaying, but his perception was delayed on the second thing Carten said.

"Evil outsider? Was it?"

"I remember that night very well. It may have been dark, but I made out some things. Your frame is elf-like despite human features, but the eyes are the giveaway. You lack pupils, and since then I have learned, that is the trait of those of the plane of shadows, the Fetchlings."

"Arrow of slaying too, you've killed with those often in the town."

Carten smiles and says, "It seems you've looked into me just as much. Yes, my line of work occasionally includes violence, and I have a connection in Shadeville that supplies me these arrows in exchange for the occasional contract killing. I'm no I' Sereg'wethrin, but the magic bridges the gap."

"Look, I don't want to fight. Someone very important to me is in danger of being killed. Please can we just settle this some other time?"

Carten spins the arrow of slaying in his fingers, chuckling and responds," You know what, I will do you a favor. I'll ensure you are waiting in the next life to greet them." Carten slips the arrow of slaying into his teeth. He then grips his bow again and flicks his chin toward Presto.

Zilo was not talking his way out of this. Carten was dead set on settling the score. The bard mounted up and he brushed Presto's side and told him, "I'm sorry I dragged you into this buddy. Just keep running as best you can, and I can make sure you stay in the race."

Presto neighs, but Zilo couldn't really tell if he understood. Either way, the two of them took off. After they galloped for a few seconds, Carten goes after them. Presto ran fast, trying to run like Vivace as best he could, but Carten's skill with a bow was incredible. He continued to nail Presto in critical points on his legs.

Luckily Zilo was quick on the draw with his healing and fixed any damage dealt as soon as he could in the split second before Presto would have collapsed. In addition, where Vivace would have just run like a devil, Presto began to get a feel for the rhythm and started to dodge the arrows on occasion, freeing up Zilo to take a shot of his own with his bow.

Firing backward at Carten proved fruitless, Zilo had to make too much of an adjustment to twist and fire, let alone aim. His shoots continued to veer a meter or so to the sides of Carten, and the elf and his horse could easily maneuver around the shots that might have hit with how telegraphed Zilo's attacks were.

The stalemate would be settled once Carten ran out of arrows, or Zilo ran out of spells. Unfortunately, Zilo knew that if he was an archer by trade with a bag of holding, the odds were good that he had possibly hundreds of arrows.

Eventually, Zilo was down to only a level 2 spell and a level 3 spell.

"This is bad, He can see everything I do and I only get glimpses, if only... Would that work?"
Zilo leaned down to Presto and cast Cat's Grace on him and said, "I have a crazy idea, Prest, but you need crazy coordination and will have to trust me. Get ready."

Zilo reigned him up, stopping him after a hoof slide in the dirt trail. As he reared back Zilo twisted the reins and made Presto face Carten. Presto at first thought to charge and make a counter-attack, but Zilo seemed to be pulling him back still, as though he should walk backward. This confused Presto, as every time he tried to turn, Zilo pulled him back to facing Carten's charge.

Once Zilo cast Haste on the horse, it clicked for the beast. Presto began to walk backward, but with the magic, his speed was just about equal to when he was running before the spell. Most importantly, now Zilo and Presto, could see the shots coming.

With his new viewpoint, the first thing Zilo saw was a shocked expression on Carten's face. Zilo smiled and notched another arrow and said, "Time to turn this fight around!"

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 114: Cutting the Rope

Jin, Zilo, Sparky, and Alaroc dusted themselves off before walking into the next room. They walk in to see... Precisely who they are looking for. There sat Wisp at small table to his left was Vinny, and on the right was a man with a shaved head and a high collar. His skin was pale and his eyes were a light brown color.

Zilo blinked a moment, "Oh... there you are Wisp."

Wisp looks up from the table with a surprised look and says, "Uh, Zilo... I thought finding the lair would take longer than... an hour, why are you here?"

Jin takes a step forward and says, "Well, me mates an' I tink dat it'd be far quicka just to beat ya to an inch a your life den, get ya to do as we want."

Wisp slowly nods three times before hopping onto the table and nodding to both the men before saying, "Horace do it." The man with the shaved head then closed his eyes and motions to both Vinny and Wisp before they all look to each other with a deep stare and Vinny charges.

The thug unsheathes a rapier and in a flash he has stabbed into Zilo's shoulder, pinning him to the doorway, and followed up with kicking Sparky away and across the room. Jin tries to move over to help, but he can seem to move, as the psion's hand points to him, holding him stunned in place.

Alaroc takes out his two blades and moves to free Zilo, just as he does he is brought to his knee as he looks to see Wisp at his leg with a dagger in his hamstrings followed by another slash to his side.

All of the heroes were taken by surprise in their own ambush, but Sparky was intent on turning it around. Sparky readied Selective Fireball to blast everyone in the room other than his friends and luckily it worked just as expected.

The Green Dragon agents fell back to recover as Zilo snapped out his violin and played a soothing performance to undo the damage done to them. As the bard looked to Alaroc, both of them could see on their faces that those attacks had left wounds beyond what Zilo thought. Vinny and Wisp had used Crippling Strikes, leaving the bodies hit with lasting damage.

Jin charged at the Psion and slammed his fist into the undefended mental mage. Alaroc made his move on Vinny to keep Zilo safe from another charge. Alaroc brought down his energy blade and despite Vinny's attempt to parry, it was pointless. The blade phased past the metal and slashed at the man's chest.

Now it was the enemy's turn, and Horace made a quick hop backward followed by whipping his right arm back and thrusting it forward as his left arm rested gripping his temple. Jin could feel it, he was trying to attack his mind. However, the monk's force of will proved strong enough to shrug off the damage, now that he was able to see the mage and he wasn't distracted.

As Jin reveled in his success he felt a sharp pain in his side. He looked there to see a dagger, stuck there, and bleeding far more than any wound should. He looked up to see Wisp returning his arm from a throw before continuing to stab methodically at Alaroc from behind.

Alaroc was flanked as the little Halfling shifted his place to be surrounding Alaroc with Vinny. Both Vinny and Wisp had been stabbing at the Cavalier, who hadn't expected such a maneuver after the blast of fire. Upon a closer look, it seemed both rogues had managed to avoid nearly all of the flames from the spell that broke up the fight's start.

Zilo wanted to heal again, but as long as these rogues continued their assaults he couldn't match up, so he began to play his song of Inspiring Courage, before also casting Haste, and Cat's Grace as he retrieved Harmony from his back. Sparky immediately began to use his newfound speed to double cast two Scorching Rays to pepper the two men attacking Alaroc.

Alaroc let out all his frustration on Wisp, who nimbly danced around the sword swings, not taking anything more than a few glancing blows. Jin had much more luck, however, as he stepped in quick on the psion and unleashed a full flurry of blows.

Jin let out a monstrous 5 hit combo of a jab, followed by an uppercut. After the psion was made airborne, the Vanara spun in place and kicked him up higher with a stomach kick before reaching up, pulling him down and stopping his descent with another uppercut.  As the Psion's body stayed suspended, unsure if it should fall or fly, Jin made the choice for him with a flip leading into an ax kick in the skull.

The psion lay there, unconscious. Wisp hopped away from the bleeding and hurt Alaroc before weaving his way around Jin's range to come to a halt over to the psion. He then looked for a moment to Vinny, only to grimace and shout, "Vinny, link is down put the monkey down!"

Vinny continued to use his rapier to keep Alaroc back but as he did he reached for his belt and took out a dagger before throwing it past Alaroc's head at Jin. Jin snatched the dagger out of the air by the blade, stopping any serious harm, but suddenly he felt woozy, before falling to his knees. Vinny smiles as Alaroc looks to the monk, and then back to Vinny who unsheathes another dagger, showing a small layer of liquid on it saying,

"Blue Whinnis, knocks you out if you ain't careful."

Wisp lets Jin fall to his knees, but grabs him by the fur on his chest, holding him between Zilo and Sparky. Zilo tried his best to fire arrows without hurting Jin, but all his shots missed their mark as Wisp used the Vanara's body to dissuade the bard. Sparky tried a more up close strategy and tried to unleash two of his burning fists from the side that the rogue couldn't block with Jin.

Sadly, Wisp saw the attacks coming and once again used his rouge Evasion to avoid both blasts before shouting for Vinny to put down the goblin as well. Alaroc continued to put pressure on the Vinny, but not enough for him to miss his mark and put Sparky to sleep as well with a well-placed dagger throw.

Wisp dropped the sleeping monk, and looked to the psion. Wisp shouted, "You think you can tell me what to do Zilo? Well, you are wrong! And you will pay for that." Wisp took his dagger out of Jin's side and threw it at the unconscious psion. He hit him right in the chest and the psion's breathing is halted. Wisp smiles and says,

"No way to call it off now, your girl is dead soon as Jake doesn't hear from me."

Zilo is frozen still, as is Alaroc and Vinny, though Vinny has a smile on his face. Alaroc runs over to Zilo, forgetting about the fight and his wounds, and speaks, "Zilo, you need to go, right now!"

"But..."

"Move! I can handle this! Get one of our horses and ride as fast as you can, get to Deneval!"

Zilo begins to step back toward the stairs, hesitating, before saying, "You got this?"

Alaroc laughs and says, "Like you need to ask."

Zilo bolts up the stairwell, and Alaroc stares down the two leaders of the guild. The knight grips his blades and sheaths them both as he whispers under his breath, "Guess now is as good of a time as any."

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Master of Strings Ch 113: In the Heart of the Dragons

Zilo spread around a few Cure Light Wounds to his companions as they prepared to continue further into the lair of the Green Dragons. Once done, they make their way over to the next door forward into the Green Dragon hideout, but before they can open the door they look to see that the door has three different knobs.

"What's wit dis?" Asks Jin looking over all three of them. Alaroc takes a swig of his drink and as he uncranes his neck back down he remarks, "Probably a trap."

Zilo,  Alaroc, and Jin all halt and rub their chins in unison, considering how to proceed, until Sparky reaches up and grabs the lowest knob. Before Jin can grab him the door is open and Jin hits the deck. A crossbow bolt fires out the door and misses the diminutive Sparky.

The bolt fires out over the short goblin and prone Jin, embedding itself into the mattress of one of the bunk beds behind them at chest level. Zilo's eyes move with the bolt, and as he saw the bolt drip with some form of purple liquid he gives Sparky a short little thumbs up. Jin breaths heavy as Alaroc moves forward to take the lead followed by Zilo, Sparky, and Jin into the narrow 5-foot wide hallway.

The monk shouts, "Keep yer eyes careful. Who knows what else dey set up here."

Alaroc shouts back, "Well they set up a little warning here." Alaroc points at a sign sticking out at eye level in the hallway. Alaroc begins to read it off. "Lieutenants only, do not continue, or your meals and takes will be significantly thinner."

"We must be getting close then." Spoke Zilo.

Jin's nods and points forward, Alaroc nods to him and crouches down to go under the sign. After he does so the floor tile he stepped on depresses and the doorway that they had come from was replaced with a solid metal slab that shuts down from the ceiling.

Jin dashes back and examines the door before trying to punch it down like he had done to the secret door to the hideout. The door stands firm without moving an inch. He then tried to punch the walls around them, only to now realize it is made of the same type of dull dark green metal.

Zilo examines the walls and says, "I think it's adamantine. Underdark metal that is dense beyond anything humans can dream to craft. Ain't breaking through this easily."

Jin sighs and begins to walk back until his ears perk up and he begins to run and point forward," We gotta leave! Now!" As Jin makes his way back, the walls suddenly make a loud shifting noise, and then they slowly begin to close in on the group.  The three others turn and begin to run.

Alaroc's armor makes it a bit tougher for him to move easily, especially in this slowly closing hallway. He makes the party behind him move much slower. Once they make their way to the other end of the hallway, the walls only give them about 3 feet of clearance. Alaroc slammed into the door, only to find that it also is solid adamantine.

"What we do!" Shouts a panicking Sparky. Zilo grits his teeth. He double-checks the roof and ground to see if they are made of anything other than adamantine. When they both also prove to be made of the metals his face begins to grow paler. Shaking the feeling away, he begins to form an idea and kneels down to Sparky, casting Eagle's Splendor on him before saying.

"Sparky, I need you to put everything you have into one circle in the wall from about 2 feet away." Sparky looks up to Zilo. The bard gives the goblin a smiling face and a nod, then Sparky steps between Alaroc's legs and begins letting loose a torrent of Burning Hands at one part of the metal slab at the end of the hall.

Alaroc steps back as he, Zilo, and Jin gather about 30 feet down the hall. Zilo begins casting a slew of spells on Jin. He casts, Bull's Strength, Bear's Endurance, and Haste across all four of them to get ready in case there's something past that door.

Zilo then tells Jin, "You need to drink, cause you are about to bust that wall and you are gonna need a bit of liquid courage."

Jin looks at the bard in shock as beads of sweat begin to form on his head. Alaroc looks back to Sparky, and the air of the hallway is beginning to shift and shiver from the sheer amount of heat being used to weaken the metal into slag. Jin begins to drink and Zilo takes off his hat to wipe off the sweat.

"Alaroc lend me your gauntlets." The cavalier removes his gauntlets, and Zilo begins to wrap them in clothe and dump his water skin on them. He then explains, "Adamantine isn't something you can brute force, even the smiths who use it can't make it into ingots from how condensed it is. Best they can hope is to use enough heat to make it malleable. That's our best shot out of here"

Zilo gives the gauntlets to Jin who slips them onto his hands as his tail continues to pour his drink. Zilo looks to the wall to see that it only has less than 2 ft of clearance now. Zilo grits his teeth and tells Jin, "Go now we don't have much time!"

Zilo and Alaroc squat down a bit and let Jin clamber over them and he takes off at full blast. As he begins to run, the closing wall makes running tough, make it probably impossible to build up the speed he needed for his charge. To solve this, he begins to cartwheel to make up for the room he doesn't have and it ends in a leaping double fisted slam into the wall. The heat of Sparky's spells makes the wall start to flex but not break as Jin impacts the spot.

Jin forces his fingers in and pieces through the metal slag. He shouts in pain from the heat of the metal as he rips out and forces a hole to form, enough for him to hop in with his hairs getting a few flecks of fire on the tips. Sparky follows after and Zilo and Alaroc begin to also make their way over.

Just as Zilo and Alaroc are a short 5 feet from the door, shimmying with some side walking, Alaroc stops. Zilo bumps into him. Alaroc's helmet is held in place and immovable, beginning to bend from the compressing force of the wall. Zilo tried to force the helmet off, but he doesn't have the room to maneuver his hands.

Jin and Sparky look back at the hole they just leapt through, only to see the wall close completely with a thud, leaving no room for anything to be in the hallway. The two of them sit there speechless. Sparky's eyes begin to well up and Jin begins to punch the cool parts of the wall with his burnt hands.

Jin shouts, "Damnit! Why! Why didnae we just find de dragon's lair..." Jin falls to the ground with a kneel and says, "I did dis, I got dem killed, Gods be damned! I killed them!"

Sparky's tears echo through the room, but then he is suddenly bashed by something that tackled him from the left. Jin spins about, landing on his butt from his kneel, to see something that leaves his mouth a gap.

He sees Sparky, in a dogpile, and a wispy looking shadow portal off to the left. Atop Sparky is Zilo and Alaroc, with the bard smiling, and saying, "Phew! That was close!"

Jin stands and approaches as Sparky hugs Alaroc's leg. Jin asks Zilo, "How? I saw de wall crush ya!"

Zilo waves his hand about leaving a faint trail of shadow wisps on his fingertips' trail. The bard speaks, "Shadow Walk, I took us on a little detour to get out." Sparky leaps up onto Zilo's back giving him a hug, but then, after a nod, Jin's eyes snap and he asks, "Zilo what was stoppin ya from doin dat in de first place?"

Zilo shrugs and says, "I forgot, my bad." Jin shakes his head and facepalms as a now annoyed Sparky begins to cast boiling blood to superheat the bard who beings to shout and run about in pain. Meanwhile, Alaroc and Jin set about exploring the new room they are in.

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Master of Strings Ch 112: Breaking the Cycle

Zilo sits in The Stumbling Giant, with his friends. Zilo reports to them about his new mission to find and loot the lair of the dragons that the group slew. If they failed then the Shadeville thieves guild, The Green Dragons would have Zilo's love, Aria, be put deep in the earth faster than the group could make their way home. Alaroc droops his head and says,

"Rough bit of news that. Guess we need to go and take care of that then."

Jin perks up and says, "Why would we do dat?"

Zilo looks to the vanara in shock and says, "Aria is going to die. We can't just-!"

"Why not!?" Asked Sparky spreading his arms wide in an exaggerated fashion.

Jin points to the little goblin and says, "Sparky's with me on dis. Do ya really tink dat dis Wisp will keep his word?"

Alaroc turns to their monk companion and says, "What are you saying?"

"I tink we gotta hit Wisp at home, and get him ta call off dis guy getting from getting Aria."

Meanwhile, in the other realm, the one known as Jones sits with a screen blocking off his notes. His notes detail out a new dungeon of a dragon's lair with many traps, kobold minions, and obstacles that would take a fair amount of time for the party to work their way through.

The one known as Jones chimes in, "You guys do know that Dragons have a lot of loot in lairs right?"

The man in the helmet controlling Alaroc says, " Oh I know, I want to see if they have another sword."

The one known as Jones perks up and says, "They might! Yeah, so-"

The man in the hat controlling Zilo says, "But Alaroc already has an artifact and a max enchanted sword. You can't just suddenly grow another arm."

The man in the helmet sulks and says, "Fair point."

The man in the hat looks over to the large bald man controlling Sparky, and the red-haired man controlling Jin and speaks, "This might work, If we can storm the place and threaten Wisp then he can call off his guy."

The one known as Jones speaks again, "Or maybe he might keep his word if you do the job you were given."

The man in the hat turns to the one known as Jones, and says, "Please Jones, you know I love playing Rogues. I'd lie about everything all the time. Hell, he might be lying about assassinating Aria too."

The one known as Jones looks over his notes before coming to a sudden understanding and says, "We'll it will come down to Zilo to see if you even can assault the Green Dragons. You'll need to roll Wisdom to recall the alleyway." The one known as Jones smiled, knowing the horrible Wisdom score of Zilo.

The man in the hat rolls his d20 and gets a 16 with a -4 from Zilo's wisdom. He smiles and says, "12 is solid, I should remember a place I was at less than an hour ago right?"

Jones sadly puts his dragon lair notes aside and gets out a blank sheet of paper before saying, "Yeah, that'll do it."

Zilo, and his allies march through the streets until they come across the poster of the killer Mathew Coleron had been hunting, the sign Zilo recalled as hiding the secret door. Zilo pulled away the poster and says, "Alright, I remember this, Vinny had a square looking dagger that was a key to this base. We should."

"I'd move if I was you Zilo."Says Jin followed by some heavy gulping. Zilo turns to see Jin gulping down a lot of his drink from the flask. Zilo moved out of the way, and a dark brown aura begins to manifest in Jin's fists. In a flash, the monk charged the wall.

With drunken strength and a flurry of punches and kicks, the wall is reduced to a shell of its former self. With dents and cracks all over the ramshackle wall, a small poke from the monk is enough to make the entire thing break-in on itself with a cloud of dust and the tappings of little brick pieces.

The bricks collapsed down the stairwell and from the bottom, some thuds of stone on skin followed by a few shouts of pain could be heard down the walkway. Zilo puts the monk aside as the sounds of footsteps were heard coming up the stairs. Zilo flicks out of his boot a thin wand before shouting out for a Lightning Bolt.

A streak of power blasted down the straight stairwell and all the thieves that believed they were under attack had their theory proven all too well. Zilo cocks his head toward the stairwell and his allies rush down the stairs with him behind them.

They skip past the first room that Zilo confronted Wisp in and kicked into a room full of bunks and footlockers. The group looked around the room, but the bunks were set up in rows making it difficult to scan for people.

In the other realm, the man with the red hair askes the one known as Jones, "I want to make a Perception check to try and suss out how many folks could be hiding in here." The one known as Jones scrambles a bit, having just moments ago figured out the sort of foe would be populating the hideout.

As usual, Jin demolishes the DC and Jones has to throw out a number right away, "Uh... twenty Guild Initiates hiding behind the bunks along the rows in the room"

The man in the hat chimes in, "Wait, but you said there are only like 10 bunks that doesn't-"

"And they are attacking Zilo now." Said the one known as Jones. Eager for combat to start so he can set up the rest of the hideout on some scrap.

Zilo is set upon by a volley of crossbow bolts as the rest of the men who had been hiding leap out from behind the bunks. Zilo dodges most of the bolts, but a fair number of them hit home and the bard is wounded pretty heavily.

Alaroc and Jin both take up a position to block off most of the attacks as Sparky began to fire Scorching Rays. Zilo breathed heavy and let loose a quick little Cure Moderate Wounds to put himself back into the fight ready to go.

The battle might have at first seemed too difficult, with the heroes being outnumbered, but Zilo and his friends proved far more capable than your average cutpurse. Alaroc and Zilo moved the group to the wall and made it so that they couldn't be flanked.

Without the option to flank and earn a sneak attack the thieves were not able to manage any significant damage. With the support from Zilo, potshots from Sparky, and fighting of Alaroc and Jin, the Guild Initiates were put right to bed, luckily they were in their bedroom already.

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