ForumsArt, Music, and WritingStrop's sporadic scrapbook

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Right, so I pulled out of the previous GFX round due to not being able to finish on time. Since then I've been working on the image on-and-off and now it's finished only about a week late.

The picture shown below is half the size, the fullsize one can be found by clicking on the picture.

The full resolution pic (1280xs1024) is low quality...the high quality version is 1.1Mb and doesn't fit on photobucket xD Lame. Except I feel justified with the size...this was hand-drawn from start to finish.

I should have tidied up the sketchlines more, but wasn't actually intending to spend this much effort on it. Meh.

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13,720 posts

[more static noise]*the sound of amused laughter* You are doing great! Looking forward to seeing more, really! Oh and good y[disrubtion in static noise]

[/disrubtion in static noise] But well.[/static noise]

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Bahahaha, I was thinking that as I was painting the fence.

Stroke up...stroke down...wax on...wax off...


Ah young grasshopper. You have much to learn.

..a butterfly twist roundhouse kick. Chuck Norris couldn't do one of these!

YOU LIE! Chuck Norris invented those! They are so outdated...
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I am gonna lose the MWT so bad!

Sttrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooooooooooooop! Why are you so awesome?!?! *stamp*Stamp* grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

I will destroy you! I mean....get revenge....I mean cookies! Yeah!

*walks off awkwardly*

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Oh that last panel. That is just so friggin awesomely amusing. Win.

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Sadly, I could no longer keep up with time constraints and the desire to turn out high-quality pages. Something had to give, and since I'm already running late, it was the quality! I managed to churn the lot out in the space of a couple of hours last night, but in some places I'm pretty sure it's impossible to see even the content.

So instead I'll give a running commentary of what's going to happen:

Strop manages to save himself from undignified 'death by falling off ferris wheel', only to discover that something with this fair is very strange, very strange indeed.

Strop uses his moderator's summon technique (Raigeki gave me the idea to base the hand-seals off Naruto) to bring him his bow and complete kit (as opposed to the solitary luminescent arrow he was carrying before). He then fires a whole barrage of arrows...could this be his more effective strategy!?

The arrows rain down on the zombies but not a single one of them hit! Is Strop's &quoterfect" one of frustration or does he have something even bigger in mind!? No time to think, for he is saved by the bouncy-castle only to be swamped by more zombies!

Strop legs it to the roller-coaster and finds it in working order. He straps himself in and hopes his hunch about this place is correct!

Sure enough, a crowd of zombies have also strapped themselves in, and away the ride goes! Strop reveals his intentions and breaks his restraints, only to have second thoughts...

Strop barely manages to avoid being censored but is nonetheless terrified. But he has a flashback (is that Orlestat!?) which gives him courage. (Actually it is Orlestat, and the flashback is related to a later scene from the Story of Strop).

Strop "figures" a few things in his head, calculating the exact spot and time he wants to fire his arrow. The arrow lodges in the sleepers, curiously smoking until the wheel of the roller-coaster strikes it, and the whole lot explodes with an almighty BOOM. Strop is very impressed with his handiwork.

The coaster cars coil and swing out in mid-air, heralded by strop screaming like a sissy. A moment later, they slam into the ground, collecting the herd of zombies as they tear up the fairgrounds.

The carnage mounts and as the middle cars encounter more resistance, the cars at either end swing around and into each other with a crunch, taking Strop out with it. There is a period of silence while the smoke clears.

Did Strop even survive his own reckless endeavour!?

Strop digs himself out of the wreckage, rambling to himself. But what is he doing with that flaming arrow, and what does he mean by finishing move?

Finally, the true nature of his earlier arrows are revealed! They give off the same eerie smoke that the one that tore the roller-coaster apart did, and Strop takes the kunai he kept in his book, fiddles with a tag (appropriately marked with skull-and-crossbones) and tosses the it in, and the whole lot goes up in a mighty fireball.

Note: the text will change. Strop actually says: "I ought to make a submission to the ZSC."

Strop is an idiot, and I don't mean because he forgot about the zombie that had to operate the rollercoaster (what, you thought that was magic too?) I'm not sure what else I can say at this point, except this is a rather long set-up for a really corny punchline...but seriously, the moves and the words are a huge giveaway!

...also this is the first time you see Strop's banhammer in action! But whatever could that banhammer be?

And the last zombie falls! With that, strop makes like a macho action hero and walks away, oversized banhammer slung on his back, until he runs into a badly drawn Kai...

Which marks the end of this chapter! I don't have time to draw the interlude (I'll come back to that), but what I will do is do some other stuff that's been pressing on my schedule, then I will draw up some concepts for the Masquerade, then I'll...storyboard it. Definitely won't be able to do anything fancy if I'm going to make it by the 27th December.

13,720 posts

[statics]Oh, I lolled! And scrolled really fast past the "badly drawn Kai" ^^() But somehow the sketches end up funnier than the real deal, must be the expressions^^ But good work, and ever so glad you got finished.[/statics]

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I thought ninja's have great accuracy.

until this

not a single hit

haha i LoL there

that was freakin awesome! although it looks like it had just been doodled or something it is ok.
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@Cenere: Yeah, I totally switched to anime expressions for ease-of-communication. In fact I kinda think I picked up a bit of your style I'll be preserving most of that in the real deal but I'm gonna think about the balance of cartoon and realistic elements again...might switch things up a bit.

@ Raigeki: Yeah, it was just doodled. Really really quickly.

...but strop had perfect accuracy! xD

The real reasoning is that a long time ago, Strop has made a private oath never to use his bow and arrow directly for hunting or killing. Why shall be revealed in SoS.

Somehow using said arrows to make a massive zombie-exterminating fireball is perfectly acceptable. I don't get the logic either ^^;

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hahaha! using a fire tip bows to make a massive zombie-exterminating fireball will surely be fun!

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sorry for that. i meant fire tip arrows

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Phoo, I decided to do a bit of slap-dash and splash and came up with a strop that is not at all strop!

Concept for MWT round 3. As many of you know, Strop, along with the other contestants, turns into something completely different. I had to juggle various anachronisms so here's what I came up with.

I'll draw what happens to Orlestat at some point, but I have to do my other urgently-owed drawings before the 24th, which leaves me one day to do them in!


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woe!! that is one heck of a wolf!!!

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well stropina, it's gonna be really entertaining to see him throw a brass key at your face.

btw, you can make the Nergyl Child be in your comic, just try and give him wings, his tail, claws, eyes (if you want to draw them, I normally don't), and his insignia, which is a skull cracked open with tentacles around it going diagonally.

10,822 posts

Wow, it's been a whole 6 days since I posted in here. Well, I'm just posting scripts to the MWT as promised. Lots of formatting to follow...and the real strip will probably have less dialogue in it.

Introduction by Cenere

The ballroom is nicely lit up by many chandeliers high above, and the many smaller lamps on the few tables or on the walls. The walls seem to shine themselves, warm, rich light. It all looks so...old. As if taken out of a history books, the chapter about the Renaissance. The many people dancing around on the large open space in front of the stairs are all dressed in fine robes, big dresses, slim velvet suits. On the top of the stairs a beautiful woman stands, her hair long and glossy, her eyes big and with that innocent look in them, like that of a deer. Even though the people dance, their attentions are on her. She looks at the contestants, her head tilting curiously to one side. Observing the slim tabby in the white suit, the handsome silver fox, the antelope with the long, strong frame, the mole, half blind, but still remarkable in the crimson suit. The feline with the body of a panther, the bat-ear with rage in his soul, the bird curiously looking around, his feathers as bright and shining as the suit he is wearing, the light brown wolf in her mint green dress, the fabric embracing her frame, and the black unicorn in the dress as black as her, only the white edges to show where the skin stops and the fabric begin. The deer eyed female smiles, and claps her hands. The dancers break away, and some come closer, choosing their new partner in the art of dance.

Kai and Strop are standing in front of the great glowing building, the exterior of it. Somehow in the darkness this building stands alone, the light fading as if from an entirely separate entity to this strange world. Strop regards the building with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. Kai motions towards the great wooden double-doors that stand under the arch.

Kai: The great glowing building. -There. Inside. Don't take off the mask until the masqurade ends. Because that is stupid.- He sighs a little, hands over the mask.

Strop takes the mask absent-mindedly, still staring at the building, then at Kai.

Strop: Okay, I'll keep that in mind. Is this where we part ways?
Kai: It is. Somehow, I hope we don't see each other again.

Kai offers his hand, and the sleeve rides up, showing the freshly forming scar. Strop's eyes widen in recognition and confusion, but he shakes the hand anyway.

Strop: Somehow I hope we do...thanks for the guide Kai, I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive my panic. (Side note: You'll have to wait till I draw the whole thing before you find out exactly *what* panic, heh.)

Kai nods.

Kai: Worse has happened to me, it just shows you still feel fear.

Kai frowns slightly at Strop, his head oblique.

Kai: Don't get killed.

Kai starts wandering off. Strop holds up his hand: "Wait! You still have my mask!"

Kai stops, turns and points to the mask in the hand Strop has raised. Strop spots it and bangs his head with his other fist, then slips on the mask.

Strop: Oh I'm such a ditz. Anyway. (Fixes the mask to his face) We all feel fear. It's natural.

With that Strop turns and strides in through the doors.

MWT Round 3: In Wolf's Clothing

When Strop enters the doors, he immediately becomes a light brown wolf in a mint green dress. A female wolf, to be precise, with slender figure, her proportions accentuated by a corset. Naturally Strop finds it difficult to breathe.

Strop: Phoo! Calm...calm...must be the nerves. I feel all peculiar!

Strop looks down the corridor slightly and spots Orlestat, who has been turned into a silver fox. This particular silver fox is on his knees, staring at his hands, and making weird noises. It is possible that he's crying though if that's the case it seems he's forgotten how to.

Orlestat: I've never (sobs) never...

Strop: (To himself) Probably not as peculiar as him though, I mean-

At this point Strop finally remembers that he was transformed, and with that, he realises he does in fact not only have long eyelashes but also breasts, and that he's wearing a corset. He does a double-take.

Strop: What the- woah, I mean like, wow! I never-

Strop goes a bit nuts feeling himself up (since waking up with breasts is a typical male dream), and works his way to places I probably shouldn't suggest in a PG-rated comic. By this time he (or she, I will stick with he) is flushed.

Strop: Excuse me a moment.

Strop finds a conveniently placed doorway and ducks through it, and slams the door. Several frames pass in which many contestants are seen to pass the corridor, including Orlestat, with his curiously bird-like gait. Several more frames of blank corridor pass until Strop finally emerges, adjusting his clothes and looking a bit dazed.

Strop: I should probably...focus...on the task at hand...yeah...

Strop looks around, ears swivelling towards the direction of the music. He hitches up his skirts and patters into the main hall. His eyes cast around, and he sees the ball already in motion.


"Now, let us dance." The deer eyed female exclaims, spreading out her arms. The music begins.

Something sparkles at the wrists of the dancers around them. The non-contestants has a little key tied to their wrist, it glitters in the light. Even their own partner have one (except Nerg and Strop). They must be important, those keys. Especially since the only exit has one tiny lock.

"Not all the keys are a match, nor would any here give up their key." The whispering is everywhere, low, but there. "No other way to exit."

Strop blinks, and notices that everybody is paired up, and the music begins. The dance appears to be a waltz, which is curiously out of touch with the hallway; then again so is everybody's dress. It looks more like a fancy-dress party than a themed ball. Strop looks around wondering where all the sinister setting went, and finds himself being seduced by the warm glowing atmosphere. Soon enough he spots a bat-eared fox stalking towards him, the only other partner-less dancer, save for the princess. This bat-eared fox has malevolence burning in his eyes, and despite his short stature he carries an intimidating presence. Strop is still turning this over in his head when the fox grabs him and ushers him to a table.

This section adapted from Thoad

Fox: I am not here to dance, take a seat.

Strop looks confused for a moment, then at the last minute whisks away and manhandles the fox back to the floor, in the thick of things.

Strop: I am here to dance, take the lead!

Fox: How dare you touch me!

Strop: But I love to dance!

Fox looks like he's about to take a chunk out of Strop, but despite her slender frame, Strop tops him easily by a foot and somehow looks stronger. He gnashes his teeth, but nonetheless takes the lead and soon enough they're waltzing with the rest.

Fox: Tell me who you are, animal. And don't give me that "wolf" crap, I know that's a lie.

Strop: Really now? You see a wolf, just as I see a fox.

Fox: If you ever liken me to an animal again I will kill you. I would kill everyone in this ballroom if I could, except I can't. I am the Nergyl Child, got that? I'll shoot you a deal, if you betray me, disobey me, worship me, anything at all, you die.

Strop rolls his eyes a little. Tough guy. But at least he has some vital information, and at this early stage of the game, knowledge is power. So while the Nergyl rants on (see Thoad's entry for contents of rant), Strop turns things over in his head.

Strop: (To self) Well that was easy. Seems he was taken somewhere from AG district, but I can't do any summons to check's like I'm...not me.

The first dance finishes as Nergyl finishes his rant, which has something to do with the keys.

Fox: So we have an understanding then?

Strop: Good luck, fox.

Strop whirls away and is approached by another being, a grey wolf with a key dangling from his wrist. The key is very tantalizing but Strop simply cannot bring himself to make a grab for it. It seems that in this environment something else is required. By chance Strop sees somebody make a surreptitious grab for the key only to have the hand turned away with remarkable dexterity. Another makes an attempt and is slapped for their efforts. Perhaps it is to do with decorum and competence? Strop dances to the best of his (or maybe her) ability, and at the conclusion of the dance, curtsies and thanks the other wolf with a demure smile.

Strop: My good sir, if you were to grant me a small favour I would gladly allow you a kiss.

As the NPC stoops and does so, Strop closes his hand around the key and as Strop slips back, secures it. NPC merely winks. Success!

NPC: M'lady, I could hardly deny a favour to such a charming lady, even if it were the last thing I ever did. Farewell.

There is an odd look in his eye as he parts and lingers, then suddenly fades away for the next dance. Time passes and many of the dancers fade away to the tables for refreshments, (particularly those without keys though this is not very apparent). Strop finds himself drifting that way anyway for he wishes to speak with the Princess. He has one key tied to his wrist, as if to blend in, and has tucked the other away under his dress, where nobody would dare reach. He glances around and spots the lady being a good hostess. He remembers his mission, and approaches her, reminding himself that he is female at this point in time, and that he does not know the relation of the princess to "the Lady" that Kai referred to earlier.

Strop: Good eve, m'lady, are you the hostess of this masquerade?

Princess: Why indeed, I am. How are you finding the entertainment?

Strop: Simply marvellous. This is a very fine occasion, very fine indeed.

Princess: I am delighted to hear that.

Strop: Yes, uhm. I just wanted to tell you how honoured I was to be invited to the ball.

Princess: I shall confess, the invite list was particularly difficult to construct!

Strop: Indeed, it was an offer some would positively kill for.

Immediately having said that comment, Strop has a moment of regret, perhaps there was a flash of expression on the Princess' face? Or maybe he was seeing things, for the Princess laughs. Strop continues.

Strop: Say...that is some intriguing jewellery you are wearing. Might I trouble you for a closer look?

The princess holds her hands up with a knowing smile. Strop simply scrutinises.

Strop: Such a curious thing, I must say, whoever would think of such an idea for a ball?

Princess: A very...clever lady. Clever. And powerful.

There is no doubting it this time, the princess has that look on her face again, but she quickly rids herself of it.

Princess: I must go, but I have very much enjoyed your company. If you please, feel free to choose one of these pieces as a token of my 'gratitude'.

Strop: You are too kind my lady.

Princess: Choose wisely!

Strop takes a key, curtsies and bids farewell. He turns and then almost falls over the silver fox.

Strop: Please pardon me for asking sir, but...might you have been a bird in a previous life?

The silver fox looks stricken.

Orlestat: Is it that obvious?

Strop: That depends on who's watching. I get the feeling the others are, shall we say, preoccupied.

Orlestat studies Strop for a moment, then furrows his brow.

Orlestat: I see the lady is fond of playing some funny games, Missus Wolf.

Strop: Indeed. For some reason, the idea of playing for keys to the only exit sits poorly in my mind.

Strop and Orlestat leave the tables and walk towards the hallways, passing various scenes of drunken (and perhaps oblivious) revelry and raucousness.

Orlestat: One wonders what the nature of this experience is, if such a thing even carries any meaning. As I was saying to the kid...(Orlestat was taunting Kai with out-of-context Zen koans)

Strop eyes Orlestat strangely. This Zen line of thought is very familiar.

Strop: What do you mean?

Orlestat: There is much life but only the contestants have life force.

Strop: Ah...I see. Well, actually I don't. I mean, I don't know.

Strop dangles the key from his wrist idly.

Orlestat: For what good that does anyway. (Awkward pause) I don't have any keys.

Strop: How come?

Orlestat: It is ironic...these hands, they are not of me, thus this world is similarly denied to me, even now.

Strop: You can't dance?

Orlestat: (Snippily) Not in the way expected here, if you must.

Strop and Orlestat find themselves back in the hall.

Strop: Would you like me to...get some keys for you?

Orlestat shakes his head.

Orlestat: I'll find a way. We'll continue this discussion later.

With that Strop rises, leaving Orlestat sitting rather forlornly in his chair, and rejoins the dance.

Interjection courtesy of Zophia

At this point, a random female black unicorn walks directly into him and kisses him, much to his multifaceted confusion (first he is a horse but he is currently a wolf, second this is a female kissing him and he likes females but currently he is a female, so...) Then the unicorn parts and flits away, leaving Strop dazed. Then Strop realises the key on his wrist has been stolen.

Strop: That wretched wench!

No time to dwell on this, for he is approached by a familiar face: the fox with the evil eyes. He strolls up, all nonchalant.

This section adapted from Thoad

Fox: Hello wolf. How fares the hunt?

Strop: (In earnest) Hunt? I've just been dancing.

Fox: Do you not take this seriously, wolf?

Strop: But of course. I love to dance.

Fox, clearly exasperated, slaps his forehead.

Fox: Then how did you get your keys?

Strop: Like I said, I love to dance, and the guys love to dance with me.

As he does this Strop advances on the Fox seductively (an attempt to pickpocket, naturally). Fox snarls ungraciously and brushes his (or rather, her) arm off.

Fox: Well I'm not one of them, so why don't you stop being coy and tell me your name.

Strop: That is a privilege earned, handsome.

Fox: Don't you mock me, I'll kill you and everybody else here...if I could... And the only names I'll take from you are Nergyl or-

Strop: In that case your Royal-ness, you may call me Strop...ina?

Strop remembers his gender change and is momentarily confused, thus adding the "ina" as an afterthought and looking rather curious as he does so.

Fox: Stropina? Ha, that's a laugh!

Strop: Hold that biting wit of yours, todd, you wouldn't want me to b- uh...I mean remember our deal.

Fox, silenced, fishes a key out of his pocket, and hurls it at Stropina's face, turns on his heel and stumps off, his pockets jingling and bulging obscenely with keys. The key bounces off Stropina's muzzle, causing him/her to blink bewilderedly.

Strop: And how have you been doing?

Orlestat has sidled up to him, cradling between thumb and forefinger what appears to be a single key.

Orlestat: A child took pity upon me, came up to me and gave me this key. Said that her mommy and daddy no longer had theirs, so too did she no longer need hers. Told me to keep it safe. (Pause) I bet you there's a story behind these keys.

Strop: One we no longer have time to contemplate. Look.

The princess is now standing on the balcony, bidding the guests farewell (I'll skip the speech for now).

Strop: Guess it's time to go.

All those with keys are moving towards the exit, while an eerie atmosphere befalls the rest of the hall. At the doorway, Strop motions.

Strop: Try that one first.

Orlestat, still not used to his hands, fumbles with the key and finally crams it in the lock. He turns but nothing happens. Orlestat starts making a funny choking noise, before Strop realises this is laughter.

Orlestat: Now that, that's ironic.

Strop: Let me try.

Strop leans over and tries to open the door but seems that the key really is defunct. Strop pulls the key from his bosom.

Strop: This one.

Orlestat: Are you sure you want to risk it on a lame fox?

Strop: You can bet on me.

Orlestat smirks and takes the key, and this time it opens. He bows slightly: "I thank you", then disappears. Strop stands before the door, his other key in hand. He takes a deep breath.

Strop: For some reason I know this key will work. Because I don't want to know what happens if it doesn't.

With those ominous words, he slips the key in the lock and turns, and sure enough it opens, and he slips through. He emerges into a strangely empty space as Strop, the ninja pony once more, and shakes his head a little, regaining his bearings. It is very dark, so dark he cannot really see, save for the unnatural glow of the mansion behind him.

I think that's about all that's going to even fit in a post, so I will come back and post MWT Round 4...later!
10,822 posts

And now for round four. As Cenere warned earlier, the text contains graphic images that may upset some people; additionally there is some mildly horrific content in my own writing.


As the contestants exit the mansion, the mask slips off and disappears as well as the illusion loosing their hold in their shape. Sasquatch is met with Yeti's annoyed gaze and complaining about the time, Phil is suddenly the one in the bottom of the pile of Jack and Bob. Nerg just looks at his brother, no one really missed each other. Dingsley looks at the horizon, welcoming the light of the approaching dawn. All of them the place they left, even though they exited the same door, there is no sign of any of the other contestants. As the last contestant steps out of the door, the mansion begins to flicker and fade, and screams erupts from it. High pitched, filled with fear, pain, despair. The mansion curls up, and explodes in a burst of dust. What is left is a terrifying sight. Some of the dancers, screaming, their faces distorted in pain, their bodies slowly withering. They are unable to reach, the essence of the mansion still there, separating life and death. A vixen with a white dress and flames from her back and hair crashes against the wall near the contestants, staring emptily out, her eyes almost popping out of their sockets, her skin dripping from the jaw bone. She screams, until her throat explodes against the transparent wall. Sadly this does not kill her. She claws at the wall. Phil recognizes her at one of the people he stole a key from. Actually all those melting, burning, screaming people are all victims of the contestants' hunt for keys. Males and females slowly dissolving, painfully slow. None of the contestants are able to look away. Among the people children appear, little fluffy children, their screams louder, different than the screams of the adults. This is screams of innocents being punished for the crimes of adults. Slowly everything settle, and the essence of the walls disappear, letting the ashes fly away in the light breeze that came with dawn.

Strop stares at the gory spectacle, stark horror evident even under the mask.

Strop: Oh God.

As the dust settles, he looks down and his keys, too, have turned to the dust that is dissipating along with the fading screams. He stands, frozen, until all that is visible is the large courtyard space where the illusory mansion and the strange dimension of banished peoples once stood. Then the voice of the Lady intrudes upon his trance.


The contestants finally stand before the Tower, this bright blue, glass like building. It doesn't seem to have a door or any other place they can enter. The sun rises, its light making the surface of the Tower glitter like gold. Then something erupts at the top of the Tower, and an object begin to fall towards the ground. They watch mesmerized as the object continue its downfall, suddenly followed by a black dot, shooting towards the human looking thing. It reaches the human, merging with it all too close to the ground. An almost silent thud is heard, when the ground stops the fall.

Good morning, children. The voice of the Lady is heard all around them, probably coming from thousands of speakers on the various buildings. You have come this far, and now it is time for the tournament to begin. You will have to fight against these beings by your sides, and win. A giant screen erupts from the surface of the tower, portraying Strop, Sasquatch and team, Xzeno, Dingsley, Phil and his team, Nergyl and Fallen, Charlie and Orlestat, all on a line. Your opponent will be shown in a moment. The winner will go on to the next battle; the loser will be...My guest. Her voice seems so sweet and yet so cold. Have a nice day.

The lineup spreads out on the screen, showing each contestant with their opponent.

Strop and Orlestat.
Nergyl and Sasquatch.
Charlie and Xzeno.
Phil and Dingsley.

Then a hum is heard, it grows and grows, and then it silences.

Strop, however, does not pay the screen any heed, for he has a familiar feeling of dread which has proven unfortunately correct so often. He runs as fast as his hooves can take him to the spot where he saw the falling person, and rounds a corner at the base of the tower.

Strop: Kai!

Kai is lying at the base in a pool of his own blood. Not surprisingly for a six-storey fall, he appears much the worse for wear. Strop scrambles over to where he lies, almost slipping in the blood, coming to rest on his knees next to him.

Strop: Kai! Can you hear me?

Not getting any response, Strop checks for a pulse. It's thready and faint but there. Furthermore Kai appears to be breathing, shallow, but at least breathing. Strop then takes a moment to look around and spots the black shapeshifter, asleep, and figures there's nothing to be done there. Next he summons his arrow set and binds some luminescent arrows to form a lamp, whereupon he inspects Kai.

Strop: God you're a mess. Fractured skull, maybe spine, Greenstick here and there...and that's saying nothing of the internal organs...Kai! Can you hear me!

Strop then picks up another arrow and shines it in Kai's eye. The pupil constricts, and Kai actually stirs, trying to turn his head away. He mumbles something.

Strop: You're awake!

Kai coughs again, a trickle of residue blood coming out his mouth, then he speaks faintly.

Kai: Told you so.

Strop looks like he's about to cry.

Strop: That's not fair, that really isn't.

Strop summons a first-aid kit and attempts to bandage the wounds, first picking the hair out of the laceration on the back of the head before very lightly applying a gauze pad, mumbling something about risk of extradural haemorrhage. Then he takes out a set of needles and flicks them into Kai's arms, performing an acupuncture nerve-block so he can reset the bones and bandages those as best he can.

Kai: I didn't know you knew first-aid.

Strop: I'm a healer. The ninja's just for show. Should be in your book. (Kai has a reference book for his world not unlike Strop's Moderator Handbook for AG)

There is a pause.

Strop: Did the lady do this to you?

Kai doesn't answer. Strop shakes his head in disgust.

Strop: Nevermind, I know the answer to that already. Can you feel this?

Strop wiggles Kai's big toe. Kai nods. Strop seems somewhat relieved.

Strop: And the mansion, that was her work too.

Kai: Like I said, I told you so.

Strop: I'm going to put an end to this. I swear. I will bring her to justice.

Kai merely shakes his head. Strop leans over and grips Kai's shoulders. Kai winces.

Strop: That's a promise.

Kai finds enough voice to speak.

Kai: You...can't. You may try but you will fail. Probably.

Strop: And then I'm going to get you out of here. Come to my world when this is all over. There is peace there, unlike this godforsaken place.

Kai: I...can't either. Government...

Kai seems to be slipping out of consciousness. Strop's eyes widen.

Strop: Oh no, no no no. Don't do this now.

Kai: I'm just tired. And cold. I just want a little rest, I'll be okay...

Strop shakes Kai insistently.

Strop: That's what they all say, then they never wake up. Stay awake. Come on Kai, don't leave me here, if you can just stay awake, everything will be okay. Hey, remember how I started telling you about a bet you lost and you had to wear something? (Strop did this while Kai was guiding him to the third round) And you couldn't remember and I said I'd tell you later? Well I haven't told you yet, huh? What you say to that huh? Huh? Kai? Wake up!

But this is a futile effort, for Kai has fallen asleep, or into a coma. Strop can't tell for sure. Strop just throws back his head and yells.

Strop: F**************! (Oh come on, you get the idea!)

Slowly, Strop straightens. The bandages on his hands are stained red, and surely parts of his suit are similarly saturated but he no longer cares about such petty things. He lays Kai back down gently in the position he found him, then stands and clenches his fists, squeezing the extra blood out between his fingers. Behind him, there is a voice.

Orlestat: Are you done yet?

Strop turns and sees Orlestat standing about ten meters away.

MWT Round 4: On the Ropes

Strop: Ah, so it's you, mister fox. (Don't get confused, Orlestat is an anthropomorphic peregrine falcon. He was a silver fox only for the duration of the Masquerade.)

Orlestat just stands there impassively, eyeing Strop.

Orlestat: Just now I could have killed you ten times over.

Strop: Could you give it a rest?

Orlestat: There's no rest to be had here. I am to be your opponent.

Strop stiffens and turns unsurely. There is a brief flashback to the first time they faced off (see the first chapter of the Story of Strop). Strop cannot tell what Orlestat has in mind but he has other things on his mind also.

Strop: Are you not concerned about what happens here?

Orlestat: What matters is that you are.

Strop: Of course I am! Are you nothing but a fighting machine? Do you not see or do you ignore what's going on, too stuck in your own world to care?

Orlestat twitches but otherwise ignores the barbed comment.

Orlestat: Much as you want to know the truth, this truth, but you cannot discover it while your mind is clouded!

Strop starts walking towards Orlestat. The fight approaches.

Strop: So what do you want from me, here, now?

Orlestat: If you want to go on, you must go through me.

With that Orlestat releases his ki. The wave blows Strop backwards and he staggers, but he does not fall. Instead he plants his feet and steps forward.

Strop: Then I shall!

Strop lets out a whinny (yes, that's right) and charges. When he reaches Orlestat he snaps out a jeet kune do style side-kick (the strongest type he knows) directly at Orlestat's chest. To his surprise, Orlestat does not dodge, and takes the full force of the kick, sliding backwards a little but bracing and stopping.

Orlestat: Is that all you have?

Strop looks at him, then attempts a roundhouse kick to his head, again to no avail.

Orlestat: This fight is going to be a little different.

Strop moves in for another kick but with Orlestat merely shifts to the side and taps his leg with his talons. When his leg comes back he staggers. Strop takes a few steps back, thoughts running through his head.

Strop: What's this? Why is it so much harder to move? I'm not wearing a corset anymore!

Orlestat: Do you get it now?

Strop: Get what?

Orlestat swoops in for an attack, which Strop is barely able to fend off. Each blow he blocks causes his limbs to become progressively weaker until he is barely able to stand.

Orlestat: How about now?

Strop raises his head, frustration and panic evident in his voice.

Strop: Get what!?

Orlestat: How can you expect to fulfil your promises like this? We are just puppets in this world. The puppeteers are far more powerful than I am, far more powerful than you are. What do you hope to achieve?

Strop grits his teeth and tries to stand up again, but obviously he cannot. As he speaks he has another flashback to a scene from The Story of Strop.

Strop: In this world, there is no mercy for the weak, no voice for the powerless. On behalf of these people I swear I will find a way to fight for justice.

Orlestat regards him a moment, then seems to heave his shoulders in what looks like a sigh.

Orlestat: The fist of rightful way, is such a difficult path to tread. It is forceful but not brutal, it is compassionate but impartial, it is humble and it is proud, and in its application self is your strongest ally and your worst enemy. How one pursues this way and does not become a hypocrite is a wonder to me.

Strop slowly breathes, realising what has happened to him and in doing so, how to counter it. He opens the points which Orlestat strategically closed, strength seeping back into his limbs. Orlestat advances upon him.

Orlestat: When we first met you held yourself back, and now you have experienced being powerless. How will you respond?

Strop rises to his feet. Orlestat is not unimpressed.

Strop: I swore I would find a way.

Orlestat: Come.

Strop breathes, then releases a burst of ki similar to that of Orlestat's. They dash towards each other and this time they are more evenly matched (I'll think of how to choreograph the fight in detail later). The unusual thing about Strop's technique this time is that he is no longer only using his hooves, but also his hands. With this, he manages to land a clean blow on Orlestat, which knocks him back, but Orlestat merely settles back into stance.

Orlestat: You will need more than inner-strength to survive.

Orlestat takes to the air, and Strop follows, summoning his bow and firing arrow after arrow with grappling hooks and elastic strings which sling him into the air. He then fires an arrow at Orlestat (is this a breaking of his oath?) which, at the last minute, blows out into a net. But Orlestat fans his wings out and slices the net into pieces, then folds back his wings and dives.

Strop: Uh oh.

As peregrines go, by the time Orlestat reaches Strop's altitude, barely near the level of the rooftops, he is falling like a bomb. Strop whips out his banhammer (let's call it Thor) and tries to catch Orlestat's talons with them. They collide with an almighty clang and Strop gets collected. Momentarily stunned, he finds himself gripped by the talons, heading for the ground at an alarming pace. Strop rummages in his kit and fishes out a long belt of scrolls.

Strop: Where is it, where is it...oh what the hell.

Strop tosses the entire belt at the ground as fast as he can, and not a moment too soon. There is an almighty explosion which buffets them both and tears Strop from Orlestat's grip, flinging him through a wall and into a building, where the wall regenerates. Strop picks himself up and realises he's in one of those ghastly buildings like the one that Kai took him through at the end of Round 2. Before he can properly collect his bearings though, Orlestat crashes through the wall and lunges at him with his ki-reinforced wings. Strop fends Orlestat off with Thor and sparks fly. Spears and darts and knives fly through the air as traps are sprung, but the fighters continue unperturbed. Then Orlestat and Strop launch the same kick at each other, blowing Orlestat through one wall and Strop through the wall opposite, into a courtyard below. Strop picks himself up and realises he has landed in a pile of bodies, and while a grisly sight, this gives him an idea.

When Orlestat lands in the center of the courtyard, Strop is nowhere to be seen. Orlestat strains all his senses to try and locate him but Strop must have truly adopted the way of ninja and suppressed every trace of his presence, including his ki. There is an eerie silence.

Suddenly there is a movement behind Orlestat, and something flies at him. Orlestat turns around and dodges, only to face another body flying towards him, then jerk erratically away. Puppets! The gruesome pantomime continues as he dodges yet another body, but at the last moment he spots smoke coming out of the body's mouth. Orlestat twists away almost too late, and the body explodes, the other bodies flinging around dramatically.

Orlestat: How devious.

In the smoke he spots the strings and the movement of the bodies and deduces the location of their anchors high up above. Strop must be close to here, so he dashes for it and launches a devastating cutting attack. Nothing but a body! Right at that point, something flies at him from close range from just above where he attacked. It's another entrapment arrow, which leaves him no choice but to slice it up. From behind the net bursts the real Strop, who attacks and catches him neatly in the solar plexus with a focused nerve attack. Orlestat, momentarily paralysed, crashes to the ground in the middle of the courtyard, and Strop lands on him in a straddle, arrow notched and aimed at his throat.

Orlestat: Are you really planning to attack me, horse?

Strop: I don't need to.

Orlestat blinks slowly.

Orlestat: True. It is my defeat. You may go on to the next round and I...will see what happens next.

Strop lowers his bow and stands up. Orlestat pulls himself into a sitting position.

Orlestat: The kid is right. You will most likely fail.

Strop doesn't reply.

Orlestat: But at least maybe you are prepared.

Strop: Do I hear vested interest in my agenda?

Orlestat: I am an old bird. I've seen ages come and go, and many causes within each rise and fade. But that does not mean that the people of those causes cannot move me.

Strop: If it moves you so, why would you stop here? You're stronger than I am. You should move on.

Orlestat: You have a mission. I am...just here.

Strop: Don't you believe in justice?

Orlestat: I can't pretend to be able to follow that rightful path. Not while I am so...unworthy.

Strop turns and stretches slowly, painfully. He makes the right-fisted salute of goodwill, then starts to walk away.

Strop: Good match. Give me another lesson sometime.

Orlestat: You've become stronger. I look forward to our next meeting.

Strop: Don't ever think I didn't know you were holding back.

Orlestat: Believe what you will.

Strop: I'll see you later, Orlestat.

Strop picks his way over a pile of bodies and through the darkened doorway, making his way back to the base of the tower. Orlestat simply sits where he is, and waits.
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