Chapter 3
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A skeptic since birth, Blake Myers was not one to believe in God or gods. He preferred the realm of the rational, where things could be verified and quantified. However, as he laid in the back of a cart, encased up to his head in a slab of solid stone, he began to consider switching over to the religious side, if only to have somebody to blame for everything that had happened to him the last few days. First he received an unplanned intergalactic vacation, then mob justice and zealotry turned him into an accidental murderer, and now here he laid, stuck neck deep in a boulder on a wagon making its way slowly down a bumpy dirt road.

Blake's poor mood was only natural. The omnipresent buzzing, still an unfortunate feature of his consciousness, didn't help matters one bit either. Nor did his stone prison, which, struggle as he might, would not allow him to budge a muscle. Nor did the way his head would smack into the side of the wagon every time they hit a large bump or pothole, which happened so often that Blake was convinced that it was intentional.

But what was really driving him up the wall was the whistling coming from the only other occupant on the wagon, the same man that Blake had run across whilst fleeing the village the night before. It seemed to dip and dive around proper notes, almost as if it were deliberately avoiding them as it meandered its way through a nightmarish melodious hell-scape. The longer Blake listened to this cruel mockery of musicality, the more he felt like bringing up a list of deities and cursing them each by name, one by one.

The whistling man's fiery red hair fell to his around ears in a disordered mess, where it connected with his well-maintained beard. His intelligent hazel eyes stood out as the star attraction of his fairly handsome, rugged face. They darted about constantly, observing the surroundings for threats, belying his intentionally relaxed body language. Blake could feel the confidence pouring from him; this man was dangerous.

His clothes were neat and orderly, though Blake couldn't see much from behind. An armored breastplate adorned his chest, the outside engraved with ornate, looping designs that Blake could not identify. He assumed they were either religious symbols or related to the man's house or clan, if those even existed here.

The man held reigns in his hands, gently guiding the hulking beasts that pulled the cart and its massive cargo. And beasts they were. Blake had never seen an animal like the two creatures that slowly but steadily dragged him mile after mile. They reminded him of rhinoceroses, except furry and without the horn. They seemed incredibly docile, and rather cute, as giant lumbering beasts went. Blake kind of wanted to pet them, but that of course was an impossibility under his current circumstances.

After a few minutes of clear-headed consciousness and multiple head-knocks, Blake finished pondering the existence of the divine and was ready to talk. "Hey, dude..." he began. Not the best of openers, but he couldn't come up with anything better at the moment.

The man fell silent, much to Blake's relief. He was pretty sure that nothing the man could say could possibly be worse than that torture. The man looked back with a hint of curiosity on his face, but said nothing.

After a moment of silence between them, Blake gave in. "I'm Blake. Who are you?" he inquired.

"Yarec," he replied after another moment of consideration. "Apostle Yarec."

"You got any food, Apostle Yarec?"

"Sure do!" The man held up a small bag, reached in, pulled out some sort of bread, and took a bite before putting it back in the bag. Apparently satisfied with answering Blake's question, he turned back towards the front and resumed his terrible whistling.

"...can I have some?"

"Nah."

"Please? I haven't eaten in like... two days at this point."

"No use wasting food on the condemned," his captor said, as nonchalantly as if he were talking about the weather. "You have plenty enough meat on your bones to last until tonight."

"...and what happens tonight?" Blake inquired, afraid to know the answer.

"Execution. Same as any other high-level offender," the man replied with annoyance. "Playing stupid won't get you off, you know."

Blake's eyes went dead, his thoughts plummeting into a deadly spiral of despair. Of course this would be the next step in the misery parade. Why not? At least he could take some small comfort in the knowledge that there was no way this could get any worse.

"Well, I guess it's not totally the same," the Apostle said after a moment. "Other high-level offenders don't get executed in front of an entire country. But they also don't commit all three high crimes."

Nevermind. Blake decided to convert to all religions at once and blame all gods equally, as there was now easily enough blame to go around. He felt like he was drowning in the middle of the ocean, and every time he got his head above water again a new wave would crash down upon him and force him deeper and deeper down into the abyss. Could this other world truly be so horrible? A nightmare of theocracy, hate, and ignorance, where lives were cheap and hope was nothing but a word? Blake didn't want to believe it, but he knew that at some point he would no longer be able to discount what he had seen.

"Look, you're making a huge mistake! I can help you guys," Blake argued after collecting his wits. "I know how to make things. I could show you how to make machines that would change your world! Faster transport! More food! Better living conditions!"

"Why not claim you can resurrect the dragons while you're at it? Nothing you can say will get you out of that rock. I'm not stupid enough to trust an Elseling," replied Yarec. "'Hear not the lies of the Elseling, for he is wicked and will lure you to sin with false promises of wealth and bounty.'"

Blake sighed in resignation.

"Besides, there's no way I would let you go," the man continued. "I'm getting a promotion for this! It's kind of funny, you were the easiest prisoner I've ever captured, and yet you're an Elseling, a blasphemer, AND you murdered a Church official! It's like a gift from Othar himself! Usually, I have to work for months to track down blasphemers. They're generally really good at hiding and don't usually blaspheme in the middle of entire villages. And Elselings are super rare, too. Nobody's caught one of you in nearly twenty years!" He laughed jovially. "And then you just come running by, looking like you just saw an evil spirit, wearing clothing that's clearly not Otharian. You might as well have been screaming 'Please arrest me!'.

"You're so welcome," Blake responded, dialing the sarcasm up to eleven. Yarec did not seem to notice.

"Honestly, I'm impressed you even made it as far into our country as you did, given that outfit. I mean, I can understand Voice Jada and the peasants not realizing it. Those sorry people don't get to see much outside their farms. But anybody who's been around, like me, would mark you at first sight. To think that you nearly made it to Eflok... You must be really good at hiding."

"If I were trying to infiltrate a country, why would I wear something that tells others that I'm not from here?"

"Don't know, don't care. You killed a Voice, that's more than enough for me to take you in. The rest is all bonus. For me, at least. You... well your execution is going to be quite the event, at any rate. You'll be kind of famous."

"Grand." He couldn't escape. He couldn't change his captor's mind. Blake gave up. He was going to die. All that could be heard for the next hour was the creaking of axels, the clomping of hooves, and the off-key whistling of a man driving a wagon holding another man in a boulder.

"Your whistling sucks," Blake finally spat, unable to take any more of the torture.

The cart swerved and hit a large bump, rocking the stone back and forth and reintroducing Blake's skull to the cart's hard wooden side several times. Yeah, definitely on purpose.

*     *     *

Two hours after his last conversation with the asshole otherwise known as Yarec, the wagon pulled into the city of Eflok. The city was about in line with what he expected – crowded, noisy, and filthy. His nose immediately informed him of the lack of a modern sanitation system, though with the level of technology he had seen so far, he hadn't expected one.

Blake determined urban planning had obviously not been invented yet as he watched buildings enter and leave his sight in a confused mishmash of wood and stone. It looked like people just built whatever they wanted wherever they felt like doing so, creating a navigational nightmare of tiny streets and alleyways that went everywhere and nowhere. The only exceptions to this chaos were the large main roads, such as the one that led straight from the city walls all the way to the massive coliseum that occupied the center of town.

Between the frequent bumps, the hot sun, and the awful tunes, Blake had not believed anything could annoy him more than his trip to Eflok. Within ten minutes of entering the city, he realized just how wrong he had been. The cart constantly shook as it rolled over the rough cobblestone street, leaving him extremely nauseous, which was bad enough. But that was nothing compared to the attention. It went without saying that a large boulder with a head sticking out of it was not something that people saw every day, and that meant that he became the center of attention as hundreds of people watched the wagon slowly trundle by. The crowd backed away from him, a look of fear and revulsion on their faces. Many of them repeated various religious-looking hand gestures to ward them from his evil. He could hear snippets of conversations:

"Look, there's a man!" "Is that why the Church called for a special gathering?" "Probably... but that would mean..."

"Daddy, there's a weird looking person in the rock!" "Don't look into his eyes, son! He'll steal your spirit!" "Daddy, I'm scared!"

"Check it out! It's him, the guy my wife heard about!" "Huh, she made him sound much more impressive than this." "Yeah, I thought there would be horns or something... He looks pathetic."

Blake's aggravation skyrocketed as more and more people stared and judged while he could do nothing. He wanted to just reach out and smack each and every one of them, and the fact that he could only watch and listen rankled him to his core. It wasn't long before Blake wished for the good old days of three hours prior, those simpler times when he could just hate one person. Life had been so much simpler then.

The wagon eventually arrived at the stadium and rolled inside. Blake and his mineral container were unloaded, after which a team of guards unceremoniously dumped onto the ground and rolled him through several large hallways and into some sort of cell. It was then that Blake finally got an up-close look at whatever magic Yarec had used to confine him for so long. To his dismay, he couldn't see much of anything — no flashing lights, glowing particles, nothing. The Apostle simply gazed at him and rock slowly disappeared, as if receding into itself. In the meantime, over a dozen men and women wielding very sharp-looking spears surrounded him, each holding their spearhead about half an inch from his head. It looked like he wouldn't be going anywhere, stone or no.

The stone's recession started primarily towards his feet at first, until his legs were dangling in the air, several feet from the ground. At that point it stopped, and several new people moved in with what Blake believed to be the most overcompensating shackles the world had ever seen. Instead of a set of cuffs or bands that were connected by a chain, these were more like a pair of sleeves so long that they went from Blake's ankles up to Blake's mid-thigh, effectively locking his knees straight. The sleeves were connected by a network of gigantic chains that would only allow the two legs to be about a foot apart at most. Each sleeve was composed of three solid inches of some dull, light gray metal which reminded Blake of lead but with a lighter color. Unfortunately, this metal resembled lead in color only. No matter how much he tried, Blake could not even budge the massive restraints.

"Don't bother trying to break out of those," Yarec commented. "They're designed to contain even the strongest of Feelers like yourself. It's the same with my stone. I know how thick I have to make it to keep somebody like you confined."

Blake struggled anyway, but Yarec was right. The bulky monstrosities wouldn't bend or break in the slightest.

His legs now essentially immobilized, the soldiers rolled the remaining rock over, turning Blake to face the ground. Without releasing his neck, rock disappeared around his arms and spine until his arms became free. He heard the clinking of chains and another set of restraints enveloped his arms behind his back. The whole scene struck Blake as patently absurd; the way they were treating him reminded him of what they did in movies to keep supervillains in prison... except the villains usually escaped.

Finally, the remaining stone ebbed away until nothing more than a small rock the size of a ping-pong ball remained on the ground beside him. Blake laid on his belly, unable to move in any way except flopping around like a fish out of water. Multiple pairs of hands roughly grabbed him and yanked him upright.

Yarec just smirked as Blake sent death stares his way. "Do try to struggle when they put you down," he said as he walked out of the cell, multiple guards saluting him as he left. "The people deserve a show, after all."

Blake just stared at Yarec's back, shaking with impotent rage. He wanted to rip that man's head off and shove it up his ass so hard... but even if he could somehow break himself out of these shackles, a small army stood between him and the object of his hatred. Somehow, while currently far stronger and more capable than he'd ever been, he'd never before felt so weak and helpless.

For the span of a few hours, Blake just stood in his cell's back corner, listening, feeling, thinking. As the time passed, a soft murmur slowly built into a subtle rumble as the stadium above him filled with people who came just to watch him die. He reflected on everything — his life, his dreams, his regrets. He pondered the bizarre nature of reality, and how it could blow apart every surety in but a single moment. He thought about how to not die. None of his meditations, be they on the philosophical or practical, led to anything constructive. The sound of a creaky hinge made him open his eyes to see the guards opening the cell door. It was time.

The walk to the stadium center was a long one, helped in no way by his shackle-limited gait. With each step closer to the hallway's exit, the thunder of the crowd grew, until, when he and the four guards who were with him stepped onto the arena's floor, it crescendoed into a cacophonous roar. Tens of thousands of people populated the stands, as it seemed the entire city had shown up for what was surely the can't-miss event of the year. Blasphemous, Voice-killing Elselings didn't grow on trees, after all.

Blake and his "retinue", as it were, approached the stadium center. There stood what appeared to Blake to be some gallows with a single noose hanging from the center. It looked like Otharia preferred the classics.

As he slowly climbed the stairs, the crowd suddenly started to quiet down. Looking around, he saw that people were looking at something. All around the stadium were rows and rows of seats, with the exception of a section straight ahead of him. That area of the stands had nothing but a flat wall with a large balcony about two-thirds of the way up. It was towards that balcony that everybody stared, and so, having finished climbing atop the stage that would showcase his demise, Blake stared as well.

A guard emerged from the doorway, and Blake could now see a man in silver robes slowly leading a figure onto the platform. The figure wore a black cloak that completely covered its form, with a hood so long that it went all the way over the person's head and completely blocked their face from his view. Given the way that the robed man led the figure, it seemed that it inside couldn't see out either. The pair stopped several feet from the balcony's railing and stood there.

Suddenly the robed man reached over and pulled aside the figure's hood, revealing a woman in her forties with unkempt red hair and glassy, unfocused eyes. The woman's head shot up and her entire body stiffened, much in the way that one does when first waking from a nightmare. She gasped, and then went silent again. The entire stadium was so quiet that her gasp echoed across the building as the crowd continued its vigil.

Slowly an image began to form above the woman's head. It started with just a few blurry blotches, but gradually it took shape and definition as if some unseen cameraman were focusing it. Floating in midair stood a man in a ridiculous outfit that screamed "religious leader". It came with all the greatest hits: large pointy hat, multiple layers of ornamental clothing, and of course, a staff encrusted with jewels and other shiny objects. It reminded Blake of an off-brand Pope. The hat was wider and sported three branches, while the outfit glowed a bright blue instead of white, amongst other things, but the ensemble accomplished much of what the Catholic leader's outfit did, lending the man an aura of authority.

The crowd cheered at the gray-haired man's appearance. He raised his hands and the crowd went silent once again.

"My people, may the blessings of Othar be upon you!" he began, his voice projected so that all could hear. He paused for a moment to let the cheers subside before continuing. "People of the great city of Wroetin, of Eflok, of Keqont, of Breah, of Nont, and of every town and village of this great nation! Today we are gathered to witness the end of a great evil! Soon our entire country shall bear witness to the execution of an Elseling! But not just any Elseling, an Elseling that dared to defile the name of Othar the Dragonslayer, God of Scyria himself!"

The crowd erupted into boos that rained down upon Blake's ears and his psyche.

"Let this serve as an eternal reminder for vigilance, for if the Holy Empire of Otharia is to stand strong against those that would undermine it, we must root out enemies that wish to do us harm! They hide in plain sight, just waiting for the chance to poison our crops, or worse, poison our minds! We must never forgive those that lurk in the shadows. With your help, soon all who oppose the Will of Othar shall face the fate that this creature will now face. Let the execution begin! Glory to Otharia!!"

"GLORY TO OTHARIA!!" came the shouted reply of every man, woman, and child in the stadium.

The man in the robes snapped his fingers in front of the woman twice, and the leader's image disappeared. The crowd turned as one towards Blake, eager to see the final act of this play unfold before them. A guard placed the noose around his neck before retreating from the platform. Everybody held their breath as another guard approached a large lever that Blake assumed would open a trapdoor under him and drop him to his untimely death.

Blake strained as hard as he could, but even his utmost could not set him free. His mind began to imagine alternate scenarios where everything was better. What if he had never been transported to this horrible place? He could see himself going to work the next day, finishing the update, arguing with Andy... that would have been great.

The guard grabbed the lever.

What if he hadn't appeared in the middle of a theocracy that considered the concept of doubt a sin? Visions of a different, friendlier world filled his head. So much to learn, so much to discover. That wouldn't have been so bad.

What if his shackles actually were as soft as the lead he first thought they were made of? He could almost feel it, the weak metal around his arms ripping and tearing easily under his tremendous strength. The chains breaking, the fasteners rupturing, the sleeves buckling as he freed his arms with surprising ease. If only.

Screams of shock and surprise suddenly overlapped with the crowd's bloodthirsty exhortations. People in the stands were looking at Blake with a sudden fear. Was he still dreaming? No, he hadn't lost touch with reality that badly just yet... So why were they looking at him like he could jump in the stands at any second? Like he had gotten... loose?

He had gotten loose. Or at least his arms had. It took just a split second for Blake's mind to establish that what he has believed to be simply a delusion of a condemned man was actually real, but he now knew it to be true. His arms had torn the restraints apart as if they were paper, though the heavy thumps that the two parts made when they landed on the stage told him they were still very much metal.

The guard pulled the lever and the floor fell from under him.

Blake's mind went into overdrive, adrenaline pumping like never before. His arms moving as fast as he could manage, Blake desperately grabbed at the rope above his head as he plummeted towards his death, luckily managing to grab hold with both hands and support his weight just milliseconds before the rope snapped taut. He put one hand above the other and yanked them apart with a hearty tug, the rope shredding under his grasp and dropping him into the hole below the stage. He smiled for the first time in what felt like forever. He was nearly free.

With a mighty flex, Blake kicked his right leg forward to tear apart his leg shackles, only to find himself unable to do so. What? Why couldn't he get out? His mind still whirling a mile a minute, he thought back to when he had extricated his arms. He had wished that the metal was soft... Was that it? He looked at his legs and willed the metal to soften, and then tried again. His leg rent the oversized cuff as if it was butter.

He could control metal, at least to some extent. He could alter the properties. Maybe he could even figure out how to control shape and size like Yarec had. There were so many implications, so much to test... but that would have to wait.

A noise to his right alerted him that one of the guards had joined him under the stage. Blake picked up one of the long half-destroyed metal sleeves and chucked it at the man as hard as he could. The heavy manacle smashed into the guard's face, crumpling his skull. Blake decided he would worry about the moral component of his last action later, and instead grabbed the man's metal spear and ran out into the open.

It had only been at most ten seconds since Blake fell through the trapdoor, but in that time the coliseum had descended into bedlam. Thousands of people pushed and shoved, trampling the unfortunate in a panicked attempt to get as far away from the sinister Elseling as they could. Guards were starting to stream out from the entrance to the underground area where Blake had been kept. Pandemonium reigned.

A second guard charged around the corner and thrust her spear at his chest faster than he had anticipated. Unable to effectively block with his own spear, Blake concentrated, willing the spearhead to soften. As the blade impacted upon his chest, it deformed as if it were made of putty, leaving the woman frozen in surprise. Blake stepped forward and delivered a vicious haymaker, dropping the guard with a single hit.

Guards were approaching quickly and in great number. It was time to hightail it out of there. Blake sprinted towards the stands in front of him, figuring that he had a better chance heading that direction than the doorway from where all the guards kept appearing. The stadium seats were about fifteen feet above the central pit. Something told Blake that he could make the jump easily.

He did. At this point, perhaps a third of the nearby crowd had made it into the nearby exit tunnel. The other two-thirds of the people parted before him as if he were some ravenous tiger that had escaped from the zoo. Shrieks of terror erupted from the throngs of citizens nearby as they scrambled to get as far away from him as they could. Blake wasted little time watching them scurry away, instead rocketing up some nearby stairs and running down the exit tunnel, barreling over anybody who got in his way.

Quickly reaching the tunnel's end, Blake turned away from the large stairway that led down to the arena's exit and instead headed around the outside towards the side with the cells. Predictability was perhaps his greatest enemy right now. He needed to keep them guessing.

He passed by several other exits on his way back to the cells, the masses scattering like leaves on the wind each time he flew by, before he made it to the detention area. There were no hallways into the stadium proper here, nor was there an exit to the street. He jumped down to ground level and entered the only hallway around. He had noticed it while making his way to the arena's center, though it was from the other end at the time. It connected the outside ring of the building with the detainment section, and thus gave Blake access to the loading room where the wagon had been unloaded. He figured that this would be the area with the least opposition and the greatest chance to escape into the city with as few people as possible noticing.

Unfortunately, one person did notice. As Blake sprinted out of the final hallway and into the loading area, his feet pounding on the stone floor, part of the floor right in front of his feet suddenly grew several inches higher, sending him tumbling to the ground a second time. Cursing himself for falling for the same trick twice, he righted himself into a three-point stance just in time to spy a certain Apostle heading his way, a black sword of unknown metal gleaming in his hand. His face was bereft of its normal carefree expression, his eyes cold and serious.

"Where's that happy-go-lucky attitude, Yarec?" Blake asked, unable to resist the urge to taunt the object of his loathing. "You did ask me to struggle. I hope I'm not doing it too hard."

"Silence," the Apostle replied as he swiftly swung his sword down at Blake.

Blake held up the metal shaft of his pilfered spear horizontally to block the attack, the two weapons ringing out as the sword embedded itself nearly a quarter of the way into the spear's handle. Blake's eyes widened in surprise at the sharpness of Yarec's blade. He jumped back, attempting to create as much distance as he could, but this opponent refused to cooperate, pressing continuously, his blade flashing from all directions.

Blake couldn't seem to soften his opponent's sword. He'd tried for the first several swings with no success. Each time he blocked, the blade bit into his spear a little bit more, threatening to chop it in half. Quickly pivoting to another tactic, Blake instead tried to will his spear to be harder. The black sword began to bounce off the spear instead of digging in. The two were on basically an even playing field, just two men trying to stick sharp objects into each other.

This meant that Blake was going to lose. Between the two, Blake had the upper hand in most departments. He was stronger, faster, probably had better reaction times, better stamina, and, if he could get enough distance to use his spear as a spear instead of a glorified blocking stick, the reach advantage. Unfortunately, all of that meant little because of the fact that only one of them knew what he was doing, and it wasn't the thirty-three-year-old who spent his days playing video games and working a desk job.

The swordsman's body flowed like water, his strikes coming quickly and with deadly precision from all directions. Blake desperately blocked as best he could, but the blows rained down upon him with such ferocity that, even with his superhuman physical abilities, he just barely could keep himself unharmed. Blake's untrained eye found no openings, and his complete lack of skill meant that he couldn't capitalize on anything anyway.

He was running out of time. More guards would surely be coming soon. Blake needed to escape more than he needed to defeat his former captor, but without some sort of opening or random event, he couldn't get away. He needed something to go his way. It didn't have to be big, just a slip, a stumble, a distraction... anything would do. It just needed to happen soon, because he didn't think he could hold out much longer without making a mistake.

Just seconds later, his prayers were answered. The two men, captor and captive, were fighting alone in a large empty room clear of obstructions. It was about as close to a controlled, neutral environment as one could find that wasn't specifically created for combat. But one small, insignificant item remained – the remnant of Blake's prison, a small, ping pong-sized pebble resting on the floor, and Yarec stepped on it with his right foot, his leg sliding out and sending him off balance.

Blake's eye lit up and he struck immediately, his left arm extending to bring the spearhead forward and down upon his unlucky foe... only to find nothing. Time slowed and he reached a moment of clarity where he realized two facts that told him he was screwed. The first was that the entire slip had been a feint, and Blake's inexperienced ass had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. As soon as he had moved to attack, Yarec had spun to Blake's right, bringing his sword around and down upon Blake's exposed left side. As for the second fact, Blake now understood why he had failed to soften his enemy's blade. Getting a close-up look for the first time, he realized that the weapon just inches from his shoulder wasn't metal at all. It was a giant obsidian blade, one of the sharpest things in existence. It all made sense given Yarec's apparent stone-manipulating abilities.

Blake reflexively pulled back as quickly as he could, but it was too late to dodge the strike completely. The razor-sharp edge bit into his arm several inches above his elbow, shearing through muscle and bone with a dreadful finality until it cleaved all the way through to the other side. Blake stared in shock at his arm as it fell to the ground, blood raining down upon it from the third of his limb that still remained.

For the first time during their confrontation, Yarec relaxed and smirked, dropping his guard. Blake wasn't sure why, though he guessed that Yarec believed the incredible pain would incapacitate him. At any other time in Blake's life, Yarec would have been correct. But Blake knew true pain now. This was a drop of water compared to the ocean of agony that had washed over him during his journey to this world. Compared to that, losing a limb was merely an inconvenience. A terrible, horrifying inconvenience to be sure, but that sort of thing didn't faze Blake too much anymore.

Blake gritted his teeth, lowered his shoulder, and rammed his assailant right in the chest with everything he had, catching the Apostle off guard. The man's chest armor buckled with an incredibly satisfying crunch as he sailed across the chamber until crashed to the ground. Blake could hear him trying to breathe in the now-constricted metal. Hopefully there were some broken bones involved in there as well.

Blake wanted to go over to his foe and finish the job, but unfortunately that would have to wait. There were more pressing matters at hand, particularly Blake's sadly limited supply of blood, which spurted out of his severed arteries with a disturbing quickness. He ripped a long strip of fabric from his shirt and tied it tight around the stump as a makeshift tourniquet. The bleeding slowed and then thankfully ceased. It still hurt like the dickens though.

"He's over there!"

A cry from the passageway into the arena meant that he had run out of time. Shit, it looked like he wouldn't be able to kill Yarec after all. He scooped up his bloody, detached limb and sprinted through the exit and out into the city.

The city was as lively as a ghost town. Blake ran down one of the central spoke streets towards a large gate, his eyes searching for ambushes, but he only saw terrorized eyes peeping from between curtains and behind doors that were open just an inch. It was as if the entire city was hiding from a man-eating monster, each person hoping it would pass by their house and prey elsewhere. Blake was quite willing to oblige.

He finally found his ambush at the gate, a terrible place for an ambush in his opinion, especially when nobody even bothered to hide. Several dozen soldiers stood by the gate about three hundred or so feet away, weapons in hand, ready to block his escape. A dozen or so more lined the walls, some wielding bows, others ominously empty-handed. The portcullis was also down. Blake didn't care. They weren't going to stop him. He could see it in their eyes. He was the Elseling, the baby-eating, Othar-doubting, Voice-murdering abomination. Most of them looked like they were about to crap their pants; the rest looked like they already had.

He slowed his run and veered towards a two-wheeled wooden farm cart that had been abandoned in panic by the side of the street. Tucking his disconnected appendage and his spear under what remained of his left arm, he grabbed the side of the cart in his hand and lifted, hoisting it several feet off the ground with relative ease, and began his best impression of a one-armed Olympic hammer thrower, spinning round and round before releasing it in a high arc towards the assembled men and women.

As it sailed through the air, Blake followed as quickly as he could behind it. The gathered troops on the ground scattered at the sight of the incoming bombardment, their already-shaky discipline now in absolute tatters, and Blake zipped through the newly-created gap. He zigged and zagged as randomly as he could, successfully avoiding a multitude of incoming arrows and strange projectiles that looked like fire, ice, and other things. The portcullis, being entirely metallic, felt pleasantly like Play-Doh as he jumped through it, and then he was gone.

He smiled as he sprinted away from Eflok without looking back. He was free. Now he simply had to avoid being hunted down by an entire city while eating for the first time in nearly three days and figuring out what to do about his sudden lack of bilateral symmetry. No sweat.

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