Chapter 120: After the party
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Mason woke to Rebecca’s groans like an alarm clock.

"Ohh,” she stumbled to the bathroom and made some spitting noises before flopping back down on the bed. “My head. Shoot me."

Mason gave her an empathetic pat on the back. "Someone had a little too much fun last night."

She grunted, then squinted at him. "Did we at least have a sloppy, drunken sex party?"

"We did not. Try drinking some water."

"Unngh.” She did, but without much pleasure. “Never again. Never. Again."

Haley walked in from the kitchen and gave Mason a grin.

"Can you take care of her?” he said. “I'm going to go find Blake."

"Of course I already am,” she raised her chin. “I know a hangover recipe. It's supposed to be for wine, but, I don't think it matters. Probably."

Mason chuckled and found some clothes, running a hand through Rebecca's hair and squeezing her shoulder before he walked out the door.

When Haley followed to the kitchen, he grabbed her roughly and slapped her ass as he stuck his tongue in her mouth and lifted her up.

“Sorry I fell asleep last night,” she said, already panting slightly in Mason’s arms.

“Don’t mention it. Also I shouldn’t have started this,” he said as she wrapped her legs around him. He forced himself to set her back down and gave her one last grope. “Good luck with Becky. I’ll see you later.”

She made a desperate little groan, then he was away and back in the streets of Nassau. Streak instantly dropped off the porch to follow, whining behind him with a few big yawns, looking bigger than ever. “Do you grow every meal? What are you even eating?” Mason stopped to give the wolf a quick inspection and a scratch before he shook his head and kept walking.

A few early risers waved and Mason returned it, feeling much more natural in a morning mist than at some wild party. It felt strange in the settlement as always. His body and maybe even senses slowed and dulled, feeling a kind of claustrophobia at being trapped inside the walls. But he was getting fond of the place, he realized, and many of the people. He supposed a man could have two homes.

Dawn light barely shone through the canopy, but Blake would be awake. He never was much of a sleeper, filled with a kind of boundless, restless energy that in the old world usually had him stooped over a book or a computer.

While Mason’s brother enjoyed the social scene, he didn't usually partake much in the drunken hedonism, usually holding the same drink half the night.

Mason found him, somewhat unsurprisingly, in a chair by a window with the best light.

"Morning." He sat in a chair beside and looked out at the trees beyond the wall.

"Good morning, Mason." Blake looked up from his device, which looked like a futuristic ipad. "Have you used one of these yet?"

Mason shrugged, and Blake rolled his eyes.

"They contain practically every bit of knowledge human beings had. You can read any book, watch any film. Though our robot overlord didn't seem very impressed by most social media content."

Mason snorted. "Plus one roboGod."

"I actually quite miss podcasts." Blake sighed. "Your girls are feeling alright this morning?"

"Haley yes, Rebecca no."

"Unfortunate." Blake sipped his coffee. "You want to discuss the dungeon teams."

"You're the mind reader. And I know you've been thinking about it all night."

Blake slurped and sighed. "I want Annie, Alex, and Carl."

"What about Seul-ki?" Mason said, genuinely surprised.

His brother frowned. "We're taking almost every single player out of Nassau. I need someone here I can trust. And…” he shrugged, “I want to run a little experiment."

Mason had no idea what that meant and didn’t much care. "What the hell good is being together if I'm not around to protect you? And I don't trust Annie."

"Well I do. And you can't always be there to protect me, you've said it yourself. I need to tie my own shoes, wipe my own ass, et cetera. These orcs are vulnerable to my mind magic, which makes me a pretty damn good asset in there. Carl is the second strongest player we have now, so I'd like to get to know him. And Alex is our most flexible all around support. It's a good team. Agreed?"

Mason probably agreed if he thought about it, save for thinking Annie was a ticking time bomb. "Where'd you get that coffee?"

Blake tut tutted and walked to a little nook that apparently had a machine, filling Mason a mug. “It’s the same set up in every house in the settlement. Does Haley literally do everything for you?”

Yes, Mason thought, not at all unhappy about it, then picturing her naked and moaning before he shook his head and took a good long sip or two. "So have you picked my team as well?"

"I have. Rebecca, Phuong, and Tommaso. Should be plenty of magic and muscle and you should get to know Tommaso."

"He seemed...weak, in the obstacle course."

"That's why you've got Phuong and Rebecca and you. Anyway, Tommaso is good, he just needs levels."

"Sounds like you've got it all figured out,” Mason said without much enthusiasm. He thought about that fortress and all those orcs and snakes and riders. "It may not matter. We may not even get into those dungeons. Are we taking back Sanctuary first? Or heading straight to the fortress?"

"A fine question. Though I don't suppose we can hold the town anyway. What do you think?"

"I think we take the town first. It might be instructive."

Blake raised a brow, and Mason leaned forward a little.

"To show you how easy it is, and how vulnerable settlements are."

Blake smiled with tight pressed lips. "As you say. Now finish your drink while I wake the others. We might as well get an early start."

Blake's eyes glazed slightly, and Mason wondered how many poor buggers were getting the 'Blake alarm clock' treatment. It was at least slightly comforting to know he wasn't the only one.


* * *


By late morning, the settlement was again gathering to send off nearly all their players, plenty of hugs and tears and fond farewells. Mason stood with a somewhat pale-faced Rebecca, who assured him she was fine before wandering off to lean on a building and spit several times.

"What happened to the French hangover cure?" Mason whispered to Haley.

"It worked. You should have seen her before."

Mason grinned, then noticed Rosa with her friend watching from the small patio of their house. "I heard you talked to Rosa. But she might need another one. I don't suppose you can..." he trailed off. "You know, sort of like you did with Rebecca."

Haley raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow and grinned. "Of course. If you'd like me to."

Mason winced at the tone. "Why do I feel like it's going to cost me."

"Cost you, patron? My services are yours to command."

"What do you want, you French minx. Spit it out."

Haley leaned forward and gave Mason a goodbye hug like many of the other civilians. "I wouldn’t dream of it. And nothing you wouldn't enjoy, master, when the time comes. Just come home in one piece, please." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then grinned and walked off towards the chief hall before she turned back. "And bring Rebecca back in one piece, too!"

"Don't worry about me, y’all!" Rebecca called, bent over and wiping a hand across her face. "I'm totally fine!"

Mason adjusted his bow across his shoulders, whistling for Streak. He walked to the gate and waited, looking back at all the players and civilians of Nassau.

Blake and Seul-ki were sharing a quiet goodbye, as were Carl and Silvie. Every player he could see was being sent off by someone, which brought a warmth to his chest. Warriors should always be sent off and greeted, he decided, by those they meant to protect.

"Let's go, people," he called.

The excitement and sounds died away at his voice, and the players came when called. Even Blake came along with the pack, seemingly content to let Mason lead them to a fight. Mason looked over them all and grinned.

"Not much for speeches. Let's just go kill some damn orcs, and come back home and party."

The pack gave a committed, if subdued and probably hung over cheer. It would have to do.

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