Ilya—as Mental Influence told Blake his helper’s name was—practically yanked his arm off as she pulled him forward. Her hands were soft but she was clearly very strong. She pulled back a colorful drape that looked like a decoration, revealing a hole in the wall.
"There are others," she whispered. "Many would not serve this orc king, this Blacktusk pretender who thinks to rule all the towers and clans."
Blake said nothing, very intrigued, but just doing his best to follow in the near darkness of the small tunnel.
"He killed my kin in cold blood," said Ilya. "He killed Lord Farak just for challenging his right to rule."
"Yes," Blake said. "He must be resisted."
She looked back at him, vicious smile showing slightly in the glow of her amber eyes.
"I'll take you to the others. But first you need to hide. This is my secret place." The small tunnel finally emerged into a larger chamber, and Blake could hear running water and smelled something like garlic. "I'm sure you have many questions," she said. "But first...tell me, who are you? I mean who are you truly? Because I know you are not an orc of the towers."
When Blake said nothing the girl or maybe creature growled. "I am a daughter of the Vori tribe, an ancient line of this clan, not like those fools. I am from a line of shaman and oracles and I know magic is not evil. I know the orcs of the towers are ignorant. But I saw your magic through my scrying stone. Are you from the Mountain? The hill clans to the West? Who are you and why are you really here?"
Apparently it was time for another story. And Blake decided it better be a damned good one because his mana was drained. Hopefully these places actually existed and she wasn't trying to trap him, but he was a pretty good reader of liars and she didn’t seem the type. He thought of his favorite orc in an MMO, and smiled.
"My name is Thrall. And you're right, I'm not from the towers. But I am a friend of your people. That is the truth."
"Tell me what you know," the orc girl's tone was almost frantic. "How has Gromsh become so powerful? What magic has he used?"
"First things first," Blake said. "Tell me exactly who you are, and why you think to fight a king."
"Oh." The girl blinked and looked suddenly awkward. "My name is Ilya, daughter of Dralok. I am sorry to speak to you so bluntly, like a warrior. I am the last of my family. My father and brothers are dead. There is none but me to speak for them."
Blake smiled sadly and sat by the small stream. "Nice to meet you, Ilya. Your instincts are very good. I am a…wizard." The girl's eyes went wide as she sat across from him. "But my magic has been largely used. I need time to recover."
"I knew it.” There was a little wetness in the girl’s eyes. “My people say orcs cannot wield magic except when granted from the gods. You should be safe here, Thrall." She smiled. "This stream is fresh, clean water, and I can bring you food." She took his hand in both of hers. "Are you here to help us? To resist the tyrant?"
The lies came so easily, as they always did. But Blake supposed he wasn't even lying anymore,
"Yes. With your help, Ilya. We're going to kill him."
The girl's glistening amber eyes shed a tear, and she brought his hand to her lips and kissed it again and again. "Thank you, wizard. I owe whichever orc lord sent you a thousand oaths. Stay here. Rest. I'll bring you something to eat."
With that she disappeared back into the tunnel, and Blake lay down beside the stream and closed his eyes to Meditate, and hopefully to sleep. He should never have worried, he decided, slightly embarrassed at questioning his own destiny. Things were starting to look up already.
Now it was time to see if he could Dreamwalk from inside a dungeon...
* * *
Mason waited a few hours. Then a few more. He waited until the sun drooped and vanished, then until it rose again in the morning. He tried all the dungeon doors about a thousand times. The message never changed.
The others would be nearly back at Nassau, he decided. With so many players, even with a few wounded, they would have no issue getting back without him. He knew there'd be concern and questions about who would lead them now, and he knew what the answer would be. They would expect him to lead the settlement until Blake returned. And if he didn't, some other ambitious idiot would.
"God damn you." Mason smashed his fist into the dungeon door, which didn't so much as shake. Streak yawned in boredom beside him, whining slightly every few minutes to remind Mason he was getting hungrier. They had to hunt soon or go back for supplies.
But how could he leave? At any moment Blake might appear at the entrance half dead. Or the dungeon might open and let Mason in.
As he tried to think of some other variable, some other way to gain information, he blinked, suddenly cursing himself for a fool. Blake could communicate at distance, couldn't he? Could he 'Dreamwalk' from inside that dungeon?
Possibly. Except Mason hadn't bloody slept. Shit, he thought. Blake may have been trying to communicate all night. If he'd failed to reach Mason, who would he try next?
Seul-ki. Or Haley. No question. They were the only people Blake even remotely trusted.
Mason touched the earth and activated Speak with Nature.
[I'm going back to the settlement, Violet. Stay here. If Blake comes out, help him home.]
Then with a final, pained glance at the dungeon wall, Mason turned and ran.
"Come!" he shouted, and Streak yelped in surprise and probably relief as he sprinted after.
Blake was still alive or the dungeon would have have opened. And despite being something of a damn fool, he was also Blake. If anyone could get out of that trap through sheer bloody luck it would be him. Mason had to believe that.
Striding across the open plain at full speed, he began to realize just how fast he'd become. The tall grass whipped passed hard enough to sting his legs. The few trees and shrubs in his peripheral vision came and went like he was driving in a car.
Shit, he thought, it was like that old Superman movie—one of the few films he’d ever watched all the way through without sleeping. What had Clark Kent been doing? Racing a train?
"Come on," Mason called to the panting wolf on his heels. "Let's see how fast you can go!"
He widened his strides, feeling like he was flying across the terrain as he activated Aspect of the Cheetah. He laughed as Streak yapped in anger as he fell behind. For a few moments he wasn't even in the robo-pocalypse, or helpless to save his brother, or running back to deal with politics and frightened people and all the problems of other people.
But the moment ended soon enough. He slowed slightly as the trees came, but still he and Streak showed the runner of Marathon how it was truly done, running at top speed without slowing or break. They actually managed to catch the other players just before they reached Nassau.
"Mason!" Rebecca ran to him when she saw him through the trees, throwing her arms around his chest. She pulled back and looked at him and the tongue-wagging Streak with surprise. "Ya'll are panting. Is everything OK?"
"Yeah." He smiled a little, breathing hard and covered in sweat. "Just went all out. No change at the tower. I need to talk to Seul-ki."
She nodded and gave him another squeeze. "Can I do anything? I mean other than take the wounded to Aila at the infirmary? I could maybe..." she looked at the forest floor and clearly drew a blank. "Make some biscuits?"
The way she said it and looked at him was so bloody earnest and cute and wonderful he brought her in for a kiss.
"Biscuits sound great. I'll see you after I find Seul-ki."
"OK." She smiled, then blinked in surprise as Mason turned and ran straight past her and all the other players. The gate was closed, so he leapt straight at the wall and climbed it, dropping over to a wide-eyed civilian guard who had just reached over to push the gate button.
"Welcome back, Master Mason," she said. He gave her a nod and dropped down, running straight towards the hall.