Blake waited until his mana was nearly half, then entered his almost comatose state as he activated Dream Walker. He floated far above the world, not truly in sight of it—not with any concept of distance or place, merely with the knowledge that it was there. Instead it was like an invisible map covered in little light dots.
Blake could enter the sleeping mind of anyone he knew well, or had used Mental Influence on. And with something like glee, he saw being in a dungeon didn't stop him one bit.
His first hope was Mason, of course, but his light was red which meant he wasn't sleeping. Blake frowned but moved on. He had no idea what time it was but since he was fairly tired himself he expected it was night, or close. Another cluster of lights appeared in shades of red and green, and Blake smiled.
Seul-ki was sleeping. So was Haley. Either would do fine, but Blake decided now was as good a time as any to have a little chat with his Korean girlfriend. He focused his attention on her, leaving his body in a sleeping, trance-like state as his consciousness drifted and appeared in an alien place.
Beautiful trees surrounded a peaceful garden. Seul-ki sat by a pond, drinking tea and feeding some fish, giggling like a little girl. She was truly beautiful, and Blake enjoyed just looking at her. But he frowned at the familiar cold feeling in his mind as he stared—the rational assessment of everything and everyone that was usually his.
"Hello Seul-ki," he said, opening the gate of a small white fence to step into the garden.
The pretty Korean turned towards his voice, holding onto her wide-brim white hat as she blinked in surprise.
"I never dream about people," she said, as if to herself. She blinked sleepily until her green eyes seemed to sharpen and focus. "Blake? Is it really you? Are you...dream-walking?"
"I am indeed." Blake sat next to her and wished he could touch her properly. But he didn't have that kind of power, at least not yet. "I'm afraid things haven't gone quite to plan."
She waited patiently as he explained about the fighting with the orcs, the dungeon locking, the mortal challenge he'd been stuck with.
"Oh Blake." Seul-ki covered her mouth. "What will you do? I can't believe they abandoned you!"
"I think they'd be very much dead if they hadn't. Anyway, that's not important. I'm going to be stuck here quite awhile as I stir up a rebellion. So I'm going to be transferring the patronage of Nassau back to Mason. Do tell him not to panic. And tell him I'll speak with him like this too when I get the chance."
Seul-ki smiled. "I will. Don't worry, we'll take care of everything. Just focus on your task. Is there any way we can help you?"
Blake took a moment to enjoy the sunshine and the gentle breeze of Seul-ki's dream.
"It's very peaceful here." He closed his eyes. "No. There's nothing you can do, I think." Then he opened his eyes and locked gazes with Seul-ki. "Now tell me, how have you been manipulating my mind?"
She stared back at him, wordless and frozen, though her hands intertwined slightly.
"I…should have told you," she said at last, and he was pleased she didn’t try to lie. "I shouldn't have...without permission..."
Blake put his head back and laughed. "I am many things, Seul-ki, but a hypocrite isn't one of them. Mostly I'm curious. How does your power work? I would like to know. Exactly."
The edge he'd put in his tone did the trick. She was very clearly unbalanced, and that brought Blake considerable pleasure. He preferred whenever possible to be loved. But he also liked to be feared.
"I have a power that mimics the power of any player I touch," she said. "I was able to clone your Mental Influence. I used it only to make you...care for me, to trust me," she said, her eyes growing slightly watery. "I was afraid you might cast me aside."
Blake frowned. He enjoyed being seen as dangerous, not capricious.
"You're right, you should have told me. But I would never cast you aside, Seul-ki. You're my ally. A very trusted, useful, and important ally. Even if we weren't in...a relationship, you would always have a place beside me. Please believe that."
Seul-ki smiled a little, obviously still concerned where the conversation may end. Blake sighed.
"You once told me you were pleased I used my power on you. That it was difficult to trust others, to like them." He smiled. "I feel the same. You have my permission to do so in the future. But I suggest we think of some ground rules."
Seul-ki wiped her eyes and gave him a radiant smile. "Yes. Rules are good. I would like that very much."
Blake matched it then squinted slightly. "Now how did you manage to affect me so well with Mental Influence? I have a great deal of mana, a dark, cold heart, and I spend considerable effort guarding my mind."
Seul-ki covered her mouth and blushed slightly. "I waited until you were...vulnerable. When your mind was...very calm, and when your mana was low."
Blake blinked. "The blowjobs after a long day."
She nodded slowly, and Blake laughed out loud again.
"Oh Seul-ki, you are truly delightful." He flicked some falling petals off his pants and stood. "Well. My mana is wasting, I'm afraid. And I've a great deal to do." Seul-ki stood and Blake wished he could embrace her. "Do look after Mason and the town for me. And don't worry.”
“Blake.” Seul-ki’s eyes were difficult to read, but he thought maybe she was afraid. “If…something happens…”
“My dear,” Blake met her eyes and smiled, letting his utter confidence show. “It may take some time, but here’s a thing you can rely on: I always win."
"I have total faith in you.” Seul-ki smiled. “I will sleep at 11pm every night, in case you need to speak with me again."
"Thank you,” Blake closed his eyes and let the magic begin to fade. “Goodbye, Seul-ki. I'll see you soon. And we'll go on just as before. If that's what you'd like."
He didn't wait for her to answer, disconnecting from her dream as his body opened its eyes.
It wouldn't be quite as before, of course, because no matter what he said he would guard his mind even more. Indeed if she could clone his Influence, she might even be able to clone something more...aggressive.
A sobering thought, certainly. But a problem for later. At least one thing he'd said had been true—he had no intention of putting her aside. He needed her to boost his powers more than ever, and wished she was here with him now.
But was that all? No. He liked her, that was the truth. With or without mind powers. And even if she wasn't so beautiful and touchable...
Best not to get distracted. Blake held his nose and ate the collection of food Ilya had apparently left for him, then he closed his eyes, and kept on meditating. He had some story details to work out. And a plan to formulate.
But no matter how things went tomorrow, it would be an awfully busy day.
* * *
Gromsh paced back and forth at the top of the Grey Tower. He had personally explored every room, every hall, and every unlikely place in the sewers and tunnels and dungeon. This meant his enemy was in the warrens, or the other places orcs lived. It meant they were hiding him.
He roared and ripped apart a wooden chair, smashing the legs before calming himself again. Somehow orcs had betrayed their own kind for a human champion. How was that possible? The only answer was magic.
Some of the survivors of the raid had already been interrogated. They spoke of their own clansmen turning against them in the heat of battle—orcs against orc, brother against brother. Such magic was known, and despised. And the only answer now was that the champion who’d done it was Blake Nimitz.
But how to find him? Gromsh had no fear of such powers himself. He need only find the creature to tear it apart with his bare hands with ease. He would have to send his warriors into the warrens. He would have to move through the underground city himself, forcing high and low born orc to show them their dwellings.
But it would cause incredible resentment and damage to his status. Orcs despised tyranny beyond that which they already understood and accepted. To breach the hierarchy of clan, of kin, of tower so boldly…
Gromsh ground his teeth and closed his eyes for calm. Now that he'd used his Mortal Foe power he was trapped here too. The only orcs that could leave the towers were the small number of permitted portal walkers, and he was now getting reports they'd been decimated by the other player champions. It would take some time to re-build their number.
All his strength and power and nothing to do with it! By the Gods, Gromsh swore, when I get these human wizards in my grip, I will flay their skin, I will squeeze their blood, I will…
Gromsh blinked and turned to the intruder with a mind to rip him limb from limb. But it was Harvek, captain of the tower guard, and so far a loyal supporter.
"What is it, Captain?"
"Forgive the intrusion. We have swept the city streets and alleys as you asked, but found no sign of the human. Only at the massacre near the forge did we find anyone who'd seen him. We're surrounding the underground river as well. Sooner or later he'll have to get water, or else kill for it."
Or be given some by traitors, Gromsh didn't say.
The situation was infuriating. He had prematurely used his power because it seemed worth it to kill one of the targets. Except now he couldn't even seem to do that. Below him Mason Nimitz was slaughtering his portal walkers and wandering the towers at will, and it was like Gromsh was the one who was trapped!
But he had learned patience in his former life. Decades of biding his time for just the right moment. Blake Nimitz was still trapped, and all the power was in Gromsh’s hands. It was just a matter of time.
"Thank you, Captain, your idea is a good one. Guard the river, but keep searching also. If he is not found soon, I will want every orc accounted for in the tower and the underground."
Captain Harvek clearly didn't think much of that. "The tower is possible, lord. But the underground...” he shrugged. “We keep no records of the riffraff. Many of the most common orcs don't even have names, save for their profession..."
Gromsh closed his eyes, not familiar with the ways of the Stonebloods but not surprised now that he heard it. Their ranks were filled with lower orcs of meaningless quality, laborers and merchants, herders and farmers.
He stepped forward and lowered his huge tusks until one nearly scraped Harvek’s cheek. His spittle dripped and sizzled like the poison it was on the stone tile.
"Find him, Captain. Find any orcs who are helping him. Or I will go to the warrens, and one by one I will be forced to put the heads of Stonebloods on spikes until there is nothing left but my foe. Do you understand?"
The captain’s eyes widened. "Yes, lord." He slowly withdrew towards the stairs, and Gromsh let him go.
For the hundredth time he activated his scrying power, and for the hundredth time it came with a blank nothing, clearly useless in the towers themselves. He growled in rage and threw a standing suit of armor out the tower window, watching it soar into the night.