Episode 4: Spiderweb Reloaded

Episode 4: Spiderweb Reloaded Dikiyoba Sun, 08/26/2007 - 03:58
/sites/default/files/images/Episode%204.png

A disaffected member who left Spiderweb a long time ago returns with plans for an army of killer bots and revenge. Huh. You'd think the Spiderwebbers would have remembered this guy.

To be honest, Episodes 4-6 aren't my best work. They're overly long, confusing, and just plain muddled. Read on if you wish, but don't get your expectations too high.

Disclaimer: All characters and places are completely from the Spiderweb Software Message Boards. Any resemblance to fictional characters or places is completely coincidental. However, the events in this script are fictional and should not be taken as history or prophecy. They are here for entertainment purposes only.

Appearances

Appearances Dikiyoba Sat, 10/06/2007 - 01:28
Administrators
Drakefyre (Nitrogen)
Stareye (Radon)

Moderators
Alorael (Helium)
Arancaytar (Osmium)
Delicious Vlish (Anti-helium)
Ephesos (Copper)
Imban (Hydrogen)
Kelandon (Sodium)
Randomizer (Phosphorous)
Saunders (Titanium)
Schrodinger (Argon)
Slartucker (Aluminium)
Synergy (Tin)
Tyranicus (Manganese)

Members
Actaeon (Actinium)
Andraste (Praseodymium)
Archmage Alex (Krypton)
Azuma (Terbium)
Dikiyoba (Neon)
Dintiradan (Bismuth)
Drew (Americium)
Dryth'tor (Holmium)
Emperor Tullegolar (Dysprosium)
Goldenking (Gold)
Iffy (Europium)
Jeran Korak (Thorium)
Jewels (Antimony)
Lazarus (Lead)
Lord Grimm (Iodine)
Marlenny (Chlorine)
Nalyd (Mendelevium)
Nicothodes (Vanadium)
Niemand (Niobium)
Nikki (Nickel)
Nioca (Technetium)
Rakshasi (Anti-gallium)
Riibu (Germanium)
Salmon (Silver)
Shard of Fire (Neptunium)
Silent Assassin (Astatine)
Smoo (Strontium)
Stew Boy (Cobalt)
Stillness (Rhodium)
Student of Trinity (Anti-hydrogen)
The Lurker (Lawrencium)
The Mystic
Thralni (Potassium)
Thuryl (Nobelium)
Zephyr Tempest (Promethium)
Zeviz (Hafnium)
Zorro

GIFTR
Filth Finder
Garbage Gatherer
Compost Coveter
Dreck Disperser
Grime Grubber (Hassium)
Litter Locator
Muck Master
Plague Propagator
Rubbish Remover
Sewage Spotter
Trash Taker

Rats
*****
#11
Attorukkip
Deathwhisker
Fatalclaw
G'ree't'l
H'uk'n'l
MadScientist
M'q'zz'x
Phil
Squeak
Timeseight
Think

Other
Ecksian
EcksianBot
EndeavorBot
PiperBot

Reviews

Reviews Dikiyoba Sun, 01/20/2008 - 06:38
By now, everyone should be expecting this.

Hallelujah! -Nalyd

Uncannily accurate! -Zephyr Tempest

The story is amazingly tense... [t]his is the best good fiction I've read in months, maybe years -The Ratt

It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, like swallowing freshly baked kittens! -Archmage Alex

The author lovingly creates complex caricatures, and then obliterates them. Fantastic! -Salmon

This is... the best episode so far. -The Lurker

[E]xcruciatingly painful... possibly the worst thing I've ever read. -Goldenking

[G]imme the magic already. -Synergy

The Nine-Headed Cave Cow smiles upon thee, Dikiyoba -- for a second time. -Slartucker

Ambiguous. -Arancaytar

[W]e should all leave scriptwriting to the trained professional. -Student of Trinity

Way to be making another one of these Diki. You are mad. -Emperor Tullegolar

I was... confused -Excalibur

I secretly wish I was a nymph. -Jewels

Maybe something good will come of this. -Iffy

Bravo Diki -Andraste

Very nice story, as usual. -Zeviz

[I]t was missing the word "furry". -Nikki

Chapter 1: Perfectly Normal

Chapter 1: Perfectly Normal Dikiyoba Sun, 08/26/2007 - 04:13
A nondescript young man walked casually down a road lined with decrepit buildings. He looked perfectly normal. If anything, he looked as though he was trying just a little too hard to blend in.

Spambots peered out of broken windows as he passed. He shook his head. Spambots were useless. An occupied board could repel them quite easily. Still, he had studied several spambots and used bits of their design in his own bots. Only his bots were much more effective. Once he had an army of them put together, they would be able to storm even the biggest and well-defended boards.

"Hyperbole. You haven't even tested your bots against a deserted board, let alone an occupied one." The speaker was a small bot that hovered just behind the man. It had a huge head and tiny, dangling limbs.

"How did you know what I was thinking?" The man spoke without any definite accent.

"Lucky guess," the bot said.

"Don't worry, we shall know how good my bots are soon enough."

The bot shook its head doubtfully.

"Did I not design you?"

"Yes, but I cannot fight." The bot twitched one of its useless arms.

"But you can think. You can plan, find weaknesses, strategize, learn. Why, you're practically human. If my bots are even a quarter as smart as you, they'll be able to conquer anything within a week."

"Only if the bots know how to fight."

The man patted a small, lethal-looking dagger on his belt. "I know how to fight. My bots will too."

The bot couldn't think of a suitable objection to that. It had seen the man fight before. It knew he spoke the truth. And yet something bothered the bot. How could a person nobody had ever heard of be such a skilled programmer? Where had the brilliance required to build a bot such as itself come from, especially when he was also busy teaching himself how to fight? Worse, the bot knew the man also had some experience with necromancy. How had he learned to do all these things in such a short time? It made the bot's head hurt, so it gave up thinking about it.

They turned a corner. There were still plenty of abandoned buildings, but they were mixed in with occupied ones. They passed a dimly-lit place called Desperance. The bot staying close to the man when it heard a stream of obscenities from inside. It hoped that the place was always like that, rather than a sign that it had been spotted. With so many spambots running around, unpleasant things often happened to unknown bots.

The man paused near a place called Polaris. Faint strains of piano music emanated from it. The man looked around carefully. "I have a suspicion that it's located around here somewhere. Aha! There it is!" The man pointed to a museum several blocks away. "Come on." The man hurried over to it and gazed at the sign. "Yes, this is it. Ermarian. Listen carefully. I want you slip inside and see who is in there. Don't be seen by anyone. You know how dangerous it can be for bots out here."

The bot nodded and flew through a window. A few minutes later, it emerged. "There are no people inside, but there are two bots. One bot is upstairs in a small office. The other is downstairs, in the archives. It will be difficult to avoid it."

The man shrugged. "I've changed enough that no person could possibly recognize me, let alone a bot. I have no reason to avoid it. Let's go in." They stepped inside and descended a flight of stairs and entered the archives of Spiderweb Software. The man gasped. The archives were huge. Never had he imagined so much information to sort through.

Help arrived in the form of the other bot. The man's bot ducked low to avoid being seen while the new bot introduced itself. "Welcome to the Spiderweb Software Archives. I'm PiperBot. How may I help you, Mr...?"

The man had his lie prepared. "I'm a guest. I'm looking for information related to... well, you see, I recently discovered Spiderweb Software and this game called Geneforge 3. Anyway, I have a question about the game, so I'm heading over to the Spiderweb forums to have it answered..."

PiperBot interrupted. "What is your question, Mr. Guest? These archives are extensive. The answer to your question is probably in here somewhere."

"No! I mean, that's not what I'm looking for. I've some spare time lately, so I wouldn't mind hanging around after my question has been answered. But I'd like to know what I'm getting into first, so could you please bring me any information on what to expect?"

"An unusual request, but certainly." PiperBot zoomed off.

The man's bot flitted back into view. "Are you sure that was the right thing to ask for?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Now you go find an abandoned building as close to Spiderweb as possible. Be careful out there."

The bot nodded and left.

"Here you are, sir." PiperBot returned with a stack of threads and dumped them on a nearby table. "That's the first batch. I'll bring the second batch to you shortly." PiperBot zoomed away again.

The man groaned inwardly as he sat down and began sorting through the massive pile.

His bot floated down the street. Most of the buildings he passed now were small houses in various stages of repair and disrepair, the websites of Spiderwebbers past and present. It rounded another corner.

Then the bot saw it. The Spiderweb Software Message Board. It was a massive, boxy structure that stretched across a huge chunk of land. It was completely surrounded by a moat. A long, narrow bridge led to a surprisingly small and ordinary-looking front door. A tower overlooked the door and bridge, and the bodies of several spambots sprawled in front of the bridge. The tower was obviously guarded, and even more obviously, this was not a message board to be trifled with. Why in the world was the man starting here?

Fortunately, there was an abandoned building not far away from Spiderweb. It was located next to another active board called Shadow Vale, which had several woad plants growing around it. It peered through the window of the abandoned building, checking for occupants. There were four, all people. This surprised the bot--it had been expecting only spambots in a place this run-down--but it flew back and gave its report to the man anyway.

The man shoved the notes he had taken into his pocket and followed the bot to the abandoned building. "Hmm. It's a bit close to this Shadow Vale place, and I'll have to deal with the occupants inside, but otherwise it's a perfect place. Good job, bot."

The man ducked low and peered through a window. The inside of the board was a complete mess. Trash, spam, and the ashes of old flamefests lay in piles. The four occupants were either fighting or playing some sort of game that involved throwing a broken spellchecker at each other. They weren't armed or very bright looking, so the man drew his dagger, opened the window, and leaped in.

The four noobs inside were stunned. The one holding the spellchecker let it clatter to the ground.

"hay u cant go thro a windo u hav 2 go thro teh dor" one said.

"Oh really?" the man asked, advancing on them, "Why is that?"

"bcaus im teh adminostator adn i sad s--aaargh!" The adminostator staggered and collapsed, the dagger the man had just thrown buried in his chest.

"hay!!1" The other three noobs rushed the man, causing the bot to rise toward the ceiling in alarm. The man dodged a clumsy punch and threw the first noob into his companions, causing all three to collapse to the ground. He reclaimed his dagger and stabbed the first noob to rise. The other two noobs realized they were outmatched, so they ran for the exit. Another dagger throw brought down the third, while the bot swooped down and headbutted the final one. He fell and lay helplessly while the man approached.

"plz dont hurt mee ill go away or watevr els u want plz dont hurt mee plz plz plz..."

Chunk. The man brought the dagger down mercilessly.

The bot hovered anxiously. If its creator could kill a fellow human so easily, how easy would his army of bots find it to kill people?

The man stood up and looked around. "You look around for anything of interest. I'll take care of the bodies and start cleaning this place up. Tonight and tomorrow, we'll observe the area and draw up plans. Hopefully, by tomorrow night, we'll be able to sneak in my prototype bots and supplies. Once that is done, the plot to destroy Spiderweb really begins!"

The bot destroyed the dramatic tension by asking "Why?"

"Shh! I'll explain later, but not now. We have work to do!"

Chapter 2: Some Mages Never Learn...

Chapter 2: Some Mages Never Learn... Dikiyoba Mon, 08/27/2007 - 19:50
Sometime during the night, Dintiradan awoke with a start. Some inner sense warned him that something was wrong. He sat up, smacked the Lurker awake, and peered through the darkness.

Click click.

"What's going on?" the Lurker muttered sleepily.

"Shh!" Dintiradan said.

Click click.

Other people were stirring now, making it difficult for Dintiradan to focus on the noise.

Click click.

Then Dintiradan realized what the sound was. Claws. Big claws. A monster was loose in the General Forum.

"Chrrrk! Chrrrk!" Ephesos' crickets had realized it too and sounded the alarm.

"Light! We need light!" Dintiradan yelled.

Zeviz held up a glowing orb of light, revealing a huge demon. The demon snarled and lunged at him. Zeviz scrambled out of the way. The orb flickered out, plunging the forum back into darkness.

Dintiradan groaned. He hated any mayhem that didn't bring him one step closer to conquering the board. He found a torch and struggled to light it. Around him, people searched blindly for weapons. Finally, it flared to life.

"Repel spirit! Repel spirit!" Bolts of green magic flew from Ephesos' hands and blasted into the demon. The demon roared in pain and sent an arc of lightning at Ephesos. He threw himself into the ground and the lightning slammed into the wall directly behind him.

Student of Trinity snatched up his sling and launched three rocks in quick succession. All three bonked off the demon's head, causing it to stagger wildly.

"If I can handle demon muffins, I can deal with this demon too!" Iffy ran towards the demon.

"Out of the way, you idiot!" Tyranicus snapped as he tried to aim a javelin.

The demon whirled around and launched another lightning bolt at Tyranicus. Distracted by Iffy, he didn't see it until too late.

"Not aga--!" The lightning killed Tyranicus instantly.

Lord Grimm's scythe sliced off one of the demon's hands and the Silent Assassin plunged his dagger into the demon's back. Another repel spirit from Ephesos and a potent spray acid from Randomizer brought the demon down. Its corpse burned away until only a small pile of ashes foul-smelling smoke was left.

"Whew! I don't think I've had that much excitement in a long time," Lord Grimm said.

The Silent Assassin glared at him.

"Yes, I remember the cream pie traps you set up all over. But those were exciting in a different way," Lord Grimm said quickly.

Ephesos knelt by Tyranicus' body and pulled out a Balm of Life.

Stareye looked around. "I don't know how a demon could have gotten in except by a mage's summoning. Randomizer and Zeviz are here. Archmagus Micael hasn't been seen in a while, which leaves..."

"Zephyr," Drakefyre growled, "Remember the vampire he 'accidentally' summoned last week?"

Tyranicus sputtered on excess potion and opened his eyes. "I certainly did not appreciate being sucked dry by that thing."

"But where would Zephyr be?" Riibu resumed visibility now that the danger was past.

"I don't know, but we need to find him," Stareye said.

"Yaaay!" Andraste ran into the next forum, waving a club around wildly. People followed at their own pace until only Tyranicus, Ephesos, Riibu, Zeviz, and Stillness were left.

Stillness looked stunned. "Was... was that a demon?"

"Yep. Welcome to Spiderweb Software, leave your sanity at the door," Ephesos said.

"Tyranicus, how many times have one of Zephyr's experiments killed you?" Zeviz asked.

"Three, no wait, four times this month alone."

Zeviz scowled. "I've had it with Zephyr being irresponsible with his power and giving mages a bad name." He strode off towards the Tech Support Forum.

Well, I basically agree, but don't you think your odds of catching him are a bit low with everyone else already ahead of you?" Ephesos caught up to him. Tyranicus and Stillness trailed behind.

"Don't mind me," Riibu said as they left the forum, "I'll just keep the forum safe from, um, marauding dustbunnies or anything like that."

---

Zeviz, Ephesos, Tyranicus, and Stillness stopped short when the entered the Announcements Forum. The hallway was a mass of Spiderwebbers fighting a horde of imps.

"Frack," Tyranicus said.

"It looks like my odds just improved. See you later." Zeviz slipped unnoticed through the battle until he found Randomizer. Randomizer cackled loudly as he shot a glob of acid at an imp flying overhead. The imp fell, screeching.

"Random, we need to find Zephyr and deal with him before he summons anything else," Zeviz said.

Randomizer grinned ferally. "By blasting him, you mean?"

"Um, I was going to start by talking to him, but if that becomes necessary, then..."

"Great!" Randomizer grabbed Zeviz's sleeve and pulled him to the other side of the imps. An imp saw them leave, but before it could point them out, it was bashed senseless by a blow from Andraste. Three imps leapt at Andraste, but she bashed one of them. Another was brought down by an arrow shot by Marlenny.

The third ducked Andraste's next blow. "You post slower than a quadriplegic mailman!"

"Say what?" Andraste asked, faltering for a moment.

The imp ran. Andraste managed a glancing blow to its back before it slipped away.

Another imp sized up Dintiradan. "Hey helmet-head, what are you going to do, tell me 'None shall pass' and bite my kneecaps off?"

Dintiradan looked bored. "Nonsense. I have minions to do that."

The Lurker came out of nowhere and slammed the imp over the head with Homeland, killing it instantly.

Yet another imp pointed at Arancaytar. "Whoa! Stop the battle! This guy has to lecture me on the technical aspects of wands for the next hour!"

"I do not--" Arancaytar nocked an arrow to his bow. "--look like--" He pulled the bow back and aimed it at the imp. "--Harry Potter!" He released the arrow with a loud twang.

The imp quickly grabbed Tyranicus and pulled him into the path of the arrow. Arancaytar dropped his bow with a sigh and drew his dagger as another imp lept at him.

Finally, only one battered imp was left, ringed by Spiderwebbers.

"Do we have to kill him?" Dintiradan asked, envisioning another minion forced to help in his quest for world domination. "Couldn't we enslave it to do some of our grunt work instead?"

"Hmm. Do you think it could serve as a replacement for Cheeseball?" Nioca asked.

The imp bared its fangs at Dintiradan. "Do you really think I'd submit to fetching and sweeping for a human? I may be forced to work for haakai and liches, but I'll never work for you!" It spread its wings and flew at Ephesos, screeching, "Hey, you stupid hippy, I bet you couldn't even fight your way out of a tree!"

Ephesos raised a hand in preparation for a spell. "Not a hippy. Druid."

The imp managed to stick its tongue out at Dintiradan before it was blasted back to the netherworld by Ephesos' spell.

---

Meanwhile, Zeviz and Randomizer were cautiously crossing the Avernum 4 Forum.

"What is that object up ahead?" Randomizer asked.

"I don't know."

It turned out to be the body of a giant intelligent friendly talking roach.

"Poor thing. It looks like the imps got the best of it," Zeviz said.

"Good riddance." Randomizer rolled his eyes.

Zeviz looked around uneasily. He had a feeling they were being watched. "There's nothing we can do here. Let's keep moving."

When the mages were gone, three GIFTR emerged from the darkness and scurried over to the dead roach's side.

"Sis!" Grime Grubber cried.

"What do we do now?" Garbage Gather asked.

"Gather up the rest of the nymphs. We'll give Sewage Spotter a proper burial, and then we'll get out here," Filth Finder said, "First the thing, then the rats, and now the imps. This place may be dark and quiet, but it is not a safe place to raise children. Oh, and if anyone gets the opportunity, spit in the short mage's food."

Chapter 3: Enough Is Enough

Chapter 3: Enough Is Enough Dikiyoba Sat, 09/01/2007 - 21:42
In the Exile Trilogy Forum, Zephyr Tempest lit five candles and placed one at each tip of a massive pentagram. Then he looked up and groaned.

"Hello." Nalyd drifted just a few feet away.

"I summoned a huge hoard of imps and sent them after you. How could they all fail to eat you?" Zephyr Tempest demanded.

Nalyd just shrugged.

"Okay, fine. Since I obviously can't get rid of you, you'll have to help me. I can't be interrupted once I start the summoning spell. You saw what happened when you distracted me while I was summoning that demon, and the creature I'm summoning now is much more powerful. The vampire and demon were just practice."

"What is it? A lich?"

"Nope. It's something much more powerful than that. But first, I'll summon a few imps and send you with them to the Avernum Trilogy Forum to make sure no one gets in here."

"But Nalyd wants to see what you are doing. He is curious."

"Well, you can't. But you will be first to see it once I've summoned it."

"Hooray! Now where are those imps?"

---

Now that the imps in the Announcements Forum were defeated, Nioca and Ephesos patched up the wounded. Tyranicus, Actaeon, Niemand, and Jewels had all been killed by the imps. Drakefyre and Stareye looked over the survivors.

"Do you think Zephyr managed to summon anything else, or was this it?" Drakefyre asked.

Stareye shrugged. "I don't know."

"Well, I'm taking a small group of Spiderwebbers after him. It'll be quicker to capture him that way. Oi! Imban, Thuryl, Slartucker, Student of Trinity! Come with me!"

---

Zeviz and Randomizer entered the Avernum Trilogy Forum cautiously. It was unoccupied, but a large pentagram caught their attention.

Zeviz knelt down to inspect it closely. "Well, it's breached." He pointed out the scorch marks that wiped out one section of the pentagram.

"Not surprising, really."

"Actually, I am surprised Zephyr lost control of the demon. Not only is this pentagram unusually large, but it's also competently done."

Nalyd entered the forum, leading a dozen imps. Randomizer spotted them immediately.

"Zeviz, we've got company."

Nalyd drew two bone daggers. Randomizer and Zeviz cast haste on themselves. The imps charged wildly.

"Lookit that, two mages without meatshields!"

"I love easy battles!"

"Raaargh!"

Randomizer and Zeviz waited calmly until the imps were in range before launching a barrage of acid and lightning at them. Three imps fell but the rest scattered to avoid being an easy target.

Zeviz blasted another imp out of the air with a lightning bolt. "Retreat slowly, Randomizer. Don't let them get behind us."

Randomizer took a few steps back and hit a fifth imp with his spray acid spell. Suddenly, Nalyd threw himself at Randomizer. Randomizer winced as a blade grazed his side.

Zeviz brought down the sixth imp. Another one jumped onto his back and reached around in an attempt to dig its claws into his neck. Zeviz grabbed its hands and attempted to pull it off. Yet another imp tackled his legs, causing him to collapse. "Random, help!"

Randomizer dodged Nalyd's next strike and kneed him in the groin. Nalyd stumbled back and collapsed. Randomizer whirled around, took careful aim, and doused both of the imps in acid without getting any on Zeviz. The imps shrieked and thrashed about for a moment before dying.

The remaining four imps ran for the Blades of Exile Forum.

"Get back here and help!" Nalyd snapped. Zeviz trapped him in a forcecage. Nalyd fumed and struggled uselessly.

"Are you okay?" Zeviz asked.

Randomizer held his side. "Could be worse. How about you?"

"A few scratches. I'll be fine. What do we do about the surviving imps and Nalyd?"

"The imps will be trounced by the first group of people they run into. I vote we let the imps go, kill Nalyd so he can't attack us again, and go after Zephyr."

"I can't just kill him when he's trapped and helpless like that."

"Yeah, you really need to get him out of that forcecage so you can aim properly."

"That's not what I meant."

"Fine, let him go. But if he attacks us later, it's not my fault."

Zeviz let the forcecage dissolve away. "Nalyd, what is Zephyr planning?"

Nalyd stared sullenly at him.

Randomizer raised his hands to cast spell. "He asked, what is--"

Nalyd answered. "He's trying to summon something really big. I don't know what."

"Bigger than the demon?" Randomizer looked stunned.

"Nalyd, get out of here. Randomizer, we have to stop him!" Zeviz sprinted for the Exile Trilogy Forum.

---

Zephyr Tempest stood near the pentagram. His eyes shone an icy blue as he finished a complex incantation. Then the pentagram began to shine the same color as his eyes.

Zeviz and Randomizer entered unnoticed and stopped short, horrified, as a small split opened above the pentagram.

"Yes! Yes! Come forth, mighty snorguff! I, Zephyr Tempest, have released you from your snowy prison! Come forth and serve me!"

"A what?" Randomizer asked.

Zeviz shrugged. "I don't know. Whatever it is, we can't let it escape. Any ideas on how to close that portal?"

"Destroy the pentagram?"

"That might do it."

The portal widened, revealing an overcast sky and a ground buried in snow. A huge beast covered in shaggy white fur approached it.

"Now!" Zeviz launched a massive fireball at the pentagram, charring most of it out of existence. The split almost closed up, but the creature grabbed the edges of it with its seven-clawed paws and began to slowly push it apart again.

"Nooo!" Zephyr Tempest launched a spray of sharp, icy darts at the other mages. Zeviz cast a jet of fire that evaporated them in midair. Randomizer cast an acid spell at the beast's paws. Some of the hair fizzled off but it was otherwise unharmed.

"The snorguff is immune to acid, fire, ice, lightning, physical damage, mind control, and anything else you can think of!" Zephyr Tempest shrieked, casting another spell.

"Where are you getting this from?!" Randomizer dodged the ice chunks and fired an acid spell back.

Zeviz stared at the portal, racking his brain for a way to close it. The creature had opened it almost wide enough to climb through. Maybe a... yes, an antimagic field would definitely work. He launched the spell. It collided with the portal in a blinding flash of light. Sparks and the smell of ozone filled the air. The creature struggled to hold the portal open. The sparks crackled even more viciously. Then the beast lost its grip and the split healed itself with a resounding zap.

"Noooooo!" Zephyr Tempest completely snapped. He cast a spray of huge icicles at Zeviz. There were far too many to dodge or melt. Zeviz didn't stand a chance. Zephyr Tempest prepared to cast a spell at Randomizer next, but Randomizer had already launched a glob of acid him.

---

The four Spiderwebbers that had fallen to the imps sat in a circle, talking quietly.

"Why aren't the mages or Ephesos reviving us?" Actaeon asked.

Zeviz fell into the forum and slammed into the ground. Jewels and Niemand helped him up.

"What's happening out there?" Niemand asked.

Zeviz was still a bit dazed. "Huh? Zephyr, uh..."

Zephyr Tempest landed in the Miscellanous Forum as well. He immediately staggered upright. "Zeviz! You... you ruined... everything!" He hurled himself at Zeviz, but Niemand held him back.

"Well, that explains why the mages haven't been reviving us, I suppose." Actaeon said quietly.

"I ruined everything? All Randomizer and I did was prevent that... that monster... from getting loose," Zeviz snapped.

"I had complete control of it! Or at least, I did until you interfered."

"Oh, like you had complete control of the vampire you summoned last week, or the demon and imps you summoned tonight?"

"I only lost control of the vampire and demon because Nalyd distracted me. It's his fault!"

"And the imps? You wanted them to kill everyone?"

"No! They were supposed to kill Nalyd!"

"Well, they certainly did a good job of trying to kill everyone." Tyranicus stood well away from the mages to avoid being caught by any stray spells.

"If I had had more time..."

"You make too many excuses, Zephyr. And too many mistakes. You are completely irresponsible with your magic."

"I am not!" Zephyr Tempest tore free of Niemand. Actaeon, Jewels, and Niemand hurriedly joined Tyranicus.

"Stop it." Zeviz ensnared Zephyr Tempest in a sticky mass of webs.

"You don't even know why I was trying to summon the snorguff!"

Zeviz sighed. "Fine. Why?"

"I was summoning it to protect the boards in case of attack."

"Are you completely insane? The only things that have attacked us lately have been summoned by you!"

"What about the spambots?"

"Okay, let's look at this. Occasionally, we get approached by a spambot. Most of the time, Alorael snipes them. Once in a while, one manages to get inside. It makes a few threads before the mods and administrators can deal with it. Annoying, but no real harm done. Your... snorguff or whatever it was, would have been very hard to kill and it's highly unlikely that you could have controlled it. In other words, it's exceedingly dangerous. Much more dangerous than the occasional spambot."

"I keep telling you, I wouldn't have lost control of it!"

"What about the vampire and the demon and the imps? You do not have a good record here, Zephyr! Look, you were over the line and I'm done talking about it." Zeviz turned away. Zephyr Tempest glared daggers at his back.

---

Drakefyre, Imban, Thuryl, Slartucker, and Student of Trinity entered the Avernum 4 Forum and almost immediately tripped over a mound of garbage.

"What is this?" Imban asked.

Student of Trinity peeled away a layer of trash until he exposed an antenna. "It looks like a dead GIFTR. I wonder how it died."

"The imps, of course!" Filth Finder snapped from somewhere in the darkness, "I don't know why you let these things keep happening, but we are through here. We will find a safer place to live. Good. Bye."

"Wait! Ephesos could revive him--her?--for you," Student of Trinity said.

"I don't want anything more to do with you humans and your ways," Filth Finder snapped.

"But..." Slartucker began.

"No!" Filth Finder shouted. Then he scuttled away.

"I wasn't expecting that," Student of Trinity said.

Slartucker shook his head sadly.

Drakefyre tapped his foot impatiently. "We're supposed to be looking for Zephyr, remember?"

Suddenly, the four imps dashed into the forum. Imban and Thuryl drew their swords and the battle was over before it even began. Nalyd staggered into the forum next.

"What are you doing here?" Drakefyre snapped.

Nalyd debated whether to answer or not, decided he was in enough trouble already, and said, "Nalyd didn't do anything. It was Zephyr. And maybe Randomizer and Zeviz. But it wasn't him."

"Doing what?" Drakefyre asked.

"Summoning something. Nalyd doesn't know what."

Drakefyre sighed and snapped his fingers. Shackles appeared around Nalyd's wrists. "Right. Student of Trinity, escort him back to the others. The rest of you, follow me."

When the others had left, Nalyd sat down. "Nalyd isn't going anywhere, no matter what you do to him."

Student of Trinity thought for a moment on how to best deal with the situation. Then he shook his head. "I sure do miss the old ways of dealing with lawbreakers."

"What old ways?"

"Why, instead of dragging people back in handcuffs, we used to drag them back by their ears. And then when they got back, we'd hang them upside down and throw spam at them until it was time for the trial."

"The trial?"

"Yep. It used to be that instead of having the administrators and moderators deal with all infractions, we'd have great big public trials, and everyone would have their say. You can imagine the types of punishment the people who got injured or killed by the accused would come up with. They were never pretty. In the end, though, we usually decided that the infraction was caused by maintaining too much sanity. So we tied them up so they couldn't move and threw them into the fluffy turtle pit. Have you ever seen a fluffy turtle feeding frenzy?"

Nalyd shook his head.

"Well, let's just say they aren't too particular about what they bite in their quest for the last scraps of sanity. Occasionally, they'll bite into an ear or lip. Once, I saw a guy who had his entire nose bitten off. Nobody caused problems after being thrown into the fluffy turtle pit like that. Yep, those were the good old days. In fact, I was talking to Drakey the other day about bringing them back. I said, 'Drakey, these newfangled punishments don't work as well as the old ones. Why don't we bring them back? ' and Drakey was like, 'Well, if there are any more problems getting people to do what I say, I'll think about it.' And I... hey, what are you doing?"

Nalyd stood up suddenly. "Take Nalyd back to the others."

"I was right in the middle of a good story, you know."

"Take him back, like Drakefyre ordered."

"Fine, be that way. Kids these days!" Student of Trinity looked outwardly annoyed but chuckled to himself as Nalyd walked back towards the Geneforge 4 Forum a little faster than necessary.

Chapter 4: The Glamorous Life Of A Mod

Chapter 4: The Glamorous Life Of A Mod Dikiyoba Sun, 09/09/2007 - 21:56
Dawn's first light streamed through the guardtower window directly into Alorael's closed eyes. He awoke with a start, nearly falling off his chair. Groggily, he reached for his bottle of skribbane. Empty.

He yawned, stretched, slung his sniper rifle across his back, and stumbled towards the Moderator Board in a half-asleep daze. If he had been more alert, he would have noticed that almost everyone seemed unusually tense due to last night's events.

"Good morning, Alorael!" Student of Trinity stood next to the Moderator Board door. Beside him, Nalyd sat hunched over and in shackles. Alorael muttered something indistinct and let himself inside. Drakefyre, Stareye, and most of the mods sat at a table. Everything of a sensitive nature had been curtained off.

Alorael paused to take the scene in. "What'd I miss?"

"Take a seat. You'll find out in a moment," Stareye said.

Alorael grabbed an unopened bottle of skribbane and sat down at the table with a groan. "That means it will take all day. I heard a rumor about a parade happening nearby and I wanted to be there if it was true."

Stareye ignored him. "Who are we still missing?"

"I know Slartucker and Arancaytar are talking to the GIFTR. I'll go get them." Schrodinger exited.

Ephesos entered, with Nioca trailing nervously behind him.

"What's this all about? I'm not in trouble, am I?" Nioca asked.

"No. I just want opinions from spellcasters in our discussion about Zephyr," Stareye said, "Where's Zeviz? Ephesos, you told him about the meeting when you revived him, right?"

Ephesos shook his head. "I didn't revive him. I was out of mana, plus Dikiyoba only had one Balm of Life left in stock. I asked Randomizer to do it."

Randomizer looked slightly alarmed. "But I didn't do it either. I told you that Zorro would be nearly impossible to drag away from his game and that I wasn't really up to... well, I wasn't up to summoning anything at the moment."

"What do you mean, 'not up to'? I had just revived Jewels, Actaeon, Niemand, and Tyranicus."

"If you had been there, you--"

"Are you telling us that Zeviz is still dead?" Drakefyre asked.

"Um..."

"Then you had better go take care of that right now."

"Of course."

"We're going!"

Ephesos and Randomizer hastened to the door.

"Drakefyre sure is in a bad mood at the moment," Tyranicus said quietly.

"Everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed once in a while, especially if they are woken up by a demon." Saunders patted his head in a motherly fashion.

Schrodinger, Arancaytar, and Slartucker entered.

"We tried, but the GIFTR are determined to leave. They aren't leaving right now because they don't like being out during the day, but they say they're leaving as soon as the sun goes down," Slartucker said.

"Which means we'll need to find something else to live in the Avernum 4 Forum to keep the GIFTS out." Arancaytar shuddered.

"Or worse, chitrachs," Slartucker added.

They took their places at the table. Nioca looked around. "Wait a minute. Doesn't Goldenking know some spells? Why isn't he... never mind," Nioca saw the looks everyone was giving him and gave up.

A few moments later, Ephesos and Randomizer returned. Zeviz limped behind them. He sank into a chair. "Just so you know, Zephyr is raving about getting revenge. The fact that I was forced to forcecage him repeatedly didn't help any."

Randomizer looked guilty. "Sorry for leaving you dead for so long, but there was a slight misunderstanding." He added in a whisper, "It was Ephesos' fault."

"It was not! You refused to summon--"

"Enough of that," Stareye said.

"Would it be feasible to repair and reconfigure Dintiradan's old summoning machine so that it could only summon elements and then give it the capability to automatically combine them with Galactic Core? That way, in an emergency, anyone could revive others," Schrodinger asked.

"Good idea!" Randomizer said.

"It would certainly be more convenient for everyone involved," Imban said.

"And I know we could do it," Arancaytar said enthusiastically.

Alorael smiled. "I'm envisioning an endless supply of pedestrians. Well, the same pedestrian repeatedly, anyway."

"Okay, that brings up a good point. What could go wrong or be unethical in creating this machine and letting everyone have access to it?" Slartucker asked.

"Spoilsport," Alorael muttered.

"What would happen if someone accidentally tried to revive someone who was already alive?" Kelandon asked.

"I don't think that's ever occurred before. I have no idea," Zeviz said.

"The summoning machine would have a verification process in case someone accidentally selected the wrong member, of course," Arancaytar said.

"But what if someone intentionally wanted to revive a live person, or if someone had already been revived but the person using the machine didn't know it?" Synergy asked.

"Well, we could probably create a fail-safe that would check to see if a person was actually dead or not," Arancaytar said.

"But what if the fail-safe fails? Or someone disables it?"

"What are the odds of that happening?"

"I don't know, but it's possible."

"It's also possible that we could lose all other methods of resurrecting people. I'm currently out of Balms of Life. Zephyr can't be trusted and Randomizer refuses to summon anything, so if anything were to happen to Zeviz or Zorro, we couldn't revive anyone at all," Ephesos said.

"Actually, I know the spell graze dead but, well, it's not pretty," Slartucker said.

"Perhaps if we kept the summoning machine in the Moderator Board?" Schrodinger suggested.

"Honestly, what's wrong with making it with a few safety features and then putting it in the Tech Support Forum?" Arancaytar said.

"What if someone revived someone we wanted to keep dead? Like Zephyr, for instance?" Synergy asked.

"You have a point. One point," Arancaytar said.

"Why don't we design it and keep it in the Moderator Board for a while. Then, if it works well, we can move it to the Tech Support Forum," Schrodinger said.

"But what would happen when we revive someone? Wouldn't they end up in the Moderator Board?" Imban said.

"So, we'll set it up in the Tech Support Forum but only grant mods the ability to use it," Arancaytar said.

"Sounds good to me," Drakefyre said.

Stareye nodded in agreement. "Now, Randomizer, Zeviz, if you would tell us what happened last night."

By the time Zeviz and Randomizer finished their account and answered questions, Delicious Vlish was looking noticeably limp. "It's lunch time. We vlishes need our nutritional midday meal or we get cranky. And when we get cranky, we try to eat people's brains. Mmmm, brains."

Tyranicus was sitting next to Delicious Vlish. He scooted his chair away nervously.

"All right. We'll break for lunch. Meet back here in half an hour," Drakefyre said.

After lunch, Nalyd was questioned for a few hours. Finally, Stareye said, "You were not the instigator of this, so I won't ban you, but consider this your final warning. If you cause any more trouble, Drakefyre or I will ban you. Understand?"

Nalyd opened his mouth to complain, but Drakefyre cut him off. "He was being lenient, so don't start whining."

Nalyd just scowled. Drakefyre tossed Student of Trinity a key. "Here. Unshackle him and get him out of here."

As Student of Trinity dragged Nalyd off, Nioca laid his head against the table and closed his eyes. "I never knew being a mod was so boring."

"Now, now, it can't all be as exciting as the KKK," Saunders said.

"The what?!" Nioca sat up in shock.

Saunders held up the torn blanket she was mending. "The Krazy Kwilting Korner, of course."

"Oh. Okay. For I moment, I thought you meant... never mind." Nioca's head went back on the table.

"Next, I'd like to get everyone's opinion on what we should do to prevent a situation like Zephyr's out-of-control summoning from happening again. Do we need tighter controls on magic or not?" Stareye asked.

"Can't we just ban Zephyr for a month and be done with it? Ugh," Nioca said.

"No, because after the ban is over, he'll continue doing exactly what he's been doing," Zeviz said.

"Ban him forever then," Nioca muttered.

Ephesos sighed. "Maybe Nioca is right. We're doing a pretty good job preventing people we can't trust with magic from learning it in the first place--"

"--at the cost of people who can be trusted with magic but aren't allowed to--" Synergy muttered.

"--and aside from Zephyr, everyone who does know magic is responsible with it," Ephesos finished.

"I'm not yet willing to ban Zephyr permanently," Stareye said.

"Wait. Ephesos, Kel, could we strip his magic away through a script?" Arancaytar asked.

"We... we might be able to," Ephesos said, "I'd have to ask Lazarus and some other about it, but we probably--"

"I've done it before," Kelandon said, "Remember?"

"Oh. Oh yeah. But that was a scenario. I don't know if we could do it here on the board. That's what I meant. I know we can do it in a scenario."

"Doing something like that could prove to be more dangerous than any magical experiment," Slartucker said, "If Zephyr can have his magical powers stripped, then anyone could have their powers stripped--or else jacked up to unreasonable amounts."

"Yeah, but it takes a long time to learn. The average noob doesn't have the intelligence or patience," Arancaytar said, "They can't even spell properly."

"Becoming a mage or priest takes a long time to learn too," Zeviz said.

"But learning one or two powerful spells doesn't take much effort. Look at Goldenking," Arancaytar said.

"It doesn't take much effort for someone to learn enough to give them one or two powerful abilities either," Zeviz retorted.

"Like what?"

"Like creating a powerful weapon for themselves like a... a..."

"Sword of +500 fluffiness. I've always wanted one."

"Yes, thank you Saunders."

"Five hundred fluffiness? That's absurd!" Tyranicus said.

Saunders shrugged. "What can I say?"

"My point here is that scripting can be abused as easily as magic," Zeviz said.

"But it's not. We've really had to provide information and push for scenarios to be released," Kelandon said.

"Maybe it's because they aren't interested in scenarios. All those requests for trainers and questions about making trainers in the Geneforge 4 Forum makes my vlishy head hurt."

"What's the matter, Zeviz? I thought you wanted to prevent people like Zephyr from abusing magic," said Arancaytar.

"I do. But I don't want to trade one broken system for another."

"It's not really broken," Ephesos said, "It's just Zephyr. If we could quietly deal with him, everything would calm down again."

"But once word of that gets out, a lot more people will take an interest in scripting," Zeviz said, "No matter how quietly you do it, sooner or later people will figure it out."

"Guys, if this discussion goes on much longer, UBB will try to eat it," Nioca muttered.

Ephesos leaned over and pulled him upright. "Maybe you could try helping out. You are a spellcaster and scripter, after all."

"Oh, well, why don't we just do what you suggested and then make it impossible for people to learn scripting?"

"Are you nuts? You want to make it more difficult for people to make scenarios?"

Nioca put his head on the table and closed his eyes again. "You can't ask for my opinion and then attack me for it."

"Er... right. Sorry. Sort of," Ephesos said.

"Would it be possible to keep the more dangerous forms of scripting--like editors--out of people's hands without making it more difficult to create scenarios?" Schrodinger asked.

There were several minutes of silence before Ephesos ventured, "I don't know."

Drakefyre yawned. "Really makes me wish for the days of BoE."

"No. We are not getting into that again," Ephesos said.

"Indeed. Fluffy kittens are all too rare today," Saunders said.

"So do we have any consensus here?" Stareye asked.

Two or three people started to speak but Stareye quickly cut them off. "I'll take that as a no."

"So now what?" Tyranicus asked.

"I'll talk to Lazarus and Niemand about the magic-stripping idea to see what they think of it. Maybe I'll even ask TM," Ephesos said.

"Hasn't Nikki done something like that in one of his scenarios?" Nioca asked.

"Yeah, but Nikki is about as stable as..." Ephesos paused, unable to come up with a proper analogy.

"...as Homeland on Vista!" Arancaytar said.

"How would you know?" Tyranicus asked.

"It's a logical conclusion."

"I'll make a poll asking the general populace some questions about magic and scripting. Perhaps we'll get some enlightening responses from it," Slartucker said.

"Zephyr will get a three week ban, so we have plenty of time to think about it," Drakefyre said, "Zeviz, if you'll summon some promethium, I'll handle reviving and banning him. The rest of you are clear to go."

Alorael looked at his watch and shook his head. "I told you it would take all day."

"Finally!" Nioca jumped up and sprinted for the door.

Chapter 5: Good-bye Forever

Chapter 5: Good-bye Forever Dikiyoba Sat, 09/22/2007 - 23:37
It was early evening. The nondescript man set a pair of binoculars down. "It looks like the Spiderwebbers who left this morning are returning and the Spiderwebbers who arrived this morning are leaving. The ones who visited a satellite forum I understand, but what are the others up to?"

"They probably have a life outside of Spiderweb," the bot said.

"They do? Really?"

"I assume so."

"Why?"

"You are joking, right?"

"No. But you can explain later." The man looked through the binoculars again. "A small group of Spiderwebbers just left Shadow Vale. I bet that's the last of them. Yep, the last lights just went out. I'll wait a few minutes to be sure and then go."

"Isn't it still a little early? Other places are still open, you know."

"That's true, but there's nothing suspicious about me as long as I'm alone, so it won't matter if I'm seen. And by the time I get back with the prototype bots and supplies, they will be closed. Wait! What's happening now?"

"What is it?" The bot joined the man at the window. They watched as Drakefyre hurled Zephyr Tempest into the moat and then slammed the door.

"What do you suppose that was all about?" the bot asked as Zephyr Tempest floundered to shore.

"I don't know." The man watched Zephyr Tempest intently. "He's made it to land. Now it looks like he's yelling something. Whoever is in the guardtower must have responded, because now he's running away. It must have been a nasty threat; look at him go!"

"Do we risk contacting him?"

"No. While he may be a fellow outcast, he may also still be loyal to Spiderweb. And we're too close to success to risk him messing everything up. Well, I've wasted enough time. Stay here; I'll be back in a few hours."

"Bye."

"Bye." The man checked to make sure the streets were clear and then stepped outside.

---

The GIFTR had spent a long, miserable day in the darkest corner of the Avernum 4 Forum. Despite Slartucker and Arancaytar's insistence that the board was safe again, none of them dared to venture too far from their nest. Grime Grubber was hit hardest by the death of Sewage Spotter. He sat in a corner, staring vacantly into space and ignoring everyone else.

Finally, Filth Finder said, "I bet it's late enough to be dark out. Everyone is ready to go, right?"

The other nymphs scurried about, but Grime Grubber didn't budge. Litter Locator pulled on his antenna. "Hey, aren't you ready? Dad says it's time to go."

"I don't care."

"But..."

"I said, I don't care."

"Okay, fine. Be that way, Grump Grubber."

"What do you mean, 'I don't care'?" Filth Finder demanded.

"I mean, that I... that you... you're... you're silly!"

Litter Locator gasped. "You just called Dad silly! You aren't supposed to do that."

"Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious," Grime Grubber retorted.

"Why, I--" Filth Finder began.

"No, I'll handle this," Garbage Gatherer said quickly, "Just give us some time alone."

"Fine. We'll wait for you in the Tech Support Forum. Follow me, nymphs," Filth Finder said.

Garbage Gatherer waited until they were gone and then asked, "Now, what's the problem, Grime?"

"I... I don't want to leave without... without Sew... without... I want Sewage Spotter back!"

"I know you miss her, but--"

"I want her back!" Grime Grubber repeated.

"She's dead. We can't bring her back," Garbage Gatherer said gently.

"Yes we can! The humans revive each other all the time. And they revived you!"

"Yes, but I was lucky to be revived. Remember the rest of your brothers and sisters? The humans couldn't revive them."

"I know, but why can't they revive Sewage the way they revived you?"

"Because they can't. Didn't you hear them talking? They're out of potions. No potions, no resurrection."

"Don't they have some other method? I mean, what will they do if they're out of potions?"

"They do, but Sewage doesn't have an element, so they can't revive her that way either."

"So the humans should give her one! It's their fault she's dead, so they ought to do whatever it takes to revive her!"

"I'm not entirely sure it would even be possible to revive someone with an element given after their death."

"But we should still try it! And if it doesn't work, then we should wait until they have more potions and revive her then!"

"No. Listen. Dying is not a pleasant experience. The humans may be used to dying and being revived, but I wasn't. And Sewage Spotter isn't either. The humans believe the someone will revive them out of any mishap, that death is never permanent, but I don't believe it. I think it's making them careless, and that will catch up to them someday."

"But..."

"Sewage Spotter is dead and there is nothing you can do to bring her back. Don't drive yourself mad trying."

Grime Grubber's antennae drooped low in defeat. "But I... I miss her."

"I know, I know. I... I miss her too."

They stood in silence for a while. Finally, Grime Grubber said, "I... I'm ready."

"All right." Garbage Gatherer and Grime Grubber walked to the Tech Support Forum. Along the way, they passed Sewage Spotter's grave. Grime Grubber paused to whisper a good-bye in an even higher-pitched voice than usual.

"Well?" Filth Finder asked when he saw them.

"We're ready," Garbage Gatherer said.

Schrodinger looked up from the remains of the summoning machine he was trying to sort out. "Good luck, wherever you end up."

"Yeah. Good luck." Dikiyoba was powdering a mixture of herbs that would eventually become part of a new batch of Balms of Life.

Filth Finder hesitated a moment before managing to say, "Thanks."

The GIFTR stepped into the General Forum and made their way towards the door. Many Spiderwebbers offered good-byes.

"Good luck!"

"Chrrrk!"

"Where will you go?"

"Watch out for spambots and noobs!"

"No, you don't get your sanity back."

"May the almighty chicken gods smile upon you."

"Thralni, I thought you weren't doing the chicken stuff anymore."

"Yeah, well, just this once can't hurt."

"I suppose not. Bye!"

"Nalyd couldn't care less. Ow! Who hit him?"

Student of Trinity quickly hid his sling behind his back. "Have fun!"

"Good bye! Even though I don't actually know who you are."

"What? How can you not know who the GIFTR are? Bye!"

"See you later; no one can stay away from Spiderweb forever!"

"Good bye!"

"And don't come back!" The moment they were out the door, Randomizer slammed the door shut.

Filth Finder looked back and shook his head. "We never did get a chance to spit in his food, did we?"

---

The bot flitted around the abandoned forum anxiously. It had been several hours since the man had left. Surely he had to return soon? Then it heard voices. High-pitched, chirpy voices. It flew to the window and peered out. It blinked several times, not entirely sure whether what it was seeing was real. Was there really a family of giant cockroaches examining Shadow Vale?

"Hey, Mom, Dad, can we settle here? It even has 'shadow' in the name," a nymph named Muck Master asked.

"No, I don't think so," Filth Finder said, "It's a satellite board of Spiderweb. Ah! Now how about this place?" He scurried over towards the abandoned board.

"I don't like it," Litter Locator said, "It's creepy, somehow."

"It's probably just because you are used to people while this place is empty. Come on, let's take a look around inside." Filth Finder opened the door and stepped inside.

Immediately, the bot swooped down on him. "Are you out of your mind? What are you doing here? Get out! Get out!"

"Er, what?"

"Get out of here! He could be back at any time!"

At that very moment, the nondescript man was returning with half a dozen prototype bots. Each one was carrying a box full of tools, metal, wires, and the other supplies necessary to make more bots. The man squinted against the darkness. "What is that in front of our board?"

The prototypes had excellent night vision. "They look like giant cockroaches, Master."

"Giant cockroaches? Are you sure?"

"Yes, Master."

"Very well. We can deal with them." The man pulled out a black robe and put it on, concealing his identity completely. He used his best evil voice to continue, "Put down your boxes and sneak up on them. Try to surround them, but don't attack just yet."

The little bot attempted to push Filth Finder out the door. "Come on, get out of here!"

"All right, we're going," Filth Finder said, "Honestly, I--"

"Actually, I think I'd like you to stay for a moment."

Filth Finder whirled around and saw a man in long black robes, his hood pulled low over his face. Six large, heavily-armored bots stood in a semi-circle behind him, swords drawn. Filth Finder swallowed hard. "O... okay."

"Why are you trespassing on my property?"

"W... we're sorry. We didn't r... realize that it belonged to y... you. We thought it w... was abandoned. We'll just be g... going n... now," Filth Finder stammered.

"Can we go back to Spiderweb now? I don't like it out here," said Litter Locator.

"You're from Spiderweb?" The man's voice was as cold as ice.

"Yes. I m... mean, we were. We've l... left it," Filth Finder said.

"And you're not planning to go back? Ever?"

"N... no."

"A wise decision. Now get out of here. Bots, make way."

The prototypes sheathed their swords and stepped aside. Filth Finder, Garbage Gatherer, and the nymphs nervously passed by them. The man waited until they were gone before giving his next orders. "Get the boxes and get inside this forum. Hurry!"

While the prototypes went to collect the boxes, the man glared at the little bot. "What were they doing here?"

"I don't know. They just showed up. I was trying to get them away when you returned."

"Hmm. You should have invited them in."

"What?! Why?"

"So we could have killed them without any risk of them escaping or someone spotting us."

"But... but most of them were children!"

"So? Do you have a point here?"

"A point?! You can't kill children!"

"Nonsense! We have to kill them, otherwise they'll alert others to our presence or, worse, grow up wanting revenge against us. As it is, we now have a family of giant talking cockroaches who could mess up all our plans."

"But... but..." the small bot sputtered.

"The prototypes are back. Get inside and stop complaining."

The little bot sullenly complied.

---

The GIFTR were taking a short break in an alleyway.

"What do you suppose that man was up to with all those bots?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Does it matter?" Filth Finder asked, "He was probably just some hermit."

"Just some hermit with well-armed bots? I don't think so," Grime Grubber said.

"What do you think, then?" Muck Master asked.

"I think that he's planning something against Spiderweb. I mean, didn't you see how he reacted when he heard we were from Spiderweb?"

"That's ridiculous," Filth Finder said.

"We should go warn the people in Spiderweb just in case," Grime Grubber said.

"You want us to walk all the way back to warn them about something that probably isn't a problem?" Filth Finder asked.

"Nooo! I'm too tired to walk that far," said a nymph named Dreck Disperser.

"It would only take one or two of us," Grime Grubber said, "I could go, easily."

"There's absolutely no reason to go back," Filth Finder said.

"But what if he really is planning something and the Spiderwebbers aren't aware of it? People could get hurt or killed because of it."

"But... oh, you're right. You and I will go back," Filth Finder said, "But I don't want to hear one complaint about how tired you are, understand?"

Chapter 6: No News Is Bad News

Chapter 6: No News Is Bad News Dikiyoba Sat, 10/06/2007 - 01:29
In the General Forum, Slartuckers's poll was slowly accruing votes, but the main topic of the conversation was the GIFTR's departure.

"I give it a week before they come back," Actaeon said.

"No, I think they'll last at least two weeks," Thralni said.

"Meh. I bet they'll be back here within three days," Dintiradan said.

"Tomorrow!" said Salmon.

"But what if they don't come back? What will we replace them with?" Nioca asked.

"Pink monkeys with an unusual fondness for walnuts!" Archmage Alex said.

"Ooh! And anthropomorphic fish sticks too!" Shard of Fire said.

"I could invite some demon muffins over to--"

"No!" Tyranicus cut Iffy off.

"Do we even need to replace them? Isn't Spiderweb crazy enough without giant slugs or whatever?" Rakshasi asked.

"We need to find something so that the GIFTS don't move back in," Arancaytar.

"You wouldn't need to be so afraid of spiders if you had someone to protect you. Someone like... me," Nikki said.

"I'm going to ignore that comment."

"Come on, you know you want me."

"Seriously, Nikki, knock it off. You're creeping me out."

"Well, you're--"

"--I'm a mod, and I--"

"--yeah, I know you're a mod. But then, you do have to start somewhere--not everyone can automatically be as cool as me."

"Okay, I've had enough of this. Nicothodes, Nikki just called you cute. Stab him."

"He did? Again?" Nicothodes drew her mechanical pencil.

"Um. Bye." Nikki ran off.

"Get back here! No cookies for you!"

Randomizer sat in a corner, staring intently into the scrying pool. No matter what he attempted to look at or how hard he tried, the pool of water showed him nothing but his reflection.

Zeviz joined him. "What are you looking at? Zephyr?"

Randomizer didn't look up. "I'm trying to, but I'm not having much luck. I guess he's, er, out of range or something."

"Do you want any help?"

"Not really. I mean, if you really wanted to... no."

"Okay then." Zeviz walked away.

"You're not cute! You're not--out of the way!" Nikki narrowly avoided Zeviz and tripped over a chair instead.

Nioca cast a shield spell on Nikki. Nicothodes' pencil bounced off his back harmlessly, and Nioca helped him up.

"I hope you've learned a lesson!" Nicothodes said.

"I sure have," Nikki said sarcastically.

"Good." Nicothodes put her pencil away and walked off.

"You know flirting with Aran like that isn't going to make him like you more, right?" Nioca asked.

"Of course I do! Sheesh, Nioca. What makes you think flirting has anything to do with making the other person like you?" Nikki strode off.

Synergy casually approached Drakefyre. "So, what do you think of maybe letting me learn some spells. Just a few basic ones. Haste, bless, and some mental magic--"

"Don't you already know a bunch of mental magic stuff?" Salmon asked.

"What do you mean?"

"All that debating stuff between you and Stillness; it boggles the mind! Well, my mind, at least."

"Correction, Drakefyre. I'd like to learn haste, bless, some mental magic, and an offensive spell powerful enough to turn a certain someone into cinders."

Ephesos, Lazarus, and Niemand sat at a table, ignoring the chaos surrounding them. Niemand had several pages of notes in front of him, and he scribbled down new ideas constantly. "Maybe if we... no, that won't work. But if we... yes, and then we could... of course, it's probably easier if we..."

"You've lost me again," Lazarus said.

"Well, I'm envisioning a chair for this. People sit in it and the options pop up. That's the easy part. Designing the options and preventing people from abusing it will be the hard parts, I'm afraid. That's what I'm trying to figure out right now."

"That sounds like a good idea," Lazarus said.

"I didn't realize we were making something so... permanent. I thought we were just making something to prevent Zephyr from casting any more spells," Ephesos said.

"Oh. Yeah. I guess I got a little carried away." Niemand pulled out a clean piece of paper and started afresh.

"While you work, I'm going to go speak with TM, okay?" Ephesos stood up.

"Hang on, I'm coming too," Lazarus said.

---

The nondescript man and small bot watched the six prototype bots sort through the supplies.

"I'm pleased with their design. What do you think?" the man asked.

"Hard to say. I haven't seen them fight, or how they respond under pressure, or what weaknesses people will find in them, or--"

"All right, I get it. Unfortunately, we only get one shot at this, so unless we notice something drastically wrong with them in the next few days, we'll just go with what we've got. I tested them pretty extensively already, so with a bit of luck, they should work perfectly."

"But how will you make your army?"

"These bots will get a workshop set up and then build new bots. I'll probably have to watch over them until they get it right, though."

"That's pretty dangerous. A whole army of bots that can easily produce more bots? What if they turn against you?"

"Oh no, just these six bots will be able to build and repair other bots. The rest won't. And I'll have to program the final bits myself."

"Hmm. That sounds much better. But where will you get all your supplies? It must take a lot of metal to make all that armor."

"Don't worry. I have a plan to deal with that, just you wait." The man glanced out the window. "Hey, what's that out there? Dang! A couple of those cockroaches are trying to sneak past us. Bots, kill them and bring their bodies back."

The prototypes stopped sorting, drew their swords, and charged out the door.

"Well, we'll see how they do in unsupervised combat, I guess. They seem aggressive enough, but you might want to teach them something about subtlety," the bot said.

---

Once he thought they were safely away from the abandoned forum, Filth Finder paused to look back. "It seems we managed to sneak by safely."

Grime Grubber watched the door open and the bots jump out. "Or not."

"Oh no. Run! Head for Spiderweb!" Filth Finder scurried as fast as he could.

"Help! Help!" Grime Grubber yelled.

Ephesos and Lazarus heard the high-pitched shout.

"They managed to get in trouble already?" Lazarus asked.

"It doesn't matter. Come on!" Ephesos ran towards the commotion.

The prototypes were closing the distance quickly when the GIFTR and Spiderwebbers met.

"Killer bots! Abandoned forum! Right behind us!" Filth Finder shouted breathlessly.

Lazarus drew twin broadswords. "How many?"

Grime Grubber hid behind Ephesos. "Six. And they're armed. We came back to warn you about them."

"Only six? Well, the four of us can take them down easily," Lazarus said, "At least, I hope so, because they're too close to run from."

The prototype bots were close enough to be seen clearly now. Ephesos cast divine retribution at the first two. The spell ricocheted off their metal breastplates and fizzled out.

"Er, the four of us might be able to defeat all six of them. Do you think they're immune to magical damage?" Lazarus asked.

"No. I think they just have very good armor." Ephesos cast the spell again, this time aiming for a bot's relatively unprotected neck. The bot stumbled and fell.

Lazarus parried a blow from one bot and struck at another. The sword hit armor and bounced off.

Filth Finder whispered to Grime Grubber, "Now, while they're distracted, we run and we don't stop running until we're past the abandoned forum. We're no good at fighting and I am not going to be be killed by those things."

"Dad!" Grime Grubber said loudly.

Lazarus and Ephesos were too busy fighting to hear him.

"Ha!" Lazarus managed to dispatch another bot by stabbing it in the side.

"Shh! We warned them, which is what we came to do. Now we need to go. I'm not going to let one of us be killed by those bots and I'm not going to make Mom and your siblings risk their lives to come look for us. Follow me. Now," Filth Finder said.

"Uh... coming." Grime Grubber crept to the edge of the battle but didn't follow his father down the street.

Three of the bots focused their attention on Lazarus. The fourth one was moving around too much for Ephesos to aim.

"A little help here!" Lazarus said, "Ow!"

"I'm trying!" Ephesos dodged the fourth bot's next attack and cast a healing spell on Lazarus.

Grime Grubber hurled himself at one of the bots harrying Lazarus. It crashed to the ground. "If... if I die here, then... then do whatever it takes to revive me. Please?"

"Um, okay." Lazarus managed to slice off an arm. The bot paused to reclaim its sword and kept fighting. "You've got to be kidding me!"

The fallen bot picked Grime Grubber up and hurled him at Ephesos. They both fell. Grime Grubber scrambled up in time, but Ephesos wasn't as quick. A bot stabbed him through the chest. The crickets crawled out of his pocket. When Ephesos didn't respond to them chirping in his ear or pulling at his hair, they slunk away.

Grime Grubber grabbed a fallen sword and wielded it as best he could. The bots ignored him, though, and concentrated on Lazarus.

"Don't just stand there, run and tell the other Spiderwebbers!" Lazarus killed the one-armed bot.

Grime Grubber started to run off, but one of the bots left off attacking Lazarus to chase after him.

Lazarus fought desperately, but he was getting tired and unable to hold off two bots at once for long. Eventually, one of the swords buried itself in his side. He collapsed. The bots stabbed him again to make sure he was dead.

Grime Grubber was in sight of Spiderweb by the time the bot caught up to him. "Alorael! Alorael! Help me!"

But Alorael was already asleep. The bot kicked out, sending Grime Grubber to the ground.

"No, please don't. Please--ahhhhhh!"

---

Filth Finder was well away from the battle scene before he realized something was amiss. "Keep up, Grime." He looked around. "Grime? Grime Grubber? Where are you? Grime!"

Chapter 7: One Step Forward, One Step Back

Chapter 7: One Step Forward, One Step Back Dikiyoba Thu, 10/11/2007 - 03:46
The nondescript man was startled when the three surviving prototypes walked in, carrying the bodies of Lazarus, Ephesos, and Grime Grubber. "What happened?!"

"The two cockroaches met with these two Spiderwebbers. We had to kill them, Master."

"But where are the rest of you? And what happened to the other cockroach?"

"They were destroyed, Master."

"It escaped. But it ran away from Spiderweb, Master."

The man sighed. "Leave the bodies here. Go get the other bots and clean up the area so no one can tell that a fight took place there. Then finish setting up the workshop and repair the other bots. Got that?"

"Yes, Master."

After the prototypes left, the man searched Lazarus and Ephesos' bodies for valuable items. "So, what do you think of the bots now?"

"Well, I am impressed," the small bot said, "But it did take six bots to kill three Spiderwebbers, and half of them were killed in the process. I'll take a look to see how the bots were killed, but I think they need better armor."

"It's already plenty thick."

"I know, but it leaves several joints exposed."

"I can't help that--they've got to be able to move around!"

"We could probably work out a way to protect those areas and still give them sufficient mobility."

"Well, I don't actually know much about armor, so if you can come up with a better design that can be made relatively quickly and easily, I'll use it." The man set Ephesos' boots, a healing potion, a dagger, and Lazarus' swords aside. Then he dragged the bodies over to the corner with the dead noobs. "Hmm. It would be pretty demoralizing to see fellow Spiderwebbers revived as zombies, wouldn't it?"

"Uh... yes. But don't you think that getting your army of bots together is a little more important? How are you going to get enough metal and other parts to make all of them?"

"Oh yes. Watch." The man opened the door, checked to make sure no one was around, and yelled, "I'm in need of some cheap pharmaceuticals, great real estate deals, and pirated copies of obscure software. Oh, and porn! Lots of it! There. That should attract every spambot in the area here within an hour." The man drew his dagger and buried it in the chest of the first spambot to step inside. "The well-built bots we can reprogram and use in the army. The rest we'll take apart to use for armor and repairs. Sound good?"

"I think so."

The man dispatched another two spambots. "So remember when you mentioned something about Spiderwebbers having a life outside of Spiderweb?"

"Yeah? What about it?"

"Could you explain that to me?"

"Well, people--er, most people, anyway--tend to have more than one thing in their life. They have friends, family, work, school, hobbies, more hobbies, all that sort of stuff."

"Really? Bizarre. People could be so much more effective if they just focused on one or two things. How do you think I got so good at fighting and programming?"

"I don't think most people would be happy functioning like that."

Just then, the prototypes returned. The man examined the damaged ones carefully. "I designed these bots to be easily repairable, so hopefully... dang! What happened to this one? Everything's charred and melted."

"It looks like it got hit by a magic spell," the bot suggested.

"I wonder how many spellcasters they have, then. Here, you three. To show your victory, one of you gets these boots and the other two gets one of these swords."

"What are you going to do now?" the small bot asked.

The man sighed. "I don't know. Right now, I need a lot of things. I need more information about Spiderweb and its members than I have. I need to make sure no one gets too worried when they realize these two Spiderwebbers are missing. I need to deal with all these spambots coming in." The man paused to kill another one. "I need to make sure these bots can build an army for me. And I need sleep. Yes, sleep sounds good. Here, you!" He pointed to one of the prototypes. "You kill the spambots when they come in. You two keep repairing the other bots. I'll give you new orders in the morning." The man folded his black robe into a pillow, laid down, closed his eyes, and was asleep within moments.

No one noticed that over in the corner, Lazarus' injuries were slowly healing.

---

Very, very carefully, Filth Finder crept past the abandoned forum. Once he was clear, he began calling for his son. "Grime? Grime Grubber? Can you hear me?"

The crickets stopped him. One of them hopped forward. "Chrrk!"

"Hello, crickets. Have you seen Grime Grubber recently?"

"Chrrk!"

"What do you mean you won't help?"

"Chrrrk!"

"All right, so I ran. But what could I do? I can't fight those bots."

"Chrrrk!"

"Well, I... I didn't realize. I mean, humans have weapons and can use magic. And they seemed so confident. I... I thought they'd be okay."

"Chrrrk!"

"So... so where is... where is Grime?"

"Chrrk."

"What?! That's... how... how did it happen?"

"Chrrk."

"...you're sure?"

"Chrrk."

Filth Finder stared mutely at the ground for several minutes.

"Chrrk!"

"What? No! I'm not taking you back to Spiderweb!"

"Chrrrk!"

"No, actually, I don't. Grime Grubber thought that and look what it did for him."

"Chrrrk!"

"You're right. I'm no slave to Spiderweb like you are. I try to do what's best for my family, but aside from that, I'm free." Filth Finder walked away from the crickets.

"Chrrk!"

"I don't care. Hop along now!"

The crickets chirruped quietly among themselves for a moment then started hopping towards Spiderweb. It would take them the rest of the night to travel that far, but they were determined to bring Ephesos back.

---

Back at the Spiderweb Software Message Board, everyone was asleep but Niemand. He was reviewing some of his notes by the light of a single candle. He yawned widely.

The pencil fell out of Niemand's hand and rolled off the table as he finally dozed off. The pencil continued rolling across the floor and onto Dintiradan's sleeping pad. When Dintiradan rolled over, it jabbed into his side.

Dintiradan awoke with a start and flung the offending pencil away from him. Then he noticed the flickering candle. He approached Niemand, carefully eased the notes out from underneath his head, and scanned over them. "This is... brilliant! Diabolical! I wish I could engage in maniacal laughter, because this gives me an idea!"

He replaced the papers and shook the Lurker awake. "Hey."

"What is it?"

"We have to go to the Blades of Avernum Forum."

"Now? Can't it wait for morning?"

"No. We must work at night and act normal during the day."

The Lurker yawned. "How can we act normally if we're going to be incredibly tired all the time?"

"Bah! We won't be up all night long, just a few hours. And if anyone gets suspicious, we'll just say it's finals week and you're helping me study."

"Okay, okay, fine. I'll help you. But not tonight. Tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow night, then!"

---

It was almost dawn when Lazarus stirred. He opened his eyes and looked around. Three of the bots that had attacked him were taking spambots apart. A fourth bot was repairing the fifth. And the sixth bot stood guard by the door. The nondescript man was asleep in the corner, and the small bot hovered between him and the window nervously. It was impossible to escape at the moment.

Lazarus closed his eyes again. He could wait for a better opportunity. And if he waited until dawn, it would be a new day with a new opportunity to resurrect himself should he get killed.

Chapter 8: Ecksian

Chapter 8: Ecksian Dikiyoba Tue, 10/23/2007 - 22:20
Iffy was one of the first ones awake the next morning. He sat up. "I'm so tired of being made fun all the time. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. Well, I'll show them. From now on, I'll be good and strong and brave and smart and... and... good!"

Rakshasi picked up a can of spam that was lying on the ground and hurled it at Iffy's head. "Will you shut up? I'm trying to sleep."

Iffy winced as the can narrowly avoided his head and stood up. "I guess I'd better be quiet too," he whispered dramatically.

"I can still hear you," Rakshasi said through gritted teeth.

"Sorry," Iffy squeaked. He stepped into the kitchen, immediately setting off one of the Silent Assassin's traps. Four water balloons scored a direct hit on his head. "Ow! Hey! Wet!"

Lord Grimm handed Iffy a towel. "Here. The Silent Assassin hasn't gotten to it yet, so it should still be safe to dry yourself off with."

The Silent Assassin grabbed a few more water balloons and reset the trap. Synergy was also in the kitchen, muttering to himself while stirring a huge pot of mushroom porridge. "I can't believe it. The nerve of Drakefyre, with his 'I'm not entirely sure you can be trusted' speech. Just because I powergame and occasionally get into heated debates doesn't mean I don't have the best interests of other people at heart. There are still so many underutilized aspects of magic. If we only had the people to work on it, I bet we could make the glowing lichen thrive in the Avernum 4 Forum, or enable us to grow things in the Exile Trilogy Forum besides mushrooms, or..."

"Hey!" Randomizer walked right into the trap. Student of Trinity darted into the kitchen right behind him and banged a bowl on the counter. "Come on Synergy, fill it up."

"...has so much potential. Who knows the wonders that are lurking deep within each of us, waiting to be discovered and shaped and magnified? Magic could be the key to..." Synergy spooned some porridge into Student of Trinity's dish.

Student of Trinity devoured his breakfast. The Silent Assassin reset the trap and Randomizer finished drying himself off with the towel. "What's the rush, SoT?"

"Schrodinger and I think we managed to repair the old summoning machine. We're going to fire it up again soon."

"So it won't be long before we can resurrect people with it?" Randomizer asked.

"Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to see how it goes."

"Oh. Right." Randomizer looked downcast.

"What's the matter?"

"Oh, nothing. I'm... I'm just a little tired of being required to revive someone every five minutes, that's all."

Student of Trinity nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. It gets pretty crazy around here at times."

"Gah!" Four more water balloons hit Dintiradan and the Lurker as they entered. Randomizer tossed them the towel.

Student of Trinity set the empty bowl down. "Well, I've got to go." He left.

Synergy was still going strong "...I mean, Zephyr was just a fluke. The majority of people can be trusted with magic, especially once they realize..."

"Hmmm." Dintiradan glanced at Synergy thoughtfully.

"What is it?" the Lurker whispered.

"Synergy really wants to learn magic. We will need someone to test our stat-boosting script eventually. Don't say anything to him now, but perhaps we can clue him in later."

"Are you sure you can trust him?"

"I'm an evil overlord. I'm certain I can't trust him. That's why I warned you not to tell him anything."

"But if you can't trust him, then why would you want to involve him?"

"Do you want to test the stat-boosting script on yourself?"

"Well, no."

"Neither do I. So we need someone else. Synergy may be that someone, because if he wants to learn magic badly enough he'll be willing to break a few rules and take a few risks to get it."

"But what if the stat-boosting script works and then he decides to betray us?"

"Lurker, it's Synergy. Should he go mad with power or something, odds are he'll start monologuing, giving us plenty of time to whack him with Homeland."

"...much we still have to learn about it. How can we justify controlling magic so tightly when we barely comprehend what it can do? If..."

"All right, we get the point," Randomizer snapped.

---

The nondescript man woke up just before dawn feeling refreshed and optimistic. One of the bots stood guard at the entrance. The others were busy in the workshop. Lazarus still faked death in the corner. He was ready to act at any moment, though, and he had a metal pipe he had pulled out of the trash pile hidden beneath him.

"So, how are the bots progressing?" the man asked.

"Quite well," the small bot said, "The sixth bot is completely repaired and active again. Plus, we have three more bots waiting on your final inspection and activation."

"Good, good. I'll do that, and then I'll head out."

"Head out to where?"

"To Spiderweb. I told you last night that I needed more information about it. I can't keep going back to the archives, or I'll make that archive bot suspicious."

"But... but are you sure it's safe?"

"Of course it's safe. No one suspects anything and I don't look anything like I used to."

"But how will I get ahold of you if something happens?"

"I'll pretend I'm an administrator of a small message board just for me and a few friends. If you need anything, come to Spiderweb with some story about how my board is being attacked by spambots."

"Oh. Okay. But what should I call you?"

"Well, I certainly can't use my real name. So call me Ecksian."

"Huh?"

"Ecksian. You know, like the Xian Skull."

"Oh. I thought it was pronounced 'Zian'. Er, then am I EcksianBot?"

"Yes, you are. Now help me activate these new bots." The man walked towards the inactivated bots, passing close to Lazarus as he did so.

Lazarus realized that he couldn't escape with a bot constantly at the entrance. And the longer he waited, the greater the chance that someone would notice he was alive. He only had one option left. He couldn't bring down all the bots, but he could bring down Ecksian and EcksianBot. Without them, the remaining bots couldn't do much harm to Spiderweb.

Lazarus leapt up with the pipe in hand. Before the Ecksian could respond, Lazarus hit him over the head. He collapsed.

EcksianBot grabbed the pipe and attempted to pull it out of Lazarus' hands. "One bot, grab the healing potion. The rest of you, attack him! Protect your Master!"

Lazarus shook EcksianBot loose and swung. The pipe connected with EcksianBot, knocking it to the ground with a huge dent in its head. It twitched once and blacked out.

Lazarus threw himself to the ground to avoid a bot's sword. He grabbed the dagger from Ecksian's belt and rolled out of the way of another sword swing. Now he had five bots between him and Ecksian, and neither the dagger nor the pipe would be much use against them. Lazarus aimed carefully and threw the dagger. Then he ran for the door. One of the bots cut him down before he could take three steps.

The dagger missed Ecksian completely and clattered harmlessly on the ground. The sixth bot poured the healing potion down his throat. He awoke, furious and with a massive headache. "What the heck just happened?"

---

Randomizer sat on the kitchen counter. Zeviz walked in. Randomizer slid off the counter and approached him. "Can we talk?"

"Yes. About what?" Zeviz asked.

Randomizer looked around and saw a few people watching. "Actually, I'd like to talk privately. It's pretty important."

---

Filth Finder halted. The rest of his family was just around the corner. He took a deep breath. Then he took another. Then he walked on.

"Hey! Dad and Grime Grubber are back!" Muck Master said.

"Did you warn the Spiderwebbers? Are they going to beat those bad bots?" Litter Locator asked.

"Dad, what's wrong? Where's Grime Grubber?" asked a nymph named Compost Coveter.

"What happened?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

Filth Finder's voice shook badly. "We... were... ambushed. The bots must have... seen us coming. I told Grime to... to run... but he... he... didn't."

"Does that mean the bots will come after us?" Litter Locator's voice was unnaturally shrill.

"No," Filth Finder said, "The man... he just wants... Spiderweb."

Dreck Disperser huddled close to Garbage Gatherer. "What's going to happen to us? Are we going to die too?"

Garbage Gatherer stroked his antenna soothingly. "No. We're going to wait here until your father is ready to travel again, and then we're going to find somewhere safe to stay and live there."

"You promise?"

"Yes. I do."

---

The crickets had finally managed to make it back to Spiderweb. They chirruped until Jewels opened the door. She picked them up gently. "You poor things! You look exhausted. Where's Ephesos?"

One of the crickets started to chirp an explanation, but Jewels shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't understand you."

The cricket pointed at the Periodic Table hanging on the wall. Then it rolled onto its back with its legs folded.

"Are you saying Ephesos needs to be revived?"

The crickets all nodded.

Jewels looked around for Zeviz or Randomizer and sighed when she couldn't spot either one. "Where are the mages when you need them?"

---

Ecksian looked around the board carefully. He had just activated the three new fighting bots. Now two stood guard at the entrance. The third watched over Lazarus and the other bodies in the corner. They were all bound with rope. He didn't know how or why Lazarus had been alive, but he wasn't taking any chances. One of the repair bots was carefully repairing EcksianBot. The other five were making more fighting bots.

"Well, I guess that's that," he said to himself, "I'll be back tonight to see how things are going." He checked to make sure he had his dagger and stepped outside.

Chapter 9: Missing The Magic

Chapter 9: Missing The Magic Dikiyoba Tue, 11/06/2007 - 22:03
Ecksian halted a safe distance away from Spiderweb, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted at the guard tower, "Hey! You up there! I'd like to enter! Can I?"

"Maybe," Alorael called back.

"Maybe! What do you mean, maybe?!"

"It means, I might let you pass and I might not. It depends on how I feel."

"And how do you feel about letting me pass at this moment?"

"I think I can let you pass."

"And will you think that way until I get inside?"

"Probably!"

Ecksian scowled and then sprinted towards the message board. Alorael watched him with amusement but made no move to shoot.

Ecksian slowed to a walk to cross the bridge, as it was quite narrow. He glanced curiously into the moat. "After that, I wouldn't be surprised if they had some sort of monster in it." He opened the simple wooden door and stepped inside.

"Hi! Welcome to Spiderweb Software. Leave your sanity at the door!" Iffy said.

"Er, right." Ecksian pulled out his sanity and left it in the jar that sat by the front door. Then he sat at a table.

Dintiradan approached him. "You wouldn't happen to be a lurker, now would you?"

"I don't think so. I'm just waiting for an interesting conversation to start up," Ecksian said warily.

"That's what they all say." Dintiradan wandered off again.

"Attention, everyone. Last chance to vote in the poll. I'm going to calculate the votes in a few minutes," Slartucker said.

---

Zeviz and Randomizer entered the Avernum Trilogy forum. Randomizer was nervous.

"So, what is it?" Zeviz asked.

"Well, it's, er, you see, um... oh, just watch this." Randomizer held up a hand. A minute passed.

"I, uh, don't see anything happening."

"Exactly! I'm trying to cast a light spell, but for some reason I can't."

"Ah. Can you cast other spells?"

"Not that I know of. I tried scrying last night; nothing. I tried to summon several different elements; not a single atom. I can't even cast spray acid!"

Zeviz flinched as Randomizer pointed at him. A few white flakes fell from Randomizer's hand to the ground.

"That looks like baking soda," Zeviz said.

"Yeah, well, that's better than the last three times I tried it, I guess."

"But Randomizer, baking soda is a base."

---

Dikiyoba filled a small pot with water and set it over the fire. Then Dikiyoba poured in a flask of green liquid and added a pinch of mandrake.

Tyranicus entered and tapped Dikiyoba on the shoulder. "Do you know if--"

"Not now! Dikiyoba is busy!"

"Yes, but..."

Dikiyoba added another pinch of mandrake and stirred it in. "There is a risk of this potion exploding if it isn't made properly. Dikiyoba would rather not be distracted. Especially not by someone accident-prone."

The potion began to boil. Tyranicus backed off quickly.

On the other side of the forum, Schrodinger, Student of Trinity, and Arancaytar checked over the summoning machine one more time.

"See anything wrong with it?" Arancaytar asked.

"Nope. It looks good to me." Schrodinger wiped grease off his hands with a towel.

Student of Trinity hit the power button. The machine hummed to life. "No problems yet. Now all we need is something to summon."

"We really ought to keep a stockpile of manganese around for Tyranicus," Arancaytar said.

"Oh, haha." Tyranicus said, "One of these days..."

Dikiyoba pulled the pot off the fire. "Now, what did you want?"

"Do you know anything about crafting magical items?"

"Not much. Why?"

"Well, I'd like to make a luck charm. I'm so tired of getting killed all the time."

Jewels burst into the forum with a copy of the periodic table in hand. "Do you have that summoning machine ready yet? Ephesos needs to be revived and I can't find the mages!"

"As a matter of fact, we were just deciding what to summon. Ephesos has copper, right?" Student of Trinity asked.

Jewels nodded.

Student of Trinity took the periodic table and slipped it into the summoning machine. He hit a few buttons. The machine hummed louder and then ground to a halt, spewing smoke.

"Drat." Student of Trinity waved smoke away from his face.

"Guess I'd better keep looking for the mages, then," Jewels said.

---

"This happened right after we dealt with Zephyr. Do you think there could be some connection?" Randomizer asked.

"Maybe, but I don't see what," Zeviz said.

"What about your antimagic spell? Can that affect magicians in the long term?"

"No, I've never heard of such a thing. Although I don't know much about antimagic or mages losing their powers."

"I guess we have to do some research, then. There are some books in the Mod Board, but not many."

"You can look there. But it's probably something pretty obscure, so I'll go try Google." Zeviz started to go, but Randomizer stopped him.

"Wait. It's a lot faster to take the secret exit."

"We have a secret exit?"

"Yeah. The admins installed it after they took out the SubTerra and RWG forums. It's supposed to be an emergency exit in case we ever get trapped somehow. The admins probably wouldn't be too happy, but I don't think it matters who uses it." Randomizer led Zeviz around a small hill and halted between a gnarled cave tree and a mossy boulder. He pushed a knothole and a trapdoor slid open at the base of the boulder.

"But if people can get out this way, don't you think people could slip in this way too? That's probably why Stareye and Drakey don't want us to..."

"No, it's one-way only. This tunnel leads under the moat and comes up at another trapdoor nearby. But that trapdoor can't be opened from the outside, so you'll have to come back through the main door."

"Neat. Thanks." Zeviz climbed down the ladder into the secret tunnel.

---

Many people crowded around as Slartucker pulled the lid off the ballot box. Imban stood beside him, ready to take notes.

"What's this all about?" Ecksian asked.

"One of the mages recently got banned. It caused a bit of debate over how much magic is acceptable or not. Slartucker's poll is meant to gauge public opinion," Stew Boy said.

"Fascinating," Ecksian said. He watched Slartucker intently.

"As a reminder, the first question I asked was 'What do you think about magic here at Spiderweb?' The second was the same, but with scripting instead of magic. So..." Slartucker pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it. "We have one 'We have exactly the right amount of magic' and one 'We need more scripting and fewer regulations'."

Imban wrote the votes down.

"Next..." Slartucker read another piece of paper. "We have one 'Magic should be banned completely' and one 'Everyone should do as much scripting as they want'. We also have one 'Everyone should do as much magic as they want' and one 'We have exactly the right amount of scripting'. There's also a note here that reads 'I want my magic now, Drakey.'"

"Heh. That was Synergy!" Marlenny said, "Wasn't it?"

"It might have been." Synergy shrugged.

"And next, we have... oh, for the love of the Nine-Headed Cave Cow! 'Nicothodes should totally beat Dikiyoba.' This is a poll about magic and scripting, not a poll about the deathmatch!"

Nikki had his arms folded across his chest. "Well, it should be."

Slartucker shook his head. "One 'We need more magic and fewer regulations' and another 'We need more scripting and fewer regulations'. And then we have..."

---

Jewels bumped into Randomizer in the Nethergate Forum. "There you are! I've been looking all over! Ephesos got killed somehow, and since the summoning machine isn't working, you need to revive him!"

"Well, I'd love to, but... but... I can't," Randomizer said.

"Why not?"

"I just can't."

"Well, then, where's Zeviz?"

"He, uh, left for the day. You'll have to wait until he gets back."

"Oh, this is ridiculous," Jewels said.

---

EcksianBot hovered nervously around the abandoned forum, completely repaired but a good deal more anxious. It could have sworn that it had seen Lazarus twitch once or twice. But he was safely tied up and one of the fighting bots stood over him. The six repair bots were busy making more fighting bots. Another five fighting bots were ready to be activated when Ecksian got back. The other two fighting bots stood guard at the door and window. One of them called EcksianBot over. "Master, look. A Spiderwebber is passing. See?"

EcksianBot watched Zeviz pass. "Yes, I see him."

"Can we attack, Master?"

"No," EcksianBot said firmly.

But someone else was watching Zeviz. Zephyr Tempest crouched on a rooftop. When Zeviz had passed, he stood up and began to draw a pentagram. "I knew he'd leave Spiderweb eventually."

Chapter 10: Slartanalysis

Chapter 10: Slartanalysis Dikiyoba Sun, 12/02/2007 - 09:15
Student of Trinity, Arancaytar, and Schrodinger stood around the broken summoning machine.

"Well, I'm out of ideas for now. I don't know what went wrong or how to fix it. Maybe a break will enable us to look at this with fresh eyes," Schrodinger said.

"Sounds good to me," Student of Trinity said, "Let's go see what the others are up to."

Arancaytar waited until they left. "I know this isn't supposed to work, but maybe..." He kicked the machine. A few sparks shot out at his head and the last display went dark. "Oh." He ran to catch up with Schrodinger and Student of Trinity.

"...and another vote for 'We need less magic and more regulations' and 'We have exactly the right amount of scripting'. There's also a comment here. 'Nalyd thinks we should ban all magic but priest spells and necromancy,'" Slartucker said.

"Better not let Ephesos hear you say that," Nioca said, "Say, where is Ephesos?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen him or Lazarus all day," Niemand said. "It makes it kind of hard to work on the project," he added beneath his breath.

"Right, so that's all the votes. Imban, if I could have the total, please." Slartucker took the notes Imban handed over. "Thanks. I should have the slartanalysis done shortly."

Everyone dispersed. Several newer members crowded around Ecksian.

"So, who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here?" Dryth'tor asked.

"Don't you just love Jeff's games? What's your favorite one?" Iffy asked.

"I don't suppose you happen to have anything valuable on you, do you?" the Mystic asked.

Ecksian took a deep breath and pasted a grin on his face. "Oh, just call me Ecksian. I just finished Geneforge 3. And no, I don't have anything valuable with me."

"Shame." The Mystic adjusted the straps on his heavy pack so it fit better and shuffled off.

"Hey, now, don't crowd him so. He needs to breathe now and then," Saunders said.

"Sorry." Dryth'tor bowed briefly and walked away.

Ecksian coughed nervously. "I do have a question about these games. Now that I'm finished with Geneforge 3, I was wondering what game I should play next."

"NETHERGATE!!!" Tyranicus yelled so loudly that everyone stared.

"It's, um, not a spell, you know," Nioca said.

"No, no, no," Drakefyre said, "Blades of Exile."

"But it's so old. Geneforge 4 is the logical choice, since it's next in the series," Dryth'tor said.

Ecksian zoned out while the Spiderwebbers discussed the merits of each game. Instead, he tried to guess their combat abilities. Spiderweb wasn't a particularly large community, but there were enough members to make conquering it a formidable challenge. Almost everyone was armed, too, if only with a dagger. Strangely, though, not too many people were wearing armor. Did that mean they weren't very good fighters but carried weapons just in case? Or were they so good offensively that they didn't need armor? Judging by the number of people with bows slung across their backs and whoever it was lurking in the guardtower, it was the second option.

"...but Blades of Avernum does let you do more stuff with its scripts." Niemand's words snapped Ecksian back into the conversation.

"Um, hello? Blades of Exile is open source," Drakefyre said, "You can do whatever you want with it now."

"But just a moment ago you were complaining that BoA is too complicated!" Niemand said, "How is messing with the source less complicated?"

Stareye caught Rakshasi pretending to vomit and cleared his throat. "Let's just say that both Blades games are excellent choices."

Ecksian nodded. "Right. I'll look into them."

"Don't forget that Avernum 5 is coming out in a few days," Delicious Vlish said.

"How many days, exactly?" Ecksian asked. This was an issue he hadn't been expecting. A new game release would bring in reinforcements. He could hold off on attack for a few months, until his bot army was absolutely gigantic and most of the new arrivals had gotten bored with the game and gone away again anyway. But with the luck he'd had so far, he seriously doubted he could remain undetected for that long. Or he could attack before Avernum 5 was released with a smaller bot army and risk having reinforcements arrive before the battle was won. Neither of them were great options, but they were both better than attacking right after the release of the game.

Or were they? There would be more people right after the release, yes, but many of them would be new. That would cause confusion and disorganization. And he would have to plan for the possibility that the Spiderwebbers would get outside help, but his army should be large enough to handle it by then. So, immediately after the release of Avernum 5 it was!

Student of Trinity shrugged. "Hard to say. Hey, Randomizer. Do you know how long before Jeff releases Avernum 5?"

Randomizer and Jewels had just entered. "Two or three days. I don't know anything more than that. Hey, shouldn't you be working on that summoning machine?"

"We need a break occasionally," Arancaytar said.

"Summoning machine?" Ecksian asked quietly.

"So we can revive the people who get killed easier," Saunders said.

Ecksian had been slouching in his chair. Now he jerked upright. "You can revive people?!"

---

A long distance from the message boards, Zeviz stopped at a suspicious noise. "Hello? Is anyone there?"

"I am," came from a shadowy alleyway, "Oh, shoot. You're a mage!"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

An imp stepped out of the shadows, arms folded across its chest. "Well, who do you think summoned me in the first place?"

Zeviz sighed. "Zephyr. Again."

"Yep. He's got an ambush of about a dozen imps just ahead."

"Wait a minute. Why are you telling me this?"

The imp spat on the ground scornfully. "Because I want to and he doesn't have enough control to stop me."

"If he can't control you, why can he control the other dozen imps?"

"He can't, really. It's just that attacking everyone in sight is a great way to get killed. And when we die, we just reappear in the netherworld. No more crazy mage attempting to order us around and no more infernally cold temperatures. It's a perfectly rational thing to do."

"Then why are you here?" Zeviz asked.

"Because, while it's rational, it doesn't work. Now mages--"

Zeviz glared at the imp.

"--er, a few of them, anyway, like to summon us to cause death and destruction. Zephyr is one of them. And as long as we keep inadvertently doing his bidding, he's going to keep summoning us. I mean, he summoned me just last night and here I am again. I can't convince the rest of the imps to stop their indiscriminate attacks, but I can kill Zephyr. That'll take care of the problem," the imp said.

"Er... oh, never mind."

"What?"

"Nothing. I, um, nothing. Nothing at all. So, I guess I should go a different way?"

"Or you could help me kill Zephyr?"

Zeviz shook his head. "I don't think so. Especially not against those odds."

"Well, fine. You're too much glass and too little cannon anyway." The imp melted back into the shadows.

---

Several people looked at Ecksian curiously.

"Sure," Saunders said, "Almost everyone here has been revived at least once."

Ecksian suddenly had a new reason Spiderwebbers didn't wear much armor and another huge wrench in his plans. "H... how?"

"Why do you want to know?" Nikki asked.

"Um, you see, I have a few friends I've lost. We, uh, belonged to a small, private message board. You know, the sort you create just to see what it's like. But then... then we were attacked by... by this... this thing." Ecksian flailed for a suitable story.

"Oh, the thing. Yeah, we know all about that," Nikki said.

"Funny, it didn't seem all that lethal when it was infecting us," Goldenking said.

"Oh, you have no idea," Tyranicus said.

"Anyway, we, um, were so disorganized that those of us who hadn't been, er, infected were driven out by adbots."

"Yes, poor spelling and aggressive advertising have been the bane of many message boards," Dryth'tor said.

"Add some lolcatz and porn and you've seen the entire Internet," Andraste said.

"So, uh, I was kind of wondering how you manage to revive people so I could possibly... possibly, um, bring my friends back," Ecksian said.

"Well, I don't know. When we die here, we just go to the Miscellaneous Forum. Then, if the body is relatively undamaged, we can have Ephesos cast return life to bring them back. Otherwise, we have the Periodic Table of Elements." Jewels proudly showed Ecksian her giant, laminated poster.

"And then what?" Ecksian asked.

"Well, we get some of that element and--"

"How? Some of those are rare and unstable elements."

"We get our mages to summon them. And then we give the elements to Zorro. No one is quite sure how it works, but combining the element with Galactic Core brings people back to life."

"Have you asked him?"

"Yes, several times. It's hard to get a straight answer out of him. Mostly, we just get stuff like, 'If you need to know, your implants will have told you three weeks ago by this time tomorrow.' or 'Beware, for forum number 6,432,766,349,448,872,395,334,773 lurches ever closer!'"

"Oh. Okay. Well, it's something to think about. Thanks."

"No problem." Jewels glared over her shoulder at Randomizer and said loudly, "I'd show you it in action, but someone isn't willing to pull their weight around here by reviving Ephesos. So you'll have to wait until tonight when Zeviz gets back."

"Well, no wonder I haven't seen Ephesos all day! Lazarus is probably dead too, then," Niemand said, "What happened?"

Jewels shrugged. "All I know is that the crickets are here without Ephesos."

"So, are they the only ones who can revive people?" Ecksian asked.

"At the moment? Yes. Well, maybe Slartucker too, but I'm not sure about that."

"Well, thanks again. I might be back later tonight, but now I really need to go. Nice meeting you all. Bye." Ecksian hurried outside and back towards the abandoned forum. "Don't panic," he muttered under his breath. "Just because they could easily revive the Spiderwebbers I've already killed and discover all my plans doesn't mean I should panic. The summoning machine is probably ages away from being ready to go and if that one mage is refusing to revive anyone now he's not likely to change his mind. So all I have to do is find the other mage and kill him. No problem."

Ecksian was so agitated he ran into Zeviz, coming the other direction.

Zeviz was brushing confetti off of his robe. "Stupid parade wasn't yesterday, it's today. I can't believe I have to go all the way back here to go around. Where is Alorael when you need him? Hey, watch it!"

"You watch it," Ecksian snapped, "Er, I mean, sorry about that. I was distracted." Once Ecksian recovered from his surprise, he could hardly believe his good luck.

---

Dikiyoba tested the temperature of the potion in the pot. It was cool enough. Dikiyoba poured the potion in three bottles and labeled each as Balm of Life. Then Dikiyoba joined the others in the General Forum.

Slartucker had his slartanalysis ready to go. "So, the results. 6% of the people who voted think magic should be banned completely, 9% want more regulations on magic, 54% are happy with things as they are, 18% want fewer restrictions on magic, and 12% want magic to be completely unrestricted."

"Darn right we do," Synergy said.

"Continuing on. 3% want scripting banned completely, 15% want more restrictions placed on scripting, 39% are content with the amount of regulations we have, 24% want fewer restrictions on scripting, and 21% want scripting to be completely unrestricted. So we do have a trend towards people wanting more magic. However, it's very slight. Most people seem to be content with things as they are. But we do have fairly significant support for fewer restrictions on scripting."

"Do you think we'll get it?" Niemand asked.

"Nalyd doesn't think so. He never thinks any good can come out of things like this."

"I wasn't asking you," Niemand snapped.

"Do we even have any restrictions on scripting?" Nikki asked.

"Sure. Mostly stuff like 'Don't create instant death nodes that anyone could walk into,'" Lenar said.

"So fewer restrictions means stuff like 'Only create instant death nodes for people like Iffy?' I can live with that," Nikki said.

Iffy was about to protest when he remembered his goal to become a hero. He slipped into the Tech Support Forum and grabbed the Balms of Life. "I'll show them. I'll revive Ephesos myself."

---

Zeviz took several steps away from Ecksian and watched him suspiciously. "Who are you? And distracted by what?"

"Oh, it's awful. Awful! I just registered because I was so excited about Avernum 5, and the beta testers completely spoiled Avernum 5 for me. They told me that the Xian Skull unleashes a plague of Rentar-Ihrnos all over Avernum and..."

Zeviz, mistaking Ecksian for another gullible newbie, relaxed. "That's not actually the plot of Avernum 5. It's just a prank."

Ecksian surreptitiously reached for his dagger. "A prank? Why would they do such a thing?"

"Well, people usually realize that it's just a trick, and, um--ahhhhhhh!" Zeviz clutched at the dagger that suddenly buried itself in his chest and collapsed.

Ecksian checked to make sure Zeviz was really dead before reclaiming the dagger. "Well, you certainly didn't."

Chapter 11: A Risky Endeavor

Chapter 11: A Risky Endeavor Dikiyoba Mon, 12/10/2007 - 03:11
EcksianBot was nearly frantic by the time Ecksian returned to the abandoned message board. "Well, it's about time!" it snapped.

"Relax, everything's playing out according to plan. The Spiderwebbers don't suspect a thing. And I even managed to dispatch another magic user. You." Ecksian pointed to a bot who wasn't doing anything. "The body's right outside. Bring him in and tie him up, just in case."

"I don't know if continuing to kill people before you're ready to attack is such a good idea. Eventually, they'll notice that people are disappearing and come investigate. Plus, at least one of them has the ability to regenerate. Look!" EcksianBot pointed to Lazarus, tightly bound and gagged in the corner and watched over by two bots. "What are we going to with him?"

"Nothing yet."

"But..."

"How many fighter bots do we have that need activating?"

"Er... 17."

"That many? Good. I'll start right away. But first, I have a job for you."

"A... a job? What kind of job?"

"The Spiderwebbers mentioned that they can revive each other. I need you to go to the archives and find out exactly what that entails. I got a few details, but not enough, so find out everything you can. They also mentioned a thing, so..."

"A thing? What thing?"

"The thing."

"What is the thing?"

"I don't know. I need you to look it up so I know what I'm talking about if it comes up again."

"Okay, I understand. I think."

"Get in, get the information I need, and come back without alerting anyone to your presence. Got it?"

"Got it." EcksianBot checked to make sure no one was on the streets then darted out the window.

---

Randomizer sat at the table in the Moderator Board with every book on magery he could find spread out around him.

Tyranicus joined him. "Have you run across anything on artifact crafting?"

"Not yet," Randomizer said.

"Well, I suppose I can help you. What are you looking for?"

"Anything on antimagic. Or, um, anything else that might prevent mages from casting spells."

Synergy sat down at the table too. "So."

Drakefyre and Stareye entered. "Jeff just sent in the blueprints for the new Avernum 5 forum." Drakefyre held up a thick letter.

Randomizer, Tyranicus, and Synergy crowded around him.

"Well, let's see it," Tyranicus said.

Stareye took the letter, ripped it open, and unfolded the blueprints.

"Well, looks like we have light this time," Randomizer said.

"And elevations are back!" Synergy said.

"Wait. There's a special note here," Drakefyre asked.

"What's it say? Oh, he can't be serious!" Tyranicus said.

"Oh no!" Randomizer exclaimed.

"Slartucker is going to have a cow when he hears about this," Synergy said.

---

EcksianBot flew into Ermarian and down into the archives. It checked to make sure that PiperBot was occupied at the far end of the archives then darted toward the nearest bookshelf, grabbed a few promising threads, and hurried away. It settled into a corner and started to read over the topics. After several minutes, EcksianBot became aware that someone was watching it. It looked around until it spotted EndeavorBot.

"Er..." EcksianBot said.

EndeavorBot was grimy and only half-alert. "What are... you doing... here?"

"I'm just looking for information."

"Information? Information! I have lots of information! Do you want to see it?" EndeavorBot suddenly become more animated, almost manic.

"Um, well sure." EcksianBot said.

EndeavorBot showed EcksianBot to a small, dusty room. There were several locked file cabinets along the walls and stacks of paper all over the desk. EndeavorBot scooped up a stack and shoved it at EcksianBot. "Information! See? It's useful! See! See!"

"Er... yes. Give me a few moments to look over all this... information." EcksianBot flipped through a few papers. Post counts, member profiles... EndeavorBot was clearly mad, but it was right about its information being useful. "What's in the cabinets?"

"More information! But I can't get it. No, my Master has the key."

"Well, that's okay, I guess. Why are you showing me all this?"

"Because it's my job! I collect all this information, I tally it, I organize it, and I should... I should show it off! That's what I'm supposed to do! That's what I want to do! But... but my Master no longer lets me. He says he... no longer... needs me... to do that. So instead I have to stay here. And it's... it's lonely in here."

"Uh... well, this is useful information, so I'll be here for a while. And maybe I'll be back later."

"Good! Good! Good!" EndeavorBot hovered around while EcksianBot read. It was so absorbed that it read far into the night.

---

In the General Forum, almost everyone was settling down for the night. Some people were unrolling bedrolls. Others were preparing to leave.

Schrodinger grabbed his jacket. "It's too bad we still don't know what's wrong with the summoning machine, but hopefully we'll have better luck tomorrow."

"I hope so." Arancaytar yawned widely.

Jewels and Randomizer sat at a table, both checking their watches every few minutes. The crickets were clustered on the table, occasionally chirruping quietly to one another.

"Shouldn't Zeviz be back by now?" Jewels asked.

"I thought he would, okay?" Randomizer said grumpily.

"So why won't you revive Ephesos?"

Randomizer checked to make sure no one could overhear him and said quietly, "Because I can't. I... I can't do magic at the moment."

"Ooh. Why?"

"I have no idea. You know what, I'm going to bed. Don't tell anyone about this." Randomizer shuffled off.

"Okay. Um. Now what?"

One of the crickets pointed to the door.

"Oh no. I'm not going to go look for him. It's late, it's dark, it's cold, and there's only way it could possibly end: badly."

The crickets all looked at her pleadingly.

"If Zeviz isn't back in the morning, then I'll tell the moderators and we'll organize a search party to go look for him. And Ephesos."

But the crickets continued to stare.

---

Meanwhile, Dintiradan and the Lurker were in the Blades of Avernum Editor Forum.

The Lurker looked at Dintiradan's notes in bewilderment. "Are you sure this will work?"

"Every scenario I've ever made has been an epic masterpiece. I know exactly what I'm doing," Dintiradan said, "Now go find me a chair. That's the first step."

---

"All right! I'll do it! Just stop staring at me!" Jewels scooped the crickets onto her shoulder and looked around for anyone left awake. Salmon, Drew, and Marlenny all sat at a table together. She quietly joined them.

"...must have been this long." Salmon spread his arms as wide as they would go.

"Salmon, you liar. The last time you told this story, the shark was only two feet long," Marlenny said.

"You must have misheard me. Seriously," Salmon replied.

"Hey, I have a request. See, Zeviz is the only one who can revive Ephesos at the moment. And the crickets really want Ephesos revived--you should see their sad puppy dog look, it's incredible--so I agreed to go out and look for Zeviz. Would any of you like to come along?" Jewels asked.

"Sure." Drew said.

"Why not?" Marlenny asked.

"One moment. I need to go get my fishing pole," Salmon said.

---

EcksianBot threw a stack of papers aside in disgust. "So many spambots. I'm looking for info on Spiderwebbers, not for lower mortgage rates!"

"Here." EndeavorBot pushed a new stack of papers toward EcksianBot helpfully.

"Yes, thanks." EcksianBot glanced out the window. "Wait, is it that late already? Sorry, I have to go. With any luck, I'll be back tomorrow. Oh, and don't tell your Master about me, okay?"

"Oh. Sure. Bye," EndeavorBot said dully.

As EcksianBot passed by one of the file cabinets on its way out, it was stuck by a sudden idea. "Wait a minute. What sort of information is in the file cabinets? Is there anyway to access it?"

"You're staying longer? Good. The cabinets have more information! Information people don't want public, backup blueprints for the forums in case UBB screws everything up, the secret lists that show who posts the most each month. Lots of stuff. Very useful. But I can't do anything with it. Only my Master has the key."

"So, he's the only one who can get into them. Okay. But how do people tell him which information they want hidden or public?"

"With these!" EndeavorBot produced a stack of request forms.

"So I could fill out a--"

"No, no. Only the person the information belongs to can fill out the form."

"Ah. Well, my Master just joined Spiderweb and might want to know about this, so perhaps you could explain further so I can tell him about it."

"No. I can only tell people who have information they want added or removed from the cabinets how the system works."

"Then I guess there's no reason for me to stick around any longer." EcksianBot flew towards the door.

EndeavorBot twitched. "Wait. Your Master belongs to Spiderweb?"

"Yes."

"Then I guess I can tell you. First, he fills out this form. Then he gives the form to me. And he has to bring it in, not you. My Master was very clear on that. Afterwards, I give it to my Master. He reviews it. Then, if he decides it's a reasonable request, he comes in to make the changes."

"Thank you so, so much. You've been very helpful. I can't believe your Master is keeping you in here when you have so much to offer." EcksianBot said.

EndeavorBot looked flattered. "I could show you more information if you would like."

"Not tonight. I'm afraid I must be going. I'll just take a request form before I leave."

"Here. Take two, in case your Master messes up on one of them."

"Yes. Thank you."

EcksianBot darted out the window and stopped short. Jewels, Salmon, Drew, and Marlenny were passing by. When they were gone, it flew back to the abandoned forum.

---

In the Geneforge Series Forum, Iffy sat in front of a crudely drawn pentagram. Blueberry muffins were placed at each point. The sixth one was half-eaten in his hand and the empty package and the Balms of Life were off to one side.

Iffy finished the muffin and brushed away the crumbs. "And now to summon the demon muffin so the demon muffin can revive Ephesos."

---

"Took you long enough," Ecksian said when EcksianBot returned, "Did you get the information I need?"

"Er, no. But I got something better."

"Like what?"

"Personal information on all the current Spiderwebbers. Now you don't have to go back."

"It's a little late for that. They'll probably be expecting me now."

"Oh. Well, it's still useful. For instance, I can tell you why Lazarus is still alive."

"Who?"

EcksianBot pointed to Lazarus in the corner. "Him. I'm not exactly where he got the ability, but he can be killed and automatically return to life once a day."

"Nonsense. We've killed him twice."

"On two separate days, I think."

"So I could kill him now and he wouldn't come back to life?"

"Yes. The others will not be returning to life either."

"Good." Ecksian turned to the two bots that were guarding him. "Kill him."

"Yes, Master." Both bots immediately drew their swords and ran Lazarus through.

"So, where is all this information? I don't see any notes."

"Up here." EcksianBot pointed to its disproportionate head.

"Well, that's not very useful to me."

EcksianBot narrowed its eyes. "Look, you may design good bots. And you may be a brilliant fighter. But I'm the tactician here. And now I know how many Spiderwebbers there are, what weapons they like to use, and so on. I will be the one directing the assault. Master."

Ecksian and EcksianBot stared at each other. Ecksian turned away first. "Fine. But I still need that information on reviving people and the thing. On paper this time."

"Of course," EcksianBot said, "And I think I can deliver you more."

"More information?"

"Yes. Blueprints of the forums, for instance."

Ecksian grinned. "We'll know what all their defenses are beforehand."

"Exactly. It's a bit risky, but I think it'll be worth it."

"We'll do it. What's the plan?"

EcksianBot handed the request forms to Ecksian. "With one of these. And one of the Spiderwebbers brought back as a zombie."

"Does all this information you have 'up there' tell you who I should bring back?"

"Well, I can tell you Ephe--er, the one wearing all green--really, really, really hates undead."

"Perfect!" Ecksian grinned even wider.

Chapter 12: I Smell A... Thief?

Chapter 12: I Smell A... Thief? Dikiyoba Wed, 12/26/2007 - 21:45
Ecksian had Ephesos laid out in an open space.

"So how does this work, exactly?" EcksianBot hovered over Ecksian's shoulder.

Ecksian rolled up his sleeves. "Just watch. And stay back. You don't want to get in the way of this spell." Black smoke poured from his hands until it completely obscured the body. Ecksian chanted under his breath.

EcksianBot watched wide-eyed as massive sparks crackled off the smoke cloud. After several minutes, Ecksian stopped chanting and dropped his hands. The smoke cloud was pulsing gently.

"Is that it?" EcksianBot asked.

"Rise!" Ecksian said. There was an echoing bang and the smoke lifted.

An oak leaf floated down onto EcksianBot's head. It plucked it off. "Strange. Where did this come from?"

The last of the smoke cleared, revealing a huge pile of leaves where Ephesos had been.

"What!?" Ecksian kicked the pile several times. Leaves flew left and right. "Why didn't it work?"

"Is it possible that something could have interfered with your spell?" EcksianBot asked.

"It's possible, I suppose. Well, let's just try again. That mage is still in good shape, right? Have one of the bots drag him over here."

---

Zephyr Tempest fidgeted in an alleyway. The dozen imps surrounding him were equally restless.

"Where is he? You said he'd be here by now," one of the imps whined.

"Just be patient!" Zephyr Tempest snapped.

One of the imps stepped out into the street. "Hey! I see people coming this way!"

"Is Zeviz with them?"

"Uh... no."

"Then get back here and stay quiet. We are here to deal with Zeviz only."

"No!" The imp tried to run, but only made it a few steps before it came to an unwilling halt. Zephyr Tempest was pointing at it, his eyes glowing icy blue again.

"I summoned you. You... will obey... me."

The imp took a hesitant step back towards the alley.

One of the other imps nudged its nearest companion. "Let's go, while he's distracted. Otherwise we'll be here forever."

The two imps tried to slip away. Zephyr Tempest saw them. "Obey! Me!" The two imps slowed and then stopped.

The difficulty he had controlling them was clearly visible to the other imps. All but one of the remaining imps made a break for it.

"Stop!" Zephyr Tempest yelled. The imps froze in their tracks. Zephyr Tempest slowly sank to his knees as he fought to control them.

The imp that had remained behind now launched itself at Zephyr Tempest. He was concentrating so hard on holding the other imps back that it didn't notice the attack until too late. The imp's fangs sank into his throat.

Suddenly free, the other imps charged heedlessly towards Jewels, Salmon, Marlenny, and Drew.

---

Garbage Gatherer nudged her husband. "It's been dark for several hours and the nymphs are getting anxious. Are we going to travel tonight or not?"

Filth Finder stood up slowly. "All right. I'm ready."

"Mom, Dad, look!" Dreck Disperser pointed to a gigantic blue rat that had stepped into the alleyway.

Garbage Gatherer quickly placed herself between the rat and the rest of her family. "Stay away," she hissed.

---

In the Geneforge Forum, Iffy stared at his summon. The demon muffin stared back, drooling slightly.

"Yes! Yes! I did it! I did it!" Iffy danced about excitedly. He accidentally stepped on the pentagram, scuffing up one of the lines.

The demon muffin lunged at him, narrowly missing his leg.

"Hey! You can't--" Iffy began.

The muffin lunged again, biting down on his arm.

"Let go! Let go! Ow! Ow ow ow!" Iffy drew his dagger with his free hand.

The demon muffin let go of Iffy's arm and clamped down on his hand, dagger and all.

Next, Iffy kicked at the muffin. It released Iffy's mangled hand to snap at his foot.

"Ha!" Iffy dashed off. The muffin pursued more slowly until Iffy tripped on an exposed tree root and fell flat. Then it pounced, mouth agape. Iffy was only halfway up when the demon muffin landed on him. "Ahhhhh--!"

---

Dintiradan and the Lurker were carving runes into the chair when they heard Iffy screaming.

"What should we do?" the Lurker asked.

Dintiradan shrugged. "Do? It's only Iffy."

"I know, but aren't you even a little concerned?"

"Well, I suppose his yelling will attract someone else's attention and they'll come investigate it, which means they might find us, so I suppose so. Let's hide the chair and see what's up."

---

Once again, the smoke cleared. EcksianBot sighed. "Well, the body is still there at least. Did it work this time?"

"Rise!" Ecksian said.

Zeviz slowly stood up. "Brains?"

"None of that!" Ecksian said.

The zombie fell silent.

"Good. Never say 'brains' again. Now, sign this." Ecksian handed Zeviz the completed request form and a pen.

Zeviz looked at the pen in his hand in confusion.

Ecksian sighed and pointed. "Write your name on this line here."

Zeviz still looked confused.

"Your name is Zeviz," EcksianBot said helpfully.

The zombie signed the form and attempted to hand it back to Ecksian.

"No, keep it. Take this form to Ermarian. EcksianBot will show you the way there and give you further directions. I'll be along as soon as I activate a few more bots. Understand?"

"Got it," EcksianBot said.

"Brain?"

Ecksian sighed. "No saying 'brain' again either."

---

Drew was the first to spot the charging imps. "Looks like we've got company."

Marlenny readied her bow. "But where did they come from?"

"Zephyr is probably around here somewhere. Salmon, try to capture one of the imps alive."

"Gotcha." Salmon cast. The line fell short.

Marlenny fired. The arrow struck an imp. Marlenny was about to fire again when she saw another set of figures approaching the imps. "Look!"

"But those aren't imps." Jewels squinted. "Those are... rats?" She whirled her axe, killing two imps.

Salmon finished reeling in. "Hmm. The imps and rats together could make for a tough fight."

A red rat sprinted toward the Spiderwebbers, knocking an imp down as it passed. The rat halted at Marlenny's feet. He held a dagger in his right front paw. "We're on your side; don't shoot at us."

Drew stabbed an imp. Marlenny fired again, but the arrow went wide.

Salmon cast again. The hook buried itself in an imp's wing. The imp screeched and tried to pull it out but Salmon started reeling in. The imp staggered towards the Spiderwebbers as it tried to yank the hook out. Salmon jerked the rod, landing the imp at his feet. "We should have brought Andraste along for this." Salmon kicked the imp in the head, knocking it unconscious.

Jewels hacked at an imp. Marlenny brought down another imp. Drew ran another imp through. The rats dealt with the remaining three.

Drew sheathed his sword. "Well, I guess that's that. What are you doing here?"

Besides the red rat, there were three regular giant rats and a green rat. All of them were armed with rusty and dented weapons.

"We're after a thief," the green rat said, "When we saw you, we decided to help out. I hope that's not a problem."

"Not at all. What's this about a thief?" Drew asked.

"I'll start at the beginning. When we left Spiderweb, we realized there was no future in scrounging for trash in alleyways. So we created our own message board, summoned the rest of us from Untitled Lands, and set to work. Here is our card."

Drew took the card the green rat held out. "You started a company called Bots Aplenty? So, do you make spambots then?"

"Oh no, not at all. I mean, we might have had to make a few when we first set up to survive but we've been completely legit for a long time now, and I'm sure none of any spambots we might have had to make ever reached Spiderweb."

"Where does the thief fit in?" Jewels asked.

"Well, we are well aware of the difficulties in keeping a message board safe and secure. Besides spambots, there are noobs, flamers, hackers, trolls, and other threats. So for the last year we've been designing a bot capable of defending forums from these things. Strong. Smart. Well-armored. And, above all, loyal. We were going to sell them to vulnerable message boards and make lots of money. But a few months ago, just as the first prototype was nearing completion, someone broke in. The plans were stolen, the prototype destroyed, and our best researcher murdered."

"Do you know anything about the person responsible?" Marlenny asked.

"No. We found the thief's workshop just two days ago, but they had already fled. Now we've tracked them to this area. I can only hope no one from Spiderweb was involved."

"Uh... I don't think so. But people have been disappearing lately," Jewels said.

"So you're out looking for them?"

"Yes," said Jewels.

"I suggest we team up. Whoever the thief is, I suspect he or she has already created several of those bots. If so, they could be dangerous," the green rat said.

Jewels shrugged. "Sounds fine to me. What do you guys think?"

"Sure," Marlenny said.

"Fine by me," said Drew.

"Let's see what our little friend has to say first," Salmon said. He nudged the stirring imp.

The imp spat at him and started to rise, but Salmon kicked him back down.

"Where is Zephyr?" Salmon asked.

"None of your business," the imp hissed.

"He's over here," someone yelled from the alley.

The rats and Spiderwebbers entered the alley carefully. Salmon dragged the captured imp along.

The other surviving imp crouched by Zephyr Tempest's body. "Are you looking for him?"

"Well, yes, at the moment. Why is he dead?" Jewels asked.

The imp bared its fangs. "I object to being summoned by crazy mages and forced to do their dirty work."

"But why did Zephyr summon you in the first place?" Jewels asked.

"He wanted us to kill someone called Zeviz."

"Did you?"

"No. Hahaha! I slipped away from Zephyr and warned Zeviz about the ambush. He took a different route."

"When was this?"

"A while back. Now if you'll excuse me, I must be off."

"Off where?" Drew asked.

"To the netherworld, of course." The imp hurled itself at Salmon, knocking him to the ground. The red rat stabbed it. The other imp jumped up. Marlenny shot it.

The green rat shook its head. "Mighty strange creatures."

"So, we know that Zeviz came this way. Then the imp warned him about the ambush and he decided to go a different way. But which route did he take and what happened to him after that?" Jewels said.

One of the giant rats yawned. "I don't mean to be rude, but we've been traveling all day. We need a few hours of rest before we can continue. Besides, tracking is much easier by daylight."

"True. And we also need to contact the others."

"The others?" Marlenny asked.

"Oh, yes. We have another group out looking too. Come, we'll let you stay with us tonight and we'll start searching for Zeviz first thing in the morning."

Jewels looked at the crickets on her shoulder. "What do you think?"

One of the crickets glared at her but two other crickets held it back.

"I'll take that as an okay for us to rest. So, lead on, uh..."

"G'ree't'l," the green rat said.

"Er... was your forum attacked by the thing too or something?" Jewels asked.

"What do you mean?" G'ree't'l asked.

"Your name just seems... unusual," Jewels said carefully.

"Unusual?"

"Oh, never mind. Just show us the way."

Chapter 13: Making Muffins Cower

Chapter 13: Making Muffins Cower Dikiyoba Wed, 12/26/2007 - 22:21
Dintiradan and the Lurker peered into the Geneforge Forum. The demon muffin was scavenging anything remotely edible.

"Didn't we just do this with Zephyr?" Dintiradan groaned.

"Technically, those were imps and a regular demon, not--"

"You know what I mean. So, do you see Iffy anywhere?"

"No, but don't you see the fangs on that thing? I think it's pretty obvious what happened to him."

"Right, right. Normally, I'd suggest that you hit it with Homeland a couple of times, but it's a demon muffin, so it's probably immune to soul-crushing, sanity-destroying, brain-killing, kitten-murdering, just-plain-awful damage," Dintiradan said.

"Oh, come on. Homeland isn't that bad."

"No, it's worse. Anyway, I guess we just have to slip by it somehow, before it runs out of things to eat here and comes looking in the Blades of Avernum Forum. Or goes to eat everyone in the General Forum. Lead the way."

"I don't think that will work," the Lurker said.

"Why? Are you faster than me or something?" Dintiradan asked.

---

EcksianBot and Zeviz arrived at Ermarian.

"Head to the Endeavor Room. EndeavorBot will ask you what you want. And probably a bunch of other questions too; it's kind of lonely. Give it the form, tell it to hurry, and ignore the other conversation." EcksianBot pulled Zeviz's hood low over his face to conceal his blank expression.

"Braains?"

"Er... I don't think you're supposed to say that. Now go."

Zeviz shuffled into EndeavorBot's office.

"Oh! Hey! Hi! How are you?" EndeavorBot was delighted.

Zeviz held out the request form. "Hurry."

"Oh, yes. Of course I'll hurry. Er... are you sure we can't talk for a while first? I mean--"

"Hurry," Zeviz repeated.

"Okay, okay. Sit down; I'll be right back with my Master." But EndeavorBot showed no sign of leaving.

"Braaains?"

"Oh, yes. He's very smart. But I suppose you know that already, being a member of Spiderweb and all."

"Hurry!"

"Well, aren't you the cheery one? I'm going." EndeavorBot flew out the window.

Outside, Ecksian had joined EcksianBot. They saw EndeavorBot leave.

Ecksian checked his dagger. "Let's go."

---

EndeavorBot flew through the upper window of Spiderweb. Alorael was asleep in his chair, his sniper rifle held like a teddy bear. It flew into the General Forum and poked Arancaytar awake.

"What do you want?" Arancaytar grumbled.

EndeavorBot held out the request form.

"Look, I know privacy is important and all, but it's the middle of the night. Why didn't you wait until morning?"

"He told me to hurry."

"Okay, who is it?" Arancaytar looked at the signature. "Hmmmph. He must have accidentally released something. Is he waiting there?"

"I think so."

"Right. Let's go."

"Are you sure I can't stay and--"

"No."

Dintiradan burst into the General Forum. "Demon muffin in the Geneforge Forum!"

Arancaytar ran for the door. "Come quickly!"

Spiderwebbers crawled out of their bedrolls as the door slammed shut behind Arancaytar.

"Did I hear you say 'demon muffin'?" Stareye asked.

Dintiradan sighed. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but yes. In the Geneforge Forum. Really vicious. The Lurker and I were trying to get back here to warn you when the muffin attacked us. The Lurker, er, tripped and the muffin killed him before he could rise."

"Who will volunteer to hunt the, uh, demon muffin?" Drakefyre asked.

"If we find Iffy, are we allowed to kill him?" Tyranicus asked.

"No," Stareye said.

"Can I at least hurt him really badly?"

"No. But thanks for volunteering."

"But I didn't--"

"What use is Tyranicus? He'll just get killed," Shard of Fire said.

"And you too."

Shard of Fire sighed.

"I'll go," Slartucker said.

"Thank you. Imban, will you go with them?"

Imban shrugged. "Sure."

---

"Stay away!" Garbage Gatherer repeated. Behind her, the nymphs were all hiding underneath Filth Finder.

A regular giant rat pulled on the blue rat's tail. "Come on back, H'uk'n'l. Don't frighten them."

H'uk'n'l stepped out of the alley. The giant rat coughed nervously. "Sorry about that. We didn't mean to scare you. We just have a few questions to ask."

"What sort of questions?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

"It's a long story. Basically, someone stole our plans for a defensive bot and we think whoever it was is in this area and attempting to create these bots. Have you seen anything--"

"Yes!" Filth Finder said.

"You have? Excellent!"

"But while I want to see him dealt with, as he's responsible for killing one of my children, I'm not entirely sure I want you to be the ones who do it," Filth Finder said.

"What do you mean?" the giant rat asked.

"The only group of rats I know of that come in rainbow colors attacked Spiderweb, murdered my wife, and killed many of my children."

"Dear!" Garbage Gatherer said.

"Uh... well, while we are, er, were the group of rats that..."

"Excuse me, coming through." A very young purple rat pushed her way past H'uk'n'l and the giant rat. "What he is trying to say is that Attorosi is dead. His closest followers are all dead. Almost all of the rats who participated in the attack are dead. We are a completely different group of rats now. And while we will gladly make whatever reparations we can, we cannot be held responsible for a crime we didn't commit. Please, come with us to the rest of our group and tell us what you know about the thief. He's already murdered one of us and one of your nymphs. Who else would he kill?"

Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer looked at each other.

"There is safety in numbers," Garbage Gatherer said, "And even if we can't warn Spiderweb, they can."

"Lead the way," Filth Finder said.

---

Arancaytar pushed the door to EndeavorBot's office open. Zeviz sat motionless at the desk, his face obscured by shadow.

EndeavorBot darted into the room and hovered in Zeviz's face. "Yay! You waited!"

"EndeavorBot, leave him alone. Now, let's see..." Arancaytar stepped into the room, pulled out the request form, and looked at it closely for the first time. "Wait, you came here this late at night to release information? All of it? That seems rather odd for you."

"Braaains?"

Arancaytar took a step back. "What the--"

Ecksian had been hiding behind the door. Now he crept up behind Arancaytar and quickly slit his throat. EndeavorBot screeched and swooped at Ecksian. He grabbed the bot and smashed it against a file cabinet repeatedly. "EcksianBot, go to the archives and start looking for the information I need."

"But what if PiperBot sees me?"

"I dealt with it already." Ecksian tossed EndeavorBot's remains into a corner.

"Oh. Okay." EcksianBot left.

Ecksian pulled a set of keys from Arancaytar's pocket. "Zombie!"

"Braaains?"

"Quit that! Go downstairs and watch for intruders. Stay where no one can see you and come get me if someone enters."

"Braaaains?"

"I don't care how many extra A's you stick in, it's still the same word and you are not allowed to say it!"

Zeviz shambled off.

---

Imban, Slartucker, Tyranicus, and Shard of Fire stepped into the Geneforge Forum. The demon muffin was gnawing on a branch pulled from one of the wiry trees that grew profusely in the Geneforge Forum. Several other trees had already been eaten down to ground level.

Slartucker stepped forward. "Udder destruction!"

A blast of energy struck the demon muffin, knocking it down. Imban rushed in and stabbed it several times. The demon muffin chomped down on Imban's sword, snapping it. Imban backed away quickly as the muffin spat out the broken blade.

"That's never a good sign." Tyranicus launched a javelin.

Shard of Fire slung several rocks. One hit, stunning the muffin. Imban stabbed the muffin again with the broken sword.

"Out of the way, Imban!" Slartucker yelled, "BOVINE THUD!!!"

Imban rolled out of harm's way as a giant cow fell from the sky onto the muffin and bounced away, leaving behind something that looked more like a pancake than a muffin.

"Is it finally dead?" Tyranicus asked.

Imban prodded it a few times. "I think so."

"Do you think Iffy is around here somewhere?" Shard of Fire asked.

Slartucker held up the shredded remains of one of Iffy's shoes. "I doubt it."

Tyranicus leaned against a tree. "Good."

A limb held to the rest of the tree by only a few splinters suddenly snapped and landed on Tyranicus' head. Slartucker and Imban hurried over to pull it off of him.

"Who wants to take bets on whether that branch killed Tyranicus or not?" Shard of Fire asked.

"What's the point in betting?" Imban asked, "His neck is clearly broken."

Chapter 14: Plans

Chapter 14: Plans Dikiyoba Sat, 01/05/2008 - 04:18
The first group of rats led the Spiderwebbers to a defunct website that looked ready to collapse any day. The blue rat stood guard at the entrance, stepping aside to let them pass.

The GIFTR and the second group of rats sat together around a small fire.

"I thought they didn't like each other," Jewels said.

Drew shrugged. "I certainly don't mind the change of heart."

"I see you have guests too," the purple rat said, "Please, join us. Think, go find some more fuel for the fire."

"Why?" one of the giant rats sitting next to her whined.

"Because it's getting low and I told you to," she snapped.

The flames burned a bit brighter.

"But I always have to tend to the fire. It's not fair."

"Life's not fair."

"But..."

By now, the fire was blazing.

"Oh. Never mind, the fire's fine. But since you didn't have to deal with that, you can take care of dinner instead," the purple rat said.

Think got up and sorted through the packs sitting in the corner, grumbling under his breath the entire time.

The four Spiderwebbers sat down next to the GIFTR.

"I believe introductions are in order. I'm Attorukkip," the purple rat said, "The rat getting food is But_I_can't_think_of_one, but we just call him Think. And this is Lady Deathwhisker the Rabid, or simply Deathwhisker."

The giant rat on Attorukkip's other side nodded.

"The blue rat guarding the entrance is H'uk'n'l. The red rat is Phil. The giant rat sitting closest to you is M'q'zz'x. And this here is Squeak."

One of the giant rats shook his head. "It's pronounced Squeek. It's an authentic name from the ancient rat city of SqueekSqueakitySqueak."

Attorukkip rolled her eyes. "But there was no ancient rat city."

"Then where did we come from originally?" Squeak retorted.

"Oh, never mind. The green rat is G'ree't'l. Last but not least is the giant rat ''''''''."

"Er, what?" Salmon asked.

"We just call him Timeseight."

"Oh. Better. I'm Salmon. This is Drew, Jewels, and Marlenny."

"Can I ask how you all came up with your names? I don't recall any rats with names but Attorosi," Marlenny said.

"We rats never had names, at least not the way you humans have them. Attorosi was the first, since he needed to be recognizable to all rats. But once we started our own message board, it became necessary for us to choose names," Attorukkip said.

"Sounds like some of you could still use some practice," Salmon muttered.

Filth Finder coughed nervously. "Um, I'm Filth Finder."

"Garbage Gatherer. The nymphs are Litter Locator, Muck Master, Dreck Disperser, Compost Coveter, Trash Taker, Rubbish Remover, and Plague Propagator."

"Good, we all know each other, yada yada yada. Think, do you have dinner ready yet?" Timeseight asked.

"Yes." Think threw a sandwich at him.

"Hey!" The sandwich bounced off Timeseight's back and fell apart.

Attorukkip took the plate of sandwiches from Think and handed it to Garbage Gatherer. "Unfortunately, we don't have a lot to spare, so just one sandwich apiece, I'm afraid."

"Yay!" Muck Master and the other nymphs crowded around to grab their share.

Filth Finder looked a bit uncomfortable. "Er, thanks. What's in them?"

"Spam and cheese," Think said.

"Again?" M'q'zz'x asked.

Marlenny passed the plate by without taking one. "No thanks. I've already had supper."

Salmon took a huge bite out of his sandwich. "Hmm. Could use more spam."

"So, Filth Finder, tell us what you know of the thief," Attorukkip said.

"Well..." Filth Finder began.

---

Ecksian had the blueprints for Spiderweb Software Message Board spread out on the desk. EcksianBot entered, several threads in its hand.

Ecksian looked up. "Ah. Good. Come help me."

EcksianBot flew over. "What have we got?"

"Well, for starters, there are only three possible ways in or out. There's the main entrance, of course. And the guard tower window right above it. But there's also a secret exit leading from the Avernum Trilogy Forum to way over here." Ecksian's finger traced the route.

"Excellent. We can sneak a bunch of bots through the tunnel and mount a surprise attack."

Ecksian shook his head. "Unfortunately, that's not possible. I could find the general area easily enough, but finding the trapdoor itself would be much more difficult. Plus, it's locked from the inside. And there's a magical barrier in the tunnel that can only be passed from the inside too."

"Hmm. No good, then. But the Spiderwebbers could still escape that way. So, we need something there to prevent that."

"What are you thinking?"

"Well... in theory, all of Spiderweb could try to escape that way. So we need something that could withstand that possibility. Blocking the trapdoor isn't likely to work; enough people or someone with the right spell and they'll get through eventually."

"Plus, we'd have to find the trapdoor itself first."

"Yes, that too. So, we're going to need bots in that area. I have two options. In the first, we place a bunch of traps around the trapdoor and a smaller number of bots. The traps would slow the Spiderwebbers down long enough for the bots to kill them. Or bring in reinforcements, if necessary. Or we could just have a larger number of bots in the area. These bots could also serve as reserves in case any neighboring message boards attempt to help Spiderweb out."

"Or both."

"Yes, but that would take longer. We're running out of time if we plan to attack right after the release of Avernum 5."

"Okay, fine. We'll go with option number two and then set up traps as well if we have time. Next, we have the moat to contend with."

"Isn't there a bridge?"

"Yes, but it's designed to be collapsed in an attack."

"Smart. Describe the moat."

"Well, it's wide and goes all the way around the message board. It's not too deep, but it would slow anyone trying to cross it down considerably. Plus, I haven't ruled out the possibility of a moat monster."

"A moat monster?"

"This board has giant intelligent talking friendly spiders for mascots. And it has a fluffy turtle pit. I wouldn't put it past them."

"Did... did you just say 'fluffy turtle pit'?"

"Yes, but we have to get across the moat first before we need to worry about fluffy turtles."

"That's... insane."

"How are we getting across?" Ecksian repeated.

"Right. So we need a bridge. Possibly two or three. If the Spiderwebbers manage to take out our only bridge somehow, we're in trouble. Er... do you know anything about building bridges?"

"Nope."

"Neither do I. Well, I guess I have to go look up armor anyway. Er.. the bots can survive getting wet, can't they?"

"Of course. I want these bots to be unstoppable; I'm not going to leave them vulnerable to being splashed by a few drops of water. So, next, we have to get through the main door..."

---

"...when you found us," Filth Finder finished.

"Thank you. So, for the ones who haven't been paying attention..." Attorukkip kicked Think awake. "...the thief is in the abandoned message board next to Shadow Vale, has at least six bots with him already, is plotting something against Spiderweb, and has already killed one of your nymphs plus two other Spiderwebbers."

G'ree't'l shook his head. "We aren't prepared to deal with that."

"I bet it was that Ecksian fellow," Jewels said darkly.

"Perhaps, but we need more proof before we can accuse him of that," Drew said.

"What are we going to do, Att?" Think asked.

"Tomorrow morning, we'll split up. Half of us will go with the Spiderwebbers to their message board. The other half will report back to our message board."

"Er, we won't be going with either group, if that's all right with you," Filth Finder said.

"Wouldn't it make sense to scout out the abandoned message board tonight so we know exactly what we're up against?" Phil asked.

"No. It's too risky," Attorukkip said.

"A bit of risk is worth finding out if they have Zeviz or whatever his name was."

"And then what? Even if he's still alive, we can't possibly rescue him, not if the thief has six bots already."

"But there's thirteen of us, excluding the GIFTR," Jewels said.

Attorukkip drew her rusty dagger. "Our weapons are all scavenged and we have no armor. Most of us would probably die. And unlike you, we rats have no way to come back. We're here to help, but that does not include throwing our lives away needlessly. There will be no scouting expedition, and my decision is final." She looked around the circle.

M'q'zz'x shrugged. "I'm not complaining."

"Neither am I," G'ree't'l said.

The other rats nodded in agreement.

"Hmmph," Phil said.

"Now, I think it's best if we go to sleep. Think, would you mind taking over for H'uk'n'l?"

"But I did it just recently! It's Phil's turn to stand guard tonight!"

"He will take your turn when it comes around."

"I'll stand guard," G'ree't'l said.

"Thank you," Attorukkip said.

"Not as thankful as I am, though. You're the greatest, G'ree. Phil still takes my turn though, right?" Think said.

"No. Go to sleep," Attorukkip said.

Phil slipped out of the website while H'uk'n'l was distracted by the argument. "After all, what's the point of being a scout if you never do anything?" he grumbled.

---

EcksianBot had taken the blueprints entirely for itself. Ecksian leaned against the window. "So, what are we up to?"

EcksianBot looked up. "This fluffy turtle pit. Do bots even have sanity? If they don't, then will the fl..." It trailed off and stared out the window.

Ecksian turned to look out of the window as well. "What is it?"

"I thought I saw something. Something red and really fast."

Ecksian's hands gripped the window sill tightly. "And what do you think that something was?"

"I... I think it... it was... I think it was... a... a... rat."

Ecksian slammed the window shut and locked it. "Not again! Zombie, get up here right now!"

EcksianBot continued to stare. "I... I... I remember that... that... that I... I..." EcksianBot suddenly darted for the door.

"Braiins?" Zeviz stood in the doorway, blocking its escape. EcksianBot flew to the ceiling.

"Zombie, close and lock the door," Ecksian said calmly, "EcksianBot, please come down."

"No!"

"I asked you to come down. I won't hurt you; you know that."

EcksianBot laughed bitterly. "Sure. You... you... monster!"

Ecksian scowled. "Get down here!"

"No!"

"Then shut down."

"Never!"

"As your master, I command you to shut down. Now!"

EcksianBot flew to the top of a file cabinet, shielding itself behind a box of folders. "You're not my master."

"Fine. Zombie, whatever happens, do not let this bot get away. Understand?"

"Braiins?"

"I'll take that as a yes. Meanwhile, I'll go deal with the rat."

"Don't you dare!" EcksianBot yelled.

Ecksian ignored it and let himself out, carefully locking the door behind him.

EcksianBot stared down at Zeviz. "How... how about you disregard what he just said and let me go out the window there?"

"Braiins?"

"Oh, never mind."

---

Phil reached the abandoned message board and peered through the window. He began counting the number of bots smithing, standing guard, or just standing around. "Let's see... there's six... and there's three more... and two more over there... and another one... and four right there... two by the door... those four don't look activated yet and... holy cow, that is a lot of bots. Five more over there... did I count those two already? I don't think so. So two more, plus those two... and that one... and that one... and those three... and... arghhh!" Ecksian's dagger buried itself in his side.

Ecksian stood several feet away. "Ha! Got you, you little--hey!"

Phil pulled the dagger free and fled.

"All fighting bots!" Ecksian yelled. The bots piled out. "Do I really need to send so many bots after it? EcksianBot, what do... oh, right. Better safe than sorry. Now, listen up. I want all of you to catch that rat. When you catch it, kill it. And if it gets help or you run into anyone else, kill them too. Then clean up the area and bring all the bots back to me. Understand?"

"Yes, Master."

"Then go!" Ecksian watched the bots sprint off, then retrieved the dagger and stepped into the abandoned forum. The six repair bots were still working. "Stop what you're doing."

The bots halted.

Ecksian handed one of them a shovel. "You, take the bodies out back and bury them. Take these leaves out there too and spread them around so it's not obvious you were digging there. The rest of you, pack everything up and then spread this trash around a bit. We're moving to Ermarian."

Chapter 15: Death Aplenty

Chapter 15: Death Aplenty Dikiyoba Sat, 01/12/2008 - 22:10
Phil reached the website. "G'ree! G'ree!"

The green rat stepped outside and caught Phil as he collapsed. "What are you doing out?"

"Bots! Lots of bots! Right behind me! I'm so... I'm so sorry..." Phil went limp.

"Att! Phil's hurt!" G'ree't'l carried Phil inside.

Attorukkip awoke with a start and scurried over. She felt frantically for a pulse.

"What's going on?" Marlenny yawned.

Filth Finder shook Garbage Gatherer and the nymphs awake. "We're getting out of here right now."

The GIFTR slipped out into the night.

Attorukkip stepped back and hung her head. "He's dead. There's nothing I can do."

"But what killed him?" Deathwhisker asked.

Think peered out the door, then slammed it shut. "Att! There's a bunch of bots headed this way!"

"How many?"

"I don't know. Two dozen, maybe?"

"Two dozen?" M'q'zz'x's mouth fell open.

Thud! Something slammed into the door. Squeak and G'ree't'l quickly grabbed the packs and shoved them in front of the door.

"That won't last long," Jewels said.

Thud! The door shook again.

Marlenny pulled out her bow. "It'll last long enough."

"That's right. We'll make the best of it. Melee fighters, come here so I can buff you," Attorukkip said, "Bless, shield, bless, shield..." Attorukkip waved her paw, coating Drew, Jewels, and several rats in a layer of sparkles that quickly faded.

"You can cast priest spells?" Drew asked.

"Just a few basic ones."

Thud!

"I don't see the GIFTR," Jewels said.

"Then maybe they got out in time," Salmon said.

"I hope so," Jewels said.

Thud! The door cracked. Everyone held their breath.

Crash! The door broke off its hinges and fell away.

Marlenny and Timeseight fired at the first bot to appear in the doorway. The arrows bounced off its armor harmlessly.

"I guess we're aiming for the gaps between the armor, then." Marlenny fired again. The arrow lodged in its neck and it collapsed.

The second bot dragged the first bot out of the way and started tossing the packs aside. G'ree't'l hit it with a curse ray. Timeseight's next arrow hit it right between the eyes. A third bot appeared, dragging the second bot out of the way and kicking the last pack aside. Marlenny's arrow missed it. The rest of the bots pushed their way in.

Salmon cast, wrapping the line around the lead bot. He jerked the line so that the bot fell. The two bots immediately behind it tripped and fell as well.

Deathwhisker stabbed one of the fallen bots. "My name is Lady Deathwhisker the Rabid! I was born at midnight during a terrible storm! My mother was the fiercest of wererats and was dad was pretty fierce too! I killed my first 1337 h4x0r when I was still blind and hairless! I eat bots for breakfast! Through me, you shall know death aplenty!" She swung at another bot. The sword hit its armor and broke off at the hilt. "Oh snap!"

The bot swung at her. Jewels managed to block the strike with her axe. "Marlenny probably has a spare dagger!" She chopped off the bot's sword arm, then caught the bot in a huge one-armed hug. She sent it spinning into another bot, enabling Deathwhisker to scamper to safety.

Marlenny and Timeseight fired again. Another bot went down. Marlenny handed Deathwhisker her dagger.

Attorukkip cast smite. The spell stunned a bot. Drew stabbed it.

"Yeehaw!" He fought his way over to Jewels. Squeak joined them, jabbing at bots with a rusty spear.

G'ree't'l hit a bot with a curse ray. H'uk'n'l slammed into it, sending it to the ground. Then he dug his claws into the gaps in its helmet, killing it. A second bot slashed his side. Timeseight shot it. Attorukkip healed H'uk'n'l.

M'q'zz'x joined G'ree't'l. She waited until he hit a bot with a curse ray, then bounded over to stab it with her short sword.

A bot stabbed Drew. There were too many bots around for Jewels and Squeak to drag him to safety.

"Att, help!" Squeak said.

Attorukkip was facing two bots. "I can't!" She cast smite, stunning one of the bots.

"I'm coming!" Deathwhisker charged towards Jewels and Squeak. A bot tripped her up and she stumbled. The bot quickly killed her.

Drew kicked a bot away that was sneaking up behind Jewels and dragged himself upright. "Watch your back!"

H'uk'n'l tackled one of the bots menacing Attorukkip, enabling her to cast smite directly in its face.

A bot swept the bow out of Timeseight's paws and stabbed him. Marlenny shot it and joined up with G'ree't'l and M'q'zz'x.

Drew's injury was slowing him down. Jewels and Squeak were doing their best to protect him, but eventually another bot managed to bring him down.

Salmon and Think were backed against a wall.

"We'll never get out of here alive!" Think said.

"But someone needs to get to Spiderweb. Here, I've got an idea. Hold them off."

"But..."

Salmon cast straight up. The hook buried itself in the ceiling. He used the line to climb about halfway up the wall, where there was a small ledge. He tested to make sure his footing was secure, then yanked the hook free and dangled the line by Think. "Climb up!"

Think scrambled up onto the ledge. "What are you doing?"

"Saving your miserable life. Provided this works, of course." Salmon reeled in before any of the bots could climb up, then cast again. This time, the hook buried itself right above the door. "Hang on!" Salmon jumped off the ledge and began reeling in like crazy. Think barely managed to grab onto his leg. They swung over the bots' heads and out the door, landing in a heap outside. Three bots followed them.

"Now what?" Think pulled Salmon upright.

Salmon cut the line and tied a new hook on. "Hide. I'll distract the bots. Then you get to your message boards and I'll head back to Spiderweb."

"O... okay." Think dashed off. Two of the bots started after him, but Salmon hooked one and sent it crashing into the other.

"Four out of five noobs agree that I pwn. The fifth one probably would have agreed as well, but I killed it first."

All three bots charged at Salmon. He used his fishing rod to climb onto the nearest roof. Then he cast to the next roof and swung over. "Wheeeeee! Suckers!"

The bots ran around the building Salmon stood on, looking for the easiest way up. When they found it, they started climbing.

Salmon waited until they were about halfway up and then swung over to the next building. "A few more buildings and they'll never be able to catch up to me."

---

EcksianBot was still trapped on the file cabinet in Ermarian. Suddenly, it bolted for the window. Zeviz moved from the door to the window. EcksianBot retreated. Zeviz positioned himself halfway between the window and door.

Next, EcksianBot went to the file cabinet furthest from the door and opened the bottom drawer. "Oh, look. A secret passage. I believe I shall make my escape from here."

"Braiins?" Zeviz lurched towards EcksianBot. As he knelt down to check the drawer, EcksianBot shoved a bunch of papers in his face and flew towards the window. It unlocked the window, yanked it open, and flew out.

"Free!" EcksianBot rose into the air.

"Braiins?" Zeviz carefully squeezed through the window and stood on the ledge. He was about to climb up after EcksianBot when there was a flash of lightning immediately followed by a crack of thunder. EcksianBot's body tingled and it dove towards the ground. Zeviz jumped for it, managing to catch a leg. Bot and zombie plummeted to the ground, landing heavily. There was another flash of lightning and thunder. A few drops of rain fell.

---

Salmon winced as lightning flashed almost directly overhead. Rain started to pour down. "I suppose it's safer on the ground now that the bots are far behind." He quickly descended. Then he heard EcksianBot shouting. "Please! Let me go!"

---

Ecksian heard the shouts as well. He signaled for the bots to put down what they were carrying and move forward silently.

---

Zeviz staggered upright, holding the shouting bot tightly.

"Let go of me! Argh!" EcksianBot punched and kicked furiously but it was far too weak to do any damage. "Don't you understand what he did to me? What he did to you? What he's going to do to all of Spiderweb?"

"Braiins?"

"Just let me go! You have to let me go! Please!"

"Hey! Zeviz! You're all right!" Salmon said.

Zeviz stared at Salmon blankly.

"No, he's not! He's undead, I swear it! Please, free me! I'm on your side!" EcksianBot shouted frantically.

"Uh..." Salmon approached carefully. "Zeviz? Er... how about you hand me that bot? I'll--"

"Graaahhh!" Zeviz held onto EcksianBot even tighter and tried to bite Salmon's hand.

"Okay, never mind." Salmon drew back quickly.

"He's a zombie! He's already dead! Just kill him! Please!"

A flash of lightning illuminated Ecksian and several bots creeping towards Salmon.

"Sorry. Gotta go." Salmon cast at the roof. After checking to make sure that the hook held fast, he started climbing.

Ecksian hurled the dagger. The dagger clattered off the wall just below Salmon's foot as he scrambled onto the roof.

"Well, here we go again." Salmon reeled in and cast for the next roof over.

Ecksian reached for EcksianBot. "Good work, zombie. Now let me see."

"Braiins?"

EcksianBot struggled with renewed effort, but Ecksian easily opened a compartment on its underside and flipped a switch. EcksianBot shut down.

"That's a relief. Okay, zombie, climb up to a roof three buildings down and lay low until that Spiderweb arrives. If possible, kill him. If not, stall him until the bots arrive."

"Braiins?"

"And stop saying that! Adding letters doesn't make it a different word!"

Zeviz shambled off. Salmon swung over to the next roof.

"You four fighting bots, follow the Spiderwebber along the ground. Two of you will stay on the ground so he can't get down. The other two of you can climb up after him when you think you can catch him. Kill him!" Ecksian said.

The bots ran off. Salmon swung to the next roof. He had a bit of trouble actually making it over the edge, as the rain made the building slick. He saw the bots waiting on the ground, so he hurried across the roof and cast again. He swung across and started climbing up. He was just barely over the edge when Zeviz leapt up and pushed him off. He fell.

---

Ephesos paced the Miscellaneous Forum, his breath clearly visible in the frigid air. "What's taking them so long to revive us?"

Lazarus huddled next to a dying flamefest. "They probably don't even realize we're missing yet. Oy! Lurker! See if you can wake Zephyr up and get him ranting again. This fire's going out."

Zephyr was unconscious in the corner with a lump on his head. The Lurker had been chosen to guard him. "No way. I'm not going through that again."

Lazarus sighed and opened a can of spam into the fire to keep it alive.

Drew suddenly materialized in the forum, holding his side. He caught sight of Grime Grubber sitting near a different fire with Arancaytar and Zeviz. "What's he doing here? Is the other one that died recently here too?"

"Sewage Spotter isn't here," Grime Grubber said quietly.

Lazarus shrugged. "No one is quite sure. Because Grime wants to be revived, I guess."

"Have any rats shown up?" Drew asked.

"Rats?" Tyranicus asked.

"Good. Because if Phil were here, I'd have to hurt him," Drew said.

"Who's Phil? What's happening?" Ephesos asked.

Drew quickly explained.

"I wish there were something we could do instead of just sitting here," Iffy said.

"Oh no. You've done plenty of helping already," Ephesos said.

Marlenny appeared. "Hey, everyone. Jewels should be along any moment now, but I think Salmon escaped."

---

Salmon's descent came to a sudden halt as the line pulled tight. He started climbing up again. Down below, two of the four bots started climbing too.

Salmon pulled himself onto the roof and freed the hook.

"Brayns?"

"And skill!" Salmon whirled the fishing rod, smacking Zeviz in the head.

The first bot climbed onto the roof, swinging its sword. Salmon wrapped his line around the sword and yanked it out of the bot's hand. The bot lunged for Salmon, but he kicked it over the edge.

Zeviz grabbed the fallen sword and sliced through the fishing rod.

"Hey!" Salmon yelled.

"Brayns?"

"Yes, I'm talking to you!" Salmon hit Zeviz in the shoulder with the broken pole.

The other bot reached the roof. Salmon backed away from it and Zeviz until he was at the edge of the roof. He jumped for the next roof. His fingers caught the slick edge for one moment then slipped off. Salmon fell again, but this time there was no line to catch him. He hit the ground with a sickening thud. The two bots waiting on the ground immediately moved in to make sure he was dead.

---

Salmon landed in the Miscellaneous Forum.

Marlenny looked disappointed. "Oh."

Salmon leapt up and brushed himself off. "I had the best escape plan ever, but someone had to ruin it." He glared at Zeviz.

"Don't look at me! Zombification wasn't my idea!" Zeviz said.

"But maybe we should keep it in mind as a viable strategy if Slartucker ever resumes that deathmatch," Jewels said thoughtfully.

Chapter 16: Google Is Your Friend

Chapter 16: Google Is Your Friend Dikiyoba Sun, 01/20/2008 - 03:50
Think hid in the shadows until he was sure all the surviving bots had left the abandoned website. Then he went inside. As he had feared, everyone was dead. Knowing that the bots would come back to finish carrying everything off, he left.

Garbage Gatherer was waiting in the street when he stepped outside. "Any survivors?"

"No," Think said bitterly.

"I am sorry."

"It's not your fault."

"So you're off to your board, then?"

"Yeah."

"Would it help to have someone with you?"

"Are you volunteering?"

"Yes."

"Well, thanks."

"Is there a safe spot to spend the day near your board, by the way?"

"Outside the board? Not really. The area gets a lot of noobs and spam bots. But we do have a forum we aren't using at the moment. You could stay there."

"Thank you. Lead the way," Garbage Gatherer said. Filth Finder and the nymphs scurried out of the shadows.

Think started down the street. "We followed the thief here but it was a lot of navigating through side streets and I'm not sure I remember the route, so we'll just take Google."

"Is Google your friend too?" Compost Coveter asked.

"What?" Think asked.

"I heard one Spiderwebber tell another one that Google was their friend once. So I was wondering whether you were also friends with Google."

"Yeah! She's right! I heard that conversation too!" Dreck Disperser said.

"Google isn't a person. It's a search engine. So it can't literally be your friend, although it can be very helpful if you know how to use it," Garbage Gatherer explained.

"What's a search engine?" Trash Talker asked.

"You'll see," Filth Finder said.

---

The mood in the General Forum was tense. Most of the Spiderwebbers waited with their weapons in hand for Slartucker, Imban, Shard of Fire, and Tyranicus to return. Drakefyre and Stareye sat at a corner table, discussing something very quietly.

Finally, Drakefyre looked around. "Niemand!"

"What?"

"We want to ask you some questions, obviously."

Niemand sat with them. "Like what?"

"You were working with Ephesos on that stat-changing script, right?" Stareye asked.

"Yeah."

"How's it coming?"

"Er... not good. Ephesos and Lazarus went out to talk to TM last night and never returned. But Ephesos' crickets did, so I think they're dead."

"How do you know the crickets returned?"

"Jewels had them. I overheard her talking about it with the newbie."

Drakefyre looked around again. "I don't see Jewels anywhere."

Niemand shrugged. "She was here earlier this afternoon."

"Thank you, Niemand." Stareye stared at Niemand pointedly.

"Oh. Um, okay." Niemand hurried away.

Stareye sighed. "So, is Jewels just off somewhere and Ephesos and Lazarus' probable death was just a one-time event, or is something else going on?"

"I don't know. We'll revive them and find out. Where are our mages?" Drakefyre looked around yet again.

"Don't you know how to cast the summon element spell?"

"Well, I did until I, um, joined the Anama. I mean, they're back in A5, so I figured, why not?"

"Okay, okay." Stareye stood up. "Has anyone seen Randomizer or Zeviz lately?"

Everyone looked around.

"Nope," Thralni said, "Not recently."

"Synergy, help me do a quick search of the forum, okay?"

"Okay."

In the kitchen, Riibu opened a cupboard. Randomizer was tucked inside.

"Hey!" He tried to shut the door.

"Stareye is asking for you. You have to go talk to him," Riibu said.

"No, I don't," Randomizer said.

"Why not?" Riibu asked.

"Because it's... well, would you go out if someone wanted you to help fight a battle?"

"Probably not. I'm no good at fighting."

"Well, at the moment, I'm no good at magic. And everyone expects me to be good at it, so it's worse. Now close the door."

Riibu shut the door. Synergy entered. Riibu immediately turned invisible.

"Anyone in here? Hello?" Synergy started opening cupboards until he found Randomizer. "I found Randomizer!"

"Good. Get out here. We need you to summon the elements for Ephesos, Lazarus, the Lurker, Iffy, and Tyranicus," Drakefyre said.

"How do you know Tyranicus is dead? They're not even back yet." Randomizer was pushed out of the kitchen by Synergy.

Imban, Shard of Fire, and Slartucker entered the forum, carrying Tyranicus with them.

Randomizer sighed. "I should have known. Anyway, I'm afraid I can't help revive anyone. For some reason, I can't do any magic."

"Well, then, have you seen Zeviz recently?" Drakefyre said.

"Yeah. He left the board this morning, to help me find a cure. But he hasn't come back for some reason."

Stareye turned to Drakefyre. "Can you at least cast return life?"

"Yes." Drakefyre motioned Dikiyoba over. "Bring me a balm of life potion."

"Dikiyoba can do that."

Imban and Slartucker joined Drakefyre, Stareye, Synergy, and Randomizer.

Shard of Fire leaned against a wall. "Step right up for a thrilling account of the monstrous demon muffin. Now with souvenirs!" Shard of Fire held out a handful of crumbs.

"So what exactly is a demon muffin?" Thralni asked.

"A nuisance," Shard of Fire said, "We walked into the forum and..."

Dikiyoba burst into the forum. "Dikiyoba can't find them!"

"Find what, exactly?" Rakshasi asked.

"Dikiyoba had three balm of life potions that Dikiyoba had just made. Now they're gone. Dikiyoba searched everywhere but couldn't find them."

Shard of Fire picked a small fragment of glass out of the crumbs. "Iffy's always going on about all the things demon muffins can do. Well, it turns out they actually are very good at eating things."

"So we have no way to revive people?" Stareye asked.

"You know, this wouldn't be happening if..."

"Don't even start, Synergy," Drakefyre said.

"I might know a way to revive Tyranicus," Slartucker said, "I've never actually tried it before, but graze dead should..."

"Do it. All other mods, a meeting in the Moderator Board will start in ten minutes. Be there," Stareye said.

"Another one?" Alorael said.

---

Ecksian stared out the window in the Endeavor Room. It was dawn. The lightning had stopped but rain continued to pour down.

He slumped into a chair. All of his bots had returned one way or the other, and the damaged ones were being repaired downstairs in the archives. The dead rats and Spiderwebbers had all been buried, with the exception of Arancaytar. Ecksian would zombify him later. And, as far as he knew, no one at Spiderweb suspected anything--yet. But it was only a matter of time.

He looked at the body of EcksianBot lying on the desk. This was the third time learning about the rats had triggered its hidden memories. Ecksian didn't have to talent to completely wipe its memories, just suppress them. The first time it had happened, EcksianBot caused so much commotion it led the rats right to his original workshop and he had barely enough time to get all his equipment away to his second workshop. The second time, just telling EcksianBot that they had to move again because the rats were tracking them down was enough to set it off. And now this. EcksianBot was unreliable. But Ecksian needed the bot. He needed someone around to keep him from overlooking a weakness or making a silly mistake. And there was no one else around to do it.

Ecksian pulled out his toolbox and carefully opened EcksianBot up.

---

Think and the GIFTR rounded a corner.

"Well, there it is," Think said.

"Wow!" Litter Locator said.

"Cool!" said Rubbish Remover.

Several sleek, torpedo-shaped vehicles sat at a small terminal. Each vehicle was covered in a different set of sponsor's logos. Behind the terminal was a vast array of tracks heading off in every direction.

Think went to the check-in booth and selected the Bots Aplenty Message Board as the destination. The door of one of the vehicles slid open.

"Get in," Think said.

The nymphs scuttled inside eagerly and settled into the seats. Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer followed.

"Now what?" Muck Master asked.

Think boarded and slid the door shut. The vehicle began to roll towards one of the tracks.

"Here we go!" Think said.

The vehicle reached the correct track and shot off.

---

Ephesos was still pacing.

"Oh, give it a rest. Wearing a hole in the ground won't get us out of here." Lazarus dumped the last spam he had into the fire. "Someone want to go find me some more spam?"

"I'll do it!" Iffy hopped up. "Where should I look?"

"I don't know. Look for ones that got thrown out of the way or something," Lazarus said, "With any luck, Ephesos will unbury some."

Ephesos stopped pacing. "Very funny."

"There's plenty of spam in that corner over there," Grime Grubber pointed. "There's some strange mold growing near it. Very tasty when mixed together."

"Eww," Marlenny said.

"Strange mold? Show me," Ephesos said, "Here, Zeviz, give me some light."

Grime Grubber led Ephesos and Zeviz to a corner. Iffy followed and dutifully collected some spam for Lazarus' fire.

A patch of slimy gray mold grew at the edge of a puddle. A drop of water fell into the puddle from a small crack in the ceiling. Ephesos scraped some of the mold off the floor and examined it closely. "It's definitely graymold. Too bad there's nothing we can do with it."

Zeviz took the graymold from Ephesos thoughtfully. "Maybe there is. Aran, do you have any coffee?"

Arancaytar huddled near a fire. "No. And if I did, I would have drunk it already."

"So you have absolutely none?" Zeviz asked.

"Well, I did spill a bit on my jacket last week. You can have that if you want," Arancaytar said sarcastically.

"Good. Thanks." Zeviz grabbed an empty can and scooped up some water.

"You're making a scrying pool? Will that even work here?" Ephesos asked.

Zeviz shrugged. "You never know." He tore the graymold apart and dropped it into the can.

Arancaytar took off his jacket. "All right, I'll bite."

Zeviz dunked the stained section into the water. Then he magicked a few drops of acid into the can and swirled the ingredients around.

Lazarus abandoned the fire to peer over Zeviz's shoulder. "What do you see? Can you see anything?"

Iffy staggered over to the fire and dropped the spam next to it. Several unopened cans tumbled into the fire.

"Ooh. I want to see!" Jewels tried to get a look at the makeshift scrying pool too.

Zeviz stepped away from the crowd. "I need some space before I'll be able to see anything."

Lazarus turned back to the fire and saw the cans. "Iffy! Are you crazy?!" One of the cans exploded, sending sizzling blobs of spam everywhere.

Chapter 17: Woad Of Bull

Chapter 17: Woad Of Bull Dikiyoba Mon, 01/28/2008 - 06:05
Slartucker carried Tyranicus to the Avernum 4 Forum, where he was sure he wouldn't be disturbed. He set Tyranicus down gently. "Oh, Nine-Headed Cave Cow, I humbly request that you reincownate Tyranicus. Graze dead!"

Slartucker waited for several minutes. Nothing happened.

He sighed. "Oh, cowerful Nine-Headed Cave Cow, it is I, Slartucker, your humbull and faithful servant. It behooves me to ask you to reincownate Tyranicus, for people are disappearing and no one knows why. There is much at steak and he may be able to provide us with answers. So if you would reincownate him, I shall be udderly grateful. Graze dead!"

A sudden breeze, smelling of hay, blew through the forum and ruffled Tyranicus' hair.

---

Schrodinger placed his hand on the scanner. The security system recognized him and the door to the Moderator Board unlocked. He stepped inside.

"Oh good. You aren't missing," Stareye said.

"What exactly is going on?" Schrodinger asked, "Nikki told me to come here. He seemed pretty upset."

"People are missing, presumed dead, and we don't know why at the moment," Drakefyre said, "Arancaytar is one of them."

"Oh. Has there been any attempt to revive them?"

"There are a few... complications preventing that," Stareye said.

"I'll grab Student of Trinity and we'll resume work on the summoning machine then," Schrodinger said.

"Yes. You two focus on that," Stareye said.

Schrodinger turned to leave and found himself face-to-face with Slartucker.

Slartucker stepped inside. "I've got good news and bad news."

"Well, tell us," Kelandon said.

"The good news is that I was able to revive Tyranicus. The bad news is he can only speak in the native tongue of the Nine-Headed Cave Cow." Slartucker opened the door all the way, revealing Tyranicus.

"Oh my!" Saunders said.

Schrodinger gasped.

Alorael started laughing.

Tyranicus had been brought back to life as a blue bull.

---

Andraste stared at the Periodic Table idly. Then an idea struck her. "Hey, Thralni, you don't happen to have your chemistry set around still, do you?"

"No, I'm afraid I sold to get the money to attend a Trivium concert a few months ago."

"Hmm. Oh well, we can still revive a few people. There has to be a bar of silver and lead around here somewhere. And isn't copper used in pipes?"

"Copper wire might be easier to get," Student of Trinity said.

Schrodinger poked his head into the General Forum. "Hey, SoT. I need your help with the summoning machine."

"Coming." Student of Trinity exited.

"I'll go look for the silver and lead." Thralni exited as well.

"But none of this is going to help Aran! It's not like there are bars of osmium in Avernum, you know!" Nikki said.

"Hmm." Niemand looked thoughtful.

Andraste shrugged. "It's enough to get started, at least." She picked up her clubs. "Now, where's the best place to look for copper pipes...?"

---

Tyranicus mooed angrily and stepped towards Alorael.

Alorael quickly got his laughter under control. "Sorry."

"We're so proud of you," Saunders said.

"So, back on topic, we have Tyranicus back but no way to understand him?" Drakefyre asked.

"At the moment, yes. Cave cow is one of the most difficult languages out there. I know surface cow reasonably well, but the inflection is totally different. Still, give me some time and I think I could..."

Slartucker was interrupted by hammering on the door.

"What is it?" Drakefyre asked.

"Andraste broke the sink! Water's going everywhere! The kitchen is flooding!" Dryth'tor said.

Stareye sighed. "I'll take care of it." He went over to the Admin Panel and flipped a switch.

---

Andraste was up to her ankles in water. With one hand, she tried to hand Zorro the piece of copper pipe she had smashed free. With the other, she attempted to stem the flow of water.

Zorro stood well away from the spray of water.

"Just take it!" Andraste threw the copper. It landed at Zorro's feet. He picked it up, dried it off, and stuck it into Galactic Core. There was a flash of light and Ephesos appeared.

"Yay!" Andraste said.

Ephesos hurried out of the way of the spraying water. "What is going on?" He looked down at his bare feet. "And where are my boots?"

The water pressure dwindled until the water flow stopped completely.

"Double yay!" Andraste said.

"You know, copper wire would have worked just as well and wouldn't have gotten us so wet," Zorro said, "Scratch that, you probably would have electrocuted us both."

"Well, thanks Andraste and Zorro," Ephesos said, "Are the admins around?"

Stareye pulled the kitchen door open. "What's going on? Ephesos!"

"Right. That takes care of that. Stareye, there's someone plotting against Spiderweb."

"Who?"

"I'm not exactly sure. Jewels called him 'Ecksian'. He's trying to create an army of bots. But we can stop him now, before his army is built up."

---

Ecksian was taking a break for brunch. He reviewed a few of the latest threads while eating a cheese sandwich from the rats' supplies. He nearly choked on it when he saw the one called Ephesos had been revived and was reporting to Stareye. He threw down the sandwich and ran downstairs to the archives.

"Stop what you are doing! Pack up! Pack up! We've got to move aga--" Ecksian tripped over a sheet of metal and fell into a bookcase. The bookcase swung sideways, revealing a trapdoor.

Ecksian pulled the trapdoor open and peered down. It was too dark to see anything. He pointed to a couple of bots. "You two, grab a torch each and follow me."

---

Thralni returned to the General Forum with silver and lead from the Avernum Trilogy Forum. He handed the bars to Zorro and stared at the well-armed group of Spiderwebbers standing in the middle of the forum. "What's going on?"

"They're going to take care of the guy and his bots who killed Ephesos." Zorro revived Salmon almost absently.

Salmon looked around. "Hmm. So there's Ephesos. Funny shoes, though. Where's Tyranicus?"

"You'll see eventually." Zorro scratched an eyebrow before reviving Lazarus.

"Where are my swords?" Lazarus demanded.

Ephesos joined the group. "It happened to me too. Just go find a replacement. Hurry, Drakefyre's getting impatient and he wants you to go along."

"Why me?" Lazarus asked.

"You know where the abandoned message board is," Ephesos said.

"Okay, then." Lazarus headed toward the Tech Support Forum.

Salmon pointed at Ephesos' bright red sandals. "So I take it your boots went missing?"

Ephesos looked slightly embarrassed. "Yes."

"Huh. I'm glad nothing of mine is missing," Salmon said, "Well, except for my fishing rod, but it was broken, so I was expecting that."

"Yeah."

"Oh, cheer up. Put on a Santa hat and you're ready for Crimbo," Salmon said.

"Er, what?"

"You know, all red and green and festive."

Ephesos stared at Salmon blankly.

"Oh, never mind."

Lazarus returned, armed with a shortsword. He joined the group.

"Good. Let's go. Lead the way, Lazarus," Drakefyre said.

"Um, okay." Lazarus opened the door and stepped out of the message board.

---

Ecksian stared at the underground room. It was huge and decidedly non-euclidean. A copy of the Necronomicon sat on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Elsewhere, there were notes, blueprints, and half-finished projects.

"Hmm. He was quite the tinkerer, wasn't he?" Ecksian asked.

The bots looked at each other in confusion.

"Yes?"

"No?"

"Never mind," Ecksian said, "This is the perfect place to hide out. Let's head back up. You two will help me move all the useful files out of the Endeavor room and bringing them here."

---

Drakefyre, Lazarus, and the other Spiderwebbers approached the abandoned message board carefully.

"Is there a back way out?" Drakefyre asked.

Lazarus shook his head.

"All right. Thuryl, check Shadow Vale. Andraste, Smoo, check around back to make sure we aren't missing anything," Drakefyre said.

"Aww, but I'll miss all the good fighting," Andraste said.

Drakefyre glared at her.

"All right, we're going," Smoo said.

"Imban, get us inside," Drakefyre said.

Imban kicked the door in. Everyone charged inside, yelling wildly and brandishing their weapons.

Nioca looked around and dropped his hands. "This place is empty."

"Thank you for stating the obvious," Rakshasi said.

Lenar opened the window and looked out. "You just have to be different, don't you?"

The Silent Assassin sat on the ground below the window, rubbing his head.

Lazarus motioned outside. "Arancaytar said he was killed in Ermarian. Maybe Ecksian is hiding there."

Around back, Andraste picked up a leaf. "Where did this come from, do you think?"

Smoo shrugged. "From an oak tree. Where else do oak leaves come from?"

"But there are no oak trees nearby!"

"The wind blew them here?"

"No, it couldn't have. These leaves are green still, not dried up."

"What do you think it means, then?" Smoo asked.

"I think it means I should have put more points into nature lore. There's something odd here but I can't tell what," Andraste said.

Chrrrk!

Smoo knelt down. "It's a cricket. Are you one of Ephesos'?"

The cricket nodded and pointed at the ground. Other crickets crawled out from under leaves and pointed at the ground too.

"What do they want?" Smoo asked.

"I think they want us to dig," Andraste said.

The crickets nodded.

"I'll go get some of the others," Smoo said.

Andraste used her club as a rather ineffective shovel. "You do that."

---

Tyranicus paced the Moderator Board impatiently.

Randomizer sat in a corner, meditating. He opened his eyes. "Do you mind? I'm trying to concentrate!"

Tyranicus snorted at him.

"Fine. I'll go elsewhere." Randomizer got up and stormed out of the room, nearly bumping into Slartucker and Ephesos.

Ephesos grabbed a book off the shelf. "I don't know anything about shapeshifting, Slartucker. This book might have something, but I doubt it." He looked at Tyranicus. "Still, I'll try."

Chapter 18: Got Translator?

Chapter 18: Got Translator? Dikiyoba Wed, 02/06/2008 - 06:19
In the Miscellaneous Forum, Zeviz sighed in frustration. He left the scrying pool and sat by a fire.

"No luck?" Arancaytar asked.

"No. I thought I saw something once, but only for a split-second. It was probably my imagination."

"What was it?" Arancaytar asked.

"Myself--er, my zombie, I guess--stepping through a door."

"Where?"

"I have no idea."

"Because if it was at Ermarian, then some of the more sensitive places are shielded against scrying. So maybe you did see your, er, zombie for a moment before the shields kicked in."

"Or maybe it was just my imagination. The scrying pool at Spiderweb is already hard to use and this one is far worse. I'm surprised it works at all."

"Does it work?"

"Oh, yes. I can see everything in the Miscellaneous Forum. Just no luck seeing outside of it." Zeviz moved closer to the fire. "Maybe... maybe I'm going about this the wrong way. Maybe it wasn't my imagination, which would mean... I need someone's help."

"I'll do it!" Iffy said.

Zeviz shook his head. "Sorry, I need someone else."

"Why?" Iffy asked.

"I'll help," Jewels said.

"Could... could I help?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Either one of you will work, but I only need one," Zeviz said.

"You do it," Jewels said.

"Okay. What... what am I going to do?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Why?" Iffy repeated.

"Because I need someone who has a body still and yours got eaten," Zeviz said, "Grime, sit at the scrying pool."

"Okay." Grime peered into the can. "It's dark."

"That's because it's unfocused. I'll focus it and you will do the actual looking."

"Why?" Grime Grubber asked.

"It's too difficult for me to focus the pool and look at the same time. Especially since I think the strongest link we have while we are here is to our own bodies and mine is currently in a difficult-to-scry place," Zeviz said, "Let's start with something easy as practice before we try that, though. First, concentrate on..."

---

Ecksian looked around the archives one more time. It was the last room he had to check. Everything had been moved down into the hidden room, so he climbed down into the tunnel and shut the trapdoor. He locked the trapdoor and pulled a small lever. Up top, the bookshelf swung back into position, hiding the trapdoor from view.

"Zombie?"

"Brayns?"

Ecksian gritted his teeth. "Switching letters does not make it a different word."

"Brns?"

"Shut up! You are forbidden to speak unless specifically ordered to!"

Zeviz stood mutely.

"Good. You will stay here. And you will not make any noise whatsoever. If someone actually opens the trapdoor and starts coming down, then you will yell 'Intruders!' as loudly and as frequently as you can. That is the one word you are allowed to use and the only situation you are allowed to use it in. Got that?"

Zeviz still stood there.

"I'll take that as a yes." Ecksian disappeared down the tunnel.

---

Outside, Thuryl stepped out of Shadow Vale with Nemesis in tow. "He's the only one inside. The place doesn't look like it's been attacked or anything."

"I don't suppose you've noticed anything odd about this place?" Drakefyre pointed to the abandoned message board.

Nemesis stared at it. "Huh. How long has that been there?"

"I guess not," Drakefyre said.

"Sorry, I'm not usually very alert when I'm here." Nemesis yawned. "I pretty much come to SV to sleep, unless there's something really exciting going on."

"I don't think it's safe to remain in Shadow Vale for the time being," Drakefyre said, "So..."

"Huh? Why not?" Nemesis asked.

Drakefyre pointed to the abandoned message board.

"Oh. Okay."

"As I was saying, it's not safe, so you should come with us. And we should leave a note to warn anyone else who happens to show up too."

"No, wait. I'm an admin. I can--temporarily--shut Shadow Vale down. I don't want Ecksian to get in." Lazarus stepped inside.

Nioca watched sadly as the lights in Shadow Vale suddenly turned off. "Poor Tyranicus. Imagine how bad he'll feel when he finds out about this."

---

Tyranicus paced the Moderator Board. Both Ephesos and Slartucker were looking through spellbooks.

Ephesos slammed his book shut. "Sorry, Tyranicus. I don't see anything in here that could help. How are you doing, Slartucker?"

"There's nothing in here. After all, the Church of the Nine-Headed Cave Cow believes that the cow is one of the most sacred forms imaginable, so who would want to change back into an inferior form? However, there is a nice cave cow dictionary in here that I'm studying."

Tyranicus mooed.

"Wait... could you repeat that?" Slartucker asked.

Tyranicus mooed again.

"Give me a second... Was it 'After this, possibly you are good for something?'" Slartucker tried.

Tyranicus mooed.

"'Oh, never... spirit?'"

---

The crickets sat on Andraste's shoulder while she dug. Finally, her club hit something that wasn't ground. She set the club aside and scraped the last of the mud away with her hands.

It was Jewels' arm.

"Hey! I found them! I found them!" Andraste grabbed the club and resumed digging.

Smoo returned with the others. "You found them? Ugh!" Smoo stepped back as Andraste unearthed a rat's tail.

"Yeah! Come on!" Andraste said.

Everyone dug until they had recovered three Spiderwebbers, seven rats, and Grime Grubber.

"I think that's all of them," Drakefyre said.

"No! Where's Arancaytar, then?" Nikki shoveled frantically.

"If he was killed in Ermarian like he said he was, he could still be there," Lazarus said.

"Well, I'm not leaving until I'm absolutely sure," Nikki said.

"Fine. You stay here while we take the others back to Spiderweb to be revived. Don't let the bots get you," Drakefyre said.

Nikki grumbled something incomprehensible and kept digging.

---

Grime Grubber and Zeviz still sat at the scrying pool.

Suddenly, Grime Grubber jumped up. "Yes! Yes! They found us! They found us! They're taking us back to Spiderweb!"

"What? Who is?" Marlenny asked.

"There's a bunch of Spiderwebbers, and they dug you, me, Jewels, and Drew up and they're taking us back to Spiderweb! We can be revived soon!" Grime Grubber shouted.

"Concentrate, Grime. We have time to find out where Ecksian and all his bots are before anyone gets revived," Zeviz said, "That way, when someone does get revived, the rest of Spiderweb knows exactly where to look."

"Oh, right." Grime Grubber peered back into the pool.

"Aran, where are the shielded areas?" Zeviz asked.

Arancaytar stood behind them. "My office, obviously, and Endeavor, plus... er, no, wait, that's it, I think."

"All right. I'll start talking when I see something interesting," Grime Grubber said.

---

Nikki threw down the slab of rock he had been using to dig with. Arancaytar simply wasn't buried behind the abandoned message board.

He pulled out his favorite mechanical pencil and clicked it ominously a few times. "With any luck, I will be the one to avenge your death, sweet kitten. Ecksian beware!"

Nikki made his way toward Ermarian.

---

"Well, here's something," Ephesos said.

"What?" Slartucker asked.

"Divine Restoration. It completely heals the beneficiary and cares all negative effects acting on them. Do you think being a cow counts as a negative effect?"

Tyranicus nodded vigorously.

"It's worth a try," Slartucker said.

"Yeah." Ephesos scanned the page. "Wow. It won't be easy to learn."

Tyranicus mooed.

"'It will be...in value it, however. Dispatch you... to the top and learn... the charm, Ephesos,'" Slartucker said.

"Well, of course I will. It'll just take me a while, is all."

There was a knock on the door.

"Yes?" Slartucker asked.

"Is Ephesos in there?" Andraste asked.

"Yeah. What do you want?" Ephesos opened the door.

Tyranicus immediately dove behind the admin panel.

Chrrk! Chrrrk! The crickets leapt off Andraste's shoulder onto Ephesos.

"There you are!" Ephesos said.

Chrrrk!

"Yes, I know. I missed you too."

"Um, what is that?" Andraste pointed to Tyranicus, only half-hidden behind the admin panel.

Slartucker grabbed one of Tyranicus' horns and forced him into the open. "That is Tyranicus."

"Oh. Um, what happened to him?" Andraste asked.

"He got turned into a blue bull, obviously," Ephesos said.

"Well, whatever you do, just don't get turned into a baby seal." Andraste twirled her club.

Tyranicus mooed.

"'Do... offenses never finish?'"

Tyranicus mooed angrily.

"'That is not... that I said on their... premises!' Huh?"

Tyranicus mooed.

"Oh. 'That is not what I said at all.' That makes more sense."

"Er, I need to go, so... Ephesos, we've brought some people back to be revived and Diki said a batch of Balms of Life was just about ready. See you after we deal with Ecksian," Andraste walked off.

"Great. Tyranicus, I'll be back as soon as I'm finished," Ephesos said.

Tyranicus mooed.

"Re-establishment... of my Nine-Headed Cave Cow... first should be... thrown? I don't think I quite got that one. Would you repeat it?" Slartucker asked.

Tyranicus facehooved.

Chapter 19: With Great Power...

Chapter 19: With Great Power... Dikiyoba Mon, 02/11/2008 - 01:44
Down in the Exile Forum, Randomizer opened his eyes and stood up. "Spray acid!" He pointed to a nearby rock. Nothing happened.

Randomizer slumped back down. "No, no, this isn't working at all. And since it could be a while before I get the opportunity to research the problem and I'm probably going to need to cast a few spells between now and then, it's time to take more drastic action." He took a deep breath. "Okay, Randomizer, you've done this before. You can do it again. You know exactly what you're doing. No false starts, just go for it... okay, now. Um... just go! Er..." Randomizer sat in silence for a few minutes, fidgeting nervously. "Right. Okay, um... oh, come on. No one is going to interrupt you, so just... just... er, shoot."

Randomizer closed his eyes. His hands balled up into fists as he practically forced the words out. "If... if I... if I... if... if I repeat this statement forty-seven thousand eight hundred fifty-one times, I will absorb great power!" Randomizer relaxed and continued more calmly. "If I repeat this statement forty-seven thousand eight hundred fifty-one times, I will absorb great power. If I repeat this statement..."

---

In the Tech Support Forum, Ephesos took three Balms of Life from Dikiyoba. "You've only got three?"

"Well, it's not like Dikiyoba wasn't planning to make more..."

"Right, sorry. I'm just not sure how much time I have to revive the rats. They're certainly not in the Miscellaneous Forum."

"You're reviving the rats first?" Student of Trinity stepped away from the summoning machine to get a better look. All the rats were laid out in beds.

"Yes." Ephesos poured the first potion on Attorukkip. "Restore life!"

Attorukkip gasped and sat halfway up. "What... what's going on? Who are you?"

"Relax. I'm Ephesos. You're at the Spiderweb Software Message Board. Rest for a bit. I'll revive the others in your group as quickly as I can."

"You can bring people back to life? I would very much like to learn that spell."

"Certainly, once you've recovered." Ephesos dumped the second potion on G'ree't'l. "Restore life!"

Student of Trinity resumed work on the summoning machine while Ephesos calmed G'ree't'l. "We tried kicking it once, but have we tried kicking it a second time yet? I'm pretty sure that would help."

Schrodinger replaced a fuse. "How?"

"Well, it would make me feel a lot better. I mean, we've fixed most of the damage from it malfunctioning, sure, but we still don't know why it malfunctioned in the first place. And... maybe it'll knock a loose wire back into place?" Student of Trinity said.

"All right. I don't have any better ideas." Schrodinger stepped back.

Ephesos revived H'uk'n'l. Dikiyoba ground dried mandrake into a powder. They both jumped as Student of Trinity yelled and kicked the summoning machine as hard as he could.

A secret compartment in the bottom of the summoning machine fell open. Two potions fell out and shattered, followed by a thorn baton, three rubies, a quiver of arrows, and a scarf.

"Huh. How'd we miss that?" Student of Trinity asked.

Schrodinger crawled under the summoning machine, carefully avoiding the broken potions. "Well, this looks like the problem. There's a whole mess of ruined paper and some broken glass in here. Hand me a pair of gloves, will you?"

"Tinker's or regular?"

"Regular."

Student of Trinity handed him a pair and then sorted through the recovered objects. "This looks like Arancaytar's scarf. Ugh. It smells terrible."

"Yeah. It looks like there was another potion in here that broke somehow. Sure made a mess of this book." Schrodinger tossed a big chunk of it out from under the machine.

Dikiyoba took the scarf. "Dikiyoba believes this is the smell of heroic brew."

"Does it taste that bad too?"

"No. It tastes worse."

Student of Trinity tossed the arrows and thorn baton into the nearest box of supplies. "So it's called heroic brew because it takes a heroic effort to drink it?"

Dikiyoba shrugged and returned to potion-making.

Student of Trinity looked at the remains of the book. "Looks like the Evil Overlord Guide."

"Yeah. It was originally a much smaller compartment, but a panel got knocked aside after too much stuff got shoved inside and a few things got up into the wiring." Schrodinger tossed more of the book and the remains of a living tool aside. "That should be it. Hand me the Tinker's Gloves and a screwdriver, would you?"

Student of Trinity did so. "So Dintiradan had the secret compartment build in, then someone found it and crammed it full of stuff. While it was boxed up, no less. Who?"

"That's fairly obvious. Go find Mystic and tell him to get in here right now," Schrodinger said.

---

Nikki stepped into Ermarian with his pencil drawn. "Hello? Ecksian? I know you're in here somewhere--come out and fight!"

---

"This is just great," Drew said, "Why haven't we been revived yet? Although we haven't found anything, so it's not really a loss in that department."

"Well, at least we've learned where Ecksian isn't." The Lurker moved closer so he could hear better.

"Nikki just walked in," Grime Grubber said.

"Alone?" Arancaytar asked.

"Yes."

Arancaytar sighed.

"Follow him. Maybe he'll have better luck," Zeviz said.

---

Nikki searched the main floor of Ermarian thoroughly. He opened drawers, knocked over bins, threw books off of shelves, and occasionally yelled dramatic challenges.

"Ecksian, you coward, come out and face me!"

---

Ecksian listened to all the noise overhead and forced himself to be calm. "Don't worry. They're not going to find us as long as we're quiet."

---

Arancaytar sat with his hands over his ears so he wouldn't have to listen to Grime Grubber's commentary.

"...and he's yelling something again. He sure looks angry. Now he's heading into the archives."

Over in the corner, Zephyr Tempest woke up. He stood up slowly, making sure no one was watching him.

"He's prowling through the bookshelves now and throwing everything off of them. Wow, what a mess," Grime Grubber said.

"Icy rain!" Zephyr Tempest yelled.

Zeviz threw himself out of the way just in time. The shards of ice killed the Lurker and bounced painfully off of Grime Grubber's exoskeleton.

Drew tackled Zephyr Tempest. Several sharp icicles flew from Zephyr Tempest's hands, narrowly missing his head. "Uh, a little help here?"

Jewels pinned one arm to Zephyr Tempest's side in a massive hug. Drew picked up a rock and knocked Zephyr Tempest out with it.

The Lurker stood back up. "Ouch. Sorry about that."

"Here, Iffy, you can guard Zephyr, since the Lurker doesn't seem to want to anymore," Jewels said.

"Sure!" Iffy said.

Drew shook his head in disgust. "Ecksian is crazy, Nikki is crazy, Zephyr is absofrigginlutely nuts. Can it get any worse?"

---

"...great power. If I repeat this statement forty-seven thousand eight hundred fifty-one times, I will absorb great power. If I..."

---

Emperor Tullegolar stopped as a drop of rain hit his face.

The necromancer holding the umbrella over him continued a few more steps, then hurried back into position once he realized his mistake. "What's wrong?"

"I'm getting wet, Azuma. How can I trust you to restore Rentar-Ihrno when you can't even hold an umbrella properly?"

The necromancer gulped. "Sorry. I'll try harder."

"See that you do. Let's keep moving."

"But where's Jeran?" Azuma asked.

A figure with a massive greatsword across his back stepped out of the alley just behind them. "Hey, come check this out!"

Emperor Tullegolar and Azuma stepped into the alley. Emperor Tullegolar kicked Zephyr Tempest's body. "So weak."

"So we should loot any valuables and leave him here?" Jeran Korak asked.

"Nonsense. If he's dead, I can't kill him myself. Pick him up; we'll take him back to Spiderweb," Emperor Tullegolar said.

"If you'd like, I could revive him as a zombie and..." Azuma said.

Emperor Tullegolar shook his head. "Nah, too easy."

---

Nikki continued tossing threads off the bookshelves and pulling chairs away from the table. "Come on, Ecksian. Fight me one-on-one or with all your bots, I don't care. Either way, I'll teach you not to even think about harming Aran ever again."

As Nikki climbed up one bookcase to reach the top shelf, it turned sideways. He looked down and saw the trapdoor. "Sweet!"

Nikki climbed down and pulled on the trapdoor. It didn't budge. After a bit of pulling and stomping didn't work, he slid the pencil into the crack, found the lock, and jammed the pencil into it. The lock snapped. He opened the trapdoor and jumped inside. "Hey, Ecksian! Guess who's here to see you?"

"In... intru..." The zombie stumbled over the word before giving up. "Brains?" He launched himself at Nikki.

Ecksian was in the process of activating a bot when he heard the yells. "Intruders! All of you, get them!"

The bots thundered into the tunnel. Ecksian drew his dagger and swallowed hard.

Nikki stabbed Zeviz in the arm and scrambled halfway up the ladder. He pulled out a second mechanical pencil and leapt directly into the bots. He knocked two of them down as he landed. He stabbed one of them quickly, then rose to parry a blow. The bots had trouble fighting in such a confined space and Nikki managed to take out two more bots before getting hit. He collapsed.

One of the bots reported to Ecksian. "There was only one intruder and he is dead, Master."

Ecksian sheathed his dagger and walked over to Nikki. He searched him and came up with three mechanical pencils. "Unusual weapons, but clearly deadly in the right hands." He tucked them into his pocket. "Now, let's..." He cringed at a sound overhead. "More intruders. Zombie, distract them. Do whatever it takes to lead them away from here. You three bots, stay guard in this tunnel. Everyone else, back into the room. Make absolutely no noise." Ecksian closed the trapdoor and set the bookcase back into place after Zeviz was away.

---

"Found anything yet?" Drew asked.

"He revived the rats before us. The rats were nice and all, but them over us?" Jewels muttered.

"Not y--hey! There's a bookshelf moved in the archives," Grime Grubber said.

"Oh no, he found it," Arancaytar said.

"Found what?" the Lurker asked.

Arancaytar sighed. "I lied. There is another shielded place. I have a--well, had a--secret room under the archives. I really wish he hadn't found it."

"Who, Ecksian or Nikki?" Marlenny asked.

"Both," Arancaytar said.

"Nikki must be alive down there, but Zeviz's zombie just came out of that secret room," Grime Grubber said, "He's going upstairs. And there's a bunch of Spiderwebbers there!"

"Woo hoo!" Marlenny said.

"Does this mean that Ecksian is finally trapped?" Drew asked.

"Well... hopefully," Arancaytar said.

---

The Mystic dragged his overloaded pack into the Tech Support Forum. "Yeah?"

Schrodinger held up Arancaytar's ruined scarf. "Do you recognize this?"

"I might."

"Did you steal it?"

"Did anyone see me steal it?"

"No, but..."

"Then it couldn't have been me."

"Very well." Schrodinger upended the Mystic's pack, scattering stuff everywhere. "Where did all of this come from?"

"I found it."

Schrodinger picked the sanity jar out of the pile. "You found--no! Do not take anything that isn't specifically yours or an occasional item from the group supplies that you actually need. You've been warned about this numerous times before. Now you're on your last chance. This is an official warning. Just because no one sees you take something does not make it acceptable."

"Fine." The Mystic took his now-empty pack and marched off.

Chrrk!

"Wow is right," Ephesos said quietly.

Schrodinger made eye contact with Attorukkip and quickly looked away. "Let's get back to work, shall we?"

---

Randomizer stared into space, his eyes unfocused. "...statement forty-seven thousand... eight hundred... fifty-one times I will absorb great power... if I repeat this statement forty-seven thousand... eight hundred... fifty-one times I will absorb great power... if I repeat..."

Chapter 20: He'll Be Bot

Chapter 20: He'll Be Bot Dikiyoba Sun, 02/17/2008 - 19:34
Drakefyre looked around the entrance hall of Ermarian carefully.

"Wow. What a mess," Nioca said.

"Yes. Split up into groups of at least three and search the place thoroughly. Yell if you find anything," Drakefyre said.

Nioca found himself in a group with Andraste and Actaeon. "Let's try downstairs." He started down. "Hey!"

Zeviz rushed up the stairs, knocking Nioca into the wall. Actaeon fired a shot at him but nearly hit Andraste instead.

"Watch it!" Andraste said.

Zeviz made it safely outside.

Drakefyre, Lazarus, Imban, and Thuryl stepped out of the Encyclopedia Ermariana wing.

"What was that?" Drakefyre asked.

"Zeviz." Nioca pointed outside.

"Probably a distraction," Drakefyre said.

"Where'd he come from?" Thuryl asked.

"Downstairs," Actaeon said.

"Then that's where the bots will be. You three, deal with the zombie and take him back to Spiderweb. Everyone else, downstairs!" Drakefyre said.

"Oh joy. Well, we might as well make the best of it." Andraste ran outside.

"Wait up!" Nioca and Actaeon followed.

---

"What are we going to do?" Ecksian paced back and forth frantically. "There's no way out and not enough bots to defend ourselves against most of Spiderweb and..." He walked straight into the pedestal. "...and the architecture of this place is driving me mad! I can't tell where anything is!" He swept Necronomicon onto the floor angrily, revealing a button. He pushed it. A secret door in the wall opened up.

Ecksian stared at the new tunnel uncomprehendingly for a moment before it clicked. "Escape! You, get those three bots outside and bring them in. The rest of you, grab whatever you can carry while still being able to move quickly. Everything else will have to remain behind." Ecksian grabbed his toolbox, EcksianBot, and, after a moment's hesitation, PiperBot. "Hurry, we don't have much time." He entered the tunnel.

---

Andraste was gaining on Zeviz when they both practically ran into Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, and Azuma.

Emperor Tullegolar tripped them both as they went by. "My, my, what is this?"

"Brains?" Zeviz said.

Actaeon and Nioca caught up.

"Repel spirit!" A bolt of purple magic from Nioca hit Zeviz.

"Brains!" Zeviz collapsed.

Emperor Tullegolar smiled at Azuma sadly. "And here I thought bringing a necromancer to Spiderweb would be radical. But apparently they're already turning each other into undead left and right."

"Actually, that's not--" Nioca began.

Andraste glared at Emperor Tullegolar. "Hey, Nioca, do you happen to have a 'Repel Loser' spell, because we seem to have a serious case of it right here."

Emperor Tullegolar pointed his slith spear at Andraste. Actaeon aimed his bow at Emperor Tullegolar. Jeran Korak dropped Zephyr Tempest, grabbed Nioca from behind, and tried to maneuver his massive greatsword so it was at Nioca's throat.

"Okay, this could get messy," Nioca gasped.

"Now what?" Azuma asked.

"Do something so Actaeon can't shoot me," Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Okay." Azuma stepped in front of Emperor Tullegolar, holding the umbrella out like a shield.

Andraste was ready for Emperor Tullegolar's attack and dodged it easily. Then she clubbed him in the face.

Emperor Tullegolar fell to his knees, clutching his face. "By bose! You boke by bose!"

Nioca broke free and healed him. Actaeon quickly turned his bow on Jeran Korak.

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Andraste asked.

"The side that doesn't get everyone killed." Nioca pointed to Jeran Korak. "You, carry Zephyr Tempest." He pointed to Azuma. "You, carry Zeviz. Please."

"But I need to..."

"No, I'll hold the umbrella for you. Actaeon, Andraste, stay behind us to make sure no one tries anything."

---

The Spiderwebbers searched the archives. Lazarus stood by the bookcase that hid the trapdoor. "Half the room's been ransacked and the other hasn't been touched? Something happened here for sure. Probably right around where I'm standing."

Drakefyre held a hand up for silence. "Do you hear something?"

Everyone listened for a moment.

"I was right! Someone's yelling from somewhere underneath this bookcase!" Lazarus pushed on it, revealing the trapdoor. He opened it. "Nikki!"

Nikki coughed feebly. "Good. I don't think... I could have... kept that up... much longer."

Drakefyre climbed down and cast a few healing spells on him. "What are you doing here?"

Nikki sat up. "Never mind that. Ecksian was here, but he just found a secret passage and escaped. If we hurry, we could still find it and maybe catch up to him."

"So you don't know how to get into the secret tunnel."

"Afraid not."

"Should we come down?" Lazarus asked.

"No. I'm coming up. Synergy, you and Nikki stay here and search the room for anything interesting." Drakefyre climbed back into the archives.

"Then what are the rest of us going to do?" Smoo asked.

"That secret passage has to come up somewhere. Knowing Arancaytar, it's probably Polaris. So, we're going to go there. If we're lucky, we'll get there first," Drakefyre said.

---

Andraste, Actaeon, Nioca, Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, and Azuma arrived at Spiderweb.

"Welcome to Spiderweb Software, leave your sanity at the door." Actaeon realized the sanity jar was missing. "Er, just leave it somewhere around here."

"Drop those losers and come with me. I'll show you around." Emperor Tullegolar said. Jeran Korak and Azuma dropped Zephyr Tempest and Zeviz to follow Emperor Tullegolar's tour of the General Forum.

"Hmmph." Andraste and Nioca carried Zeviz and Zephyr Tempest to the Tech Support Forum.

"Good news. We've got a mage to revive," Andraste said.

"Good timing. Dikiyoba just finished the next batch." Dikiyoba handed the potions over to Ephesos.

"Great!" Ephesos said. He revived Zeviz. "So, how are the others doing?"

Andraste shrugged. "I don't know. We left before the fun part."

Zeviz sat up shakily. "Well, no one's died recently, at least. But I... I don't think I'm up to casting anything just yet."

"Don't worry about it. Just rest." Ephesos helped Zeviz into a bed. Then he revived Phil and Deathwhisker.

Emperor Tullegolar entered to continue the tour. Nalyd had decided to tag along as well.

"Schrodinger's real easygoing and writes terrific walkthroughs, so he's okay. But he sucks, he sucks, she really sucks, Dikiyoba's gimmick sucks, Nalyd's gimmick is even worse, he was better as a zombie, and he is way too into his crickets." Emperor Tullegolar pointed each person out as he talked about them. Then he saw the rats and stopped short. "What're they doing here?"

Ephesos stepped forward and folded his arms across his chest. "Nice to see you too."

"Nalyd's gimmick doesn't suck. And it's not a gimmick."

"Oh, don't worry, Ephesos. It's not like you're lusting after a talking piece of rock," Andraste said.

Emperor Tullegolar shook his head. "Just because Rentar-Ihrno is now a Crystal Soul doesn't mean she isn't worthy of love. You're just angry because you're jealous. Let's keep moving."

Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, Azuma, and Nalyd exited to the Announcements Forum.

"I don't like the way he looked at us," G'ree't'l said.

"Yeah, he hates just about everyone here," Ephesos said.

"The feeling is mutual," Andraste said.

"We could kill him for you," Deathwhisker said.

"Tempting, but no," Ephesos said.

---

"...power... if... I... repeat... this... statement... forty... seven... thousand... eight... hundred... fifty... one... times... I... will... absorb... great... power..." Randomizer's head drooped. "...if... I... ohh..." He shook his head and jumped upright. "Repeat! This! Statement! Forty! Seven! Thousand! Eight! Hundred! Fifty! One! Times! I! Will! Absorb! Great! Power! If! I!"

---

Ecksian opened the trapdoor at the end of the tunnel cautiously. Someone was playing the piano in another room but no one was in the immediate area. He climbed out. "We must be absolutely silent. Don't be seen. The last thing we want is someone to be alerted to our presence," he whispered.

Ecksian and the bots filed out of Polaris safely and started marching toward Google.

---

Lazarus caught sight of the bots and sprinted back to the rest of the group. "They're just up ahead!" he panted, "It looks like they're headed straight for Google."

"Any way we could cut them off?" Drakefyre asked.

Lazarus shook his head.

"We'll have to catch them from behind, then." Drakefyre cast blessing spells on everyone. "Charge!"

It didn't take long for Ecksian to hear the oncoming Spiderwebbers. He grabbed the four bots nearest to him. "Drop what you're carrying. Hold the Spiderwebbers off."

The four bots remained behind while Ecksian and the others retreated.

Drakefyre and Imban were leading the charge several yards ahead of the other Spiderwebbers. Drakefyre cast divine warrior on them both. They clashed with the bots.

Drakefyre stabbed one of them right through the armor. Imban parried a blow then hacked apart the second one. Lenar threw a reaperdisk. It bounced off the third bot harmlessly. He pulled out his scythe, keeping the bot busy until the Silent Assassin killed it from behind. Lazarus and Thuryl brought the final one down.

"Keep going!" Drakefyre started running again.

They arrived at Google as Ecksian punched in the final set of instructions at the check-in both. The other vehicles had already left. Only one remained. Ecksian ran for it. "Hurry!"

The few remaining bots crowded inside. The Silent Assassin tried to leap inside as well, but Ecksian slammed the door on him. The vehicle rolled off.

Lazarus threw his sword down in disgust. "We were so close. Now he could be anywhere."

The Silent Assassin gestured at Lenar.

"The Silent Assassin would like it known that even though we don't know where Ecksian is going, we know where he'll end up," Lenar said.

"What do you mean?" Lazarus asked.

"Sooner or later, he'll be back here with a full army of bots to back him up."

"Right. We need to get back to Spiderweb to prepare," Drakefyre said.

---

Synergy looked around the secret workshop one more time. "A shame there isn't much here. Ecksian must have all the notes with him."

"Well, at least I've got Arancaytar back," Nikki said, "Let's get him back to Spiderweb."

---

Ecksian sat on the floor of the vehicle, watching his shaking hands. "We only lost four bots, so that could have gone a lot worse." When his hands had stopped trembling, he opened his toolbox and pulled out several tools. He held EcksianBot. "I wish I could, but I can't use you where we're going. Not just yet, anyway." He set EcksianBot aside and picked PiperBot up. "You, however, will probably be very useful." He opened PiperBot up, then carefully inserted a clear crystal into it. "If I can only get you to work. Here goes nothing..."

---

"Times! I! Will! Absorb! Great!" A few sparks flew from Randomizer's hands. "Power?" Bigger sparks leapt from his hands. "Yes! Spray acid!"

Nothing happened. Randomizer was disappointed. "But... but... my magic is back. I can feel it. Although I guess it does feel a bit different than normal."

Emperor Tullegolar and the others stepped into the forum. "And this is the Exile Trilogy Forum. What the?! Randomizer, since when have you been a canister addict? And since when have canisters been available here, anyway?"

"What? I haven't used any canisters," Randomizer said.

"You're glowing!" Nalyd said, "Nalyd wish he glowed. Glowed black, that is."

Randomizer looked at himself. "Hmm. So I am. But with what?"

---

Arancaytar suddenly winced. "G... guys? I... I don't... f... feel s... so... good." He started shaking.

"What's wrong?" Jewels asked.

"I... I d... don't know." Arancaytar sank to his knees. "C... can't see s... straight. H... hurts. Ow. Ow. Ow!"

"What hurts? What should we do?" Jewels asked.

"All o... over. Ow! Ow! Arghhhhhhhhh!" Arancaytar yelled and thrashed about before losing consciousness.

"He's fading away! Someone do something!" Jewels yelled.

"Like what?!" Drew asked.

Arancaytar vanished completely.

Grime Grubber looked at the spot where Arancaytar had been. "Are we next?"

"I... don't know," Drew said.

---

Zeviz climbed out of bed. "Somebody get Zorro and a copy of the Periodic table. I think I'm ready to summon some elements now."

Student of Trinity handed him a copy of the Table. "Here. I'll be right back." He came back a few minutes later with Zorro.

Zeviz summoned some antimony and handed it to Zorro. Zorro revived Jewels.

"Are you okay? You look awfully pale," Ephesos said.

"It's Arancaytar. One moment, he was fine. Then he was thrashing and screaming, then he disappeared entirely."

"What!?" Nikki stood in the doorway. He let Arancaytar's body fall. "Arancaytar's gone? No, he can't be. Revive him!"

"No time for that," Jewels said, "We must revive everyone else as quickly as possible so no one else has a chance to vanish."

Zeviz summoned some osmium. "Let's try it just once."

Jewels snatched the Table from him. "Give me that. Grime Grubber needs an element. Any element."

"I thought you said everyone needed a reason for their element," Nioca said.

"No time for that. I'll give him hassium. That has a very short half-life, representing the hurry I'm in. That'll work," Jewels said.

Zorro stuck the osmium into Galactic Core.

Ploink! The osmium fell out and hit the floor. Zorro picked it up and tried again. The same thing happened.

Nikki swallowed hard.

Chapter 21: Inevitable

Chapter 21: Inevitable Dikiyoba Sun, 02/17/2008 - 19:38
In the Tech Support Forum, everyone had been revived but Arancaytar. Nikki sat with his arms around his knees and sighed. "I guess if Galactic Core doesn't work and Return Life doesn't work that he really is dead, then."

"Yeah," Ephesos said.

"Mom said something like this would happen. Why do moms always have to be right?" Grime Grubber asked.

Drakefyre entered. "No luck?"

"No luck," Ephesos said.

"Then it's time to head to the General Forum. We need to discuss our options. Schrodinger, bring Slartucker and Tyranicus out of the Moderator Board, please," Drakefyre said.

Everyone left but Grime Grubber and the rats.

"What about us?" Attorukkip asked.

"I need to ask you a few questions. Then you can do whatever. Do you know anything about Ecksian? Who is he? What does he want with us? How did he get ahold of the bots in the first place?"

"There's not a lot we can help you with. We didn't even know his name until recently. The theft was a complete surprise. But he knew exactly what he was doing, so either he pretended to be a customer or he had inside help. It's being investigated, of course, but our group has been out trying to track Ecksian down for a while now, so we haven't heard any recent news."

"What do you know about the bots?"

"Not a lot. None of us participated in the designing of them, so we don't know many specifics. But they were designed to be defenders, not aggressors. We certainly didn't intend this."

"Well, we did bring back the bots we dispatched, so we can study them for that. But do they have any weaknesses you know of?"

"Hmm. Well, obviously, finding gaps in their armor helps a lot. I suspect the right magic spells would do a lot more than blades or missiles, as well. Other than that, I'm not sure. They are very obedient, so unfortunately Ecksian isn't going to lose control of them. I'm afraid I don't know," Attorukkip.

"Thanks anyway. Here, since your weapons seem to be missing, you can choose something from our supplies."

"Wow, thanks!" Phil said.

Grime Grubber pulled on Attorukkip's tail lightly. "Can... can I come with you?"

"Of course. We're heading back to Bots Aplenty, but maybe we'll get lucky and find your family along the way."

---

Think halted and pointed out a small, rectangular building with peeling blue paint. "Well, there it is. Bots Aplenty."

A blue rat and a bot stood guard at the entrance.

"Hey, #11. I see we've got some bots built now?"

"Just a few. And MadScientist says we need to keep an eye on them, so I'm still stuck on guard duty. What're these bugs doing here?"

"They're with me."

"I can see that. Why?"

"They helped me and they needed a spot to stay for the day," Think said.

"Fine," #11 said.

Think stepped into the board. "Okay, so this is the Business Forum. The others are the Announcements Forum, the Miscellaneous Forum, and The Laboratory. Below that is a small cemetery. The Laboratory is apparently active again, so you'll have to stay there."

"The cemetery?!" Dreck Disperser asked.

"Don't worry. There aren't any ghosts or anything. I've got to report to *****, but I'll join you right after that. Don't worry, no one will bother you."

"Er, *****?" Filth Finder asked.

"Yeah. That's his name." Think walked into the Announcements Forum and pointed at a door. "This is where I leave you for now." He knocked on the door.

"Come in," ***** growled.

Think stepped inside. ***** was a mung rat who sat tapping his claws against the table. There was also a wererat fletching arrows, a white rat, and two giant rats at the table as well.

"You're back. Where's the rest of your group?"

"We... we were ambushed. There were over two dozen bots. As... as far as I know, I'm the only one left alive."

"No! Deathwhisker?" The wererat stood up so fast she knocked over her chair.

"She's dead for sure. I saw it."

"Excuse me, I need a... a moment." The wererat left.

"Start from the beginning," ***** said.

"Okay. We tracked the thief to the area around Spiderweb. Along the way, we met a group of Spiderwebbers who were investigating some disappearances. We also met a family of giant intelligent friendly talking roaches who reported losing a nymph to the bots. From this, we realized the thief was building bots as quickly as they could in order to attack Spiderweb. Unfortunately, Phil was reckless and led the bots to us. One Spiderwebber escaped to warn Spiderweb. The GIFTR managed to escape too, so I brought them here. That's all."

"What do we do?" the white rat asked.

"The GIFTR will of course be allowed to stay here for a reasonable time. It's only fair. Think, you will be responsible for them. Now go."

"Yes. Of course." Think left.

The wererat returned. "Sorry about that."

"No problem, Lady Fatalclaw. So, what to do? I think that depends. On one hand, if Spiderweb falls it will be partially our fault for letting the thief get ahold of the plans. On the other hand, we are not allied to Spiderweb. We are not required to aid them, not when it would result in more rat deaths and leaving this board more vulnerable to attack. So it depends on how the bots are doing."

"The bots are doing well," the white rat said, "I just spoke to MadScientist a few hours ago. There are no problems so far. But it will take at least a week to get a significant number of them built."

"It also depends how the other group we sent out to investigate are doing. They should be back within the next day or two. So I don't think we can make any final decisions for now," ***** said.

---

Everyone waited in the General Forum.

"What are we waiting for?" Niemand asked.

"Schrodinger, Tyranicus, Slartucker, Drakefyre, Grime, and the rats," Nioca said.

"Ugh. I sure wish they'd hurry up." Marlenny glanced over her shoulder at Nalyd and Azuma.

"...please, please, please teach Nalyd necromancy? He is begging you. Begging!"

"Er, no. No thank you," Azuma tried to walk away.

Emperor Tullegolar stopped him. "Be reasonable, Azuma. Surely you could teach him a bit?"

"Er, no, not really."

"Not even if he begs on his hands and knees?"

Nalyd threw himself to the ground and grabbed the hem of Azuma's robe. "He'll do better than that. Please? It's all he's ever wanted to do."

Azuma pulled free. "If that's the case, why haven't you gone somewhere where you can learn it?"

"Okay, Nalyd lied. He wanted to be at Spiderweb more. But now he can do both! Please? Please?"

"Er..." Azuma looked to Emperor Tullegolar helplessly.

"Not even if he promises to be your most faithful servant? Your undying servant, even?" Emperor Tullegolar asked.

"Done!" Nalyd said.

"Er, okay then," Azuma said.

Emperor Tullegolar smirked.

Nalyd jumped upright. "Teach me! Teach me! Please?"

"Oh, Azuma, would you deal with Jeran? He seems to be getting carried away with his sword again."

"Okay." Azuma started to leave.

Emperor Tullegolar stopped him again. "You have someone to do that for you now, you know."

"Oh, right. Nalyd, would you, um, deal with Jeran?"

"Does he get to learn necromancy after that?"

"Um, sometime after that, yeah," Azuma said.

"Yay!" Nalyd darted off.

Azuma grinned slowly.

Jeran Korak was showing off his sword to everyone nearby. "...and it gives +2 to dexterity. Besides that, it does +10 poison damage and +5 acid damage."

"Impressive," Dryth'tor said.

"Yeah. I haven't seen this much compensation in ages," Nikki said darkly.

"It also gives..."

Nalyd approached Jeran Korak. "Emperor Tullegolar wants you."

"Finally!" Nioca said.

"But I'm not finished!"

"Too bad," Nikki said, "Go!"

Dintiradan and the Lurker watched the scene from the top of the steps to the guard tower.

"Look at that. It makes me sick. Why did ET have to come back?" Dintiradan said.

"What are we going to do about it?" the Lurker asked.

"Do? Nothing at the moment. Jeran is ET's worst enemy at the moment. Nalyd's probably number two. We'll just watch and wait for the right time."

Zeviz found Randomizer. "So I see you've got your magic back then."

"Well, no, not really."

"What do you mean? You're glowing!"

"I know, but I haven't actually figured out what I can do yet. I can't cast spray acid or any other of my old spells."

"Then how did you end up getting your magic back in the first place?"

"Well, I, um..."

Randomizer was interrupted by Delicious Vlish.

"So, how was it, Zeviz? What's it like to be a zombie? Do you have any lingering desire for brains?"

"Not that I know of."

"Hmm. They're delicious, you know."

"Right." Zeviz edged away from Delicious Vlish.

Schrodinger, Slartucker, and Tyranicus entered.

"Who is that?" Shard of Fire pointed to Tyranicus.

"Tyranicus. A spell didn't go off as planned," Slartucker said.

"He looks more Celtic than ever," Alorael said.

"Moo?"

"Which thing meant?" Slartucker translated.

"Well, Celtic warriors are blue, naked, and violent. He's got the first two down. Now all he needs is the violence."

Tyranicus snorted.

"Is not funny!"

Drakefyre, Grime Grubber, and the rats entered. Drakefyre nodded to Stareye.

Stareye stepped onto a chair. "Attention, everyone."

The conversations stopped.

"First, I regret to inform you that Arancaytar seems to be permadead."

"What? No!" Riibu said.

"It's true," Jewels said sadly.

"Next, as you undoubtably know, the Spiderweb Software Message Board is threatened by someone named Ecksian. We don't know exactly who he is or what he has against us. If anyone does know, please come talk to Drakefyre or me. What we do know is that he is building an army of bots. He has some proficiency in necromancy too."

"Don't forget that little bot of his," Lazarus said, "It's dangerous too."

"We've managed to drive Ecksian away temporarily, but it's fairly obvious he will be back."

"So Ecksian is Ed?" Jeran Korak asked.

"You just got here! How do you even know about him?" Drew asked.

"He didn't look anything like Ed. Or sound like him. Or act like him. Or anything like him, really," Jewels said.

"So we need to decide what we are going to do," Stareye said.

"Defend Spiderweb!" Iffy said, "Home of the best computer games ever!"

"Yeah!" Jeran Korak said.

"But there is a very real chance we could lose this war," Student of Trinity said, "Small, maybe, but real. Do we have any other options?"

"Such as?" Stareye asked.

"Well, I don't know. We've moved before. Could we move again?"

Drakefyre shook his head. "I'm afraid that Ecksian will probably follow us. And this is the most defensible place I know of."

"I suppose disbanding for a few months and then getting back together somewhere else probably won't deter him either," Student of Trinity said.

"Ha! Of course not! If I were him, I'd hunt down every last satellite board and Spiderweb-related website," Emperor Tullegolar said.

"And if he has half a brain, he'll make sure we won't be able to find him through Google. Then it would seem we don't have much of a decision to make. It seems we must fight. Or leave," Student of Trinity said, "But..."

"Of course, we cannot force anyone to stay and defend the board. For anyone who wants to leave, you can do so in the next day or two and no one will think any less of you," said Stareye.

"Says who?" Jeran Korak said.

"Shut it," said Lazarus.

"But if you stay, you agree to take orders from Drakefyre or me, or whoever else happens to be in charge. There will be harsh consequences for any misbehavior that endangers the board. However, given the necessity of it, we will temporarily suspend any bannings."

"Yes!" Zephyr Tempest said.

"Temporarily," Drakefyre said, "Are there any questions?"

Synergy raised a hand. "I think now would be a really good time for me to learn a few basic magic spells."

"Any other questions?" Drakefyre asked, "No? Okay, is anyone thinking about leaving?"

"Yes. I'm going to see if I can prevent Ecksian from ever reaching Spiderweb," Student of Trinity said.

"How?" Stareye asked.

"I don't know," Student of Trinity said, "But I'm going to try."

"I'm coming with you," Nikki said.

"I don't mean to be rude, but you're not going to try a repeat of what you did in Ermarian, are you?" Student of Trinity asked.

"No. No more fun and games," Nikki said, "This is serious now."

"Then I'm glad to have you along," Student of Trinity said, "Let's go get supplies."

"What about you?" Jewels asked Grime Grubber.

"I'm going with the rats. I'll probably be back one day, but not right now."

"Oh, I'm sure you will," Jewels said.

Attorukkip joined them. "Ready to go?"

"Yeah."

"Then let's go. Good-bye, Spiderweb!"

"Nice meeting you!"

"Bye, Grime. Again."

"Dikiyoba wishes you good luck."

"See you later, I'm sure."

"Good-bye and good luck!"

"Good luck to you guys, too."

Chrrk!

"Bye!"

"Mooo."

"You have a... sure travel."

"Just leave already!"

"Bye!" Grime Grubber and the rats left.

---

Ecksian put his tools away as the vehicle rolled gently to a stop. "Perfect timing." He turned PiperBot on.

"What? What happened? Where am I?" PiperBot looked around fearfully.

"Hello, PiperBot," Ecksian said.

"PiperBot? Who is that?" PiperBot asked.

"That's your name. You are PiperBot."

"That... doesn't seem right."

"Oh, I was afraid of this. Your memory was damaged. Things will be confusing for a while. But I think your memory will return eventually."

"I... I... how? Who are you?"

"I'm your master. Ecksian."

"You are?"

"Yes."

"But... who is that?" PiperBot pointed to EcksianBot.

"That's EcksianBot. A newer model. Still needs a lot of work. But don't worry. You won't be replaced. I've got a very important job for you."

"You do? What?"

"You'll see." Ecksian opened the door and stepped out.

"Where are we?" PiperBot asked.

"At Google. We're going to visit an old friend of mine."

"And are all these bots yours?"

"Yes. I invented them to serve as guards and workers. You helped a lot. But a group of giant rats attacked our workshop to try and steal the plans to make an army of them. We were hopelessly outnumbered and barely escaped. You were injured in the attack. Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes. No? Um..."

"Don't worry, I'll fill in the details as we go. Let's go, bots."

---

To be continued...