Episode 5: Spiderweb Resistance

Episode 5: Spiderweb Resistance Dikiyoba Thu, 03/20/2008 - 16:37
Ecksian builds up his army. The rats debate their options. Spiderweb prepares for battle. Student of Trinity and Nikki set out to prevent the war from ever happening. And power threatens to fall into the wrong hands...



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 Fri, 08/01/2008 - 01:46
SPIDERWEB

Administrators
Drakefyre (Nitrogen)
Stareye (Radon)

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

Members
Andraste (Praseodymium)
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)
Marlenny (Chlorine)
Nalyd (Mendelevium)
Nicothodes (Vanadium)
Niemand (Niobium)
Nikki (Nickel)
Nioca (Technetium)
Riibu (Germanium)
Salmon (Silver)
Student of Trinity (Anti-hydrogen)
The Lurker (Lawrencium)
The Mystic
Thralni (Potassium)
Zephyr Tempest (Promethium)
Zeviz (Hafnium)
Zorro

---

[i]BOTS APLENTY[/i]

Administrators
*****

Moderators
Cheese
Danielle
Fatalclaw
Garzad
MadScientist
Terry

Members
#11
A'p'd'r
Attorukkip
Deathwhisker
G'ree't'l
H'uk'n'l
Lith
M'q'zz'x
Phil
RatX521
R'd'p'a
Rof'l'mao
Squeak
Timeseight
Timestweleve
Think
Yul'fib'f

---

[i]OTHER[/i]

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

Chief Spider
Refuse Mover
Spider
Spider
Trash Seeker
Trrrch

Chatter

Ecksian
EcksianBot

Eternal Flame
PiperBot

Cinder
FireAway
Flamethrower
Incinerate
Pyromania
Smokey
Smolder

Chapter 1: The Quest Begins

Chapter 1: The Quest Begins Dikiyoba Thu, 03/20/2008 - 17:01
Student of Trinity and Nikki stood in the Tech Support Forum, surrounded by open crates and scattered supplies. Student of Trinity wore chitin armor and a leather helmet. His sling, some tools, and a wand of lightning hung from his belt. "Looks like we're running pretty low."

Nikki wore a heavy cloak and carried two pens. "Yeah. I hope the next shipment arrives soon."

"This looks like it will fit." Student of Trinity held a leather jerkin out to Nikki.

"Is this really necessary?"

"It could be dangerous out there and we'll lose a lot of time if we die," Student of Trinity said.

"Well, I'm not going to wear the skin of some poor murdered animal." Nikki grabbed a metal helmet and threw it into his inventory. "You had better not have packed any meat, either."

"Not for you."

"Good. Do we have everything?"

"I think so."

"Then let's go."

Riibu entered the forum invisibly and crept over to them. She took a deep breath and resumed visibility. "I'd, um, just like to wish you both good luck. It's a very brave thing to do, you know. I wish... well, anyway, Nikki, I know you're only going in the hopes that you can find out what happened to Aran, so--"

"--how did you--?"

"--so I really hope you're successful. Er, Nico, um, she, um, asked me to give you this." Riibu held out a mechanical pencil.

Nikki took it reverently. "Wow. It's her favorite one. And she wanted me to have it? I knew she liked me! But... why didn't she give it to me herself?"

"Er, she's, um, busy. Everyone's busy. Speaking of which, I've got to go." Riibu resumed invisibility and fled the forum.

Nikki slipped the mechanical pencil up his sleeve. "Well, are we going to go stab some bots or are we going to stand here all day?"

"We're going to--"

Ephesos entered. "Good. You're still here. Are you two going to be visiting Bots Aplenty, by any chance?"

"If we don't find anything through Google, yeah," Nikki said.

"Okay. Attorukkip requested the Return Life spell, and I completely forgot about it until too late. Would you be willing to deliver it?"

"No problem," Student of Trinity said.

"Diki's still writing up the Balm of Life recipe, so it could be a few more minutes. Sorry."

---

Dikiyoba, Zeviz, and Randomizer sat at a table in the General Forum. Dikiyoba was carefully copying down the Balm of Life recipe from an alchemy book. Zeviz was reading a book on magical barriers. Randomizer watched over his shoulder.

"Do you mind?" Zeviz asked.

"Yes. My neck is beginning to hurt from looking over your shoulder for so long. You want to move over so I can sit down?"

Zeviz slammed the book shut.

"Well, fine. Be that way." Randomizer wandered off.

Ephesos, Student of Trinity, and Nikki sat at the table. Zeviz reopened the book.

"Barriers, huh?" Student of Trinity glanced at it.

"Yes. Drakefyre has something planned, I'm sure."

Ephesos opened his book to the Divine Restoration spell. "He probably has several things planned, at the rate he's ordering people around."

"Dintiradan, you and Lurker get the Deth Ray set up in here. Lazarus, Niemand, what are you doing in here? You know what you need to do."

"Er, right."

"Alorael, have you got a crew put together yet?"

Alorael watched as Lazarus and Niemand set down their weapons and went into the Tech Support Forum. "I'm trying."

Stareye passed a book to Drakefyre. "Give that to Synergy."

"Right. Salmon, take a look at the moat. Make sure the bridge can still be collapsed and there's no debris nearby to help them cross. Synergy, this is for you." Drakefyre tossed Synergy the book.

"Yes! Magery, A Deeper Consciousness, And You: A Beginner's Guide! Thank you, Stareye! Thank you, Drakefyre! This is an amazing, fantastic, terrific opportunity. I assure you I am excited and more than ready for this profound and wondrous knowledge. I won't disappoint you. This momentous responsibility shall--"

"You can learn magic without an acceptance speech, you know," Salmon said.

Zeviz shook his head. "I can't concentrate with all this noise."

"Me neither. Let's go find somewhere quieter," Ephesos said.

"Wait." Dikiyoba handed Ephesos the recipe.

Ephesos pulled out another piece of paper and handed them both to Student of Trinity. "Good luck."

"Yeah. Let's slip out without a lot of commotion, all right?" Nikki said.

Student of Trinity nodded. They both left the board relatively unnoticed in the distraction Synergy had caused.

---

"What a horrible place! Your friend lives here?" PiperBot asked.

"Yes," Ecksian said, "He doesn't really like people."

Trash, rubble, and spam were piled higher than Ecksian's head along the pothole-filled road. All the buildings were abandoned and many had broken windows, missing doors, sagging walls, or collapsed roofs. Here and there were buildings that had completely burned down.

"What started all these fires?" PiperBot asked.

"You'll see soon enough."

Smoke rose from a trash heap a few blocks ahead. "PiperBot, scout ahead," Ecksian said.

"Um, okay." PiperBot flew over, staying close to the trash heaps to avoid being seen.

A creature that PiperBot first mistook for a large dog sniffed and pawed at the smoking trash heap. The charred remains of two more creatures and a spambot were nearby.

Then PiperBot saw that the creature had scales instead of fur and had an enormous head. It looked familiar somehow.

The creature caught sight of PiperBot and growled.

PiperBot, safely out of range, stared at it. That was it. Pyroroamer. Geneforge. Spiderweb.

Spiderweb! Why wasn't he at Spiderweb?!

"It's taking too long. Something's wrong." Ecksian drew his dagger and sprinted down the road. When he got close enough, he threw the dagger. It hit the pyroroamer in the head.

Ecksian threw himself to the ground and shielded his face. The pyroroamer exploded. PiperBot was blasted into the trash heap.

Ecksian got up and approached PiperBot. It tried to fly away but collapsed. One of its arms was lying several feet away. "What have you done to me?!"

Ecksian picked PiperBot up and flipped it off, regardless of the hot metal. "I'd tell you, but you wouldn't remember the answer anyway."

---

Two mung rats approached the Bots Aplenty message board. #11 let them pass without comment. They headed straight for the Moderator Board.

"What do you want?" ***** asked.

"We've discovered how the thief managed to get in and steal the plans!"

"Come in."

The mung rats stepped inside. ***** was sitting at the table, tapping his claws. Fatalclaw, the white rat, and two giant rats were also present.

One of the mung rats stepped forward. "We investigated all our potential customers. It was pretty obvious which one was a fake."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Remember OneFoxyFox from Future Furries of America and his story about the place getting hit by trolls all the time? We couldn't find anyone by that name. In fact, that organization doesn't seem to exist."

"Clever," the white rat said, "It was a plausible story and he knew we wouldn't look too closely at it."

"Indeed," ***** said, "Well, now we know for sure that no rats were involved, since, er, Foxy got a tour of the lab, if I recall correctly."

"He did," the white rat said.

"I wouldn't be too sure," Fatalclaw said.

"We haven't turned up any evidence of that yet. A'p'd'r, R'd'p'a, you're free to go," ***** said.

The two mung rats left.

"You really think one tour was enough to enable Foxy to break in, kill a scientist, steal the plans, and escape with no further help?" Fatalclaw asked.

"Do you have any evidence to suggest otherwise?" ***** asked.

"Well, no."

"I can hardly keep telling everyone that it could have been an inside job without any evidence. They'll start thinking I'm just pulling their tails to make sure I stay in power. Or worse, that I'm losing my ability to administer effectively. Leave me now, I must think."

"Of course," the white rat said.

---

Alorael tapped Thralni on the shoulder. "I'm putting a group together to go shut down websites and make sure everyone in the area is aware of the bots. Are you busy? Would you like to come along?"

"Sure. I'll come," Thralni said.

"DV, you're coming right?"

"Wouldn't miss it." Delicious Vlish rubbed his tentacles together gleefully.

"What about you, Nicothodes? Would you like to help me shut down websites and pass the news along to anyone in the area?"

"I don't know..."

"And, of course, there will be plenty of noobs to drive off," Delicious Vlish said.

"Yeah!" Nicothodes reached into her pocket. Then she searched her other pocket. "Hey! Who took my favorite pencil?!"

"Maybe you dropped it?" Riibu suggested.

Nicothodes searched both pockets frantically. "No, it couldn't have. It's my lucky pencil--it can't just get lost. Besides, I know I had it less than an hour ago."

Schrodinger glared at the Mystic. "Mystic! Tech Support Forum. Now."

Chapter 2: Rivalry

Chapter 2: Rivalry Dikiyoba Sun, 03/30/2008 - 05:10
Synergy, Ephesos, Dikiyoba, Randomizer, and Zeviz sat in the Nethergate Forum. Synergy flipped through his book eagerly. "So many options. What should I start with?"

"Spray acid!"

"I recommend starting with light. Simple and not much risk of mishap." Zeviz practiced a few gestures for the spell he was learning.

"It's kind of a useless spell, though. I want to learn something like haste or daze."

"Just start with light and work your way up, okay? The last thing we need is another crazy mage," Ephesos said.

"But it's Synergy--how would we tell?" Randomizer cackled.

"Because when the New Age buzzwords start flying, they'll be aimed directly at you." Synergy winked.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Dikiyoba flipped through the alchemy book impatiently. "This is not helpful. Dikiyoba knows all of the useful ones already." Dikiyoba turned a page and came across a tattered and folded piece of paper. "What's this? It looks like it came from a different book."

Ephesos took it. "The format looks familiar, somehow. I might have looked through it recently. I'll go check." Ephesos left.

Zeviz scratched a quick rune on the ground. "Stay back. I'm attempting to create a barrier."

Everyone took a few steps away. Zeviz performed a complicated string of hand movements. The air above the rune began to shimmer.

Randomizer felt his skin tingle. "Wait!"

Zeviz let the beginnings of the barrier fade away. "What is it?"

"I don't know. It was weird, though. Go ahead and try again."

"All right."

Randomizer was ready this time. The moment the air began to shimmer, his hand shot out. A blast of white magic hit the shimmer, which faded away instantly.

"Antimagic," Zeviz said.

"Antimagic?"

"Yes."

"Aha!"

---

In the General Forum, Dintiradan checked the Deth Ray's sight to make sure it could be aimed at the main entrance, the stairs to the guard tower, or the Tech Support Forum. He wasn't happy. Once again, he was defending Spiderweb instead of taking it over. In fact, it was tempting to just join Ecksian. But Dintiradan would never be able to trust him, and bots did have a tendency to turn on their masters. No, it was better to hold Ecksian off and then take over the board immediately afterwards.

The Lurker yawned and leaned his head against the Deth Ray.

Dintiradan poked him. "Don't touch it. Go take a nap if you're tired, because we've got a lot to do tonight."

"You can't still be interested in that stat script."

"Shh! Of course I am. It's the best idea we've had in ages." Dintiradan gritted his teeth and started wiring a self-destruct button into the Deth Ray. As much as he hated to do it, there was simply no way he would let Ecksian get ahold of his Deth Ray.

Emperor Tullegolar had similar thoughts. "Azuma, take Nalyd and teach him as much as you can. I know a bunch of rats were buried in the G4 Forum. We're probably going to need to convert them all to undead after Ecksian has been defeated."

Azuma cringed. "O... okay. Come, Nalyd."

"Yay! Nalyd is so happy! Necromancy! Wait. Happiness is bad. Nalyd is so unhappy! Necromancy! Yay!"

Nicothodes sat slumped in a corner. "I looked everywhere and I still can't find it. It's gone."

"Well, you can just get another pencil, can't you?" Riibu asked.

"Not like it. Sherbiebaby gave it to me when we last parted."

"Oh. Well, I'm sure it will turn up eventually. In fact, I'll help you go look for it." Riibu walked away quickly.

Delicious Vlish, Alorael, Saunders, Thralni, and a few other Spiderwebbers stood near the door.

"No, Alorael. The fluffy turtles cannot carry you. You'll just have to walk," Saunders said.

"What? Me, walk? You must be joking."

Delicious Vlish sighed. "So, are we going to go anytime soon?"

Alorael sighed. "Fine. Let me go get some skribbane and then we'll go." Alorael left.

Nemesis joined the group. "I'm coming with you. Jeran won't shut up about the sword of his."

"I've heard you talking about your dainslaifs before," Saunders said.

"I know, but not nonstop. Just listen to him!"

"...surrounded by three huge demons. Most people would have died, but I knew what I had to do. I laughed and beheaded one of them in a single swing. The other two ran off, because they knew I'd be after them," said Jeran Korak.

"Impressive," Dryth'tor said.

"Ooh," Iffy said.

"Yeah. Happens a lot. Why, just last week..." Jeran Korak said.

Saunders shook her head.

"Can't you do anything about it?"

"Well, I suppose I can try. Leave your dainslaifs here and get an ordinary sword, would you?"

"Um, okay. Where is this going?"

"You'll see."

---

Stareye and Ephesos were in the Moderator Board. Ephesos searched through a stack of books. Stareye paced nervously as he spoke to Jeff through a communication crystal. "Sorry to bother you. Yes, I know. Do, um, you know anyone named Ecksian? Any threats? No weird e-mails? Good. Well, we're not sure, but we suspect he'll attack the board shortly. No, no, I think we can handle it. Just... just don't release A5 yet. We can't really deal an influx of new people at the moment. I don't know... maybe a week? Yes, I realize that. You... you will? Thanks a lot. No, no, that's fine. I'll call you again within a week. Thanks again. Bye." Stareye set the crystal down quickly.

"That sounded like it went well. No problems?" Ephesos asked.

"Not really. He wasn't happy, but he agreed to it. We aren't going to get the next shipment of supplies, though since it was supposed to come with the game release, but I think we can manage," Stareye said.

Alorael entered and threw a few skribbane potions into his inventory.

"Alorael," Stareye said, "While your group is out there, see what sort of supplies you can get ahold of. We're going to need whatever you can find."

---

Lazarus and Niemand sat in the Blades of Avernum Editor Forum. Crumpled pieces of paper were scattered all around them.

"I sure wish Ephesos or Nikki were available to help us," Lazarus said. "We're so close, but I'm all out of ideas."

"Well, go find Kelandon or Nemesis or someone then."

Lazarus stood up. "I think I will."

---

"Did you take Nicothodes' mechanical pencil?" Schrodinger asked.

"No," the Mystic said.

"Let me search your bag."

"You can't do that."

"Yes, I can."

"Fine!" The Mystic kicked his bag over, spilling everything out. "See? It's not there! Look all you want, but I didn't take it."

"Did you hide it somewhere, perhaps?"

"No! Look, it's not my fault somebody's stuff went missing, okay? So I stole some stuff before. So what? This time, I didn't steal the pencil."

Riibu was passing through the Tech Support Forum and overheard part of the conversation. She stopped. "Um... Schrodinger, um, you don't, you know, have any proof he t... took it or anything, so, um, you, um, have no reason, er, to accuse him of it. In... in... in fact, I bet he's willing to help me look for it."

"What? I most certainly am not!"

"Oh, s... sorry. I... I thought you might. Well, you can just stay here, I guess."

The Mystic looked at Schrodinger. "You're right. It is a good idea." He followed Riibu into the Announcements Forum. "Thanks for getting me out of there."

"N... no problem." Riibu thought about telling him that she had taken the pencil, but that would cause too many problems. It was best to keep silent for now. "I really am looking for it though, so I guess I'll see you later." Riibu stepped into the Geneforge 4: Forum.

---

Ephesos returned, carrying a battered and dirty book. "Well, I found it. It has a section on creating spell scrolls, so I figured you'd be interested." He handed it to Dikiyoba. "Just be careful with it. It's seen better days."

"Spell scrolls! So I can still cast my favorite spell!" Randomizer said.

"Well, if you do want spell scrolls, Dikiyoba will need lots of paper, ink, and a quill. It recommends against using anything else, for some reason."

"I'll get right on it. Then I'll test my antimagic spell on Zephyr. One of the new guys is a necromancer too, right? This is going to be fun!" Randomizer ran off.

Synergy created a spark that immediately flickered out. "Incredible!"

Ephesos glanced at the divine restoration spell and slammed the book shut in frustration. "Why does this spell have to be so ridiculously complicated?"

---

Back in the General Forum, Saunders approached Jeran Korak. "So, I hear you've got a pretty nice sword."

"Pretty nice? It's the best. It's got three times the chance of a critical hit and..."

"I don't need to hear what it does. Because the power of the sword doesn't matter. It's how the person uses it that does."

"Pff. What's your sword, then?"

"+15 fluffiness. No more, no less. It's served me very well."

"What kind of enchantment is fluffiness?"

"Now, see, you're missing my point. Turn around."

Jeran Korak turned around and found Nemesis' ordinary sword at his throat.

"You see what I mean?" Saunders asked.

"Yeah. That'll teach you to wave your gigantic Final Fantasy sword in other people's faces." Nemesis smirked.

Jeran Korak pushed Nemesis' blade aside with one hand and punched him in the face with the other. "It is not a Final Fantasy sword! It's my sword!" He drew it and swung at Nemesis. Nemesis parried.

Andraste nudged Salmon. "500 meat that Nemesis wins."

"Deal."

Nemesis blocked or dodged all of Jeran Korak's attacks easily. "Come on, at least make it something of a challenge."

"Give in to your anger, Jeran!" Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Psh. Star Wars references are so last year, you know," Salmon said.

"Stop!" Saunders yelled.

Nemesis and Jeran Korak halted.

"I don't want to see any more fighting," Saunders said.

"He started it!" Nemesis said.

"No, you started it," Jeran Korak said.

"Enough."

Nemesis and Jeran Korak glared at each other for a moment more, then walked to opposite sides of the forum.

"You owe me 500 meat," Salmon said.

"Do not. Saunders broke the fight up, so it doesn't count."

"You didn't make an exception for the fight being broken up. Therefore, you still owe me 500 meat."

"Oh, fine. I'll send it to you tonight."

Randomizer approached them. "Salmon, do you happen to have a spare fishing rod I could borrow?"

"Maybe. It depends on what you want it for."

"Dikiyoba is trying to make spell scrolls, and for that you need a quill. I don't think we have any, so we'll need to make one. And I figure there's only one place to get a decent feather." Randomizer indicated Emperor Tullegolar's hat.

Andraste tried not to laugh. "We should totally do it. Right, Salmon?"

"Well... I suppose I'm convinced. Let me go get it."

Chapter 3: Fanning The Flames

Chapter 3: Fanning The Flames Dikiyoba Mon, 04/14/2008 - 00:01
Ecksian and his bots arrived at a concrete building that looked more like a bomb shelter than a message board. Everything near it had been burned to the ground. Several pyroroamers guarded the entrance.

Ecksian pointed to the nearest bot. "You, take out those roamers."

The bot drew its sword and charged. The pyroroamers snarled and attacked. When the bot stabbed a pyroroamer, it exploded. The other pyroroamers were damaged enough to explode too. The bot staggered, covered in ash but not badly damaged.

"Excellent." Ecksian waved the bot back and stepped forward.

A mob of flamers that had heard the explosions poured out of the building, each remaining a safe distance apart from the others.

"What do you want?" one snapped.

"Is Eternal Flame still in charge? I need to speak with him."

"How do you know of him?"

"Because I'm not some ignorant noob like you."

An unusually sophisticated-looking flamer stepped out of the building. "Long time no see, S--"

"Ecksian," he said quickly.

"You changed your name again? I knew I should have stopped paying attention to it a long time ago. You can come into my office, but the bots must stay outside."

---

Student of Trinity and Nikki arrived at the Google station. One of the vehicles was just pulling away.

"Well, we just missed the rats," Student of Trinity said.

Nikki went over to the ticket machine and searched for anything connected with Ecksian. "No sign of Ecksian or his bots."

"I didn't think there would be. Let's head to Bots Aplenty, then."

---

The nymphs slept restlessly in the rat cemetery.

"Now what should we do?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

"Rest for a day or two and then move on. I don't like it here one bit," Filth Finder said.

"We still don't know where we're going, though, and I don't think we'll find a place soon. Remember how long it took us to find Spiderweb? And living on the streets is just too risky for the nymphs."

"I know, I know."

Think entered with Fatalclaw right behind him. He coughed nervously. "Sorry to disturb you, but Lady Fatalclaw here has a few questions to ask."

"I won't take much of your time. But we think we know who the thief is now, and we would like you to help us confirm that."

"All right," Filth Finder said.

---

Lazarus entered the General Forum. "Anyone up for a bit of BoA work?"

"I'll do it!" Nioca jumped up instantly.

"Wow. That was quick. Let's go, then." Lazarus and Nioca exited.

Randomizer, Salmon, and Andraste crouched on the stairway landing. Salmon peered through the railing. Emperor Tullegolar and Jeran Korak were right below them.

"Okay, we need to find some way to get rid of Jeran and keep ET distracted. Andraste, go down there and do something," Salmon said.

"Me? Why don't you do it?" Andraste asked.

"Because I'm the one with the fishing rod."

"It's a pity ET already knows I glow, otherwise I could have gone down there and made him think mods have access to canisters. I could probably have gotten him to rant for hours." Randomizer sighed.

"Yeah, well, this isn't going anywhere fast," Salmon said.

"...you can't go around attacking people, no matter how much they deserve it. We have an image to maintain, and you're ruining it with all this sword-waving nonsense," Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Nonsense? Nonsense?!" Jeran Korak asked.

"Yes." Drew came over with his arms folded across his chest.

"Who said you could be involved?" Emperor Tullegolar asked.

"Yes! Thank you, Drew," Salmon whispered. He stood up and let some line out. The hook snagged in Emperor Tullegolar's hat. Salmon reeled in carefully.

"I did," Drew said.

"You're just jealous," Jeran Korak said.

Randomizer grabbed the hat and cut the top part of the huge feather off. "Is this sturdy enough for a quill, do you think?"

Salmon took the feather tip and stuck it upside-down into the other side of the hat. "Nah. Cut out the middle section."

"All right." Randomizer did so and began trimming it into a quill.

Salmon carefully lowered the hat back onto Emperor Tullegolar's head. He didn't notice. "You have no right to interfere."

Drew caught sight of Salmon, Andraste, and Randomizer sneaking down the stairs. "Perhaps you are right. I will just say that Jeran is digging his own grave and leave it at that. Nice hat, by the way." Drew walked away.

"Thanks. And I knew you'd see reason eventually. I'm the Emperor--I know these things."

Drew halted and looked back. "Then I'm sure you realize you've dug quite a bit of your grave too."

"Bah. You people wouldn't recognize genius if it fell out of a tree and landed on you. Come on, Jeran. Let's see how Azuma and Nalyd are doing." Emperor Tullegolar and Jeran Korak swept out of the General Forum.

Randomizer found some ink and paper and headed to the Nethergate Forum. Salmon and Andraste found Drew.

"That was brilliant!" Salmon said, "He totally doesn't notice the hat! What do we do to him next?"

---

Schrodinger entered the Moderator Board. Saunders and Slartucker were sitting at the table, cutting up and re-sewing a quilt. Tyranicus watched over their shoulders.

"What are you doing?" Schrodinger asked.

"Well, obviously, Tyranicus' old equipment no longer fits. So we're making him a new kilt. It's not exactly tartan, but it should work. Care to join us?" Saunders asked.

"Sure." Schrodinger sat down at the table too.

---

Eternal Flame leaned back in his chair. "So, what do you want?"

Ecksian was forced to stand. He and Eternal Flame had known each other for many years, but they rarely dealt with each other, for it was always a dangerous game. "I plan to create an army of bots, but a group of giant rats keeps interfering. They won't dare come here, though, so I thought this place would be a good spot to finish work."

"Why should I care?"

"Because I intend to have my army of bots take down Spiderweb."

Eternal Flame sat upright. "Spiderweb! You can't be serious."

"I am."

"That... place is undefeatable. We sent our best unit to the Ur-noob in exchange for the instructions on breeding pyroroamers. None of them ever returned. I know the rumors. Spiderweb slew the Ur-noob. They drove off the thing and defeated a horde of rats. Why do you think even some spam bots leave them alone? They're dangerous."

"I admit I'm no longer in the best position, but I have an entire army of bots that never get tired or scared and can easily be repaired." Ecksian pulled out a stack of notes from Ermarian. "I have blueprints and member info. No one else may have the guts or the ability to defeat Spiderweb, but I do."

"Ha! So you say! Now, what about the rats? They must be very dangerous indeed, if they could defeat you."

Ecksian gritted his teeth. "I don't have my bots ready yet, that's all. The rats keep interfering and they are friendly to Spiderweb, so I want them dead as well. I could do it myself once my army is built up, but that would take too long. I'm hoping you would be interested in dealing with them. I will offer you any treasure they have, and one dozen of my bots. More if the rats don't have much treasure."

"First you want to hide and now you want us to fight your battles? For all your bravado, you sure are a coward."

"I said I could do it, it would just take longer."

"Ah, so you're just incompetent."

"I'm competent enough to make the rats chase me all over the Internet. What have you done lately? You were defeated by Spiderweb years ago and haven't done anything since. No wonder all you hear about these days is the trolls."

Eternal Flame clenched his fists. "We will not fall for that. You cannot trick us into doing your dirty work."

"Clearly. You won't even take down a small EZ-Board defended by a few unsuspecting and poorly armed rats. You'd rather hide in your little hole, doing nothing, being a nobody."

"You... we'll do it. But we don't come cheap. We want at least two dozen bots. And we'll be going with you to Spiderweb, too. We'll be watching you every step of the way, to make sure we get the credit we are due. Spiderweb may have defeated us before, but this time we will win."

Ecksian shrugged. "Fine. There's just one small thing I must ask for."

"What?" Eternal Flame asked suspiciously.

"Your mom."

"Ha!" Eternal Flame relaxed and leaned back in his chair. "My mother's been dead for years. Still, who am I to judge?"

Ecksian forced himself not to respond. He needed Eternal Flame in a good mood to make working out the details easier. He shrugged. "Well, you got me there. Now, two dozen bots is a lot to ask for, but I believe I have something I can give you worth several bots." He pulled out PiperBot.

"You expect me to be impressed by that hunk of metal?"

Ecksian grinned. "This is no ordinary bot. As soon as I get it fixed up, you'll see what I mean."

---

When Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer had answered all of Fatalclaw's questions, she nodded. "Then he's the one for sure. We've got him. Think, go get A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a."

"But I thought ***** didn't want us to go out and look for him," Think said.

"He doesn't, but the three of us are going anyway."

"But you don't stand a chance against him!" Think said, "He has way too many bots."

"Well, he's only going to build more. I'd rather take my chances now then when the odds are even worse. Now go get them. And do it quietly."

---

Tyranicus stood in his new kilt. He mooed.

"Fountain?" Slartucker said.

"It looks quite nice," Saunders said.

"Hang on. Remember that Minotaur guy? I think he left something Tyranicus could use." Schrodinger left and came back with spikes that fit over Tyranicus' horns.

Tyranicus mooed.

"'I am similar to an idiot, not?'"

"Not at all," Schrodinger said.

"Tyranicus, if you charge into battle looking like that, not even a maxed-out credit card will be able to stop you. You'll be unstoppabull," Slartucker said.

Tyranicus mooed.

"Hey! There's nothing wrong with my puns," Slartucker said.

Tyranicus mooed and stepped out of the forum.

"'I had to do better how Ephesos does, before I die in the dishonor.'"

---

Jewels carried a box out of TrueSite and set it next to several others. "Well, I think that's the last of them."

Nemesis eyed the boxes warily. "They look heavy. What's in them?"

"Oh, all sorts of stuff. Tools, a few weapons, spare copies of games. I've been trying to keep a stockpile of everything we could possibly need. Unfortunately, while I have spares of Galactic Core and the Periodic Table, I completely forgot to include a sample of everyone's element." Jewels sighed. "There's always next time."

"You appear to be missing a truck to get all these supplies to Spiderweb," Nemesis said.

Thralni flew a few feet into the air and looked around. "They're back."

Alorael and Delicious Vlish rounded the corner.

"How'd it go?" Nemesis asked.

"Good. Desperance and Polaris are going to shut down temporarily," said Delicious Vlish.

"We also tried to talk to those people who always throw such lovely parades, but they ran away," Alorael said.

Delicious Vlish sighed. "That's because you shot one of them."

"Well, that's not my fault. They're pedestrians! You've got all the supplies out, Jewels?" Alorael started scaling TrueSite.

"Yes." Jewels locked the door. "I just hope nothing happens to this place. I've put so much work into it."

"I'm sure it'll be fine. Ecksian will probably head straight for Spiderweb," Delicious Vlish said.

Alorael lay flat on the roof and peered through the scope of his sniper rifle. He could see most of the surrounding area. "Ha! Only if we let him."

Chapter 4: Betrayal

Chapter 4: Betrayal Dikiyoba Sun, 05/11/2008 - 06:39
Think returned with A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a.

"What's up, Fatalclaw?" R'd'p'a asked.

"We know where the thief is. Now, ***** wants us to wait, but I think we should move against him now, before he builds even more bots. It will be incredibly dangerous, but I'm still willing to go."

"We're with you," A'p'd'r said.

Fatalclaw smiled. "Thank you. I'll get my stuff and leave a note for *****. You get your stuff together. We'll meet back here in half an hour."

"But Timestwelve is on guard now, and I just know she won't just let you walk out," Think said.

"Hmm. You're right," Fatalclaw said.

"Don't worry, I have an idea," A'p'd'r said, "Think, go collect all the garbage and bring it down here."

---

Eternal Flame leaned against the wall, looking bored. Ecksian sat at the desk with all his tools out. He finished screwing a panel back onto PiperBot. "Well, I'm ready. How about you?"

Eternal Flame yawned. "I was the first time, now I can't be bothered."

"Memory is a tricky thing, you know. I can't actually erase it--just cover it up."

"You suck at that too. This is, what, the seventh time we've tried it?"

"It's a big lie we've got to make him believe. Of course we have to repeat it several times before it starts to sink in." Ecksian flipped PiperBot on.

"W... what h... happened? W... where am I? W... who are y... you t... two?" PiperBot shook visibly.

"Hello, PiperBot. I'm Ecksian, from Spiderweb. Do you remember me?"

"I... I... think so."

"Good. This is my friend, Eternal Flame." Ecksian pointed.

Eternal Flame faked a smile. "Yep, a friend."

"Um... okay."

"How do you feel?" Ecksian asked.

PiperBot looked at its burned and dented body. "Terrible. What... what happened? I... I don't... remember."

"Oh, I was afraid of that. You took heavy damage in the attack. Your memory must have been affected."

"What... what attack?"

"Why do you think we're not at Spiderweb?"

"But... but... what happened?"

"The rats."

"The rats?"

"Yes. They came in force, and they had the element of surprise. You and I were the only survivors, and I only survived because I was away at the time."

"No! It can't be!"

"The rats attacked before, remember?" Eternal Flame said, "And they came fairly close to winning."

"I know, but we didn't have enough people then. And we put in more defenses after that."

"I wasn't there, so I don't know how the defenses played out, but there were a lot of rats. And they had bots," Ecksian said.

"Bots?" PiperBot asked.

"Just a few. They chased me as I was searching for survivors. I was lucky to get away. But I suspect the rats are now building more."

"But... but... we have to get back! We have to revive everyone!"

"It's too late. The rats even managed to destroy the Miscellaneous Forum. There's no one that can be revived."

"It can't... but... I... Arancaytar? EndeavorBot? Nikki? They can't all be... Riibu! Not Riibu!"

"All dead." Ecksian motioned for Eternal Flame to head for the door.

"Dead? I... I... I need to... be... alone."

"I understand." Ecksian stepped outside and closed the door.

Eternal Flame grinned. "It sounds like it finally worked."

"Shh! I think so, but the trickiest part is still to come," Ecksian said.

"You mean there's more?" Eternal Flame looked disappointed, "This can't be worth it."

Ecksian had his ear against the door. "Aw, listen. He's so sad."

Eternal Flame listened. "Is he crying?"

Ecksian grinned. "Do you still think it isn't worth it?"

---

Fatalclaw was the first to return to the cemetery. She saw that Garbage Gatherer and Filth Finder had collected all the nymphs into a tight cluster and slept protectively on either side of them. She shook her head sadly.

Think returned. "I've got all the--"

"Shh!" Fatalclaw whispered, "They're sleeping."

"Oh. Right."

Fatalclaw hid her pack in one of the trash bags. "I think you should teach the roaches a bit of self-defense when I'm gone."

"Me? I don't know about that," Think said.

"You'll do fine," Fatalclaw said.

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a returned with their packs, which they quickly hid in trash bags.

"Fatalclaw, we need to go. I think Archmage Garzad saw us with our packs. We managed to lose him in Miscellaneous, but he's probably going to be suspicious," R'd'p'a said.

"All right. Let's go. If anyone questions you, Think, just tell them the truth. I'll take all the blame when I return."

"If you return, you mean," Think said.

Fatalclaw picked up several trash bags. "No. When."

The three rats hurried toward the exit. Fatalclaw noticed that the door to the Moderator Board was ajar and peered inside. The white rat, Archmage Garzad, was reading the note Fatalclaw had left.

"Hurry!" Fatalclaw whispered.

They reached the exit and stepped outside. Immediately, a blue rat with several scars and only half a tail stopped them. "What do you want?" Timestwelve asked.

"Just taking out the trash," R'd'p'a said.

"Already?" Timestwelve asked.

"Well, yeah. Rof'l'mao got put on spam clean-up yesterday after insulting #11, remember?"

"Oh, yes. I remember that." Timestweleve stepped back.

Fatalclaw, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a waited until they were out of sight, then dug their packs out of the trash and set off.

---

Eternal Flame knocked on the office door.

"Come in." PiperBot was calmer now.

Eternal Flame stepped inside. "Er, how are you doing?"

PiperBot said nothing.

"Um, look, I, er, understand this is really, um, difficult for you. But I need your help, and I need it now."

"How so?"

"I need another captain in my army. Flamers aren't the brightest, you know, and, um, I can't, um, you know, expect every single one of my plans to be perfectly flawless. I, er, need you to come with me and, um, make sure I don't, er, make a silly mistake." Eternal Flame thought for a minute. "Of course, since you'll be working with me, you probably won't be needed at all, but Ecksian still wants to send you. You know, just in case."

"Uh, where are you going?"

"Isn't it obvious? To destroy the rats! They're weak now, since they took so many casualties at Spiderweb. But it wasn't the first message board they destroyed, and it won't be the last unless we stop them. So I'm going to attack them for a change."

"That's barbaric," PiperBot said.

"Barbaric?! It's the rats that are barbaric! They steal and murder! They're bandits! They're... they're monsters!"

"I want proof," PiperBot said firmly.

Eternal Flame slapped a forged news article and a doctored photo of Riibu taken from an old photo thread onto the desk.

PiperBot looked at them. "Then that's... that's fake!"

Eternal Flame grabbed him before he had a chance to react. Ecksian had been waiting outside the office. Now he rushed in to shut PiperBot off.

"Who are you? What have you done to me? What have you done to--" PiperBot went lifeless the moment the switch turned off.

"We were so close," Ecksian said bitterly.

"Don't tell me we have to do everything again," Eternal Flame said.

Ecksian sighed in frustration. "I'm afraid so."

"Screw that. You can take that bot and shove it--"

"I have to get back to work!" Ecksian shoved Eternal Flame out of the office and slammed the door.

---

Attorukkip led the group away from Google. "Stay close," she told Grime Grubber, "And you too." She grabbed Phil by the tail. "I think we're being watched."

G'ree't'l looked around. "Yes. I think so too."

Deathwhisker drew her sword. "Probably more h4x0rs."

"Are they going to attack us?" Grime Grubber whispered.

Attorukkip shook her head. "Not if we stick together. There's probably too many of us for them."

The group moved off. A few minutes later, another vehicle pulled into Google. Nikki and Student of Trinity got off.

Student of Trinity paused to look at the map of the area. "Hmm. So we turn left here, and then go straight for three blocks. Then we turn right and..."

"Look out!" Nikki pointed to a 1337 h4x0r that had just stood up.

The 1337 h4x0r readied a throwing axe. Student of Trinity threw himself to the ground as the axe buried itself in the map. Three more 1337 h3x0rs rushed at Nikki. He pulled out Nicothodes' pencil and stabbed one of them. Student of Trinity got up and loaded his sling. His rock knocked the 1337 h4x0r with the throwing axes unconscious. He launched another at a fifth 1337 h4x0r that was creeping up behind him. Meanwhile, Nikki stabbed another 1337 h4x0r. The remaining one ran off.

Student of Trinity looked around. "Wow. Remember when 1337 h4x0rs used to be scary? Things sure have changed."

"Yeah. Should I stab the two h4x0rs you knocked unconscious?"

"No! Leave them to recover; they might learn from this and decide to change."

"And maybe Arancaytar's ghost will appear and propose to me," Nikki muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" Student of Trinity asked.

"Nothing." Nikki looked around, then sighed wistfully. "Well, I guess we'd better keep going."

---

Ecksian opened the door a crack and peered inside just as Eternal Flame threw down the fake papers. Hopefully, this time it would work. It was really quite unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that messing with memories would provoke increasing paranoia. So far, PiperBot was holding up well--though so was its resistance--but too many more times and it would be a useless wreck.

PiperBot took one look at Riibu's picture and quickly turned away. "I'll... I'll do it."

"You'll... do it? Excellent! I'll go organize the troops immediately." Eternal Flame left.

PiperBot stared grimly out a soot-covered window.

Ecksian stepped inside and picked up the news article and photo. "It's such a shame. She was such a wonderful girl."

"I know," PiperBot said pointedly.

Ecksian decided it was best not to hang around and left quickly.

---

Fatalclaw held up a paw to stop A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a. "Hide. Someone's coming."

The three of them hid behind a dumpster just as Attorukkip's group walked past.

"It can't be!" Fatalclaw said.

R'd'p'a stood up. "Hey! We thought you were dead!"

"We were!" Phil yelled back.

"You... were?" R'd'p'a looked confused.

Fatalclaw rushed out and hugged Deathwhisker.

"Mom!" Deathwhisker pulled free.

"What are you doing out here?" Timeseight asked.

The two groups exchanged stories. Halfway through, Student of Trinity and Nikki stumbled upon them.

"So," Fatalclaw said, "A'p'd'r, R'd'p'a, Student of Trinity, Nikki, and myself will go look for Ecksian. Who else wants to come along?"

"I do," Deathwhisker said.

"I'm coming," Phil said.

"I don't think so." H'uk'n'l picked Phil up with one paw.

"Put me down," Phil squeaked.

"Not until we're safely back in Bots Aplenty," H'uk'n'l said.

Student of Trinity handed Attorukkip the return life instructions. Attorukkip took them eagerly, but looked disappointed as she read over them.

"It's... very complicated. But thank you." She shook Student of Trinity's hand, and the two groups went their respective ways.

---

The atmosphere in the Moderator Board was silent and tense. ***** reread the note that Fatalclaw had left for the fifth time. Archmage Garzad and the two giant rats waited awkwardly. Finally, ***** seemed to reach a decision.

"Timestweleve reports that Fatalclaw, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a took out the trash not too long ago and never returned. It seems Fatalclaw has left to hunt for OneFoxyFox and, in doing so, disobeyed a direct order of mine. This is a major infraction according to our bylaws. So, what shall we do with her?"

"She should be demodded, at the very least. Possibly given a temporary ban too. We can't have an untrustworthy moderator," one of the giant rats said.

"I disagree," the other giant rat said, "Fatalclaw has always been one of our most level-headed members. She deserves a stern warning, to be sure, but we still need her as a mod."

Archmage Garzad looked bewildered.

"Yes?" ***** asked.

"The letter... I mean, it didn't just say she was leaving. It said... she practically admitted she was a traitor."

"What?" the second giant rat asked, "But she was the one always talking about the possible traitor. If she was a traitor, why would she always bring it up?"

"Relax, Cheese," ***** said, "Fatalclaw didn't write this letter."

"She didn't?" Archmage Garzad asked.

"No."

"Then that means there is a traitor," Do_Not_Want_Cheese said.

"So it would seem. Cheese, speak with Timestwelve and make sure no one else left or attempted to leave without permission. Terry, check on MadScientist and The Laboratory."

The giant rats left.

"It is highly suspicious," ***** said, "Fatalclaw couldn't have left the note much before you found it, given how recently she left. That doesn't give the traitor much time to act."

"No."

"And it's very peculiar that it was found in the Moderator Board. There are only six rats who could possibly enter."

"So what you're saying is that a moderator did it."

***** shrugged. "It's possible Fatalclaw could have left the door open, but I've never seen her do that before. So I can't rule out anyone, but so far, it does seem to point towards a moderator."

"What are we going to do?" Archmage Garzad asked.

"I don't know. What motivation do you think anyone here could possibly have to make them work for OneFoxyFox?"

"I don't know. Wealth, power, immortality, insanity, jealousy--the usual suspects, I suppose."

***** waited a while before speaking again. "It's a shame you don't have an alibi. I mean, you found the note, so you clearly had plenty of time to switch it and destroy the old one. I'd ask you to empty your inventory in hopes of finding it, but I know it's futile. One quick little fireball would have been all it took to completely destroy it."

Archmage Garzad swallowed hard. "You're accusing me?"

"Well, there are only six possibilities. Fatalclaw's gone. I know I didn't do it. Terry and Cheese were with me in the Miscellaneous Forum. MadScientist hardly ever leaves the lab--I doubt he even remembers he's a mod now, he's so absorbed in his work. That only leaves you. And, like I said, you just happened to find the note."

Archmage Garzad said nothing.

***** pulled out a thick marker and moved the note closer to him. The marker squeaked as ***** circled several words very deliberately. "Lots of misspellings in this note. 'There' instead of 'their'. 'It's' instead of 'its'. The word 'the' is spelled 'teh' at least twice. And there are more, I'm sure. And there's only one mod known for frequent misspellings, Garzad."

"It wasn't me," Archmage Garzad said, "I don't care what the evidence says, it wasn't me."

***** circled another word. "Well, I can't prove it. But you can't prove it wasn't. So I'm afraid I'm going to arrest you."

"But..."

***** went and opened the door, expecting Archmage Garzad to launch a fireball at any moment. But he just sat there. Two blue rats entered and hauled him away.

Chapter 5: Tyranicus Doesn't Die

Chapter 5: Tyranicus Doesn't Die Dikiyoba Sat, 05/24/2008 - 01:55
Emperor Tullegolar and Jeran Korak entered the Geneforge 4 Forum. Azuma and Nalyd were in the process of digging up a rat skeleton.

Emperor Tullegolar sighed. "No, no, no. Azuma, you're doing it all wrong."

Azuma looked stunned. "What do you mean?"

"Nalyd swore to serve you, so you should be making him do all the work."

Randomizer entered. When he saw the group, he quickly hid himself in a tree.

"That doesn't seem fair," Azuma said.

"You're the one who knows necromancy. Nalyd just desperately wants to. It doesn't have to be fair."

"Oh. Okay. Keep digging, Nalyd." Azuma put down the shovel and climbed out of the hole, still trying to understand the concept.

"Nalyd doesn't mean to be rude, but is your hat supposed to look like that?"

"What do you mean?" Emperor Tullegolar pulled his hat off and took one look at it. "My hat! It's ruined! But how...? Drew! He must be responsible, somehow. Jeran, help Azuma. I'm going to go deal with Drew."

Randomizer chuckled as Emperor Tullegolar stormed out of the forum.

"Uh, okay, you heard him," Azuma said, "You should help dig."

Jeran Korak swished his sword around. "No."

"Oh, well, okay. Nalyd, keep digging."

"Yes, oh great necromancer. It may be difficult, but the joy of necromancy shall outweigh the pain!" Nalyd shoveled furiously.

"Hey! You're getting dirt all over me!" Jeran Korak said.

"Stand back, then. Nalyd has work to do!"

Azuma heard someone coming. "Quick! Hide!" He shoved Jeran Korak into the hole on top of Nalyd and hid behind a rock.

"Ow! Jeran, that was Nalyd's head."

"Oh, shut up."

"Shhh!" Azuma said.

Slartucker and Tyranicus entered. Slartucker saw the freshly scattered dirt. "This is my forum, isn't it?"

Tyranicus nodded.

"Guess I'd better check it out."

Slartucker walked over to the hole. "What are you two doing? Is that a rat skeleton you're digging up?"

"Uh... we're playing hide and seek. Now go away, or you'll get Nalyd found."

Azuma stood up from behind the rock. "Ready or not, here I come!"

Slartucker facepalmed.

Randomizer jumped out of the tree, laughing. "It's okay, Slarty. I've got everything under control. They're digging up a few rat bones I need for a spell of mine."

Tyranicus mooed.

"Yes, I know we're busy. Well... okay then. Holler if you need me."

"No problem. Just give these to Dikiyoba." Randomizer handed Slartucker the quill and parchment.

"Wait." Slartucker looked at the quill suspiciously. "Is this from...?"

"No idea," Randomizer said.

Tyranicus mooed again.

"All right, I'm coming," Slartucker said.

---

Slartucker and Tyranicus entered the Nethergate Forum. Tyranicus mooed at Ephesos.

"How comes the working time?" Slartucker translated.

Ephesos shrugged. "I'm getting sort of close."

Tyranicus snorted.

"Oh, ignites. Nioca could learn the enchantment by now!"

Ephesos tossed the book at Tyranicus. "Well, you learn it then."

Tyranicus kicked it back and mooed.

"Right. Regret."

Slartucker handed the paper and quill to Dikiyoba as Lazarus and Nioca entered.

"Back again?" Synergy asked.

"Just passing through." Nioca tried to be casual.

"What are they up to, anyway?" Dikiyoba asked after they had exited.

"Well..." Synergy began.

"Don't." Ephesos said.

"Like it really matters who knows? Everyone will discover--," Synergy asked.

"It does," Ephesos said.

---

In the General Forum, Emperor Tullegolar tracked Drew down. "All right, what did you do?"

Drew stared at the slith spear aimed at his chest, then looked at Emperor Tullegolar calmly. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"My hat! What did you do to my hat?!"

"Hmm. You mean that's not some new fashion statement of yours?"

"Don't be ridiculous!"

Drew shrugged. "Well, you never know."

Andraste made sure Emperor Tullegolar couldn't see her and gave Drew a thumbs up.

Emperor Tullegolar lowered his slith spear. "I don't believe you, but I'll let it pass for now. Who else could it have been?" He pulled out the list of people he hated.

Lazarus and Nioca entered. Lazarus looked to Stareye. Stareye nodded.

"Hey, Zephyr, come here. We've got a job for you," Lazarus said.

"Really? What is it?" Zephyr Tempest asked.

"You'll just have to find out." Lazarus herded him out of the forum.

---

When Lazarus and Nioca returned with Zephyr Tempest, everyone in the Nethergate Forum stopped what they were doing.

"I'd better double-check to make sure everything is under control." Ephesos followed them.

Zeviz let the barrier he was creating fade away. "Yes. I should be there in case, uh, Zephyr Tempest tries something." He followed Ephesos.

Dikiyoba looked at Dikiyoba's watch. "Oh, look at the time. Dikiyoba should be out, um, er, watering the alchemical herbs." Dikiyoba exited as well.

Synergy looked at Slartucker. "To be honest, I'm just dreadfully curious to see what Niemand, Lazarus, and Nioca created."

"Me too," Slartucker said.

Tyranicus mooed at them as they left, but they ignored him. He snorted and followed.

---

In the Blades of Avernum Editor Forum, Niemand stood by a small platform. Zephyr Tempest examined it. "Hmm. I see some restraining runes, but the rest I am not familiar with. What are we doing? Some sort of summoning, perhaps, that you need my help?"

"Not really." Lazarus shoved Zephyr Tempest onto the platform.

"Hey!" Zephyr Tempest tried to jump off, but the restraining runes glowed red, holding him in place. The other runes glowed dark blue.

Ephesos and the others entered and watched from a distance.

"What are they doing?" Dikiyoba asked.

"Shh!" Ephesos said.

Zephyr Tempest winced and doubled over.

Nioca looked worried. "Did we know it would hurt him?"

"I knew it might hurt a little, but it doesn't look too bad," Niemand said.

Sparks flew off the runes and buried themselves in Zephyr Tempest. He yelled and fell to the ground, trying to shield himself from the sparks.

Nioca winced. "Well?"

A few moments later, the sparks stopped and the glow faded from the runes. Zephyr Tempest lay still.

Lazarus stepped forward. "How are you, uh, feeling?"

Zephyr Tempest sat up shakily. "None.. of your... business!"

Niemand and Nioca helped Zephyr Tempest off the platform.

"My... my... spells. My beautiful summoning spells. Gone!" Zephyr Tempest said.

"Come on. Let's go, before we're noticed," Slartucker said.

But Zephyr Tempest had already seen them. "Come to laugh at me, huh?" He pulled free and took a few steps before collapsing. "Get back here!" He staggered upright and shot a spray of ice in their direction.

"Moo!" Tyranicus dove aside.

Most of the ice struck Ephesos, killing him instantly. A few splinters hit Slartucker's arm.

Lazarus and Niemand tackled Zephyr Tempest. Nioca hurried over to heal Slartucker.

Zephyr Tempest kicked Niemand and tried to get back up. "You'll pay for this! You'll all pay!"

Tyranicus galloped in and knocked Zephyr Tempest unconscious with a single kick.

"I'll go find either Stareye or Drakefyre and see what we should do with him now," Lazarus said.

Zeviz summoned some copper and handed it to Lazarus. "Get Zorro to revive Ephesos too, please."

"Right." Lazarus left.

Chapter 6: On The Move

Chapter 6: On The Move Dikiyoba Fri, 06/13/2008 - 03:25
In the General Forum, Emperor Tullegolar put his hate list away. He simply had too many suspects to figure out who could have messed up his hat. Now he needed more allies. He looked around carefully until he spotted Iffy.

Iffy looked around nervously when he saw Emperor Tullegolar approaching.

"Hey, Iffy."

"Uh, hi."

"You know, I could use your help for something."

"Er, no. I've, um, heard all about you. You're bad."

"I'm bad? Who's telling you such crackpot tales?"

Iffy ran. "Stay away! I need to be good!"

Emperor Tullegolar sighed and added Iffy's name to his list. "Fine. Be that way. It's your loss."

Iffy bumped into Goldenking. "Sorry."

"No, it's quite all right. Say, I couldn't help but overhear your last comment. And I know exactly what you're going through."

"You do?"

"Yes. I was once exactly like you. I used to be foolish and get into all sorts of trouble. But I learned, and I can help you learn too."

"You can?"

"Yep. Just stick with me and I'll teach you everything I know."

"Wait a minute. Is this some sort of trick?"

"Of course not!" Goldenking's eyes flashed red for a split second.

Iffy didn't notice. "Well, okay then. What can you teach me?"

Lazarus entered the forum. "Hey, Zorro, could you revive Ephesos?" He tossed the copper at Zorro.

"Bah. Is that all I'm good for around here?"

Lazarus found Stareye and Drakefyre sitting at a table. "The stat-removing script worked perfectly. But Zephyr isn't happy with us at all. He--"

"I'll take care of it," Stareye said.

Zorro revived Ephesos.

"That was fast." Ephesos saw Stareye and Lazarus leave the forum. "Oops. Got to go." He hurried after them.

"Don't I even get a thank you?" Zorro shouted after him.

"Thanks!" Ephesos called back.

Zorro sat back down. "I should revolt. Well, just as soon as I play one more game, anyway. Prepare to have lost three Wednesdays after yesterday, Icshi!"

---

Student of Trinity, Nikki, and the rats reached Google.

"Where do we start searching?" A'p'd'r asked.

"Well... we don't know where he is and Google doesn't turn anything up. But he'll have to use Google eventually, so if we check it regularly, we have a very good chance of finding him," Student of Trinity said. "So half of us should stay here while the other half searches elsewhere." He remembered the 1337 h4x0rs. "Well, maybe not here, but any Google station will do."

Fatalclaw shook her head. "I don't think we should split up. We're a small group as it is."

"We shouldn't all camp at Google, because we still might miss him. But if we search elsewhere, then all we're really doing is hoping to get lucky.

"Wikipedia," Nikki said, "He'll have to go to Wikipedia for something, I guarantee it. It also has a Google station inside it, so we can check on that too."

Fatalclaw nodded. "Yes. That does seem like a good idea. Besides, Wikipedia just might have information on this Ecksian that Google doesn't."

---

Stareye, Lazarus, and Ephesos entered the Blades of Avernum Editor Forum. Niemand and Nioca were taking the scripting platform down. Zephyr Tempest was just beginning to regain consciousness. Stareye promptly marched over to him and placed a foot on his chest so he couldn't get up.

"Listen carefully now. It was an administrative decision that you could no longer be trusted with summoning spells. You may learn and use other spells, but if you attempt to learn any summoning spells without Drakefyre's or my express permission, you will be permabanned. Understood?"

Zephyr Tempest muttered something under his breath.

Stareye pressed his foot down harder. "Is that understood?"

"Yes."

"Good." Stareye lifted his foot a bit. "On the plus side, we've decided this was sufficient punishment and will not reinstate your temporary ban. But I feel I must repeat the warning I gave earlier. If you attack anyone or do anything to hinder the defense of Spiderweb, you will be banned instantly. Got it?"

Zephyr Tempest nodded.

Stareye took his foot of Zephyr Tempest's chest and helped him up. "Well then, you're ready to go."

Zephyr Tempest limped out of the forum, muttering savagely to himself.

"Now, I'll take the script," Stareye said.

Niemand handed it over.

"Thank you. Who actually worked on it?"

"Just me, Lazarus, Ephesos, and Nioca."

"It probably goes without saying that I do not want to see you four--or anyone else here--recreate this script or help someone else recreate it. I really don't want to find out what would happen if everyone could alter stats at will."

---

*****, Cheese, and Terry sat in the Mod Board.

"...still be a few days before a sizeable number of bots are ready," Terry said, "And that's with him pushing himself too hard. You know how he's been since the death of Anonymous. I made him get something to eat and told him to take a nap." Terry wrinkled his nose. "And a shower."

"Well, it seems he needs a new assistant. We can ask for volunteers later. But first, we need a new mod, otherwise we'll be in trouble when something comes up."

"Do you really think Garzad is guilty?" Cheese asked.

"I don't know. If he is, he's a very good actor. And patient enough to not attack me despite having the opportunity, if that was his goal. But if it wasn't him, then who got inside the Mod Board and how?" ***** tapped his claws on the table as he spoke.

"I think Danielle is the obvious choice," Terry said.

Cheese nodded. "Definitely. She'd be a great mod."

"Hmm. You're probably right. But I--"

Suddenly, Timestweleve hammered on the door. "You won't believe it, but G'ree, Att, and all the others are back. They're still alive! You have to come see it!"

---

Eternal Flame stood outside the building, dressed in a fire-proof suit and giving orders to his captains. "You have a few more hours to get everyone ready and moving. Make sure everyone knows that if there are any problems, I will deal with the ones responsible. PiperBot and I are going with the pyroroamer unit to scout the place and hopefully weaken their defenses. Now go."

The captains quickly returned indoors.

Ecksian nodded. "You've certainly got them under control."

"Flamers learn slowly, but eventually they do learn. If only because the ones that don't are dead." Eternal Flame was about to say more, but then he caught sight of PiperBot hovering nearby.

"Are we ready to go now?" PiperBot asked impatiently.

"Yes," Eternal Flame said.

"Here. Take this. It's a map of Bots Aplenty and instructions on the quickest route." Ecksian handed a piece of paper to PiperBot.

PiperBot grabbed it and zoomed away. Eternal Flame hurried after it. They soon caught up with the pyroroamer unit. The pyroroamers snarled and pulled on the leashes while the trainers desperately tried to keep them in line. There had already been a mishap that had claimed three pyroroamers and two trainers. Eternal Flame pulled down the hood of his suit and picked up a heavy stick to prevent any future mishaps as they all marched towards Google.

Chapter 7: Chitter-Chatter

Chapter 7: Chitter-Chatter Dikiyoba Fri, 06/20/2008 - 08:33
Randomizer sighed and quickly climbed back up into the tree when he heard someone coming. "This is getting ridiculous. Why can't people just stay put?"

Azuma and Jeran Korak hid behind rocks. Nalyd crouched in the hole.

Stareye, Niemand, Nioca, and Lazarus passed through without noticing anything.

Randomizer jumped out of the tree. "Now, how close are we?"

"Nalyd thinks he has it!" Nalyd started throwing bones out of the hole.

"Didn't you need a bone for something?" Azuma asked.

"Oh, that. I said that to get Slartucker off our trail. Nah, I just want to see you zombify this thing."

Azuma looked stunned. "You mean you want to learn necromancy too?"

"Uh... sure. Yeah, that's it."

Azuma blinked several times. "Er, wow. Um..."

"Nalyd dug out all the bones he could find. Now teach him necromancy, please, please, please."

"All right. For now, just watch. And stay back. It's very dangerous," Azuma said.

Randomizer cast an antimagic spell on the bones while no one was watching.

Azuma closed his eyes and raised his hands.

"Is it working?" Nalyd asked after a moment.

"No, um, it, um, seems to be unusually difficult to get the spell started for some reason. I've never felt anything like it."

"You just aren't trying hard enough," Randomizer said.

Slowly, black smoke formed around the bones as the antimagic spell faded. Randomizer waited until the smoke completely obscured the bones before casting another one. The shock of having his spell disrupted nearly knocked Azuma over.

"You!" He lunged for Randomizer.

Randomizer cackled as he dodged and fled to the Avernum 4 Forum.

---

Synergy and the others had returned to the Nethergate Forum. Suddenly, Zeviz looked up from his book. "Uh-oh."

"What?" Ephesos asked.

"I just realized that no summoning spells for Zephyr means I'm now the only one who can summon elements."

Ephesos tossed aside his book. "What? Synergy, hurry up and learn the summon element spell. Dikiyoba, go make more Balms of Life."

"But..."

"Someone go find Nioca and tell him to learn the return life spell. And tell Drakefyre he needs to learn the summon element spell again, Anama or not. And tell Schrodinger and Dintiradan they need to get working on the summoning machine again. And Zeviz... just don't die."

"Don't you think you're overreacting just a little?" Slartucker asked.

Tyranicus mooed.

"All right, all right. I take that back," Slartucker said.

---

Jewels and the others returned to Spiderweb with all the supplies from Truesite.

Nemesis set his box down. "Well, we got them this far. Someone else can deal with them now." He walked off.

"Wait, we have to... never mind." Jewels caught sight of Stareye and Drakefyre at their table. "Come on, Alo, let's tell them what we've figured out."

Jewels and Alorael joined the administrators.

"Alorael had the best idea while we were out there," Jewels said, "So we scouted the area thoroughly. We should be able to launch a surprise attack on Ecksian's bots before they get to Spiderweb."

Alorael shrugged and sipped some skribbane. "What can I say? Bots, pedestrians, same thing, really."

"We're going to need lots of barriers, though, so I thought I'd take a crew down to Kingdom of Loathing and pick up some barbed wire fences. It shouldn't take too long."

"All right," Drakefyre said, "Now, Alorael, what exactly were you thinking of?"

"Great." Jewels got up and tracked Salmon, Andraste, and Drew down. "I need to get some barbed wire fence from KoL. Want to come along?"

"How much?" Drew asked.

"I don't know. A lot."

"Well, we're going to need more help. Let's see... who plays KoL again?" Andraste asked.

"Besides the four of us? Marlenny, Niemand... Ephesos, Zeviz, and Dikiyoba, but I think they're busy with big important magic stuffs. Oh, and Riibu. We should bring her along if we can find her," Salmon said.

Goldenking approached and cleared his throat. "At your service."

"Yeah, whatever, you can come too."

"I'll get Marlenny and Niemand. Jewels, you find Riibu. We'll meet outside in ten minutes," Andraste said.

---

Ephesos and Dikiyoba were passing through the Avernum 4 Forum when they nearly ran into Randomizer.

"Oh, hey Ephesos, I was just looking for you. It seems we have some necromancy in the G4 Forum."

Ephesos sighed. "How bad is it?"

"Oh, they've just started. But Nalyd's involved, so I doubt it'll end well."

"I'm busy. Couldn't you handle it?"

"I don't think they'd listen to me."

"Well, is there anyone else who can deal with it? I--"

There was a flash of light overhead. Dikiyoba and Ephesos dove out of the way as something large knocked Randomizer flat.

"Are you okay?" Dikiyoba asked.

"Yes, thanks. By the way, you're cute." A chitrach stood up.

"You're standing on me!" Randomizer yelled.

"Oops. Sorry." The chitrach got off.

Randomizer got up, holding his left arm. "Quick! Kill it before it has a chance to breed!"

The chitrach chittered angrily at him.

"Look, he's friendly. Er, or she's friendly. So there's no need for killing."

"He," the chitrach said.

"A chitrach cannot be friendly. So hurry up and kill it. And heal my wrist."

"Don't worry, he's still just getting used to the idea of a friendly chitrach. So, do you have a name?" Ephesos asked.

The chitrach produced a rasping noise by rubbing his forearms together.

"Hmm. Well, no one will be able to pronounce that. Can we call you something else?"

"How about Jar-Jar?" Randomizer muttered, "Come on, kill it, kill it, kill it!"

"Will you be quiet if I heal you?"

Randomizer sighed. "I suppose."

"Okay. How about Chatter?" Ephesos cast a healing spell. "It fits."

The chitrach thought for a second. "Sure! That's a cute name too!"

"Ow!" Randomizer winced as the spell hit him and dissipated.

"Hmm. Dikiyoba, get a first aid kit. See if you can find Nioca too. It's honestly been a while since I've had to heal anyone the old-fashioned way, so I could use a second opinion. Randomizer, let's get you back to the Nethergate Forum so I can see."

"Right." Dikiyoba left.

"Why don't you just kill the stupid chitrach and use first aid afterwards?" Randomizer grumbled.

"He sure is taking a long time to get used to the idea. Is he a mean, dumb human you've trained to behave?" Chatter asked.

"Hey!" Randomizer said.

"Let's just go," Ephesos said, "Chatter, stay here until Dikiyoba comes back."

---

Andraste, Marlenny, Drew, and Niemand stood outside.

"Where are Salmon and Jewels?" Drew asked.

Andraste shrugged. "Dunno."

Goldenking and Iffy stepped outside.

"Iffy's coming too?" Andraste asked.

"Yes," Goldenking said.

"Fine, just don't cause trouble," Andraste said.

Salmon and Jewels came out, carrying Riibu between them. "But... but I shouldn't go. I need to... need to look for... Nicothodes' pencil... I should..."

"Nah, the fresh air'll do you good," Salmon said, "Is this everyone? Let's go."

---

"What happened now?" Synergy asked as Randomizer limped into the Nethergate Forum.

"Oh, stop that," Ephesos said, "You didn't even hurt your leg. Now, let me see your arm."

"His antimagic is preventing you from healing him with magic, isn't it?" Zeviz asked.

"Yeah." Ephesos sighed.

Dikiyoba, Nioca, and Chatter entered.

"Everyone, this is, um, Chatter," Dikiyoba said.

"Hi! You're all cute!" Chatter said.

"You have got to be kidding. A Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Chitrach?" Slartucker said.

"Well, it looks like you've got a sprained wrist. What do you think, Nioca?" Ephesos said.

Randomizer winced as Nioca took over. "Yes, I think so."

Ephesos took the first aid kit from Dikiyoba and pulled out some bandages. "Well, just rest it for a few days and you'll be fine."

"A few days? That's a long time. Ow! Hey, be careful!"

"How did you even get in here, Chatter?" Slartucker asked.

"A portal."

"Which portal where? And why?" Synergy asked.

Chatter looked at the ground. "I'd rather not say anything about my home right now. Let's just say that not all meanies are dumb," he finished angrily.

Chapter 8: Something Fishy

Chapter 8: Something Fishy Dikiyoba Mon, 06/30/2008 - 19:29
Think pushed his way to the front of the crowd of rats. "You're still alive!"

M'q'zz'x grinned. "Yep."

"But what about Deathwhisker? Is she--"

"She went with Fatalclaw."

"Oh." Think caught sight of Grime Grubber. "Is he with the other roaches?"

"They're here?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Well, yeah. I mean, at least I think so."

"Where are they?"

"Down in the cemetery. I'll take you to--"

Grime Grubber dashed past Think all the way down to the cemetery. "Dad! Mom! Litter! Muck! Plague! I'm back!"

Filth Finder awoke instantly and rushed over to make sure Grime was okay. Garbage Gatherer and the nymphs were only a few steps behind.

"How did you escape?" Filth Finder asked.

"Dad said you were dead!" Compost Coveter said.

"I was, but..."

"Cool! What's it like to be dead? How did you come back?" Dreck Disperser asked.

"Well, uh..."

"Were you a ghost? Did you have to moan and wear rattling chains?" Trash Taker asked.

"Hold on, hold on. Let him tell his story before you start asking questions," Garbage Gatherer said.

Back upstairs, Attorukkip and the other rats were telling their story as well.

***** waited until someone asked a question he didn't particularly care about before whispering to Terry and Cheese, "You didn't mention anything to Danielle, did you?"

The mods shook their heads.

"Good. Because if Att and G'ree aren't dead, then our choice is no longer so obvious."

---

Jewels and the others climbed up a large hill. At the top stood the gates to the Kingdom of Loathing. Two inebriated stick figures stood guard at the entrance. Jewels stepped forward.

"Halt!" One pointed his sword unsteadily at her. "What ish the pashword?"

"Swordfish!"

"Correct!" The guards let her pass.

Drew was next.

"Halt! What ish the meanin of life, the univershe, and everythin?"

"Swordfish."

"Correct!"

Niemand stepped forward.

"Halt! A train bound for Sht. Louish leavesh New York City at 8:04 AM, travelin at an average shpeed of 35 milesh per hour. A shecond train bound for Shan Diego leavesh Tokyo at 10:43 AM, travelin at an average shpeed of 20 milesh per hour for the firsht 50 shecondsh and 87 milesh per hour after that. An earthquake of five magnitude on the Richter Shcale will hit jusht five minutesh after they intershect. The epicenter ish two milesh below the home of a man named Bob livin in the outshkirtsh of Boulder, Colorado. Ushin the information previoushly given, determine the shoe shize of hish left foot. Show all work. Hic!"

"Swordfish!"

"Correct!"

Niemand passed through.

"So I just have to say swordfish?" Iffy asked

"Yeah, the answer is always swordfish. And thank goodness for that." Goldenking stepped forward.

"Halt! How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

"Swordfish!"

"Correct!"

Iffy stepped forward.

"Halt! Which came firsht, the chicken or the egg? Hic!"

"Er... swordfish?"

"Correct!"

Iffy stepped through with a sigh of relief. Riibu stepped forward.

"Halt! Have you shtopped beatin your wife?"

Riibu turned invisible and walked through.

"Hey! Where'd she go?"

"Swordfish." Andraste stepped inside.

"That'sh againsht the rulesh! Hic! You could get in trouble, you know that?"

"Swordfish!" Marlenny entered.

"Quit that! Okay, you. What ish the air-shpeed velocity of an unladen shwallow?"

"Aw, crap. I hate getting this one," Salmon said.

"That ish incorrect. Pleashe wait fifteen minutesh and try again. Hic!" One of the guards grabbed Salmon and threw him down the hill.

---

Eternal Flame, PiperBot, and the pyroroamer unit arrived at Google.

PiperBot looked at the directions. "Hmm." It tried a few searches on the ticket machine. "Yes, this will be much faster." It wrote the new directions down and handed them to the trainer with no pyroroamer. "When the others arrive, tell them to take exactly this route."

"I know how to use Google. Unlike you, I'm not--"

"No more than three pyroroamers per vehicle," Eternal Flame growled, "And keep the stupid things under control. If one of them explodes, everyone in that vehicle goes with it, remember that."

Eternal Flame and PiperBot took a vehicle for themselves.

"Now, let's see that map." PiperBot pulled it out. "Why in the world are they still using EZ-Board? It almost makes me want to upgrade it for them."

"Don't."

"I know, I know. Now, if we can catch them by surprise and send the pyroroamers in through the front entrance in waves, then..."

---

Azuma guided the reanimated rat skeleton around the forum. "Lesser undead are often considered slow and clumsy, but it all depends on the skill of the necromancer. A skeleton, ghoul, or zombie can be just as graceful and skilled as a living person, or even better, if the necromancer has enough power and clarity."

"Oooooh." Nalyd sighed as the rat scampered by him.

Jeran Korak snorted. "Show me."

"All right. Attack!"

The rat turned and sprinted towards Jeran Korak, teeth bared. Jeran Korak swung his sword and beheaded it. The skeleton continued to stagger around until Azuma waved his hand. The bones collapsed in a puff of black smoke.

"Some challenge," Jeran Korak muttered.

"Make it again! Make it again!" Nalyd said.

---

Schrodinger had one of Ecksian's bots on the Mod Board table and was carefully dissecting it, taking detailed notes on everything.

---

The vehicle carrying Nikki, Student of Trinity, and the rats pulled into the Google station just outside of Wikipedia. There was a line at the ticket machine, and Nikki was pushed out of the vehicle by a group of anime cosplayers. Deathwhisker, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a all stared at Wikipedia in awe. It was a massive glass skyscraper, under construction in at least three places. Despite the fact that it was late evening, the lights were all on and people were still hard at work.

"Should have come here first to see whether the FFA existed," A'p'd'r muttered, "Would have saved a lot of walking."

"Well, let's go on in." Student of Trinity had only taken a few steps before being accosted by a filthy cat.

"i can has spare change 4 cheezburgerz?"

Student of Trinity shook his head. "Sorry. I don't have any."

"Nope," Fatalclaw said.

The lolcat stumbled towards some other group. "hai! i can has spare change?"

The lobby was as crowded as the station. Nikki thought he saw a troll as they made their way to the elevator, but he couldn't be sure.

"Where do we want to look first?" Fatalclaw asked.

"Well, we won't find any info on Ecksian by name, otherwise Google would have turned it up. So Nikki and I will search bot-related articles. You four can start looking at information related to hackers," Student of Trinity said.

They stepped into an elevator. "Sounds fair." Fatalclaw pushed a few buttons. "Brace yourselves."

"Um, why? Oof!" R'd'p'a was thrown into the door as the elevator shot off backwards.

---

"...Hagnk's, because an expedition to the Distant Mountains will cost a lot of meat," Marlenny said.

"Gotcha." Drew hurried off.

"Goldenking, you and Iffy head over to the Hermit's place and haul all the wood you can back here. Riibu, you steal a set of dinghy plans."

"Steal a...?"

"Yes. It's quicker that way. And since you can turn invisible, you'll be in no danger at all."

"But... but..."

"Don't worry, we'll bail you out of jail if you get caught." Salmon joined the group.

"Where have you been?" Andraste asked.

"Oh, I messed up the password again. Had to wait until the guards went for another drink before I could slip in."

Chapter 9: ...Comes Great Fatigue

Chapter 9: ...Comes Great Fatigue Dikiyoba Sun, 07/13/2008 - 05:34
In the Nethergate Forum, Ephesos slammed his book shut. "Done."

"With what?" Chatter asked.

Tyranicus mooed and hurried over.

"Does this mean now you behind me can change?"

"Yes." Ephesos took a deep breath. "RESTORATION!!!"

There was a flash of green light around Tyranicus. "Thanks, Ephesos, now I can--oh, come on!" He stomped his hoof angrily. "I'm still a bull."

Ephesos shrugged wearily. "Sorry. It looks like... like the spell didn't recognize... recognize... um... oh, right, being a cow as a negative effect... just your inability to talk."

"You can still speak cave cow, right?" Slartucker asked.

Tyranicus snorted.

"Oh, good."

"I think your spell restored my mana too," Zeviz said, "I guess it really does cure every negative effect."

Randomizer touched his bandaged wrist and winced. "Not quite."

Ephesos staggered slightly. "It's been a long day so I think... I think... I think I'll turn in for the... for the..."

Nioca steadied him before he fell. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah... yeah." Ephesos shook his head to clear it. "I'm just tired. The spell took a lot more... more... effort than I... than I expected. Bed." Ephesos took a few steps and collapsed.

"What happened to him?" Tyranicus asked.

Nioca nudged Ephesos with a foot. He muttered something and turned over. "Oh, he's alright. Just asleep."

Synergy yawned. "I think that's our cue to go to sleep too. See if you can wake Ephesos up long enough to get him back to General."

---

"...didn't even know you were here, so I guess I was just really lucky," Grime Grubber finished.

"So, no rattling chains?" Trash Taker asked.

"Nope." Grime Grubber said, "But the scrying pool was way better anyway."

"Why don't you show Grime where to find the best trash? I need to speak with Dad for a moment."

"Okay. Come on!" Litter Locator ran upstairs. The other nymphs followed.

"What is it?" Filth Finder asked.

"I think we should go back to B--"

"No! We are not going back there. Chief Spider is crazy, for starters."

"But it's been years since we were last there. Things have probably changed a lot. And I can't imagine Spider would still be in charge. Besides, it would be nice for if the nymphs had others to play with."

"Yes, but there's no guarantee that--"

"And even if we don't like it, there's always the portal."

Filth Finder sighed. "That is true."

"Then why don't I go check to see what it's like? I can leave now and be back in a few days."

"All right. Just be careful."

"I will be."

---

Goldenking and Iffy returned with several planks between them.

"That's all you have?" Marlenny asked.

"Don't worry, we're going back for another load," Goldenking said.

"Well, take some more people with you, then. We don't have time to waste."

Andraste looked south. "Hey guys, it looks like we've got trouble approaching."

Riibu was visible and sprinting towards them. A mob composed of fire ants, mariachis, mummified cats, gnomes, and even a penguin was after her.

"She managed to tick off just about everyone, didn't she?" Salmon asked.

Marlenny shook her head. "They're gaining. She's not going to make it. They're well out of arrow range too."

"What are we waiting for? Charge!" Andraste sprinted towards the monsters.

"Yes!" Niemand said, "Charge!"

Iffy looked at the dagger he had. "I'm not sure this is going to be enough. That penguin looks tough!"

Goldenking tossed him a basic meat spork. "Here you go. And stay away from the penguin."

"This is a weapon?" Iffy saw that everyone else was racing towards the monsters. "Oh well. Charge!"

A mariachi brained Riibu with his guitar. She fell and was promptly swarmed by fire ants. "Ow! Ow! Ouch!"

Marlenny shot the mariachi and Salmon's fishing rod snagged Riibu's shoe and dragged her to safety. She squished the ants that were still clinging to her and handed the dinghy plans to Salmon. "Here you go."

"Why didn't you just turn invisible?" Salmon asked.

Riibu stood up. "They saw my footprints in the sand. Now, if you don't mind, I think I just earned the Sir Robin trophy. Catch you later!" Riibu ran off again.

Niemand and Jewels knocked gnomes left and right with the butts of their weapons.

"Come on, get out of here. I'm a Blender, so I'd hate to have to use the other end," Jewels said.

Goldenking rushed in to help. "Aura of flames!"

The badly singed chieftain of the gnomes stood up. "Retreat! Sougnd the retreat!"

The gnomes scurried off. Jewels sighed in relief.

Andraste was busy smashing ants when a mummified cat leapt at her.

"Kitty! Wait, what are you--arghhh!" The cat began to shred her leg. "Someone help! I can't hurt such a cute creature!"

Three more cats attacked her. Iffy stabbed one with his spork and Marlenny quickly shot the other three, but it was too late. Andraste was unconscious on the ground.

The penguin approached Salmon with a blowtorch at the ready. "Hand over the plans and no one gets hurt, capice?"

"I don't think so." Salmon cast. The line wrapped around the blowtorch several times, but when he reeled in he found a rocking horse's head on the hook. He shrieked and tossed the fishing rod aside.

Niemand and Jewels rushed in to help him. The penguin dodged their attacks easily.

"He must be a scaling monster. It's going to take everyone to bring him down." Jewels swung her axe again. The penguin ducked and threw a handful of sand in her eyes. She staggered back.

The penguin yanked the halberd out of Niemand's hands and knocked him to the ground. Then it held the blowtorch to his face. "I want the plans."

"Now what do we do?" Iffy asked.

Meanwhile, Riibu was approaching the Nearby Plains when she saw Drew in a meatcar. She waved him down.

"What are you doing here?" Drew asked.

"Stealing plans... went all wrong... monsters... penguin... everyone else fighting them... probably need help."

"You angered the mob, eh? That's not good. Get in. I have just the thing."

Marlenny saw that Salmon was standing with a blank look on his face. "Come on, snap out of it." She shook him gently.

"Huh? What? Oh yeah, the penguin."

"Plans. Now."

"Okay, here's the plan. We all attack at once. I mean, being horribly burned is probably curable with one of those soft echoey green scratchy thingies. And if it isn't, well, we'll just stick an opera mask on Niemand and tell him to write a script that revolutionizes the music industry," Salmon said.

"Salmon!" Jewels said.

"What?"

Suddenly, there was a horrible snarling sound. A tall, misshapen yeti was shuffling towards the group.

The penguin's eyes went wide. "Eat the adventurers, not me!" It ran off.

When the penguin was gone, Riibu pulled off the yeti fur she had draped over her and jumped down from Drew's shoulders. "We're really lucky that worked."

"No kidding. Though I figured we'd get to the Distant Mountains before needing that trick." Drew pulled out a scroll of drastic healing and read it while facing Andraste.

She regained consciousness and stood up. "Thanks."

"You picked up the meat and supplies too? That was fast," Marlenny said.

Drew shrugged. "I still need to go back for a few more things." He looked around. "I'll pick up the rest of the wood too, shall I?"

---

Student of Trinity sat alone in a small room crammed with bookshelves. Each bookshelf was crammed full of books.

Nikki walked in, picked out a book, and sat down.

"Where have you been?" Student of Trinity asked.

"Oh, I, um, needed to get something to eat."

"I packed plenty of food."

"I know, but, um, the meat you packed contaminated it all."

"And you've been gone an hour!"

"I got lost, okay?"

Student of Trinity sighed. "Okay, fine."

Somewhere outside the room, someone yelled, "Hey! Who added The Beatles, Oscar Wilde, and, um, 'Arancaytar' to a disambiguation page called 'Unbelievably sexy'?"

Student of Trinity glared at Nikki.

"What?!"

---

*****, Terry, Cheese, G'ree't'l, and Attorukkip sat in the Moderator Board. MadScientist, a green rat, was there too. A few moments later, a sexy red rat slipped into the forum.

"Ah, you're here, Dani," *****

"Yeah. Sorry I'm late."

"Okay, here's the situation. Neither Garzad nor Fatalclaw can fulfill their mod duties at the moment, so we need someone to temporarily take their place. MadScientist also needs a new assistant. Sort it out," ***** said.

"I want to be a mod," Danielle said quickly.

Attorukkip pulled out the spell Student of Trinity had given her. "I actually have a spell I want to work on, and probably other spells after that, so if I don't get a position, I don't care."

G'ree't'l shrugged. "I can help MadScientist, I guess."

"Good. Dani, you're the temporary mod. G'ree, you'll help MadScientist. Dani, stay here so I can show you what you need to do. The rest of you can go."

---

The group from the Nethergate Forum entered the Geneforge 4 Forum. Tyranicus had the still-sleeping Ephesos slung across his back.

"What are you doing?" Slartucker snapped.

Azuma jumped in surprise. "Er, nothing."

"Oh, relax. They're fine," Randomizer said, "Although I guess it is getting late, so it's time to settle down for the night. Come on, kill that rat and let's go."

"Um, okay." Azuma waved his hand and the rat skeleton fell with a clatter.

"Aww..." Nalyd said.

"Yeah, yeah, you can reanimate it tomorrow. Hurry up now."

Chapter 10: Good Night, Doom

Chapter 10: Good Night, Doom Dikiyoba Sat, 08/02/2008 - 05:48
Deathwhisker yawned widely and pushed away the book she was reading. "We're not going to find anything tonight."

Fatalclaw sighed. "No, I guess not. You run down and check Google. We'll get Nikki and SoT and meet you in the section on mattresses."

"Right." Deathwhisker left.

It took her nearly an hour to get to the ticket machine. The people in line behind her started complaining after her third search.

"You've had your turn!"

"come on, hury t upp"

"Yeah, we've got to use that machine tonight too, you know."

Deathwhisker finished her fifth search. "All right, it's all yours." She returned to the elevator.

Student of Trinity waved to her as she entered the mattress section. "Over here!"

Deathwhisker grabbed a mattress and started over. All around her, other people were settling down for the night or already asleep.

"Excuse me!" someone said.

Deathwhisker looked around.

"Down here."

She looked at the mattress in confusion.

"Do you mind? I was asleep! Honestly!" it said.

"Er... sorry, I didn't realize you were alive." She let it go.

"Hmmph. Didn't realize I was alive, sure. Get it all the time. No one ever realizes..." It shuffled off.

Deathwhisker grabbed another mattress, checking carefully to make sure it was inanimate this time, and joined the group. A'p'd'r and R'd'r'a were already asleep. Nikki sang quietly to himself.

"No luck?" Fatalclaw asked.

"Nope."

"Well, we'll try again in the morning. Try to sleep now."

"Yes, we have to get up early tomorrow." Student of Trinity set an alarm clock.

"Why?"

"You'll see."

---

Tyranicus left Ephesos in a bed in the Tech Support Forum.

Nioca yawned. "I'm pretty sure he's just asleep, but I'll stay here just in case. Chatter, you'd better stay here too."

"Okay, but where?

"Oh, anywhere." Nioca settled into a chair.

Chatter wedged himself between two boxes of equipment. "Good night."

"Good night."

A few minutes later, Dintiradan and the Lurker crept through on their way to the Blades of Avernum Forum.

---

Ecksian flipped EcksianBot back on. "Hello again, EcksianBot."

"Ecksian! What happened? Where are we?"

"The Spiderwebbers found us. We had to retreat."

"Oh. Okay."

"We're at the flamer's headquarters. I know their leader, and he let us in."

"What?! Flamers?! But they're incredibly dangerous!"

"Relax, most of them are... out, at the moment, and the rest won't bother us."

"But how can you be sure?"

"Fine, I'll set some guards at all the entrances to the workshop if it'll make you happy. I need to sleep. You keep watch and wake me if anything goes wrong."

---

Dintiradan and the Lurker were hard at work on the chair.

"So, who are we going to have test this now that Synergy can learn magic on his own?"

"Oh I don't know, but we'll find someone." Dintiradan yawned. "Luckily, once we're done with the chair, I can do the script more openly."

"How?"

"No one will look twice at a script called Kill Prize, Win Ogre 2, now will they?"

---

Marlenny stood back and admired the completed dinghy. Salmon and Drew pushed it into the water. Salmon rowed it around a bit. "Yeah, it's watertight. Load up the supplies."

Once the supplies were loaded and everyone was in, Drew and Jewels rowed over to the travel agency. Salmon sat in the prow with his fishing pole out, fishing while they waited.

"Salmon! Put that away!" Marlenny said.

"Oh, relax. We'll see the boats leaving in plenty of time."

"There!" Drew said.

A cruise ship was leaving the travel agency.

"See?" Salmon reeled in.

Drew and Jewels rowed over until they could read the lettering on the side.

"Nope, looks like it's heading to the Tropical Island."

They rowed back and waited until another cruise ship came along.

"Distant Mountain Cruise! This is it!" Salmon cast at the stern of the ship. The hook caught fast and the dinghy was pulled along after the ship.

Chapter 11: Fire And Shadow

Chapter 11: Fire And Shadow Dikiyoba Thu, 08/07/2008 - 06:59
PiperBot zoomed past the snarling pyroroamers--tied a safe distance apart from each other--into the abandoned building the flamers were using as a temporary base. The rest of the flamers had come during the middle of the night. Eternal Flame sat by the entrance, his fire-proof suit covered in ash. Several empty fire extinguishers lay nearby.

"Was there a problem?" PiperBot asked.

"Oh, an argument led to a few explosions. No big deal, really, since we put out the fire right away. What did you see?"

"Not too much. It's pretty small, and the front looks like the only way in or out. I would scatter a few flamers around just in case they have a secret door, though.

Eternal Flame shook his head. "I wouldn't trust them to do that. It will be your job to patrol the area. Anything else?"

"There's a blue rat and a bot standing guard. The bot looks dangerous, but the rat looks like it's been on duty for a while."

"Hmm. Right."

"And the message board looks pretty flammable."

"Ah, well, most places are. Is that everything?"

"Should be."

"Then we're ready." Eternal Flame picked up a fire extinguisher. "Trainers, get your pyroroamers ready now. Everyone else, I want you out of here in ten minutes. Remember, stealth is the key! FireAway, you will lead them to the message board."

"Why would you choose that--"

"And if I hear any complaints, I will build a catapult and use the complainer as ammo, because they are clearly no good for anything else. Smolder and Incinerate, put out any accidental fires." Eternal Flame pointed to several more fire extinguishers in the corner.

---

RatX521 stood outside the entrance to Bots Aplenty and looked around half-heartedly. He was hungry and tired after standing there all night.

Suddenly, he heard a noise. It sounded like a growl. He listened carefully.

"Can't you keep that stupid thing under control?"

"He was in my way!"

"Shut up!"

Several people were hiding nearby. RatX521 was about to call for help when a small, hovering bot whipped around the corner and threw a large rock at his head. He couldn't react quickly enough to avoid it, but quickly shook it off. "Help! Help! Attackers! Attackers! Everyone on alert!"

---

"Nice going," Eternal Flame snapped, "So much for surprise."

"He... had to have heard us anyway." PiperBot's voice was strained.

"And what was your plan for dealing with the bot if that rock had worked, eh?"

"I... was hoping... it wouldn't respond without orders."

"Yeah, fine, whatever. Now get going. And don't mess up. Trainers in front of me, release your pyroroamers and get out of the way quickly! And I don't care who, but ten more had better take their place! Now!"

Ten trainers quickly undid their pyroroamer's leashes and pushed them towards Bots Aplenty. Nine pyroroamers took the hint and charged towards the message board. The tenth chased its trainer down and died in the resulting explosion.

---

RatX521 saw the mob of pyroroamers round the corner. "Bot. Destroy them."

The bot drew its sword and ran towards them. It hit the first pyroroamer and the rest exploded as well. The bot was thrown to the ground and barely had time to get up before another eight pyroroamers rounded the corner.

"Archers! I need support! Hurry!" RatX521 pulled out his spear and hoped that nothing would get close enough to make him use it.

---

There were only a few rats in the Business Forum to hear RatX521's shouts. Timeseight snatched up his bow and hurried outside. Another rat hurried to warn the others. H'uk'n'l reached up, and after a few tries, managed to drag down a trapdoor and ladder to the roof.

***** sprinted in a moment later with a stack of javelins in his paws. He put a few in his mouth, dropped the rest, nodded to H'uk'n'l, and climbed up the ladder.

---

Attorukkip was hiding out in The Laboratory so she could study the return life spell in quiet when she heard commotion in the Miscellaneous Forum.

MadScientist stopped screwing a plate of armor onto a bot's chest. "What's going on? G'ree't'l, wake up and help me make sure all the bots are ready!"

"I'll go check," Attorukkip stepped into the Miscellaneous Forum.

"We're under attack! We need archers on the roof! Prepare to evacuate, if necessary!" the messenger rat yelled.

Most rats were checking their weapons and heading to the upper forums. Several blue, red, and green rats remained behind, blocking the entrance to the forum. The rest of the rats in the forum were all too young, too old, too injured, or otherwise incapable of fighting. Aside from several terrified children, the rats were fairly calm.

Attorukkip returned to The Laboratory. "We're under attack and preparing for a possible evacuation."

MadScientist was still checking bots. "I guessed as much. Any other information?"

"Not yet." Attorukkip hurried to the Cemetery.

Filth Finder and the nymphs were just getting ready to go to sleep.

"Yes?" Filth Finder asked.

"We're under attack. If you'll follow me to the Miscellaneous Forum, please."

"But..." Filth Finder sighed. "All right. Wake up, children. No matter what, do not leave my side. Okay?"

"What's going on?" Rubbish Remover asked.

"Where's Mom? Is she okay?" Muck Master asked.

"I'll explain once I know myself. Now come!" Filth Finder turned and discovered Grime Grubber had taken his words seriously as he nearly tripped over him.

---

***** watched as the explosions from the second set of pyroroamers flung the bot several meters and a third set of pyroroamers charged around the corner. He flung two javelins quickly. The first eliminated the pyroroamers. The other arced high over the next building and sharply down. There was a tremendous boom and smoke rose above the building.

A fourth group of pyroroamers now appeared, but these had been spaced out so they wouldn't damage each other.

The first archers arrived on the roof.

"Kill those creatures quickly," ***** ordered. He grabbed Phil's tail as he scampered past. "Find Att and tell her she's needed here urgently. Then release Garzad. Tell him he's not necessarily in trouble."

"Right!" Phil dashed off.

***** caught the attention of another red rat. "Yul'fib'f, tell MadScientist to send all of his bots out the front."

"Yes, *****." Yul'fib'f scurried off as well.

"This... is a major attack, then?" Terry asked.

"Yes. Definitely. I suspect they heard about our bots and are after them. We certainly don't have anything else of interest."

"They're flamers. They don't need a reason."

"But to have so many at once..."

"Maybe they're like lemmings. You know, once the population gets too large, they all move on and don't stop for anything in their path," Cheese said.

Both ***** and Terry turned to stare at him.

---

The bot managed to kill one of the pyroroamers, but the explosion knocked it off-balance. Another pyroroamer tackled it and bit into its side, tearing out wires and disabling it.

Timeseight shot it.

RatX521 looked to him nervously. "We're not going to make it."

Timeseight shot another one and edged towards the door. "Perhaps not."

The archers on the roof fired, quickly killing all the pyroroamers. Timeseight and RatX521 quickly ducked inside and began barricading the door.

---

Eternal Flame cursed as *****'s javelin landed close by. Only his fire-proof suit saved him from the resulting explosion. "The roof! Stupid bot, why couldn't you tell me they could attack from the roof?! Oh well. Cinder, get up here."

"What?!"

"You are promoted to captain."

"You want me to attack the rats on the roof?"

"No, you fool. That would take forever. I want you to burn the place down."

"But... but what about the treasure?"

"If it's inflammable, it'll survive. If it's flammable, we don't want it anyway. Besides, Ecksian is paying for this, and he's going to pay well. Now get into position!"

---

Student of Trinity turned the alarm clock off quickly.

Fatalclaw sat up as well.

"You wake the others up and get them to the roof. I'll join you shortly with breakfast." Student of Trinity walked off quickly.

Fatalclaw shook everyone else awake.

A'p'd'r yawned widely. "What... are we doing... up... so early... in the... morning?"

"You'll see," Fatalclaw said.

"I wish I could complain about it being a huge waste of time, but honestly, I can't," Nikki said.

The group shuffled to the nearest elevator.

"Wait!" Student of Trinity hurried to join them, carrying a basket of food and several binoculars.

One crazy journey straight up later, they stepped out onto the roof. There were already a few other people there. It was only an hour after dawn and everything was covered in fog.

Deathwhisker stared at the fog. "This is worth it?"

Student of Trinity passed out food. "Just wait."

The fog burned off surprisingly quickly. Wikipedia was the tallest building for miles around, and the view was incredible. There were new building under construction, old buildings falling apart, and everything in-between. Google vehicles zipped from station to station. Student of Trinity handed out the binoculars and quickly found Spiderweb Software, light glinting off the moat. Nikki scanned groups of people, hoping to find Arancaytar.

Deathwhisker was fascinated by a huge pirate ship sailing on a distant sea. There were several other ships on the sea, but they seemed strangely unconcerned. "Aren't they worried that the pirates will attack them?"

Student of Trinity examined the pirate ship. "Nope. It's not out for loot anymore. It's probably heading to the nearest port town to give its cargo away."

"But... but how does that work?" Deathwhisker asked.

"Probably because they're pirates." Nikki looked carefully. "Heh. You can just barely see a mountain range past that sea. I've never noticed it before."

"So there is," Student of Trinity said, "And look over there--giant webs everywhere. Must be spiders."

R'd'p'a pointed to an area that seemed much darker than everything around it--almost as if a cloud shaded it--but there were no clouds in the sky. All the buildings were crumbling and not a single person was out on the streets. Even the Google station was in disrepair. "What happened there?"

Student of Trinity shrugged. "No one knows. It's some sort of shadow or blight. Whether it drives people out or appears after places are abandoned is unknown."

R'd'p'a looked around more carefully. "There are lots of areas like it. There, and there, and over there, too, see?"

Student of Trinity nodded. "Yes, it's quite common once you start looking for it. Unfortunately, no one knows too much about it."

"I wonder if it's related to the thing in any way," Nikki said.

"No one really knows. Noobs, flamers, h4x0rs, and the like seem to be more common in areas that are beginning to be affected by it."

"Huh. I wonder..." Fatalclaw searched for Bots Aplenty. "There is a shadowed area near us. No wonder we get attacked so often, or picked up the place for so cheap. Wait... smoke! There's a fire at Bots Aplenty!"

"Are you sure?" Deathwhisker grabbed the binoculars from Nikki. "No!"

Fatalclaw handed her binoculars to Student of Trinity. "I'm sorry that this messes up our plans, but we must go immediately."

Student of Trinity looked to Nikki. Nikki nodded. "Of course. We're coming with you."

Chapter 12: Evacuation

Chapter 12: Evacuation Dikiyoba Sun, 08/31/2008 - 03:18
In the Business Forum, H'uk'n'l was rounding up all the supplies he could. There were plenty of arrows and javelins, but not much else.

Several pyroroamers got past the archers on the roof. They reached the entrance and began scratching at the door. H'uk'n'l grabbed a nearby table and set it upright against the door.

Yul'fib'f arrived a minute later. "Open the door! The bots have to get out!"

"Only if you can think of a way to get those creatures away from the door first."

MadScientist arrived with the bots. "What's the hold up?"

"We can't send the bots out without letting the creatures in," H'uk'n'l said, "We could kill them easily enough, but if they start a fire..."

"Hmm. MadScientist, make all the bots get a bucket of water. H'uk'n'l, get ready to move the table."

MadScientist and H'uk'n'l did what he said. When the bots returned, he handed a javelin to H'uk'n'l. "When I open the door, throw it. Don't worry, I'll get out of the way in time. MadScientist, have your bots leave the water here and get them out the door as soon as it's clear."

MadScientist gave directions to the bots.

"Ready?" Yul'fib'f asked.

"Ready," the other two said.

Yul'fib'f opened the door and dove out of the way. H'uk'n'l's javelin hit the first pyroroamer to poke its head inside. The bots charged outside. MadScientist followed closely to make sure they got into position.

Then Yul'fib'f grabbed a bucket of water. "Come on, we have to make sure nothing catches fire!"

He and H'uk'n'l scurried back and forth with the water until the door and the area around it was soaking wet.

Once MadScientist was satisfied with where the bots were standing, he said, "Stay here. For the rest of the day, kill anything that's not a rat that tries to get past you unless a rat tells you to let them pass or to not kill them. These are your orders until any rat gives you new ones." He stepped back as the next group of pyroroamers came around the corner.

---

Phil, Attorukkip, and Garzad joined ***** on the roof.

"Yes?" Attorukkip asked.

"Garzad, do you have anything to do with this attack?"

Garzad shook his head. "No!"

"Then I believe you. Make yourself useful." ***** looked around. "Terry, take charge. We need someone to keep bringing up arrows and javelins. I also want a dozen archers downstairs protecting the front door. Get water up here too. Oh, and send MadScientist up here when he gets back inside." He paused to watch Terry scurry off before continuing. "Att, I'll be blunt. If there are as many attackers as I think there are, we're not going to hold out against this attack, at least not without the sudden arrival of allies and a monsoon. But when I order the evacuation, I'd really like to know that we have somewhere to go. So refresh my memory. What are the Attorists offering?"

"It's been a year, but I doubt things have changed much. No magic, no technology, no weapons, no contact with non-rats. In short, no 'corrupting' human influences. They will take in any rat who genuinely agrees to those rules. Aside from that, it's a decent life. Food, water, shelter, not too many enemies, and not a whole lot else. A fair amount of disease, though, with no real way to cure it."

"Right. Now, given that you can't go back, is there anyone else who could find the Attorists?"

"Squeak might. He was there for a while to learn Scritch--you know, the ancient rat language--from a few of them. I don't know whether he'd want to lead anyone or not, though."

"Good. I'll talk to him. What about Spiderweb? Would they take us in temporarily?"

"Yes, I think so. But we know they're going to be under attack very soon, so it's not exactly a safe place to be."

"I know, but it's certainly safer for now."

---

Cinder sneaked around the corner, not far behind the group of pyroroamers. Between the archers and the bots, they were easily destroyed. Cinder found a good hiding spot.

MadScientist was pleased. "Good. We should be able to hold the flamers off for quite a while."

"Oh yeah?!" Cinder burst out of the hiding spot and launched a massive firebolt at MadScientist. He died instantly.

H'uk'n'l dropped the final bucket of water. "Get inside now!"

Yul'fib'f looked at MadScientist's charred body, then scurried inside after H'uk'n'l. Cinder was preparing to cast another firebolt at them when he was hit by several arrows.

---

Eternal Flame cursed when he saw Cinder explode. "Okay, Pyromania and Smokey, you two are captains now. Smokey, take Cinder's spot. And, obviously enough--at least if you have more than two working brain cells--don't leave the hiding spot. Pyromania, try to sneak around back. Remember, you're trying to hit the building. Don't bother with the bots or the archers, just burn the whole thing down."

"Why would you want to make Smokey a captain? That idiot couldn't--" Pyromania began.

"I don't want to hear it! Go, or I'll pull out my plans for the catapult!"

The captains hurried off.

---

***** stopped Attorukkip as she headed for the ladder. "Yul and H'uk made it inside just fine and there's nothing you can do for MadScientist."

"If I can retrieve the body, I can revive him eventually."

"No. Right now, I need you to focus on the living. We have to get out of here, and I need you and Squeak to back me up in the Miscellaneous Forum. Terry, you're doing good work, so keep it up. Dani, I need you."

Danielle approached. "Yes?"

"MadScientist is dead, so tell G'ree't'l to gather up all the notes and blueprints for the bots. Tell him to save a copy that someone can take to Spiderweb and to destroy everything else," ***** said quietly.

Just then, Smokey's first firebolt hit the side of the building.

"Get down!" Terry yelled.

"No," ***** said, "That was aimed at the building, not at us. They want to burn the place down. More water! Hurry! We need the water now more than we need archers!"

"They can't be after the bot plans, then," Danielle said.

"No. But then, what are they after?" ***** asked.

Cheese coughed. "Lemmings."

"Let's see..." ***** said, "Three years ago, the flamers suffered a massive defeat at Spiderweb and basically disappeared as an organization. This could be their comeback. We were advertising those bots, so they could have easily heard about us that way. But..."

Smokey's second attack hit the building.

"...I suppose it doesn't matter. Dani, deliver the message anyway. Att, Squeak, hurry." ***** climbed down the ladder.

Terry peered over the edge of the roof as Smokey's third fireball hit. "Water! Hurry, it's starting to smoke!"

---

Filth Finder huddled in the corner with the nymphs. Think was on the roof and the rats ignored them, too busy whispering among each other.

"Do you think we'll win?"

"We haven't lost yet!"

"How did they know we were here? Is there a traitor among us?"

"There must be!"

"Garzad?"

"No, he's up on the roof with everyone else."

Danielle scurried through the forum. A moment later, *****, Attorukkip, and Squeak entered. Everyone stopped talking.

"Unfortunately, we have to evacuate," ***** said.

There were several gasps.

"You must be joking!"

"I'm afraid not. There are far too many flamers out there for us to fight. Now, we have three options. The first is to become wanderers again. The second is to join Spiderweb. Attorukkip here will take you there, if you choose to go. The third option is to join the Attorists. Sque--"

"Okay, now you're joking. Right? You can't seriously suggest joining... joining them."

"Hey, my sister is an Attorist. Watch your mouth!"

"Then your sister is a freaking moron!"

"Silence!" ***** yelled, "We have far more than enough flaming outside. We don't need any more in here. As I was saying, Squeak will lead anyone who wants to join the Attorists. Now, you are probably wondering why I'm splitting the group up. It's because there are no good options. I'm sure you all remember how tough wandering can be. And Spiderweb is also likely to experience an attack soon, though it's a far more defensible spot. And, finally, the Attorists do not allow any technology or magic. So figure out where you want to go, because the evacuation will start shortly."

"Is it true that the flamers are after our bots?" a green rat asked.

"I don't think so," ***** said.

"Then why are they here?"

"I do not know the answer to that."

"Was it... was it all the advertising we did for the bots?"

"That is a distinct possibility, but as I said, I do not know."

"Forget those stupid bots, then. I'm going with the Attorists. I'll lose the traitor too."

"Hey, yeah. Anonymous would still be alive if not for the bots."

"What, a little bit of bad luck and you're going to run away? Coward!"

***** shook his head. "This is not how we should part. And yet, I can't come up with a better solution."

---

Inside a Google vehicle headed from Wikipedia to Bots Aplenty, Fatalclaw fidgeted with a rip in fabric of the seat next to her. "We're not going to make it in time."

"Calm down, Mom, we can't go any faster," Deathwhisker said.

Nikki was similarly nervous. "Do you think whatever is going on there is related to Ecksian somehow?"

Student of Trinity shrugged. "I don't know."

---

Smokey was still firebolting the front of the message board, too well hidden to be hit by the archers. Pyromania was now helping from the back, standing just out of arrow range. The rats had given up shooting at them to save the remaining arrows. Bots Aplenty was beginning to smoke in both places and the water supply was almost gone. Occasionally, Pyromania lobbed a firebolt at the archers on the roof and several had been killed, including Think and #11.

On the ground, half of the bots had been destroyed. Eternal Flame had run out of pyroroamers and was now sending in the trainers. None had made it inside yet, but a few had been close.

***** spoke to the mods, Squeak, Attorukkip, G'ree't'l, and a mung rat named Lith. "We'll evacuate in four groups. Those planning to join the Attorists will leave first, lead by Squeak and Terry. Then we'll have the wanderers and first group of those headed to Spiderweb, lead by Cheese and G'ree. Att and Dani will lead the next group to Spiderweb. Then Garzad and I will lead whoever is still left. G'ree, do you have the notes?"

"Yes."

"If for some reason you can't get them to Spiderweb, destroy them. And now that we're split up, I will do my best to keep the Wikipedia page on giant rats updated so we can find each other again if we want to. If for some reason I don't make it, I want someone from the Spiderweb group to do it. Everyone understand?"

Everyone nodded.

"No one has any complaints?"

Everyone nodded again.

"All right. Let's go. Lith, if you would."

Lith was almost as large as a blue rat and had a very good bow. He picked out the best looking arrow he could find and took careful aim. Pyromania had gradually crept forward now that no one was shooting at him. Lith fired and the arrow buried itself in his torso.

***** nodded. "Good work. Hurry, before they send in a replacement."

Terry and Squeak were already heading down the ladder.

---

PiperBot rested on a nearby roof. From here, it could scan the entire area. It saw Terry's head poke out of a secret entrance. A moment later, a steady stream of rats stepped out. It immediately flew back to tell Eternal Flame.

Chapter 13: Probably Should Have Seen It Coming...

Chapter 13: Probably Should Have Seen It Coming... Dikiyoba Thu, 09/04/2008 - 05:39
Iffy stared in awe at the Distant Mountains as the cruise ship pulled into the harbor, still towing the dinghy behind it. The peaks were lost in the fog and clouds, but he could still tell that the mountains were very big.

Drew pushed a chunk of ice away from the dinghy with his paddle. "Now, Salmon."

Salmon took out a small knife and cut the fishing line. The dingy bobbed to a halt.

"We'll aim for that small clearing," Andraste pointed to a sandy patch along the rocky beach. "Go slowly now and watch for underwater boulders."

Marlenny, Andraste, Drew, and Salmon paddled the dinghy into the shallows. Goldenking and Iffy hopped out and hauled the boat ashore.

Drew got out warm clothes for everyone while Riibu and Marlenny sorted the other supplies into backpacks. Drew and Salmon carried the boat above the tideline and hid it in a small crack in the rocks.

"What's the plan?" Salmon shouldered his pack.

"I doubt that the ski resort will let us stay the night after stealing the dinghy plans and sneaking a ride, so we'll just hike along the road towards Crystal Mountain and make camp wherever we are by dark," Andraste said.

Iffy shivered. "Are you sure you know the way? I'd hate to get lost."

"Relax. I know the way."

---

***** sent most of the archers down to join the first three groups. The first group made it out of Bots Aplenty with no problems and hurried towards Google. The second group gave them a good head start before following.

A distant explosion told him the flamers were coming. "Dani, downstairs. Tell the third group to go as soon as they can. Hurry, the flamers must know we're leaving somehow. Lith, did you see the explosion?"

Lith nodded.

"Good. Then hit them before they can spread out."

It was a nearly impossible shot. Lith shot several arrows as high and far as he could. Only one hit.

Smokey threw another firebolt. The section it hit was already smoking and now it burst into flames.

Rof'l'mao peered through the increasing smoke. "Look! They're coming from the front too! We're going to be overrun!"

***** threw a javelin at the charging flamers. "Stay calm. We still have bots left. We'll make it out."

Rof'l'mao waited until ***** wasn't watching before sneaking down the ladder. Several others followed.

"Get back here!" Garzad saw them. "What are you, mice?"

The third group made it out of the message board safely, but hadn't gone far before the first flamers charged from a side street and attacked. Several rats were killed. One, a wererat, managed to toss her child over the flamers' heads before she died. "Run! Get to Google!"

Cut off from the others, the boy ran down the nearest street, followed by several flamers.

The rats soon outran the flamers. However, another mass of flamers emerged from another side street, cutting them off. PiperBot led them. "Kill them all!"

Danielle dove to one side as a flamer wielding a club charged directly at her. The rat directly behind her wasn't as fast.

Not until too late did PiperBot realize that Attorukkip and several other rats had returned, including Fatalclaw's group. A rock whistled from Student of Trinity's sling and smashed into it. It fell. Several flamers exploded in a volley of arrows and a few spells.

Deathwhisker waved the wand of lightning Student of Trinity had given her. "Hey, everyone! I see you left a few flamers for me! But could you leave a few more next time? I could defeat every last one of them with one paw--"

Deathwhisker stopped speaking as Nikki slapped Student of Trinity across the face hard enough to make him stagger sideways.

"Do you mind not trying to kill the person we've come to save?!"

Student of Trinity rubbed his cheek. "What was that for?"

"That bot! It's Arancaytar!"

"Nikki, please, be reasonable. That's not actually Aran. At most, that's just one of his bots. I have no idea why it would be here, so it's probably just a bot that looks like--"

"Shut up! You think I don't know the difference between my crazy kitten's melodious voice and that of a random bot?! Give me an invulnerability potion. Now!" Nikki pulled out Nicothodes' lucky mechanical pencil.

Student of Trinity handed it to him. Nikki drank most of it and then fought his way through the flamers. "Hang on, Aran, I'm coming!"

"Do you have another one of those?" Fatalclaw asked.

"Just one."

Fatalclaw downed the invulnerability potion and charged into the flamers with a yell. The survivors of the third group fled towards Google.

Garzad squinted through the smoke. "Is that Fatalclaw down there?"

***** glanced up. A few wispy clouds drifted across the sky. "I think so. Everyone, take one more shot, then head for the secret exit. We will make it." ***** threw his last javelin.

Nikki reached PiperBot. It had a huge dent in its side from the rock and two badly mangled arms from being stepped on. He picked it up gently. "Aran? Aran, can you hear me? It's me, Nikki."

PiperBot tried to focus on him, but its sensors had been too damaged to see more than a blur. "No, it can't be. This... this is a trick."

"No, Arancaytar, it really is me. I came looking for you."

"I will not... be... tricked." Realizing that it had no chance to get away, PiperBot shut down.

Nikki just stared. A flamer hit him from behind. PiperBot flew from his hands.

"No!" Nikki scrambled after it. He poured the rest of the potion on it and tucked it securely under his free arm. Only then did he stab the flamer.

Fatalclaw reached *****'s group not far from the secret exit. They fought their way back to Attorukkip's group. Nikki joined them too. "Quick, SoT, repair him!"

"We have to get out of here first!" A'p'd'r said.

"You go. I'll hold them off," Fatalclaw said.

Student of Trinity shook his head. "The potion's not going to last that long."

R'd'p'a was hit by a scavenged javelin. Attorukkip quickly healed him.

"Better to lose just one, then. Garzad, haste me. Attorukkip, I need shielding."

Attorukkip and Garzad buffed Fatalclaw. She strode towards the flamers, swinging her sword casually. The flamers hesitated.

Everyone else backed off. ***** hurried to the ticket machine. There was only a single vehicle left, so he set the destination to be a station only a short distance away. Attorukkip held back a bit, trying to remain close enough to heal Fatalclaw.

Fatalclaw felt the invulnerability wear off. She yelled again, faked a charge, then turned and ran for Google. The flamers soon recovered but couldn't catch up to her.

Everyone piled into the vehicle. ***** slammed the door shut.

Eternal Flame had been wounded by an explosion. He limped from a side street just in time to see the vehicle disappear around a bend. He hid his frustration. "Well, that's that. Flamethrower, get a few flamers together and check the message board for loot. Incinerate, kill any survivors."

---

The young wererat still had several flamers after him. He was slowing down and the flamers were gaining. He tripped and fell.

Suddenly, a throwing axe hit one of the flamers. Several shuriken hit the others.

"Th... thanks," the wererat gasped.

A 1337 h4x0r and a huge yeti stepped out of the shadows.

"Oh." The wererat attempted to run, but the yeti scooped him up and knocked him unconscious.

The yeti growled something. Several ninja snuck towards the battlefield.

---

Student of Trinity and Nikki had a vehicle to themselves. Student of Trinity sat on the floor with all his tools laid out. He examined PiperBot closely while Nikki hovered impatiently over his shoulder. "This is PiperBot. The flamers must have some sort of agreement with Ecksian." He carefully opened up the bot and pulled out a small clear crystal.

"What is it?" Nikki asked.

"I don't know. It was definitely added in later, though, so this could be how they controlled it."

Student of Trinity handed the crystal to Nikki, then repaired the bot as best he could.

"Greetings. Sensors not functioning properly. Memory corrupted. Movement of left front arm impaired. I am unable to complete my duties. Apologies."

"That's what PiperBot is supposed to sound like," Nikki said, "Now put the crystal back in."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"All right." Student of Trinity stuck the crystal back in.

"S... Stu... Student of T... Trinity?" PiperBot asked.

Student of Trinity stared. "A... Arancaytar?"

Chapter 14: A Rough Morning

Chapter 14: A Rough Morning Dikiyoba Sat, 09/27/2008 - 04:20
Garbage Gatherer approached Bugtopia carefully. The strong web walls that surrounded the place were the same, but there were many more guards on them than she remembered. Most of them were GIFTS, but there were several GIFTR and GIFTC as well. Many of the guards were missing a leg or had some other injury. Obviously, there had been a lot of fighting recently.

She approached a guard she recognized. "Psst! Spider!" she called up.

Spider didn't hesitate. "Help! Rebel at the wall! Help!"

"No, wait! It's me, Garbage Gatherer. I'm not a rebel, I'm just here to--"

Several bugs joined Spider on the wall. One chitrach threw a large rock. It struck Garbage Gatherer on the head, knocking her unconscious.

"Is there anyone else out there?" he asked.

"I don't think so," Spider said.

"Then it's probably safe to go down there. Spider, climb down and bring the rebel up. Refuse Mover, report this incident to Chief Spider."

---

Dintiradan and the Lurker tiptoed back to their beds just in time. Schrodinger got up well before dawn and disappeared into the Moderator Board to continue examining the bot.

Nalyd woke up not long after. He shook Azuma awake. "Come on, let's go."

"But... but it's still dark out."

"No one else is up, so you can teach without interruption. Please?"

"Well, I guess so."

As they passed through the Tech Support Forum, their footsteps woke Chatter up. He saw the stack of boxes that Jewels and the others had brought back and decided to look through them. He climbed up to the top box and tried to pull the lid off. "How do you get this stupid thing off?

The crickets crawled out of Ephesos' pocket and chirped.

"What?"

"Chrrk!"

"Oh. Why would it be stacked upside do--ahhhh!" He slipped and the whole stack collapsed.

The crash woke Nioca. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"I was looking for, er, something."

"Like what?"

"You know those shiny rock things that you can rub and they'll take you somewhere you've been before?"

"You mean recall crystals? Yeah."

"I was hoping to find one of those."

"Well, good luck. We haven't gotten any of those in our shipments for ages. Jeff said they got too expensive."

"Oh. Okay then."

Nioca checked on Ephesos. He was still soundly asleep. Then Nioca looked at his watch. "Ugh. I'm never going to get back to sleep. I might as well get breakfast."

"Ooh, breakfast. Can I join you?" Chatter asked.

"Uh, sure."

"Yay! You're so nice. And very cute, too!"

"Chrrrk?"

"Of course, you're very cute and nice too. Want to join us?"

"Er, I don't know if Ephesos would like that," Nioca said.

"Chrrk!"

"They said they want to come." Chatter scooped the crickets up.

Nioca sighed. "All right, follow me."

---

Arancaytar looked around slowly. Everything was horribly out of focus. He could tell there were two people, and that one of them was Student of Trinity by the distinctive labcoat, but he couldn't be sure who the other person was. He closed his eyes. "Okay, look, my memory is pretty messed up. I can't be sure of anything that happened or that didn't happen over the last few days. But there's one thing I'm pretty sure of. Why am I a freaking bot?!"

"I wish I knew," Student of Trinity said.

"Yeah. No offense, but you were a lot more attractive when you looked more like Harry Potter," Nikki said.

Arancaytar sighed. "You would have to be here for this."

"Oh, don't mind me. I'm just the one who saved your life."

"Okay, let's back up. Where are we?" Arancaytar asked.

"We're currently on a Google vehicle on our way to Spiderweb," Student of Trinity said.

"Wait. When was the last time you were there?"

"A little over a day ago."

"And it's fine? It hasn't been destroyed?"

"No."

"And no one is permadead?"

"Nope."

"So then... then... arrrgh! It doesn't make sense!"

The vehicle rolled to a stop.

"Nikki, you get the rats to Spiderweb. I'll stay here until Arancaytar is feeling better."

"The... the rats are good, then?" Arancaytar asked.

"Oh, yes."

Arancaytar sighed again. "I wish I could figure out exactly what's what."

Nikki got out of the vehicle. ***** approached him. "Thank you for helping us. Now, how do you want us to approach Spiderweb?"

"Um, I don't know. You come with me. We'll get it figured out soon enough."

Attorukkip joined them. "I need to come too, to speak with Ephesos."

Nikki shrugged. "Okay, sure."

---

The vehicle carrying Filth Finder and the nymphs also came to a halt. Filth Finder looked around carefully before stepping out. It looked deserted, but he had the feeling he was being watched. "Stay here. I'm going to take a better look around."

"But what if someone shows up when you're gone?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Don't worry, I won't go very far."

He had gone less than a block when a GIFTS climbed down from the roof of a nearby building. A GIFTC followed directly behind. Filth Finder retreated to the ticket booth.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Filth Finder asked.

The chitrach moved closer. "I'm Trrrch, and this is Spider. We're guarding. We stay up there and see who comes in."

"Yes, I'm well aware of the concept of guarding. Why are you guarding?"

"For the rebels, of course. Trash Seeker told us this morning to guard here, so here we are."

"What about last night? Were you here then?"

"No. Why?"

"Because I would like to know where Garbage Gatherer went."

Spider stepped forward. "We didn't know anyone was coming, so no one was around. She was caught and taken into Bugtopia. You'd have to talk to Trash Seeker about it."

Filth Finder glanced back to the vehicle. "Where can I find Trash Seeker?"

Trrrch followed his gaze. "Oh, I didn't realize you had nymphs. They're adorabibble!" He started towards them.

Filth Finder jumped in front of him and hissed loudly.

"Well, this complicates things a bit." Spider entered an address into the ticket machine. "This is a safe place for your nymphs. We'll send someone to meet you soon with more news."

Filth Finder looked at the URL suspiciously. "Fine. This had better not be a trick." He climbed backed into the vehicle.

---

In the kitchen, Nioca sipped tea and ignored Chatter and the crickets' conversation. Chatter rubbed his forearms together to communicate so he could eat without interruption.

Other Spiderwebbers were awake now too. Synergy sat down next to Nioca. "Are you ready for a bright new day?"

"No."

"Oh, come on, where's your sense of excitement? Adventure? Wonder?"

Randomizer joined them. "No, I agree with Nioca."

"What about your sense of fun?"

"He squished it," Randomizer muttered, glaring at Chatter.

Tyranicus knocked over the glass of juice he was trying to pick up. "Lacking opposable thumbs should've counted as a negative effect!"

Chapter 15: Zorro's Revolution

Chapter 15: Zorro's Revolution Dikiyoba Wed, 10/01/2008 - 04:40
Iffy felt light-headed. So far, they had hiked up and up and up. "Can we take a break very soon? Please?"

"Don't worry," Andraste said, "We're almost to the pass. We'll rest there."

"Oh. Okay." Iffy struggled on for a few more minutes before stumbling and falling face-first into a snow drift. He flailed around a bit before Drew and Andraste hauled him out.

Drew took Iffy's pack. "Goldenking, you help Andraste carry him. I'll handle his stuff."

After another half an hour of walking, the group reached the summit of the pass. Niemand pulled beanbag chairs out for everyone to sit on. Drew got a fire going to heat snow for hot cocoa.

Jewels examined Iffy. He was semi-conscious and a little blue. "Quick! Iffy's freezing to death! Everyone, group snuggle! It's the only way to save him!"

Drew glared at Jewels and helped Iffy drink some cocoa.

Iffy managed a weak smile. "I... I d... don't th... think mu... muffi... ins are m... meant to b... be f... frozen. Especially n... not th... the f... flaming k... kind."

"Probably not." Drew brought him more cocoa.

"I bet the rapid change in elevation didn't help much either. Andraste, how high are we? Maybe 8000 feet or so?" Niemand asked.

"Nope." Andraste took a deep breath. "IT'S OVER NINE THOUSAND!"

Andraste's yell echoed several times. Then a distant rumble made Riibu jump. "What was that?"

"Avalanche," Drew said.

Iffy went to the fire for a third cup of cocoa. Salmon elbowed him away. "Save some for the rest of us."

Marlenny rolled her eyes. "There's plenty of mix and we can always heat more water."

Goldenking stood on a boulder and looked out. "Someone help me with my geography here."

"Well, the mountain immediately to the west is BFM."

"The really, really big one?"

"Yeah. And to the east we have the Mesa of Insanity."

"Which would make those cliffs closest to us the Cliffs of Insanity, then?"

"Right. Now, if you look out, you can see Crystal Mountain. It's the one that looks all torn up."

"Why does it look like that?" Marlenny asked.

"Mining. That's why there's so much barbed wire fencing on it. Everyone wants to stake out their claims. To get there, though, we'll have to pass by Yeti Mountain and Mt. B'cuzitz'thair. Oh, and Troll Mountain. The yetis shouldn't be too much trouble but we'll have to be careful around the trolls."

"Troll Mountain? Where? I don't see it," Goldenking said.

"Don't worry, I'll point it out when we get closer," Andraste said, "Are we ready to move on again?"

"Only if we rest sooner next time," Iffy said.

"Don't worry, we will. Let's move, people."

---

Ephesos finally woke. He got out of bed slowly. "Did I miss anything?"

Dikiyoba was mixing potions. "Not much."

Attorukkip burst into the forum. "Ephesos, please, I need your help!"

"Of course, Dikiyoba could be wrong about that."

---

While ***** spoke with Stareye and Drakefyre, Nikki found Nicothodes sitting in the corner. "Hey, thanks for letting me borrow your pencil. It's completely undamaged, I promise." He held out the lucky mechanical pencil.

Nicothodes snatched it instantly. "You stole it!"

"What? I didn't steal it. Riibu gave it to me. She said you wanted me to have it. Where's Rii--hey!"

Nicothodes lunged at him. He dodged just in time.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Nikki ducked as Nicothodes tried to stab him again.

The Mystic scurried over. He pushed his pack at Nicothodes' feet, tripping her. Then he grabbed the bag and dashed away.

Nikki followed him. "Thanks."

"Oh, no problem. I know what it's like to be accused of stealing without a smidgeon of proof." The Mystic coughed. "Schrodinger."

Dintiradan sat on the stairs, watching everything that happened below. Unfortunately, he couldn't hear anything that ***** and the admins were saying. He was half-tempted to lower the Lurker over the banister to eavesdrop, but that could only end very badly.

He noticed Ephesos, Dikiyoba, and Attorukkip leaving. Dikiyoba carried a full inventory of alchemy supplies. "Hmm. Ephesos doesn't look like he should be traveling just now, does he?"

The Lurker shook his head.

"I wonder what could be important enough to make him leave, then. Oh well, I guess we'll find out later."

Zeviz also noticed the three of them leave. He sighed, approached Zorro, and summoned a piece of hafnium.

"What is that for?"

"Keep it, in case I get killed."

"Oh, so now I'm responsible for you people while you're still alive? Isn't it bad enough that I'm constantly reviving everyone who gets killed? No, I quit!"

Zorro was loud enough that Dintiradan could hear him. "Stay here." Dintiradan left the Lurker on the stairs and sneaked down.

"Look, we could be in real trouble," Zeviz said quietly, "Randomizer can't cast the summon element spell, Zephyr can't cast the summon element spell, Ephesos just left, Dikiyoba just left too, and who knows whether we can rely on Drakefyre? So keep it, just in case."

Dintiradan cleared his throat. "I have a suggestion."

Zeviz turned towards him suspiciously.

"Yeah, I know, I'm being helpful again. I'll turn into an anti-hero I'm not careful. Anyway, I couldn't help but overhear that Zephyr can no longer summon elements. But he can still use Galactic Core, right? Train him to take Zorro's place and Zorro can become a back-up. Zephyr's basically good at heart, despite being completely crazy, so it would be a shame to leave him to the likes of ET. And I'm surprised ET isn't already by his side, telling him how weak we all are and how ET is the only one he should trust and..."

"All right, we get the point," Zeviz said.

"Excellent, I'll go tell him."

"No, I don't think you will."

"Who else is going to tell him? I don't think he trusts you after messing up that summoning spell of his."

"I trust you even less."

"Will you two shut up? I'm trying to concentrate on my game. Here, I'll handle it." Zorro got up and walked over to Zephyr Tempest.

"What do you want?" Zephyr Tempest grumbled.

Zorro handed him a spare copy of Galatic Core. "This is yours. You're in charge of reviving people now. Have fun. Don't let anyone bother me."

"You're giving the responsibility of reviving people to me?"

"That's what I just said, isn't it?"

"Wow. Um, thanks."

"Yeah, sure." Zorro returned to Zeviz and Dintiradan. "There. Problem solved. Now go away."

Dintiradan was upset that Zorro had interrupted his plan but didn't show it. "Thank you." He returned to the stairs.

"But you still have the hafnium and it's unlikely that Zephyr would--"

"I said go away. I mean, unless you want me to retroactively throw you into the moat."

"No thank you. Bye." Zeviz left quickly.

---

Garbage Gatherer woke in a small cell. The only thing in it was a bucket of water. The entrance was blocked by strands of sticky silk. She could vaguely hear guards and other prisoners nearby but no one was in sight. She quickly checked the web walls. They were all solid.

With nothing else to do, she settled down to wait.

---

Once again, Filth Finder got off the Google vehicle. The only building nearby was an abandoned tavern. He scuttled over and peered through a window. No one was in sight, just tables and a karaoke machine.

"All right, stay close to me." He led the nymphs inside. "Hello? Is anyone here?"

There was no answer.

"Can we look around?" Dreck Disperser asked.

"Not yet. There might be someone here."

The karaoke machine suddenly turned on. Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down...

Filth Finder swore and kicked a nearby chair, sending it clattering across the floor.

Chapter 16: Because Teleporters Are Hard To Carry

Chapter 16: Because Teleporters Are Hard To Carry Dikiyoba Mon, 10/20/2008 - 05:10
Nikki knocked on the Moderator Board door.

"Who is it?" Schrodinger asked.

"Nikki. I need your help."

"With what?"

"We found Arancaytar."

Schrodinger opened the door. "So what do you need my help for?"

"He's been turned into one of his bots somehow. And then he got damaged pretty badly. You need to repair him."

"How badly is he damaged?" Schrodinger went back to the table and got out a fresh sheet of paper and a pen. He had taken one bot completely apart and started on a second one.

Nikki stepped inside. "Um. One of his arms doesn't work. He can't fly and I don't think he can see very well."

"Where is he now?"

"SoT's got him. I think they're probably still at the Google station."

"All right. I will be ready when he gets here." Schrodinger finished his new notes. "Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of." Nikki looked around. The new mods had made a few additions since he had last been inside. There was a gigantic Nethergate poster over the door, several potted plants, and a few dozen new books on min-maxing on the bookshelf.

Stareye, Drakefyre, and ***** entered.

"Schrodinger, do you need Nikki in here any longer?"

"Not anymore."

"Good." Stareye pushed Nikki out and shut the door.

"This is *****. The rats from Bots Aplenty will be staying with us for a while and since he was the admin there, he will be a mod here to deal with minor issues." Drakefyre entered the relevant information into the admin panel.

"Pleased to meet you." Schrodinger held out his hand.

"Likewise." ***** shook it.

"If you would come over here so we can get your pawprint into the security system," Stareye said.

Schrodinger began clearing the table. "I've just about completed my inspection of these bots. They've both got the same programming and armor, but underneath that one is a regular spambot and the other is a new kind I've never seen before."

***** looked at the notes while Stareye messed with the handprint scanner. "I have. That's one of ours. The armor and most of the programming is ours too."

"That makes sense. I noticed that a few bits of programming seemed tacked on and not as well-executed as the rest of it."

"Did you find any bugs we could exploit?" Drakefyre asked.

"I'm afraid not."

"What about weaknesses?"

Schrodinger shrugged. "Just the gaps in the armor."

"Well, at least we know exactly what we're up against now. Thank you." Stareye pressed *****'s paw against the scanner. "There. You may bring your rats here now. Drakefyre, could you deal with Alorael before they arrive? We don't want him sniping any rats by mistake."

---

Student of Trinity returned to the Google vehicle. With only a few purple rats and all of them very low on mana, most of the injured rats had to be treated with first aid.

Arancaytar tensed when he saw someone enter. "That is you, right, SoT?"

"Yes. How are you doing?"

"I... I think I've got it all figured out now. How... how are the rats doing?"

"Better. Not good, but better."

Arancaytar sighed. "This is my fault. I believed what Ecksian told me. I believed what a flamer told me. I... I let my emotions get the better of me. And just look what happened!"

"Don't be too hard on yourself. Ecksian is good at manipulating others. He got into Spiderweb without raising suspicion and the rats say he did the same at Bots Aplenty. If he was messing with your memory too, well, you didn't really have a chance."

"I know, but I should never have gone along with their plan to attack the rats. It's just that, when they told me the rats had attacked Spiderweb and killed... uh, everyone, I wanted to... well, I... um... oh, never mind."

"What?"

"Forget it."

Attorukkip's return to the station prevented further questions. "Anyone need healing? I've got full energy again."

Student of Trinity stepped out of the vehicle to see what was happening. Attorukkip was surrounded by rats with minor injuries. Dikiyoba stood beside her, handing out healing potions. Ephesos stood well back, still weak even after two energy elixirs.

Student of Trinity approached him. "What happened to you?"

"Just a side effect from a spell. Att, hurry. The sooner we get there, the better our chances will be."

"Get where? What are you planning?"

"To revive the dead rats, of course."

---

Safely hidden in a nearby building, a yeti watched the flamers leave. A smaller yeti watched several ninjas chain two blue rats together with the young wererat. All three were unconscious.

Three 1337 h4x0rs lurked in a corner. "7|-|3 |-||_||\/|4|\|2 \/\/3 453 4|=735 453|\|7 |)0\/\/|\| 7|-|353," one said.

The larger yeti growled something. One of the ninjas waved a hand around. The smaller yeti growled in response.

"600|) 914|\|."

The smaller yeti pulled out a recall crystal. She picked up the rats' chain and activated the crystal. There was a flash of light as they vanished.

---

Yeti Mountain was very close when Andraste let the group take another break. "All right, everyone, we'll rest here for a while. Stick close and keep your weapons with you at all times. Some yetis are friendly, but others are not. Also, if we meet any, don't try anything clever and call them Bigfeet or abominable snowmen. They don't like that. And should you dare to call them Wookiees, well, you deserve everything that they will do to you."

"Sounds dangerous. Can we see Troll Mountain yet?" Goldenking asked.

"Yeah, it's right over there." Andraste pointed.

"Where? I still don't see it."

"Huh. I can see it just fine," Salmon said, "Maybe when we get a bit closer, then."

---

The crickets gave Chatter a quick tour of the forums. He was very impressed, especially by the luminescent fungus. On the way back, they stopped to watch Nalyd guide a rat skeleton around the Geneforge 4 Forum. The crickets chirped in displeasure.

Azuma jumped when he heard them. "Er, um, hello."

"Are you sure you're allowed to do that?" Chatter asked, "The crickets don't think--"

"Of course. It's perfectly safe and I've got everything under control."

Without Azuma to help him, Nalyd couldn't get the skeleton to listen to his orders. It marched directly towards a boulder. "No! Turn! Turn, dang it!"

It walked into the boulder and spent several moments attempting to keep going before falling apart.

"Azuma, Nalyd needs help!"

Azuma sighed. "I don't suppose we could take a break now? It's almost lunchtime, you know."

"No! We must keep going! Er, please?"

Azuma blinked helplessly at Chatter several times before turning to reanimate the skeleton.

---

Squeak and Terry led the way down an abandoned street. The rest of the rats planning to join the Attorists followed closely behind.

Finally, Squeak stopped. "This is it."

"This is it? But... but it's a dump!" Terry said.

Pile after pile of spam, broken equipment, old threads, worn-out memes, and all sorts of other garbage stretched out before them.

"You're telling me the Attorists live in this?"

"No, not in it. But they live close to it and scavenge in it. Mostly, though, I wanted to let the Attorists see us coming," Squeak said.

A few minutes later, several filthy mung rats scampered across the dump and approached the group.

Squeak stepped forward and addressed them in Scritch. The mung rats answered.

"They say they've got plenty of room to take us in. They'll take us to a good spot," Squeak said.

"If anyone is having second thoughts, now would be a good time to speak up," Terry said, "You can always go to Spiderweb."

A few rats nervously left.

"What about you?" Squeak asked.

"My first priority is to make sure everyone under my protection is safe. For now, I'm staying with you," Terry said.

Squeak said something to the mung rats. The mung rats nodded and set off back through the dump. The other rats followed, with Squeak in front and Terry at the rear.

---

Litter Locator jumped as the chair Filth Finder had kicked clattered across the floor.

"What do you suppose that music means?" Dreck Disperser asked.

"I don't know, but I don't like being here," Litter Locator said.

"Yeah, me neither."

Both nymphs shrieked when a trapdoor by them opened and a rather small GIFTS climbed out. "Hi! You're--oof!"

Filth Finder tackled the GIFTS and pinned him to the ground. "Nymphs, get back!"

Litter Locator and Dreck Disperser huddled together with the other nymphs.

"Hey!" The GIFTS struggled ineffectually for a minute.

Just then, the GIFTS that had been with Trrrch climbed through the trapdoor. "Spider, you idiot, you know you aren't supposed to come here alone. Er--you know, I don't think you ever told me your name--I'm terribly sorry. I realize it must look like we're playing a terrible prank on you, but we're not."

Filth Finder stared. "How did you get here so quickly?"

"Oh, a recall crystal. I meant to be here waiting for you, actually, but Trrrch caused some difficulties."

"And the Rickroll?"

"It's our first line of defense. It keeps us from being listed by Google and confuses any spies who do discover this place."

"Spies? For who? You said this was a safe place. Exactly what is it?"

"Hmm. Where to begin? Actually, when was the last time you were at Bugtopia?"

"Almost four years ago, I think. We left not long after Chief Spider announced the Cute Edict."

"Wow. You've missed a lot, then. Did you leave before or after Slime Lover and Chchrrt started arguing with each other over the Cute Edict?"

"Practically everyone was bickering over the Cute Edict. That's why we left."

"Before, then. Trust me, their argument was on another level entirely. It got so bad Chief Spider eventually banned them and told them not to come back until they had sorted things out between them. Incidentally, he ended up repealing the Cute Edict too."

"Two admins got banned?"

"Yeah. Of course, by that time it was too late. The mods had already taken sides and ordinary members were getting involved as well, so the fights continued. Plus, it left Chief Spider as the sole administrator and... well, he just wasn't that good at it."

"So what happened next?"

"The fights kept sucking more and more members in. Trolls started to show up. Bugs got 'accidentally' left behind on feeding trips. Plenty of members just got fed up and left. Eventually, one flamefest got completely out of control and burned down the archives."

Filth Finder winced. "And then?"

"Slime Lover showed up one day. She said that her argument with Chchrrt was behind her. Chief Spider unbanned her and reinstated her as admin. Of course, it only took about five minutes for the rumors to start that she had killed him and another huge flamefest ensued. Rrrcht tried to stop it. No one knows exactly what happened--whether it was an accident or intentional--but he ended up dying in the flames. The Chchrrt supporters blamed it on the Slime Lover supporters and vice versa. From there, it was a full-fledged civil war."

"Civil war? Over a personality conflict? But... but... how could...?"

Spider interrupted Filth Finder. "Excuse me, do you mind letting me up now? I'm losing feeling in three of my legs."

Chapter 17: Troll Mountain

Chapter 17: Troll Mountain Dikiyoba Mon, 11/17/2008 - 03:53
With Andraste in the lead, the Spiderwebbers from KoL set off once more. Eventually, they came to a fork in the road. The left road went up Yeti Mountain and the right continued towards Mt. B'cuzitz'thair. Three yetis emerged from a shelter on the side of the road.

Riibu gasped. The yetis were at least seven feet tall and entirely covered in shaggy, white fur. They wore bandoliers made from hippy dreadlocks and necklaces of orc teeth. One had on a penguin skin cape as well.

The one with the cape stepped in front of the Spiderwebbers. "Grr. Hello. We rrr official Knott soldierrrs. We rrr stationed out herrre to prrrotect Yeti Mountain frrrom any and all enemies, especially the scourrrge that is alcohol. By orrrderrr, grr, of Queen Knott the Sixth, we must searrrch yourrr packs beforrre you can continue." The yeti coughed several times.

Andraste stepped forward and growled something. The yeti looked surprised and growled back.

Andraste cleared her throat. "Yes, of course." She set her pack in front of the yeti. "The rest of you do the same."

"What are they looking for? Just booze?" Drew asked.

The yeti growled.

"Yes."

"Does that even work?"

The yeti went on a lengthy explanation that involved gesturing to his necklace, swirling his cape around, and miming a torn-off arm.

Andraste shrugged. "It seems to. This mountain is so isolated it's hard to smuggle it in and the penalties for getting caught trying are really harsh. Besides, the soldiers ban yetis caught drinking from the mountain, so there's not much demand for booze anyway."

"What's their problem with the hippies? I can't see them smuggling booze in," Niemand said.

The yeti growled.

"They stink up the whole mountain whenever they trespass on it."

"We don't have any alcohol with us, do we? What would happen if we did?" Riibu kept her pack.

The yeti growled and patted Riibu's head.

"We're not trying to smuggle it in, so if we even have any, they'll just confiscate it and let us continue," Andraste said.

"Okay." Riibu finally set her pack down.

While the yetis searched the packs, Salmon went down the right road a short distance. Aside from a few yeti tracks, the snow was untouched. "Andraste, this looks suspicious. If there are mines, shouldn't there be shipments coming and going?"

One of the other yetis shook her head and growled.

"Oh. Did any of them say why?"

The yeti growled.

"Well?" Niemand asked.

"About a year and a half ago, the mining stopped and the miners left. The yetis don't know why. The barbed-wire should still be there, though, so we shouldn't have any problems."

The yetis finished searching the packs and quickly searched the Spiderwebbers as well. Goldenking looked angry but said nothing.

The yetis stepped back. The one in the cape bowed slightly and growled.

Andraste picked up her pack. "Well, that's it. We can go on now."

---

Emperor Tullegolar entered the Geneforge 4 Forum. Jeran Korak followed him, swinging his sword around moodily. Azuma looked thoroughly miserable. Nayld had full control over the movement of the rat skeleton, but Azuma still had to hold it together.

"How is it going?" Emperor Tullegolar asked.

Azuma stared blankly at him. "Fine?"

Nalyd pointed the skeleton towards a boulder. "Jump over that rock. No, over. Over!"

The rat skeleton leapt half-heartedly and smashed against the rock.

"Azuma! Fix it, please."

Azuma waved his hand and the skeleton stood up again. "You really need to be more careful with it."

Emperor Tullegolar snorted. "You're pathetic. Nalyd's a total pushover and you can't even assert yourself against him? Weak."

"Well, he's very... demanding."

"Yeah, yeah. Nalyd!"

"Stop!" The skeleton halted. "Yes?"

"We're taking a break." Emperor Tullegolar grabbed Azuma's arm and pulled him toward the exit. The skeleton fell apart. "Do whatever you want for a while, provided it doesn't relate to necromancy."

"But..."

"You heard me." Emperor Tullegolar, Azuma, and Jeran Korak left.

---

The Google vehicle carrying Ephesos, Attorukkip, and Dikiyoba pulled into the station.

Ephesos had fallen asleep during the ride. Attorukkip gently shook him awake. "Come on, we're here."

"Huh? Oh, we've arrived already?" Ephesos got up slowly.

Attorukkip jumped out the moment the door opened. Dikiyoba waited in order to give Ephesos a hand down.

Still at the window, the yeti watched them arrive. He growled.

The 1337 h4x0rs joined him at the window. "|\|0 7|-|472 |\|07 7|-|3|\/|"

The yeti growled again. The ninjas hurried outside.

Attorukkip checked to make sure the area was clear. "Okay, Ephesos, you should stay here to conserve as much strength as possible. I'll bring the bodies back to you."

Ephesos yawned. "Right."

"Dikiyoba needs to make more potions."

"Right. You know what you're doing." Attorukkip ran off.

Ephesos sat down and rested against the ticket machine. "I don't know if I can do this."

"Dikiyoba brought plenty of energy potions."

"Yes, I know. It's... it's... well, I'll manage somehow. I have to."

"Do you need anything now?" Dikiyoba knelt down to sort out alchemy equipment.

"Not yet." Ephesos closed his eyes.

The ninjas stealthily approached the pair. When they saw that neither Spiderwebber was paying attention, they threw two shruiken that had been coated in a sleeping potion.

One shruiken hit Ephesos in the shoulder. He tried to stand up. "Divine retri..." He slumped back against the ticket machine, asleep once more.

Another hit Dikiyoba in the back. "Att! Hel--" Dikiyoba yawned and fell to the ground.

A few moments later, Attorukkip returned carrying a body. When she saw that the ninjas were carrying Ephesos and Dikiyoba off, she went berserk. She dropped the body and cast several smite spells. One of the ninjas was hit. The rest ducked back into the shadows.

"Cowards! Come out and fight!" Attorukkip dodged a shruiken and smote the fallen ninja a second time to make sure he was dead.

The yeti saw that the ninjas were in trouble and ran out to help. Attorukkip cast smite on him before being struck by a shruiken. She cast smite again. The yeti dodged it. Attorukkip finally collapsed.

The yeti pulled out a healing potion and drank it. One of the ninjas gave the others directions by waving his arms around, picked up the dead ninja, and used a recall crystal. The yeti and other ninjas searched the trio for weapons and valuables and carried them inside.

The yeti pulled out shackles and secured the trio on another length of chain.

"\/\/|-|47 \/\/111 \/\/3 |)0 \/\/17|-| 7|-|3|\/| \/\/|-|113 \/\/3 \/\/417?"

The yeti growled.

"8|_|7 `/0|_| |-|4\/3 70!!! 7|-|3 0|\|32 \/\/3 453 4|=735 453 27111--"

The yeti interrupted him with another growl.

"`/0|_|... \/\/|-|47?!!1" The 1337 h4x0rs drew their axes. They were promptly hit with shruiken and fell asleep a moment later. They were quickly searched, disarmed, and chained up.

The yeti growled. The ninjas nodded and moved in so everyone was touching. One picked up the prisoners' chain. Satisfied, the yeti activated the crystal. There was a flash of light and they vanished.

---

Emperor Tullegolar returned to the General Forum in the middle of a speech by Drakefyre.

"...expect you all to be friendly and polite to the rats. If you have any questions or problems, ***** is their leader and has been granted moderatorial powers."

"Will they be staying to help out against Ecksian?" Nioca asked.

"I'm not sure, but probably."

"What about the Periodic Table? Will they get entries on it?" Thralni asked.

"I have no idea."

"This is absolutely unbelievable!" Emperor Tullegolar hissed.

"What is?" Azuma asked.

"That we're welcoming an inferior species in. As equals! This is ridiculous. Go find Nalyd and tell him I'm ordering him to dig up more rat skeletons. You too, Jeran, and I mean it."

"Why?" Jeran Korak asked.

"Because I've had enough. I'm not going to let this place be overrun by rats!"

---

Goldenking scanned the distance carefully. "I still can't see Troll Mountain. Where is it?"

Salmon pointed. "It's right there in front of you."

Goldenking stared. All he could see was some low hills. "Do you see it?" he asked Iffy quietly.

"No. Are you sure we're looking in the right place? Salmon, could you point it out again?"

Salmon did so. "Right there."

"That's exactly where I was looking at! There's nothing there!" Goldenking snapped.

"Everyone stop talking and freeze! There's a troll just behind us. I don't think it's seen us yet, so we might be able to escape without problems," Andraste said.

Iffy froze. "A troll?"

"Yeah. Nasty, uh, scary creatures. And there's one right behind us. Scary!" Salmon tried to sound frightened.

"Shh!" Andraste said.

Drew grabbed Riibu before she could turn invisible and winked. Niemand struggled to keep from laughing.

"What do we do now?" Goldenking looked behind him.

"Uh-oh. It's moving again. It might have seen us," Andraste said, "If it comes for us, get your weapons out. If we're lucky, we can kill it before it kills more than a few of us."

"I'm ready for it," Goldenking said.

Niemand burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Goldenking demanded.

"Spoilsport," Salmon said.

Niemand leaned on his halberd for support. "I know, I'm sorry. It's just... hahaha... the expression on Goldenking's face..."

"Wait... there's no troll?" Iffy asked.

"Nope," Drew said.

"Then there's no Troll Mountain either," Iffy said.

Drew nodded.

"This was a joke? You tricked us?! Why you... you... rotten, no-good, empty-headed... pathetic losers!" Goldenking's eyes turned red and he stalked off.

"Don't take it personally. It's not our fault you're gullible!" Salmon called after him.

"Salmon, don't make it worse." Jewels pulled out the fire and hot cocoa mix. "I think we're talking a long break now."

Surprisingly, Goldenking came back a few minutes later. He seemed perfectly calm as he sat down next to Iffy and accepted a cup of hot cocoa from Jewels.

"What was that all about?" Iffy asked.

"You're lucky. You won't have to worry about losing your temper nearly so much."

"Why?"

Goldenking shuddered. "I prefer not to speak of my noobish days."

"Oh. Okay."

Andraste finished her hot cocoa. "If we hurry, we can make it to Mt. B'cuzitz'thair before it gets totally dark."

"Why does that matter?" Goldenking asked.

"Because the mountain has a series of caves that make great campsites. If we don't get to them, we'll have to spend the night out in the open."

Iffy shivered and picked up his pack. "Let's move it, people!"

Chapter 18: Duwithia

Chapter 18: Duwithia Dikiyoba Thu, 11/27/2008 - 20:53
Nioca and Nemesis sat at a table. Nioca had a spellbook out, but glanced at the front door so often it was obvious he wasn't reading it. Nemesis stared at the ceiling.

"When do you think they'll get here?" Nioca asked.

Nemesis shrugged. "Soon, I guess."

Nioca glanced at the door again. "Well, I wish they'd hurry up."

"I just hope they know how to behave properly. I hate having to put up with noobs."

"Why wouldn't they?" Nioca glanced at the door again and saw it start to open. "They're here!" His yell was loud enough to attract everyone's attention.

Student of Trinity entered with Arancaytar on his shoulder and closed the door.

"Oh. I guess not." Nioca said.

Student of Trinity noticed the odd silence. "Er, the rats will be here very soon. But they've had a very long day. I think it would be best if we let them have a forum to recuperate in for tonight and leave the rest until tomorrow."

"Aw..." Shard of Fire put several cans of silly string and a bag of carrots back into her inventory.

"Can you take me to the Mod Board now?" Arancaytar whispered.

"Of course." Student of Trinity headed to the Announcements Forum and knocked on the Mod Board door.

Schrodinger opened it. "Everything's ready. Come in."

Student of Trinity stepped inside and closed the door. Arancaytar looked around as best as he could. "Who else is in here?"

Alorael toyed with a bottle of skribbane. "It's just me."

Arancaytar sighed. "Well, could you please leave?"

"Well, I'd love to, but Drakefyre told me to stay here."

Schrodinger took Arancaytar and set him on the table. "Relax. Student of Trinity and I are the only ones repairing you. No one else will come near you. Now, are you ready?"

Arancaytar sighed again. "I suppose so."

Meanwhile, Emperor Tullegolar returned to the Geneforge 4 Forum. Nalyd had already uncovered another rat skeleton and started on a new grave. Jeran Korak dug beside him half-heartedly. Azuma stood to the side, uncertain of what to do.

Emperor Tullegolar picked up a shovel. "Azuma, reanimate the skeletons and get them to a good hiding spot. Jeran, let Nalyd and I handle that grave. You fill in the other holes. Hurry, the rats will be here very soon."

---

Ephesos awoke with a start and sat up. "I'm sorry I fell asleep, Att, are you rea--" Ephesos stopped short when he realized he was lying in a bed in a small infirmary, not leaning against the ticket machine near Bots Aplenty. One of his legs was chained to the bed. "Oh. The ninjas. Diki? Att? Can you hear me?"

The door opened and a scrawny nephil with a scar on his forehead stepped inside. "You finally decided to wake up, I see."

"Look, I don't know what's going on, but I'm leaving." Ephesos attempted to cast smite on the chain.

"No, don't--"

"Ow!" Ephesos got a massive headache. He grabbed his head with both hands.

The nephil reached into his pocket and pulled out an unlabeled prescription bottle. He held out a pill. "Don't try another spell, or you'll make it worse. Here, take this. It'll help with your headache."

Ephesos took it and examined it carefully before swallowing it. His headache slowly went away. "So. Who are you, where am I, where's Dikiyoba and Attorukkip, and why can't I use magic?"

"I'm Murrrhal. This is the last active mine in Crystal Mountain. Like me, you're now a slave. The others who were captured with you are already with the other slaves. The reason you can't cast spells is because Duwithia put an anti-magic spell on you." Murrrhal touched the scar on his forehead. "All the slaves have it. It will prevent you from using or being effected by any magic whatsoever."

Ephesos sighed and felt an identical scar on his forehead. "Great. Just great. Who's Duwithia?"

"She's--"

Murrrhal jumped in fright as the door opened again. A mage and a ninja walked in. The mage's robe and the ninja's outfit were made from aluminum foil. Both their faces were completely obscured.

"Well? I see he's awake, so how is he?" the mage asked.

"H... he just needs a few days to rest. I... I think," Murrrhal said.

"Good. Coleridge, put him down at half-price for now, with the other half when he recovers. Then tell the frat boys we're ready for another party."

The ninja bowed and left.

"Any problems?" the mage asked.

"N... no." Murrrhal said.

"Good." The mage left.

"I take it that was Duwithia?" Ephesos asked.

"Yes. She... she runs the place. You probably won't have to deal with her much, but..." Murrrhal watched the door nervously. "...watch out for Coleridge. You can never tell whether she's around or not."

"But why use slaves? Why not just hire miners?"

"Mining is dangerous, so you have to pay the miners a lot. This way, all she needs to worry about is getting booze for the yeti guards and giving the ninjas a few crystals for bringing in new slaves. Plus, well... she's crazy."

"Ah. Of course."

---

The mess hall was not far from the infirmary. Inside, the slaves were eating dinner after another day of digging for crystals. They were a mix of noobs, 1337 h4x0rs, filthy hippies, lolcats, and wanderers. Yeti guards watched them closely from the corners.

One of the wanderers, a human in tattered robes, scurried about offering more food to everyone.

"More soup, Giantreed? No? How about you, i dint do dat?"

The lolcat nodded. The wanderer refilled his bowl and moved on.

"Anyone else? 9\/\/|\|505, more soup?"

The door opened and a dozen yetis led Dikiyoba, the rats, and the 1337 h4x0rs inside. The yetis shoved them towards an empty bench. The wererat promptly hid beneath the table. Four of the yetis focused on Attorukkip, as she fought every step of the way.

"Come on, Diki! We can escape! We can still revive most of them!" Attorukkip bit one of the yetis on the arm.

The yeti responded by whacking her on the head with a paw. She slumped onto the bench, unconscious.

"Oh, you shouldn't have done that," the wanderer said.

The yeti snarled at him and left. The rest either left or joined the other guards.

"Hi! I'm the Ratt. How much soup do you want?"

"o giv it a resrt cantwe eat n piece 4 once" A noob threw his spoon at the Ratt.

"Oh. Okay." The Ratt finished filling the newcomers' bowls in silence.

Another wanderer convinced a few noobs to move so the new 1337 h4x0rs could join the others. Then she sat down next to one of the blue rats. "Hi. I'm Toby-Linn. Who are you?"

The blue rat shook her hand. "I'm ScurfFiend. The purple rat is Attorukkip and the wererat under the table is Ru'vay."

"I'm Eieeoia," the other blue rat said.

"Dikiyoba."

Toby-Linn nodded. "Well, I'd say it's nice to meet you all, but as you can see, it's really not."

"of cors it is it means teh gaurds will go get drink 2nite nad let ys slep in 2morow"

---

Andraste groaned as the Spiderwebbers approached Mt. B'cuzitz'thair. Even from this distance, they could hear loud music and see a huge bonfire.

"What do you suppose is going on?" Niemand asked.

"I have no idea," Andraste said.

"Will we have to go somewhere else?" Iffy asked.

"No. There are several caves. We'll have room."

When they got close enough, Andraste had them hide their packs and pull out their weapons. They crept closer to the bonfire. Several frat orcs and a yeti stood around it, laughing at a dirty joke and chugging beer.

"Ugh," Andraste said, "It looks like we'll be spending the night outside after all."

"Hey, bra, I bet you can't jump through the fire." The music was so loud it was hard to hear the frat boy speak.

The yeti snorted. "No way, grra. You do it."

"Hang on, I'll get a pledge. Hey! Cody! Get over here!"

A frat orc in a maid outfit and carrying a tray filled with shots of whiskey hurried out of the cave. "Yesh?"

"You can jump through the fire, can't you?"

"Um..."

Drew stepped out of his hiding place. "Hey!"

"Where did you come from, bra?"

Cody sighed in relief and sneaked back into the cave.

Drew shrugged. "We hiked. So, you're having a party here?"

"What'sh it look like, grra?"

"Is there a place not being used my friends and I can have for the night?"

The frat orcs thought for a moment.

Finally, one said, "Bra, I got one word for you and your friendsh. Keg. Shtand."

"I think that'sh two wordsh, bra."

"Hey, Jewels, do you want to take up their challenge, or should I?" Drew asked.

Jewels ran out of her hiding place. "Both of us! Bring it!"

"Wait," Andraste said, "You aren't actually going to..."

The frat orcs and yeti led Drew and Jewels inside.

"This is ridiculous!" Andraste said.

The yelling and growling inside the cave got loud enough to almost drown out the music. A few minutes later, Drew stumbled out. "W00t! We're in!"

"Where's Jewels?" Andraste asked.

"Shtill inshide. She shtarted a game of beer pong." Drew had them retrieve their packs and led the group to a small cave well away from the main party. The music was still clearly audible. "We should be fine here. Oh, and if anyone wantsh to join the party, you're more than welcome to."

"Is there anyone sober enough to explain how they managed to hold a party way out here?" Niemand asked.

"No, but I'll ashk anyway. Shee you later." Drew left.

Andraste sighed. "Niemand, you stand guard for a few hours. Have Marlenny take your place. Marlenny, you will wake me up once your turn is done. Everyone else, try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day."

Andraste watched for a while until she was sure Iffy was truly asleep and Niemand would stay awake. Then she plugged her ears with the corners of her cloak and tried to sleep.

Chapter 19: The Literature Forum

Chapter 19: The Literature Forum Dikiyoba Fri, 12/19/2008 - 00:28
Slartucker, Tyranicus, and the Almighty Doer of Stuff met the rats at the door when they arrived.

The Almighty Doer of Stuff held out the sanity jar. "You need to leave your sanity here, please."

"Why?" one of the rats asked.

Another rat shuddered. "Just do it. If you don't, well, there were these... these turtles and they... they..." He suddenly bolted for the door. "We must have been crazy to come back here!"

Fatalclaw caught him. "Calm down. The turtles won't hurt you, and neither will anything else."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff nodded and shook the sanity jar. "The fluffy turtles only want sanity, so if your sanity is here, you have nothing to worry about."

"Besides, you'll have the Nethergate Forum all to yourselves tonight. Tyran and I will take you there and keep watch to make sure no one tries to cause any problems," Slartucker said.

"Do you expect any?" ***** asked.

"I doubt it," Tyranicus said.

Tyranicus and Slartucker led the rats to the Nethergate Forum. Only Garzad remained behind.

Dintiradan set aside his scripting to watch the rats leave. "Keep an eye out for any rats who looks like Legions of Terror material, Lurker. And for rats who would be willing to... betatest this scenario."

The Lurker nodded. "I understand."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff opened the trapdoor to the fluffy turtles and climbed down. Dozens of fluffy turtles crowded around him. "Down, Fluffles! There will be plenty for everyone. How are you feeling today, Inspector Walnut? Peanut Jr., you look like you've grown since yesterday. Have you been stealing sanity again? Ow! Fluffles!"

Shard of Fire pointed at Garzad. "Why didn't you go with the others?"

Garzad shrugged. "I... I didn't feel like it."

"And did you know you have a huge scratch on your tail?"

Garzad tried to hide the wound. "It's not bad. There were others who were hurt far worse than me, so I didn't want to bother the purple rats with something so trivial."

"I can heal you," Nioca said.

"Oh, yes, thank you." Garzad held his tail out.

"You know, that cut looks more recent than that. Are you sure you--"

Garzad cut Nioca off. "Just heal it, please."

Nioca cast a healing spell on it. "No problem."

Garzad looked around nervously until Synergy pulled out a chair. "Why don't you join us? I've got a few questions to ask, if you don't mind."

"Oh bother," Randomizer said.

Alorael entered the forum and tapped Drakefyre on the shoulder. "Schrodinger found something he wants you to look at. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to see if I can catch any pedestrians out for an evening stroll." Alorael headed upstairs.

Drakefyre went to the Moderator Board. "What did you want me to look at?"

"This." Schrodinger handed him the crystal. "Be very careful with it. I'm pretty sure it contains Arancaytar's soul. Is it vahnatai work? Do you know how to free Arancaytar from it?"

Drakefyre examined the crystal for several minutes. "No. It has nothing to do with the vahnatai. And I'm afraid I don't know how to release him." He handed the crystal back.

Schrodinger set it on the table gently. "All right. Thank you."

In the Geneforge 4 Forum, Emperor Tullegolar, Nalyd, Jeran Korak, Azuma, and the skeletons hid behind rocks as Slartucker, Tyranicus, and the rats passed.

Emperor Tullegolar sighed. "We'd better not risk it while... the mods are right there. Let's go back to General. We'll try something different in the morning."

---

"Oh. Sorry." Filth Finder let Spider up.

Spider looked around. "Let's continue this discussion where we can't be overheard." He opened the trapdoor.

Filth Finder helped his nymphs down the ladder before climbing down himself.

Spider closed the trapdoor. "There. That's better. As you can imagine, things were pretty bad after that. The Debate Forum was the next to go up in flames. The Miscellaneous Forum got so bad it had to be closed down. Some of Slime Lover's supporters took control of the portal and wouldn't let anyone not on their side pass. They held it for several days, despite being attacked several times. They only gave up once Trash Seeker and some others stole all the recall crystals. Then Chief Spider and Slime Lover permabanned Trash Seeker's group. It was probably the worst move they could've made."

"Why is that?"

"Because Trash Seeker and his group didn't leave. Instead, they set up a webpage right outside Bugtopia. And a lot of bugs who were suspicious of Slime Lover but not actively against her decided that Trash Seeker must have been right. And he used them to spy and steal the new shipments of recall crystals. For a while, I thought Bugtopia was doomed. But eventually enough bugs were banned to stop the crystal stealing. Bugtopia's been practically peaceful for a while now, and Trash Seeker is desperate."

"That's the main reason we keep this place so secret. A lot of us hiding here left Bugtopia instead of getting banned. It was getting silly, and Trash Seeker is the silliest of them all," Spider added.

"He is not silly. He's just determined to make Chief Spider and Slime Lover step down and not going to give up until they do. We honestly don't know what he's planning to do next and we're not going to take any chances. Well, I'd better get going. Trrrch is probably going to regain consciousness soon. Spider, get them to the message board and show them around."

"Okay!" Spider said.

Spider used a recall crystal.

The other Spider started down the tunnel. "Come on, follow me."

---

Garbage Gatherer was half-asleep. The sound of approaching footsteps made her open her eyes.

An old GIFTC stopped at the entrance to her cell. He stared at her for a few moments.

"Yes? Are you going to tell me what's going on? Why am I being held here?" she asked.

"You do seem vaguely familiar." He checked a sheet of paper. "Is your name Garbage Gatherer?"

"Yes."

"And your parents are Mold Grower and Rubbish Getter?"

"Debris Getter, actually."

"Very good. Now, do you know who I am?"

Garbage Gatherer shrugged. "Not really."

"I'm Chrrtrrr."

"Oh, you used to moderate the Archives, didn't you?"

"I still do, in fact."

"Then could you tell me what's going on? I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Well, you're definitely not an imposter and you don't seem like a rebel to me, so I'm going to take the risk and let you go." Chrrtrrr picked up a stick that was lying a safe distance away from Garbage Gatherer's cell and used it to tear down the sticky silk across the entrance.

"Yes, thank you, but why--"

"Stay with me now. I'm the only one willing to vouch for you, so if you try to slip away, you'll probably get killed. A lot of bugs think you are a rebel." Chrrtrrr walked down the hallway.

Garbage Gatherer scurried after him. "Killed? Seriously, what happened while we... while I was gone? Who are the rebels and what did they do?"

They reached the exit. Two guards blocked the doorway. One pointed at Garbage Gatherer. "Where are you taking her?"

Chrrtrrr pulled out another slip of paper and handed it to the guard. "I have permission."

The guard looked at it carefully before handing it back. "Fine."

Both guards stepped out of the way. Chrrtrrr and Garbage Gatherer went outside.

Garbage Gatherer looked around. Many of the forums were dark and the TV/Movies Forum had completely collapsed. There were plenty of bugs at the Games Forum and quite a few gathered at the portal, but only a few were wandering around.

"This is awful. What happened?" she asked.

Chrrtrrr shrugged. "Civil war. Spider will explain. Do you know her?"

"I don't think so."

They walked to the Literature Forum and went inside. There were bookcases along every wall, though most were dusty and empty. A young GIFTR sat at the large table in the middle of the room. He put down his book as they entered. "good evening"

"Hello. Garbage Gatherer, this is Goo Eater. Goo Eater, this is Garbage Gatherer."

"pleased to meet you"

"You too."

Chrrtrrr walked over and knocked on the door at the far end of the room. "Spider, are you there?"

"do you even have to ask question mark it s not like she ever leaves"

Spider opened the door and stepped out. She wore a black cape and carried a sword. "What do you want, Chrrtrrr? I know it's not feeding time yet." She spotted Garbage Gatherer. "Oh. Hello. Did you want to join the RP? Demons in Space is really the best idea anyone's had in a long time, so you'll--"

"No, Spider," Chrrtrrr said, "She just came back to Bugtopia and needs a place to stay temporarily. I thought this would be the best place."

Spider sighed. "Yeah, yeah, I know, quiet, out of the way."

"i m not bringing back food for her it s hard enough to get food for two"

"Don't worry, I'll take care of it," Chrrtrrr said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I should probably head over to the portal. Spider, tell her what's been going on." He left quickly.

Spider snorted. "Silly. He has plenty of time."

"he s probably going to see if he can get an extra crystal so he can go look for more records first"

"I swear, only Chrrtrrr. Now, how long have you been gone?"

"Almost four years," Garbage Gatherer said.

"That long? Why, you missed out on The Castle of Dunstoke. That was one of our best--"

"spider exclamation point"

"Right. Sorry."

---

Ecksian was in the middle of activating a bot when he heard EcksianBot gasp. He looked up to see Eternal Flame enter the room.

Ecksian glared at the little bot. "Is there nothing that won't set you off? Go check on those bots. Make sure everything is working right." Ecksian pointed to a group of bots standing at the far end of the room. EcksianBot flew over.

"Well? How did it go?" Ecksian asked.

Eternal Flame shrugged. "Well enough. We killed most of the rats. There was a small--"

"You let some of the rats escape?!"

"Well, it seems PiperBot missed a secret exit. Not to worry, though. I know they went to Spiderweb, so we can kill them then."

Ecksian threw a screwdriver at him. "You idiot! Now they'll know I'm here and probably attack us!"

Eternal Flame ducked the screwdriver. "I hope so. It'll be far easier to fend them off here than to drag them out of Spiderweb, especially since you ruined the element of surprise. I bet they'll have all sorts of extra defenses set up in a week. Are you prepared for that?"

"Once I've got my bots ready, the extra defenses won't matter. If they attack here before that though..."

"Relax. This place was built to withstand flamers. It's nearly impossible to break or sneak into. We don't have to worry about a thing. Especially since you and your bot are so... clever."

Ecksian glanced at EcksianBot quickly. "Yes."

"Now, as I was saying, there was a small problem. The rats got away with help from a few Spiderwebbers who were there. Unfortunately, they took PiperBot with them when they escaped."

"You... you..." This time, Ecksian threw the entire toolbox.

Eternal Flame dodged the box itself, but a wrench smashed into his nose. He took several steps back and tried to control his temper.

EcksianBot flew over. "Ecksian, are you okay? Do you need help? Should I deal with him?"

"No! Just... just go back to what you were doing." Ecksian waved it away.

Eternal Flame touched his nose gingerly. "Well, I've got more work to do, and it looks like you have plenty to do too. Lots of bots to make, I'm sure." He left the room.

Ecksian picked up the tools and threw them back into the toolbox.

EcksianBot flew over again. "Nothing seems wrong with the bots. Are you sure we should be working with him?"

"Yes. I hate him, but he's the only one who can control the flamers, and the flamers are useful to us for now. Don't worry about it. Focus on the information on Spiderweb for now, will you?"

EcksianBot sighed. "Fine."

Eternal Flame listened to them through the door. He smiled and walked away.

---

Ephesos waited until Murrrhal was gone before reaching into his pocket. It was empty.

"Crickets?" he whispered.

There was no response.

Ephesos leaned over and looked beneath the bed. "Crickets?"

Still nothing.

He took a deep breath. "It's okay. They're just stealing the key to this chain so they can free me. Yeah. That's it."

But an hour later, as he stared at a crack in the ceiling that looked vaguely like the Mississippi River, he had to admit that the crickets were definitely gone.

Ephesos didn't sleep at all that night.

Chapter 20: Rat Trap

Chapter 20: Rat Trap Dikiyoba Wed, 12/24/2008 - 22:48
The rats were very impressed by the Nethergate Forum. The entire place was a great hall. The walls were lined with tapestries, Celtic artwork, and Nethergate artifacts.

"This is very nice," ***** said.

Tyranicus noticed a piece of spam on the ground and tried to pick it up. "Yes. We redid it for the release of Nethergate: Resurrection. Unfortunately, it didn't get the recognition it deserves and so it has never been very busy in here." Tyranicus managed to get his hoof under the spam and scooped it into his inventory. He hesitated. "So, um, I know there are a lot of you, but if you could not trash the place, I would be very grateful. Er, not that you seem like the sort to trash a place. I, uh, just thought I'd point it out to be, um, absolutely sure you knew."

***** looked mildly annoyed. "Certainly."

Several rats warmed themselves by the fire. Rof'l'mao examined the artifacts sitting in a glass case on the mantel. "It looks like you have a few things missing."

"Yeah. The earrings and talking skull have been missing for ages," Slartucker said.

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a joined him. "Do you mind if we ask you a question about Ecksian?"

"Sure. I don't know how much help I'll be, though."

"Does he have a little bot with him?"

Slartucker thought for a moment. "You know, I'm pretty sure he did."

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a looked at each other for a moment and then scampered over to Fatalclaw.

"I assume you'll be staying here?" R'd'p'a asked.

"Yes, this is where I'm needed. I take it you're going after Ecksian again?"

"We're leaving in the morning. Slarty said there was a bot with Ecksian, so there's a chance that Anonymous is still alive. We can't give up."

Fatalclaw nodded. "Good luck."

"Yeah. We'll need it," A'p'd'r said.

---

Emperor Tullegolar couldn't sleep. The presence of the rats irked him. He tossed and turned.

The Mystic dragged his pack into the Tech Support Forum.

Emperor Tullegolar watched him go. "I suppose the temptation was just too much for him. Figures." He shook Nalyd awake.

"This had better be good. Nalyd was having a good dream."

"Doing this will get you back on the administration's good side. Is that good enough for you?"

"Ooh. What does Nalyd have to do?"

"The Mystic just went to steal stuff from the rats. Help Tyranicus and Slartucker catch him in the act. And make sure the rats know a Spiderwebber tried to steal from them in the process."

"Okay!" Nalyd hurried off.

---

Slartucker and Tyranicus patrolled the Nethergate Forum. All the rats were asleep.

Tyranicus saw Nalyd running towards them. "What are you doing here?"

"Pardon Nalyd, but did you know that Mystic is stealing from the rats?"

"Right. And how do you know this?"

"Nalyd couldn't sleep. He happened to see Mystic leaving and followed him down here. Then he watched Mystic to be sure, because he would never accuse a member of breaking the Code of Conduct without proof."

"Where is the Mystic?" Slartucker asked.

Nalyd pointed to the opposite side of the forum. "Over there. He hides whenever you get close, though."

"We'll have to be sneaky, then. Tyran, I'm sorry, but there's no way you can sneak. Instead, I want you to quietly get Stareye or Drakefyre."

Tyranicus nodded and exited the forum. Slartucker and Nalyd crept to the spot Nalyd had pointed at. The Mystic was admiring Lith's bow.

"Wow. This is a very good bow. Definitely magic." He eased it from Lith's paws and sniffed it. "Just blessed, no other enchantment." He put the bow back. "But it uses actual arrows, how interesting." He picked up the quiver of arrows and sorted through them. A few had frost-covered arrowheads. He put them in his pack.

Nalyd jumped up. "Caught red-handed!"

"Nalyd, don't..." Slartucker groaned.

The Mystic grabbed his back and dashed off. Lith and several other rats woke up.

"What's going on?" Lith asked.

"My bracelet is missing!" a green rat said.

"Yes. We'll get it back to you very shortly. Nalyd, stay back." Slartucker tackled the Mystic and pulled his pack out of his paws.

"Hey!"

*****, Fatalclaw, Cheese, and Danielle hurried over.

"What's going on? He's not part of our group," Cheese said.

"No, he's a Spiderwebber," Nalyd said.

Tyranicus returned with Stareye. By now, most of the rats were awake and listening in.

"What seems to be the problem here?" Stareye asked.

"Mystic was stealing!" Nalyd said.

"I was not!"

Stareye looked to Slartucker.

"Tyranicus and I were patrolling when Nalyd came to us and informed us that the Mystic was taking stuff from the rats. I investigated. I saw the Mystic take these arrows from a rat and put it in his pack." Slartucker held up the icy arrows.

"Like he was going to miss them anyway," the Mystic muttered.

"Unfortunately, at that point, Nalyd yelled. It woke the rats up and almost let the Mystic get away."

"Sorry. Nalyd was only trying to help."

"Fortunately, I caught the Mystic before he had a chance to hide anything."

"Do these arrows belong to anyone?" Stareye asked.

"Those are mine," Lith said.

"It's just a few arrows. They could belong to anyone," the Mystic said.

Slartucker give Lith the arrows and dug through the pack until he came up with a bracelet. "And this?"

"My bracelet!" the green rat said.

Slartucker handed it over as well.

"Mystic, do you remember what I said about any misbehavior that threatened the boards?" Stareye said.

"Yes, but--"

"And you recall that Schrodinger gave you an official warning about taking items that doesn't belong to you?"

"He... he had no proof! And he was after me about that pencil too, which I didn't even take!"

"Yes, but despite that official warning, you came down here tonight. Slartucker saw you stealing things personally."

"Don't forget Nalyd! He helped!"

Stareye sighed. "I'm afraid I have no choice. In a more peaceful situation, I would be willing to give you one more chance, but with Ecksian's expected attack, we cannot afford the possibility that some of our defenses will end up in your pack. Mystic, you are now banned. Slartucker, please escort him outside."

"What?! For how long?" the Mystic said.

"That depends. You are banned at least until after Ecksian is defeated. After that, if want to discuss it, Drakefyre and I will be more than willing to--"

"Forget it!" The Mystic grabbed his pack and started to drag it towards the Avernum 4 Forum.

Stareye stepped on a strap. "The pack stays here. Slartucker will provide you with an appropriate weapon and several days' worth of food, but that is all.

"This is ridiculous!" After trying repeatedly to pull the pack free, the Mystic gave up and stormed off.

Slartucker followed him.

"And I don't need you to show me the way out!"

"What about the supplies you are allowed to take?" Slartucker asked.

"I most certainly don't need any from this place!" The Mystic exited the forum. Slartucker shook his head and followed.

Stareye sighed again. "Well, I suppose I'd better go put his ban into the system. Tyranicus, *****, I trust that you will be more than capable of making sure everything gets back to their proper owners?"

"No problem," Tyranicus said.

"And Nalyd, I think it's time for you to go back to bed," Stareye said.

"Well... okay." Nalyd left.

---

Emperor Tullegolar watched the Mystic stomp across the General Forum. When he left, he slammed the door hard enough to wake several people up. Emperor Tullegolar smiled.

Slartucker entered as well. He went straight to the window and watched the Mystic disappear into the night.

Nalyd came in a moment later.

Emperor Tullegolar looked around to make sure no one was watching him. "It worked, didn't it?" he whispered.

Nalyd nodded.

Emperor Tullegolar grinned even wider.

"Slartucker? What happened?" Thralni asked.

"Nothing to worry about. Just an incident in the Nethergate Forum," Slartucker said.

"Oh. Okay." Thralni went back to sleep.

Several minutes later, Schrodinger entered and joined Slartucker. "Is he gone?"

"Stareye told you what happened?"

Schrodinger nodded.

"Yes," Slartucker said.

"Do... do you think I was too hard on him?"

"No. It's unfortunate, but..." Slartucker shrugged.

"I just worry I overreacted because sometimes I wonder... well, this is going to sound really silly."

"What is it?"

"Sometimes I wonder whether my walkthroughs ever inspire people act like that. I do tell people to steal to get an advantage."

Slartucker snorted. "Your walkthroughs are not going to inspire people to become kleptomaniacs. I mean, it's not like I could actually cast Colt of Fire, go hide somewhere, and have it steal stuff for me right in front of people without them noticing."

"I suppose not."

"So, um, I take it Arancaytar is repaired?"

"Just about. Student of Trinity is finishing the last little bit."

Slartucker nodded. "Good to know. Well, I'd better get back to the Nethergate Forum. See you in the morning."

Schrodinger yawned. "Good night."

---

The Mystic was so angry he didn't pay attention to where he was going. He took a wrong turn and ended up heading away from the Google station.

After an hour or so of walking, he stopped. "This... this doesn't look familiar. Where am I? Maybe the Google station is back this w--oof!" He turned around and walked straight into a lolcat that had been following him.

"o hai!"

"Er, hello." The Mystic looked around nervously. Several other lolcats stepped out of the shadows.

"u has n e cheezburgerz i can has?"

"Er, no, I'm afraid not. Now if you don't mind, I really should be going..."

One of the other lolcats pointed at him. "dis rat iz teh funneh!"

"lol"

The Mystic laughed weakly. "Haha, yes, well, I know, but I really, really need to be somewhere else right now."

A lolcat stepped on his tail. "where u goin? we wanna play!"

The Mystic yanked his tail free and ran. "Help! Someone, please halp me!"

Chapter 21: All Roads

Chapter 21: All Roads Dikiyoba Sun, 01/11/2009 - 20:24
Garbage Gatherer sat at the table with Goo Eater. Spider's explanation hadn't been much help. It was obvious she hardly ever left the forum and therefore didn't know much herself. The constant references to past RPs hadn't helped either.

"it s kind of funny"

"What is?"

"you were clearly an old member at one point but you ve been gone for so long you re practically a newbie again"

"Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it. I don't suppose you could explain it to me?"

"nope i wasn t born for most of it and too young to remember the rest of it" He paused. "well i should go get food now don t try anything i like chrrtrrr and i d hate for him to get in trouble for being nice"

"Oh. Of course."

"by the way are there any special foods you like question mark"

"I thought you weren't going to--"

"i changed my mind"

"Well, in that case, I suppose I'm fond of those little pink toadstools. But I bet you won't find any of those."

Goo Eater blinked in confusion. "probably not where did you find those question mark"

"Oh, we... er, I was at the Spiderweb Software Message Board for a while."

"wow exclamation mark did you know jeff question mark"

Garbage Gatherer shook her head. "Nope. I never even saw him."

"oh that s a shame"

---

Spider led Filth Finder and the nymphs down the tunnel. He stopped them in front of a glowing rune on the floor. "Do you swear that you aren't rebels or Bugtopian spies?"

"Yes," Filth Finder said.

"And you're not trolls?"

"Yes."

"What about spambots in disguise?"

"Oh, for pity's sake, yes."

"Well, you can't be too careful. If you would tell me your names, I'll go put them in the system."

Filth Finder told him.

"Thanks!" Spider ran off.

Filth Finder shook his head. "Okay, nymphs. I'm not exactly sure what we've gotten into, but I want you to pay attention. I think this is a safe place, but keep your eye out for anything suspicious and watch what you say to others."

The nymphs were thoroughly miserable and exhausted. They just nodded.

Spider returned. "You can cross the rune now. Spider is the administrator here, so he'll want to talk to you. I'll take you to him."

Filth Finder and the nymphs stepped over the rune and into the message board. Several of the nymphs gasped. They had never seen so many giant intelligent friendly talking bugs at once.

Their entry was noticed immediately.

"Hey, look, newcomers."

"Welcome!"

"You're cute!"

"Seconded!"

"Thirded!"

"Cut that out," a mod said.

"Our hideout is the hidiest, so don't get lost!"

Muck Master looked confused.

"Traditional greeting," Spider whispered.

"Hey, does anyone recognize them?"

"Not me."

"Nope."

A GIFTC and two GIFTR just a few molts older than the nymphs watched them closely. A younger GIFTS hovered nearby as well.

"I wonder where they came from," one of the GIFTR said.

The GIFTC shrugged. "I don't know, Plague Dispenser."

"Rarr! Do you think they know any of my family members?" The GIFTS snorted in what he thought was a fierce manner. In reality, it was a high-pitched, obnoxious squeak.

Plague Dispenser rolled his eyes. "Dude, you are not a dragon, so knock it off. It's really annoying."

"Graar! I know I'm not a dragon. I'm a half-dragon, half-drake. Duh! Rarr! And don't you forget it, or I'll breathe fire at you!"

Plague Dispenser nudged the GIRTC. "Rrtrrch, go see whether the newbies are sane."

---

Goo Eater hurried to the portal. There were lots of bugs crowding around it now.

The portal was over ten feet tall. A landfill was visible through it, but the portal shimmered so much that no details could be made out. An elderly GIFTS operated the control panel connected to it. Several guards kept everyone else away from it. A few mods tried to keep order and hand out recall crystals.

Goo Eater found one of his friends. "hey chrrcht"

"Yeah?"

"go join spider s rp when you get the chance there s someone there you ll want to meet she s been to the spiderweb message board pass the word along"

"Really? Will do!"

---

Salmon woke up early in the morning. Andraste stood watch near the cave entrance. The loud music had stopped but Drew and Jewels weren't back.

"Any sign of them?"

"No. Want to help me look?"

"Sure."

Andraste and Salmon went out to the main cave. Garbage was everywhere. Most of the frat boys and yetis had gone, but there were still a few passed out here and there. Salmon found Jewels asleep under a table and Drew passed out in a pile of empty beer cans.

"Why?" Andraste demanded, "Why?! When they knew I needed their help to get the barbed wire?!"

Salmon shrugged and carried Drew back to the cave. Andraste carried Jewels back as well.

Niemand was up and fixing breakfast. "What are our plans for today?"

"We get to Crystal Mountain and see what's there. Hopefully, there will still be plenty of barbed-wire around for us to gather. If there is, we'll gather it and bring it back here. If not... well, we'll figure something out if that's the case. The silver lining to this--" Andraste kicked Drew. He pulled the blanket over his head. "--is that we can leave the stuff we don't need here and they can guard them for us." She kicked Drew again. "Right?"

"Yeah, whatever. Go 'way."

---

Several yetis entered the slave compound, cracking their whips by the slaves' heads to wake them up.

"Brrreakfast!" one growled.

Dikiyoba yawned. "What time is it?"

"Too early," ScurfFiend muttered.

"shutup its lik 3 hrs l8r than usuall"

Attorukkip watched the yetis carefully. Eieeoia put a paw on her shoulder. "It's not a good time to try to escape, so don't try it."

Attorukkip sighed. "Fine."

Breakfast turned out to be some kind of porridge made by the Ratt.

"...but why is it green?" Ru'vay asked.

Toby-Linn sighed. "The Ratt really, really likes avocados. He'd put them in everything, if he got the chance."

"Thankfully, Duwithia is only cruel and not outright sadistic," another wanderer said.

"I heard that!" The Ratt sat down next to Dikiyoba. "So, where were you from? How did you get captured? Me, I got lost during a school field trip. The ninjas caught me wandering around."

"Were you training to be a chef?"

"No, actually, it was a school of magery. A proper Guild-approved one, too. But I cooked as a hobby, so Duwithia let me be the chef here." He leaned close and whispered, "It's actually an improvement, I think. You?"

"The rats are, er, Dikiyoba means, were from Bots Aplenty. Dikiyoba is from Spiderweb."

Toby-Linn thought for a moment. "I think I've heard of Spiderweb."

"You have?"

A yeti stepped forward. Coleridge reached out of the shadows and pulled him back. She shook her head and pointed to Toby-Linn.

"Yes. There was an advertisement for a new game. It looked interesting. Avenum 6 or something?"

"Avernum 5. Although Dikiyoba thinks we might be here until Avernum 6, with our current luck."

"Oh, yes, that was it. Thank you."

"So, what sort of work are we expected to do?" Eieeoia asked.

"Well, it depends. Most of us dig for crystals, but there a few other jobs as well. Unfortunately, I'm a digger, so I don't know much about them."

Coleridge nodded to the yeti. The yeti stepped forward again. "Brrreakfast is overrr. It's time forrr you to worrrk now."

Toby-Linn sighed.

Coleridge stepped out of the shadows. She pointed to Dikiyoba and gestured towards the door.

The Ratt gulped. "Uh-oh. Good luck with... with whatever... Duwithia wants you for."

Dikiyoba hesitated. A whip cracked against Dikiyoba's back. Dikiyoba winced and followed Coleridge.

Chapter 22: Snow Much For The Blizzard

Chapter 22: Snow Much For The Blizzard Dikiyoba Sun, 01/25/2009 - 02:05
Ru'vay found himself partnered with two filthy hippies and their stench. Mung rats who had spent three solid weeks scavenging in a landfill smelled good in comparison. But he was too scared to object, not with two yetis standing nearby.

The yetis led them to a large workroom. Lab equipment and bottles with warnings on them lined the shelves. The table was covered in stains and burns. There was a vent in the ceiling to let fumes out.

The filthy hippies put on aprons, goggles, and gloves. The yetis stood in the corner and watched them, occasionally covering their noses to get a break from the smell.

One of the filthy hippies turned to Ru'vay. "Like, my name is Sunbranch. This is, like, my groovy partner, Megatofu. Who are you, man?"

"R... Ru'vay."

"Groovy," Megatofu said, "Here. Put these on." He handed Ru'vay a small pair of gloves, goggles, and apron.

"So, this is where we, like, make all the nasty chemicals that are, like, used in mining. If you, like, listen carefully, you can, like, hear Mother Nature crying out in, like, pain from it all." Sunbranch started to climb onto the table. "The pain, man, the subjugation of--"

One of the yetis growled.

Sunbranch hopped off the table quickly.

"Always remember, man, that we're working with chemicals that are, like, very dangerous. Wear your safety equipment at all times, man. Don't mess with anything unless you, like, know what you are doing. And these jars here that are, like, labeled acid, they're, like, not what you think they would be, man. We had someone once who decided to... to..." Sunbranch shuddered. "Like, it was horrible, man."

"I... I want to go home," Ru'vay squeaked.

"So do we all, man."

---

Coleridge led Dikiyoba up a narrow, steep tunnel. At the end of it was a very sturdy door. Coleridge knocked on it.

"One minute," Duwithia said. Dikiyoba could hear her move some things around. Then three locks were undone and the door opened a crack. Duwithia peered out. "Come in." She opened the door the rest of the way. Coleridge pushed Dikiyoba inside.

Dikiyoba looked around. There was another locked door on the far side of the room. Hanging on the wall next to it was a Periodic Table. Yeti names were written below many elements. Other than that, the room contained only a desk, a few chairs, and a file cabinet. The desk and filing cabinet drawers were all locked and the desk was completely cleared off.

Coleridge waved an arm around.

"What?" Duwithia stared at Dikiyoba for a minute. "I do now. Please, sit down, Dikiyoba."

Dikiyoba sat down. "How... how do you know about the Periodic Table?"

"Never mind that. Now, I know you are an alchemist. But how good are you? Could you make this potion?" Duwithia unlocked a drawer and pulled out a recipe. "I will need to create more tunnels soon and it's much easier with the proper explosives. Otherwise, I have to get the slaves to dig new tunnels and there are usually cave-ins and rockfalls. It slows production down tremendously."

Dikiyoba looked at the recipe. "Not while this rune is active."

Duwithia touched the scar on Dikiyoba's forehead. It glowed white for a moment. Dikiyoba winced. "How about now?"

"Probably, but why should Dikiyoba help you?"

"Because I can have you starved until you agree. Because I can kill other slaves until you agree. But most importantly--HASTE!!!--" Duwithia snatched the hat off Dikiyoba's head. "--I can pin your hat to the wall and let Coleridge use it as target practice."

Dikiyoba tried to grab the hat, but Duwithia moved out of reach. "No! Anything but Dikiyoba's hat!"

"Then you'll make the potions I need?"

Dikiyoba sighed. "Only if Dikiyoba gets Dikiyoba's hat back now."

Duwithia handed the hat over. "Excellent. Follow me to the workshop, please."

---

Megatofu and Sunbranch were instructing Ru'vay on the basics when Duwithia and Dikiyoba entered.

"New orders. Megatofu, you and Ru'vay will have the rest of the day off. Sunbranch, you will help Dikiyoba." She touched the rune on his forehead. "Rrruu, Grrrch, you have permission to kill them if you suspect they're trying something."

Megatofu and Ru'vay hurried out. Duwithia followed them.

Sunbranch took one look at the recipe and handed Dikiyoba another set of safety equipment. "Well, there's, like, really no point in these. If something goes wrong, we're toast, man."

---

Andraste, Riibu, Niemand, Marlenny, Salmon, Iffy, and Goldenking arrived at Crystal Mountain. The entire thing was covered in mine entrances, tailing piles, and barbed-wire fence.

"Wow. It's a good thing Ephesos isn't here, because he'd have a fit," Niemand said, "This... this is unbelievable."

Andraste shrugged and handed out wire cutters. "No time for that. Clouds are beginning to move in. We'll have to work fast to beat the storm. Stay close together. It certainly looks abandoned, but we can't be sure about that."

They set to work and soon had a fairly large pile of fencing.

"This is a much better way to collect this stuff. We should organize a clan run for this later," Salmon said.

"What is the other way?" Iffy asked.

"Taking a wrong turn on the ski slope."

Iffy winced.

"Yeah. Not fun."

"Just wait until we have to carry all this back. You won't be so enthusiastic then," Andraste said.

"Ha! I won't be carrying any of it. Drew and Jewels volunteered for that last night."

It began to snow lightly. Andraste checked the sky and then glanced at the pile of fencing. "Hurry! We still need more!"

Iffy climbed higher to a new section of fencing. When he got there, he saw a dead lotcat was tangled in it. He untangled the body carefully and picked it up. "Poor thing. What were you doing up here?" Iffy looked around. It didn't seem right to leave it unburied, especially since it would upset Andraste if she saw it. There was a mine entrance not much higher up. Maybe there was a good spot to bury the lolcat in there.

He climbed to it and ducked inside. There was a rusty shovel lying near the entrance. He picked it up. The ground was solid rock, so he went deeper into the mine.

Outside, the snow fell more heavily.

"Time for us to go! Finish the piece you're working on!" Andraste said.

Goldenking looked around. "Iffy? Hey, Iffy, can you hear me? Iffy! Has anyone seen him recently?"

Niemand shook his head. "Nope."

Andraste cupped her hands around her mouth. "Iffy!"

They waited for several minutes. The snow fell harder.

Andraste shook her head. "We can't stay here any longer, or we'll freeze before we get back to camp. Leave the barbed wire by that fir for now."

"Iffy!" Goldenking yelled.

They waited another minute. When Iffy didn't show up, they marched away from Crystal Mountain.

Deep in the mine, Iffy found a suitable pile of rubble. He dug a grave and buried the lolcat. Then he headed back.

He stopped short at the entrance as a gust of wind blew snow into his face. "Huh?" He walked out into the blizzard. "Hey guys, where are you? Goldenking! Andraste! Anyone?! Hello?!" He floundered through the snow for several minutes before realizing he was alone. Shivering, he stumbled back to the mine and found a good corner in which to wait out the storm.

---

Drew and Jewels were up when the others got back to camp.

"Where's Iffy?" Drew asked.

"He disappeared. We couldn't find him, not with the blizzard coming in." Andraste shook snow out of her hair.

"Oh no!" Jewels said.

"Yeah. We'll go back whenever the snow stops and look for him, but unless he found good shelter..." Andraste shrugged.

"There are plenty of mines. He'll be fine," Niemand said, "Drew, did you get any answers during the party?"

"Oh, that. Um, it seems that Crystal Mountain isn't totally deserted. The yetis work there for, um, a priest or something. And they come here for parties with the frat boys sometimes."

"Yes, but how do the frat boys get out here?"

Drew shrugged. "I don't know. My memory's a bit hazy."

Andraste folded her arms. "I wonder why."

Chapter 23: Isotopes

Chapter 23: Isotopes Dikiyoba Sun, 02/01/2009 - 03:30
Dintiradan was one of the first Spiderwebbers awake. He worked on the stat script.

Chatter sat next to him. "What are you working on?"

"A BoA scenario. Now, please go away. You're wrecking my concentration."

"Well, it's just that the crickets are getting worried. They say Ephesos should have been back by now."

"The crickets?" Dintiradan quickly stuffed the script into his pocket. "You're here to steal my brilliant scenario ideas, aren't you?"

One of the crickets gave an exasperated chirrup.

"See! They admitted it!"

"No. They said... well, it wasn't very nice, to be honest. I don't think they like your scenario much."

"Chrrrk."

"And now they tell me I shouldn't have asked you. But how was I to know?" Chatter said.

"Look, if the crickets are getting worried, maybe they should go out and look for him. I think he went to Bots Aplenty to revive the rats who died there. Now, leave me alone, would you?" Dintiradan moved to a different table.

Chatter and the crickets had a brief conversation. Chatter ran upstairs to make sure Alorael was still asleep and then walked out the door.

Nikki and Nicothodes were also awake. They sat at a table together, discussing their plan for Riibu.

"Okay, it's decided then. When she gets back, I'll ask her why she took your pencil, just in case she had a good reason. Meanwhile, you'll sneak up behind her. If she didn't have a good reason, you'll stab her," Nikki said.

"But what if she did have a good reason?"

"I don't know. Maybe you could give her a cookie if that's the case?"

"Good idea. Should we practice on someone else first, so we know the plan will work right when Riibu comes back?" Nicothodes asked.

Student of Trinity and Arancaytar entered the General Forum.

"Arancaytar! You're okay!" Nikki scrambled across the room and scooped him up in a big hug.

"Well, I was okay. Then you showed up." Arancaytar broke free of the hug and hovered near the ceiling.

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a had been waiting for Student of Trinity to show up. Now they approached him.

"So, SoT, do you want to go after Ecksian again?" R'd'p'a asked.

"Yes. I have one thing to do first." Student of Trinity woke Zeviz up.

"Huh? What do you want?"

"Sorry to bother you, but you're the only one who knows the summon element spell now." Student of Trinity pulled out a mass spectrometer. "Do you think you can control what isotopes you summon?"

"Why?"

"We're running out of normal elements and the anti-elements are harder for us to make. But we're going to need a lot more if the rats decide to stick around and I think they will. So, I wondered whether we could start dividing things up by isotopes."

"Well, I'll try. Do you have something particular in mind?"

"Summon an element the regular way first, so I can test what you're actually summoning. Let's see... let's just go with hydrogen. That's simple enough."

"All right. Summon hydrogen!"

Student of Trinity caught the hydrogen in the mass spectrometer. "Hmm. It looks like it's a mixture of all naturally occurring isotopes. So, go on, try to--"

"Summon hydrogen-3!"

Student of Trinity frowned. "Am I really that predictable?" He checked the display on the mass spectrometer. "Well, what do you know? It actually worked. Now all we need to do is test it on someone. Unfortunately, no one seems to be dead at the moment, so we'll have to wait on that. Do you mind taking responsibility for the test? I can't wait around and Jewels doesn't seem to be here."

Zeviz shrugged. "It's not a problem."

"Thank you."

Slartucker, Tyranicus, and several rats entered the General Forum.

"Can we go now?" A'p'd'r asked.

"Pick an element first, just in case we get killed," Student of Trinity said.

"Does it matter which one?" R'd'p'a asked.

"No. Just as long as it's not already taken."

"Okay, then I'll take--"

"Wait," Zeviz said, "I think Tyranicus is about to become our test subject."

"So, for Project Spiderweb, would you rather be a Celt or a bull?" Nikki asked.

"A Celt, of course," Tyranicus said.

Arancaytar saw Nicothodes sneaking up on him. "Tyranicus, watch out!"

"Don't worry, I'll take care of it!" Phil dashed in front of Nicothodes. She tripped over him. Tyranicus, Slartucker, and the other rats dove out of the way. Nikki wasn't so lucky.

"Sorry!" Nicothodes got up and held out a hand to help Nikki up.

Nikki sat halfway up. "That's okay. But I think... we're going to need..." Nikki pulled the mechanical pencil out of his chest. "...urgh... more practice." He died.

"Well, we got a test subject, anyway." Student of Trinity went over to the Periodic Table and altered Nikki's element.

Zephyr Tempest hurried over. "I've got it, Zorro! I'll revive him!"

"I gave him nickel-78, but try something else first, like nickel-58," Student of Trinity said.

"What's going on?" Zephyr Tempest asked.

"We're testing out a theory. Summon nickel-58!" Zeviz handed the nickel to Zephyr Tempest.

Zephyr Tempest made a few adjustments to Galactic Core. Nothing happened. "I'm sure I did it right." He tried again. Still nothing.

"So far, so good," Student of Trinity said.

Zeviz summoned some nickel-78. This time, Zephyr Tempest was able to revive Nikki.

"It worked! Now you can pick any elements you want," Student of Trinity said.

R'd'p'a and A'p'd'r stared at the Periodic Table as they tried to decide.

Tyranicus glared at Nikki and Nicothodes. "What was that all about?"

"Sorry. It was nothing personal," Nicothodes said, "We were just practicing."

Tyranicus sighed. "Well, do not attempt to murder me ever again, okay?"

"Don't worry about that," Nikki muttered.

A'p'd'r said, "I'll take iodine."

"And I want astatine," R'd'p'a said.

Student of Trinity made the changes to the Periodic Table. "Okay. Now we can go." He hurried to the Tech Support Forum and picked up his bag. R'd'p'a and A'p'd'r retrieved their packs from a hiding spot near the door. The three of them left quietly.

---

Chrrtrrr entered the Literature Forum. "I tried to get the admins to speak with you, Garbage, but they were too busy. Chief Spider said probably tomorrow."

Garbage Gatherer sighed. "But I need to get out of here today. Isn't there any other way I could leave?"

Chrrtrrr shrugged. "Not really. I mean, you could try the portal, but you'd probably get caught and end up back in a cell."

"also even if you succeeded who knows where you d end up question mark"

---

Spider woke Filth Finder up. "Come on, I'll take you to Trash Seeker now."

"All right. Nymphs, be good. That means you, Grime. I'll be back in a few hours."

Spider and Filth Finder used a recall crystal to transport to the Bugtopia Google station.

Trrrch was there. He had his arms crossed. "I don't like this. You're a spy. And he's not one of us."

"I'm not particularly happy about this either, so hush," Spider said.

Spider, Trrrch, and Filth Finder traveled to a small building. Two chitrachs stood guard by the door.

"Who is this?" one asked.

"Filth Finder. Don't worry, Trash Seeker knows he's coming," Spider said.

"Hmmph," Trrrch said.

"Your name sounds familiar. Hey, are you the bug who posted the thread about... what was it again? Oh yes, LotR being a shameless rip-off of practically every other fantasy novel?" the other chitrach asked.

Filth Finder sighed. "That was years ago, when I was still a nymph. You probably weren't even born then."

"No, but Junk Keeper and Spider talked about it a couple of times."

"Really? Junk Keeper is here?"

"Yeah." The guard stuck his head inside the building. "Hey, Junk Keeper! Remember Filth Finder?"

Junk Keeper scurried outside. "Filth! It's been ages! What have you been up to? Where's Garbage?"

"We've been... wandering. Garbage came back to see how things were here and got captured. I'm here to see if there's any way to rescue her."

"Well, don't worry. If anyone can help, it's Trash Seeker. I bet he's already got a plan."

---

Chatter and the crickets got off at the Bots Aplenty Google station. They looked around quickly.

"What happened here?" Chatter used his voice instead of his forearms to be as quiet as possible.

"Chrrk!"

"Shh! Don't be so loud. You might attract unwanted attention."

"Chrrk!"

Chatter and the crickets searched the area more carefully. There was no sign of what happened to Ephesos, Attorukkip, and Dikiyoba.

"I guess we have to go back to Spiderweb, then."

"Chrrrk!"

"What? No way. They could be anywhere."

"Chrrrk!"

"All right, fine." Chatter pushed a few buttons on the ticket machine at random. "Maybe we'll get lucky sooner rather than later."

Chapter 24: Escape

Chapter 24: Escape Dikiyoba Wed, 02/25/2009 - 06:19
Once everyone was awake, Spiderweb continued preparing for war. In the General Forum, Slartucker had taken charge of giving the rats all elements. Zeviz tried to teach the white rats the isotope version of the summon element spell.

Randomizer sat at a nearby table and watched them. "Hey, you! Keep waving your paws around like that and you'll smack someone else in the face. Sheesh, were you taught by a stage magician or something?"

Zeviz came to the table to run some helium through the mass spectrometer. "Please don't hassle them." He sighed when it came back as a mixture of isotopes.

"Well, it's obvious none of them are skilled enough to learn the spell. Where's Garzad? He looked like he was higher level, he might be able to pull it off."

"I don't know. He picked out an element, but I haven't seen him since then. Maybe you could look for him?"

"Sure. Tell the rat with a chunk missing from her right ear that she's not pronouncing aluminum right, will you?" Randomizer left.

In the Tech Support Forum, Schrodinger and a few rats worked on the summoning machine. Nioca prepared the infirmary as best as he could. Stareye supervised a group of Spiderwebbers he had chosen to sort out all the supplies Jewels had brought back from her website.

"This is boring," Jeran Korak said.

"Yes, Nalyd agrees. He wants to learn necromancy, not organize!"

"Boring? This is... this is harassment! He's forcing us to do menial labor like we were... were... serviles! He's clearly biased against us and should be removed from his position immediately!" Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Oh, shut up, ET," Dintiradan said, "Your constant whining doesn't make the job any more enjoyable. Stareye, are you sure the Lurker and I can't try to make more improvements on the Deth Ray? Or help Schrodinger with the summoning machine? Or anything else at all, really?"

Stareye shook his head. "No. I need you all here for a while still. We're making progress, but there's a whole lot more to go through."

Azuma tried not to look relieved by the news.

The Lurker waited until Stareye was focused on untangling a knot of wires before nudging Dintiradan. "What are we going to do?" he whispered.

"Don't worry. We only need one more night to complete the chair and I can work on the script whenever I have a few minutes. Stareye will be too busy to keep an eye on us sooner or later," Dintiradan whispered back.

Nioca tapped Stareye on the shoulder. "Um, are you sure you need Dintiradan? We're completely out of energy potions and I don't know how to make more. Dintiradan knows how to, though, doesn't he?"

Stareye thought for a minute. "I think he does, but don't ask him yet. Dikiyoba and Ephesos should be back before too long."

---

Dikiyoba carefully corked half a dozen vials of clear potion and then stepped back from the table.

Sunbranch sighed in relief and wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. "We're completely done, right?"

"Yes. What do we do now?"

One of the yetis growled and pushed the two of them away from the table. The other yeti left. He returned a few minutes later with Duwithia.

"Excellent timing. There was a cave-in. Killed at least two slaves. The potion is completely ready to go, right?"

Dikiyoba nodded.

Duwithia reactivated the antimagic spells on them. "Grrrch, take them back to the slave compound. Rrruu, take these five vials to Storeroom B. Afterwards I want you both to help guard the slave compound. I've sent most the slaves there until the cave-in situation is dealt with." Duwithia picked up the sixth vial and left the workshop.

---

Toby-Linn had been prying crystals out of a tunnel wall when she heard the rumble of falling rock and several yells. She threw herself to the ground and shielded her head until she was sure everything was stable again. She stood up and saw that she was completely cut off from the others.

She walked over to the mound of rocks. "Hello?! Can anyone hear me?!"

There was no answer. She climbed up towards the ceiling to see if there was a gap she could squeeze through, but there wasn't.

She climbed back down and called for help again. There was still no answer. She picked up her shovel and started to lever rocks away from the pile.

---

Shard of Fire, Archmage Alex, Lord Grimm, and the Silent Assassin were setting traps between the Spiderweb Software Message Board and the nearby Google station.

"You still have the carrots, right?" Archmage Alex asked.

"Yep." Shard of Fire passed them over.

Lord Grimm read out a list. "Let's see, do we have everything? Colony of fire ants?"

The Silent Assassin nodded.

"Check. A dozen bottles of poison? Check. Electrified fun noodles? Check. Three boxes of raisins? Check. A large towel with a hole in it? Oh, come now. That's just uncalled for."

The Silent Assassin shrugged and emptied the ants and raisins into a trap.

Shard of Fire searched her inventory. "I still have a can of silly string. Do you want it for anything?"

Archmage Alex thought for a moment. "No. Unless... do you happen to have an angry ferret on you by any chance?"

"I might." Shard of Fire pulled several items out of her pocket. "Aha!" She handed Archmage Alex a small but thoroughly enraged ferret.

---

Duwithia returned to the cave-in. Murrrhal was carrying away a badly injured wanderer as gently as he could. A couple of yetis were the only other ones around.

"Are there any other slaves caught by the cave-in?" Duwithia asked.

One of the yetis growled.

"Okay. Stand way back." Duwithia examined the fallen rocks closely. She wedged the vial between two rocks and stood back as well. "FIREBLAST!!!"

The vial exploded violently when it was hit. Pulverized rock flew everywhere.

Toby-Linn was knocked backwards as the remaining rocks shifted. She scrambled out of the way. After a minute, she stood up again. "Hello?!"

"Yes, I'm here. Is there enough room for you to crawl through?" Duwithia asked.

Toby-Linn climbed up the rock pile again. She lay on her stomach. "I think so."

"Good. Bring out the tools and any crystals you have with you."

Toby-Linn grabbed the shovel and bag of crystals. She pushed them in front of her as she crawled across the rocks. Her back scraped the ceiling several times.

Duwithia saw her get stuck when she was almost out. "Grrrl, help her."

The yeti climbed up the rock pile, moved the crystals and shovel out of the way, and pulled her out.

"Take her back to the slave compound. It's getting late. We'll quit for the night and start again earlier than usual tomorrow to make up some of the lost time."

---

Ephesos woke up when he heard whimpering. Murrrhal was trying to splint a wanderer's broken leg. The wanderer had a few other fractures, tons of bruises, and several deep gashes as well.

"What happened?"

"Cave-in. Now go back to sleep."

Ephesos ignored him. "You can't heal that much damage with a first aid kit. You need magic."

"That isn't possible, as you well know!" Murrrhal finished with the broken leg and started splinting the broken arm.

"Ow. That hurts."

"If you don't, he'll die."

"There's not much I can do about that."

"I can heal him. Go get Duwithia."

"No, not Duwithia," the wanderer groaned.

"Ab... absolutely not!" The bandage Murrrhal was tying broke when he pulled too hard. The splint fell off.

"Ow!"

"This is stupid," Ephesos snapped, "You're making it worse!"

---

Iffy had dozed off several times, but it was so cold he never slept long.

He opened his eyes and sat up miserably. He'd had a weird dream where he had accidentally opened a box and liquid nitrogen had started to pour out. Then his parents had started yelling at him, telling him he was stupid and made everything worse.

He wiggled his fingers a bit. They were numb, despite the thick gloves he wore. "I am not stupid."

Oddly enough, the yelling hadn't stopped. It was faint, but he could definitely hear an argument going on somewhere.

"I may be delirious, though."

---

Murrrhal put the wanderer into a bed. He went to the door, but paused. "There's really nothing more I can do for him."

Ephesos glared at him.

Murrrhal shrugged and opened the door.

Just then, Iffy crashed through the ceiling in a shower of loose rocks.

"Ow. I guess the floor wasn't very sturdy there." Iffy stood up slowly.

Murrrhal and Ephesos stared at him. The wanderer just whimpered.

"Iffy, get the shovel! Knock him unconscious with it!" Ephesos said.

Iffy reached for the shovel, but Murrrhal picked it up first.

Murrrhal swung the shovel at Iffy. Iffy ducked and drew his spork. Murrrhal swung again. This time, Iffy parried. The sharp edge of the shovel sliced off a spork tine.

Iffy and Murrrhal circled each other, waiting for the best chance to strike.

Ephesos leaned out of bed as far as he could and scooped up the spork tine. He used it to try and pick the lock keeping him chained up. "Come on, open!"

Murrrhal swung the shovel again. Iffy threw himself to the ground and kicked out. His foot hit Murrrhal's knee. Murrrhal staggered backwards and hit his head on a bed post. He lost consciousness.

"Now what?" Iffy asked.

"Chain him up."

Iffy did so. "Now what?"

"Does he have any keys on him?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Looks like we have to do this the hard way, then. Do you have any tool use?"

"No. But I have a few points in mechanics. Will that work?"

Ephesos handed him the broken piece of spork. "Well, it's better than what I've got. What are you doing here anyway?"

"Andraste, Salmon, Drew, Jewels, Marlenny, Niemand, Riibu, Goldenking and I came here to get barbed-wire. But I got lost. I don't know where the others are."

Ephesos sighed. "I hope they're around somewhere to rescue us, and not the other way around. Now, we need a plan. Hey, what's your name?"

The wanderer managed to sit up. "Faylander."

"Do you have any ideas?"

"No."

"Okay. So, we're going to have to get past Duwithia, Coleridge and the other ninjas, and a whole bunch of yetis."

"The other ninjas left already," Faylander said.

"Okay, that's good. Is there anyone else who might be able to help us?"

"You might try the Ratt. He should be in the kitchen."

Iffy finally managed to pick the lock.

Ephesos stood up carefully. "Thank you. If we succeed, we will be back for you. Iffy, we've got to be very stealthy from now on."

---

Randomizer found Garzad sitting by himself in the Avernum Trilogy Forum.

"Hello," Randomizer said.

"Hey."

"It would be real helpful if you could learn the summon element spell, you know."

"I know. Later. The other rats don't trust me anymore. I'd like to stay away from them for now." Garzad rubbed his tail absently.

Randomizer nodded. "That's tough. What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything. But I was set up so it looked like I was a traitor. Some of them think I'm the reason the flamers attacked."

Randomizer nodded again. "I remember someone accusing me of something similar to that once, a long time ago. It turned out okay in the end."

"Why? What did you do?"

"Killed him, took his stuff, and ran off to become an adventurer."

Chapter 25: But It's Not November...

Chapter 25: But It's Not November... Dikiyoba Fri, 03/06/2009 - 02:12
Andraste stood at the entrance to the cave and stared out. The snow continued to come down and showed no signs of stopping. She rejoined the others. "We have a problem."

"What is it?" Niemand asked.

"It's still snowing. We're going to have a very difficult time getting back. If this blizzard lasts long enough, we might even be too late. And let's face it, this place is abandoned, so there's a good chance the blizzard will last that long."

"Give me a good topic and a few hours. We'll see about that," Salmon said.

"No, we're definitely not putting up with that." Drew pulled out his Orders of the Silver Wossname and began pinning them all to his coat.

"Wow. That is a lot of medals, Drew. How many do you have?" Goldenking asked.

"37."

"But you've only been playing for a few months!" Jewels said.

Drew shrugged and pulled out a flaregun. "I'll be back soon."

"You're calling pirates to help us? But we're nowhere near the sea," Jewels said.

"Some of them have airships."

"And so we're just going to get our stuff and fly out of here? What about Iffy?"

Drew shrugged again. "We'll leave a note. If he's still alive, he'll have to find his own way back to Spiderweb. Shouldn't be too hard for him to do, really."

---

The Ratt was peeling potatoes when Ephesos and Iffy entered the mess hall.

"What... what are you doing here? Actually, who in the world are you?"

"Feeling up to an escape?" Ephesos asked.

The Ratt looked around nervously. "Shh! Coleridge could be hiding nearby."

Ephesos shrugged. "We looked before we came in and didn't see anyone nearby. We'll just have to chance it. Now, do you want to escape or not?"

"You're... you're just going to chance it? I mean, of course I want to escape but... but if we get caught, which is very likely to happen, I'll be chained up like the rest of you. I'm sorry, but I don't want that. So unless you have a really, really good plan..."

Ephesos shook his head. "Actually, we, uh..." He staggered slightly. "Sorry, got a bit light-headed there. Iffy, why don't you tell him our plan?"

"I thought our plan was to hope he had some way of distracting the yetis?"

"Yes, that's the really, really good plan I was hoping to hear about. What's Plan B? Telling the yetis that you broke into the storerooms and drank all their booze?"

"Wait... could we break into the storerooms and distract the yetis by doing something to their supply of alcohol?" Ephesos asked, "Are there any guards?"

"There aren't any guards around the storerooms. Duwithia is afraid the yetis might try to break in. But they're locked and she's the only one with a key."

"We can deal with that, right Iffy?"

"I think so."

"Then let's go."

The Ratt picked up a large frying pan. "Wait. I'm coming with you."

---

Drew waited just inside the main cave until a large anchor crashed down just outside. Two pirates slid down the rope.

Drew stepped outside, making sure all the medals were clearly visible.

"Yarr! Be ye the one who hailed us?"

"I am."

"Fer what?"

"I'm requesting emergency transport. I have seven other people and a load of barbed-wire that need to get back to the mainland quickly."

The pirates stared at the medals. "An' these were all awarded t' ye?"

"Yes."

"Arr! Then 'tis an honor t' meet such a swashbuckler. Introduce us t' the others."

There was a crash and yells from deeper in the cave.

"What be that?"

"I don't know." Drew pulled out his sword and ran back inside. The pair of pirates followed.

Coleridge and four of the yetis from the party last night were attacking the others. Salmon had been knocked unconscious. Niemand was just barely parrying Coleridge's dagger.

Andraste jabbed a yeti in the stomach with her club, then bashed her over the head repeatedly. She staggered back, tripped over Salmon, and fell. Andraste knocked her unconscious with one more hit.

"Aura of--ahhh!" A yeti grabbed Goldenking's upraised hand and snapped his wrist.

Marlenny managed to shoot one of the yetis in the chest, but he ignored it and yanked Jewel's axe out of her hands.

Drew and the pirates arrived. "Arr! It be a ninja! Get her!"

Coleridged waved her arms. One of the yetis grabbed the unconscious one and they all transported away.

"What was that all about?" Drew handed Goldenking a red oyster egg. "Here. This should fix your wrist."

"I don't know. They just appeared and attacked us." Goldenking ate the egg quickly.

"'Tis the new recall crystals the ninjas be havin'. It lets them go anywhere they be havin' been t' befere. We don't know where the crystals be comin' from, but we're takin' heavy losses in the war because o' them. We haven't seen ninjas team up with yetis befere, tho."

"Drew, are you sure the yetis don't work at Crystal Mountain for the ninjas?" Andraste asked.

"No, there was definitely no mention of ninjas. But the ninjas could be working for the priest or mage too, I guess."

"The Cap'n will want t' investigate."

"That's fine. The barbed-wire is at Crystal Mountain anyway," Drew said.

---

In the slave compound, most of the slaves were resting until dinner.

Attorukkip paced impatiently. "There has to be a way out somehow."

ScurfFiend peered through a crack in the wall. "You'd have to get by all the yetis too. That's the hard part."

There was a very large explosion from somewhere in the mine.

"wut wuz dat?"

"Could it be Duwithia trying to open that tunnel again?" Dikiyoba asked.

Toby-Linn shrugged. "Possibly."

"I don't think so. There's someone running towards the compound. The Ratt, or whatever his name was. He looks terrified," ScurfFiend said.

"Help! Explosion in the storerooms! Help! Please don't tear me apart, I'm just the messenger!"

Attorukkip pushed ScurfFiend aside. "Let me see."

The Ratt threw himself to the ground and shielded his head as the yetis stormed past him. "Please don't kill me, please don't kill me..."

When all the yetis were gone, Ephesos and Iffy stepped out of the shadows. Both of them were staggering slightly, Ephesos from tiredness and Iffy from the weight of all the mining tools that could serve as weapons he was carrying.

The Ratt stood up. "I can't believe it worked."

"Yes, well, we don't have much time. Iffy, pick the lock," Ephesos said.

Iffy hurried over as quickly as he could and fumbled with the lock.

"Come on, everyone, wake up! It's time to escape!" Attorukkip kicked a sleeping noob awake.

Another tine on Iffy's spork snapped off in the lock. "Shoot."

"Hurry, Iffy. Duwithia and Coleridge could be here at any moment."

"I'm trying, I'm trying."

The lock finally opened. The slaves quickly hurried out. Iffy and the Ratt handed them shovels and pickaxes.

"Iffy, what are you doing here?" Dikiyoba asked.

"No time for that. Let's just get away from here while we still can," Ephesos said, "Would a few people go to the infirmary and--"

"60?!!1"

"We can't just leave. If we do, Duwithia will go get new slaves and be in business again by the end of the month," Toby-Linn said.

"Besides, it's snowing hard outside," Iffy said, "It'll be really cold."

Ephesos sighed. "All right, fine. Is there any way we could bring down Duwithia?"

"Dikiyoba has been to her office. There's no way you can break into it, so unless we can get her out somehow..."

"You don't have to worry about that," Duwithia said.

Everyone whirled around. Duwithia and over a dozen yetis were watching them. Ephesos quickly stepped in front of Iffy to shield him from view.

"But I must ask, exactly what do you think you are doing? You can't leave, because none of you have the right attire to survive long in the mountains during a blizzard. You can't stay here, because it won't be long before the rest of the yetis recover enough to attack and none of you are strong enough to face a yeti. Also, because some of you got the bright idea to blow up all the food, whether you plan to stay or go, you'll soon starve. So put down your weapons and get back into the compound."

"Never!" Attorukkip charged forward.

"Lightning spray!"

Attorukkip collapsed and clawed at her forehead when she was hit. "Arghhh!"

"I repeat, put down your weapons."

Several noobs, hippies, and a wanderer set their shovels and pickaxes on the ground.

"You... you make a very convincing argument," Toby-Linn said, "But I... I have a better one. You see, whatever happens from this, it'll... it'll be worth it. Because... because a life of being enslaved in this... this pit isn't worth living. As someone famous once said, 'Give me liberty or give me death (citation needed)'. Since... since this is the best chance we've ever had, we must... we must take it." Toby-Linn dove out of the way of a lightning spell. "We... we must... we must, er, take, um, take our... oh, forget it. FREEDOM!"

"FREEDOM!!!"

"FREDEOM!!!!!!!!1"

Most of the slaves charged.

Duwithia sighed. "Fine. Yetis, kill them."

The first slaves to reach the yetis were killed within moments.

The Ratt was clawed by a yeti. He looked at the deep gashes in his chest. "Suddenly, I don't think this was a good idea. Gah!" He rolled out of the way as Coleridge appeared right beside him. "Please don't kill me, please don't kill me..."

Coleridge fought her way over to Duwithia and gestured frantically.

"Pirates? Coming here? They must have figured out where the ninjas get their crystals, then. Yetis, hold the slaves back for another five minutes, then retreat." Duwithia and Coleridge vanished.

The yetis and slaves took several steps apart.

"Like, what happens in, like, five minutes, man?" a filthy hippy asked.

Ephesos shook his head. "I don't know."

The answer was another explosion from somewhere. The yetis promptly ran off.

"Dikiyoba thinks that explosion came from her office. She must be making sure no one gets their hands on all her information."

"iformatonn on wat?"

Dikiyoba shrugged.

"Doesn't matter. The pirates can deal with them. We have to focus on escape," Ephesos said, "Iffy, you and Diki head to the infirmary. Rescue Murrrhal and Faylander, and bring back whatever supplies you can. Everyone else, bring the injured to me. Does anyone have more than a few points in first aid?"

---

The airship dropped anchor beside the tree that had the barbed-wire underneath it. Niemand, Riibu, and Jewels climbed down a rope ladder. They were bundled up as much as possible and carried shovels.

"Do your best to get the barbed-wire uncovered. We'll be back soon, I hope!" Andraste called down.

"Got it!" Niemand yelled back.

Several pirates hauled up the anchor and the airship took off. The pirate captain flew the airship around the mountain as closely as he dared. Several pirates stood on the deck with spyglasses and binoculars, looking for a likely entrance to the active mine.

Drew and Andraste waited in the control room with the captain and a few other pirates. A pirate ran in from outside. "Yarr! We found an entrance worth investigatin'."

The captain brought the airship to a halt. "Harharr! Prepare the lan'in' party then, we're goin' in!"

Andraste ran to the guest quarters where Salmon, Goldenking, and Marlenny were. "Is everyone ready? We're about to land."

"About time," Salmon said, "I was getting bored."

---

Murrrhal and Ephesos were overwhelmed. Despite the fact that the hippies didn't trust "unnatural" medicine and so tended themselves, there were still more injured slaves than first aid supplies.

Dikiyoba ripped up a relatively clean blanket for bandages. "Are you sure we should even bother treating the noobs and 1337 h4x0rs? There are still wanderers who could use help."

"In case you haven't noticed, the noobs and 1337 h4x0rs outnumber the rest of us by a lot. I'm not going to do anything to upset them. Could you bring me more water, please?"

Dikiyoba picked up a bowl and headed for the exit.

Toby-Linn and a few lolcats returned. "Storerooms A and C are completely burnt out. There's nothing useful left. Storeroom B is still locked. We couldn't get into it. Also, we didn't see a single yeti. They must have all left."

"Well, that's good to know, I guess." Ephesos bandaged a 1337 h4x0r's shoulder. He was desperately tired and more than a little dizzy.

Dikiyoba reached the exit and scooped a couple of handfuls of snow into the bowl. Then Dikiyoba realized that a group of pirates were fighting their way through the snow towards Dikiyoba. Drew, Andraste, Goldenking, Marlenny, and Salmon were with them. "Hey! Over here!"

The captain halted. "Do ye know who that be? Or be it some kind o' trap?"

Andraste looked surprised. "Diki? What are you doing out here?"

"Dikiyoba was just going to ask you that same question."

Iffy stepped beside Dikiyoba. "Ephesos wants to know what taking so lo--oh. So that's where you guys went. How did you know I needed help?"

Drew looked uncomfortable. He nudged Goldenking. "Don't say anything."

"I won't."

Chapter 26: Decisions

Chapter 26: Decisions Dikiyoba Sun, 04/05/2009 - 03:04
Junk Keeper and Filth Finder peered around the corner. A feeding group from Bugtopia was scavenging from a couple of dumpsters.

"Well, we're in the right spot. See that GIFTS over there? He's Spider. He'll keep you out of trouble. Do the same for him," Junk Keeper said.

"Right." Filth Finder swallowed nervously.

"Any questions?"

"N... no. I think I'm good."

"You don't have any recall crystals on you, right? They will search you when you get back to Bugtopia, and if you get caught trying to hide one, things will not go over well at all."

"Don't worry, I don't."

"Okay. Go whenever you're ready. I'll watch for a while until I'm sure you're safe."

Filth Finder checked to make sure no one was looking in his direction before scurrying over to Spider. "Er, hello Spider."

"Hi. You're cute. You must be the one I was told about. Filth Finder, right?"

"Yes."

"Good. This is a newly created feeding group, which means no one knows each other well yet and no one should be suspicious of you. Just feed normally until it's time to go." Spider caught sight of a large bug. "Gotta go." Spider ran after it.

"Um. Okay." Filth Finder walked over to the nearest dumpster. There were several GIFTR and GIFTC scavenging from it already, but none of them paid much attention to him. He sorted through the trash until he found several pieces of spam that looked decent and began eating.

---

Drew, Andraste, Captain Jeremiah Parr, First Mate Mad Johnny, Dikiyoba, and Toby-Linn held a conference in what was left of Duwithia's office. The desk, file cabinet, and Periodic Table had been taken away before the explosion. The other door had been blown off its hinges, revealing the charred remains of a bedroom. The pirates had searched both rooms several times but found nothing useful.

"So, let's start by making sure we're on the same page. Toby-Linn, you start. What can you tell us about this mine?" Drew asked.

"An' the accursed ninjas," Captain Jeremiah Parr said.

Toby-Linn explained everything she knew about Duwithia, Coleridge, and the mine. It wasn't much.

"An antimagic spell, huh? That's going to be difficult to work with," Drew said, "Captain, do you have any mages who could remove it?

"No."

Salmon, ScurfFiend, and Eieeoia stood outside the office, eavesdropping in on the conversation. Ru'vay clung to Eieeoia's tail.

The Ratt joined them. His chest had been wrapped in several layers of bandages. "What did I miss?"

"Shh!" Salmon said.

"I don't know much about magic, but I doubt any of our mages could either. There are a few items from KoL I could try, but I doubt they'll work," Drew said.

"Yarr! Where be ye e'en from?" First Mate Mad Johnny asked.

"Spid--ow!" Andraste was cut short by an elbow in the ribs from Drew.

"With all due respect, that is none of your business," Drew said.

The Ratt knocked on the door. "Excuse me! I know who could remove the spell!"

Salmon rolled his eyes. He and the rats hid.

First Mate Mad Johnny opened the door. "What be ye doin' out here?"

The Ratt stepped inside. "Well, I couldn't help overhearing and I think I have the solution. The Mage Guild has lots of powerful mages and wizards. One of them should be able to help us." He gave directions.

"That is a long way away," Andraste said, "Ecksian will definitely attack before we can get there and back."

"We don't need to go," Drew said, "Just the people with the antimagic spell on them. And the pirates certainly don't have to take them all the way there. Just getting everyone to the mainland will work. But we can work out the logistics later. Diki, tell us how you ended up here."

---

In the main cavern, Attorukkip had recovered enough to help Ephesos and Murrrhal. Drew had left the Kingdom of Loathing equipment with them. They sorted through all of it for healing items that weren't magic.

"The medicinal herbs should probably go to the hippies, right Ephesos?" Attorukkip asked. She looked over and saw that Ephesos had fallen asleep. "Oh. Never mind then."

Iffy found a tattered blanket and covered Ephesos with it. Then he resumed digging graves for the fallen slaves.

Goldenking and several pirates entered from outside. "That's the last of the loot that needs to be loaded onto the airship, right?"

"Aye."

"Excellent." Goldenking walked over to Iffy. "So, you helped rescue everyone, eh?"

Iffy nodded.

"You did a good job."

"All of us would have died if you and the pirates hadn't shown up."

"Well, we would have been in trouble too if Drew hadn't summoned the pirates, so that's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I know, I just..." Iffy shrugged and kept digging.

---

Filth Finder was extremely relieved to get away from the portal. "Now what?"

"Now we visit a few forums, let you lurk some, and eventually have you make a few posts. That way, plenty of bugs will see you and no one will be able to connect me to you after you've gone."

"Where are we going first?"

"Oh, I thought we might start off in the Games Forum, then maybe head to the Literature Forum and check out the current roleplay. You much of a gamer?"

"Not at all. But if you can find me a good discussion on Spiderweb games, I can fake it."

"Everyone's excited for Avernum 5. Avoiding discussions on Spiderweb games will be more difficult than finding them at this point."

---

Captain Jeremiah Parr stood on a crate in front of his crew, the Spiderwebbers, and the surviving slaves. "Avast an' listen up! This be the plan! We be makin' three trips. The hippies an' those with the barbed wire will go first. The hippies will be dropped off at--"

"Set down at the Mysterious Island and not harmed in any way," Drew said.

"Right. Like he said. The others will be left at the Nearby Plains. The next group will be the noobs an' 1337 h4x0rs, who will be set down at the nearest Google station. The third group will also be set down at the nearest Google station. It could be a few days befere e'eryone be out considerin' the current weather, but that can't be helped. Also, since they left se'eral explosive potions behind, we can destroy the mine so the ninjas can ne'er use it again! Arr!"

"Hooray!" Toby-Linn said.

"Yarr!"

"\/\/007!!!"

---

Chrrcht and several of his friends entered the Literature Forum. "Hello."

"hey"

"Oh. Hi!" Spider said, "What are you doing here?"

"We're thinking about starting an RP. Just a small one."

"Do you need any help?"

"We'll call you if we do," Chrrcht and his friends entered the Roleplaying subforum.

Goo Eater nudged Garbage Gatherer. "we should watch them it would give you something to do while you wait"

"I suppose." Garbage Gatherer and Goo Eater entered the RP forum.

"Goo Eater says you've been to the Spiderweb Software Message Board. Do you still know where it is? Can you give us directions?" Chrrcht said.

"Oh. Is that what this is about?"

"well yes"

"Tcht said he thought he knew the coordinates. But he said he wanted to check again to be sure. We haven't seen him since, so we're a bit scared to try it. I mean, it could transport us straight into a wall or something."

"I left Spiderweb because it was dangerous. It's always getting attacked or having someone's experiments go wrong."

"it s dangerous here too"

"Yeah, it sucks here. Besides, we might be able to contact Jeff if we're at Spiderweb. Maybe he can help us. Somehow," Chrrcht said.

"I doubt it."

"please question mark"

---

Chatter stumbled blindly back to a Google station and walked straight into the ticket machine.

"Chrrrk!" The crickets sitting on his shoulder poked him.

Chatter opened his eyes. "I can still see! My eyes haven't melted from the sheer horror! Er, let's see. We need to search for some place that sells amnesia spells, brain bleach, or anything else that will wipe that terrible, terrible sight from my memory. Urgh!" He fumbled with the controls until something came up. "Let's get out of here!"

Chatter and the crickets climbed into the Google vehicle and slammed the door. It took off.

Chatter slumped into a seat. "I mean, I know about Rule 34, but camel wrestling? Really? Gah."

---

Spider and Filth Finder paused outside the Literature Forum.

"Well, go on in," Spider said, "I'll be around when you're done."

Filth Finder stepped inside.

"Hi!" Spider said.

"Hello. I was hoping, er, I could see the current RP."

"Excellent!" Spider knocked on the door. "Hey, Chrrcht, someone wants to join you."

"No! I, er, just want to watch," Filth Finder said.

"Um... we were kind of hoping to keep it just to ourselves. Easier to keep under control, you know," Chrrcht said.

"Oh, he says he just wants to watch, so that shouldn't be a problem."

Chrrcht sighed and muttered, "She's so silly. Why won't she take no for an answer?"

Goo Eater shrugged.

"Okay, he can come in," Chrrcht said.

Filth Finder entered.

"Filth! How did you get here? Where are the nymphs?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

"They're safe. But what are you doing in here? I thought you were imprisoned!" Filth Finder said.

"Well, I can't leave. Do you have a way to get us out of here?"

"Not yet."

"Wait, what's going on? Are you two rebel spies?" Spider drew her sword. "Are you?"

"spider please calm down"

"No way. There's something funny going on here."

Chrrcht turned to his friends. "Is there anyone who doesn't want to go to Spiderweb now that we know exactly where it is?"

No one said anything.

"Good. Then there are enough of us to take control of the portal long enough to get away. Anyone disagree?"

"This... this is insane!" Spider said, "Are you all rebel spies? If you were really holding an RP in here, show me it!" She pointed her sword at Chrrcht.

"spider i m very very sorry for this" Goo Eater hurled himself at Spider, knocking the sword out of her claw and pinning her against the wall. "go exclamation mark i ll catch up exclamation mark"

"You heard him. To the portal. Now!" said Chrrcht.

Chapter 27: Entertainment Value

Chapter 27: Entertainment Value Dikiyoba Tue, 04/28/2009 - 00:30
Drakefyre, Zeviz, and Alorael joined Shard of Fire, Archmage Alex, Lord Grimm, and the Silent Assassin outside. Drakefyre and Zeviz marked out the best locations to create barriers. Meanwhile, Alorael searched buildings for the best window to snipe from.

A Google vehicle arrived at the station. Shard of Fire jumped at the unexpected noise. The trap she was working on went off. Confetti and starving weevils flew everywhere. The weevils promptly attacked Lord Grimm.

"Get them off! Get them off!"

The Silent Assassin rushed over to drive the weevils away.

Goldenking was the first one to step out of the Google vehicle. "Okay, wow. What just happened here?"

"Don't move. There are traps set everywhere," Drakefyre said, "Archmage Alex, can you guide them back to Spiderweb?"

"Not a problem."

Suddenly, Goldenking fell over dead.

"Alorael!" Drakefyre yelled.

"Sorry! The confetti confused me! It won't happen again!" Alorael called down.

Zeviz sighed. He summoned some gold and handed it to Archmage Alex. "Make sure this gets to Zephyr Tempest, please."

Drew, Andraste, Marlenny, Niemand, Iffy, and Riibu climbed out of the vehicle as well. Niemand carried a bag of alchemy equipment he and Dikiyoba had managed to rescue from the workshop at Crystal Mountain.

"Hold on. We brought back the barbed wire. Where do you want it to go?" Drew said.

Salmon and Jewels climbed out of the vehicle, carrying the barbed wire between them.

"Ouch! Salmon, hold your end higher!" Jewels said.

"Sorry. Why am I carrying this anyway? Drew was the one who got drunk, not me."

"Drew redeemed himself with the pirates," Andraste said.

"Hmm. It's getting fairly late, so take it back to Spiderweb. We'll get it set up tomorrow," Drakefyre said.

Archmage Alex threaded his way through the traps. "Stick close to me unless you want Mongolian parakeets to tear out your spleen."

---

Filth Finder, Garbage Gatherer, Chrrcht, and the others raced for the portal.

"Do we test the coordinates or use whatever it's currently set to?"

"We both have the URLs we need, right? Whatever it's set to," Garbage Gatherer said.

Someone realized what was happening and raised the alarm. Several guards rushed over to stop them.

"You do realize they'll try to kill us if they think they can't stop us any other way, right?" one of Chrrcht's friends asked.

"Yes, Spider."

One of the guards webbed Chrrcht. He tore through the webs with his powerful forearms. "Don't stop! We'll make it!"

Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer made it to the portal. It was still set to the alley from earlier. They jumped into the portal.

Another guard grabbed Spider, only to be knocked flat when he was hit by Goo Eater. Spider escaped into the portal.

"How did you catch up to us?"

"i ll tell you later through the portal now exclamation mark" Goo Eater pushed Chrrcht into the portal.

They both landed in a dumpster. Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer helped them out.

"Will the guards follow us?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

"They will, but it will take them some time to grab recall crystals and get organized," Chrrcht said.

"Well, we're not sticking around, then. Goodbye and the best of luck," Filth Finder said.

"Thanks. You too."

Filth Finder and Garbage Gatherer scurried off.

"So, Goo Eater, tell us how you caught up," Spider said.

Goo Eater shrugged. "just a fast runner i guess"

"What happened to Spider?"

"unconscious"

"And Spider?"

"i hope he s telling everyone he was taken hostage by filth finder like i told him to"

"You had time to tell him that and still catch up to us?" Chrrcht asked, "How?"

Goo Eater shrugged again. "let s head to spiderweb before any guards show up okay question mark"

---

The group from KoL entered the General Forum. Salmon and Jewels left the barbed-wire by the front door.

"What'd we miss? Anything?" Salmon asked, "Hey, what are the rats doing here?"

While several other people explained, Nikki found Nicothodes. "Riibu's back."

"Then let's see what she was doing with my mechanical pencil."

Nikki nodded. "Right." He stepped in front of Riibu.

"Oh. H... hello, Nikki."

"Nico didn't give you her lucky pencil. You stole it. Why?"

"Er, well, um, you see..."

"Watch your back, Riibu. Sheesh, you two, it didn't work the last time either," Arancaytar said.

"Hmmph." Nicothodes put her pencil away.

"Aran? Is that you?" Riibu asked.

"Unfortunately, yes."

"What happened to you?"

"I... er, I'd rather not talk about it. Sorry. So, um, how was KoL? Everything go okay?"

"Oh, I suppose," Riibu said.

"Meh." Nikki nudged Nicothodes. "This is boring. Let's go harass Nioca or something."

---

Dintiradan, the Lurker, Emperor Tullegolar, Azuma, Nalyd, and Jeran Korak still sorted supplies in the Tech Support Forum. Stareye divided his time between watching them and helping Schrodinger with the summoning machine.

Dintiradan checked his watch. "Stareye, it's getting late. Dikiyoba still isn't back. Are you sure you don't want me to be making potions?"

Stareye thought for a minute. "All right, go ahead."

Niemand entered the forum. He left the alchemy supplies by the cabinet of potions. "Dikiyoba wanted me to bring these back. They ran into some problems, so they're going to be away from Spiderweb for a while."

"Excellent," Emperor Tullegolar said quietly. He checked to make sure no one was watching and slipped a venom baton into his pocket. "With any luck, they won't come back at all."

---

Student of Trinity, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a arrived at a Google station. They got out of the vehicle and looked around. Most of the nearby buildings were burned out and there was trash everywhere.

"We're definitely in the right spot," A'p'd'r said.

"Yes. I'm not exactly sure where the flamers live, though, so we'll have to hunt for it. Hopefully, we'll find it quickly," Student of Trinity said.

It didn't take long for them to spot two flamers. They approached carefully, using the piles of trash to stay hidden. The flamers were arguing over who had to carry a damaged spambot back to their message board.

"Perfect," Student of Trinity said, "We'll just follow them."

One of the flamers punched the other. The resulting explosion obliterated everything but a few charred spambot parts.

R'd'p'a sighed. "Or not."

---

Inthejaro Mountain stood at the edge of the Distant Mountains. It was a sunny day and butterflies fluttered tipsily from one flower to the next. Duwithia and Coleridge sat on a mossy boulder. The file cabinet and crates of finished crystals from Crystal Mountain sat a few feet away. Higher up, the yetis all crowded around a whiskey spring.

Duwithia sighed. "Well, we knew that had to come sooner or later. I just wish we had more time. If we left anything behind, there's at least one Spiderwebber there who might find it. And if Spiderweb finds out about us..."

Coleridge shrugged. "We've had closer calls and never left anything behind. We'll be fine."

Duwithia looked around nervously. "What are you doing? If someone heard you talking, it would give us both away."

"Oh, there's no one out here but us and a bunch of drunk yetis."

"We cannot be careless. It was a miracle we escaped in the first place, and if they find us, they'll... they'll..." Duwithia shuddered.

Coleridge blinked and waved her hand.

"Right. Well, we need all those crystals now that we've lost the mine. You tell the ninjas their services are no longer needed. I'll send letters to our other customers. Then we hide our supplies somewhere safe and change our identities again--names, IPs, the whole 128 bits. We'll see what turns up after that."

Coleridge gestured.

"Yes, I'll make sure you end up with an identity that can speak this time around."

---

It was just past midnight when Alorael woke Slartucker up.

"What is it?" Slartucker asked.

Alorael grinned. "Head upstairs. You'll see in a moment."

Slartucker sighed. "This cannot be a good sign." Slartucker entered the guard tower. Randomizer was already there, staring out into the darkness. "Do you see anything?"

"Not yet," Randomizer said.

Alorael entered with Arancaytar.

"Exactly what is going on here?" Arancaytar asked.

"It should be apparent any moment now," Alorael said.

"Wait, I see someth... oh no." Randomizer folded his arms across his chest. "Not more friendly roaches."

Slartucker caught sight of Chrrcht and his friends approaching as well. "And friendly chitrachs too. Gah. Well, we'll just have to--"

"A spider!" Arancaytar shrieked and hid beneath the table.

"Come on, Alorael, do us all a favor and snipe them now," Randomizer said.

Alorael took a sip of skribbane and giggled madly. "Oh no. If they're coming here, I think keeping them alive will prove far more entertaining."

Chapter 28: Drakefyre's Departure

Chapter 28: Drakefyre's Departure Dikiyoba Tue, 05/12/2009 - 03:10
The next day, Stareye had practically everyone outside to put up the barbed-wire and other obstacles. Schrodinger and Dintiradan remained in the Tech Support Forum to work on the summoning machine and create potions respectively. Drakefyre and the newly arrived bugs talked in General.

"is tcht here question mark" Goo Eater asked.

"Who?"

"Tcht," Chrrcht rubbed his forearms together to produce the name.

Drakefyre shrugged. "I don't know. The name isn't familiar, but we did have a GIFTC here briefly. He's gone now, apparently."

"Did he say where he was going?"

"Not that I know of."

"Then it's very important we speak to Jeff right away."

"What? Why?"

"We have problems with our message board. Jeff might be able to help us."

"Um. Why do you think that?"

"Well, he already pays for the upkeep of our board, so we thought he might--"

"What?!"

"Er... that's what I heard, anyway."

"Alright. I will see if I can contact Jeff for you. What is your board called?"

"bugtopia"

"Okay. Wait here." Drakefyre hurried to the Mod Board.

Dintiradan watched him pass. "Huh. I wonder what's gotten into him."

Drakefyre picked up the communication crystal. "Hello? Jeff, are you there?"

After a moment, Jeff responded.

"Not yet, I'm afraid," Drakefyre answered, "Listen, I've got some giant intelligent friendly talking insects here who claim they're from a place called Bugtopia. Do you know of it? You do? Then you're in charge of it as well? Oh, that makes more sense. But why? Oh, it was in Spider's will? That makes sense. What was the other reason?"

Drakefyre nearly dropped the crystal when he heard Jeff's response. "It... it actually will have existed? This is... I never thought... but... but..." Drakefyre leaned against the table for support. Suddenly, he grinned. "Oh, this is great. Never mind. I think I can handle the situation. Thank you for the information. Sorry to intrude on your time." He put the crystal down and returned to the bugs.

"Well? What did Jeff say?" Chrrcht asked.

"He's sending me. We can leave as soon as you're ready."

---

Schrodinger screwed the control panel back into place and turned the summoning machine on.

"You've got it fixed?" Dintiradan asked.

"I hope so."

A display came up. Insert periodic table.

Schrodinger dropped a copy of the Periodic Table of Spiderweb into the machine.

Select an element to summon.

Schrodinger typed in his own.

Processing... please wait. Processing... please wait.

A little vial of argon slid out of the machine. Schrodinger picked it up. "So, uh, I need to go talk to Stareye for a minute. Don't misbehave."

"Oh, I won't," Dintiradan poured a completed batch of energy potions into bottles and corked them.

---

Nioca was hopelessly tangled by a piece of barbed-wire. He tried to tear his robe free. "Get off, you stupid piece of--ow! Now it's caught in my hair!"

"Hold still. I swear, you humans are so ridiculous sometimes." Delicious Vlish carefully untangled Nioca's hair. "There. We'll get you out in no time."

A strong breeze blew a piece of fencing Nioca had put up earlier over onto Delicious Vlish. He sighed. "So humiliating."

Randomizer hurried over. "Don't worry, I'll help you. Ouch!"

Thralni and several others were constructing a wall to block off an alleyway. Thralni tripped over a brick. He flung his trowel at Rof'l'mao. "I told you before, stop leaving the bricks lying around everywhere. This is the third time I've tripped over them already."

"Calm down, Thralni," Fatalclaw said.

"Oh, sure, take his side. It's not like I've got bruised feet now or anything."

"You nearly hit me in the head!"

Fatalclaw sighed. "Could I get some help over here?"

Stareye abandoned the electric pylon he was setting up and came over. "Yes? What is it?"

"Hey! Stareye!" Drakefyre said.

"Er, just do the best you can for now, Fatalclaw," Stareye said, "What is it, Drakefyre?"

"Um... okay. Seriously, you two--" Fatalclaw began.

"--I mean, the pile of bricks is like ten feet away from here--" Thralni said.

"I've got some bad news. Something urgent just came up. I have to leave immediately," Drakefyre said.

"What?" Stareye stared at him.

"--if you'd just watch where you're walking--"

"Yeah. It's an emergency," Drakefyre said.

"What happened?"

"--if you weren't so darn lazy--"

"I'd rather not say."

"But what should I tell everyone?"

"--hey, can't you fly? So why is where I put the bricks on the ground a problem, exactly? Just fly over them, you--"

"Tell them whatever you want. I don't care. I won't be back for a very long time, if I ever come back at all. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to be off." Drakefyre hurried away.

"--is an official warning to both of you. Shut up now," Fatalclaw said.

"You're not even a mod," Thralni said.

"Then consider it an official warning from me instead," Stareye said, "Thralni, please find somewhere else to work."

Chrrcht and his friends were waiting for Drakefyre at the Google station. "To Bugtopia?"

"To Bugtopia!" Drakefyre said.

Meanwhile, Schrodinger joined Stareye. "Good news. I've got the summoning machine working again." He handed the argon to Stareye for inspection. "I haven't installed Galactic Core yet, but between Zephyr Tempest and Zorro we should be okay."

"Thank you. Are you done inside?"

"Yes."

"Good. Then help me finish up with these electric pylons. Let me just run inside to check on--"

"Stareye!" Lenar yelled, "The Silent Assassin says some of our traps just went off!"

Stareye looked around. "You there. Sorry, I forget your name. Weren't you a mod at Bots Aplenty?"

Danielle looked surprised. "Yes. Why?"

"Would you please head to the Tech Support Forum and check on Dintiradan for me? He's supposed to be making energy potions and absolutely nothing else."

"Of course. Be right back!" Danielle ran off.

In the Tech Support Forum, Dintiradan had his script out and was working on it while the next batch of potions simmered. Danielle crept up on him and read it over his shoulder has best she could.

Dintiradan set down his pencil. "Wow. I think that's finally it. All that's left to do is check it for bugs. Probably a few dozen times, to be on the safe side."

"So. What exactly are you up to?" Danielle asked.

"Ahhh!" Dintiradan drew his dagger and whirled around. "How did you manage to sneak up on me?"

Danielle shrugged. "Really, what are you working on? I was supposed to return to Stareye as soon as I saw you were working on the script, but I didn't so you might as well humor me."

Dintiradan sheathed his dagger. "All right, fine. It's just a BoA scenario I'm working on. Kill Prize, Win Ogre 2, if you must know."

"It must be a very interesting scenario to give the player at least thirty to every stat. You probably shouldn't have put that in the comments."

"Er, don't be silly. It's an ordinary scenario. All Spiderweb games are full of poor and misleading documentation like that."

"Uh-huh. Well, I guess I'd better report that to Stareye now."

"Wait!"

"Yes?"

"All right, so this really is a script that'll raise people's stats to ridiculous levels. When it's ready to go, I'll let you use it. I won't even make you be the one to test it to make sure it's safe. How does that sound?"

"I'll think about it. Don't worry, your secret is safe." Danielle scurried off.

Dintiradan hid the finished script and pulled the potion off the burner.

Danielle found Stareye dealing with the group of spambots that had set off about half a dozen traps. "Don't worry, he's doing what he's supposed to."

"All right, thank you. Alorael, could we get you over here to make sure nothing else sets off any more of the traps?"

Alorael hurried over with an inventory full of skribbane potions and extra ammo. "Don't worry, I'm on it." He disappeared into a nearby building.

"Are you two good to go here?" Stareye asked.

The Silent Assassin gave Stareye a thumbs-up before sitting down to repair a trap.

"The Silent Assassin says yes," Lenar said.

---

Garbage Gatherer and Filth Finder had made it safely back to the underground message board and reunited with their nymphs.

"Never, ever, ever leave us like that again. It was scary!" Litter Locator had said, "Good thing they were nice to us." She pointed to Plague Dispenser and his friends.

Plague Dispenser grinned mischievously. "Yep."

"Raaargh!" Spider said.

Plague Dispenser hit him over the head. "Stop that."

Suddenly, Spider rushed in with bad news. The entire message board fell silent to listen.

"A rebel spy in Bugtopia reports that the latest batch of recall crystals didn't come in. There was a note instead. Apparently, the mine that produces them has shut down. There will be no more shipments. Bugtopia is in chaos now, unsurprisingly. The General Forum went up in flames already. The rebels don't know how to respond. It's... well, it's weird, I'll just say that."

He came back a few hours later with an update. "Trash Seeker has promised to return all the recall crystals the rebels have if they are allowed back on the board and if Chief Spider and Slime Lover both step down. Half of Bugtopia thinks it's a horrible idea and the other half are okay with it. Absolutely no one knows who will be the new administrators if Chief Spider and Slime Lover do step down."

He didn't show up again until late the next morning. "Sorry. It's been hectic. Bugtopia lost a few more forums to flamefests. But I think it's all over now."

"What!"

"Really?"

"Yes. Chrrcht and Goo Eater came back. They had a human with them. He's a great wizard and a great priest, apparently, and he can really fight with the pair of waveblades he owns, too, despite the fact that he's only seven or something like that. I don't know exactly what he did, but Chief Spider and Slime Lover both gave up their positions. He's unbanned everyone and is working on getting the burnt forums rebuilt. We could probably return safely, if we wanted to."

Spider shook his head. "I was thoroughly sick of Bugtopia when I left and I'm not about to return until I'm absolutely certain the place has changed. Everyone is welcome to return to Bugtopia if they want, but rest assured that I'll be running this place for a good long while yet."

Garbage Gatherer nudged Filth Finder. "Surely they couldn't have brought back Jeff, could they?"

"No. That can only be Drakefyre."

"But how would they have gotten him to come?"

Filth Finder sighed. "I have no idea."

Chapter 29: Sidequested

Chapter 29: Sidequested Dikiyoba Tue, 05/12/2009 - 03:14
Several days passed before Ephesos, Dikiyoba, the rats, and the wanderers arrived at the Mage Guild.

"Well, this is it. What do you think?" the Ratt asked.

The Mage Guild had a huge tower. Several guards patrolled the surrounding area. The Ratt hailed one of them.

"Hello! Is Harikhen still here?"

"Yes."

"We need to see him."

The guard looked suspicious. "All of you?"

"Yes. We're under an anti-magic spell. I think he can help us. I'm the Ratt. He might remember me."

"Alright. Stay here. I'll see if he's available." The guard walked off. In a few minutes, he returned. "You can come inside. Follow me."

The guard led the Ratt and the others inside. Several other guards trailed behind, ready to help out in case of a trap.

The interior of the tower was clean and sparsely decorated. The magic hanging in the air set off the anti-magic spell just enough to give everyone a mild headache. The guard led them to Harikhen's office and then joined the rest of the guards a short distance away.

The Ratt knocked on the door. Harikhen opened it right away. "Ratt! It's good to see you again. You disappeared months ago. What happened?"

Ephesos was tired from traveling, so he crept into the office, slouched in a chair, and slept while the Ratt told his story.

When the Ratt was finished, Harikhen examined the rune on his forehead. "Hmm. I haven't seen anything quite like this spell before. Very interesting."

"You can remove it, though, right?" the Ratt asked.

"I think so. Unfortunately, it will take some time."

"How much time?" Dikiyoba asked.

"I'm not sure. I'd guess a week."

"A week? Dikiyoba doesn't think we can wait that long."

Harikhen shrugged. "Sorry. There is something you can do for me that would speed up the process, though. The lab I use for most of my research was recently put out of commission by a failed experiment. A vat of experimental slimes exploded and the slimes escaped. Very messy. We're just lucky none of them managed to get out of the lab."

"So you want us to kill the slimes?" Dikiyoba asked. "Why can't you do it?"

"Oh, no, we killed the slimes a long time ago. No one has had time to clean up the goop they left behind, though. That's what your job is. Come, I'll take you there."

Toby-Linn nudged Ephesos awake. "Come on, we're moving along now. We've got to clean up a laboratory before he can remove the anti-magic spell."

Ephesos yawned and hurried after the rest of the group.

"Here we are." Harikhen unlocked the door to the lab and opened the door.

The lab was a complete disaster. Dried slime covered every surface, including the ceiling. Ephesos took one look and channeled TM for ten minutes straight.

---

Student of Trinity, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a were thoroughly lost. The flamers controlled far more territory than they had expected. After several days of avoiding pyroroamers, they were dirty and tired. At the moment, they rested in a burnt-out building.

There was an explosion in the distance.

A'p'd'r got up and looked around outside. "Did you hear that?"

"Yes. That wasn't far away," Student of Trinity said.

"Probably just more pyroroamers. Where did they come from, anyway?" R'd'p'a asked.

Student of Trinity shrugged.

There was another, much bigger, explosion.

"Wow. That's worth checking out. Don't you think?" Student of Trinity got up.

"Yes," A'p'd'r said.

"Eh. Might as well," R'd'p'a said.

The three of them searched for the source of the explosions. Student of Trinity peered around a pile of trash and smiled grimly. "Well, we found it."

The bots and flamers all stood outside the message board. Ecksian and Eternal Flame rushed about trying to get everything ready for the attack on Spiderweb. They both wore fire-proof suits.

R'd'p'a spotted EcksianBot hovering above explosion range. "There he is!"

Student of Trinity held him back as he started forward. "No! There are far too many flamers and bots down there to try a direct attack. Besides, Ecksian did something to Arancaytar's memory and I bet he did the same to your friend too. He might recognize you, or he might not. Either way, all we would accomplish by going out there right now would be our deaths. It might get him killed too."

"So what are you suggesting? That we give up and turn back?" R'd'p'a asked.

"No, of course not. We just need to watch and wait. If EcksianBot ever leaves the group, we can rescue him. And, I think at this point, if Ecksian or whoever the other person is ever leave the group, we should kill them."

A'p'd'r nodded. "Sounds good. But what if they don't?"

"If they're ready to attack before we have an opportunity to do anything, then the best we can do is get back to Spiderweb before they do. We need to give Spiderweb as much warning as we can."

---

To be continued...