Chapter 3: Fanning The Flames

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."