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Chapter 1: Statistics

Chapter 1: Statistics

A blast of cold wind and a few snowflakes blew into the General Forum as the door separating the Spiderweb Software Message Boards from the rest of the Internet opened. Arancaytar, wearing a heavy coat, gloves, and a red-and-gold scarf, stepped inside and quickly shut the door.

"Well, it's official. We're in a cold spell, and it shows no sign of warming up. It's another record low out there," Arancaytar said.

"It will warm up before Geneforge 4 is released, though, won't it?" MagmaDragoon asked, "Otherwise, how will the newbs get here?"

Arancaytar shrugged. "I don't know. Anyway, here..." Arancaytar reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. "...are the statistics for this month. I'm sorry that they're so late, but in this cold the machinery broke down and it took me a while to repair it."

Arancaytar posted the statistics on the wall between the giant Periodic Table of Spiderweb poster and a display showcasing various pieces of art that Spiderwebbers have created. Everyone gathered around to read it.

"As you can see, the posting rate has dropped again. At this rate, it won't be long before nobody posts at all," Arancaytar said.

"Hmm. Eighth. Not bad," Ephesos said.

"I only made sixteenth. That's bad. I fell a lot this month," MagmaDragoon said.

"It's that new, clunky suit of armor you're wearing. That's why you tripped so much," Jumpin' Salmon said, "Ah, fifth place. Not bad."

"Maybe you're right. But I have to wear it. I'm a guardian, after all," MagmaDragoon said.

"Huh. I'm not in the top ten. That's strange," Kelandon said.

"Isn't it? You know, this makes me want to spam," Marlenny said.

"Uh-oh. General will be swamped with census topics now," Dikiyoba said.

"That's a good idea, Diki. Hang on while I think up some good questions." Marlenny stepped out of the crowd and sat down at a table. She took out a piece of paper and a pen and began brainstorming possible questions.

"Excellent. Dikiyoba took second. Dikiyoba is pleased," Dikiyoba said.

"I took fourth? Hmm. That's not the rank of an Emperor. But it's a good start!" Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Seventh? I took seventh? But I haven't posted that much!" Tyranicus said.

"We're going to have to be like Marlenny and spam. That way we earn our positions on the top ten list," Jumpin' Salmon said.

"I'm in!" Tyranicus said.

"I believe the Silent Assassin and I will join you," Lenar said. The Silent Assassin nodded in agreement.

"Bah. I made the top ten list. I hate making the top ten list," Nikki said.

"What's going on? What'd I miss?" Nioca pushed to the front of the crowd, accidentally stepping on Ephesos's foot as he went. Ephesos winced and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

"Huh? What did you say?" Jumpin' Salmon asked.

"Oh, I... I said, don't forget about the rest of us, Jumpin' Salmon. I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to see more posts next month," Ephesos said.

"Wow! I came in first! How did I manage to come in first?" Nioca asked.

"By posting a lot. Just like everyone else is going to do this month," Jumpin' Salmon said.

"This is ridiculous. Everything will be fine. It's just been a while since the last game was released is all. When Geneforge 4 comes out, everything will return to normal," Slartucker said.

"Oh? Did the Nine-Headed Cave Cow tell you that?" Jumpin' Salmon asked.

"Well, no, but..." Slartucker began.

"This decline in posting is larger than all the other declines between game releases. There's something else at work here," Arancaytar said.

"Then here's to spam!" Jumpin' Salmon said.

"To spam!" Lenar said.

"To spam!" Tyranicus said.

"Okay, that's enough," Slartucker said. He looked annoyed.

"To spam!" Ephesos took one look at the expression on Slartucker's face and looked away quickly. "Right. Sorry."

Nikki sidled up to Arancaytar. "I'll take your coat for you," he said.

"Oh. Thank you." Arancaytar handed his coat, scarf, and gloves to Nikki. Nikki took them to the coat room and hung them up. Then, after glancing around to make sure no one could see him, he carefully tucked a folded piece of pink stationary into Arancaytar's coat pocket. Whistling casually, he returned to the main section of the forum. He met Alorael coming down a set of rickety stairs.

"Hey, Alorael. How's it going?" Nikki asked.

"Terrible! In this weather, there aren't any pedestrians out. And since I had the window open, the room was freezing. Look! My skribbane potion is frozen!" Alorael pulled out a bottle, uncorked it, and held it upside down. Nothing came out. "We need more trolls! Trolls walk around in all sorts of weather! Trolls would make frozen skribbane worthwhile!"

The door swung open again, sending another flurry of snow into the forum. The Lurker entered with a large package under his arm. He shut the door and hurried over to where Dintiradan and the Wanderer sat at a corner table. As soon as Dintiradan saw the Lurker, he leapt up.

"Do you have it?" Dintiradan asked.

The Lurker set the package on the table. "Right here, sir."

"Excellent, excellent. Hang on." Dintiradan clapped a hand over his mouth and quickly dashed to a side room. Only then did he allow himself to burst into evil laughter. Still, the sound carried all the way to the corner table.

Wanderer shuddered. "I hate that laugh."

The Lurker started shivering as well, although it was probably more from the cold than Dintiradan's laughter. "I... I think I'll... I'll go stand b... by the f... f... fire." The Lurker stood up and walked over to the fire, where a few meager flamefests were burning.

Emperor Tullegolar poked one with his slith spear. "So. What do you think makes a good villain?" he asked.

"W... whatever D... D... Dintiradan d... does," the Lurker said, edging as close to the fire as possible.

Dintiradan returned to the table. "Where did the Lurker go?" he asked. Wanderer pointed to the fire. "Oh. I see. Well, let him warm up for a while. He's done enough by bringing this to me. It's... it's... hang on." Dintiradan ran to the side room and began laughing again.

"You need to work on that, boss," Wanderer said, "The Evil Overlord Guidebook says..."

"Yes, yes. I know. It's just that this package is the key to a plan so diabolical, so heinous, so..."

"Are you sure you can control it, though?" the Wanderer asked.

"Yes, I..." Dintiradan thought for a moment. "...I'll start small. Very small."

"How small?" Wanderer asked.

"Snakes!" Dintiradan said.