Chapter 10: Slartanalysis

Student of Trinity, Arancaytar, and Schrodinger stood around the broken summoning machine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone dispersed. Several newer members crowded around Ecksian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We need a break occasionally," Arancaytar said.

"Summoning machine?" Ecksian asked quietly.

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

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

---

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

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

"What does that have to do with anything?"

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

Zeviz sighed. "Zephyr. Again."

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

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

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

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

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

"Then why are you here?" Zeviz asked.

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

Zeviz glared at the imp.

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

"Er... oh, never mind."

"What?"

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

"Or you could help me kill Zephyr?"

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

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

---

Several people looked at Ecksian curiously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And then what?" Ecksian asked.

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

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

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

"Have you asked him?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

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

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

"Darn right we do," Synergy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

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

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

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

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

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

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