Chapter 20: He'll Be Bot

Drakefyre looked around the entrance hall of Ermarian carefully.

"Wow. What a mess," Nioca said.

"Yes. Split up into groups of at least three and search the place thoroughly. Yell if you find anything," Drakefyre said.

Nioca found himself in a group with Andraste and Actaeon. "Let's try downstairs." He started down. "Hey!"

Zeviz rushed up the stairs, knocking Nioca into the wall. Actaeon fired a shot at him but nearly hit Andraste instead.

"Watch it!" Andraste said.

Zeviz made it safely outside.

Drakefyre, Lazarus, Imban, and Thuryl stepped out of the Encyclopedia Ermariana wing.

"What was that?" Drakefyre asked.

"Zeviz." Nioca pointed outside.

"Probably a distraction," Drakefyre said.

"Where'd he come from?" Thuryl asked.

"Downstairs," Actaeon said.

"Then that's where the bots will be. You three, deal with the zombie and take him back to Spiderweb. Everyone else, downstairs!" Drakefyre said.

"Oh joy. Well, we might as well make the best of it." Andraste ran outside.

"Wait up!" Nioca and Actaeon followed.

---

"What are we going to do?" Ecksian paced back and forth frantically. "There's no way out and not enough bots to defend ourselves against most of Spiderweb and..." He walked straight into the pedestal. "...and the architecture of this place is driving me mad! I can't tell where anything is!" He swept Necronomicon onto the floor angrily, revealing a button. He pushed it. A secret door in the wall opened up.

Ecksian stared at the new tunnel uncomprehendingly for a moment before it clicked. "Escape! You, get those three bots outside and bring them in. The rest of you, grab whatever you can carry while still being able to move quickly. Everything else will have to remain behind." Ecksian grabbed his toolbox, EcksianBot, and, after a moment's hesitation, PiperBot. "Hurry, we don't have much time." He entered the tunnel.

---

Andraste was gaining on Zeviz when they both practically ran into Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, and Azuma.

Emperor Tullegolar tripped them both as they went by. "My, my, what is this?"

"Brains?" Zeviz said.

Actaeon and Nioca caught up.

"Repel spirit!" A bolt of purple magic from Nioca hit Zeviz.

"Brains!" Zeviz collapsed.

Emperor Tullegolar smiled at Azuma sadly. "And here I thought bringing a necromancer to Spiderweb would be radical. But apparently they're already turning each other into undead left and right."

"Actually, that's not--" Nioca began.

Andraste glared at Emperor Tullegolar. "Hey, Nioca, do you happen to have a 'Repel Loser' spell, because we seem to have a serious case of it right here."

Emperor Tullegolar pointed his slith spear at Andraste. Actaeon aimed his bow at Emperor Tullegolar. Jeran Korak dropped Zephyr Tempest, grabbed Nioca from behind, and tried to maneuver his massive greatsword so it was at Nioca's throat.

"Okay, this could get messy," Nioca gasped.

"Now what?" Azuma asked.

"Do something so Actaeon can't shoot me," Emperor Tullegolar said.

"Okay." Azuma stepped in front of Emperor Tullegolar, holding the umbrella out like a shield.

Andraste was ready for Emperor Tullegolar's attack and dodged it easily. Then she clubbed him in the face.

Emperor Tullegolar fell to his knees, clutching his face. "By bose! You boke by bose!"

Nioca broke free and healed him. Actaeon quickly turned his bow on Jeran Korak.

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Andraste asked.

"The side that doesn't get everyone killed." Nioca pointed to Jeran Korak. "You, carry Zephyr Tempest." He pointed to Azuma. "You, carry Zeviz. Please."

"But I need to..."

"No, I'll hold the umbrella for you. Actaeon, Andraste, stay behind us to make sure no one tries anything."

---

The Spiderwebbers searched the archives. Lazarus stood by the bookcase that hid the trapdoor. "Half the room's been ransacked and the other hasn't been touched? Something happened here for sure. Probably right around where I'm standing."

Drakefyre held a hand up for silence. "Do you hear something?"

Everyone listened for a moment.

"I was right! Someone's yelling from somewhere underneath this bookcase!" Lazarus pushed on it, revealing the trapdoor. He opened it. "Nikki!"

Nikki coughed feebly. "Good. I don't think... I could have... kept that up... much longer."

Drakefyre climbed down and cast a few healing spells on him. "What are you doing here?"

Nikki sat up. "Never mind that. Ecksian was here, but he just found a secret passage and escaped. If we hurry, we could still find it and maybe catch up to him."

"So you don't know how to get into the secret tunnel."

"Afraid not."

"Should we come down?" Lazarus asked.

"No. I'm coming up. Synergy, you and Nikki stay here and search the room for anything interesting." Drakefyre climbed back into the archives.

"Then what are the rest of us going to do?" Smoo asked.

"That secret passage has to come up somewhere. Knowing Arancaytar, it's probably Polaris. So, we're going to go there. If we're lucky, we'll get there first," Drakefyre said.

---

Andraste, Actaeon, Nioca, Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, and Azuma arrived at Spiderweb.

"Welcome to Spiderweb Software, leave your sanity at the door." Actaeon realized the sanity jar was missing. "Er, just leave it somewhere around here."

"Drop those losers and come with me. I'll show you around." Emperor Tullegolar said. Jeran Korak and Azuma dropped Zephyr Tempest and Zeviz to follow Emperor Tullegolar's tour of the General Forum.

"Hmmph." Andraste and Nioca carried Zeviz and Zephyr Tempest to the Tech Support Forum.

"Good news. We've got a mage to revive," Andraste said.

"Good timing. Dikiyoba just finished the next batch." Dikiyoba handed the potions over to Ephesos.

"Great!" Ephesos said. He revived Zeviz. "So, how are the others doing?"

Andraste shrugged. "I don't know. We left before the fun part."

Zeviz sat up shakily. "Well, no one's died recently, at least. But I... I don't think I'm up to casting anything just yet."

"Don't worry about it. Just rest." Ephesos helped Zeviz into a bed. Then he revived Phil and Deathwhisker.

Emperor Tullegolar entered to continue the tour. Nalyd had decided to tag along as well.

"Schrodinger's real easygoing and writes terrific walkthroughs, so he's okay. But he sucks, he sucks, she really sucks, Dikiyoba's gimmick sucks, Nalyd's gimmick is even worse, he was better as a zombie, and he is way too into his crickets." Emperor Tullegolar pointed each person out as he talked about them. Then he saw the rats and stopped short. "What're they doing here?"

Ephesos stepped forward and folded his arms across his chest. "Nice to see you too."

"Nalyd's gimmick doesn't suck. And it's not a gimmick."

"Oh, don't worry, Ephesos. It's not like you're lusting after a talking piece of rock," Andraste said.

Emperor Tullegolar shook his head. "Just because Rentar-Ihrno is now a Crystal Soul doesn't mean she isn't worthy of love. You're just angry because you're jealous. Let's keep moving."

Emperor Tullegolar, Jeran Korak, Azuma, and Nalyd exited to the Announcements Forum.

"I don't like the way he looked at us," G'ree't'l said.

"Yeah, he hates just about everyone here," Ephesos said.

"The feeling is mutual," Andraste said.

"We could kill him for you," Deathwhisker said.

"Tempting, but no," Ephesos said.

---

"...power... if... I... repeat... this... statement... forty... seven... thousand... eight... hundred... fifty... one... times... I... will... absorb... great... power..." Randomizer's head drooped. "...if... I... ohh..." He shook his head and jumped upright. "Repeat! This! Statement! Forty! Seven! Thousand! Eight! Hundred! Fifty! One! Times! I! Will! Absorb! Great! Power! If! I!"

---

Ecksian opened the trapdoor at the end of the tunnel cautiously. Someone was playing the piano in another room but no one was in the immediate area. He climbed out. "We must be absolutely silent. Don't be seen. The last thing we want is someone to be alerted to our presence," he whispered.

Ecksian and the bots filed out of Polaris safely and started marching toward Google.

---

Lazarus caught sight of the bots and sprinted back to the rest of the group. "They're just up ahead!" he panted, "It looks like they're headed straight for Google."

"Any way we could cut them off?" Drakefyre asked.

Lazarus shook his head.

"We'll have to catch them from behind, then." Drakefyre cast blessing spells on everyone. "Charge!"

It didn't take long for Ecksian to hear the oncoming Spiderwebbers. He grabbed the four bots nearest to him. "Drop what you're carrying. Hold the Spiderwebbers off."

The four bots remained behind while Ecksian and the others retreated.

Drakefyre and Imban were leading the charge several yards ahead of the other Spiderwebbers. Drakefyre cast divine warrior on them both. They clashed with the bots.

Drakefyre stabbed one of them right through the armor. Imban parried a blow then hacked apart the second one. Lenar threw a reaperdisk. It bounced off the third bot harmlessly. He pulled out his scythe, keeping the bot busy until the Silent Assassin killed it from behind. Lazarus and Thuryl brought the final one down.

"Keep going!" Drakefyre started running again.

They arrived at Google as Ecksian punched in the final set of instructions at the check-in both. The other vehicles had already left. Only one remained. Ecksian ran for it. "Hurry!"

The few remaining bots crowded inside. The Silent Assassin tried to leap inside as well, but Ecksian slammed the door on him. The vehicle rolled off.

Lazarus threw his sword down in disgust. "We were so close. Now he could be anywhere."

The Silent Assassin gestured at Lenar.

"The Silent Assassin would like it known that even though we don't know where Ecksian is going, we know where he'll end up," Lenar said.

"What do you mean?" Lazarus asked.

"Sooner or later, he'll be back here with a full army of bots to back him up."

"Right. We need to get back to Spiderweb to prepare," Drakefyre said.

---

Synergy looked around the secret workshop one more time. "A shame there isn't much here. Ecksian must have all the notes with him."

"Well, at least I've got Arancaytar back," Nikki said, "Let's get him back to Spiderweb."

---

Ecksian sat on the floor of the vehicle, watching his shaking hands. "We only lost four bots, so that could have gone a lot worse." When his hands had stopped trembling, he opened his toolbox and pulled out several tools. He held EcksianBot. "I wish I could, but I can't use you where we're going. Not just yet, anyway." He set EcksianBot aside and picked PiperBot up. "You, however, will probably be very useful." He opened PiperBot up, then carefully inserted a clear crystal into it. "If I can only get you to work. Here goes nothing..."

---

"Times! I! Will! Absorb! Great!" A few sparks flew from Randomizer's hands. "Power?" Bigger sparks leapt from his hands. "Yes! Spray acid!"

Nothing happened. Randomizer was disappointed. "But... but... my magic is back. I can feel it. Although I guess it does feel a bit different than normal."

Emperor Tullegolar and the others stepped into the forum. "And this is the Exile Trilogy Forum. What the?! Randomizer, since when have you been a canister addict? And since when have canisters been available here, anyway?"

"What? I haven't used any canisters," Randomizer said.

"You're glowing!" Nalyd said, "Nalyd wish he glowed. Glowed black, that is."

Randomizer looked at himself. "Hmm. So I am. But with what?"

---

Arancaytar suddenly winced. "G... guys? I... I don't... f... feel s... so... good." He started shaking.

"What's wrong?" Jewels asked.

"I... I d... don't know." Arancaytar sank to his knees. "C... can't see s... straight. H... hurts. Ow. Ow. Ow!"

"What hurts? What should we do?" Jewels asked.

"All o... over. Ow! Ow! Arghhhhhhhhh!" Arancaytar yelled and thrashed about before losing consciousness.

"He's fading away! Someone do something!" Jewels yelled.

"Like what?!" Drew asked.

Arancaytar vanished completely.

Grime Grubber looked at the spot where Arancaytar had been. "Are we next?"

"I... don't know," Drew said.

---

Zeviz climbed out of bed. "Somebody get Zorro and a copy of the Periodic table. I think I'm ready to summon some elements now."

Student of Trinity handed him a copy of the Table. "Here. I'll be right back." He came back a few minutes later with Zorro.

Zeviz summoned some antimony and handed it to Zorro. Zorro revived Jewels.

"Are you okay? You look awfully pale," Ephesos said.

"It's Arancaytar. One moment, he was fine. Then he was thrashing and screaming, then he disappeared entirely."

"What!?" Nikki stood in the doorway. He let Arancaytar's body fall. "Arancaytar's gone? No, he can't be. Revive him!"

"No time for that," Jewels said, "We must revive everyone else as quickly as possible so no one else has a chance to vanish."

Zeviz summoned some osmium. "Let's try it just once."

Jewels snatched the Table from him. "Give me that. Grime Grubber needs an element. Any element."

"I thought you said everyone needed a reason for their element," Nioca said.

"No time for that. I'll give him hassium. That has a very short half-life, representing the hurry I'm in. That'll work," Jewels said.

Zorro stuck the osmium into Galactic Core.

Ploink! The osmium fell out and hit the floor. Zorro picked it up and tried again. The same thing happened.

Nikki swallowed hard.