Chapter 5: Good-bye Forever

It was early evening. The nondescript man set a pair of binoculars down. "It looks like the Spiderwebbers who left this morning are returning and the Spiderwebbers who arrived this morning are leaving. The ones who visited a satellite forum I understand, but what are the others up to?"

"They probably have a life outside of Spiderweb," the bot said.

"They do? Really?"

"I assume so."

"Why?"

"You are joking, right?"

"No. But you can explain later." The man looked through the binoculars again. "A small group of Spiderwebbers just left Shadow Vale. I bet that's the last of them. Yep, the last lights just went out. I'll wait a few minutes to be sure and then go."

"Isn't it still a little early? Other places are still open, you know."

"That's true, but there's nothing suspicious about me as long as I'm alone, so it won't matter if I'm seen. And by the time I get back with the prototype bots and supplies, they will be closed. Wait! What's happening now?"

"What is it?" The bot joined the man at the window. They watched as Drakefyre hurled Zephyr Tempest into the moat and then slammed the door.

"What do you suppose that was all about?" the bot asked as Zephyr Tempest floundered to shore.

"I don't know." The man watched Zephyr Tempest intently. "He's made it to land. Now it looks like he's yelling something. Whoever is in the guardtower must have responded, because now he's running away. It must have been a nasty threat; look at him go!"

"Do we risk contacting him?"

"No. While he may be a fellow outcast, he may also still be loyal to Spiderweb. And we're too close to success to risk him messing everything up. Well, I've wasted enough time. Stay here; I'll be back in a few hours."

"Bye."

"Bye." The man checked to make sure the streets were clear and then stepped outside.

---

The GIFTR had spent a long, miserable day in the darkest corner of the Avernum 4 Forum. Despite Slartucker and Arancaytar's insistence that the board was safe again, none of them dared to venture too far from their nest. Grime Grubber was hit hardest by the death of Sewage Spotter. He sat in a corner, staring vacantly into space and ignoring everyone else.

Finally, Filth Finder said, "I bet it's late enough to be dark out. Everyone is ready to go, right?"

The other nymphs scurried about, but Grime Grubber didn't budge. Litter Locator pulled on his antenna. "Hey, aren't you ready? Dad says it's time to go."

"I don't care."

"But..."

"I said, I don't care."

"Okay, fine. Be that way, Grump Grubber."

"What do you mean, 'I don't care'?" Filth Finder demanded.

"I mean, that I... that you... you're... you're silly!"

Litter Locator gasped. "You just called Dad silly! You aren't supposed to do that."

"Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious," Grime Grubber retorted.

"Why, I--" Filth Finder began.

"No, I'll handle this," Garbage Gatherer said quickly, "Just give us some time alone."

"Fine. We'll wait for you in the Tech Support Forum. Follow me, nymphs," Filth Finder said.

Garbage Gatherer waited until they were gone and then asked, "Now, what's the problem, Grime?"

"I... I don't want to leave without... without Sew... without... I want Sewage Spotter back!"

"I know you miss her, but--"

"I want her back!" Grime Grubber repeated.

"She's dead. We can't bring her back," Garbage Gatherer said gently.

"Yes we can! The humans revive each other all the time. And they revived you!"

"Yes, but I was lucky to be revived. Remember the rest of your brothers and sisters? The humans couldn't revive them."

"I know, but why can't they revive Sewage the way they revived you?"

"Because they can't. Didn't you hear them talking? They're out of potions. No potions, no resurrection."

"Don't they have some other method? I mean, what will they do if they're out of potions?"

"They do, but Sewage doesn't have an element, so they can't revive her that way either."

"So the humans should give her one! It's their fault she's dead, so they ought to do whatever it takes to revive her!"

"I'm not entirely sure it would even be possible to revive someone with an element given after their death."

"But we should still try it! And if it doesn't work, then we should wait until they have more potions and revive her then!"

"No. Listen. Dying is not a pleasant experience. The humans may be used to dying and being revived, but I wasn't. And Sewage Spotter isn't either. The humans believe the someone will revive them out of any mishap, that death is never permanent, but I don't believe it. I think it's making them careless, and that will catch up to them someday."

"But..."

"Sewage Spotter is dead and there is nothing you can do to bring her back. Don't drive yourself mad trying."

Grime Grubber's antennae drooped low in defeat. "But I... I miss her."

"I know, I know. I... I miss her too."

They stood in silence for a while. Finally, Grime Grubber said, "I... I'm ready."

"All right." Garbage Gatherer and Grime Grubber walked to the Tech Support Forum. Along the way, they passed Sewage Spotter's grave. Grime Grubber paused to whisper a good-bye in an even higher-pitched voice than usual.

"Well?" Filth Finder asked when he saw them.

"We're ready," Garbage Gatherer said.

Schrodinger looked up from the remains of the summoning machine he was trying to sort out. "Good luck, wherever you end up."

"Yeah. Good luck." Dikiyoba was powdering a mixture of herbs that would eventually become part of a new batch of Balms of Life.

Filth Finder hesitated a moment before managing to say, "Thanks."

The GIFTR stepped into the General Forum and made their way towards the door. Many Spiderwebbers offered good-byes.

"Good luck!"

"Chrrrk!"

"Where will you go?"

"Watch out for spambots and noobs!"

"No, you don't get your sanity back."

"May the almighty chicken gods smile upon you."

"Thralni, I thought you weren't doing the chicken stuff anymore."

"Yeah, well, just this once can't hurt."

"I suppose not. Bye!"

"Nalyd couldn't care less. Ow! Who hit him?"

Student of Trinity quickly hid his sling behind his back. "Have fun!"

"Good bye! Even though I don't actually know who you are."

"What? How can you not know who the GIFTR are? Bye!"

"See you later; no one can stay away from Spiderweb forever!"

"Good bye!"

"And don't come back!" The moment they were out the door, Randomizer slammed the door shut.

Filth Finder looked back and shook his head. "We never did get a chance to spit in his food, did we?"

---

The bot flitted around the abandoned forum anxiously. It had been several hours since the man had left. Surely he had to return soon? Then it heard voices. High-pitched, chirpy voices. It flew to the window and peered out. It blinked several times, not entirely sure whether what it was seeing was real. Was there really a family of giant cockroaches examining Shadow Vale?

"Hey, Mom, Dad, can we settle here? It even has 'shadow' in the name," a nymph named Muck Master asked.

"No, I don't think so," Filth Finder said, "It's a satellite board of Spiderweb. Ah! Now how about this place?" He scurried over towards the abandoned board.

"I don't like it," Litter Locator said, "It's creepy, somehow."

"It's probably just because you are used to people while this place is empty. Come on, let's take a look around inside." Filth Finder opened the door and stepped inside.

Immediately, the bot swooped down on him. "Are you out of your mind? What are you doing here? Get out! Get out!"

"Er, what?"

"Get out of here! He could be back at any time!"

At that very moment, the nondescript man was returning with half a dozen prototype bots. Each one was carrying a box full of tools, metal, wires, and the other supplies necessary to make more bots. The man squinted against the darkness. "What is that in front of our board?"

The prototypes had excellent night vision. "They look like giant cockroaches, Master."

"Giant cockroaches? Are you sure?"

"Yes, Master."

"Very well. We can deal with them." The man pulled out a black robe and put it on, concealing his identity completely. He used his best evil voice to continue, "Put down your boxes and sneak up on them. Try to surround them, but don't attack just yet."

The little bot attempted to push Filth Finder out the door. "Come on, get out of here!"

"All right, we're going," Filth Finder said, "Honestly, I--"

"Actually, I think I'd like you to stay for a moment."

Filth Finder whirled around and saw a man in long black robes, his hood pulled low over his face. Six large, heavily-armored bots stood in a semi-circle behind him, swords drawn. Filth Finder swallowed hard. "O... okay."

"Why are you trespassing on my property?"

"W... we're sorry. We didn't r... realize that it belonged to y... you. We thought it w... was abandoned. We'll just be g... going n... now," Filth Finder stammered.

"Can we go back to Spiderweb now? I don't like it out here," said Litter Locator.

"You're from Spiderweb?" The man's voice was as cold as ice.

"Yes. I m... mean, we were. We've l... left it," Filth Finder said.

"And you're not planning to go back? Ever?"

"N... no."

"A wise decision. Now get out of here. Bots, make way."

The prototypes sheathed their swords and stepped aside. Filth Finder, Garbage Gatherer, and the nymphs nervously passed by them. The man waited until they were gone before giving his next orders. "Get the boxes and get inside this forum. Hurry!"

While the prototypes went to collect the boxes, the man glared at the little bot. "What were they doing here?"

"I don't know. They just showed up. I was trying to get them away when you returned."

"Hmm. You should have invited them in."

"What?! Why?"

"So we could have killed them without any risk of them escaping or someone spotting us."

"But... but most of them were children!"

"So? Do you have a point here?"

"A point?! You can't kill children!"

"Nonsense! We have to kill them, otherwise they'll alert others to our presence or, worse, grow up wanting revenge against us. As it is, we now have a family of giant talking cockroaches who could mess up all our plans."

"But... but..." the small bot sputtered.

"The prototypes are back. Get inside and stop complaining."

The little bot sullenly complied.

---

The GIFTR were taking a short break in an alleyway.

"What do you suppose that man was up to with all those bots?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Does it matter?" Filth Finder asked, "He was probably just some hermit."

"Just some hermit with well-armed bots? I don't think so," Grime Grubber said.

"What do you think, then?" Muck Master asked.

"I think that he's planning something against Spiderweb. I mean, didn't you see how he reacted when he heard we were from Spiderweb?"

"That's ridiculous," Filth Finder said.

"We should go warn the people in Spiderweb just in case," Grime Grubber said.

"You want us to walk all the way back to warn them about something that probably isn't a problem?" Filth Finder asked.

"Nooo! I'm too tired to walk that far," said a nymph named Dreck Disperser.

"It would only take one or two of us," Grime Grubber said, "I could go, easily."

"There's absolutely no reason to go back," Filth Finder said.

"But what if he really is planning something and the Spiderwebbers aren't aware of it? People could get hurt or killed because of it."

"But... oh, you're right. You and I will go back," Filth Finder said, "But I don't want to hear one complaint about how tired you are, understand?"