Chapter 8: Ecksian

Iffy was one of the first ones awake the next morning. He sat up. "I'm so tired of being made fun all the time. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. Well, I'll show them. From now on, I'll be good and strong and brave and smart and... and... good!"

Rakshasi picked up a can of spam that was lying on the ground and hurled it at Iffy's head. "Will you shut up? I'm trying to sleep."

Iffy winced as the can narrowly avoided his head and stood up. "I guess I'd better be quiet too," he whispered dramatically.

"I can still hear you," Rakshasi said through gritted teeth.

"Sorry," Iffy squeaked. He stepped into the kitchen, immediately setting off one of the Silent Assassin's traps. Four water balloons scored a direct hit on his head. "Ow! Hey! Wet!"

Lord Grimm handed Iffy a towel. "Here. The Silent Assassin hasn't gotten to it yet, so it should still be safe to dry yourself off with."

The Silent Assassin grabbed a few more water balloons and reset the trap. Synergy was also in the kitchen, muttering to himself while stirring a huge pot of mushroom porridge. "I can't believe it. The nerve of Drakefyre, with his 'I'm not entirely sure you can be trusted' speech. Just because I powergame and occasionally get into heated debates doesn't mean I don't have the best interests of other people at heart. There are still so many underutilized aspects of magic. If we only had the people to work on it, I bet we could make the glowing lichen thrive in the Avernum 4 Forum, or enable us to grow things in the Exile Trilogy Forum besides mushrooms, or..."

"Hey!" Randomizer walked right into the trap. Student of Trinity darted into the kitchen right behind him and banged a bowl on the counter. "Come on Synergy, fill it up."

"...has so much potential. Who knows the wonders that are lurking deep within each of us, waiting to be discovered and shaped and magnified? Magic could be the key to..." Synergy spooned some porridge into Student of Trinity's dish.

Student of Trinity devoured his breakfast. The Silent Assassin reset the trap and Randomizer finished drying himself off with the towel. "What's the rush, SoT?"

"Schrodinger and I think we managed to repair the old summoning machine. We're going to fire it up again soon."

"So it won't be long before we can resurrect people with it?" Randomizer asked.

"Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to see how it goes."

"Oh. Right." Randomizer looked downcast.

"What's the matter?"

"Oh, nothing. I'm... I'm just a little tired of being required to revive someone every five minutes, that's all."

Student of Trinity nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. It gets pretty crazy around here at times."

"Gah!" Four more water balloons hit Dintiradan and the Lurker as they entered. Randomizer tossed them the towel.

Student of Trinity set the empty bowl down. "Well, I've got to go." He left.

Synergy was still going strong "...I mean, Zephyr was just a fluke. The majority of people can be trusted with magic, especially once they realize..."

"Hmmm." Dintiradan glanced at Synergy thoughtfully.

"What is it?" the Lurker whispered.

"Synergy really wants to learn magic. We will need someone to test our stat-boosting script eventually. Don't say anything to him now, but perhaps we can clue him in later."

"Are you sure you can trust him?"

"I'm an evil overlord. I'm certain I can't trust him. That's why I warned you not to tell him anything."

"But if you can't trust him, then why would you want to involve him?"

"Do you want to test the stat-boosting script on yourself?"

"Well, no."

"Neither do I. So we need someone else. Synergy may be that someone, because if he wants to learn magic badly enough he'll be willing to break a few rules and take a few risks to get it."

"But what if the stat-boosting script works and then he decides to betray us?"

"Lurker, it's Synergy. Should he go mad with power or something, odds are he'll start monologuing, giving us plenty of time to whack him with Homeland."

"...much we still have to learn about it. How can we justify controlling magic so tightly when we barely comprehend what it can do? If..."

"All right, we get the point," Randomizer snapped.

---

The nondescript man woke up just before dawn feeling refreshed and optimistic. One of the bots stood guard at the entrance. The others were busy in the workshop. Lazarus still faked death in the corner. He was ready to act at any moment, though, and he had a metal pipe he had pulled out of the trash pile hidden beneath him.

"So, how are the bots progressing?" the man asked.

"Quite well," the small bot said, "The sixth bot is completely repaired and active again. Plus, we have three more bots waiting on your final inspection and activation."

"Good, good. I'll do that, and then I'll head out."

"Head out to where?"

"To Spiderweb. I told you last night that I needed more information about it. I can't keep going back to the archives, or I'll make that archive bot suspicious."

"But... but are you sure it's safe?"

"Of course it's safe. No one suspects anything and I don't look anything like I used to."

"But how will I get ahold of you if something happens?"

"I'll pretend I'm an administrator of a small message board just for me and a few friends. If you need anything, come to Spiderweb with some story about how my board is being attacked by spambots."

"Oh. Okay. But what should I call you?"

"Well, I certainly can't use my real name. So call me Ecksian."

"Huh?"

"Ecksian. You know, like the Xian Skull."

"Oh. I thought it was pronounced 'Zian'. Er, then am I EcksianBot?"

"Yes, you are. Now help me activate these new bots." The man walked towards the inactivated bots, passing close to Lazarus as he did so.

Lazarus realized that he couldn't escape with a bot constantly at the entrance. And the longer he waited, the greater the chance that someone would notice he was alive. He only had one option left. He couldn't bring down all the bots, but he could bring down Ecksian and EcksianBot. Without them, the remaining bots couldn't do much harm to Spiderweb.

Lazarus leapt up with the pipe in hand. Before the Ecksian could respond, Lazarus hit him over the head. He collapsed.

EcksianBot grabbed the pipe and attempted to pull it out of Lazarus' hands. "One bot, grab the healing potion. The rest of you, attack him! Protect your Master!"

Lazarus shook EcksianBot loose and swung. The pipe connected with EcksianBot, knocking it to the ground with a huge dent in its head. It twitched once and blacked out.

Lazarus threw himself to the ground to avoid a bot's sword. He grabbed the dagger from Ecksian's belt and rolled out of the way of another sword swing. Now he had five bots between him and Ecksian, and neither the dagger nor the pipe would be much use against them. Lazarus aimed carefully and threw the dagger. Then he ran for the door. One of the bots cut him down before he could take three steps.

The dagger missed Ecksian completely and clattered harmlessly on the ground. The sixth bot poured the healing potion down his throat. He awoke, furious and with a massive headache. "What the heck just happened?"

---

Randomizer sat on the kitchen counter. Zeviz walked in. Randomizer slid off the counter and approached him. "Can we talk?"

"Yes. About what?" Zeviz asked.

Randomizer looked around and saw a few people watching. "Actually, I'd like to talk privately. It's pretty important."

---

Filth Finder halted. The rest of his family was just around the corner. He took a deep breath. Then he took another. Then he walked on.

"Hey! Dad and Grime Grubber are back!" Muck Master said.

"Did you warn the Spiderwebbers? Are they going to beat those bad bots?" Litter Locator asked.

"Dad, what's wrong? Where's Grime Grubber?" asked a nymph named Compost Coveter.

"What happened?" Garbage Gatherer asked.

Filth Finder's voice shook badly. "We... were... ambushed. The bots must have... seen us coming. I told Grime to... to run... but he... he... didn't."

"Does that mean the bots will come after us?" Litter Locator's voice was unnaturally shrill.

"No," Filth Finder said, "The man... he just wants... Spiderweb."

Dreck Disperser huddled close to Garbage Gatherer. "What's going to happen to us? Are we going to die too?"

Garbage Gatherer stroked his antenna soothingly. "No. We're going to wait here until your father is ready to travel again, and then we're going to find somewhere safe to stay and live there."

"You promise?"

"Yes. I do."

---

The crickets had finally managed to make it back to Spiderweb. They chirruped until Jewels opened the door. She picked them up gently. "You poor things! You look exhausted. Where's Ephesos?"

One of the crickets started to chirp an explanation, but Jewels shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't understand you."

The cricket pointed at the Periodic Table hanging on the wall. Then it rolled onto its back with its legs folded.

"Are you saying Ephesos needs to be revived?"

The crickets all nodded.

Jewels looked around for Zeviz or Randomizer and sighed when she couldn't spot either one. "Where are the mages when you need them?"

---

Ecksian looked around the board carefully. He had just activated the three new fighting bots. Now two stood guard at the entrance. The third watched over Lazarus and the other bodies in the corner. They were all bound with rope. He didn't know how or why Lazarus had been alive, but he wasn't taking any chances. One of the repair bots was carefully repairing EcksianBot. The other five were making more fighting bots.

"Well, I guess that's that," he said to himself, "I'll be back tonight to see how things are going." He checked to make sure he had his dagger and stepped outside.