Chapter 11: Fire And Shadow

PiperBot zoomed past the snarling pyroroamers--tied a safe distance apart from each other--into the abandoned building the flamers were using as a temporary base. The rest of the flamers had come during the middle of the night. Eternal Flame sat by the entrance, his fire-proof suit covered in ash. Several empty fire extinguishers lay nearby.

"Was there a problem?" PiperBot asked.

"Oh, an argument led to a few explosions. No big deal, really, since we put out the fire right away. What did you see?"

"Not too much. It's pretty small, and the front looks like the only way in or out. I would scatter a few flamers around just in case they have a secret door, though.

Eternal Flame shook his head. "I wouldn't trust them to do that. It will be your job to patrol the area. Anything else?"

"There's a blue rat and a bot standing guard. The bot looks dangerous, but the rat looks like it's been on duty for a while."

"Hmm. Right."

"And the message board looks pretty flammable."

"Ah, well, most places are. Is that everything?"

"Should be."

"Then we're ready." Eternal Flame picked up a fire extinguisher. "Trainers, get your pyroroamers ready now. Everyone else, I want you out of here in ten minutes. Remember, stealth is the key! FireAway, you will lead them to the message board."

"Why would you choose that--"

"And if I hear any complaints, I will build a catapult and use the complainer as ammo, because they are clearly no good for anything else. Smolder and Incinerate, put out any accidental fires." Eternal Flame pointed to several more fire extinguishers in the corner.

---

RatX521 stood outside the entrance to Bots Aplenty and looked around half-heartedly. He was hungry and tired after standing there all night.

Suddenly, he heard a noise. It sounded like a growl. He listened carefully.

"Can't you keep that stupid thing under control?"

"He was in my way!"

"Shut up!"

Several people were hiding nearby. RatX521 was about to call for help when a small, hovering bot whipped around the corner and threw a large rock at his head. He couldn't react quickly enough to avoid it, but quickly shook it off. "Help! Help! Attackers! Attackers! Everyone on alert!"

---

"Nice going," Eternal Flame snapped, "So much for surprise."

"He... had to have heard us anyway." PiperBot's voice was strained.

"And what was your plan for dealing with the bot if that rock had worked, eh?"

"I... was hoping... it wouldn't respond without orders."

"Yeah, fine, whatever. Now get going. And don't mess up. Trainers in front of me, release your pyroroamers and get out of the way quickly! And I don't care who, but ten more had better take their place! Now!"

Ten trainers quickly undid their pyroroamer's leashes and pushed them towards Bots Aplenty. Nine pyroroamers took the hint and charged towards the message board. The tenth chased its trainer down and died in the resulting explosion.

---

RatX521 saw the mob of pyroroamers round the corner. "Bot. Destroy them."

The bot drew its sword and ran towards them. It hit the first pyroroamer and the rest exploded as well. The bot was thrown to the ground and barely had time to get up before another eight pyroroamers rounded the corner.

"Archers! I need support! Hurry!" RatX521 pulled out his spear and hoped that nothing would get close enough to make him use it.

---

There were only a few rats in the Business Forum to hear RatX521's shouts. Timeseight snatched up his bow and hurried outside. Another rat hurried to warn the others. H'uk'n'l reached up, and after a few tries, managed to drag down a trapdoor and ladder to the roof.

***** sprinted in a moment later with a stack of javelins in his paws. He put a few in his mouth, dropped the rest, nodded to H'uk'n'l, and climbed up the ladder.

---

Attorukkip was hiding out in The Laboratory so she could study the return life spell in quiet when she heard commotion in the Miscellaneous Forum.

MadScientist stopped screwing a plate of armor onto a bot's chest. "What's going on? G'ree't'l, wake up and help me make sure all the bots are ready!"

"I'll go check," Attorukkip stepped into the Miscellaneous Forum.

"We're under attack! We need archers on the roof! Prepare to evacuate, if necessary!" the messenger rat yelled.

Most rats were checking their weapons and heading to the upper forums. Several blue, red, and green rats remained behind, blocking the entrance to the forum. The rest of the rats in the forum were all too young, too old, too injured, or otherwise incapable of fighting. Aside from several terrified children, the rats were fairly calm.

Attorukkip returned to The Laboratory. "We're under attack and preparing for a possible evacuation."

MadScientist was still checking bots. "I guessed as much. Any other information?"

"Not yet." Attorukkip hurried to the Cemetery.

Filth Finder and the nymphs were just getting ready to go to sleep.

"Yes?" Filth Finder asked.

"We're under attack. If you'll follow me to the Miscellaneous Forum, please."

"But..." Filth Finder sighed. "All right. Wake up, children. No matter what, do not leave my side. Okay?"

"What's going on?" Rubbish Remover asked.

"Where's Mom? Is she okay?" Muck Master asked.

"I'll explain once I know myself. Now come!" Filth Finder turned and discovered Grime Grubber had taken his words seriously as he nearly tripped over him.

---

***** watched as the explosions from the second set of pyroroamers flung the bot several meters and a third set of pyroroamers charged around the corner. He flung two javelins quickly. The first eliminated the pyroroamers. The other arced high over the next building and sharply down. There was a tremendous boom and smoke rose above the building.

A fourth group of pyroroamers now appeared, but these had been spaced out so they wouldn't damage each other.

The first archers arrived on the roof.

"Kill those creatures quickly," ***** ordered. He grabbed Phil's tail as he scampered past. "Find Att and tell her she's needed here urgently. Then release Garzad. Tell him he's not necessarily in trouble."

"Right!" Phil dashed off.

***** caught the attention of another red rat. "Yul'fib'f, tell MadScientist to send all of his bots out the front."

"Yes, *****." Yul'fib'f scurried off as well.

"This... is a major attack, then?" Terry asked.

"Yes. Definitely. I suspect they heard about our bots and are after them. We certainly don't have anything else of interest."

"They're flamers. They don't need a reason."

"But to have so many at once..."

"Maybe they're like lemmings. You know, once the population gets too large, they all move on and don't stop for anything in their path," Cheese said.

Both ***** and Terry turned to stare at him.

---

The bot managed to kill one of the pyroroamers, but the explosion knocked it off-balance. Another pyroroamer tackled it and bit into its side, tearing out wires and disabling it.

Timeseight shot it.

RatX521 looked to him nervously. "We're not going to make it."

Timeseight shot another one and edged towards the door. "Perhaps not."

The archers on the roof fired, quickly killing all the pyroroamers. Timeseight and RatX521 quickly ducked inside and began barricading the door.

---

Eternal Flame cursed as *****'s javelin landed close by. Only his fire-proof suit saved him from the resulting explosion. "The roof! Stupid bot, why couldn't you tell me they could attack from the roof?! Oh well. Cinder, get up here."

"What?!"

"You are promoted to captain."

"You want me to attack the rats on the roof?"

"No, you fool. That would take forever. I want you to burn the place down."

"But... but what about the treasure?"

"If it's inflammable, it'll survive. If it's flammable, we don't want it anyway. Besides, Ecksian is paying for this, and he's going to pay well. Now get into position!"

---

Student of Trinity turned the alarm clock off quickly.

Fatalclaw sat up as well.

"You wake the others up and get them to the roof. I'll join you shortly with breakfast." Student of Trinity walked off quickly.

Fatalclaw shook everyone else awake.

A'p'd'r yawned widely. "What... are we doing... up... so early... in the... morning?"

"You'll see," Fatalclaw said.

"I wish I could complain about it being a huge waste of time, but honestly, I can't," Nikki said.

The group shuffled to the nearest elevator.

"Wait!" Student of Trinity hurried to join them, carrying a basket of food and several binoculars.

One crazy journey straight up later, they stepped out onto the roof. There were already a few other people there. It was only an hour after dawn and everything was covered in fog.

Deathwhisker stared at the fog. "This is worth it?"

Student of Trinity passed out food. "Just wait."

The fog burned off surprisingly quickly. Wikipedia was the tallest building for miles around, and the view was incredible. There were new building under construction, old buildings falling apart, and everything in-between. Google vehicles zipped from station to station. Student of Trinity handed out the binoculars and quickly found Spiderweb Software, light glinting off the moat. Nikki scanned groups of people, hoping to find Arancaytar.

Deathwhisker was fascinated by a huge pirate ship sailing on a distant sea. There were several other ships on the sea, but they seemed strangely unconcerned. "Aren't they worried that the pirates will attack them?"

Student of Trinity examined the pirate ship. "Nope. It's not out for loot anymore. It's probably heading to the nearest port town to give its cargo away."

"But... but how does that work?" Deathwhisker asked.

"Probably because they're pirates." Nikki looked carefully. "Heh. You can just barely see a mountain range past that sea. I've never noticed it before."

"So there is," Student of Trinity said, "And look over there--giant webs everywhere. Must be spiders."

R'd'p'a pointed to an area that seemed much darker than everything around it--almost as if a cloud shaded it--but there were no clouds in the sky. All the buildings were crumbling and not a single person was out on the streets. Even the Google station was in disrepair. "What happened there?"

Student of Trinity shrugged. "No one knows. It's some sort of shadow or blight. Whether it drives people out or appears after places are abandoned is unknown."

R'd'p'a looked around more carefully. "There are lots of areas like it. There, and there, and over there, too, see?"

Student of Trinity nodded. "Yes, it's quite common once you start looking for it. Unfortunately, no one knows too much about it."

"I wonder if it's related to the thing in any way," Nikki said.

"No one really knows. Noobs, flamers, h4x0rs, and the like seem to be more common in areas that are beginning to be affected by it."

"Huh. I wonder..." Fatalclaw searched for Bots Aplenty. "There is a shadowed area near us. No wonder we get attacked so often, or picked up the place for so cheap. Wait... smoke! There's a fire at Bots Aplenty!"

"Are you sure?" Deathwhisker grabbed the binoculars from Nikki. "No!"

Fatalclaw handed her binoculars to Student of Trinity. "I'm sorry that this messes up our plans, but we must go immediately."

Student of Trinity looked to Nikki. Nikki nodded. "Of course. We're coming with you."