Chapter 13: Probably Should Have Seen It Coming...

Iffy stared in awe at the Distant Mountains as the cruise ship pulled into the harbor, still towing the dinghy behind it. The peaks were lost in the fog and clouds, but he could still tell that the mountains were very big.

Drew pushed a chunk of ice away from the dinghy with his paddle. "Now, Salmon."

Salmon took out a small knife and cut the fishing line. The dingy bobbed to a halt.

"We'll aim for that small clearing," Andraste pointed to a sandy patch along the rocky beach. "Go slowly now and watch for underwater boulders."

Marlenny, Andraste, Drew, and Salmon paddled the dinghy into the shallows. Goldenking and Iffy hopped out and hauled the boat ashore.

Drew got out warm clothes for everyone while Riibu and Marlenny sorted the other supplies into backpacks. Drew and Salmon carried the boat above the tideline and hid it in a small crack in the rocks.

"What's the plan?" Salmon shouldered his pack.

"I doubt that the ski resort will let us stay the night after stealing the dinghy plans and sneaking a ride, so we'll just hike along the road towards Crystal Mountain and make camp wherever we are by dark," Andraste said.

Iffy shivered. "Are you sure you know the way? I'd hate to get lost."

"Relax. I know the way."

---

***** sent most of the archers down to join the first three groups. The first group made it out of Bots Aplenty with no problems and hurried towards Google. The second group gave them a good head start before following.

A distant explosion told him the flamers were coming. "Dani, downstairs. Tell the third group to go as soon as they can. Hurry, the flamers must know we're leaving somehow. Lith, did you see the explosion?"

Lith nodded.

"Good. Then hit them before they can spread out."

It was a nearly impossible shot. Lith shot several arrows as high and far as he could. Only one hit.

Smokey threw another firebolt. The section it hit was already smoking and now it burst into flames.

Rof'l'mao peered through the increasing smoke. "Look! They're coming from the front too! We're going to be overrun!"

***** threw a javelin at the charging flamers. "Stay calm. We still have bots left. We'll make it out."

Rof'l'mao waited until ***** wasn't watching before sneaking down the ladder. Several others followed.

"Get back here!" Garzad saw them. "What are you, mice?"

The third group made it out of the message board safely, but hadn't gone far before the first flamers charged from a side street and attacked. Several rats were killed. One, a wererat, managed to toss her child over the flamers' heads before she died. "Run! Get to Google!"

Cut off from the others, the boy ran down the nearest street, followed by several flamers.

The rats soon outran the flamers. However, another mass of flamers emerged from another side street, cutting them off. PiperBot led them. "Kill them all!"

Danielle dove to one side as a flamer wielding a club charged directly at her. The rat directly behind her wasn't as fast.

Not until too late did PiperBot realize that Attorukkip and several other rats had returned, including Fatalclaw's group. A rock whistled from Student of Trinity's sling and smashed into it. It fell. Several flamers exploded in a volley of arrows and a few spells.

Deathwhisker waved the wand of lightning Student of Trinity had given her. "Hey, everyone! I see you left a few flamers for me! But could you leave a few more next time? I could defeat every last one of them with one paw--"

Deathwhisker stopped speaking as Nikki slapped Student of Trinity across the face hard enough to make him stagger sideways.

"Do you mind not trying to kill the person we've come to save?!"

Student of Trinity rubbed his cheek. "What was that for?"

"That bot! It's Arancaytar!"

"Nikki, please, be reasonable. That's not actually Aran. At most, that's just one of his bots. I have no idea why it would be here, so it's probably just a bot that looks like--"

"Shut up! You think I don't know the difference between my crazy kitten's melodious voice and that of a random bot?! Give me an invulnerability potion. Now!" Nikki pulled out Nicothodes' lucky mechanical pencil.

Student of Trinity handed it to him. Nikki drank most of it and then fought his way through the flamers. "Hang on, Aran, I'm coming!"

"Do you have another one of those?" Fatalclaw asked.

"Just one."

Fatalclaw downed the invulnerability potion and charged into the flamers with a yell. The survivors of the third group fled towards Google.

Garzad squinted through the smoke. "Is that Fatalclaw down there?"

***** glanced up. A few wispy clouds drifted across the sky. "I think so. Everyone, take one more shot, then head for the secret exit. We will make it." ***** threw his last javelin.

Nikki reached PiperBot. It had a huge dent in its side from the rock and two badly mangled arms from being stepped on. He picked it up gently. "Aran? Aran, can you hear me? It's me, Nikki."

PiperBot tried to focus on him, but its sensors had been too damaged to see more than a blur. "No, it can't be. This... this is a trick."

"No, Arancaytar, it really is me. I came looking for you."

"I will not... be... tricked." Realizing that it had no chance to get away, PiperBot shut down.

Nikki just stared. A flamer hit him from behind. PiperBot flew from his hands.

"No!" Nikki scrambled after it. He poured the rest of the potion on it and tucked it securely under his free arm. Only then did he stab the flamer.

Fatalclaw reached *****'s group not far from the secret exit. They fought their way back to Attorukkip's group. Nikki joined them too. "Quick, SoT, repair him!"

"We have to get out of here first!" A'p'd'r said.

"You go. I'll hold them off," Fatalclaw said.

Student of Trinity shook his head. "The potion's not going to last that long."

R'd'p'a was hit by a scavenged javelin. Attorukkip quickly healed him.

"Better to lose just one, then. Garzad, haste me. Attorukkip, I need shielding."

Attorukkip and Garzad buffed Fatalclaw. She strode towards the flamers, swinging her sword casually. The flamers hesitated.

Everyone else backed off. ***** hurried to the ticket machine. There was only a single vehicle left, so he set the destination to be a station only a short distance away. Attorukkip held back a bit, trying to remain close enough to heal Fatalclaw.

Fatalclaw felt the invulnerability wear off. She yelled again, faked a charge, then turned and ran for Google. The flamers soon recovered but couldn't catch up to her.

Everyone piled into the vehicle. ***** slammed the door shut.

Eternal Flame had been wounded by an explosion. He limped from a side street just in time to see the vehicle disappear around a bend. He hid his frustration. "Well, that's that. Flamethrower, get a few flamers together and check the message board for loot. Incinerate, kill any survivors."

---

The young wererat still had several flamers after him. He was slowing down and the flamers were gaining. He tripped and fell.

Suddenly, a throwing axe hit one of the flamers. Several shuriken hit the others.

"Th... thanks," the wererat gasped.

A 1337 h4x0r and a huge yeti stepped out of the shadows.

"Oh." The wererat attempted to run, but the yeti scooped him up and knocked him unconscious.

The yeti growled something. Several ninja snuck towards the battlefield.

---

Student of Trinity and Nikki had a vehicle to themselves. Student of Trinity sat on the floor with all his tools laid out. He examined PiperBot closely while Nikki hovered impatiently over his shoulder. "This is PiperBot. The flamers must have some sort of agreement with Ecksian." He carefully opened up the bot and pulled out a small clear crystal.

"What is it?" Nikki asked.

"I don't know. It was definitely added in later, though, so this could be how they controlled it."

Student of Trinity handed the crystal to Nikki, then repaired the bot as best he could.

"Greetings. Sensors not functioning properly. Memory corrupted. Movement of left front arm impaired. I am unable to complete my duties. Apologies."

"That's what PiperBot is supposed to sound like," Nikki said, "Now put the crystal back in."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"All right." Student of Trinity stuck the crystal back in.

"S... Stu... Student of T... Trinity?" PiperBot asked.

Student of Trinity stared. "A... Arancaytar?"