Chapter 19: The Literature Forum

Slartucker, Tyranicus, and the Almighty Doer of Stuff met the rats at the door when they arrived.

The Almighty Doer of Stuff held out the sanity jar. "You need to leave your sanity here, please."

"Why?" one of the rats asked.

Another rat shuddered. "Just do it. If you don't, well, there were these... these turtles and they... they..." He suddenly bolted for the door. "We must have been crazy to come back here!"

Fatalclaw caught him. "Calm down. The turtles won't hurt you, and neither will anything else."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff nodded and shook the sanity jar. "The fluffy turtles only want sanity, so if your sanity is here, you have nothing to worry about."

"Besides, you'll have the Nethergate Forum all to yourselves tonight. Tyran and I will take you there and keep watch to make sure no one tries to cause any problems," Slartucker said.

"Do you expect any?" ***** asked.

"I doubt it," Tyranicus said.

Tyranicus and Slartucker led the rats to the Nethergate Forum. Only Garzad remained behind.

Dintiradan set aside his scripting to watch the rats leave. "Keep an eye out for any rats who looks like Legions of Terror material, Lurker. And for rats who would be willing to... betatest this scenario."

The Lurker nodded. "I understand."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff opened the trapdoor to the fluffy turtles and climbed down. Dozens of fluffy turtles crowded around him. "Down, Fluffles! There will be plenty for everyone. How are you feeling today, Inspector Walnut? Peanut Jr., you look like you've grown since yesterday. Have you been stealing sanity again? Ow! Fluffles!"

Shard of Fire pointed at Garzad. "Why didn't you go with the others?"

Garzad shrugged. "I... I didn't feel like it."

"And did you know you have a huge scratch on your tail?"

Garzad tried to hide the wound. "It's not bad. There were others who were hurt far worse than me, so I didn't want to bother the purple rats with something so trivial."

"I can heal you," Nioca said.

"Oh, yes, thank you." Garzad held his tail out.

"You know, that cut looks more recent than that. Are you sure you--"

Garzad cut Nioca off. "Just heal it, please."

Nioca cast a healing spell on it. "No problem."

Garzad looked around nervously until Synergy pulled out a chair. "Why don't you join us? I've got a few questions to ask, if you don't mind."

"Oh bother," Randomizer said.

Alorael entered the forum and tapped Drakefyre on the shoulder. "Schrodinger found something he wants you to look at. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to see if I can catch any pedestrians out for an evening stroll." Alorael headed upstairs.

Drakefyre went to the Moderator Board. "What did you want me to look at?"

"This." Schrodinger handed him the crystal. "Be very careful with it. I'm pretty sure it contains Arancaytar's soul. Is it vahnatai work? Do you know how to free Arancaytar from it?"

Drakefyre examined the crystal for several minutes. "No. It has nothing to do with the vahnatai. And I'm afraid I don't know how to release him." He handed the crystal back.

Schrodinger set it on the table gently. "All right. Thank you."

In the Geneforge 4 Forum, Emperor Tullegolar, Nalyd, Jeran Korak, Azuma, and the skeletons hid behind rocks as Slartucker, Tyranicus, and the rats passed.

Emperor Tullegolar sighed. "We'd better not risk it while... the mods are right there. Let's go back to General. We'll try something different in the morning."

---

"Oh. Sorry." Filth Finder let Spider up.

Spider looked around. "Let's continue this discussion where we can't be overheard." He opened the trapdoor.

Filth Finder helped his nymphs down the ladder before climbing down himself.

Spider closed the trapdoor. "There. That's better. As you can imagine, things were pretty bad after that. The Debate Forum was the next to go up in flames. The Miscellaneous Forum got so bad it had to be closed down. Some of Slime Lover's supporters took control of the portal and wouldn't let anyone not on their side pass. They held it for several days, despite being attacked several times. They only gave up once Trash Seeker and some others stole all the recall crystals. Then Chief Spider and Slime Lover permabanned Trash Seeker's group. It was probably the worst move they could've made."

"Why is that?"

"Because Trash Seeker and his group didn't leave. Instead, they set up a webpage right outside Bugtopia. And a lot of bugs who were suspicious of Slime Lover but not actively against her decided that Trash Seeker must have been right. And he used them to spy and steal the new shipments of recall crystals. For a while, I thought Bugtopia was doomed. But eventually enough bugs were banned to stop the crystal stealing. Bugtopia's been practically peaceful for a while now, and Trash Seeker is desperate."

"That's the main reason we keep this place so secret. A lot of us hiding here left Bugtopia instead of getting banned. It was getting silly, and Trash Seeker is the silliest of them all," Spider added.

"He is not silly. He's just determined to make Chief Spider and Slime Lover step down and not going to give up until they do. We honestly don't know what he's planning to do next and we're not going to take any chances. Well, I'd better get going. Trrrch is probably going to regain consciousness soon. Spider, get them to the message board and show them around."

"Okay!" Spider said.

Spider used a recall crystal.

The other Spider started down the tunnel. "Come on, follow me."

---

Garbage Gatherer was half-asleep. The sound of approaching footsteps made her open her eyes.

An old GIFTC stopped at the entrance to her cell. He stared at her for a few moments.

"Yes? Are you going to tell me what's going on? Why am I being held here?" she asked.

"You do seem vaguely familiar." He checked a sheet of paper. "Is your name Garbage Gatherer?"

"Yes."

"And your parents are Mold Grower and Rubbish Getter?"

"Debris Getter, actually."

"Very good. Now, do you know who I am?"

Garbage Gatherer shrugged. "Not really."

"I'm Chrrtrrr."

"Oh, you used to moderate the Archives, didn't you?"

"I still do, in fact."

"Then could you tell me what's going on? I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Well, you're definitely not an imposter and you don't seem like a rebel to me, so I'm going to take the risk and let you go." Chrrtrrr picked up a stick that was lying a safe distance away from Garbage Gatherer's cell and used it to tear down the sticky silk across the entrance.

"Yes, thank you, but why--"

"Stay with me now. I'm the only one willing to vouch for you, so if you try to slip away, you'll probably get killed. A lot of bugs think you are a rebel." Chrrtrrr walked down the hallway.

Garbage Gatherer scurried after him. "Killed? Seriously, what happened while we... while I was gone? Who are the rebels and what did they do?"

They reached the exit. Two guards blocked the doorway. One pointed at Garbage Gatherer. "Where are you taking her?"

Chrrtrrr pulled out another slip of paper and handed it to the guard. "I have permission."

The guard looked at it carefully before handing it back. "Fine."

Both guards stepped out of the way. Chrrtrrr and Garbage Gatherer went outside.

Garbage Gatherer looked around. Many of the forums were dark and the TV/Movies Forum had completely collapsed. There were plenty of bugs at the Games Forum and quite a few gathered at the portal, but only a few were wandering around.

"This is awful. What happened?" she asked.

Chrrtrrr shrugged. "Civil war. Spider will explain. Do you know her?"

"I don't think so."

They walked to the Literature Forum and went inside. There were bookcases along every wall, though most were dusty and empty. A young GIFTR sat at the large table in the middle of the room. He put down his book as they entered. "good evening"

"Hello. Garbage Gatherer, this is Goo Eater. Goo Eater, this is Garbage Gatherer."

"pleased to meet you"

"You too."

Chrrtrrr walked over and knocked on the door at the far end of the room. "Spider, are you there?"

"do you even have to ask question mark it s not like she ever leaves"

Spider opened the door and stepped out. She wore a black cape and carried a sword. "What do you want, Chrrtrrr? I know it's not feeding time yet." She spotted Garbage Gatherer. "Oh. Hello. Did you want to join the RP? Demons in Space is really the best idea anyone's had in a long time, so you'll--"

"No, Spider," Chrrtrrr said, "She just came back to Bugtopia and needs a place to stay temporarily. I thought this would be the best place."

Spider sighed. "Yeah, yeah, I know, quiet, out of the way."

"i m not bringing back food for her it s hard enough to get food for two"

"Don't worry, I'll take care of it," Chrrtrrr said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I should probably head over to the portal. Spider, tell her what's been going on." He left quickly.

Spider snorted. "Silly. He has plenty of time."

"he s probably going to see if he can get an extra crystal so he can go look for more records first"

"I swear, only Chrrtrrr. Now, how long have you been gone?"

"Almost four years," Garbage Gatherer said.

"That long? Why, you missed out on The Castle of Dunstoke. That was one of our best--"

"spider exclamation point"

"Right. Sorry."

---

Ecksian was in the middle of activating a bot when he heard EcksianBot gasp. He looked up to see Eternal Flame enter the room.

Ecksian glared at the little bot. "Is there nothing that won't set you off? Go check on those bots. Make sure everything is working right." Ecksian pointed to a group of bots standing at the far end of the room. EcksianBot flew over.

"Well? How did it go?" Ecksian asked.

Eternal Flame shrugged. "Well enough. We killed most of the rats. There was a small--"

"You let some of the rats escape?!"

"Well, it seems PiperBot missed a secret exit. Not to worry, though. I know they went to Spiderweb, so we can kill them then."

Ecksian threw a screwdriver at him. "You idiot! Now they'll know I'm here and probably attack us!"

Eternal Flame ducked the screwdriver. "I hope so. It'll be far easier to fend them off here than to drag them out of Spiderweb, especially since you ruined the element of surprise. I bet they'll have all sorts of extra defenses set up in a week. Are you prepared for that?"

"Once I've got my bots ready, the extra defenses won't matter. If they attack here before that though..."

"Relax. This place was built to withstand flamers. It's nearly impossible to break or sneak into. We don't have to worry about a thing. Especially since you and your bot are so... clever."

Ecksian glanced at EcksianBot quickly. "Yes."

"Now, as I was saying, there was a small problem. The rats got away with help from a few Spiderwebbers who were there. Unfortunately, they took PiperBot with them when they escaped."

"You... you..." This time, Ecksian threw the entire toolbox.

Eternal Flame dodged the box itself, but a wrench smashed into his nose. He took several steps back and tried to control his temper.

EcksianBot flew over. "Ecksian, are you okay? Do you need help? Should I deal with him?"

"No! Just... just go back to what you were doing." Ecksian waved it away.

Eternal Flame touched his nose gingerly. "Well, I've got more work to do, and it looks like you have plenty to do too. Lots of bots to make, I'm sure." He left the room.

Ecksian picked up the tools and threw them back into the toolbox.

EcksianBot flew over again. "Nothing seems wrong with the bots. Are you sure we should be working with him?"

"Yes. I hate him, but he's the only one who can control the flamers, and the flamers are useful to us for now. Don't worry about it. Focus on the information on Spiderweb for now, will you?"

EcksianBot sighed. "Fine."

Eternal Flame listened to them through the door. He smiled and walked away.

---

Ephesos waited until Murrrhal was gone before reaching into his pocket. It was empty.

"Crickets?" he whispered.

There was no response.

Ephesos leaned over and looked beneath the bed. "Crickets?"

Still nothing.

He took a deep breath. "It's okay. They're just stealing the key to this chain so they can free me. Yeah. That's it."

But an hour later, as he stared at a crack in the ceiling that looked vaguely like the Mississippi River, he had to admit that the crickets were definitely gone.

Ephesos didn't sleep at all that night.