Chapter 20: Rat Trap

The rats were very impressed by the Nethergate Forum. The entire place was a great hall. The walls were lined with tapestries, Celtic artwork, and Nethergate artifacts.

"This is very nice," ***** said.

Tyranicus noticed a piece of spam on the ground and tried to pick it up. "Yes. We redid it for the release of Nethergate: Resurrection. Unfortunately, it didn't get the recognition it deserves and so it has never been very busy in here." Tyranicus managed to get his hoof under the spam and scooped it into his inventory. He hesitated. "So, um, I know there are a lot of you, but if you could not trash the place, I would be very grateful. Er, not that you seem like the sort to trash a place. I, uh, just thought I'd point it out to be, um, absolutely sure you knew."

***** looked mildly annoyed. "Certainly."

Several rats warmed themselves by the fire. Rof'l'mao examined the artifacts sitting in a glass case on the mantel. "It looks like you have a few things missing."

"Yeah. The earrings and talking skull have been missing for ages," Slartucker said.

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a joined him. "Do you mind if we ask you a question about Ecksian?"

"Sure. I don't know how much help I'll be, though."

"Does he have a little bot with him?"

Slartucker thought for a moment. "You know, I'm pretty sure he did."

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a looked at each other for a moment and then scampered over to Fatalclaw.

"I assume you'll be staying here?" R'd'p'a asked.

"Yes, this is where I'm needed. I take it you're going after Ecksian again?"

"We're leaving in the morning. Slarty said there was a bot with Ecksian, so there's a chance that Anonymous is still alive. We can't give up."

Fatalclaw nodded. "Good luck."

"Yeah. We'll need it," A'p'd'r said.

---

Emperor Tullegolar couldn't sleep. The presence of the rats irked him. He tossed and turned.

The Mystic dragged his pack into the Tech Support Forum.

Emperor Tullegolar watched him go. "I suppose the temptation was just too much for him. Figures." He shook Nalyd awake.

"This had better be good. Nalyd was having a good dream."

"Doing this will get you back on the administration's good side. Is that good enough for you?"

"Ooh. What does Nalyd have to do?"

"The Mystic just went to steal stuff from the rats. Help Tyranicus and Slartucker catch him in the act. And make sure the rats know a Spiderwebber tried to steal from them in the process."

"Okay!" Nalyd hurried off.

---

Slartucker and Tyranicus patrolled the Nethergate Forum. All the rats were asleep.

Tyranicus saw Nalyd running towards them. "What are you doing here?"

"Pardon Nalyd, but did you know that Mystic is stealing from the rats?"

"Right. And how do you know this?"

"Nalyd couldn't sleep. He happened to see Mystic leaving and followed him down here. Then he watched Mystic to be sure, because he would never accuse a member of breaking the Code of Conduct without proof."

"Where is the Mystic?" Slartucker asked.

Nalyd pointed to the opposite side of the forum. "Over there. He hides whenever you get close, though."

"We'll have to be sneaky, then. Tyran, I'm sorry, but there's no way you can sneak. Instead, I want you to quietly get Stareye or Drakefyre."

Tyranicus nodded and exited the forum. Slartucker and Nalyd crept to the spot Nalyd had pointed at. The Mystic was admiring Lith's bow.

"Wow. This is a very good bow. Definitely magic." He eased it from Lith's paws and sniffed it. "Just blessed, no other enchantment." He put the bow back. "But it uses actual arrows, how interesting." He picked up the quiver of arrows and sorted through them. A few had frost-covered arrowheads. He put them in his pack.

Nalyd jumped up. "Caught red-handed!"

"Nalyd, don't..." Slartucker groaned.

The Mystic grabbed his back and dashed off. Lith and several other rats woke up.

"What's going on?" Lith asked.

"My bracelet is missing!" a green rat said.

"Yes. We'll get it back to you very shortly. Nalyd, stay back." Slartucker tackled the Mystic and pulled his pack out of his paws.

"Hey!"

*****, Fatalclaw, Cheese, and Danielle hurried over.

"What's going on? He's not part of our group," Cheese said.

"No, he's a Spiderwebber," Nalyd said.

Tyranicus returned with Stareye. By now, most of the rats were awake and listening in.

"What seems to be the problem here?" Stareye asked.

"Mystic was stealing!" Nalyd said.

"I was not!"

Stareye looked to Slartucker.

"Tyranicus and I were patrolling when Nalyd came to us and informed us that the Mystic was taking stuff from the rats. I investigated. I saw the Mystic take these arrows from a rat and put it in his pack." Slartucker held up the icy arrows.

"Like he was going to miss them anyway," the Mystic muttered.

"Unfortunately, at that point, Nalyd yelled. It woke the rats up and almost let the Mystic get away."

"Sorry. Nalyd was only trying to help."

"Fortunately, I caught the Mystic before he had a chance to hide anything."

"Do these arrows belong to anyone?" Stareye asked.

"Those are mine," Lith said.

"It's just a few arrows. They could belong to anyone," the Mystic said.

Slartucker give Lith the arrows and dug through the pack until he came up with a bracelet. "And this?"

"My bracelet!" the green rat said.

Slartucker handed it over as well.

"Mystic, do you remember what I said about any misbehavior that threatened the boards?" Stareye said.

"Yes, but--"

"And you recall that Schrodinger gave you an official warning about taking items that doesn't belong to you?"

"He... he had no proof! And he was after me about that pencil too, which I didn't even take!"

"Yes, but despite that official warning, you came down here tonight. Slartucker saw you stealing things personally."

"Don't forget Nalyd! He helped!"

Stareye sighed. "I'm afraid I have no choice. In a more peaceful situation, I would be willing to give you one more chance, but with Ecksian's expected attack, we cannot afford the possibility that some of our defenses will end up in your pack. Mystic, you are now banned. Slartucker, please escort him outside."

"What?! For how long?" the Mystic said.

"That depends. You are banned at least until after Ecksian is defeated. After that, if want to discuss it, Drakefyre and I will be more than willing to--"

"Forget it!" The Mystic grabbed his pack and started to drag it towards the Avernum 4 Forum.

Stareye stepped on a strap. "The pack stays here. Slartucker will provide you with an appropriate weapon and several days' worth of food, but that is all.

"This is ridiculous!" After trying repeatedly to pull the pack free, the Mystic gave up and stormed off.

Slartucker followed him.

"And I don't need you to show me the way out!"

"What about the supplies you are allowed to take?" Slartucker asked.

"I most certainly don't need any from this place!" The Mystic exited the forum. Slartucker shook his head and followed.

Stareye sighed again. "Well, I suppose I'd better go put his ban into the system. Tyranicus, *****, I trust that you will be more than capable of making sure everything gets back to their proper owners?"

"No problem," Tyranicus said.

"And Nalyd, I think it's time for you to go back to bed," Stareye said.

"Well... okay." Nalyd left.

---

Emperor Tullegolar watched the Mystic stomp across the General Forum. When he left, he slammed the door hard enough to wake several people up. Emperor Tullegolar smiled.

Slartucker entered as well. He went straight to the window and watched the Mystic disappear into the night.

Nalyd came in a moment later.

Emperor Tullegolar looked around to make sure no one was watching him. "It worked, didn't it?" he whispered.

Nalyd nodded.

Emperor Tullegolar grinned even wider.

"Slartucker? What happened?" Thralni asked.

"Nothing to worry about. Just an incident in the Nethergate Forum," Slartucker said.

"Oh. Okay." Thralni went back to sleep.

Several minutes later, Schrodinger entered and joined Slartucker. "Is he gone?"

"Stareye told you what happened?"

Schrodinger nodded.

"Yes," Slartucker said.

"Do... do you think I was too hard on him?"

"No. It's unfortunate, but..." Slartucker shrugged.

"I just worry I overreacted because sometimes I wonder... well, this is going to sound really silly."

"What is it?"

"Sometimes I wonder whether my walkthroughs ever inspire people act like that. I do tell people to steal to get an advantage."

Slartucker snorted. "Your walkthroughs are not going to inspire people to become kleptomaniacs. I mean, it's not like I could actually cast Colt of Fire, go hide somewhere, and have it steal stuff for me right in front of people without them noticing."

"I suppose not."

"So, um, I take it Arancaytar is repaired?"

"Just about. Student of Trinity is finishing the last little bit."

Slartucker nodded. "Good to know. Well, I'd better get back to the Nethergate Forum. See you in the morning."

Schrodinger yawned. "Good night."

---

The Mystic was so angry he didn't pay attention to where he was going. He took a wrong turn and ended up heading away from the Google station.

After an hour or so of walking, he stopped. "This... this doesn't look familiar. Where am I? Maybe the Google station is back this w--oof!" He turned around and walked straight into a lolcat that had been following him.

"o hai!"

"Er, hello." The Mystic looked around nervously. Several other lolcats stepped out of the shadows.

"u has n e cheezburgerz i can has?"

"Er, no, I'm afraid not. Now if you don't mind, I really should be going..."

One of the other lolcats pointed at him. "dis rat iz teh funneh!"

"lol"

The Mystic laughed weakly. "Haha, yes, well, I know, but I really, really need to be somewhere else right now."

A lolcat stepped on his tail. "where u goin? we wanna play!"

The Mystic yanked his tail free and ran. "Help! Someone, please halp me!"