Chapter 21: All Roads

Garbage Gatherer sat at the table with Goo Eater. Spider's explanation hadn't been much help. It was obvious she hardly ever left the forum and therefore didn't know much herself. The constant references to past RPs hadn't helped either.

"it s kind of funny"

"What is?"

"you were clearly an old member at one point but you ve been gone for so long you re practically a newbie again"

"Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it. I don't suppose you could explain it to me?"

"nope i wasn t born for most of it and too young to remember the rest of it" He paused. "well i should go get food now don t try anything i like chrrtrrr and i d hate for him to get in trouble for being nice"

"Oh. Of course."

"by the way are there any special foods you like question mark"

"I thought you weren't going to--"

"i changed my mind"

"Well, in that case, I suppose I'm fond of those little pink toadstools. But I bet you won't find any of those."

Goo Eater blinked in confusion. "probably not where did you find those question mark"

"Oh, we... er, I was at the Spiderweb Software Message Board for a while."

"wow exclamation mark did you know jeff question mark"

Garbage Gatherer shook her head. "Nope. I never even saw him."

"oh that s a shame"

---

Spider led Filth Finder and the nymphs down the tunnel. He stopped them in front of a glowing rune on the floor. "Do you swear that you aren't rebels or Bugtopian spies?"

"Yes," Filth Finder said.

"And you're not trolls?"

"Yes."

"What about spambots in disguise?"

"Oh, for pity's sake, yes."

"Well, you can't be too careful. If you would tell me your names, I'll go put them in the system."

Filth Finder told him.

"Thanks!" Spider ran off.

Filth Finder shook his head. "Okay, nymphs. I'm not exactly sure what we've gotten into, but I want you to pay attention. I think this is a safe place, but keep your eye out for anything suspicious and watch what you say to others."

The nymphs were thoroughly miserable and exhausted. They just nodded.

Spider returned. "You can cross the rune now. Spider is the administrator here, so he'll want to talk to you. I'll take you to him."

Filth Finder and the nymphs stepped over the rune and into the message board. Several of the nymphs gasped. They had never seen so many giant intelligent friendly talking bugs at once.

Their entry was noticed immediately.

"Hey, look, newcomers."

"Welcome!"

"You're cute!"

"Seconded!"

"Thirded!"

"Cut that out," a mod said.

"Our hideout is the hidiest, so don't get lost!"

Muck Master looked confused.

"Traditional greeting," Spider whispered.

"Hey, does anyone recognize them?"

"Not me."

"Nope."

A GIFTC and two GIFTR just a few molts older than the nymphs watched them closely. A younger GIFTS hovered nearby as well.

"I wonder where they came from," one of the GIFTR said.

The GIFTC shrugged. "I don't know, Plague Dispenser."

"Rarr! Do you think they know any of my family members?" The GIFTS snorted in what he thought was a fierce manner. In reality, it was a high-pitched, obnoxious squeak.

Plague Dispenser rolled his eyes. "Dude, you are not a dragon, so knock it off. It's really annoying."

"Graar! I know I'm not a dragon. I'm a half-dragon, half-drake. Duh! Rarr! And don't you forget it, or I'll breathe fire at you!"

Plague Dispenser nudged the GIRTC. "Rrtrrch, go see whether the newbies are sane."

---

Goo Eater hurried to the portal. There were lots of bugs crowding around it now.

The portal was over ten feet tall. A landfill was visible through it, but the portal shimmered so much that no details could be made out. An elderly GIFTS operated the control panel connected to it. Several guards kept everyone else away from it. A few mods tried to keep order and hand out recall crystals.

Goo Eater found one of his friends. "hey chrrcht"

"Yeah?"

"go join spider s rp when you get the chance there s someone there you ll want to meet she s been to the spiderweb message board pass the word along"

"Really? Will do!"

---

Salmon woke up early in the morning. Andraste stood watch near the cave entrance. The loud music had stopped but Drew and Jewels weren't back.

"Any sign of them?"

"No. Want to help me look?"

"Sure."

Andraste and Salmon went out to the main cave. Garbage was everywhere. Most of the frat boys and yetis had gone, but there were still a few passed out here and there. Salmon found Jewels asleep under a table and Drew passed out in a pile of empty beer cans.

"Why?" Andraste demanded, "Why?! When they knew I needed their help to get the barbed wire?!"

Salmon shrugged and carried Drew back to the cave. Andraste carried Jewels back as well.

Niemand was up and fixing breakfast. "What are our plans for today?"

"We get to Crystal Mountain and see what's there. Hopefully, there will still be plenty of barbed-wire around for us to gather. If there is, we'll gather it and bring it back here. If not... well, we'll figure something out if that's the case. The silver lining to this--" Andraste kicked Drew. He pulled the blanket over his head. "--is that we can leave the stuff we don't need here and they can guard them for us." She kicked Drew again. "Right?"

"Yeah, whatever. Go 'way."

---

Several yetis entered the slave compound, cracking their whips by the slaves' heads to wake them up.

"Brrreakfast!" one growled.

Dikiyoba yawned. "What time is it?"

"Too early," ScurfFiend muttered.

"shutup its lik 3 hrs l8r than usuall"

Attorukkip watched the yetis carefully. Eieeoia put a paw on her shoulder. "It's not a good time to try to escape, so don't try it."

Attorukkip sighed. "Fine."

Breakfast turned out to be some kind of porridge made by the Ratt.

"...but why is it green?" Ru'vay asked.

Toby-Linn sighed. "The Ratt really, really likes avocados. He'd put them in everything, if he got the chance."

"Thankfully, Duwithia is only cruel and not outright sadistic," another wanderer said.

"I heard that!" The Ratt sat down next to Dikiyoba. "So, where were you from? How did you get captured? Me, I got lost during a school field trip. The ninjas caught me wandering around."

"Were you training to be a chef?"

"No, actually, it was a school of magery. A proper Guild-approved one, too. But I cooked as a hobby, so Duwithia let me be the chef here." He leaned close and whispered, "It's actually an improvement, I think. You?"

"The rats are, er, Dikiyoba means, were from Bots Aplenty. Dikiyoba is from Spiderweb."

Toby-Linn thought for a moment. "I think I've heard of Spiderweb."

"You have?"

A yeti stepped forward. Coleridge reached out of the shadows and pulled him back. She shook her head and pointed to Toby-Linn.

"Yes. There was an advertisement for a new game. It looked interesting. Avenum 6 or something?"

"Avernum 5. Although Dikiyoba thinks we might be here until Avernum 6, with our current luck."

"Oh, yes, that was it. Thank you."

"So, what sort of work are we expected to do?" Eieeoia asked.

"Well, it depends. Most of us dig for crystals, but there a few other jobs as well. Unfortunately, I'm a digger, so I don't know much about them."

Coleridge nodded to the yeti. The yeti stepped forward again. "Brrreakfast is overrr. It's time forrr you to worrrk now."

Toby-Linn sighed.

Coleridge stepped out of the shadows. She pointed to Dikiyoba and gestured towards the door.

The Ratt gulped. "Uh-oh. Good luck with... with whatever... Duwithia wants you for."

Dikiyoba hesitated. A whip cracked against Dikiyoba's back. Dikiyoba winced and followed Coleridge.