Chapter 4: Betrayal

Think returned with A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a.

"What's up, Fatalclaw?" R'd'p'a asked.

"We know where the thief is. Now, ***** wants us to wait, but I think we should move against him now, before he builds even more bots. It will be incredibly dangerous, but I'm still willing to go."

"We're with you," A'p'd'r said.

Fatalclaw smiled. "Thank you. I'll get my stuff and leave a note for *****. You get your stuff together. We'll meet back here in half an hour."

"But Timestwelve is on guard now, and I just know she won't just let you walk out," Think said.

"Hmm. You're right," Fatalclaw said.

"Don't worry, I have an idea," A'p'd'r said, "Think, go collect all the garbage and bring it down here."

---

Eternal Flame leaned against the wall, looking bored. Ecksian sat at the desk with all his tools out. He finished screwing a panel back onto PiperBot. "Well, I'm ready. How about you?"

Eternal Flame yawned. "I was the first time, now I can't be bothered."

"Memory is a tricky thing, you know. I can't actually erase it--just cover it up."

"You suck at that too. This is, what, the seventh time we've tried it?"

"It's a big lie we've got to make him believe. Of course we have to repeat it several times before it starts to sink in." Ecksian flipped PiperBot on.

"W... what h... happened? W... where am I? W... who are y... you t... two?" PiperBot shook visibly.

"Hello, PiperBot. I'm Ecksian, from Spiderweb. Do you remember me?"

"I... I... think so."

"Good. This is my friend, Eternal Flame." Ecksian pointed.

Eternal Flame faked a smile. "Yep, a friend."

"Um... okay."

"How do you feel?" Ecksian asked.

PiperBot looked at its burned and dented body. "Terrible. What... what happened? I... I don't... remember."

"Oh, I was afraid of that. You took heavy damage in the attack. Your memory must have been affected."

"What... what attack?"

"Why do you think we're not at Spiderweb?"

"But... but... what happened?"

"The rats."

"The rats?"

"Yes. They came in force, and they had the element of surprise. You and I were the only survivors, and I only survived because I was away at the time."

"No! It can't be!"

"The rats attacked before, remember?" Eternal Flame said, "And they came fairly close to winning."

"I know, but we didn't have enough people then. And we put in more defenses after that."

"I wasn't there, so I don't know how the defenses played out, but there were a lot of rats. And they had bots," Ecksian said.

"Bots?" PiperBot asked.

"Just a few. They chased me as I was searching for survivors. I was lucky to get away. But I suspect the rats are now building more."

"But... but... we have to get back! We have to revive everyone!"

"It's too late. The rats even managed to destroy the Miscellaneous Forum. There's no one that can be revived."

"It can't... but... I... Arancaytar? EndeavorBot? Nikki? They can't all be... Riibu! Not Riibu!"

"All dead." Ecksian motioned for Eternal Flame to head for the door.

"Dead? I... I... I need to... be... alone."

"I understand." Ecksian stepped outside and closed the door.

Eternal Flame grinned. "It sounds like it finally worked."

"Shh! I think so, but the trickiest part is still to come," Ecksian said.

"You mean there's more?" Eternal Flame looked disappointed, "This can't be worth it."

Ecksian had his ear against the door. "Aw, listen. He's so sad."

Eternal Flame listened. "Is he crying?"

Ecksian grinned. "Do you still think it isn't worth it?"

---

Fatalclaw was the first to return to the cemetery. She saw that Garbage Gatherer and Filth Finder had collected all the nymphs into a tight cluster and slept protectively on either side of them. She shook her head sadly.

Think returned. "I've got all the--"

"Shh!" Fatalclaw whispered, "They're sleeping."

"Oh. Right."

Fatalclaw hid her pack in one of the trash bags. "I think you should teach the roaches a bit of self-defense when I'm gone."

"Me? I don't know about that," Think said.

"You'll do fine," Fatalclaw said.

A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a returned with their packs, which they quickly hid in trash bags.

"Fatalclaw, we need to go. I think Archmage Garzad saw us with our packs. We managed to lose him in Miscellaneous, but he's probably going to be suspicious," R'd'p'a said.

"All right. Let's go. If anyone questions you, Think, just tell them the truth. I'll take all the blame when I return."

"If you return, you mean," Think said.

Fatalclaw picked up several trash bags. "No. When."

The three rats hurried toward the exit. Fatalclaw noticed that the door to the Moderator Board was ajar and peered inside. The white rat, Archmage Garzad, was reading the note Fatalclaw had left.

"Hurry!" Fatalclaw whispered.

They reached the exit and stepped outside. Immediately, a blue rat with several scars and only half a tail stopped them. "What do you want?" Timestwelve asked.

"Just taking out the trash," R'd'p'a said.

"Already?" Timestwelve asked.

"Well, yeah. Rof'l'mao got put on spam clean-up yesterday after insulting #11, remember?"

"Oh, yes. I remember that." Timestweleve stepped back.

Fatalclaw, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a waited until they were out of sight, then dug their packs out of the trash and set off.

---

Eternal Flame knocked on the office door.

"Come in." PiperBot was calmer now.

Eternal Flame stepped inside. "Er, how are you doing?"

PiperBot said nothing.

"Um, look, I, er, understand this is really, um, difficult for you. But I need your help, and I need it now."

"How so?"

"I need another captain in my army. Flamers aren't the brightest, you know, and, um, I can't, um, you know, expect every single one of my plans to be perfectly flawless. I, er, need you to come with me and, um, make sure I don't, er, make a silly mistake." Eternal Flame thought for a minute. "Of course, since you'll be working with me, you probably won't be needed at all, but Ecksian still wants to send you. You know, just in case."

"Uh, where are you going?"

"Isn't it obvious? To destroy the rats! They're weak now, since they took so many casualties at Spiderweb. But it wasn't the first message board they destroyed, and it won't be the last unless we stop them. So I'm going to attack them for a change."

"That's barbaric," PiperBot said.

"Barbaric?! It's the rats that are barbaric! They steal and murder! They're bandits! They're... they're monsters!"

"I want proof," PiperBot said firmly.

Eternal Flame slapped a forged news article and a doctored photo of Riibu taken from an old photo thread onto the desk.

PiperBot looked at them. "Then that's... that's fake!"

Eternal Flame grabbed him before he had a chance to react. Ecksian had been waiting outside the office. Now he rushed in to shut PiperBot off.

"Who are you? What have you done to me? What have you done to--" PiperBot went lifeless the moment the switch turned off.

"We were so close," Ecksian said bitterly.

"Don't tell me we have to do everything again," Eternal Flame said.

Ecksian sighed in frustration. "I'm afraid so."

"Screw that. You can take that bot and shove it--"

"I have to get back to work!" Ecksian shoved Eternal Flame out of the office and slammed the door.

---

Attorukkip led the group away from Google. "Stay close," she told Grime Grubber, "And you too." She grabbed Phil by the tail. "I think we're being watched."

G'ree't'l looked around. "Yes. I think so too."

Deathwhisker drew her sword. "Probably more h4x0rs."

"Are they going to attack us?" Grime Grubber whispered.

Attorukkip shook her head. "Not if we stick together. There's probably too many of us for them."

The group moved off. A few minutes later, another vehicle pulled into Google. Nikki and Student of Trinity got off.

Student of Trinity paused to look at the map of the area. "Hmm. So we turn left here, and then go straight for three blocks. Then we turn right and..."

"Look out!" Nikki pointed to a 1337 h4x0r that had just stood up.

The 1337 h4x0r readied a throwing axe. Student of Trinity threw himself to the ground as the axe buried itself in the map. Three more 1337 h3x0rs rushed at Nikki. He pulled out Nicothodes' pencil and stabbed one of them. Student of Trinity got up and loaded his sling. His rock knocked the 1337 h4x0r with the throwing axes unconscious. He launched another at a fifth 1337 h4x0r that was creeping up behind him. Meanwhile, Nikki stabbed another 1337 h4x0r. The remaining one ran off.

Student of Trinity looked around. "Wow. Remember when 1337 h4x0rs used to be scary? Things sure have changed."

"Yeah. Should I stab the two h4x0rs you knocked unconscious?"

"No! Leave them to recover; they might learn from this and decide to change."

"And maybe Arancaytar's ghost will appear and propose to me," Nikki muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" Student of Trinity asked.

"Nothing." Nikki looked around, then sighed wistfully. "Well, I guess we'd better keep going."

---

Ecksian opened the door a crack and peered inside just as Eternal Flame threw down the fake papers. Hopefully, this time it would work. It was really quite unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that messing with memories would provoke increasing paranoia. So far, PiperBot was holding up well--though so was its resistance--but too many more times and it would be a useless wreck.

PiperBot took one look at Riibu's picture and quickly turned away. "I'll... I'll do it."

"You'll... do it? Excellent! I'll go organize the troops immediately." Eternal Flame left.

PiperBot stared grimly out a soot-covered window.

Ecksian stepped inside and picked up the news article and photo. "It's such a shame. She was such a wonderful girl."

"I know," PiperBot said pointedly.

Ecksian decided it was best not to hang around and left quickly.

---

Fatalclaw held up a paw to stop A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a. "Hide. Someone's coming."

The three of them hid behind a dumpster just as Attorukkip's group walked past.

"It can't be!" Fatalclaw said.

R'd'p'a stood up. "Hey! We thought you were dead!"

"We were!" Phil yelled back.

"You... were?" R'd'p'a looked confused.

Fatalclaw rushed out and hugged Deathwhisker.

"Mom!" Deathwhisker pulled free.

"What are you doing out here?" Timeseight asked.

The two groups exchanged stories. Halfway through, Student of Trinity and Nikki stumbled upon them.

"So," Fatalclaw said, "A'p'd'r, R'd'p'a, Student of Trinity, Nikki, and myself will go look for Ecksian. Who else wants to come along?"

"I do," Deathwhisker said.

"I'm coming," Phil said.

"I don't think so." H'uk'n'l picked Phil up with one paw.

"Put me down," Phil squeaked.

"Not until we're safely back in Bots Aplenty," H'uk'n'l said.

Student of Trinity handed Attorukkip the return life instructions. Attorukkip took them eagerly, but looked disappointed as she read over them.

"It's... very complicated. But thank you." She shook Student of Trinity's hand, and the two groups went their respective ways.

---

The atmosphere in the Moderator Board was silent and tense. ***** reread the note that Fatalclaw had left for the fifth time. Archmage Garzad and the two giant rats waited awkwardly. Finally, ***** seemed to reach a decision.

"Timestweleve reports that Fatalclaw, A'p'd'r, and R'd'p'a took out the trash not too long ago and never returned. It seems Fatalclaw has left to hunt for OneFoxyFox and, in doing so, disobeyed a direct order of mine. This is a major infraction according to our bylaws. So, what shall we do with her?"

"She should be demodded, at the very least. Possibly given a temporary ban too. We can't have an untrustworthy moderator," one of the giant rats said.

"I disagree," the other giant rat said, "Fatalclaw has always been one of our most level-headed members. She deserves a stern warning, to be sure, but we still need her as a mod."

Archmage Garzad looked bewildered.

"Yes?" ***** asked.

"The letter... I mean, it didn't just say she was leaving. It said... she practically admitted she was a traitor."

"What?" the second giant rat asked, "But she was the one always talking about the possible traitor. If she was a traitor, why would she always bring it up?"

"Relax, Cheese," ***** said, "Fatalclaw didn't write this letter."

"She didn't?" Archmage Garzad asked.

"No."

"Then that means there is a traitor," Do_Not_Want_Cheese said.

"So it would seem. Cheese, speak with Timestwelve and make sure no one else left or attempted to leave without permission. Terry, check on MadScientist and The Laboratory."

The giant rats left.

"It is highly suspicious," ***** said, "Fatalclaw couldn't have left the note much before you found it, given how recently she left. That doesn't give the traitor much time to act."

"No."

"And it's very peculiar that it was found in the Moderator Board. There are only six rats who could possibly enter."

"So what you're saying is that a moderator did it."

***** shrugged. "It's possible Fatalclaw could have left the door open, but I've never seen her do that before. So I can't rule out anyone, but so far, it does seem to point towards a moderator."

"What are we going to do?" Archmage Garzad asked.

"I don't know. What motivation do you think anyone here could possibly have to make them work for OneFoxyFox?"

"I don't know. Wealth, power, immortality, insanity, jealousy--the usual suspects, I suppose."

***** waited a while before speaking again. "It's a shame you don't have an alibi. I mean, you found the note, so you clearly had plenty of time to switch it and destroy the old one. I'd ask you to empty your inventory in hopes of finding it, but I know it's futile. One quick little fireball would have been all it took to completely destroy it."

Archmage Garzad swallowed hard. "You're accusing me?"

"Well, there are only six possibilities. Fatalclaw's gone. I know I didn't do it. Terry and Cheese were with me in the Miscellaneous Forum. MadScientist hardly ever leaves the lab--I doubt he even remembers he's a mod now, he's so absorbed in his work. That only leaves you. And, like I said, you just happened to find the note."

Archmage Garzad said nothing.

***** pulled out a thick marker and moved the note closer to him. The marker squeaked as ***** circled several words very deliberately. "Lots of misspellings in this note. 'There' instead of 'their'. 'It's' instead of 'its'. The word 'the' is spelled 'teh' at least twice. And there are more, I'm sure. And there's only one mod known for frequent misspellings, Garzad."

"It wasn't me," Archmage Garzad said, "I don't care what the evidence says, it wasn't me."

***** circled another word. "Well, I can't prove it. But you can't prove it wasn't. So I'm afraid I'm going to arrest you."

"But..."

***** went and opened the door, expecting Archmage Garzad to launch a fireball at any moment. But he just sat there. Two blue rats entered and hauled him away.