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Chapter 1: Caught Up In It All

Chapter 1: Caught Up In It All

It was only mid-morning and already it was hot out. Heat waves shimmered in the streets like magical barriers. Nothing could be heard but the occasional tick or hiss from the mines that lined the route between the Spiderweb Software Message Board and the nearest Google station. The entire neighborhood looked abandoned unless one was watching a certain third-story window very closely.

Alorael set his sniper rifle down and reached into a nearby cooler for a bottle of skribbane. He chugged the entire bottle in one go.

A Google vehicle pulled up at the station. Alorael tossed the empty bottle aside and aimed the sniper rifle. The door to the vehicle opened. Alorael put his finger on the trigger.

Student of Trinity, R'd'p'a, and A'p'd'r stepped out.

Alorael sighed in frustration and set the sniper rifle aside again. "Hey you three down there, got any news?"

"Yes. Ecksian and the bots should be here in just a few hours," Student of Trinity called up.

"Hooray! It's been incredibly boring out here these last few days. Nothing but spambots and a few newbies."

Student of Trinity looked at the destroyed spambots that littered the station. "I'm surprised you didn't snipe the newbies too."

"I thought about it. But I figured we can always use more people against the bots. Plus, one of them was a drayk, and that'll tick ET off." Alorael giggled.

"So, how do we get by all these traps?"

"Well, I sent the newbies over that wall over there and told them to find a back way to Spiderweb. You could do the same. Or you could wait for Shard of Fire and Slarty to get here and they can lead you through the traps safely."

"How long before they get here?" R'd'p'a asked.

Alorael's stomach growled. "I don't know. They were supposed to be here with my breakfast hours ago."


Slartucker facepalmed. "Please tell me you're joking, Randomizer."

"I really wish I was." Randomizer rubbed his left wrist. The cast had come off yesterday, but it was still sore.

Slartucker and Randomizer stood in the Announcements Forum. Slartucker looked at the closed Moderator Board. "Do you think the two of us could deal with the situation without involving Stareye? At least for now?"

Randomizer shrugged. "He won't like it, but I think we could. Why? How late was he up last night?"

"Just after breakfast."

"Oh. Well, you go get started on containing the situation. I'll go get Nioca. We're definitely going to need him."

Slartucker hurried to the Geneforge 4 Forum and looked around. Delicious Vlish floated in the middle of the forum. There was a dead noob crumpled on the ground beside him. A few feet away, Neossokrass stood protectively in front of Ackrovan. Ackrovan had a large red welt across his face and looked rather ill.

"Ahhhhhh! Ahhhhhh!" Duck ran past Slartucker, screaming in terror.

"This is an official warning. Get away from him," Delicious Vlish said.

"Sss. No," Neossokrass said.

"Step away now, or I will be forced to jam a tentacle up your snout and scramble your little peabrain but good."

"DV, please let me deal with it," Slartucker said.

Delicious Vlish pointed a tentacle at Ackrovan. "Do you know what he said? Do you?! Well, I do. And I've had enough! I can't take it anymore! The incessant stupidity! The mindless drivel! The... the..."

"Still, please calm down. We can get to the bottom of this without--hey!" Slartucker staggered backwards from Delicious Vlish's submission ray.

Randomizer and Nioca entered as Duck completed another lap around the forum. "Ahhhhhh! Ahhhhhh!"

"You get the newbies to safety. I have to help Slarty," Randomizer said.

Delicious Vlish's next submission ray knocked Slartucker to the ground.

"Neossokrass! Get Ackrovan to the Announcements Forum and stay there!" Nioca ran towards Duck. "Unshackle mind!"

"Ahhhhhh! Ahh--" Duck halted and looked around. "Hey, what just happened? Who are you?"

"Never mind that. Just come with me to the Announcements Forum for now," Nioca said.

Slartucker was halfway to his feet when the third submission ray hit him. "Oh, come on!"

Nioca and the three newcomers escaped safely. Randomizer cast an antimagic spell at Delicious Vlish.

Delicious Vlish hit Randomizer with his submission ray. "Idiot! Did you really expect that would have an effect on me?"

Slartucker stood up. "CATTLE RAGE!!!" He bull rushed Delicious Vlish.

Delicious Vlish was caught off guard. His head slammed into a tree and he blacked out.

"Sorry, DV," Slartucker said.

"Yeah, well, let's get him to the Mod Board for now and then find out exactly what happened from the newbies."

"Hold on." Slartucker examined the dead noob briefly. "Good. That was just a regular noob DV killed."


Shard of Fire threaded her way through the final traps and halted below Alorael's window. "Hello up there! Sorry I'm late!"

"Where's Slarty?" Alorael asked.

"He's busy. There was some spamming incident earlier. I don't know the details. But don't worry, I've got your steaks right here!" She held up a plastic bag.

"Ha! Like they're still going to be raw in this weather."

Student of Trinity looked at his watch. "I hate to interrupt, but we really should be going as soon as we possibly can."

Shard of Fire looked at the three of them. "No bot, huh? I guess that means Ecksian is coming. Hang on." She ran the steaks up to Alorael. When she came down, she said, "Follow me in single file and step exactly where I step. There's only one safe route through. If you get off of it, boom!"


Randomizer and Slartucker carried Delicious Vlish into the Moderator Board.

Stareye was already awake. He had dark circles under his eyes and a cup of Arancaytar's coffee in his hand. He sat at the table, looking over a diagram of the entire board. He watched Slartucker and Randomizer chain Delicious Vlish to the wall. "What happened?"

"DV snapped and attacked someone," Randomizer said.

"What?" Stareye stood up. "Who? And why?"

"We're not exactly sure yet." Slartucker stepped out into the Announcements Forum. Stareye followed. Randomizer remained behind to guard Delicious Vlish.

"Tell us what happened between you and DV," Stareye said.

"Well, me and Neossokrass were checking to see whether Avernum 5 was out yet and--"

Neossokrass looked surprised. "Really? I thought you sssaid we were here to sssee whether Geneforge 5 wasss out."

"No, I said Avernum."

"Moving along," Slartucker said.

"Right. So we got to the Geneforge 4 Forum and saw that Delicious Vlish had killed someone."

"Sss. And then Ackrovan sssaid to me, 'Wow, he mussst of done sssomething really bad to dessserve that.' Then the vlish just ssslapped Ackrovan across the face!"

"It really hurt too."

"What about you, Duck?" Stareye asked.

"I was just there looking around when Delicious Vlish cast a terror spell on me. I didn't do anything wrong, I swear!"

Stareye thought for a moment. "All right, that's all I need. You may go."


Chatter stared. The Mage Guild's tower looked very imposing. Plus, there were guards. "Are you sure Ephesos is here?"


"I suppose. Should I ask a guard for information?"


"Oh. That's a good idea." Chatter avoided the guards as he made his way to the delivery entrance. He tried the door. It was locked.


Chatter hid in a bush and waited. Before long, several crates materialized just outside the door. A few minutes later, the door opened. Three guards and a mage stepped out. They began searching the crates. Chatter scurried from the bush into the tower.

He sighed in relief. "Okay, now what?"


"Where would that be?"


Chatter walked down the hallway, wishing his footsteps weren't so loud. Occasionally, one of the crickets would chirrup quietly. He rounded a corner and found himself face-to-face with a patrolling guard.

"Whoops! Sorry, I didn't mean to bump into you like that. Say, do you happen to know where the guest quarters are? I'm looking for--"

The guard drew her sword. "Help! We've got some sort of weird experiment loose here!"

Chatter heard people come running. "No, wait! I'm friendly! Really! I don't want to hurt anyone! I'm looking for someone named Ephesos! And I'm not an experiment!" He knocked aside the guard and ran.

"Chrrrk! Chrrrk! Chrrrk!"


Delicious Vlish regained consciousness. "Ow. My poor head."

Startled, Randomizer put his needlework away. "Er, it looks like he's waking up now."

Stareye was still looking over the diagram. "What happened to set you off like that?"

"What do you mean?" Delicious Vlish asked.

"You attacked several newbies and then you attacked a pair of moderators. So, what set you off?"

"Sorry about attacking you and Slarty, Randomizer. I got carried away. But you don't understand what happened with those newbies. I was watching the four of them closely, to make sure they didn't need any help. One of them walked right up to me and said, 'genfroge wood b teh best gam eva iff thegraphic wernt suxx0rz'. It was only then that I realized I'd been watching a noob this whole time and never noticed! He'd gotten past everyone in the General Forum too!"

"All right, so you dealt with him. Then what?"

"One of the other newbies came over and said, "Wow, he must of done something really bad to deserve that.' Must of! Don't you see it?!"

"See what?"

"The noob got in because the newbies act like one half the time. We can barely tell them apart now! It wasn't always like this. You know that. If the thing attacked here again, do you really think we could fend it off?"

"That justifies hitting someone?"

"Well, no, not really. Look, I got a bit carried away. But my point still stands. It doesn't matter how well we defend Spiderweb from outside forces if we let it decay from the inside."

"What about Duck?"

"Oh, uh... I don't know, he just seemed really suspicious. I didn't want him to sneak up on me or anything."

Stareye nodded. "Yes, there is something odd about him, isn't there?"

"So, what happens now?" Delicious Vlish asked.

Stareye unchained him. "Well, I think we can put this mess behind us after you apologize to Ackrovan, Neossokrass, and Duck."

"What? I apologize and Ackrovan does nothing?"

"Bad grammar isn't against the rules."

"Well, it should be. And other things should be too. We've been lax and now we're paying for it with all the nutjobs running around the joint. Jeff's games deserve a better audience than whoever started the little spamfest this morning."

"We are not running an exclusive club here."

"I'm not talking about being elitist, I'm talking about keeping all the lunatics out. Why is it too much to ask for people to talk in a way that doesn't make them sound like total morons?"

"So you aren't going to apologize?"

"Not under the current circumstances."

"You understand you can no longer be a moderator if that is your decision?"

"I do. Look, I'm sorry, Stareye. I really am. I'm just trying to do what's best for the board, same as you."

"Very well. Hand Randomizer your sash." Stareye went over to the admin panel and made the adjustments to Delicious Vlish's account.

Delicious Vlish pulled off his moderator sash and dropped it into Randomizer's hands.

Student of Trinity hammered on the door. "Stareye, Arancaytar told me you were in here. It's very important!"

Stareye opened the door. "Come in."

Randomizer quickly hid the sash behind his back.

Student of Trinity didn't notice. "I've already told everyone else. Ecksian will be here in less than an hour!"