Chapter 20: Sanctuary

Toby-Linn paced in the General Forum. No one else was present. A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a had gone to get some rest. The Lurker had left the Waystation a few minutes after they had showed up. The Almighty Do-er of Stuff was still in the infirmary. And everyone else was in the scripting lab.

Suddenly, there were shouts from the direction of the lab, followed by an explosion. Toby-Linn ran towards the noise. She nearly collided with the Ratt, who was running the opposite way.

"Quick, outside!" The Ratt risked a glance over his shoulder. The hallway was still clear.

"But what about the others?"

"Outside!" The Ratt pushed Toby-Linn towards the exit. Behind him, there was another huge explosion.

Meanwhile, Niemand and Ephesos were the only ones left in the scripting lab. Niemand hid behind a pile of rubble that had fallen from the ceiling. If the next round of uncontrolled spellcasting didn't bring down the whole room, he probably had time to reach the emergency repair script and undo whatever had happened to Ephesos. "Eph? How are you doing now?"

Ephesos had collapsed in the center of the lab. There was enough energy radiating off him that the temperature in the room was beginning to rise. He had to keep control of it, but it was so hard to think clearly. It was like trying to concentrate while a thousand different fireworks were going off. He sat up. He had to... he had to...

"Chrrk!"

"Yeah, control it. Thanks." He blinked several times. It was hard to focus when... when... "Gah!" One of his hands was touching the floor. Now the floor beneath it cracked as several thistles grew at an incredible rate. Ephesos quickly moved his hand.

Niemand sprinted for the repair script. Ephesos saw movement and instinctively launched a spell. Niemand dodged it and smashed the glass protecting the script. The spell hit the wall behind him instead, which collapsed. Niemand grabbed the script and cast daze on Ephesos. Then he dragged Ephesos back into the chair. He began setting up the script. About half of the crickets pounced on Niemand and tried to bite him. "Hey!" Niemand tried to brush them off.

The remaining crickets chirped at and kicked at Ephesos until he was undazed. This time, the last remaining shreds of Ephesos' self-control lost out.

"DIVINE RETRIBUTION!!!"

---

The Wikipedia editor led Stareye out of the maintenance tunnels and back to the ground floor. When the editor had left, Stareye tried to open the door he had just come through. It was locked. Still, now that he knew where he wanted to go, he was sure it wouldn't be too difficult to find another way in.

---

When the Lurker arrived at Wikipedia, Neossokrass was waiting for him. "Sss. The othersss are sssearching, but ssso far they haven't found Ecksian. Or the traitorsss. Jewelsss sssaid they would in check in..." Neossokrass checked the station's clock. "...in three minutesss."

---

Dikiyoba ran for the infirmary to get the Almighty Do-er of Stuff out before Ephesos accidentally blew the whole message board up. Another explosion knocked Dikiyoba off Dikiyoba's feet. A moment later, an oak tree burst through the floor and continued growing rapidly. Soon, the branches had blocked off the entire hallway. Dikiyoba tried to push past them but quickly gave up. The leaves and twigs were too spiny. Dikiyoba ran for the exit instead.

Toby-Linn, the Ratt, and Chatter were waiting just outside the Waystation.

"Where did the others go?" the Ratt asked.

"Dikiyoba thinks Att went to wake up A'p'd'r and R'd'p'a. Dikiyoba doesn't know where the others went."

There was another explosion.

"Out of the way!" Niemand came hurtling out of the building and collapsed. He was badly singed.

"Are you okay?" Toby-Linn asked.

Niemand sat up. Dikiyoba tried to offer him a healing potion, but he ignored it. He had something cupped in his hands. He passed whatever it was to Chatter. "I'm fine. He only managed to hit me once. But trust me, we're going to want to get away from here. Ephesos is far, far too dangerous and unpredictable to be around right now."

"Chrrk." The five surviving crickets nodded weakly as they huddled together for support in Chatter's claws.

---

Iffy regained consciousness. It was too dark to see more than a few feet away, but he could tell he was lying on pavement. He crawled towards a shape at the edge of his vision. It was Garzad. Iffy shook him awake.

Garzad cast a light spell. The two of them looked around. Nikki and Riibu were nearby. Both of them were beginning to stir. Arancaytar was nowhere in sight. The area they were in was completely lifeless. Trash littered the street. Collapsed fences ran around buildings that looked like they would meet the same fate during the next a strong breeze. Iffy looked up. It wasn't night. The darkness here was something unnatural. He shuddered.

"Where's Aran?" Nikki asked.

They searched without success. Eventually, they stumbled out of the blackness and into an alley behind Wikipedia. Riibu shrugged. "Well, I guess he must still be inside."

"Then we need to be back inside too," Nikki said.

Iffy's left wrist was beginning to itch. He scratched it and discovered a metal band. The word BANNED was engraved on it. He held his wrist up. "How? It looks like we were kicked out. I bet this will prevent us from getting back inside."

Nikki looked at the band around his wrist. Then he brought his pencil down on it. The pencil snapped in half.

---

Several Wikipedia editors were after Arancaytar. So far, being able to fly had kept him out of their reach, but he was getting tired and knew he couldn't keep it up for much longer. He sped around a corner and ducked into a random room.

Naturally, the room was dedicated to information about arachnids. Arancaytar took one look at the display of spiders and panicked. The editors were able to easily track his screams and get a set of handcuffs designed specifically for bots on him. Arancaytar blacked out. The editors dumped him in a nearby trash bin.

---

Niemand, Toby-Linn, the Ratt, Dikiyoba, and Chatter retreated to a building that was a few blocks away and had a good view of the Waystation. No one else had made it out, and judging by the changes that the Waystation was currently undergoing, no one else was going to. A dense thicket of brambles had sprung up all the way around the message board. Now they were six feet tall and had thorns over an inch long. A few vines were beginning to climb out of windows and the center of the roof was bulging out.

As they watched, a giant sequoia finally broke through the roof and kept growing. Almighty Do-er of Stuff's birds escaped through this new hole and flew away. Several of them were carrying other animals in their claws.

"This is awful," Toby-Linn said.

Dikiyoba stared at the Waystation with a funny look in Dikiyoba's eyes. "No, this is awesome. Niemand, do you know what happened? Dikiyoba would give up the rest of Dikiyoba's sanity to be able to shape a massive horde of dinosaurs."

---

The Lurker carefully pulled out another bottle of skribbane. He was hidden inside Wikipedia near the door that led to the Google station. Jewels and Ackrovan were guarding the other main entrance, while Neossokrass and Lazarus guarded the back entrance. Ecksian would not be able to get out. The others might be able to if they were invisible and completely silent, but unfortunately that couldn't be helped.

One of Ecksian's bots poked its head around the corner. It looked around carefully and then stepped out into the open. The rest of the bots followed, clustered around Ecksian to protect him. It would be tricky to catch him before he could escape back into the crowds.

The Lurker waited until the bots were almost at the door before rushing out of the shadows. He smashed two with Homeland and tried to tackle Ecksian. His leap fell short. He was able to grab Ecksian's leg, but Ecksian pulled free and ran deeper into Wikipedia. The Lurker scrambled up and followed. A bot tried to hold him off. He destroyed it easily.

Ecksian nearly bumped into an editor trying to wheel a full trash bin into a maintenance tunnel. One of the bots tossed him aside. Ecksian and the bots ducked into the tunnel and slammed the door behind them.

The editor picked himself up just as the Lurker rounded the corner. The Lurker stared at him. "Ecksian went in there, didn't he?" He pointed to the door.

Something about the Lurker completely unnerved the editor. He nodded.

"Then I need your keys."

The editor quickly handed them over. The Lurker went in. When the editor was sure that the Lurker was long gone, he slammed the door and fled. Someone else would have to deal with the situation.

---

Nikki had finally managed to get three of the bands off. Now only Iffy's band was left. Nikki hacked at it with the broken pencil until a weak point developed. Then he slowly pulled on it until it snapped. The pieces fell to the ground.

Riibu cast sanctuary on everyone. "I'll lead. Remember, hold onto the person in front of you and be absolutely quiet. We're not leaving until we've found Stareye and Arancaytar."

"Right," Nikki said.

Iffy nodded in agreement, forgetting that no one could see him.

---

The spiders at the Waystation made themselves at home in the vines that covered every wall. They hid whenever Ephesos was around.

Ephesos had already altered himself two more times. He had figured out how to stop himself from radiating heat, but his skin was developing an odd greenish tint and his eyes glowed brightly. He paced down a hallway. He had killed all the rats, but there were still other intruders.

As Ephesos approached, the oak tree in the hallway bent its branches aside far enough for him to get through. He reached the infirmary. It was empty. The Almighty Doer of Stuff and the fluffy turtles were gone.

Frustrated, Ephesos went to the General Forum and started scaling the giant sequoia. When he finally reached the top, he could see for over a mile. Niemand and the others were still hiding out a few blocks away. He sneered. They wouldn't be any problem.

But where were the fluffy turtles?

---

Stareye was following a different Wikipedia editor who was emptying the trash. She was too bored to be paying much attention, and so he was able to duck in right behind her as she pushed a garbage bin into one of the maintenance tunnels. He waited in a corner until she was gone. Then he walked deeper into the tunnel. Somewhere down here was a cave with farmed mushrooms and glowing fungi on the ceiling. There had to be.

---

Garzad nudged Iffy. "Wasn't that Stareye?"

"Where?" Iffy whispered.

"He just disappeared into that maintenance tunnel."

Riibu heard them whispered and halted. "Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure."

They waited until the editor came back out with the empty trash bin. As she turned to close the door, Nikki darted forward and stuck his foot in its path. The door hit it and bounced back open. Garzad and Riibu ducked inside. The editor examined the area around the door. When she didn't see anything, she tried closing the door again. It bounced off Nikki's foot once more. Iffy and Nikki hurried inside.

The third time, the editor tried to close the door slowly. The door latched into place without a problem. She blinked a few times before shrugging and moving on.

Inside the tunnel, Riibu, Nikki, Iffy, and Garzad found each other again and kept going. Eventually, they came to a fork in the tunnel.

"Which way do you think Stareye went?" Iffy asked.