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Chapter 22: Burn, Jungle, Burn!

Chapter 22: Burn, Jungle, Burn!

When dawn arrived the next morning, Ephesos climbed back up into the giant sequoia. He was somewhat surprised to see that Niemand and the others were still in the area, but they hardly mattered. He had more important things to think about. He found a good patch of light and settled down. Sooner or later, a less cowardly group would come to challenge him. He had to make sure his defenses would hold.


Nalyd and Nioca met up with the others who were going to the Waystation. In total, there were ten people. The Lurker wasn't there.

"Is this everyone?" Delicious Vlish asked.

"Everyone but the Lurker," Synergy said.

"Well, where is he?"

Ten minutes passed. Alorael arrived.

"What are you doing here?" Delicious Vlish asked.

"There was a change of plans. The Lurker isn't coming. The three of us are in charge."

"Why?" Synergy asked.

Alorael shrugged. "I don't know."

"Whatever. Can we go now?" Ackrovan asked.

It was not a long trip to the Waystation. They could see the giant sequoia rising above all the other buildings in the area from several blocks away.

"Whoa. That's pretty impressive," Nioca said.

"Hey!" Niemand, Toby-Linn, Dikiyoba, Chatter, and the Ratt hurried towards the group.

"Weapons ready!" Delicious Vlish said. "How did you know we were here?"

Niemand and the others stopped short as swords and arrows were pointed at them. "Ephesos seemed to be watching something from the sequoia. I figured it might have been you."

Delicious Vlish stared up at the sequoia. If he squinted, he could barely make out a green figure standing in the tree. "Why didn't you return to Spiderweb?"

Niemand hesitated. "A few of us decided to use the repair script once everything is back under control."

"Did a script malfunction for anyone else, then? Who?" Synergy asked.

"No. It's voluntary."

"Can we examine you to make sure no one is corrupted in any way?" Synergy asked.

"Go ahead."

Nioca and Synergy examined the five of them closely.

"I don't see any problems," Nioca said.

"No, neither do I."

Delicious Vlish looked affronted. "You're planning to give up all your power? For no reason? Hmmph. I thought you were smarter than that."

Alorael watched Ephesos and tapped his foot impatiently. "We're wasting time here."

The group moved on. As they approached the Waystation, Ephesos suddenly started climbing down the tree. Alorael sprinted to the building directly across the street from the Waystation and climbed up to a good window, but he was too slow. Ephesos climbed below the roofline. Alorael leaned out the window.

"I'm going to stay here. I can hit Ephesos if he tries to climb up the tree again."

"All right," Synergy said, "How do we want to proceed?"

Delicious Vlish pointed at Dikiyoba, Toby-Linn, the Ratt, and Chatter. "You four have to stay out here. Ephesos can kill you too easily."

Excalibur cut a few brambles. It was hard work, and they quickly grew back. "How are we going to get inside? It will take ages."

Synergy cast bolt of fire at a section of brambles. They didn't catch.

"Well, that makes sense, Dikiyoba supposes. Ephesos wouldn't leave his plants vulnerable to one of his favorite spells."

"Hmm." Nioca cast smite on some of the brambles. They withered. "Now try setting them on fire."

Synergy cast bolt of fire again. This time, the dead brambles burned. After about ten minutes of effort, the group had finally cleared away a big enough section for them to enter the Waystation. Dikiyoba, Chatter, Toby-Linn, and the Ratt were left outside.

"This sucks," the Ratt said.

The brambles quickly repaired themselves. "Maybe it's a good thing we're out here," Chatter said, "Who knows what they'll run into, and they won't be able to escape easily."

"Oh, come on." The Ratt snorted. "It's Ephesos and a bunch of plants. What's scary about a bunch of plants?"


In the entryway of the Waystation, large ferns sprouted out of the walls. Nioca stopped to examine one. The moment he touched it, a cloud of spores erupted into the air. Nioca inhaled some and yawned.

Lazarus shook him back to alertness. "Come on, stop fooling around."

With Delicious Vlish in the lead, everyone stepped into the General Forum. Besides the giant sequoia, many other trees had sprung up. They intercepted almost all the light, leaving the forum in greenish gloom. More ferns grew on the ground. Duck accidentally stumbled into a patch of them. He yawned several times and sat down.

Synergy skirted a patch of ferns and stepped on something softer than the floor. Before he could step back, the jaws of a gigantic Venus flytrap snapped shut, trapping Synergy inside.

Lazarus stepped forward and slashed at the plant. It was damaged, but not badly. Excalibur tried to attack the flytrap, but he brushed against some ferns and stumbled.

Nioca cast smite on the flytrap. Only part of it was effected. He cast the spell again. Inside the plant, Synergy had recovered enough to cast fireblast. Together, the two spells were strong enough to blast off one side of the flytrap. Synergy stepped out.

"Well done." Ephesos was watching them from the doorway with a twisted smile on his face.

"Surrender!" Delicious Vlish said.


Everyone threw themselves to the ground. Several people brushed ferns and spores scattered everywhere. Ephesos' spell hit a tree trunk, which smoldered briefly before going out. When the smoke cleared and the yawning stopped, Ephesos was gone.

"He's toying with us," Delicious Vlish grumbled.

Synergy shrugged. "There's not a lot we can to about that, unfortunately. Let's move on."

"Wait. Where's Duck?" Nioca looked around. "Duck! Duck, can you hear us?"

After a few minutes of searching, Nalyd found Duck's body among the ferns. He had been strangled by some vines. "Now that's just sad."

The group left General Forum and entered a vine-covered hallway. Thankfully, there were no more soporific ferns. Actaeon was traveling at the rear of the group. Suddenly, he halted. "Wait, hold up."

"What is it?" Nioca asked.

"I think I heard something."

"Hello?" Lazarus asked, "Is someone there?"

Something knocked on the wall in response. Once they tracked the knocking to its source, Synergy froze the vines. Excalibur and Nalyd chopped them away. Eventually, they revealed a door. Synergy opened it very carefully. Several fluffy turtles stared up at him. The rest were scattered around the room. Most were asleep. The Almighty Doer of Stuff slept against Inspector Peanut's shell.

Delicious Vlish floated into the room. The fluffy turtles that were awake watched him closely but made no move. Delicious Vlish woke the Almighty Doer of Stuff up.

"What's going on?" The Almighty Doer of Stuff sat up. "Oh, good. Rescue."

Nioca was surprised. "Wow. You seem to be doing much better."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff shrugged. "I guess so."

"What are you doing in here?" Excalibur asked.

"The turtles sensed the change in Ephesos and wanted to escape, but we couldn't leave without Inspector Peanut. By the time we got here, though, vines were springing up everywhere. We knew we wouldn't be able to get out, so we locked ourselves in here instead. Some vines came under the door, but the turtles chewed them off. After that, well, I guess Ephesos forgot we were here."

"Um, guys, I think you'd better get out of there," Nioca said.

The moment the door had been opened, the vines had started growing into the room. Now they were halfway around the walls.

The Almighty Doer of Stuff, Delicious Vlish, and the fluffy turtles hurried out of the room.

"So, where is everyone else?" the Almighty Doer of Stuff asked.

"Back at Spiderweb," Nalyd said.

"Oh, good. Can the turtles and I leave? I'd like to get them back to Spiderweb."

"Yes. Salmon, make sure they get out safely," Delicious Vlish said.

Ephesos stepped out into the open and cleared his throat.

"Not again!" Nioca said.


The Almighty Doer of Stuff tackled a fluffy turtle, knocking it out of harm's way. Lazarus charged Ephesos. Ephesos waved a hand. Stinging nettles sprang up around Lazarus.

"Ouch! Ow! Fight fair, Ephesos!" Lazarus finally made his way through the nettles. Ephesos ran off. Lazarus started after him, but a vine from around the wall wrapped around his arm and flung him back into the nettles.


Salmon fished Lazarus out and Nioca healed him.

"Well, that was fun," Salmon said, "Let's go, ADoS."

Salmon, the Almighty Doer of Stuff, and the fluffy turtles headed back towards the exit while the rest of the group debated how to best get rid of the stinging nettles. They were now six feet high.

Dikiyoba was the first one to hear Salmon calling from inside the Waystation. Dikiyoba ran over. "What is it?"

"Bring the others over here and start cutting through the brambles on this end, would you?"

"Sure thing." Dikiyoba ran off.


One of the reasons Dintiradan had sent Alorael instead of the Lurker with the group was because the Lurker was running low on skribbane. He hurried to the skribbane patch, occasionally pausing to make sure he wasn't being followed.

When he arrived, he stopped dead. The skribbane patch had been completely destroyed. Everything of harvestable size had been picked. The plants that had been too small or too old had been uprooted. Their wilted remains were scattered everywhere. There was a brief message painted on the wall that ran along one side of the patch.

—Alorael, who isn't sorry.

The Lurker drank one of his remaining potions slowly as he tried to control his anger and decide what to do next.


Ephesos decided that it was time for the intruders to face another test. He waved his hand. New plants sprouted up from the ground. They bloomed, wilted, and developed a large, dried-out seedpod. Ephesos waited patiently for the intruders to come.

A few minutes later, Synergy rounded the corner. He immediately leapt back out of sight. "Ephesos is right there and he's got some sort of new plant around him. Buff up."

Everyone blessed, hasted, and shielded themselves before charging around the corner. Actaeon fired an arrow. It struck Ephesos in the shoulder. Ephesos pulled it out before casting divine retribution. Then he ran. The seedpods exploded. Razor-sharp seeds shot everywhere.

"Argh!" Nalyd threw up his arms to shield his face. When the projectiles finally died down, he lowered his arms. Ackrovan was dead. Delicious Vlish and Excalibur were both badly injured. Nioca healed Excalibur.

Delicious Vlish healed himself. "Well, walking around randomly isn't getting us anywhere. Does anyone have any better ideas?"


"Alorael!" The Lurker stood at the base of the building directly across from the Waystation. Alorael stuck his head out the window. The Lurker glared up at him. "What did you do with all the skribbane?"

"I destroyed most of it. The rest of it is right here!" Alorael held up his bag of skribbane.

"You what?!"

Toby-Linn and Chatter stopped cutting back brambles to watch the scene. Salmon jabbed his fishing rod through the brambles at them. "Forget them. We're losing progress here."

Chatter and Toby-Linn saw that the brambles were already growing back and resumed work.

Alorael pulled out a bottle and drank it with exaggerated intent before answering. "I destroyed it."

"You... you're lying!"

Alorael shrugged. "You don't have to believe me. You're such a good tracker that if I'm lying, I'm sure you'll find the stash before too long."

The Lurker checked. He had two potions left. Two. That wouldn't be enough time to discover whether Alorael was bluffing or not. "Give me half of your skribbane right now!"

Alorael grinned. "Certainly. In fact, you can have it all."

The Lurker realized he had made a mistake, but it was too late. Alorael upended the bag out the window. Dozens of bottles rolled out. The Lurker saw his world plummeting through the air and smashing on the pavement. Tink! Smash! Chunk! Smash!

The Lurker knelt down beside the puddle of orange liquid and broken glass. He dipped a finger into the puddle and tasted it. Skribbane.

"What the heck were you thinking?!" The Lurker paused. Salmon and the Almighty Doer of Stuff squeezed out of the Waystation. The fluffy turtles followed them. The Lurker brightened up. "Ha! I can just summon more, you know!"

"You can't, actually. Remember how we agreed that skribbane would be a disallowed item? Otherwise, anyone might have decided they wanted to try some."

"So? I can have Dintiradan remove that limitation." The Lurker sounded a lot less confident than usual.

"I'm sure he can, but how long do you think it will take you to get back to Spiderweb, find him, and wait for him to tinker around with the summoning machine? Do you think you can hold out that long?"

"Why did you do this to me?"

"I never share my skribbane."

The Lurker turned and walked away quickly. Suddenly, he turned and charged into the building after Alorael, yelling incoherently.

This time, everyone stopped to stare at the building. Alorael jumped out the window. He landed safely and bumped into the Almighty Doer of Stuff in his hurry to get into the Waystation. The brambles grew back behind him.

The Lurker leaned out the window. "Fine! Be like that!" He came back out of the building and stormed off towards the Google station.

"Are you still in a hurry to get back to Spiderweb?" Salmon nudged the Almighty Doer of Stuff.

"No, I guess we'd better stay here for now."


Delicious Vlish poked his head into the scripting lab. "It's clear."

Nioca said, "Okay, if Ephesos can keep track of us through his plants, then any moment now--"

Brambles even denser and thornier than the brambles outside sprang up in the doorway, completely blocking access to the lab. A moment later, the flowers with the exploding seedpods sprang up all around them.

"Arcane shield!" Nioca threw himself to the ground as the flowers wilted and the seedpods swelled. The seedpods exploded. Seeds ricocheted off the walls and occasionally hit a target.

"Ow! Ow! Hey!" Actaeon was slow to get out of the way.

To his horror, Nioca realized vines were springing up now too. Several wrapped around his legs. "Smite!" The vines wilted, but more vines wrapped around his arms.

The other Spiderwebbers were in similar trouble. Synergy was still free, but he was the only one. A vine wrapped itself firmly around Nalyd's neck.

Ephesos walked around the corner. He watched the group struggle against the vines for a moment. "You have tested my defenses and found them acceptable. Now it is time for you--" Ephesos paused, looking puzzled.

An insubstantial vine started to strangle Niemand. Suddenly, it faded away. Synergy launched a fireball at Ephesos.

Ephesos dodged the spell. "DIVINE RETRIBUTION!!!"

Synergy ducked, but the spell wasn't aimed at him. It smashed through the roof. Sunlight streamed in. Ephesos pulled the hood on his robe back so that more light could hit his face.

"That's it! He needs sunlight to get enough energy to shape things! Synergy, get--gack!" Vines wrapped around Niemand's neck, cutting him off.

Outside the Waystation, everyone jumped up when they saw the divine retribution spell blow through the roof. Salmon quickly scrambled up onto the roof and peered through the hole. "Do you need help?"

Synergy rushed at Ephesos and knocked him out of the light. "Yes, Salmon! Find some way to cover up the hole. Block the light!"

Lazarus managed to roll over to one of his swords and slice up the vines around one hand. He picked up the sword and hacked at the rest of the vines going after him.

Ephesos got an arm free and waved his hand. A new plant, one with dagger-sized spines, sprang up. He snapped one off and plunged it into Synergy's chest. He pushed the body away and moved back into the sun.

Salmon ran to the edge of the roof. "Quick, we need to repair the roof. Do we have anything helpful down there?"

Toby-Linn looked around. "I don't see anything."

"I have a jacket," the Almighty Doer of Stuff said.

"Ooh, I do too," added the Ratt.

Salmon shook his head. "Those won't help. Get up here, will you?"

Once everyone had climbed up, Salmon had them break limbs off the giant sequoia.

Meanwhile, Lazarus managed to cut Nalyd free. Nalyd sat up, gasping for air.

"Cut the others loose, or we're all dead." Lazarus carefully approached Ephesos. He ducked as another divine retribution spell came his way.

Nalyd hacked Nioca free, occasionally stopping to chop away the vines that were wrapping around his legs. "Help Lazarus!" He started to free Excalibur.

Salmon and the others dragged all the snapped-off branches across the roof and threw them across the hole. After several layers of branches, only a few shafts of sunlight could get through the needles. The Almighty Doer of Stuff and the Ratt threw their jackets on top of the branches.

Ephesos looked up when the light vanished. "DIVINE RET--" Ephesos stumbled forward as a bullet hit him, but stayed standing. Alorael ducked back out of sight.

Ephesos quickly healed himself. "DIVI--" He fell as Alorael's second bullet struck him.

Nalyd finished cutting Excalibur free and then pushed past Lazarus. "Out of my way!"

Ephesos got back up. Alorael fired again. Ephesos collapsed again. He coughed and tried to heal himself.

"Hah!" Nalyd kicked Ephesos in the head. Ephesos blacked out. Nioca hurried over and healed him.

"What was that for?" Nalyd asked.

"We can use the emergency repair script when he's unconscious. Not so much when he's dead," Lazarus said, "Good timing, Alorael."

Alorael stood up. "Nioca, could I get a curing spell, please? I'm getting a headache."

Excalibur cut Delicious Vlish, Actaeon, and Niemand loose.

"Is it safe?" Salmon called down.

"We're good!" Lazarus yelled.

The branches shifted and Salmon looked down. Dikiyoba and Chatter joined him.

"Will Ephesos be okay, do you think?" Chatter asked.

Dikiyoba and Salmon shrugged.

Excalibur swung at the brambles blocking the doorway. With Ephesos unconscious, they were easily chopped away. Lazarus and Niemand carried Ephesos into the scripting lab and set him in the chair. Niemand pulled out the repair script and activated it. There was a flash of blue light. The green faded from Ephesos' skin.

"Did it work?" Lazarus asked.

Niemand examined Ephesos closely. "I think so. His stats are back to normal, at least."

Nioca entered the room and wandered around, looking at the floor. Occasionally, he spotted something and picked it up.

Salmon lowered Dikiyoba and Chatter into the hallway. They entered the scripting lab.

Niemand gently set Ephesos aside. "Ready?"

"Dikiyoba thinks so."

The Almighty Doer of Stuff sat at the edge of the roof. He squinted down. "You know, I'm sure those vines are bigger now than they just were."

"Really?" Toby-Linn joined him. After a few minutes of watching, she hurried to the hole in the roof. When she looked down, she saw that the vines inside had grown a lot too. "Um, guys? I think we have a problem."


Several hours passed before Ephesos regained consciousness. He groaned. "Am I dead?"


Ephesos turned his head and caught sight of Nioca's cheery expression. He closed his eyes. "Why not?"

"How do you feel?"

"Like the leftover scraps from a wight feeding frenzy. After they've been left in the back of the refrigerator for several months. And then taken out to be shot three times. And then kicked in the head." Ephesos opened his eyes and looked around the room. He was lying on a bed of sequoia branches in a bare room. Judging by the dirt and dust on the floor, the building he was in had been abandoned for some time now. There was a small window along one wall, but someone had hung a jacket over it. Ephesos was oddly grateful that he couldn't see the sky. "...but better, I guess." He winced as memories came back to him. "Wait, no. Actually, I don't feel better at all. Is it too late for you to kill me?"

"I'm afraid so." Nioca was still smiling slightly.

Ephesos stared at Nioca. Something about him was different. Ephesos couldn't quite figure out what it was. "What happened while I was unconscious?"

"Well, we removed all your alterations, obviously. And then many of us removed ours as well. And then--"

"That's what's different about you! What made you give it up?"

"Oh, you know." Nioca shrugged. "I decided it was safer to stick with what I learned the hard way. Although, well, I found I couldn't give up return life, somehow." Nioca reached into his pocket. When he pulled it out, every single one of Ephesos' crickets were sitting on it.

Ephesos stared at them. "Nioca, that's awesome." Ephesos hesitated, and then held out his hand. "I'm really, really sorry."

The crickets jumped onto Ephesos's hand. "Chrrk."

"Yeah, but I did the worst of it. Still, there wasn't any lasting damage done, right?"

Nioca hesitated. "Actually..."

"Oh no. What is it?"

"Those vines you made started growing out of control. We had to burn down the Waystation to keep them from spreading."

"You what? But... my trees!" Ephesos jumped up and ran out of building. A block away, smoke was billowing up all around the giant sequoia. Ephesos ran towards it.

"Wait, Eph!" Nioca hurried after him. As he ran, he felt a drop of rain. He looked up. Dark clouds were rolling in quickly. Another drop of rain hit Nioca in the eye.

Ephesos arrived at the Waystation in time to see the roof collapse in a shower of ash and sparks. The charred remains of the largest oak tree stood for a moment longer and then fell as well. Vines reached halfway up the trunk of the giant sequoia and flames were quickly climbing up the tree along them. The other Spiderwebbers had strips of cloth tied across their mouths and noses to keep out the smoke and constantly circled the building to make sure no sparks or vines escaped.

Nioca and the rain arrived a moment later. There was a rumble of thunder in the distance and the building steamed as rain hit it.

Ephesos watched as the giant sequoia continued to burn. "Please, please, please..."

Boom! A bolt of lightning struck the tree, blowing off the top twenty feet. The Ratt and Dikiyoba had to scramble out of the way as it landed in the middle of the street.

"Oh, come on!" Ephesos yelled.

The rain came down harder. Salmon looked up. "Hey, who turned on the faucet? Ow! Water in my eye!"

"Cheer up, Salmon. At least it's not rats," Dikiyoba said.

"Yeah, or fish," Excalibur added.

A few feet away, something went splat. Excalibur looked up and promptly took a large perch to the face.

"Run for cover!" Actaeon yelled.

Everyone ran for the building across the street. Once they were safely inside, Salmon found a good window and cast out. It didn't take long for a fish to flop over onto the hook. Salmon reeled it in. An inch long minnow stared at him. Salmon freed it and tossed it out the window. Then he cast again. "Anyone got preferences for dinner?"

Alorael leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. His headache was back, and the room and everyone in it were beginning to spin. The lack of skribbane was definitely getting to him now. "Could I get a curing spell, please?" His legs gave out and he slid down to the floor.

Ephesos and Nioca looked at one another. "Do you...?"

"No, you..."

Dikiyoba hurried over and helped Alorael drink a curing potion. He managed to straighten up long enough to say, "I think I'll try to sleep now." He curled up on the floor, clutching his sniper rifle tightly.

Meanwhile, Salmon reeled in furiously. "Come on, come on... aha!" He pulled the fish through the window and examined it closely. "Check it out, everyone. It's a coelacanth! I've never caught one of those before." As Salmon pulled the hook free, the fish leapt out of his hands across the room. There was a splat as it hit Dikiyoba in the face.


"Oops. Sorry, Diki."

After a sushi dinner, the rest of the night passed uneventfully. In the morning, Ephesos was the first one awake. He hurried outside, wading knee-deep through dead fish. The giant sequoia was still upright and alive. "Yes!"

Several large spiders had survived the fire and rain of fish by hiding among the sequoia's needles. Now they cautiously descended towards Ephesos. He saw them and sighed. "All right, I suppose I can take you. But no harming my crickets, and no growing up to be GIFTS."