Chapter 23: Withdrawal

The Lurker staggered into Dintiradan's office and collapsed in the nearest chair.

"What happened?" Dintiradan asked.

"Need... skribbane..."

"But you just went to get more."

"Destroyed... Alorael... need you... to change summoning..." The Lurker tried to straighten up in his chair. "...machine."

"You want me to halt construction on Spiderweb just so I can reprogram the summoning machine for you? Do you know how much work that takes?"

The Lurker muttered something incoherent. Dintiradan stared at him. He should have seen this coming. Alorael had always been upset whenever someone messed with his skribbane. For now, the Lurker had to remain out of sight and under control. Where to put him? The Lurker had enough strength to break just about any chain or lock. He was stronger than any guard Dintiradan could place too. If the Lurker became violent during withdrawal, there would be trouble. How long did withdrawal last?

The Lurker blinked fuzzily. "Why... are you... looking at me... for?"

Dintiradan sighed. There was only one thing he could do. "I'm sorry, Lurker. SLEEP!!!"

The Lurker slumped sideways and fell off the chair. Dintiradan cast the spell a second time to be sure. Then he found Zephyr Tempest. "Do you mind helping me with a problem?"

"Ooh. What sort of problem?"

Dintiradan explained. Zephyr Tempest agreed to help. Dintiradan left him and the Lurker locked in his office. It was poor security, but it was the best he could do in the circumstances and at least no one could get in by accident.

Afterwards, he checked on Garzad and Iffy. Jewels remained alert as he unlocked the door to the makeshift cell. She wouldn't let anyone escape under her watch again.

Iffy glared at Dintiradan as he entered. "What do you want?"

"Same offer. You apologize and promise not to cause any more problems and I let you go free without any sort of demands or conditions."

Iffy spit at Dintiradan's feet.

"You?" Dintiradan turned to Garzad. Garzad shook his head. "Very well." Dintiradan left.

---

Tyranicus and Student of Trinity took their lunch break at the edge of the construction site. Other people were still at work. Andraste and Drew hauled beams up to the roof.

"Do you know where Dinitradan is?" Tyranicus asked.

Student of Trinity peeled an orange. "Well, that's a suspicious question."

"What? No, it's not." Tyranicus looked around nervously.

"It is the way you say it." Student of Trinity sighed. "Well, you've obviously got something you want to say. Spit it out."

"It's just... well, Thuryl got me thinking. Have you noticed how things make more sense when Dintiradan says them than they do later on?"

Student of Trinity looked thoughtful. "I can't say I have. Want some?" He offered a quarter of the orange.

"No thanks. You're lucky. Dintiradan doesn't seem to effect you."

"What do you mean?"

"You disagreed with the rest of us in that mod meeting yesterday. How did you do it?"

Student of Trinity shrugged. "I thought it seemed like a bad idea to execute Ecksian. The rest of you saw it differently."

"No. There's something... Dintiradan can... I don't know. When he wants people to agree with him, they do. He's supercharismatic or something. But you still disagree at time."

"Hmm. I honestly haven't noticed anything unusual, but I'll keep my eye out for it." Student of Trinity finished his orange and stood up. "I've got to get back to work."

Tyranicus watched him leave and then kicked a nearby rock angrily. He wasn't sure what he wanted more: to get to the bottom of this or to go back to believing that absolutely nothing was wrong.

---

Stareye had spent all morning acquainting-well, reacquainting--himself with everyone. Now he retreated to the Pied-Piper archives to read through old threads. Arancaytar dropped by occasionally to make sure he was doing all right.

Several hours passed. Stareye worked his way through dozens of threads. Some of them made no sense whatsoever, so he quickly set those aside. Whenever he came to one of his posts, he read it carefully. It was frustrating. They might as well have been written by a complete stranger.

It began to rain. Occasionally, a fish splattered on the ground.

---

Dintiradan checked in on Zephyr Tempest and the Lurker. He cast another sleep spell on the Lurker. "Any problems?"

"Not here. Duck, Ackrovan, and Synergy died, though."

"Thank you. I'll revive them soon." Dintiradan went outside and started walking. He was starting to lose people. Some of the mods were unhappy that Ecksian had been executed. With Stareye back and showing improvement, some people would want him to take charge again. Thuryl was out there somewhere doing who knew what. If enough people got together or the wrong information leaked out, there could easily be a revolt.

Still, if he could keep everyone happy for a few more days, the new message board would be complete. Once he was admin, it would be hard for a revolt to remove him. After a few months of being in charge, everyone would be so used to him they would forget it had ever been different. All he had to do was keep things under control for a little while longer.

Dintiradan sighed. Keeping control was easier said than done. No wonder so many Evil Overlords decided to rule by fear. It was a lot simpler.

---

When night fell, most Spiderwebbers went to bed. Zephyr Tempest and Dintiradan stayed awake to guard the Lurker and adjust the summoning machine respectively. Stareye continued to read over old posts. Drew took over guard duty for Jewels. Tyranicus and a few others slipped into Shadow Vale for a secret meeting.

"What did you want to talk about?" Andraste asked.

Tyranicus hesitated. "Well, it's about Dintiradan. Have you noticed how things always seem a bit... different when he's around?"

"No," Nemesis said.

The Silent Assassin gestured.

"Yes. We both have," Lord Grimm said.

"Good. I'm glad I'm not the only one," Tyranicus said.

"So what do you want us to do about it?" Andraste asked.

"For now, absolutely nothing. Just keep your eyes and ears open when you're around him. I think you'll start noticing the difference."

The small meeting broke up.

---

The next morning, Arancaytar shook Stareye awake. He had fallen asleep on a stack of threads. The top one stuck to Stareye's face when he sat up. He pulled it off.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Arancaytar asked.

"Not yet."

"Well, you'd better go get breakfast before it's all taken. You can come back after that."

Stareye nodded and left.

---

It was midmorning when Ephesos and the others arrived at Spiderweb. Alorael's withdrawal symptoms were so bad he had to be carried. It was also obvious that almost everyone had used the repair script to return to a mostly unaltered state.

Dintiradan pulled Delicious Vlish aside. "What happened?"

Delicious Vlish explained.

"They don't want to be altered anymore? But... but why?"

Delicious Vlish shrugged. "That's what I don't get."

Dintiradan talked to Niemand next.

"I just think there are negative side effects we haven't really recognized yet. I don't think those consequences are worth the power gained."

"Side effects are very rare, especially when all safety precautions are being taken. We've done hundreds of alterations and only had one mishap. Ephesos doesn't count, since he intentionally messed with the script."

"One that we know of. I don't know, Dintiradan. It gets in your head, somehow. I can't really explain it. But I talked it over with Dikiyoba and a few others and they agreed with me, so I know I'm not just crazy."

Dintiradan sighed. It was too much to deal with at the moment, not with everything else going on. "You aren't planning on convincing everyone to go back, are you?"

Niemand shook his head. "Not now."

"Then that's fine. You may leave. Send the Lurker in, would you?"

---

Someone forced something into Alorael's hands. He tried to focus on it. It was... it was... a bottle... with something in it! Skribbane! He drank it. Everything came back into focus.

The Lurker handed Alorael another bottle. "I hope you're happy. We're both stuck with summoned skribbane until one of us can find a new patch of it, and the summoned stuff tastes awful. Dintiradan probably won't let us go looking for a while, either. He said he needs us." The look the Lurker gave Alorael would have curdled milk.

Alorael felt much better after chugging the second bottle. "You made it back, I see. Pity."

Now the Lurker's look would have Blighted mushrooms. "And the same to you."

Alorael looked away. "Why are you helping me? Dintiradan's orders?"

"Yes. And only Dintiradan's orders, so don't do anything that would make me forget them." The Lurker stormed off.

---

Dintiradan checked his watch. It was almost time for the daily mod meeting to begin.

Saunders entered and sat silently in a seat. Ephesos entered a minute later. Student of Trinity was next.

Dintiradan examined the blueprints for Spiderweb yet again. The exterior was just about complete, so work on the inside could begin tomorrow. If all went according to plan, the admin panel could be installed tomorrow night.

Tyranicus entered and sat down beside Ephesos. Danielle and Zephyr Tempest were next, followed by Delicious Vlish.

Dintiradan put the blueprints away. He had a plan for making sure no one could disrupt the installation of the admin panel. For starters, it was locked up and the key was in Dintiradan's pocket. In addition, one piece of the panel had been removed and hidden elsewhere. Dintiradan was so close. No one was going to mess his plans up now.

Randomizer and Synergy arrived. The Lurker and Alorael entered last, pointedly making sure they moved their chairs so that they wouldn't be anywhere near each other.

---

Tyranicus, Andraste, Nemesis, Lord Grimm, and the Silent Assassin held another meeting that night. Tyranicus paced the length of Shadow Vale. "Look, I know I told you I only wanted us to watch and listen, but we're running out of time. If we want to act, we have to act very soon. At the mod meeting this afternoon, Dintiradan told us he planned to install the admin panel tomorrow evening. Once he's root admin, there's no way we'll be able to get him to step down. Dintiradan will rule Spiderweb forever."

"We don't have any real proof he's done anything wrong, though. All we have is a feeling. Besides, who would take over after Dintiradan?" Andraste asked.

"Alorael?" Nemesis asked.

"He's a bit too sociopathic," Tyranicus said.

"Saunders, then?" Lord Grimm suggested.

"No, she's been very quiet at mod meetings lately. I don't think she'll stick around much longer," Tyranicus said.

The Silent Assassin tilted his head towards Tyranicus.

"What'd he say?" Tyranicus asked.

"He suggested you."

Tyranicus was baffled. "What, me?" He thought for a minute. "Well, okay. I guess I can do it until Stareye recovers. But that was the easy part. Now we need to come up with a plan."

"Did Dintiradan say anything else about the admin panel?" Andraste asked.

"Yes. He's hidden it somewhere. I don't know where, but it's locked up. However, he took one piece out of it. Before anyone can activate the admin panel and get root admin status, they have to install that device. Again, though, it's locked up and I have no idea where it is."

Nemesis looked thoughtful. "Well, if we can't steal that device before Dintiradan retrieves it, there are enough of us we could probably steal it from him directly."

"Good. Then let's figure out exactly how we can do that." Lord Grimm rubbed his hands together.