Chapter 7: Nobody Stands Alone

The battle soon became utter chaos. Nikki could only catch glimpses of what other people were doing as he fought. Smoo and ***** fighting back-to-back... Iffy getting stabbed... Nalyd laughing madly... a rat helping Jewels over to Nioca...

Now two bots attacked Nikki at once. He held them off, wielding a pen in each hand. A third bot approached from behind.

Riibu had been lurking invisibly nearby. Now she tackled the bot. The bot managed to kick her in the head. She let go. The bot stood up.

"No cookies for you!" Nicothodes darted forward and stabbed the bot. Then she joined Nikki.

Nikki sighed so quietly she didn't hear him. "Why oh why couldn't you be Aran?"

Only half-conscious, Riibu tried to crawl for safety. She was kicked or stepped on several more times. Eventually, she blacked out.

Iffy ran back into the General Forum and threw himself at the nearest group of bots. "For Spiderweb!" He managed to kill one bot before dying again.

Tyranicus caught a bot on his horns and flung it across the room. Another bot hacked at his side. He kicked it away and fought his way over to Nioca. "Heal me please."

Several bots reached the ranged attackers.

"Look out! Arghhh!" Thralni died.

Actaeon and Marlenny both shot one. The third killed Synergy. Stareye drew his sword, kicked the bot flat, and stabbed it.

Alorael staggered out of the guard tower and collapsed. "Stareye! More visitors coming!" He threw his bag of skribbane potions and sniper rifle down. They landed at Stareye's feet. "If anyone touches those, then I'll make sure that horrible things happen to... urk--" Alorael, who probably wouldn't have very long to come up with the horrible things he would do since Arancaytar was the one in charge of revivals, died. Several bots stepped out of the guard tower and ran down the stairs.

Dintiradan aimed the Deth Ray at them and fired. He could already hear more bots climbing through the guard tower window, though.

"Zeviz, how long can the bots keep this up?" Stareye asked.

Zeviz cast haste on Goldenking. Then he hurried over to the scrying pool. After a minute of scrying, he said, "Er... you probably don't want to know."

"Dintiradan, can you adjust the settings on the Deth Ray so that it collapses the guard tower instead of blowing a hole in our roof? Soon?" Stareye asked.

"Adjust the settings? What settings? It's a Deth Ray! You're not supposed to toast marshmallows with it!"

More bots raced down the stairs, but the Deth Ray wasn't charged up yet.

"Bots coming your way, Excalibur!" Stareye yelled.

Excalibur, the Lurker, and several rats found themselves trapped between two groups of bots. They were quickly killed. One of the bots picked up Excalibur's sword and attempted to stab the Lurker's copy of Homeland. The sword shattered. The bot kicked Homeland into a corner and threw the broken sword on top of it.

Iffy arrived and charged at a group of bots. He was killed for a third time.

Spells were wearing off now. Smoo, Jeran Korak, and several rats were all killed within just a few minutes. ***** fought his way out of the bots and joined Stareye. "We're being overwhelmed."

"I know," Stareye said.

"Are we going to retreat?" ***** asked.

"Soon. Very soon. Would you make sure Niemand is ready for it?"

"Should I initiate the self-destruct countdown on the Deth Ray?" Dintiradan asked.

"How long would that give us?" Stareye asked.

"Ten minutes."

"How long would it give us really?"

"Er... somewhere between eight and nine minutes."

"Okay. Start it. Zeviz, take the scrying pool to the Announcements Forum. I'll be there shortly."

Alorael entered. He picked up his sniper rifle and bag of skribbane potions.

"Retreat! Everyone retreat to the Tech Support Forum! Niemand and ***** are in charge there. The next few people to die should carry the summoning machine and supplies into the Geneforge Series Forum. Retreat!" Stareye yelled.

Everyone ran for the Tech Support Forum. Tegburi and Nicothodes were killed in the process. Nikki was seriously wounded. He collapsed. Student of Trinity and Slartucker had to drag the Almighty Doer of Stuff away.

"No! Inspector Walnut! I can't just leave them!"

When the three of them entered the Tech Support Forum, Niemand was the only one in it. He was unarmed, wore nothing metal, and carried a large wooden shield. "Trust me, it's better if I'm the only one in here when the traps start to go off."

The bots halted abruptly when they saw the traps. A few cautiously stepped into the forum. Another bot had looted a bow. It fired an arrow at Niemand. He deflected it with his shield easily. Then he took one step to the right so that he was standing on a small rune. The traps all flashed once. Apart from a small circle around Niemand, the entire floor was now emitting sparks. The bots crossing the forum were zapped until they short-circuited. Niemand grinned. His hair stood on end. "Let's see you get past me."

---

In the Announcements Forum, ***** held onto the Jade Halberd for Niemand. He watched as people started staggering into the forum. "If all you need is a short break, you can stay here. If you need a longer rest, head to the Geneforge 4 Forum. There's food and water there."

"What do you want me to do with the scrying pool?" Zeviz asked.

"Can you set it so that anyone can look into it and get a good view of the Avernum Trilogy Forum?" Stareye asked.

"Yes. It'll take a few minutes, though."

Stareye listened to the continuous zapping. "I think Niemand can give you that."

---

Riibu regained consciousness, still invisible. Bots hurried everywhere. Some were searching for loot. Others were taking damaged bots out to be repaired. Most were heading towards the Tech Support Forum.

Riibu made her way over to Nikki. The bots had taken his pens and then kicked him aside, obviously not realizing that he was still barely alive. She slowly and carefully dragged him over to the door. The bots didn't notice.

She took a deep breath and extended her invisibility to cover Nikki. Then she picked him up and ducked out the door. Since swimming across the moat would give her away, she walked along the edge of the message board instead until she finally collapsed. Nikki became visible again. Fortunately, there were no bots around. She resumed visibility as well and pulled out a healing pod.

Unfortunately, the three 1337 h4x0rs were in the area. They noticed the sudden appearances and approached carefully.

Nikki sat up. "Huh? What am I doing out here?"

Riibu shrugged. "It was the only way I could figure out how to heal you."

"Yes, but I should be inside fighting bots, not stuck out here!"

"You can go in a moment, just... just... let me tell you something first."

"Oh? What?" Nikki asked.

Across the moat, the three 1337 h4x0rs hid behind a pile of rubble.

"12 7|-|47 4(7|_|411`/ h1|\/|?"

"`/32!!1"

"7|-|3|\| 1372 637 |-|1|\/|!!1"

"It's, er, well, it's... um," Riibu stammered.

"Come on, I don't have all day."

"Er. Well, it's just that I... that I li--"

Three throwing axes hit Nikki simultaneously. He died instantly.

"--ke you. Oh."

In the General Forum, the Deth Ray exploded with one minute 47 seconds left on the display, taking half the room with it.

---

For once, Arancaytar was glad he was currently a bot. If he had been human, he would have had a massive headache by now. "Look, I know you're only trying to help, but it's a hassle reviving you so often. If you're not more careful, you're going to overtake Tyranicus in your first battle."

Iffy sighed.

"Why don't you help Tegburi and Nicothodes carry supplies to the Geneforge Forum? I bet they could use the help."

"I want to do something important. I don't want to be stuck back here."

"Carrying supplies is pretty important, when you think about it. How long do you think we'd last if the bots got ahold of all our weapons? Zephyr, Nikki just died. Besides, you were helping carry in bots earlier."

"I wasn't allowed to do anything else then." Iffy sighed again. "I guess I'll help." He picked up a box and carried it away.

"It would help if we weren't using such a massively stupid inventory system. We should be resurrected with our weapons," Jeran Korak said.

"For the hundredth time, I don't care that a bot got ahold of your sword. In fact, I bet it's using it more wisely than you ever did, which admittedly doesn't mean much. Grab a weapon--any weapon--out of that box over there and go away."

---

Niemand winced as an arrow buried itself in his leg.

"It's okay, it goes with your hair," Salmon said from the Announcements Forum.

"I'm trying to concentrate here!" Niemand caught the next arrow in his shield. "Stareye, they've given up trying to cross. They're just shooting at me now. How much more time do you need?"

Stareye had the scrying pool in his hand when he approached Alorael. "It works. Someone has to stay behind. That someone should probably be me."

Alorael set his skribbane down. "Hmm. I agree. How will you keep the bots from breaking in, though?"

"Sealing off one forum shouldn't cause too much instability."

"No, you're right, it wouldn't. Someone else should stay with you though, just in case."

Stareye shook his head. "We can't afford it. There aren't enough mods as it is and I can't risk letting anyone else know. I'll be fine."

"Okay then. Hey, Niemand! We're good to go!" Alorael went back to his skribbane.

Stareye placed his hand on the identification scanner. Then he looked around. Emperor Tullegolar was up by the Tech Support Forum. Dintiradan and the Lurker were nearby, but they were arguing with each other.

"What do you mean you don't have your copy of Homeland anymore? Now what are we supposed to do?" Dintiradan asked.

"The bots must have taken it. And it's your job to think of something. That's what you've always told me, anyway," the Lurker said.

Stareye opened the door, stepped inside, and shut it firmly.

Niemand ducked as another arrow went by. Then he limped backwards towards the Announcements Forum as quickly as he could. The moment he stepped off the rune, the traps flashed again. The sparks died away. The bots charged.

Lazarus grabbed Niemand and pulled him to safety. The bots crashed into a line of Spiderwebbers and rats at the doorway.

Neossokrass winced as a sword tore through a wing. "Sssomeone should make sssure we have elementsss before we die."

Jewels swung her axe at the nearest bot. "The next time I die, I'll take care of it. Don't you worry."

Nioca healed Niemand. ***** tossed him the Jade Halberd. He flattened his hair as best he could and joined the battle. But bit by bit, one fallen defender at a time, the bots gained ground.