Chapter 8: Loyalty

Randomizer and Garzad ran until they were completely exhausted. Randomizer gradually slowed to a walk, holding his side. "Did... we... lose... them?"

Garzad was so out of breath he could only nod. After a minute he said, "It's a good thing, too. I'm almost out of spell energy. Where are we anyway?"

Randomizer shrugged. "I have no idea."

Someone jumped out of the dumpster. "Why, you're right here, of course! Where else would you be?"

Randomizer took a step back in surprise. Then he recognized the figure. "Mystic!"

"See, I told you they know me!"

Garzad looked around. "Er, who are you talking too?"

The Mystic pointed to his shoulder.

"Um, right. So, er, you wouldn't happen to know of a good spot we can spend a few days at, would you?" Randomizer asked.

The Mystic shook his head. "No. Out here, you always have to be on the move, or the lolcats will find you. We learned that the hard way, didn't we?"

"Uh..." Garzad said.

"But don't worry. You can join us and we'll show you what to look out for. Four pairs of eyes are better than two, after all."

Garzad gave up trying to figure it out and looked to Randomizer.

"Lead on," Randomizer said.

---

The bots had taken control of half of the Announcements Forum now.

Something was bothering Alorael, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "Yul'fib'f, would you make sure DV and Schrodinger have the defenses ready to go in the Geneforge 4 Forum?"

"Right away." The red rat dashed off. He returned a minute later. "They are."

"That was fast. Oh no. Mods! I need help!" Alorael ran over to the Moderator Board door, smashing several bots out of his way with the butt of his sniper rifle along the way.

"I'm coming!" Synergy broke clear of the fighting.

There was a click as the Moderator Board door unlocked. Alorael barged inside. Behind him, the open doorway began to shimmer.

"Sleep," Dintiradan said.

Alorael missed his next step and fell. "Sta--mmph!"

The Lurker tackled him and put a hand over his mouth.

The doorway became a solid wall. Synergy slammed into the other side of it. "Stareye! Alorael! Is everything all right?!"

Stareye turned from the Admin Panel. In one glance, he saw Danielle, Alorael and the Lurker fighting, and Dintiradan preparing to cast another spell.

"Sleep," Dintiradan said again.

"Well..." Stareye yawned. "...played." He swayed for a moment before keeling over.

"Are you okay?!" Synergy called again.

"Er..." Dintiradan tried to mimic Stareye's voice. "Yes. There was a small hitch, but everything is under control now. Right, Alo?"

The Lurker winced as Alorael bit his hand.

Dintiradan switched over to a voice that sort of resembled Alorael's. "Yes. We're good."

Synergy scratched his head in confusion. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Now, isn't there a battle you should be concerned about?"

"Er, well, okay then. I'll just--urk!"

Dintiradan cast sleep on Alorael again. Alorael's eyes closed and he went limp.

The Lurker stood up and rubbed his hand. "Ow. That really hurt."

Dintiradan handed him a healing potion and stepped over to the Admin Panel. "Now, how does this thing work?"

---

In the Geneforge Forum, Arancaytar was very busy reviving people now, so Slartucker had taken over trying to keep Jeran Korak and several others under control. Synergy waited until he had a temporary break.

"Stareye is acting oddly."

"Well, there's not a whole lot we can do about that at the moment," Slartucker said.

"No, but--"

"Do not tell anyone else. It'll only start a panic. Oy! Rof'l'mao! What do you think you are doing?!" Slartucker pulled a lock out of his inventory. "I mean it, Synergy." He ran off.

---

"Aha! I think I've got it figured out," Dintiradan said.

"You know how to seal forums off?" Danielle asked.

"No. I'm still working on that particular detail. I'm getting very close, though. But I think I can take care of the summoning machine now."

"The summoning machine? Why?"

"We can't win here," Dintiradan said, "There are too many bots. But we can win elsewhere, if we do things right."

The Lurker sat on the couch, still rubbing his hand. "I feel kind of funny."

"So you're just going to let everyone else die?" Danielle asked.

Dintiradan looked annoyed. "Of course not. I can think of a few people off the top of my head who I can manipulate easily. They can stay alive. And we'll revive the rest again as soon as we get settled in."

"I guess," Danielle said.

"Good. Can you put together a list of rats we should try to keep alive?"

Danielle nodded.

"Thanks. And done." Dintiradan pushed a button.

---

The Geneforge Forum was dusty, mostly barren, and somehow hotter than everywhere else. A few scraggly trees grew here and there, still heavily damaged by Iffy's escaped demon muffin. At one point, Stareye and Drakefyre had installed a sprinkler system in an attempt to improve the forum. When it failed to produce any results beyond mud, they shut it off and forgot about it. Now the ancient pipes creaked and gurgled as they came back into operation.

"What the?" Slartucker looked up when he was hit by a load of rust flakes. He beckoned Synergy over. "It just became important. How odd was Stareye acting?"

"Er... not this odd, I didn't think. He did say there had been a small hitch, though."

It started to rain.

"Aran!" Slartucker said.

"Don't worry, I can get wet."

"What about the summoning machine?"

"Knowing Dintiradan, it can get wet too."

Deathwhisker had just been revived. She looked up. "Is this supposed to be happening?"

"No. Not at all," Slartucker said.

A bolt of lightning struck a tree.

Arancaytar landed on the ground. "The summoning machine probably can't survive getting hit by lightning, though."

"Well, get it out of this forum, then. Deathwhisker! Drew! Get the summoning machine out of here!" Slartucker dove to the ground as lightning struck a box of weapons. "Synergy, head to G4! See if they know what is happening!"

Lightning hit another tree.

---

Danielle handed her list to Dintiradan.

"Thanks. I've figured out what Stareye meant to do. It won't work for our purposes. Fortunately, I was able to make changes." Dintiradan read over Danielle's list and made a few adjustments on the Admin Panel.

The Lurker watched over Dintiradan's shoulder, sipping a bottle of skribbane. "Are we ready?"

Dintiradan took a deep breath and looked everything over one last time. "Yes. Do you want to do the honors?"

The Lurker stepped forward. His hand shook slightly as he pressed the button.