VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 69 POSTED ON: 12/2/2011
Relic Tales by Lestaki Edited by Locutus Original Thread: (http://forums.relicnews.com/showthread.php?t=80751) This will be in the story format, and is hopefully the first of a series of short stories on the forums in general, aiming to spoof out some low humour at our own expense... *** "This came out of nowhere," Ionfish reflected. "A war of the forums. A war we can't win." "Damnit, there must be something!" Dyn snarled. "Delphy, isn't there some technomancy that we can use?" The Lord Technomaster shook his head. "My powers are limited to the forums, and the forums only. There's nothing we can do." "So we just sit here while World of War walks all over us?" "Excuse me, sir, but there is one thing." It was Moe who spoke. Dyn put a hand against his forehead. "Go on, Moe. What is it?" "The DOW forums, sir. If we could harness the power of the noobishness, then we could turn the tide. I'm sure of it." "We've tried this before, it never works," Ion warned gloomily. Moe shook his head. "I think it can this time. Because I understand Noobs. I know what makes them work..." *** "For too long have we suffered under the injustices of late patches, crappy balance, and... Crappy patches and late balance!" Moe bellowed. The DOW fodder roared furiously, bellowing their assent. n0z frowned as he went past with another handful of assorted DOW weaponry. "I hope you know what you are doing," he whispered, then he disappeared into the crowd. Moe winked at his back. "So tonight, we take the fight to them! For the eldar/Orks/Chaos/Marines/Guard/insert modded race here!" TBS smiled thinly as he pumped another shell into his Lock-gun. "You don't actually expect this bunch of exploit-using whiners to fight, do you?" Moe slapped the barrel of his Banstick 5000, miming the arming action to ready its nuclear round, then indicated the massed senior members. "Everyone needs cannon fodder." "Right. We are outnumbered five to one. But let's do this." "Let's." There was an extra spring in Starfisher's step as he strode down the dusty back alleys of the Studio. The walls may have been riddled with graffiti and beggars infested every corner, beseeching people for a little critique, but in his eyes, this was the best part of town. Because of the people. Because of the creativity. And because, most of all, he'd been given mod duty to the area, finally graduating from moderator academy with flying bullets. He brushed an imagined speck of dirt from the magnificent black uniform, and strode on. Then he rounded a corner- "Why, hello Lest-" "Arghhh! No! I didn't do it! It was my brother!" Starfisher took a step back, and stared at the man. "Earrr, yeah- what did your brother do again?" "Oh, you've got me- I did it! I'm so sorry! You're after me, aren't you! They're all after me!" By this point, the wannabe author was on his knees, screaming at the unyielding sky. "Right." Lestaki cowered in fear as Starfisher drew a pistol. "Oh, for Mod's sakes. This is a flare gun. It will tell everyone that there is a story to read here..." Starfisher explained gently to the sobbing wretch. Bang and a massive light filled the sky... Bang, and Lestaki keeled gently over, as Fisher's second shot, fired from the new mod's watch, sedated him. "Writers," Fisher muttered. "Too much opium..." *** Shortly after the release of DOW patch 1.756894 "This is it," Moe said to his team. "We're here." n0z looked around at the crater-marked ruins, the flutter of bullets and the warcries of a thousand noobs. The strike force had been forced into the cover of a large pillar, and the target wasn't even in sight. "I hope you have a plan, Moe." "Well... no, actually," Moe admitted, "But that is just a technicality. I'm sure something will occur to me soon and we will be able to prevent the DOW strat forums from sliding into hell." "Again," SpaceMarineJoe muttered. "Just great. Banstick the bastard and we can all go home." "It isn't that easy," TBS said. "Despite accidental creation of an all out war, our enigmatic "Messiah" hasn't done anything wrong. She's borderline, you see. But being the only Eldar player in the top twenty isn't actually a crime." "We have a mod term for such beings," Moe said. "We call them King Trolls. They look like you and me, but they incite madness in the noobs. In short, they are a problem." n0z nodded sagely. "You do know that we have three minutes before the noobs think of walking round the pillar. No more." "Moe, I have an idea." TBS said. "Oh, mods, I'm not going to like this," Moe replied, with a hand over his eyes. "In mod academy, you were the best hand-to-hand trollfighter in the school," TBS said persuasively. "Shut up." "You could take down two bulls in their prime without them even touching you," the mod continued. "Shut. Up." "Even Dyn said that in fifty years you'd be one heck of a mod..." "Alright, I'll do it already. You cover me." Moe sighed. "You guys, suppressive fire. TBS, find one of Dyn's marked men, and f**k the collateral damage, ok. Your banstick slipped, you get me?" "I get you," TBS replied, raising his banstick to his shoulder and pointedly arming the nuclear round. "But do you have a plan?" "Now- yes." *** Moe rocketed from cover, lockerator barking furiously. The noobs, who had previously been arguing with each other and trying to think of how to move sideways, turned as one, the mere newbies engaging their flame-throwers while the more "talented" of them conjured fireballs around their fists. As one, they charged, in a verity of directions, but with a net average still dragging them towards Moe. Then the seniors were up and firing, tossing noobs into the ground. But still they ran on, reaching out to burn the desperately running moderator... TBS fired, and vaporized ten instantly. The rest screamed and ran for cover as he reloaded, sighting down the barrel to spot his next viable target. Moe took his chance and bolted towards the temple sanctum, the blasted circle where the target was standing. "Delphy? You here?" he panted into his radio. "Always. You require my aid? But only moderator format combat will prevail here." "I'm a master of mo fo, but that won't be enough. Neither will logic. I need an extra edge." "What are you implying?" Delphy asked softly. "Delphy, I need His Sword. Just to borrow," Moe winced and closed his eyes. "His Sword? The Sword of the Sleeping God? You ask for much- this is beyond the rules. This is part of the Code." "I need it, Delphy," Moe said, trying not to get angry. "If I don't, this place will fall. Then the entire forums." There was a deep sigh from the other end of the line. "Our secret, Moe?" "Our secret." "Then it definitely isn't in the pipe. When you hit that temple, it won't appear from our 'port grid." "Good." *** Moe crashed up the steps and leapt into the temple. "Moe. Nice of you to join me." The Messiah looked strangely at him. "Erm... yeah..." Moe said, looking everywhere. "Looking for something?" she inquired pleasantly. "Delphy!" Moe hissed. "Erm... we have a problem..." The Messiah roared.... *** Delphy's Files Moderator: See Gods Moe- secure file - Mo Fo: Moderator Format combat. An eclectic mix of different combat styles, comprising elements of Logic, Sarcasm, Irony, Higher Power Goodness and other schools of forum warfare. In the hypothetical parallel dimensions known only as "real life", these powers are said to be manifest as confused and apparently contradictory as in our world, the objective being to defeat the foe by either Logic, Popular Support or Getting the Bastard to Flame You. Disrupt Spelling is also used by advanced students. In our world, Mo Fo manifests itself as people flying around and smashing into walls without apparent harm, another example of how the True Realm is far superior to "real life" in all things. Files Closed *** "Any contingency plan, Moe?" the Messiah asked sweetly. Moe struck her between the eyes so hard that she crashed off the opposite wall. He leapt after her and readied a follow-up blow, The Way of The Heavy Club stance... Only to reel back as the Messiah bounced forwards and drove her foot into his groin, sending him reeling back, clamping down on a swearword. "Delphy! What the hell is going wrong?" he snarled, firstly blurring as he checked her precise attacks, before jumping and lashing out with both feet. She blocked easily and threw him down, only to reel back again as he kicked up from the floor and into her stomach. Moe could here Delphy typing furiously, like in some bad movie. "This is just weird. This Troll King has some aura of power- disrupts the reality mainframe- my coordinates are right off. She must really know the forums, we have to put her down." Moe span forward as she tried to rise, kicking her in the chin and pulling an Eldar sword from her scabbard. "She knows Mo Fo too. Do something fast!" "I'm trying. Buy me time, or finish her yourself. That may be faster." She blurred and struck him three hammer blows to the midriff, then drew her second sword to meet his lightning challenge. Moe backed towards a wall, Strength is space, earn it, Ion had said. Even as he fell into it and bounced back, his mind was recalling the return, If they try and walk around, keep hitting them back, and span to avoid her strike, throwing her back and kicking her in the leg. Now she wasn't amused. "That's not the move!" "Wow, I care," Moe snarled, forcing her back and tossing her sword away with a derisive flick, before throwing her onto her knees and stabbing her through the chest. Then he looked into her mad eyes... "You always were the best, Moe,” she said bitterly. "Sandras... how?" "So I abandoned mod academy to be good at DOW. The crime..." Moe realized that she looking into a world of her own, not seeing him at all. And her voice was slurring... "But you..." "Delphy, it ain't over. I need his Sword now!" "Not yet. Oh, that's not good." Sandras' features were warping slowly, melding into a new, altogether more terrifying form. Moe dropped the now useless Sword of Logic and backed away, adopting a stance. "Then I'll make it right. Get me His Sword. I'll try and stay alive." *** Delphy typed furiously, livid that he'd forgotten the possibility of an anomaly. The vector calculations for teleportation were complicated enough. Accounting for the distortion affects of an artifact like His Sword made things even worse. And now the whole field with twisted through 90 degrees. Not so good. If the nemesis survived, then the whole forum could slide into chaos, and Moe's life was on the line. Then the phone rang. "Hello, Lord Technomaster Delphy, Guardian of the Sacred World here. Can I help you?" "Erm... isn't this AOL technical support?" "Oh, sorry. Have you plugged your computer in?" "What's a computer? Your disk said I could access the Internet, it never said nothing about no computer!" "That's a double, no, triple negative," Delphy replied calmly. "And you need a computer." "It never said I needed no computer!" "I'm sorry sir, we don't offer support for dumbasses like you, and I've got a world to save. Have a nice day." Delphy put the phone down. "Engage automated help loop. Test run, code alpha-pretencious-sounding-code-2-gamma-foxtrot." "Before you use the AOL helpdesk, please ensure that you have taken care of the following tasks," a soft female voice said. "One, buy a computer. Two, have it installed. Three, check your modem. Four, dance to the God Zolgil-Thakan on the summer solstice of 1986 in Uganda. Five, capture a star and install it in your front porch. If you are a lying bastard, press one now. Please Bugger Off. If you are not a lying bastard, press two now. Please Bugger Off. Thank you." Shaking his head, Delphy returned to his real work. *** TBS swore as the King Troll manifested, bringing his Banstick up to his shoulder- and clicking onto an empty chamber. "Out of ammo! This isn't my day." "Great, TBS," Chris said, blasting another noob down, then blasting it again when it wouldn't stay down. "But they're spamming Fire Prisms and the avatar of noobishness over there is increasing their cap exponentially." "What does that mean?" "We're fucked." TBS shrugged and drew his Lockgun, opening fire. "At least their micro sucks." Famous last words, he reflected. *** Moe ducked another blow, and then another, running up a warped wall and kicking the creature that had been Sandras in the teeth. Unfortunately, he only managed to cut his feet. "Reinforcements, Delphy! Something!" "Uberjumper and Worf are en route with everything we have, Moe. ETA is just after the nick of time. But the field's too skewed! I can't do a thing!" The Messiah swatted Moe out of the air. He rolled heavily as he hit the ground, before diving beneath her feet. She swung up and prepared for the kill, and Moe thought fast. "Hey, I bet I'm a better Homeworld player than you." "Gotcha," breathed Delphy. Sandras screamed and lunged, and there was a flash of light- as she drove herself upon the burning golden blade, held in Moe's outstretched hands. His Sword dissolving her essence, leaving nothing but dust and echoes. *** TBS punched the sky as the noobs screamed and scattered, lockgunning their backs with one hand, his battered squad cheering as Gunships landed, disgorging the forum vets to complete the rout. It was over. *** "Moe?" Delphy asked softly. Moe stared, fascinated by the play of light across the burning blade. "From Homeworld we came. And into Homeworld we shall return," he said to no one in particular. With this sword, he could do anything. Replace the chaos of Balance with order and discipline, purge Newcomers of spam, and create a new forum order. With this sword, he could rule. He threw it away in disgust. Delphy yanked it before it hit the ground. *** It was raining, so Starfisher was content to watch and wait, pressed into the alcove of a building as the strange denizens of his realm went past, in ones and twos. He'd never really worked out why there were buildings in the Studio, considering everyone lived on the streets here. Some people said mod work in the Studio was easy. He'd say different. Anyone who thought it was easy hadn't had a five thousand word chapter one come at them at fifty miles an hour. "Hey, are you going to stand there all day?" "Wha..." There was a flash of light, and Starfisher was gone. *** Another flash, and he appeared in a quite different place. Computers were banked on every wall, chromium and steel shining as light beeped importantly. In a podium on the centre, Delphy was watching him, while typing furiously. "Starfisher. Good of you to join me." Fisher shook himself off, depositing the rainwater he'd accumulated onto the floor. "How did I join you?" "Teleportation grid. How's the Studio?" "You wouldn't believe," Starfisher said fervently. "A load of idiots have started comic threads, and I'm also trying to handle the usual fanfic and the original stuff. It makes my head hurt. And it's raining." Delphy frowned. "Only raining? The feedback system must be borking again. Engage storm over Studio," he commanded. "Eh?" "Tell me when we've soaked 'em out. But Ionfish is waiting." Starfisher blinked. "Great. Where am I?" "The Spire," Delphy said slowly. "The spire?" "No. The Spire." "Oh, the Spire. What the hell is the Spire?" Delphy winced slightly. "You may have heard of it as the batcave, or some such." "Oh, mod HQ, right." Then Ionfish stuck his head through the door. "Delphy, is the Possum in the Hole?" "On your mark, Ion." "Very good. Fisher, with me." Puzzled, Starfisher followed him out. *** "Soon, everyone will be here to witness a momentous change. We change, therefore we are. So we are making sure we are. But I called you here early to remind you of something- mod academy teaches you what things should be. It is here that you learn what things really are like." Ionfish walked easily down the lush corridors, with some distant purpose in mind. "Ri-ght." "Delphy is the main aspect of this. Nominally, he controls forum issues. In reality, he's behind all of you. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Equally, you should cultivate your senior members. They can help nip spam in the bud, and act as your eyes and ears, when they aren't spamming themselves. But enough of this- you'll pick it up." Ionfish opened a door and stepped onto a wide stage with a podium. "Sit down. It will begin soon." *** There was a blinding flash, then half the population of the forums seemed to be standing in the hall, complete with mods. The general discussion veterans never missed a syllable in their ranting. On the other hand, the fifty random noobs culled from balance along with their senior members hit the deck, screaming. Ionfish sipped his beer. "Order. Order. It has come to our attention that postcount is being used as an e-penis. So we have decided to have it removed. Delphy." There was a shimmer; a moment of disconcertion, then pandemonium broke out. n0z and a handful of others collapsed sobbing. Vertigo, on the other hand, leapt up, screamed "I'm free!" and ran from the hall. Ionfish frowned. "Yes, yes, alright. I'm sure you will all find other ways to compensate. Make them too obvious, and we'll warm up the Ioncannons. One other thing. I am not sure of the methodology- I will have to ask Delphy. But Tails' apparent postcount is 99,999. I'm interested to know the simulated effect of that." There was another flash, and then Tails looked down, groaned, staggered forwards, gasped for air, turned blue, and collapsed. Molo immediately ran forward, checking his pulse. "Not enough blood's getting to his brain! I think we'll have to amputate." Verrin voiced the thoughts of the crowd. "Oh DEAR GOD!" Bnonn muscled through the press, drawing his longsword. "Out my way, out my way. I keep this thing sharp, you know. Don't worry, I'll soon have him sorted out." "Somebody's eager!" Macbug shouted. Ionfish rolled his eyes. "Order. Order. Delphy, end simulation. He'll be ok, folks. Now get out of my sight." *** "Well, that was surreal," Starfisher said, still slightly bemused. Riess shrugged. "Keeps people on their toes." There was a bang, a flash, then a long drawn-out scream. "Looks like HQ is already warming up the Ioncannons over join date. Life moves on." "Yeah," said Starfisher. "But this isn't the way to the Studio, is it?" Riess shifted awkwardly. "In a manner of speaking, no," he admitted. "You see, we just need a favour. Me and Deadguy kinda need you to cover for us. You see, I've got a Geophysics class..." "You haven't gone to a class in a year!" "And Deadguy stayed at the batcave because- Delphy wanted it redecorated." Starfisher shook his head. "Dude, Delphy can reterraform the substance of this forums at a whim. Don't tell me he needs help redecorating." Riess frowned. "Oh. He told you that, did he? Oh. In that case- Deadguy's- fetching him a sandwich. Yeah, that's right. Which means that you have to go to Backstory and Fluff for a diplomatic mission." "What?" "We have this tacit agreement with Backstory and Fluff. We don't want their fanfic; they don't want our forum. It works, by and large. But we kinda have to inspect things- would you look at the time- gotta go!" Riess disappeared in a flash of light. "Wha-" *** There was a flash of light, and Starfisher reappeared. "-t? Delphy!" "Welcome to Backstory and Fluff, Fisher. Please tread carefully," Delphy replied softly. Fisher looked up and saw glowing eyes in the shadows, clinging impossibly to the ceiling. After a moment, they turned away and the creature scurried off into the darkness. "That was Peer. Don't worry; he's always watching." "Doesn't that give me a reason to worry?" Fisher asked, looking around cautiously. The place was like a huge, chaotic library. Full of desks piled with papers and people shouting at each other at the tops of their voices. In some places, fights had broken out, with fists, Swords of Logic, or guns." A little like general discussions." "Quite. Svedishfish will deal with this momentarily. He is close by, dealing with things." "Dealing with things" turned out to be an all out mo fo brawl. Starfisher watched as five people piled onto a thrashing Sved, only to be shaken off like rainwater. Sved spun, kicked out, and double-punched with powerfists, throwing three enemies back, and then backflipped impossibly to catch another in the chin. A fifth shouted "How do space marines repordu..." only to be shot by an underslung lockblaster. But there were plenty more. "I'm going to help him." "Not advised," Delphy said. "These are specialized foes, requiring a specialist technique. In the same way that your studio requires a specialist technique." Starfisher shrugged. "Some of that is fanfic wielders. They're mine." He leapt into the fray, fists blurring and smashing one rabid author clean backwards. "Learn to spell, for mods sakes! Grammar! Oh, gods! Wow, you're pretty good. Get out of here!" Not that it's better in the Studio, he reflected. "I disagree, Sved." Everything stopped. The speaker had appeared on the edge of the arbitrarily defined arena, a tall, thin figure armed with a thin rapier. "If you aren't too busy." Svedishfish said nothing, shrugging off the pack and throwing off one gauntlet. "We go away for a few days, Robert, and look what happens," he said softly, drawing a greatsword taller than him from its sheath on his back, and holding it in the free hand. "One day I'll learn." Robert Frazer bowed and drew his sword. "If you are ready." Starfisher hardly dared breath, tasting the tension in the air. His sense of narrative inevitability was telling him that this would be a duel to remember... but the survivor in him caught the flash of light. "Get down!" Sved bowled Robert over, the bullet slicing a channel through the air an inch away from Frazer's skull, carving a red line of blood across his head. "Stay down! Come on, Fisher!" The two mods burst into motion, blurring up the walls and jumping upwards in the direction of the shot. "Sniper!" Delphy shouted. "Keep moving!" "Armed with a Vindicare rifle," Sved grunted, ducking as another shot slashed murderously close. "He tried to kill Robert!" "He's trying to kill us!" Fisher leapt upwards, wincing as that rifle up above cracked again. *** Robert frowned, feeling lightheaded. He crawled forward and picked up the needle where it had landed. He frowned at it, and stood up. "I say! This is a needle found in the common sniper rifle! The Vindicare uses solid slugs, or else a special modified round! You'll find..." Peer leapt from behind him, kicked his legs out from under him, and sat on him, at least muffling Frazer's declamation. *** And they jumped onto the balcony high above. Fisher grabbed the rifle from nerveless hands and threw it down, while Sved picked the assassin up bodily. "Why, damn you! Why?" The thin man was nearly in tears. "He... I... them... my theories!" "You make me sick. Not just Robert. Attack any of mine, and you'll get yours." Sved threw the man off the balcony and turned away, ignoring the scream. "Thanks for the assist." "Are you sure things are so simple?" Starfisher asked. "Why did he really do it? Could a weed like that fire such a rifle?" Sved shrugged. "Loonie comes, loonie dealt with. Life goes on." Maybe, Fisher reflected. But something feels wrong... *** Moe stalked through the silent streets, fingers twitching on the trigger of his lockerator, eyes watching every shadow. This place was a ruin, abandoned, and anything could hide here. Which suited his purpose just fine. His hand snaked to his belt and withdrew a short-wave radio. He clicked it on. "Do not reply. I am in the field. Everyone, disable your friend of foe tags and make your way to the rally point. Check in using the passcode. Moe out." His ducked into the shadows, weaving his way towards the objective, when he saw a shadow detach itself from the darkness ahead. He raised his lock-gun... "Is 20 pound for the weight like 30 pounds if a guy lifts?" Moe relaxed and stood up. "Tom Selleck." Void saluted and lowered his happiness blaster. "Pass, friend." Moe nodded and walked past, heading for the most intact building, where TBS was waiting. "We're all ready, Moe. What kind of a dump is this, though? I didn't even know it existed." "Impossible creatures forums. I come here for a quiet rest after balance issues patrol and before general discussions," Moe said. "But never mind, let's get on with this." *** The General Discussion gang, or the erudite, experienced elite of the forum's spammers, were seated on various chairs, nodding politely as Moe entered and sat at the head of the table. "Very well, gentlemen. Good of you all to come." Bnonn snorted. "Yeah, right- why are we here?" Moe pointedly ignored the interruption. "As we know, Squid DNA is trying to pull this girl." They nodded with masterfully feigned intelligence. "And from what we've seen, he needs a little help. I mean, the doll, yes, might get him a few points," Moe admitted. "But yeast jokes? WTF? Anyway, so I gathered you all here so we can pool our resources and come up with some advice for poor Squiddy." They nodded again. "So, anyone know anything about girls?" "What's a girl?" asked Lestaki, straining to look from the back. TBS hoisted him up and threw him out. "Don't worry, he's just up past his bedtime." Tiberius Nero nervously put up his hand. "I knew a girl, once... no, wait, that was Locutus's avatar. Easy mistake to make." Retro frowned. "Well, I'm kinda married..." Immediately he was swamped by cries of "What? To a girl? Not a guy or anything?" and similar, before TBS mercifully picked him up and dragged him outside. Moe frowned. "Well, I foresaw this problem, so I have some source material here." He took out the picture Squid had supplied and placed it on the desk. "Apparently, this is a genuine girl." They craned to look. "First, I suggest that we make some quick notes to see what we can deduce about this species, which properly applied scientific method, as Squid would request." "Well, that's hair, 'cause its like, our hair," Raftaman said. Moe nodded encouragingly and scratched a note. "And there's eyes and a nose and a mouth, and ears, and I guess there's a brain under there..." Moe held up his hand. "Hold on. We can't prove there's a brain under there with the empirical evidence that we have available to us. There could be, a chair, or something." Bnonn drew himself up. "You can't prove anything. All reality is subjective and ultimately illusory..." "Shut up. This could take a while..." *** "Moe told you to shut up, asshole!" "So, what? This is based on unsound philosophy! We should get to the bottom of this before we continue!" "Everyone, shut up!" MacBug snarled and stuffed the photo into his mouth, chewing furiously. "That philosophical enough for you?" he said. "Don't eat with your mouth full," Moe warned. "I mean, talk with your mouth full." He put a hand over his eyes. "Ok, never mind. Forget the photo. What is a good way to get girls?" "They love a great big postcount," n0z began, "but... but..." he broke down sobbing. "You impress them with your 1337 Homeworld skillz," ceejayoz said with confidence. "What we do, is, Reki kidnaps the girl, and says: "I won't let you go unless your friend Squid beats me in Homeworld". And she'll think: oh, noes, Reki is one of the best Homeworld players, I'm doomed. But Reki will throw the game and let Squid win, and she'll go..." "Hold on a minute," Reki said. "I do what?" "You throw the game. Deliberately lose. You'd do that for a friend, wouldn't you?" Reki looked down awkwardly. "I mean, it's just... not that I don't like Squid... but I've got a win ratio to think about." He sighed. "It's a lot easier for squirrels, this girl business." the_living_god frowned. "Homeworld? Impress girls? Come on! That's all in the past now! Now, Dawn of war, slick, fast, the wave of the future..." "Burn the heretic!" TBS grabbed the_living_god, dragging him away, pointing his lockgun at the rabid fans around them. *** Athexx clicked his tongue. "This is very ungodly, the whole business." "Oh, really?" asked Mac nastily. "Go on, what does the bible say?" Moe asked tiredly. Whatever Athexx had been expecting, it wasn't that. "Erm.. well, you meet a girl..." "Yes?" "And you asked her to marry you..." "Yes?" "And she says yes. And you get married." Moe frowned. "What next?" "Erm... then you go home. and she makes you breakfast, from what I can translate." Athexx shifted uneasily. "Is it me," asked Bug, "Or is that story missing something?" "But what?" asked Moe softly. "What does this teach you, Athexx? Exactly?" Reki asked impatiently. Athexx frowned. "Well, I think the whole marriage thing was hypothetical- or perhaps allegorical. Referring to trees, or something." *** "I've got another one," Mac said, emboldened by the lack of retribution. "Shave off your ass hair, that turns girls on." Fatal put his head on the table and stuck his fingers in his ears, not quite blocking out the sniggering. "Or- here's a good one! You meet this hot girl at your martial arts class, right. Then you get into an atheist-religious debate to determine what faith she belongs to. Then you fake interest in joining it-" he was cut off as Bnonn's foot snapped up, catching him in the forehead and throwing MacBug out the window. Bnonn leapt after him, Athexx stood and was dropkicked by Reki, and Moe ducked under the table as the days fight broke out. He found Tails sheltering with him. "Tails? Have any funny, satirical images?" Tails shrugged. "About the debate? Hell, I ran out of those ages ago, we have so many." "No, about the girl thing." "None that are suitable." *** "This is pointless," Moe muttered. "Time to get out of here." He leapt out of the cover of the table, grabbed TBS by the arm, and ducked out of the room. A fight- debate was in full swing; a bloodied Nonny was advancing on Bug with sword raised, only to jerk back as Ceejayoz grabbed him by the throat. "On three, TBS. I'll go on in, you cover me." "You got it." "Three. Two. One. Now!" Moe exploded out of cover and leapt forwards, and there was an explosion of blue light. He blinked and slowed as everyone stopped, apparently frozen in mid-air. Reki and CJ fell to the ground, frowning, then stood. "Don't kick them guys. Just don't." They looked disappointed, but nodded. TBS walked forward and tapped Athexx, caught in a mid-air leap. "Don't worry. This is just a flashy camera angle time-frozen shot. In a minute they'll explode into motion and hit each other, sending one of the other flying into a wall. Then..." "We get the idea," Moe said warily. They waited a minute. "Ok, something seriously fucked is going on," TBS admitted. "Delphy! Delphy, come in!" Moe said. "Delphy! Nothing. Not even static. Our coms are dead." "Mods damn it," Reki exploded. "Since when have we ever lost contact with Delphy? The forum isn't even down, the landscape's intact." TBS pumped his lock-gun. "Could be just a weird thing. But I don't like it. Not one bit." *** "Really?" Suddenly, the area was full of figures, moving figures, dressed in archaic but shiny armour and armed with drawn swords. Their leader looked at the mods and laughed. "Yield, noobs! You are no match for The Silent Arbiter's level sixty Sword of Total and Utter, and I Mean Total And Utter, Annihilative Destructive Uber IMBA Wrathful Pro Power Gifted to Me By Yandgre-Twa!" "Whose?" asked Reki. "The Silent Arbiter's!" their foe snapped. "Who the fuck is the silent arbiter?" asked CJ deliberately. "The Silent Arbiter! Get it right, people! The Silent Arbiter is not amused. Not amused at all. In fact, the Silent Arbiter would go as far as to say that he is annoyed, nay vexed, and they should fear his wrath, those who have crude bowl movements over the Silent Arbiter's dignity..." Moe snorted. "Oh, crap, the Allakhazam boys. What the fuck are you guys doing here?" The Silent Arbiter frowned and collected himself. "We are here- ahem- we are here to liberate you from your tyrants!" "What tyrants?" asked TBS in an interested voice, looking around as if expecting for an armoured figure to spring from the shadows and die predictably. "We are here to save you from your oppressors, free you from the clutches of noobishness and usher you into the waiting arms of Allakhazam!" The Silent Arbiter continued. "One moment," Ceejayoz said, holding up his hands. "What kind of sense does your nickname make? The Silent Arbiter? If you are silent, how can you judge anything? And even if you can, what relevance can your judgements have?" The Silent Arbiter glared at him. "Look, it makes sense, ok? Take that on my authority as a level sixty dood way more skilled than you noobs!" Reki frowned. "You know, CJ makes a good point. I think we should resolve this issue before we go any further." "Shut the fuck up!" the Silent Arbiter screamed. "My name is not the issue here! The Silent Arbiter is here to take your wretched little forum apart and be a fifteenth of the way closer to level sixty-one! That is why He is here! The Silent Arbiter is not here for a pleasant chat! He is angry" *** The Arbiter frowned. "He's also here for a few artifacts, and He's running a few favours for my... His masters." He took out a list and unfolded it. "Right. Does any of you know the location of the following? His Sword, also known as the Blade of the Sleeping God..." A khazam frowned. "Which god is that, Jack?" The Silent Arbiter rounded on him. "The Silent Arbiter, damnit! We're in character! The Silent Arbiter demands respect!" he shouted, spraying the unfortunate with saliva. "Right. Right. But does the Silent Arbiter know which god we're talking about? It would blow to come all this way just for a Yevan or Bezklo-vek weapon..." Immediately, the khazams formed a huddle, with eldritch, or plain weird, names echoing back towards the Relic squad. The Silent Arbiter frowned. "You! What god does this sword belong to?" Reki clapped sarcastically. "Top marks for brains, Einstein. I can see why you are leader." "Exactly! The Silent Arbiter demands respect, and is glad of it! His intelligence is prestigious!" He paused. "Answer my question, damn you!" "Wow, a real sharp knife," Moe said. "We don't name him, Mr. Arbitbra. He is more powerful than you could ever imagine, here and now." "Arbiter! Are you people stupid or something!" The Arbiter looked at his list again. "Never mind the artifacts, I'll find them later. Where are your leaders?" "What?" The Arbiter frowned. "I'm looking for all the Administrative Overlords and Moderators, for capture. I don't know what they'll do with them, though. They'll probably be horribly tortured to death. But the Silent Arbiter and His men are nice to noobs, in a slightly patronizing way! He doesn't stomp them, not like some other Mighty Guardians of Light He could mention." "Their own leaders are so bad they need us," Reki said to CJ, stage whisper. "They are normally hanging around General Discussions at this time," Moe said. "What's your game, Mr. Artybar?" Reki asked. "What's your plan. We have inside information after all, and since you so boldly captured us..." "I did? I mean, yes, the Silent Arbiter demands that you listen to his cunning plan, and then you will inform him of your defenses, on pain of pain!" The mods sat down. This could take a while. *** "Our comrades tried a frontal assault on the forums a while ago, but we were forced to make a tactical relocation with an eye to redeployment in the afterlife, because hordes of rabid noobs were set upon us! So now, we are attacking the soft targets, such as this dead place, while softening up the other fora using kill-teams and addicts on the inside who obey our every word. After this place has been taken, we will fortify it into a forward camp, then take the TT forums and the modding community, funny be their names, before launching a two-pronged assault on DOW and the mighty bastion known only as Relic Community! They will never notice these other fora are gone, and in their ignorance not realize their fate until the Silent Arbiter comes to claim them! Hahahahahaha! Ahem." "K. Thx." Moe said. "What's causing the time freeze effect, anyway? That must be a pretty strange spell." "Gee, this? You don't know? I thought blue light and frozen people was normal around here." "Ok, fine. Bye!" "What?" Moe ran as fast as he could, summoning all of his mod powers and grabbing hold of as many GD vets as he could reach. Up ahead CJ had Bnonn in affectionate chokehold. "Group jump! On three!" "The Silent Arbiter is royally pissed off! He's going to have to kill some of you now!" "...One. Now!" There was a flash of light, and they were gone. *** Delphy frowned as Ionfish came in. "Any ideas?" "Of course," Ion said, passing Delphy a slip of blotched paper. He always saved his speaking voice for dealing with the forums, and did he have to. Delphy frowned again. "Beer? Philosophy textbooks? More beer?" "Oh. Sorry. It's on the back. Saves paper. But I'd better get back to forum issues. The reports are trickling in and I'll need to be there to catch them." "Catch you later." Delphy scanned the ink-splattered document, translating the meandering wander of the writing. Ionfish had started with basic principles as always, "I drink, therefore I am," and the rest, and slowly built up until he reached an actually relevant plateau of thought. It was the paper, Delphy thought charitably. It did something to philosophers. But basically, there was nothing new there; transient contacts at extreme range, a comms breakdown and loss of contact in a few forums. A few other, apparently unconnected events. Ionfish suggested a cautious hacker, a D Smart summoning or Sod's Law, but none of those explanations seemed to add up. No gloating PMs, no raging infernos, and no sod. Strange. And General Discussions contained a lonely Squid DNA and a couple of trolls, who at least kept Squid occupied. It was all very odd. Then the phone rang. Delphy sighed. Whenever a guy tried to think, the world conspired to stop him. Delphy's Law, or something like that. "Hello, Lord Technomancer or possibly AOL technical help, whichever you prefer, but I'd prefer the former, how may I get you to go away?" "What do we have?" Delphy looked up and nodded as Dyntheos entered. He looked like Darth Vader, only harder and less girly. Dyn didn't have a master; he'd invented his darkside. But if he had, he would have eaten him. "I'm sorry, sir, our warranty does not cover people dropping their computers from the Empire States Building. No, not even premium coverage. No, I don't know... but- one for you, I think, Dyn." Dyn took the phone. "Hello? Yes. I will kill you. Then your wife, and your children, then your cat Flossy, then everyone who knew you, then someone who looked at me in a funny way, and then I'll get my pet goblins to defecate on your grave. No, no problem. Just doing my job. Bye." He shook his head as he put the phone down. "You have to know how to talk to these people." *** There was a flash of light, then Moe hit the floor, surrounded by his team. He stood up, nodded at Delphy, caught the latter’s pointed gaze, then turned as if on a turntable. "Ah. Crap. Hi, Dyn. We were just passing through, what with being invaded and all..." Verrrin looked around and made a snap judgement. "Cool! We're in the batcave!" There was a flurry of movement as everyone ran forwards at once, often crashing into each other, then three seconds of anarchy before someone grabbed TBS' lockgun and fired a warning shot. "The next person to touch my computers," Delphy screamed "will have a lockgun rammed up their ass, and the trigger pulled, and their bodyparts spread clean across the forums!" Then he seemed to calm himself, and looked at the crater in the wall in some surprise. "Ah. Or- I'll take you on as my assistant for the AOL work." That shut them up. "Right," Dyn said, lowering his hand from the hilt of his Darkblade. "Moe, why the hell did you gallivant off to the Impossible Creatures forums, anyway?" Moe frowned. "Erm- I remembered... that is to say, that... we hadn't patrolled for a while, there. So I thought we'd catch up." "With the entire General Discussion team?" "Best to be sure," Moe said defensively. "But we've been invaded, gentlemen. By the forces of 'khazam." "Khazam? What do they want with us?" *** "Everything, my dear Lord Dyntheos. Everything. Stand your forces down, and surrender this forum at once!" "Is it me, or do these guys always turn up when there's a dramatic entrance around?" Reki asked, looking out of the window. A massive cruiser was hanging there, glowing turrets tracking them ominously as the loudspeakers blared again. "The GABBY corporation is taking over from here on." "Gabby?" "Grand Armada of Badass Banana Yobs! You must be stupid, or something. It's obvious! The Yellow Admiral laughs at your wanton stupidity! He writhes on the floor in mirth at your ignorance! He spasms with glee at your idiotic noobishness!" "Way. Deja vu," TBS muttered. frstkor frowned. "Oi, you! Can you hear me?" "erm... yes?" asked the Yellow Admiral. "That's an Imperial Deus-Judgement Thunderstrike, isn't it?" "Yes. Yes! Of course! Fear the wrath of the Yellow Admiral's Thunderstrike!" Frst snorted. "Yeah, right. There are three Thunderstrikes in the game. And none of them went to a no-name corp. You hacked it, didn't you?" "What? Nonsense!" The Yellow Admiral..." "You hacked it, didn't you?" "Bu-" "You hacked it, didn't you?" "Yes. But we prefer the term "modified"," the Yellow Admiral protested. *** "Dyn..." Delphy asked hopefully. "Delphy!" "Dyn..." "No way, damnit!" "Dyn..." "Okay, okay, do it already." Delphy's fingers began to dance over the keyboard, and the air seemed to shimmer. "The Yellow Admiral has tired of your arrogance! He is going to blow up the foot of your mountain, then a load of other stuff, then blow up some more stuff, and then He will send his minions to capture you..." "I'd love to see that," TBS said. Words and numbers were dancing on the main screen now. He had no idea what they meant, but he did know that they were making Moe grin. "You will see that! For I shall..." "Bye-bye," Delphy said, hitting the enter key. An explosion of blue light erupted from the mountain ioncannons, fifty times the size of a proper beam. The rippling laser punched clean through the prow of the hacked ship and tore through the other side, spraying the sky with the golden light of a supernova. "That's that," Dyn said. "I doubt it," CJ interjected. "They're still all over, and I doubt we can pull the same trick twice." "I think..." Moe said softly, "That this is the time to raise an army. A modified army..." *** "We'll head to the mods forums, recruit an army," Moe said firmly. "Only way to win." Dyn smiled. "Good luck, Master Moe. I have other things to attend to." "Other things, sir?" Moe asked in puzzlement. "We never leave a forum behind," Dyn said, striding towards the door, then pausing. "Except for Newcomers and Boardwars of course. But no one would want to invade them anyway." Then he was gone. Moe nodded. "Alright people. Let's do this thing!" *** It was later, and they were lead to the RDN inner sanctum by a bemused but determined Locutus. "We need an army," Moe said. "A modified army. You know what I'm talking about." Locutus nodded, sitting at his desk. "Finaldeath, the doors, please." The mod clicked his heels and sealed the large room. Locutus frowned, fingers dancing over his computer. "It's a funny thing. Because not ten months ago, an anonymous moderator ordered the construction of an entire army, ready for mobilization about this time." "Really?" asked Reki. "Odd. But fortunate. do you have this army?" "Well, no, naturally," Locutus replied. "It was a mod request, dur. I locked it." He shifted uncomfortably. "However, I should be able to get our team to whip something up, for the oh, two hour deadline. If I have the code." Moe nodded. "TBS, the code." The mod manhandled a bulky, secure silver case onto the desk, which CJ opened with a key. Moe placed his thumb onto a scanner, stared fixedly at another and carefully enunciated "In His name". The interior fanned out to reveal a glowing green drive, and a grim warning: This is the source. Abuse it, and I will take your head and ram it up your arse, then hang what's left with your guts. Kthnx- Dyn Moe took it and handed it to Locutus. "That's it. Do what you have to." The moderator modifier took it reverentially and stared at it, before inserting it into his computer. "I have it. Now, time to play." "Attention all modders. We have an army to create! Don't join in, and I'll make your lives a misery! Let's do this!" *** The General Discussion group waited, and fretted. Periodically they would be called out for "tests", something to do with the project. But mostly, they just waited, and argued about badgers in quiet voices. Evidently crisis was good for them. Moe frowned and paced the room, recalling what he had seen. A huge, dingy series of factories, some with holes blasted in the walls or ceiling, some filled with massive, derelict machinery, all buzzing with activity and heavy industry. An army in two hours... how was that possible? "We're finished. That leaves half an hour for training," Finaldeath called over the comms. *** "We have taken the genetic isotopes of the chosen sources to hand," Locutus explained proudly, "and re-engineered them to be faster, stronger, more obedient, and subservient to their leaders. Unhacked combat capability compared to the originals is down by no more than two percent. Discipline, on the other hand, has been magnified by more than a power of ten." "Interesting," Moe said, watching the new army parade. "Could we..." "No, we can't replace our originals with these guys," Locutus said sadly. "I've tried, but apparently the core programming eventually rejects." "Whatever," Moe said. "Tell me about our battlefleet." "Well, that's pretty normal. We just hacked up a huge fleet of battleships with teleport drives, fifty billion health, shielded hyperfusion missiles, a wing of five million fighter- bombers in each hanger and planet-killer ionturrets. Some other stuff too, you know, the usual business. The foot soldiers are pretty standard too, I'm afraid, it's been short notice. Their auto rifles can only manage five thousand shots before reload and our long range snipers and rocket troops only have a practical range of five hundred kilometers. They break enemies instantly, though, that's easy to code, and they even break stuff which can't break, which isn't so easy." Moe smiled. "That should do. Waddaya call them?" Locutus frowned. "Well, we don't really have a name for 'em. Death calls them "the Bones". Because of their white armour, you know. Between you and me, we didn't really have time for decent skinning so I thought- what'll be easy? Plain white." *** Bnonn smiled madly as he gestured with his sword, and his regiment of Nonny MK2's bowed in salute before raising their own blades. These were the real deal, not like Verrin's Creature Cavalry or Retro's Crack Infantry or the rest. "Real men use swords!" he screamed, frowning as a maddened howling washed over him. "Who's idea was it to give the Newcomer vets regiments?" he wondered out loud, as Fith Knight bounced on four legs in front of his maddened breakers. Mac smiled as he sighted along his beautiful new rifle, his camouflaged light infantry crouching behind him and cradling their own weapons. This was the life. He sighted carefully, watching Bnonn's expanded mouth flap on the scope. "You might not want to do that," TBS suggested in amusement, lock-gun pointed casually at the ground. "Do what?" asked MacBug, straight faced. "I'm just testing the magnification." "Embark!" Moe screamed. "Embark all forces." "Moe!" Reki called urgently. "General Discussions is under attack! Looks like our Silent Artybar had a change of plan." "For..." Moe frowned, trying to imagine what would motivate his men. "For spam threads!" That touched a chord. "For pointless arguments!" Now they were shouting back. "For hacked, cheap, painless victory!" They screamed as they ran aboard the dropships, ready for combat. *** Squid frowned. "What do you want?" The Silent Arbiter laughed madly, his huge warhost standing behind him, shadowed by huge warships. "The Silent Arbiter wants only your liberty, his experience, and..." he groped in a pocket, then frowned and searched his other pocket. "Oh, fuck, I've lost the list. Well, bugger me." "The Silent Arbiter? Isn't there an inherent dichotomy..." "Shut up about the stupid name, already, you're as bad as the others. Honestly, I begin to doubt whether the whole dump is worth the effort." "Maybe you should leave, then," Squid suggested tentatively. "Hmm... nah. That'd be logical. Get him, lads!" There was an explosion of soundlessness. Then they were there. "Give it up, Arbiter!" Moe shouted. "It's all over. Our forces are hacked to insane power levels and our troops are landing now. Surrender or die?" The Silent Arbiter scratched his chin. "You know, it's an interesting thing. All my forces are hacked too." The first shot was fired, and the battle began. *** Then they had struck. Starfisher stared in horror at the invasion, as sword armed fanatics routed the fluffists left and right. Some had gone for their swords, only to burn as their enemies burst into flame and leapt upon them. "We have to leave. Now," Starfisher said. "I'm not leaving my forum without a fight," Svedishfish insisted, moving to jump down and charge. Peer leapt up onto the balcony and shook his head mutely, Robert slung over his shoulder. "I can't let them flame my members without a fight!" Sved said angrily. A black-gloved hand landed on his shoulders. "We'll be back. But we will leave, now. We need all the help we can get." Dyn smiled grimly. *** "All units, fire at will!" Moe ordered, then turned his attention to the bridge of the Bigass Postcount, his mighty Imperial Death-star Destroyer of Apocalyptic Doom. The enemy had swarmed forward en mass, and this would need dealing with. "Admiral! Massive string of enemy contacts inbound! Fighters, bombers, boarding craft, all that shit. And a ton of missiles and nukes and a load of capital ships," the_living_god called, watching the tac-map. "Activate point defenses," Moe ordered. The swarm of red dots disappeared, but shielded missiles were still coming on.... "Engage jump drive, prep ioncannons for firing and chamber a Banbomb 56!" "Roger that." The Postcount lurched and disappeared, instantly arriving in the rear of the enemy, ioncannons blaring. Five enemy ships were gutted from stern to prow, exploding in the furious detonation of the main reactors and five tonnes of hacked code. Then the missile launched and an entire squadron of frigates were vaporized. Moe scanned the map. The Forums were taking casualties along the line but overwhelmingly they were winning the battle, and now ioncannon turrets were sprouting from the ground to add their weight of fire to the fray. "Thanks, Delphy." "No problem," the Technomaster whispered over the comms. "I've prepped the Unyielding Annihilator. When she's ready, this will all be over. You just gotta hold out." "Hold out? This is gonna be a massacre! This is a cakewalk." *** "Oh, really?" called the Silent Arbiter. "Enemy dreadnought on our rear!" the_living_god screamed. "Looks like this!" He held up a lightning sketch of a truly massive battleship, armed with ioncannon and nuke tubes, all pointing at the Bigass Postcount. "Teleport evade!" Moe shouted. Not a moment too soon, the Postcount jumped out, ioncannon fire washing across its rear. "This is my ship, the Cataclysm of Stars. And I have modded to be completely invulnerable to fire, among other special features." Moe stared in horror as the Cataclysm opened fire, turrets blasting the RDN craft apart and missiles exploding and black ruin amongst their ranks. Evidently the Silent Arbiter had some skills after all. "Move to engage that ship," he commanded slowly. "We'll draw it off." Then he thumbed the comm again. "If you think you're good enough, Arbiter, then let's tango." *** "Cover us! We're going in!" Bnonn commanded to Retro, who merely nodded emphatically and thumbed his Lockblaster. It wasn't every internet forum where you could escape from an otherwise normal existence by leading an army of you-clones to blow the crap out of stuff. Bnonn and his Nonny MK2's leapt out of the cover of the hill, screaming as they charged a bewildered enemy. Abruptly, Retro's men stood up, lining the hill's crest with guns, and opened a deadly hail of fire, even as the Nonnies drew their longswords and plunged into the fray. Magic bounced off their shining armour, words of faith and holy wrath spilled from their lips as they drew blood left and right, screaming something about delaying the sunset so that they could kill some more prats. Bnonn laughed maniacally, striding up to an enemy leader and besting him an a few short blows, then spinning round and brutally hacking the foe down. "Who's next, then? Who wants som..." *** "...e. What the hell is going on?" Bnonn asked, without a break in his flow. "We are on board the Cataclysm. It is immune to attack from without. I have chosen your men to do this task, and believe me if you do it wrong I will dice you all and feed you to the Newcomers forumers." Dyntheos frowned. "Let's go." Bnonn quickly looked round and found himself surrounded by four moderators, two of which he didn't recognize, and one of which was Starfisher, who winked. There was also a rather thin type armed with a modern rapier, who was staring at their surroundings was apparent fascination. "Who are you people?" "Metaphysically speaking, they are the Backstory and fluff forums," Dyn said irritably. "We need to move. Starfisher, take a team of twenty to the engines, and sabotage that. Robert, you are on the core ship AI. Peer, infiltrate the main fire control centre and kill everything there. Sved, the reactors. Bnonn, you are taking the rest, and you are coming with me- we're going to the bridge." *** The Cataclysm belched fire again, burning meters thick armour away from a glancing hit on the desperately evading Postcount. Moe ordered return fire, watching in frustration as once again their weapons boiled away harmlessly against the ship's shields. Useless. "How's the state of the weapon, Delphy?" he demanded, trying to at least sound calm and not angry. "Sorry, Moe. I need another fifteen minutes." He might as well have asked for eternity. That was plenty of time for the Cataclysm to catch and gut the Postcount, then turn on the rest of the fleet. So Moe did what he did best- stared death down and fired again, hoping to take some of the bastards screaming with him. *** Dyntheos ran on ahead, boots ringing ominously on the bare steel floor of the corridor. Bnonn and his Bones ran to catch up, hacking down anyone who escaped the death touch of Dyn's Darkblade. "Hurry," he snapped. "We are running out of time." The corridors were broadening now, and Bnonn was starting to regain both hope and breath when a massive robot swung out of cover and opened fire. Dyn raised an irritable hand, stopping the bullets dead in their tracks, then hacked the robot in half with one blow. But then another leapt on Bnonn and suddenly the Nonnies were fighting for their lives. Bnonn rolled clear, slashing at the circuitry of the beast, until Dyn grabbed his shoulder and fired a bold of energy over his head, killing the machine outright. "We must hurry," he hissed. "Leave your men to deal with this distraction." They turned and ran, bursting onto the bridge, swords raised. "Ah. Dyntheos and the redoubtable Bnonn. How daring. The Silent Arbiter is impressed." "Give it up," Dyn snarled. "Ah," The Arbiter said, turning around. "The Silent Arbiter believes that the correct term is- the Silent Arbiter knows mo fo." He took a stance. "No one can fight me at mo fo," Dyn growled again. "I invented it!" "Interesting. but when I was hacking- I hacked myself as well." *** "Enemy coming around! Ioncannons building charge!" the_living_god warned. "Teleport!" Moe shouted. But the ship stayed resolutely put. "We're out of charge!" TLG said desperately. Moe closed his eyes and prepared to meet his moderator. But then there was a flash of light, and the enemy weapons exploded. "WTF?" "Enemy fire control is offline!" TLG shouted triumphantly. "Charging weapons to fire!" Moe raised a hand. "That was sabotage. That means our boys are in there. Target lesser enemy ships, and thank the mods for this chance." *** Bnonn cursed, wincing at the pain which flourished between his eyes. He stared from his prone position as Dyn was smacked brutally hard into a wall, Darkblade clattering from his fingers. the admin leapt up again, but there could only be one result. It seemed so unfair. They'd got this far, only to fail now? There had to be something he could do. Bnonn stared at the computers, then at the blurring Arbiter, then at the computers again. He rolled... grabbed the Darkblade... brought it up to throw... laughed as the Arbiter screamed... and let fly, sinking the weapon up to its hilt in the computer banks. There was a moment of glorious uncertainty, then Dyn leapt up and smashed the Silent Arbiter so hard that he left a dent in the opposite wall. "Always rely on your own strength," he said to no one in particular, striding forwards and tugging the Darkblade free, then moving ominously forwards, weapon raised for the kill. "This is Lord Technomaster, calling all mods. Engaging the Unyielding Annihilator. Universal lock. Now!" Blue light flared and blossomed, spreading across the entire forums. Bnonn froze in mid air. Dyn smiled grimly. The Silent Arbiter rolled and sat up. "Good show, those men," he said softly. "What?" The Silent Arbiter forced himself to his feet. "Wouldn't you want to rule? For the joy of the game? But under the circumstances, I'd better get back to my work. Heaven knows what flamefests have been starting without me." There was a flash of light, and he disappeared. *** Starfisher hurried in, just behind Deadguy and Reiss, as they filed into the narrow chamber. All the moderators were present, and in full dress uniform. For Starfisher, that hadn't been a problem, but Deadguy had assured him that he'd stop getting kicks out of the fear the uniform instilled within the next year or so, and that it was perfectly normal. "Order, order," Ionfish called from his podium. "Let's make this a quick hearing. Delphy, if your team could warm up the ioncannon just in case?" "Of course, Ion. Warming up now," Delphy said smoothly, nodding to Locutus and Finaldeath, who sat at two terminals alive with strange power readings. Starfisher took the chance to study this strange chamber, half courtroom and half-arcane fire control centre, crowded with cabling which snaked around the seats and across the brown stone floor. Ionfish nodded. "Good. Where is the defendant?" "LtDan has him, sir," Moe said clearly. "Under escort of four sturdy lads from Strategy and Army lists. They don't know who he is, so it's no skin off their nose. Almost in position outside the barrel, in a dropship." They found some uses for the army after the war... *** "Then I will bring this court to order," Ionfish said. "Let the hearing begin. The defendant, who will not be named, has been charged with crimes against both the letter and the spirit of His laws. To whit, reference and request to the evil that is warez, in direct contravention of Article One, Codicil Four, and that in full knowledge of said Article, to maintain this request with the implied purpose of leading others from the holy light of His words. There are numerous other crimes too petty to warrant mentioning, that would be evil in themselves did they not blacken in comparison to this misdeed. It can be said that this transgression was uttered in jest, but I see that as no defense. The letter of His Laws are clear, and I now ask this court to pass judgement upon this crime. Speak." Starfisher stood first. "This is a clear crime," he said firmly "against both the rules and aspirations of these forums, with malice aforethought, and so I feel we are justified in deploying the maximum sentence of execution." "I agree," Deadguy said, "Ban the fucker." There was a smattering of affirmatives, all riffs around the tune of "ban him". Ionfish nodded, then glanced at the figure in the shadows. Dyn's hand chopped down, just once. "Very well. I declare the sentence passed, the sentence of death by Firing Out of Ioncannon, a mercifully instant demise. Let the condemned be loaded and the penalty commence. It is Execution Time." *** "Mag-coils Zentra through Harvas charged," Locutus announced. "Coils Harvas through Arbandi charged," Finaldeath agreed. "Cannon ready to fire," Delphy declared. "Aiming." His hands blurred as he guided various targeting indicators into place. "Locked on. On your mark, my lord." Dyntheos nodded. "Fire." Delphy's fist stabbed down and the Ioncannon fired, a huge flare of glowing blue energy erupting from the cone of the barrel and lashing into the night's sky. Starfisher decided that he had imagined the speck at the center of the cone. Back to the "Real World" for him. Or her, he supposed. *** Delphy's fingers danced over the keyboard, searching, searching. The invasion repulsed, the traitor revealed- it should have been time for cake and medals. But it wasn't. Ion and Dyn had something planned. And Delphy knew that his forum was twitchy. There were still errors at the edge of his reach, slight distortions, DOW balance had gone to hell again, and there were things which didn't quite add up, and Impossible Creatures hadn't been freed from permalock. Things were subtly wrong, and he didn't like it one bit. But whatever it was, he'd track it down. No one threatened his forums. He called up a search- all those with the technical know-how and insider knowledge to hack his forums. First name on the list was Ionfish, which could be dismissed out of hand. Then Moe. And so on, down a list of a dozen names before he came to one that made him pause, glowing softly on the monitor. Sandras. Impulsively, Delphy opened her profile. He knew the facts anyway. On his server they kept a detailed record of every member of note, written by the mod or senior who knew them best. Delphy had written Sandras' report himself. The second of the two bright stars of the academy- her and Moe both. Dyntheos had always favoured Moe, who's mo fo was strongest. But Sandras had been Delphy's pet, with technological ability that impressed even him, and the silent, watchful nature he preferred. But then she'd chosen to be a good gamer, instead, and that was that. He considered moving her report to admin level encryption, with a note detailing her end, as a warning to his successors. Then he pressed delete. His friend would have some peace, forgotten by the legacy of the forums. *** Delphy looked up guiltily as Ionfish entered. "Hi. How are things?" "We survive," Ionfish replied. "But you'd better hurry- we've got a briefing running in five, all moderators. Dyn and I have a mission for the boys." Delphy frowned. "I have to keep this place alive. This place is still too jittery to get by without my constant attention." "You won't like the mission, then," Ion said. "We're hitting right back at them, with every mod we've got." "You're right. I don't like it," Delphy said. "Never mind. I presume you have a plan, so enact it." "I do, and I will. We won't be long." *** "We're not going to sit around and wait for Allakhazam to strike again," Ionfish said, pausing to sip from a glass of beer. "So we have a plan. All our moderators, and I mean all you guys, are in on this. Our new ally," he pointed to the hunched figure of the Silent Arbiter, standing uncomfortably in front of Dyn, "is going to help us infiltrate the top levels of the khazam command chain. Then we will initiate a raid to do as much damage as possible, and bring the results back to the forums. If we can take their leaders hostage, they can be used as bargaining tools for peace." He paused. "It's a dirty plan, but this is a dirty war, and the alternative is annihilation." A hubbub rose, then died as Ionfish rapped his pointer on the podium. Then he gestured, and Starfisher clicked a projector on. "This is our main target," Ion said, pointing to a staggeringly beautiful elfin woman, dressed in the uniform of a Grand Uber Ownage Fleet Admiral. "Her name is Maria Longtwainbowship, and she is the pan-game queen of Allakhazam's world. It is said that the "real world" entity behind her is actually male, but that is irrelevant to the matter in hand. Her Cherubim Guild stretches across every relevant game, and is incredibly powerful. Naturally, this makes them the primary targets." Ion frowned and shuffled his notes. "Now, I have studied several different incidents within Allakhazam's environment, and it is evident that the general protocol is to spend at least two years leveling up before pulling anything. Obviously, we aren't that sad. So we are going to have to hack. Again. That's why we need you guys from RDN. But I've said enough for now. It turns out that as well as our Silent Arbiter, who has his foot in the door of the Board of Gods, we have another agent from within. Stand up, frst. Now tell us, what should we consider when doing this?" *** Frst frowned and looked around. "I can't actually tell you much, that would counter my interests within..." He noticed Dyn tapping the pommel of his Darkblade irritably. "That is to say, I'll be glad to share as many insights as I possess. The key thing is to have complete trust between your forces and command, so that there is no chance of a double cross. We'll need to be prepared, sudden and ready. The other key factor is to get as close to the objective as humanely possible. Valentine agents are used in the trade, of course..." Ion frowned. "Valentine agents..." he muttered, then straightened up. "What the fuck is a Valentine agent?" With some help from Uber and others, Frst explained. This took some time, and considerable awe from the floor. Finally, Ion nodded. "I see. But I can't think of anyone suitable..." Frst looked around and shook his head. "Squiddy!" Moe shouted suddenly. Squid DNA jumped, then put his head in his hands. "Squiddy can do it! He knows all about using plush bacteria to woo the ladies!" There was a murmur of agreement, before Dyntheos stepped forwards. Squid sighed with relief. "I like it," Dyn said. Squid put his head in his hands again. "But we don't have time to plan everything. We should go, now." *** "That's great," Bnonn said, from near the back. "But what the heck am I doing here?" "Or me?" demanded Piccolo. "Who are these people?" "Personally, I don't mind being here," Robert said. "But I too have yet to be enlightened as to my purpose within this quest." "Who are we?" Bnonn snapped. "Who are you?" "He's from Strategy and Army Lists," Sved explained, scowling as brows crinkled in thought. "The tabletop forums," he said to the room at large. "We have a tabletop forums?" Bnonn asked in puzzlement. Ionfish sighed. "I have called various trustworthy, or at least noteworthy, members forward. We need every mod for this task, so with grave doubts we have been forced to gift you all with emergency mod powers, a great responsibility which you might well reject..." He was cut off by Bnonn. "Yes! Now is my time. Time to purge this wretched world with the fire and the sword, time to bring justice upon those infidels who dare besmirch my lands. Yes, there shall be quaking and terror, and a wailing, and even, I suspect, a gnashing of teeth. Now I shall..." "Never mind. You can't do too much damage in the time we intend to take. Mods, prepare to embark. Its time to strike back." *** The Silent Arbiter frowned. "We are approaching our goal! Behold, the Mountain of Big!" Dyn frowned. "How tasteless." "I think they're compensating for something," Squid said flatly. The Mountain of Big was, well, big, and supposedly beautiful, made of some brilliant white rock covered in snow at its peak, where a huge silver command centre squatted like a stainless steel insect. But the illusion was betrayed, somehow- the peaks were pure and unstained, but the lower regions were cracked and craggy, oozing lava in slow tides as trolls gamboled in the valleys, wreathed in flames. The occasional logicals traveled in packs, but even so, they were often waylaid and brought down by a converging tide of trolls, burned by fire until death, or worse, likewise retaliation. "What a flamefest," Starfisher muttered. "And its so big," Moe said in disbelief. The mountain alone was the size of the Relic Forums, let alone the outlying landscape. "Too big," Ionfish said firmly. "How could you rule a place like this?" "Of course, they don't," frst said. "All the leaders were chosen as highly successful players, and members of the Cherubim. To maintain either title, you understandably need to play a lot. That leave no time for proper moderating- but spirit doesn't help. Maria basically uses this place for its rather nice command center." The Silent Arbiter nodded. "Oh, they're a bunch of jackasses. But they have the skills. If you want to the top, then you play by her rules." Dyn frowned. "What? What happened to the "I am the Silent Arbiter, fear me" jazz?" "Her rules," the Arbiter repeated. "She thinks it’s clever. I'm a traitor now, anyway. But I suggest you all talk like I do. It’s easy enough. Ahem. We are close now. The Silent Arbiter reminds you that you are his prisoners, and that the raid went by without a hitch." Starfisher noted that the Arbiter seemed to be twitching slightly, hands clenching and unclenching at random. That was worrying. Dyn nodded. "Remember. We don't have our powers here- mo fo is just a funny name. We will have to survive on wits alone." There was a cough. "And more pertinently, Locutus and Finaldeath's hacking skills. I'll take the top with Arbiter and Squid. Moe, Fisher, Sved, you guys are working on the fleet command game," he consulted his notes. "eVe of the DaWn oF the beGinNinG of the gEnesIs of the coMencEmeNt of the StaRt. Reki, you go with..." *** Delphy frowned as he keyed in the commands for an all moderator announcement. "This is Delphy, commanding all temp mods. I have written up the task list for all of you, looking after the various forums." He'd done it himself, discarding Ion's. Ion hadn't spotted the possibilities... "First, moderator Bnonn..." "That's High Master of Celestial Vengeance Bnonn," Nonny corrected over the radio. "For I shall bring the wrath of the heavens upon..." "Yes, yes, alright. You have a very important job- you are moderating the Tabletop forums." "What? But what the hell is the tabletop forums? What is there to discuss about tables..." He yelped as Delphy teleported him. "He'll pick it up. Mac, you are on Impossible Creatures. I hope you brought War and Peace to read or something." Flash. "Robert, I'm introducing you to the joys of Balance Discussions." Flash. "Retro, I like you." Retro sighed in relief. "So just to show I play a straight game, no favoritism, you're on Balance as well." A scream, and a flash. "Piccolo, general discussions, with Urov for company..." *** "Mistress, the Silent Arbiter is here, and bows to you. Your will has been done. Bow, fools," Arbiter snapped. Squid bowed, then looked up when he dared, then quickly looked down again. Maria was unbelievably beautiful, and powerful, and arrogance radiated off her like ice. "Do they do tricks?" she asked icily. Dyn scowled. "Tricks are done by those who have something to prove." "Very well," she said, ignoring him. "Do you have the sword?" The Silent Arbiter shrugged. "It had no power outside its home. Much like these." Squid frowned. This didn't sound encouraging. Especially the way she was looking at them. "Really? Well, here's their wake up call. They play by our rules, or they die." She gestured, and six burly bodyguards strode forwards, packing guns and swords. "Be sure to dispose of the bodies. And clean up the mess." Maria strode away. Squid looked sideways at Dyn, who nodded slightly. Showtime. *** Bnonn scowled, clutching his sword tightly as he strode through Strategy and army lists. This place was too weird, and as the normal seniors were out moderating his General Discussions, it was even worse than usual. "Excuse me," someone shouted, "How can I improve my Tyranids list? Do I have enough bodies?" "More Techmarines!" shouted someone else, before an irritated crowd mobbed him. "Drop the Raveners, and get some dakkafexes," another said. "And you need more synapse in there, pack a Tyrant and some Guard for ablative wounds, and maybe a winged Tyrant too. Or you could cut back on the extra upgrades and also bring some Zornathropes to the show..." "Don't post in this thread again," Bnonn said. "You are making me insecure." Then another noobs ran up. "Check out my 1337 list. I took out three zillion points of nids with my thousand points list!" "Yeah, right," Bnonn said weakly. He turned away, only to double over as the troll attacked. *** Squid leapt into motion, fluidly ducking a burning blade. Flameswords. This place was a shitheap. He leapt clumsily back to avoid another strike, but then another fired... But the bullet bounced clean off. Hacking... Squid DNA leapt up again, catching a sword in one hand then smashing its wielder down. "Take that to the flallagem, and watch evolution in action!" he screamed, felling another two like logs then grabbing a pair of pistols and unleashing a stupidly accurate rain of fire. Dyn was also in motion, defeating another three and watching as the whole room attacked. "Get her!" "I'm on it! For SCIENCE!" Maria screamed and charged, but Squid grabbed a sword and clashed blade to blade, pushing her back, almost laughing at the expression on her face. "You're pathetic," he spat. "You wouldn't know Chlamydomonas from Chlamydia. And just because you're the most powerful overt guild, does that mean that there can't be someone behind the scenes?" He frowned as he parried desperately. She was good, damn good. "And your forums is a mess. FFS, girl, COMMERCIAL BACKING and you still can't kill the trolls? That's just pathetic." Their blades met above their heads, and they clashed furiously. Squid new that even with haxs behind him, he was playing to lose. Time to chance things. "Administrator's rank or I walk out that door!" He closed his eyes, then opened them again as she replied. "Let's discuss that." *** MacBug lay with his back against a ruined wall, watching the pretty blue lock lightshow. Yeah, this was the life, alright. He got the easy job while Nonny was cleaning tables, or whatever they did in that board. Nothing to do but sit back, relax and... "In Homeworld's name!" There was a lasershow of teleport lights, and about twenty people intruded on the peace of Impossible Creatures. Mac scowled. "WTF are you doing in my forum? You can't all be asking for good creature isotopes." Dj waved his hands irritably. "We aren't doing anything wrong, Mac. We're temporary mods, just like you. Nothing wrong at all." "Uh-huh?" "All we want to do is plan how to storm Uber's chambers, ransack the place until we find his Homeworld scripts, then exfiltrate without any sign that we've been there." Mac nodded. "Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, don't mind me, folks. But you'll have to wait, the last secret meeting we had in this forum is still putting the chairs away." *** Finally, the strike force sat down, ready for action. Dj sized up his troops. "Now, I have called you here today because you are the core of the old Homeworlders, and so you will be interested in this intelligence." He threw down a sheet of paper. "It seems that Uber has been holding two 100 page plus copies of the script of the Game Which Must Not Be Named, and that..." He paused as several of his audience collapsed, hyperventilating at the very thought. "Does anyone have any plastic bags?" The Fifth Elephant shook his head. "Sorry. Hopefully they'll get over it. Save the orgasms for when we have the goods, people." Dj shrugged. "Anyway, our target is Uber's quarters, located on the very top of the Spire. That is to say, they are right now- Delphy can change the architecture of the place at a whim, which is why we are here, beyond his footprint. So asking Delphy for help is going to be counterproductive on this mission." Verrin frowned. "But then we'll have to attack from the outside, doesn't it? This could be tricky..." "Think of the scripts," Dj said firmly. A few more people doubled over, and doubts were replaced with grim, fanatical determination. "We plan to use Forum issues as a rally point for our strike on the Spire. Its defenses are formidable, but Delphy will lock down the shoot-to-kill, I'm sure. He'll be angry, but hey- Dyn isn't here." That got some nods. "So we of one resolve?" Dj asked. "I don't know about any resolves," Fiirkan said. "I just want the Homeworld scripts." Dj rolled his eyes. "Right. Right. Now remember- we will fight and we might die. Some of you will be used as ignominious cannon fodder while our ninja skills scale the Spire, but your sacrifice will be remembered for, oh, all of two minutes. Bring Sajuuk to bear!" "Bring Sajuuk to bear!" they screamed in reply. *** Delphy frowned. It was a strange time. Hopefully the raid would go as planned, because Dyntheos and Ionfish had just thrust the forum's finest into the lion's mouth. But still, hacks to write, things to do- plenty to keep him busy. "Warning- armed forces incoming," a soft female voice stated. Delphy blinked in surprise. "Engage external monitors." He studied the strange images. "Hold fire. Guys, if you want something, you just have to ask." "They are approaching Spire base, and have been equipped for an ascent." "Very well. Non-lethal bursts, just to dissuade them. I know they feel unloved if they meet with no resistance." The first Ioncannons opened fire, scarring the landscape with a black crater. "I said non- lethal bursts!" Delphy snapped. He hit abort, but nothing happened. "What?" A sentence wrote itself on his screen, a sentence that chilled him to the core. Hello, Delphy. You have been hacked. Delphy whirled, only for the doors to lock. Across the room, lights went red, indicating full Spire lockdown. "You can't do this!" I can. Destroy... Relic...forums. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?" His fingers blurred as he typed commands. If he could just isolate the intrusion... I... am the forums now. "Who are you?" he repeated, giving up. The intrusion was everywhere. I... system recall error, 503. Error, error. Something clicked inside Delphy's head. "Sandras," he breathed. Knowing just how much trouble they were all in. *** Dj ducked as the Ioncannons volleyed their fire. "WTF? Delphy!" he screamed down the comms. "Point established, cease fire!" He frowned. "Nothing but static. The comms are dead. Keep moving!" They sprinted desperately through cover, falling into the shadow of the base, and momentary safety. "What do we do know?" The Fifth Elephant asked plaintively. Dj tried to think. "We keep moving. Carry on. It's the only way!" He drew his ninja grapples, and prepared to jump. "Let's go." He leapt upwards, digging in and jumping at the next outcrop. The others followed and soon they were leaping up the rockface. "This isn't so bad," Dj muttered. *** Engaging lockcannon point defenses. *** The double-barreled gattling weapons poked their heads out of their enclaves and opened up a furious rain of suppression fire. Dj cursed as the bullets fluttered around them, then swore again as one skimmed him before he ducked into cover. This would require some serious mo fo. "Hold on, I'll clear the way!" He drew his new Banstick and weighed it in his hands, uncomfortably aware of the fact that he'd never fired it before. "Here goes!" He leapt out of cover, sighted and fired five shots. Three lockcannons exploded in fire. The recoil threw Dj clean off the face of the wall and out into thin air. He dropped it and rolled, falling forwards and slapping into the cliff-face again. "Yeah, I have the skills." "You can't shoot, though, someone muttered. He glared at them. "Let's just go." *** "We're here," Dj gasped. "Any casualties?" "A few locked," Fiirkan gasped breathlessly. "No dead." "Where are they?" The Fifth Elephant pointed timidly to a box marked- "Secret Relic Documents- Volume four- Homeworld 2 scripts." "Oh. Right." Dj crept forwards, opened the box, and swore. There was nothing but a note. Guys- took scripts to read while on secret mission. Nice try. "Newb!" a voice shouted. Dj spun, only to be confronted by Uberkid, pointedly tossing a grenade... *** "This is Admiral Squid, calling all Cloaked Knights. Captain Dyntheos, do you copy?" Dyn muttered something incomprehensible, to Squid's embarrassment. And Maria's fury. "Respect your superiors!" she snapped. "You will do so, or you will die!" "Very well, Admiral," Dyn said grudgingly, every word loaded with irony. "Lead the way." Squid frowned as he scanned the tactical map, considering the situation. He was in an ASSKICA (Assault Strike Systems Kamikaze Attack Cruiser Apocalypse), which was hacked for him by Locutus, Badass level 67. Unfortunately, Maria commanded an HARDASSKIKA (Hyper Advanced Reaping-Destruction...), which was still superior. The half of the battlegroup which was by a complete coincidence commanded by Squid's fellow Alakhazam moderators, who happened to be his fellows from the Relic Forums, was still matched by the half which wasn't. And then there was the Silent Arbiter, and no one knew whose side he was on. Squid had become uncomfortably aware that the Arbiter had their heads on the line, his to claim them. It was not a nice thought. "Sir!" Captain Moe "the Moe" Moe called over the comms. "Transient contacts in the next galaxy, part of a much larger force. It's them again." Squid swore. "Do we have to beat these bastards on every game?" "That's the only way," Maria said firmly. "We must show our strength." "I don't see why anyone would fight hard for the right to continue flaming," TBS said thoughtfully. "We can't be making many friends." "At least we're doing something right," Reki muttered. "Let's stay on task, people," someone said. Squid realized that it had been him. This admin business was getting to him. "We have a battlefleet to contend with. Fifty times the size of ours." "Yep, just another day," Ion said ironically. *** Bnonn snapped. And he did something not very nice. "Blasphemy! Unhand me, you heretic!" He struck the noob clean between the eyes and sent him bowling backwards. Then they attacked, and he was apparently buried under a wave of limbs. Vertigo frowned as he ran for the source of the trouble, lockgun blazing freely. He watched in mild amusement as several noobs were thrown back, and left to stagger away. Evidently Nonny could give as good as he got. Vertigo shrugged and pulled the enraged temp-mod free. "You have the Imperial talk down pat, anyway." "What?" "What?" "Never mind," Bnonn snapped. "I've had enough. This place will be cleansed with fire and sword!" He shouldered his lock-gun and started firing random bursts, before Vertigo smacked into him, breaking his aim. "You can't do that," Vertigo hissed. "Why not?" Vertigo considered this. "This is the first time in months I've had to increase my postcount without admin intervention." "Well, you didn't count on moderator intervention. I'm locking this dump," Bnonn snarled. "And there shall be a wailing. And gnashing of teeth. There will." "Then I'm unlocking it!" Vertigo snapped. "You can't do that!" "Oh yes I can!" The two rivals glared at each other for a few long seconds. Then they ran off in different directions, sprinting to open fire... *** "Put hands where I can seez em," Uberkid gurgled, still clutching the grenade. "So I can lops em off. Newb." Dj frowned, thinking fast. "You see, Uberkid, but the forums are in a great, unknown danger, and if we can't stop it, then we're all doomed..." he gave up, and started again. "Uber said that if you do what we say, then you can borrow his lockgun." "Woot!" "Yes, woot," Dj said evenly, pulling the spare lockgun from its place atop a stack of scripts for the Forestry Sim, and handing it to the child. "Ins before the locks," Uberkid said solemnly, cocking the weapon with worrying ability. "Newbs." "Ye-s," Dj said carefully. "Now, Uber wants you to lead the way to Delphy's command room. And he wants you to- get away from the modsdamn door!" he screamed, as something formidable starting kicking it down. Uberkid tossed the grenade. ":duck:" he said. It was the first time Dj had ever heard anyone pronounce a smiley. The door exploded outwards, revealing a trio of grotesque, bemused trolls. "Someone isn't going to last long here," Uberkid burbled happily, firing a thunderous storm of fire which tore all three apart. "This way!" he called, waddling down the corridor at a fast pace. Dj shook his head, motioning for his fellows to follow. He wondered which force scared him more... *** "Fleet, all ahead full," Maria commanded. "Grand Admiral," Squid said, "That might not be wise. We should hold position and fire from here." She looked at him in amazement. "What? Our ships are easily out of range..." Squid shook his head impatiently. "I did some calculations using the energy figures provided. These lasers should burn through their fleet, any planets behind that fleet, and carry on to the next galaxy. The canon never lies, does it?" he asked mischievously. "Very well. We'll try it. Fire at will!" The lasers burned through their fleet, then the planets behind that fleet, then the next galaxy. "See?" Squid asked happily. "Science." *** "Oh mods, here they come AGAIN!" The Fifth Elephant screamed. The Trolls loped down the corridor, their fur matted with flames. Uberkid raised his gun to fire... and the trigger fell on a spent magazine. "Newb!" Uberkid screamed, throwing the useless weapon down and taking a stance. Dj leapt forwards and grabbed him, dragging the screaming kid into cover. "Hey, you can't just fight these things," Dj said. "You might get hurt." Uberkid glared at him. "Newb! I no mo fo." "Just stay there, there's a good boy." "Gurl! Imma gurl!" Uberkid screamed angrily. "What?" asked Dj temporally derailed. "Imma gurl," Uberkid snapped. "Only stupid people'd think I was a boy. lol" Dj blinked, which gave her all the chance she needed. He doubled over, clutching his nose, as she exploded from cover and rocketed over the heads of the cowering vets, smashing brutally into the first troll. The flames licked but did not burn as the Trolls came under a diminutive, furious and professional attack, Uberkid moving faster than they eye could follow, sending the Trolls into hopeless collapse. Then it was over, another corridor secure. "Newbs," she said with a tone of finality. Dj forced himself up. "Fifth!" he hissed. "He's a girl!" "What?" "Uberkid. Is. A. Girl." "Really?" The Fifth Elephant asked. Dj shrugged. "He says so." "So, let me get this straight," Fifth said purposefully. "The kid who held us at grenade point, blew down a door, hacked the elevator codes, killed over fifty trolls with a blazing lockgun and another three in close combat, while protecting our sorry asses, is a girl?" "Yeah," Dj said. *** "Newbs!" she shouted, bouncing up and down. "Hurries!" "We're coming! Can't we catch our breath a sec?" Dj asked plaintively. "Noes! We are close!" Uberkid bounded off down the corridor at high speed. The taskforce grumbled and followed, then they turned the corner and slowed, as a whole army of trolls came into view, tearing down a massive steel door... *** "You'll never take this place," Delphy whispered. "Not if you try for a thousand years." You'll... still... be dead. The hammering was getting louder, getting closer. And he couldn't dispute that last point. "Sandras, it doesn't have to be this way! Can't you remember? You used to love this place!" Who's... Sandras? Delphy collapsed. "Consciousness fragmentation," he moaned. "You knew, you of all people. You knew what would happen if you merged with the Core. Why did you do this?" The answer came quickly and fluently- the one thing she could remember. Vengeance. Now he could hear the shrieks of the trolls, the sound of his death. "They're coming," Delphy whispered. *** "Newbs!" Uberkid leapt into motion, bouncing furiously between targets. Even as the Trolls desperately tried to spot where on earth this new attack was coming from, the Homeworlders opened up, Dj forcing himself to keep calm as his voice barked the orders to fire. Then the Trolls turned, screamed and charged, flaming furiously. Only a Banstick could... DJ’s head snapped down, pulling the spare shell off his belt. "Fifth, do you have your launcher?" The Fifth Elephant shook his head. "Sorry. We used it as a prop when the second crushing ceiling came down, remember?" "Oh, right," Dj said gloomily. "Improvisation time." He primed the shell and threw it bodily into the mass of the crowd. Uberkid spotted it in an instant and slapped the trigger in mid-air, leaping clear herself... *** The Singularity! Sandras' fractured mind crowed. It's happening! The computers whined and powered down as the very pillars of the Spire shook, trembling from base to pinnacle. Delphy's attuned mind could feel the power surge underneath the mountain. And he knew it was over. *** the shell exploded with light. And it was finished. "Owned," Uberkid said in satisfaction. "Yeah," Dj said. "Now how do we get through the doors?" Uberkid screamed and charged... *** There was a finality to the crash. Delphy looked at Sandras' gloating final message. Now I will be immortal. And now you die. Delphy said nothing, simply standing and waiting as the reinforced doors were blown backwards off their hinges. "Newb! Lordnmasta!" Uberkid burbled, running forwards and saluting. Delphy stared at the party, and was suddenly galvanized. "There's still time!" he snapped. "For what?" Dj asked in puzzlement. "What the heck is going on?" Delphy talked fast. "A while ago, Moe killed a King Troll with His Sword. I don't know the Troll's name," he lied "but it was very powerful. The Sword sufficed, however. Unfortunately, the consciousness of the Troll was not destroyed, but instead was bound deep within the blade. His Sword and the Sleeping Gods are the Forums. That consciousness is now an integral, ruling part of our systems, wanting only destruction." Again, not quite true. "We have to go to the Beneath. We don't have much time. That's our only chance." Dj shrugged uncertainly. "But... us? We're just..." Delphy snapped. "Go! We have to! Now!" Uberkid raced up Delphy and sat on his head, in some satisfaction, perched like a diminutive Buddha. "Newbs! Goes!" They went. *** Silence. You remembered that. The silence, Moe reflected later. As a loving parent of the forums, so to speak, he often despaired of the place entirely, when trolls seemed to be around every corner and nothing seemed sacred. But in that place, at that time, there seemed to be hope for them, that so many were there. So silent. Every moderator was there, in their smartest black-dress uniform, that uniform they normally despised. Every admin was there. Dyntheos lead the way, Darkblade on one side, and this once, His Sword on the other, their guardian, leading the solemn procession through the lofty, silent chambers that lead to the Vault. They bore the coffin silently forwards, as Reki and Soul strode purposefully forwards and opened the huge, black doors. Delphy had done considerable coding to rewrite a suitable place for Murph to be laid at rest. Right at the front of the Vault, in an airy room with light falling dead center. All who come here to learn of our past... will learn of this first of all. Delphy himself was here, and Moe tried to remember the last time he had seen the Admin outside the Spire. A long time ago, he knew. They placed the coffin in its place, at the highest point of the tomb. Dyntheos nodded, and they withdrew smartly, standing stiffly in front of the wordless crowd. Dyn himself stayed, head bowed, silent for so long that Moe thought he was completely abstracted. Then he looked up. "It's not mine to say what comes after death," Dyn said softly. "But Murph deserves whatever heaven does exist, and more. I will say this, however. He was a great friend of us all, a dedicated Homeworlder, a valued member of our IRC regulars, a fine moderator, one of us in everything he did, an integral member of our community. He was one of our brightest." Dyn's voice sunk again, and then came back stronger. "He will live in," he said finally. "In all of us, in our memories of him, the things he did for us, what he was, in the institution, for as long as it exists. He will not die. Who he was and what he gave to the world will live on. And today we lay those memories in eternal preservation, so that all who follow, too, will remember. We will remember." Dyn turned to the tomb. "Rest in peace, friend, we loved and love you." He bowed his head, and walked away. One by one people went to pay their respects. Moe looked around him. Yes. In us, he will live on. *** "Good job, Squid!" Goblin 56 said. "Yeah, you're the man Squiddy," Trollbait said in agreement. "When we were charged by fifty thousand enemy players with Swords of Sanitation and you assembled a submachine gun and gunned them all down! Yeah, man!" "It was nothing," Squid said modestly. "I just used the materials we had available." "And your warcry," Gob went on. "So cool. For Science!" he paused a second. "What does it mean, anyway? Some kind of God?" Squid frowned. "Never mind. I've gotta be at HQ anyway, Maria wants me." "Sure thing, Admiral. Catch ya later." Squid DNA frowned as he strode to the bridge, noticing that his resolve was lessening with every step. Okay, so they'd invaded us. And they're all trolls. But now we have invaded them in a far different way, which is almost worse. This wasn't their style. And once you started fighting with them, you almost understood. It wasn't like he ever thought about the enemy when he came up with the latest grand plan... Squid snapped out of his introspection as he walked past Dyntheos, who frowned and saluted grimly, and onto the bridge. *** Maria was there, leaning over the tac map and staring at it. "Squid, good of you to come. We make good progress- our enemies are scattered. If we strike back now, the Cherubim should be able to complete our domination. And the forums are improving steadily- the so-called Ioncannon method seems to be quite effective." Squid DNA saluted, nodding slightly to Moe, who nodded back. "I am glad we are achieving success, madam." "Yes. Soon. Soon." Squid nodded, walking obliquely towards Moe. "When's zero hour?" Moe hissed. "Not yet," Squid whispered back, glad that Maria was distracted. "We aren't ready, yet." "The longer we wait, the more danger we are in. You know that." Squid shrugged. "Where on earth would she find out? She thinks I'm the lone survivor of the Arbiter's attack. You guys are just my friends that happen to have some mod skills." Moe frowned. "I don't know. I don't like it." Squid looked up, and found that the Silent Arbiter was watching them again. That was happening more and more. Squid didn't like it. "And get on with your mission," Moe completed, walking away. "Easy for you to say," Squid muttered. He tentatively approached her, staring at the back of her neck as he wondered who to begin. Excuse me, but would you mind role-playing some sexual tension between us? seemed to lack a certain subtlety. As it was, she turned to face him first, smiling. "Squid, come with me please. I have something to show you." *** Through the vaulty chambers of the mountain, and down an elevator. A long way down. As the silence between them grew, Squid forced himself to remain calm. She didn't know, she couldn't know. You are just a renegade to her. "Tell me about the battle," she said finally. "For your forums." "I don't want to talk about it," Squid replied. "Why?" "It was a massacre. Everyone died." Maria shrugged. "You inflicted heroic casualties on the Arbiter's forces, though." Squid forced himself to keep calm. "What does that mean? They still died." And people had died, it wasn't all lies. But there hadn't been the time or place for burial, for anything but a desperate strike back. This strike back. one chance to topple Alakhazam's centralized strength. Or we lose. He had to remember that. "Perhaps. But you were lucky, Squid." "Lucky?" *** They entered a dark, narrow room. "Lucky, Squid. Not everyone died, apparently." She gestured and the lights turned on. Squid nearly collapsed on the spot. Glaring up at them, barely recognizable, was Tails. Burns covered his entire body, the black calcine which Squid had come to associate with trollfire. He was tied up and gagged, trussed to a pillar with other ropes attached. With a feeling of inevitability, Squid walked around, and saw others. VOID, Earthborn, nurizeko, all presumed missing, thought dead. Looking at their pain, death might have been an improvement. "How did this happen?" Squid whispered. Maria frowned. "Yesterday, the Unimportant Sovereign limped into dock, and its Captain Ashatt told a quite different story. Something about a hacked battlefleet, a boarding action against an enemy cruiser, in which these pathetic specimens of lowlife were captured, an ultimate defeat, and a disordered withdrawal in the face of an overwhelming Relic Forums victory. Quite a different story." "He was lying," Squid replied as best he could. He licked his lips. "Dignifying the damage to his ship, perhaps. I'll look into it." "Of course he was lying," Maria replied easily. "But nonetheless, I took the precaution of having these people tortured. Unfortunately, they have been surprisingly resistant to my methods." Squid looked into Tail's eyes. Of course. They didn't know the cover the story, the infiltration, they didn't know what the hell was going on. So they weren't saying anything. That would kill them. "I see," he replied heavily. "So I want you to do it," she completed, eyes glittering. "I want their account of the battle, how they came to survive. Mo fo has time and again proven to be more effective than flames. Use it. Now." "We don't torture people," Squid said grimly. "I do. Do it!" Squid's shoulders slumped and he stepped forwards. Then he span round and kicked out, following up with a storm of blows. But Maria had been ready. "Not unexpected, Squid DNA," she gasped, blocking the strikes before drawing her sword and raising it. "You are so predictable." She lashed out, blurring as she struck him between the eyes with the flat of her blade, knocking him unconscious. *** To be continued... and the thing with Delphy and stuff too. *** "Delphy, we are running out of time. We have to stop this, here and now," Dyn said, leaning over his desk. "It isn't that simple. I don't know why or how- we'll find that out later. But this directive has been routed into the core programming. It's well-defended, too." Delphy took a deep breath, the rhythm of his keystrokes faltering for a precious instant. "Very well- defended." "Too well-defended?" Dyn asked grimly. There was a pause. "I am afraid that might be the case," Delphy admitted. "In any case I am running out of time, too fast." "Modsdamn it. So, we're all going to have to put on bizarre red clothing, take huge sacks of relic goodies, leap into our ninja-pirate alliance goat throwing Viking sleighs of doom, and bring presents to a sleeping forums... again?" Five... four... "Afraid so. Except for Qwaar-jet, who gets broken EA games. Again."... two... one. Zero. Spontaneously, snow began to fall. Inside the modsdamn command centre! Really modawful Christmas music was playing over the speakers too. And now, while the forums slept, the mods would get no rest, wonders to work. Delphy smirked. Could he hack or could he hack? *** "Delphy, what the hell is happening?" Dj demanded, panting as he caught up. "I explained it already," Delphy replied in exasperation. "You did. I just didn't understand any of it." Delphy frowned, ducking behind cover as a trio of DOW minions rounded the corner and opened fire. "All you need to know is that if you don't help me, we're all going to die. Can you fight?" "Yeah, a little," Dj said, watching as Uberkid beat an Eldar fanboy to death with his own katana. "Not really. But you're an admin, aren't you? Can't you do that blurry slo-mo thing..." "No. Not really. Dyn normally covered that aspect of the proceedings," Delphy admitted. The Fifth Elephant screamed as a burning corpse sailed past them, then recovered. "You know, we were only really here for the Homeworld script..." "If we don't win, you'll never get that script," Delphy snapped. "Because the whole place will be cleansed with flame. Not in a good-in-a-bad-way Nonny or Dyn way. In a WOW forums very-bad-indeed way. All the Homeworld mods being developed in RDN, all of Uberjumper's classified information, all the fiction DeepChrome wrote, whatever. It will all be equally vaporized." He sighed. They couldn't go on like this. They needed some motivation. "But I'll tell you one thing. Down below, in the Beneath, there are relics from the dawn of, well, Relic. An archive, a library of Homeworld scripts. There is even rumours that the place hides a legendary script of what might have been Homeworld Three." "Homeworld three? No way!" Dj shouted. "Come on, let's do this! Sajuuk!" Delphy frowned as the Homeworld taskforce exploded out of cover, screaming as they blasted a score of enemies off their feet. "Come on, Delphy! Don't hold us up," Dj said. Uberkid waddled up. It must have been the though of Homeworld three talking, but something moved Dj to pick her up, staring into her big, solemn eyes as she gurgled happily. "Ah, isn't she adorable. Aren't you? Aren't-" "W'tch it, newb!" Uberkid unslung her lockgun in one fluid movement and fired. The bullet nicked DJ’s ear as it lashed towards its target, plunging into the noob behind him. The look on DJ’s face was priceless. "Let's keep moving, Uberkid," Delphy said. She leapt off DJ’s shoulders and waddled happily after him. "Runin outa ammo," she warned. "No more armouries." "I could make a new armoury," Delphy said. "If I had a modamn computer, which wasn't hacked. Mods, I hate this stuff. This what Dyn and Moe are good at. I shouldn't be doing this." "N'time, newb." "I know. I wonder how all the mods are doing," Delphy wondered. "Spam'm tadeath," Uberkid said cheerfully. "We're here, newbs." Dj looked at the huge dark room, then at the transparent floor. "An elevator?" he wondered out loud, looking down into a dark, gaping maw. "How far down does it go?" "As far as there is to go," Delphy replied distractedly. "She won't place guards here. She wouldn't dare." "What?" "Everyone on! We're going all the way to the bottom." *** "Ok, what's down there?" The Fifth Elephant asked as they slid downwards, the elevator gaining speed. "Darkness, mostly," Delphy said. "Locked threads. Strata of the ages. Our relics, like I said. The fabled Big Mine of Explosionation, His Sword, the Spear of the Firstborn, all that jazz. What we should be worried about, I won't name. It will be dark. If it isn't, then we will be in deep trouble." It was a long, silent descent. Finally, the elevator ground to a halt. "We're here," Dj said. "Which way is this library?" "Save the forums, first," Delphy said irritably. "Library later." "I can't believe we missed Christmas for this," JAL 18 muttered. "Waddaya call a Homeworld three script?" Dj snapped. "That transcends Christmas." "Quiet, all of you," Delphy hissed. "Only talk if you have to." "Yeah, STFU newbs." "Is it me, or is Uberkid sounding more and more like your sergeant or something as time goes by?" Dj whispered. There was a flash of blinding light, then nothing again. "Oh, crap," Delphy muttered. He broke into a run, Uberkid scrambling up his legs and sitting on his head again. "Hurry up!" "What's the rush?" Dj asked. "How many times do I have to tell you? This is the apocalypse!" They ran headlong through the dark caves, low ceilinged and scattered with ruin and junk. It was a maze, but Delphy moved through it with a definite purpose, and the rest followed. There was an occasional flash of light, which grew steadily more regular. They were running out of time. "What are we going to do when we get there?" Dj asked. "You know, I have no fucking idea," Delphy shouted, on the verge of hysteria. "But we have to be there, damnit!" They charged out onto a wide passage made of dirtied white marble, leading straight towards a temple-like building. Or tomblike. There was another flash, this one loaded with searing heat. Delphy sheltered Uberkid in his arms and charged bodily, screaming as he ascended the stairs and crashed into the room... *** It was huge, far bigger inside than out. Statues lined each wall, statues of fallen heroes. And two huge slabs of marble sat at the centre of the tomb. On top of them, two statues lay, one with spear and one with sword. Then Dj realized that they weren't statues. They were people. And the sword was glowing, with black light. "You can't have black light, bitch!" Delphy shouted. Logic is nothing here. You are too late. The glow was crackling as it clawed up the hands that gripped the blade, one flesh, and one steel. You can do nothing. Another flash of light, which brought them all to their knees. "I won't let you!" Delphy screamed, forcing himself up. He sprinted for the other pedestal, snatching up the golden spear held there. "In His name!" He threw the golden weapon headlong, sinking it into the corrupted sword. The darkness quivered as if pinned, then fluttered as it faded. But not as if to withdraw. As if glad, triumphant. You fool! Yes! "No!" But it was too late. The spear leapt free and lashed across the room again, crackling with dark arcs, plunging into the chest of the Firstborn. This flash of light seared them, burning eyes and mind and soul a the figure ascended, melting and shifting as it was corrupted from angel to daemon. "It is complete, the singularity has been achieved. And in your valour you have handed me an even greater prize. I will be immortal!" The figure raised a scorched, burning hand, bathing the room in a baleful light, face twisted into a scowl. "See how even your god has fallen. Sorak is no more. Only I am! And now- I will claim my kingdom. The Singularity laughed throatily, tearing upwards through rock as it blasted towards the heavens. *** Delphy had folded up, kneeling and staring at the creature’s tortured wake, his expression one of total despair. "I failed." "Newbs! Hurries!" "What?" Uberkid pointed, and Delphy followed her gaze. Then he scrambled up, grasping His Sword and stumbling towards the tomb. He thrust it into the clutching metal hand and closed the fingers over it. "Oh, lord, hear your faithful servant, and awaken." Nothing moved. Delphy looked panicked. "My lord-" "I am awake." The voice was surprisingly soft, as Pike sat up, turning to face them. Most of his left side had been replaced with bionics, but robotic eye and human one both glowed with determination. "My lord," Delphy whispered. "We have failed you..." "No. It isn't over yet. It's only just begun." *** "Okay, I've hacked us a fleet of automated battleships with the usual. Thud is whipping up some AI programming now. What's our next move?" Finaldeath stood to quivering attention. Locutus rolled his eyes. "Take console two and stay with me. I'm trying to hack Maria's clone. But this thing is secure." Finaldeath nodded and sat down. "I read you. What are we doing to it, anyway? We can't just destroy it, she'd get another, right?" "Correct. My plan is to change some more subtle parameters. Namely, to help our dear valentine agent, who will no doubt flounder despite Moe's faith in him and Dyn's in Moe, by programming a new core imperative. And also to make her obedient to said agent," Locutus continued to type. "Pity Delphy isn't here. That's a turtle that never leaves his shell." "Only sensible of him," Finaldeath replied. "He's drawn the soft option. Ah, we're in. Programming now. Sure you don't want to give her a hefty whack of the nerf stick while we're here?" "Tempting, but no. If she's biddable, we'll never need to fight her, after all." Locutus carried on typing. "What's on the spydrones? Has she started to wonder whether this uber hidden guild is getting all this amazing gear?" (Editor’s note: I (Locutus) would have nerfed her in an instant :P) "I don't think so. We've lost contact with a few drones, though. Probably a system failure. Even with our improvements, those damn floaty skulls keep on falling apart. Why skulls? It just isn't practical." "We don't have time to make new models. Its one of the things on our team's list, but I want to be long gone by the time they've finished." Locutus pressed enter with an air of finality. "Done. We'll have to move fast. Maria changes clones frequently, and we need to move." Finaldeath nodded. "Apparently, the charges are in place, just waiting the command." "Good. Get ready to hail Admiral Squid..." Thud gasped as he pushed the door open. "Locutus, run..." A burly soldier pushed past him. "Sorry, man. The admiral can't receive any calls right now. But don't worry, we're taking you to visit him." The wit of the month turned and looked over his shoulder. "Hey, this all of them?" The Silent Arbiter stepped in. "That's them, alright," he hissed, not looking at the mods. "But they won't come quietly, you know." He dived for the door just in time to avoid Locutus' strike... *** "And your darling captains of RDN," Maria completed, eyes sparkling as the three leaders were dragged through and tied up next to the rest. "It shall be enjoyable, and profitable, setting you to work on my own fleet. You far and away outdo my own hackers." She smiled as Locutus strained to look around. "Though you can't see them all, every last member of your little gang is here. I am amazed that not one of you, not even the infamous Dyntheos, would torture his own men to save himself. You lack spine. Then my friend the Silent Arbiter came forwards, and your uncanny resistance to my methods became irrelevant." Squid shot the Silent Arbiter a look of pure poison. He alone had not been gagged. Maria seemed to think that was funny, in some obscure way. "What do you want with us?" "Everything you have to give, admiral. But don't worry- the games begin later. I'll give you time to ponder your fates." She walked towards the door, gesturing for her attendants to follow. The Silent Arbiter took once last look back, then followed, closing the door behind him, and throwing them into darkness. *** Squid lost count of the hours, sliding into total despair. One by one his comrades had been paraded before him, and their fellows on this alien forum, and given the orders. One by one they had failed, fought and been captured. He alone knew with absolute certainty that all of the were here, though he couldn't see. It seemed that Maria had saved a special torture for him. Their grim fate became all too apparent. He wracked his brain, trying to think of a way out. But there was nothing. It was a given that they had been stripped of their titles. Maybe on the relic forums, they could have burned through the rope or asked Delphy for help, or used mo fo- they'd have had options. But not here. Here they- The door opened again. And here it ends. Then a figure darted stealthily forwards, knife in hand, grabbing Squid's face and muffling his mouth... cutting his bonds away. "Not a word," the Silent Arbiter hissed. "Not one word." Squid stared at him. "But you-" "I was the only one smart enough to do what needed to be done. The Silent Arbiter is amazed at his own rampant stupidity, believe me, in coming here to rescue you. Don't make him change his mind." He handed a Squid a second knife, and they quickly worked their way up the line. Dyn stood grumpily. "Right. We need a plan. Now. Mr. Arbiter?" "My plan is to stick to your plan." Moe nodded. "We've planted enough charges to turn this mountain into a canyon. Locutus has got a hacked armada, ready to move in. But we'll have to get out of here." "There's a complication," Locutus said quietly. "I hacked Maria's clone, and altered things. Unfortunately, I keyed the changes to be resonant with the presence of Squiddy. That is to say, that we'd kill her, sit tight in our positions of authority here, meet her clone and then get out with her. But now, we need to retrieve her clone. If we don't, the alterations won't kick in, and she'll still rise again to rule this place- and to carry on her vendetta against us." Dyn nodded thoughtfully. "We're going for total victory, then, even now. Where's her clone?" "It won't be on site," the Arbiter warned. "She isn't that stupid." Squid frowned in thought. "She'd want to keep a ship close by, right? So she could fly off the moment she was activated?" "Yes, that's always a primary concern," the Arbiter admitted, "but I don't see where. She's always kept the location a secret." "Hidden where everyone can see it, I bet," Squid averred confidently. "Her second best battleship, the one she never flies- the Blood of the Ancestors." The Arbiter frowned. "But that's locked down in orbit. No installation anywhere near... oh." "On the bridge, inside the ship. I bet on it." "I'll go with that hunch," Dyn said. "Let's get out of here." *** "We need to get out of here," Pike noted, watching with apparent interest as the ceiling began to shake. "But what about the Homeworld three script?" Dj wailed. "We have to rescue it!" "Homeworld three script?" Pike asked, metallic finger scratching his chin. "Homeworld? Homeworld? Nope, doesn't ring a bell." He stared at their expressions. "Look, you miss stuff when you are asleep, ok?" "We do need to get out of here, however," Delphy warned them. "This tomb is falling apart. The Singularity is content to bury us under five thousand tonnes of rock, it seems." "Fair enough. Fair enough. So, how do we get out?" Pike asked. "You do that," Delphy said promptly. "How?" Pike demanded. "Yeah... this might take some explaining. But we don't have the time, so suspend your disbelief about your omnipotence, please." Frowning, Pike raised his sword and bored a clean hole right into the open sky, golden light spewing from the blade and burning away layers of rock and metal. "This will require some explanation," he said, gesturing and sending them soaring upwards with ease. "Wtch't, newbs!" Pike rolled desperately to avoid a dark bolt, then another. "This too dangerous!" he screamed. "We need somewhere where it will be safe to plan our next move." "Impossible creatures forums," Delphy said automatically. "Last place anyone in their right minds would look." "Sounds good. We'll just fly..." Pike frowned. "This god thing takes some getting used to." He gestured again, and they disappeared in a flash of light. *** MacBug frowned as the strike party landed in front of him. "Back again? Did you get the scripts? Delphy? Erm... nice to see yo- holy crap, that's Pike, isn't it!" He leapt to his feet, saluting hurriedly. "Don't worry, whoever you are," Pike said jovially. "We just need somewhere to talk." MacBug pointed at the bombed out building. "The conference room is there, sir, but you'll have to wait for the strategy and army list gurus. They are perfecting their strategy to take over General Discussions." "Won't that annoy the general discussionists somewhat?" Pike asked politely. "Oh, no," Macbug said airily. "They've already conquered forum issues and are pushing on Tabletop." He sobered slightly at the expressions of his superiors. "Its a long story. And there's this blue haze in the air, which is 'cause of the forum lock, but mods can still move and everyone's a mod now. n0z was made an admin, if you recall, Delphy. Good idea in theory. In practice, he made a load of mods so he could try and vote postcounts back and Retro and the rest were too busy fighting on Balance to stop him." Pike frowned. "I see," he said. "Strange tidings. Have Dyn gather all the mods- we need to assemble a strike force. Delphy winced slightly. He'd been afraid of this. "Why don't we sit down first?" he said brightly. *** "So you are telling me that the time of our fricken' apocalypse, we have none of the veteran mods, because they've all gallivanted off to fight some stuck up bankrolled office-forum-thingie? That we're on our own?" "In a manner of speaking," Delphy said miserably. "But it gets worse." He went on to summarize the events so far. Pike put his head in his hands and counted to ten. Finally, he said "So, let's count our assets, shall we," he said with dangerous brightness. "We have twenty senior misfits, who only fight when the words "Home" and "World" are ran together, or referenced. Right?" The Fifth Elephant opened his mouth, paused, then closed it again. With seconds thoughts, that seemed all too accurate. "And," Pike continued "we have Uberjumper's kid, called Uberkid. And I'm not having her fight." "Newbs! STFU Ima fighta!" "No, you are not. Look, be a good girl, and I'll get you a Banstick, okay?" Pike offered. ":notlisten" "I'm sorry, that's final." ":sadpanda:" She stared soulfully at them, lip trembling dangerously. "Aw, isn't she cute," Dj said. "Look, she can't watch, can't she? From a safe distance? I'm sure she'll like that." "Well, alright," Pike said finally. "Yays!" "And finally, we have me. Alright, I have some skills, I could probably take Dyn..." "And me and Ionfish, all at once," Delphy said. "He did once." "But only because I called dibs on the better sword," Pike finished irritably. Delphy shifted again. "Well, back in the day, when Dyn took the helm, he ordered a little reprogramming. He didn't like the idea of the regulars having godlike powers. But he did... erm- make an exception for you, figuring that if you woke up, we'd be so screwed we'd need all the help we could get." "Oh, thank you. I occasionally order new websites, you know." "The problem is..." Delphy began. "Oh, mods," Pike muttered. "Don't tell me. Sorak was given the same treatment, right?" "Yeah. So right now, we have you, with godlike powers, and the Singularity, with godlike powers and access to the forum mainframe. A powerful weapon in the hands of what used to be Sandras." Delphy did yet another embarrassed shift. "To be frank, I can't see an angle, even if the boys did return in time." "Hang on, we're thinking about this the wrong way," Pike said slowly. "We still have you. You can hack the mainframe as well!" Delphy considered it, then shook his head. "No good. We can't access the Spire, and we don't have mainframe links from any old terminal, you know." "Delphy," Pike said patiently, gesturing with His Sword, "I am the mainframe. You'll have your link. Now we just need to find a terminal. Let's go." "Omniscient, too." "Oh, right." Pike closed his eyes. "Damn, everywhere they've been smashed. Looks like this Singularity is a smart one. The only ones left are in DOW balance discussions. What the heck is DOW?" "Into the lion's den," Delphy muttered. "But we have no choice." "Fascinating," Dj said urgently, leaning out of a window. "But while we've been chatting a wall of this black stuff has been coming down the street, like in Lord of the Rings, and it's coming straight fo-" His exclamation was cut off as the black light hit him, instantly freezing him. Pike leapt out of his seat, lashing out with his sword and driving the wall back with a blast of energy. "The other Sleeping god is awake," a taunting voice mocked. "It won't be enough." Pike leapt into the sky, striking with dizzying speed as he hurtled round the black tower. Each blow was effortlessly blocked. "You devil!" he exclaimed, as a glancing blow from a clawed hand sent him spinning. "We need to get out of here!" There was a flash of golden light. Followed by a flash of black... *** "This way!" the Silent Arbiter commanded, racing down a metal corridor. "That will bring us to my ship, the Needless Utilization of the Third Person. Once there, we can head for the objective." "Are you sure about this, Dyn?" Ion asked curiously. "We are just heading into more danger." "This time, we're going for the win," Dyntheos said firmly. "Otherwise she'll just strike back, again and again. We have to finish it now. Locutus, is everything ready?" "Yes, of course," he replied. "The moment we make lift-off, I'll be able to access our AI fleet command, and bring them in for a strike. But much depends on whether the target is aware of the charges we planted." Everyone instinctively turned to Squid DNA. "Why should I know?" he asked. "Well, yes, fine, but... anyway, I don't think so. She didn't really credit us with a plan, and she was still thinking we'd use conventional methods." "More fool her," Dyn growled. A security team rounded the corner and he leapt ahead, slicing five men down with great arcs of his Darkblade. The mods drew up and opened fire, cutting down the rest. "I can't believe she left us with weapons." "She made a lot of mistakes," Reki said. "Let's just get on." The Silent Arbiter raced into the hanger, with the forumites close on his heels. "The Needless is to be made ready for launch, on the double!" he ordered. "Come on, we need to get to the bridge." The ship's engines were already whining as they hit the great ramp up into the cruiser's belly. *** "Launch in five," the Arbiter commanded, stepping up to the command lectern. "All of you, man stations." "I've got comms covered," Locutus said. "Transmitting attack orders to the hacked fleet now." "Incoming combat teams, racing towards us," Moe warned. "I've got 'em," CJ said, letting rip with the ship's underbelly defense cannons, and tearing clean through the attack forces. "Engines are hot, we're ready to leave," Reki said. "Excellent- I'm in," Ionfish muttered. "I'm ordering a light salad lunch, with ice cream and lots of beer." Dyn stood behind the Silent Arbiter, watching. "By now, they'll know something's up. We'll have to deal with the defense cannons." "Tricky," the Arbiter said. "Especially considering this ship is normal for its class, as you didn't trust me enough to justify a hacked battleship." "How long will it be before it will be safe to detonate those Banbombs?" Dyn asked, ignoring the thinly veiled criticism. "We'd have to be well away," Locutus said. "I erred on the safe side in terms of absolute mass destruction." Squid pushed the Arbiter out of the way, grabbing the helm controls. "Don't worry. We'll just have to be more graceful in arcs and trajectories." He tapped a few controls, and activated lockdown artificial gravity, normally used for extreme deep space maneuvers. "Belt up. In science's name!" He gunned the thrusters, grinning as the backwash incinerated another wave of Maria's goons. This would be fun. *** "Needless, this is control. Turn around at once, or you will be annihilated." Svedishfish answered with a full broadside that slagged two defense batteries with contemptuous ease. "This going to be tricky," he admitted, staring at the other forty-eight batteries hungrily tracking them, and the fleet of defense ships closing in. "Locutus, Finaldeath, hack this ship," Dyn ordered. "Squiddy, you-" He was cut off as Squid accelerated and pulled to fly vertically upwards, spinning to bring one gun after the other to bear. Moe forced himself up. "Enemy fleet's intercept course has been broken," he managed. "They're practically crashing into each other. Incoming-" The Needless flipped gracefully out of the way, thundering more fire at the Cherubim as the first of RDA’s Ioncannons came online. "AI craft online and approaching," Finaldeath noted. "Enemy craft launching from the mountain." "We should detonate," Squid DNA said firmly. "We aren't clear yet!" Locutus warned. "What's that got to do with anything?" Squid asked, leaning over and slapping the red button Locutus had placed in front of Dyn. The Needless barely scraped clear as the mountain below exploded in fire. "That's it," Squid said in satisfaction. "It's over." *** The Blood of the Ancestors hung innocently in orbit, dormant and sleeping. "On a docking course," Squid said, tapping more buttons. "That was too easy." "You know, I'm not so sure," Moe said urgently. "Look!" Accelerating out from the shadow of a moon a gigantic battleship was moving towards them, weapons glowing as they charged. The voice came crackling from over the comm. "You are so predictable, Squid," Maria said, eyes flashing in malice. "I like that in an enemy." "It doesn't matter," Dyn growled. "This cruiser has been hacked by some of the finest minds in RDN. Your Alpha battleship doesn't stand a chance." "Dyntheos, Dyntheos, I'm not stupid. I did some hacking of my own." The two craft exchanged massive bursts of energy as their weapons poured primeval fires into each other, before drawing away. "Combat status," Dyntheos asked, painfully aware that he already knew the answer. Locutus frowned, confirming the worst. "Our craft is better hacked, but only marginally. That battleship, on the other hand, is a heck of a lot bigger." "I've got a plan. The Blood of the Ancestors might be big enough," Squid said. "If we transferred the hack, and commandeered it..." "It would come down to the skill of the helmsman," Locutus said eventually. "We have to try," Squid said, rolling to avoid another volley. "Thud, lock in an AI. Loc, get ready to yank the hack data. Everyone, be ready to move. We'll release a bomber swarm to cover our exit." He typed in a few final commands. "Now!" *** The dropship thrummed as it blasted away, swooping towards the Ancestors. Squid locked in a course, and activated the comms. "Time to keep her distracted," he confided, opening a channel to the battleship. "And I'm curious. If you second-guessed us, why didn't you defuse the bombs? Evacuate the mountain?" "Talking now, are we? The end will be soon, after all. But your pathetic plot was rather useful. I might have had to activate it myself, but the Silent Arbiter turned out to be a traitor, so there was no problem. Do you not see that this grand attack on the Cherubim is just what I need to justify a war on your pathetic forum?" "That's just stupid," Squid said savagely. "Genius. Pure genius. You wouldn't understand." She cut the link. *** "Let's get this bucket started." Dyntheos scanned the bridge, sighing as he spotted the cyrotube. Her presence had suggested that Squid had been right, but you couldn't be sure... "That's her alright," Moe said. "Creepy seeing one person in two places. She'll warm up..." "As her forebear’s corpse cools down," Squid said. "Hack it in, while we're still covered. I'll get this thing moving." "Hacked," Locutus announced. "Lock on with all weapons, fire on my mark," Squiddy commanded, spinning the craft and locking onto Maria's rear. "I hope she's afraid now. Genius. Pure genius. She wouldn't understand." His hand stabbed down, the light stabbed out, and the battleship exploded. Then Squid saw the pod, and hesitated for a second. The Silent Arbiter didn't. "So long," he said, locking and firing in one fluid movement. "It's over." Dyn sank into a chair. "It'll take her a while to thaw out, I presume. Set course for the forums, full speed ahead. We're going home," he said softly. *** The noobs fell to their knees as the glory of Pike was revealed, cloaked in golden light, his eyes burning with fury and his blade glowing like a brand as he raised it in grim challenge to the heavens. None doubted that they were witnessing divinity incarnate. "It's the Emperor!" a SM fanboy shouted. "Is not! It's Ynnead," an Eldar snapped impatiently. "Come to purge you worthless mon- keigh." "Is too," a Guardsman said. "He'll kick your sorry butt, and take your prissy dead god any day of the week!" "Is Gork!" and Ork said. "Not its not," another cried. "That's Mork!" "Ya grot-lovin git!" "Ya squig bumpin poodle!" "Waagh!" The Orks charged each other furiously, as the Space Marine leapt to combat the Banshee. The Guardsman looked put out, then glanced at a Chaos space marine. The spiky one shrugged. "Sorry mate," he said finally. "Doesn't look like one of ours." There was a burst of golden fire, and every noob within range was vaporized by Pike's unyielding wrath. "Why do we keep these unreal-bigot types around, anyway?" he asked impatiently. "It's just a game, people. A game." "Beats me," Dj said obligingly, looking worried. "The script will be all right, though, won't it, master? I mean, we can excavate the rubble, right? It'll be just fine. It lasted this long, stands to reason. And it’s a Homeworld script. It can't just be buried. That would be too cruel." "The horror!" The Fifth Elephant screamed. "Buried! Fate, why do you hate us so?" "Never mind," Pike said irritably. He leapt forwards and into a ruined building, where a funny computer terminal was placed, surrounded by incense and candles, tapping the machine just once with his sword. It flared into life. "That should do it. Rally the mods!" "They're on that mission, remember," Delphy said, starting to hack. "Oh, right," Pike said, a little put out. "Well... rally the five hundred and fifty-three post militia!" "Sorry, the last I saw they were engaged in violent civil war over the strategically placed Backstory and Fluff forums." "Really? How about the one hundred post conscripts?" Pike asked, not holding out much hope. "Our surrogate mods called them up to fight for once side or the other," Delphy said. "Sorry, but we're on our own." "I see. Well, now that I've dealt with the noobs in the perimeter..." "You're ready for the main event!" *** "Why do you always have to do that?" Pike asked the hovering black form impatiently. "It's cheesy and cliche, and you villains are really overdoing it. It lessens the effect." "I heed not your cries for mercy!" "Err... what? Where was I? Oh, I remember!" Pike leapt upwards, raising his hand and driving a solid beam of light through the Singularity's chest, before swinging his blade to meet the challenge. They clashed, withdrew, and orbited each other, weapons raised and gazes locked. "You and me, fighting for the forums. You take this place over my dead body." "I know, and relish it." Pike screamed and charged, sword glowing as it carved great arcs through the air, spinning round the daemon like an edged tempest. The Singularity merely smiled in contempt and batted him away, blasting upwards with the unfazed angel in hot pursuit. *** Delphy was fighting his own battle, one in which every foot of cabling was brought with blood and effort and the enemy pressed in on all sides. He didn't have much time, and he was fighting a worthy foe, one he trained himself, with all the odds stacked against him. But he wouldn't fail. He couldn't. "We have problems, boss," DJ called. "How worse could this be?" the admin snapped irritably, still frenziedly searching for a line of attack. "How about if I said that all the noobs had gone all funny, collapsed choking, then stood up again surrounded by an eldritch dark aura, and started advancing on us." "I'd say we were farked," Delphy noted. "Deal with it." "F'kd, ha. Com'n, newbs, battla'win! Imba noobs!" Uberkid crowed, raising her lockgun happily. "You shouldn't be here," The Fifth Elephant said. "It isn't safe." "Daymstraight," Uberkid said, hefting her rifle. "That's isn't what I..." But Uberkid had already ran to the front, joining the defensive line which DJ was hastily throwing together. "Hey! Wait!" "They're coming!" DJ warned. "Keep your firing lines tight and we all go home, ok! On my mark!" "Oh my mod, we're all going to die!!!" BmB23 screamed, firing at shadows. "STFU, noob! 'member ya a Relica, or I'll eat ya goots!" Uberkid shouted, firing disciplined bursts into the incoming horde. "My goats? You bastard!" "Not just a troll, but a necromancer too," DJ said. "This... thing has it coming. Fire at will, men!" The noobs shambled on, strafed by the determined and accurate fire of the defense. Scores of them fell, lock-shot punching through putrid brains and slicing through once- vital organs, but still they came on, crawling and unstoppable, all of them bent on the soul goal to destroy those few who opposed them. Banstick rounds sailed into them and lockguns splattered death across their ranks, but still they came on, unstoppable and closing. The noobs returned sporadic fire, whistling over the heads of the Homeworlders, but they were without number and time was running out. "Steady!" DJ screamed. "Hold the line!" "Inna Pike's name, you shan't falter, newbs!" Uberkid agreed, clubbing Bmb back into line. The Fifth Elephant screamed, firing as fast as his weapon would allow, then swore as the trigger fell on an empty magazine. He groped for more ammo, then found that he was out. "Oh... fudgecakes." One by one, the suppressive fire slackened as they ran out. "Now what?" BmB asked almost hysterically, trying to fire at shadows using his knife. Uberkid had commandeered his lockgun and was dual wielding with insane skill, considering the weapons were larger than she was. Now, she threw the empty weapons down and stared at them with renewed resolve. "Y'no mo fo, newbs?" "This is suicide," DJ muttered, stating the obvious. "Let's charge out!" Someone jumped down behind him. "An idea. We'll help." Robert Frazer drew his powersword calmly. "In His name!" "Don't worry," Retro said, as he too teleported in and drew his modified lock-revolvers. "Help's on its way. The whole forum is marching. But let's bag some early kills, and avoid the rush." "I like that plan," DJ said. "Let's do this!" "What?" The Fifth Elephant asked in puzzlement. "Charge!" "Oh, right." They charged, vain and in valour... *** Pike cursed as the Spear tore across his cheek, carving a bloody gash. Had to land in the organic bit, didn't it, he thought irritably. He lashed out, feeling his hand numb from the shock of the impact, then parried, riposting to drive his blade inches away from the Singularity's face. He slapped back with his robotic limb, smashing one of her crow minions and driving the rest of the pack off, his golden energy-wings thrashing to keep place under the buffeting winds. Another storm of attacks, and he saw his chance, darting past a thrust and slicing a line of blood across it's face. "How do you like that?" he asked. "You fool! I have finished toying with you! Now I destroy you!" A crackling burst of dark energy leapt from her fingers, but he raised his own hand and deflected the strike. "Looks like Delphy got through," he said scornfully. "Looks like you'll have to do this the hard way." It was bravado- he knew this fight was already lost. But by his mods he'd make her pay... *** DJ screamed as a groaning noob pulled him down, muttering something about brains. Robert darted forwards, hacking the creature’s limbs off and pulling the temp-mod up. "You know nothing of the fluff!" he screamed to the cruel world. "So you will die!" They were being overrun, pulled down by cruel mathematics. DJ had never liked mathematics, but he hated them now. His cut through a trio of foes, stabbing desperately to drive four more back, then cursed as a fifth broke through and stuck him brutally hard in the ribs. He doubled up, falling to his knees, then looked up. And knew it was over. A golden comet fell from the sky, pursued by a bolt of darkness. Pike winced as he hit the earth, desperately raising his sword to guard as the black form swooped down on him... *** Stabbing bolts exploded across the sky. Ioncannon bolts. The Singularity shrieked and veered away as the battleship swooped down, weapons tearing huge gashes on the horde below. Then there was a series of flashes as the mods hit the ground and charged, weapons raised and reaping zombies with every blurred motion. Dyntheos offered his hand, pulling Pike up. "Mind if I butt in on your battle?" Pike smiled, touching his golden blade against the Darkblade. "Feel free. Shall we win this fight?" "No point in dragging it out," Dyn said, features curling into a grim smile as wings flourished from his back. They leapt into the sky... *** "This is my time!" Pike shouted. "You gave it your best, now it's our turn!" "You cannot defeat me!" "Your power is in the past," Dyn snapped. "This is my place and time." His sword danced elegantly, driving her back. "And we're claiming it back," Pike said, bloodied face defiant as he charged, tearing through every defense in his path. "You are nothing before our strength, not when we are united! Now give us our God back!" "I am immortal!" "That wasn't a request," Pike snapped, stabbing upwards and tearing through the Singularity's chest. The creature writhed upon his blade, straining unsuccessfully to free itself. "Both of you. Be free," he commanded softly, as the darkness leapt down his blade and scattered, dissipating harmlessly. "Look after Sorak, Dyn," he said. Dyntheos caught the Firstborn, staring at the cleansed, pure face, sleeping. "This isn't over, you know," he said. "We still have to take our forums back, defeat the armies against us, retake the Spire." "This place is too fragile for the Sleeping Gods. I'll be back when you need me, you can slay to that. You're champion enough. Gods should be far away." "Hah. Sounds like something Ionfish might trot out, after he's had a few," Dyn said wryly. "But we'd better defeat these noobs at least. You can do that purify thing, some of the might just be worth our time." "Exactly." The Blood of the Ancestors dived again, triumphantly hailing the approaching Relic battlefleet. This battle was won. *** Epilogues AKA stuff Lestaki left out or loose ends that need tying up Be Careful What You Wish For "Bringing her in for another sweep, weapons charging normally," Squid said, hands flicking over the control systems. "Those noobs won't know what hit them." "Roger that," Moe noted, on fire control. Something clicked behind him and he spun round, sword raised. "Oh." He walked over to the cyrotube monitor and studied it. "Looks like this thing is pretty much thawed out." "You deal with her, ok?" Squid said absently, bringing the Blood of the Ancestors down to strafe the horde again. "Yeah, right," Moe said irritably. He pressed a few buttons, and frowned as the tube slid open. The Maria clone lay there, sanguine and beautiful in sleep, but even as he watched, her eyelids fluttered and she opened her eyes, staring at him. Moe frowned and helped her up, noticing that she looked...different. Less vindictive, mainly, less conscious that she was beautiful, that she was powerful. It was odd, starting into the face of a hated enemy and not seeing the enemy stare back. Maria forced herself up, eyes searching the bridge, then settling instantly on Squid DNA. "He's beautiful," she whispered. "What?" Moe had always held Squiddy in the highest regards, but beautiful was a... novel way to describe him. "Who is he?" she asked, not even looking at Moe. "Don't you remember?" "Remember?" "You don't. Damn. His name's Squid DNA." Moe remembered Locutus' words and rolled his eyes. Great. "Is she awake?" Squid asked, not even looking round. "She is," Moe said. "What do we do with her?" Maria had already stepped forwards, and was watching Squid command the Ancestors. "That looks interesting," she said innocently. "You are very good at that. I'll have to learn, too." Squid frowned. "You do know I killed your progenitor?" "Really?" she said. "You must be really good." "Oh. Right," Squid frowned as he considered. "What are we to do with her?" Finally, he kicked the ship into hover and turned around. "I've got it. Moe, can you take her? Teach her mo fo, lockgun firing, the equations of motion, all the basics, you know?" "What's in it for me?" Moe asked suspiciously. The girl's soulful gaze at Squiddy was starting to get him down. "A beautiful female sidekick, of course," Squid said cheerfully. "Seriously, you can never have too many mods for Balance Discussions, right?" Moe sighed. "No, no. Fine. I'll do it, already." He brightened slightly. "Hey, if I'm teaching her, we'd better hit the ground and deal with those noobs down there. Best practice she'll find." Squid sighed. "You just want to see some action. You ok with that, Maria?" "If you want me to," she said breathlessly. "Then you'd better go. Remember, Moe's the mod, so do everything he says, ok?" "Of course," she said. "This is Moe, right?" "Yes. Yes. The guy on your left. Turn and look at him, ok? There. Good. That's Moe." Squid sighed again, mumbling something about RDN's silly ideas. "Let's go, kid," Moe said irritably, leading her to the teleporter. "He called me beautiful" Maria whispered happily. "What does he do, anyway? What is he interested in?" Moe sighed. Beautiful female sidekick, check. But what's wrong with this picture? The Postcount Militia "That's the last of them," Dyntheos grunted, sheathing his sword. "Now we just have to push onwards." An exhausted figure pushed his way through the fray, saluting hurriedly. "Five-Hundred- And-Fifty-One Postcount Militia reporting for duty, sah!" Then Warmaster Death looked around, and threw down his blade in disgust. "F**k it, just after the nick of time. Why does this always happen to us?" "We're too large, troop quality is too compromised," Imrix said firmly. "We should found a thousand post strike force, for rapid response." "But postcount is no measure of quality," ChunkyMrEvil said. "I know complete spammist idiots who managed twenty posts a day at their prime. Nice chaps, generally, but spammy." Imrix sniffed. "It serves to at least keep some of the riff-raff out." "How about Robert Frazer, then?" another asked. "I don't think he has a thousand posts, and he's one of the best." "There should be an invitation system," Chunky suggested. "If we know good lads with a lower postcount." "Open to abuse," Imrix warned. "It isn't what you know, then, it's who you know." "Better than blind postcount..." Dyn and Pike walked away, very quietly. Fortunes of War DJ strode blindly amongst the ruins of the battlefield. Bodies lay sprawled everywhere, and even noobs were kind of people. "Come on! We have to find her!" "She'll be fine," The Fifth Elephant said desperately. "We still have to find her, or she won't be," DJ insisted. Then he stopped as he saw her. Sprawled out, at rest. No. Oh mods, no. The others gathered in horror round him. It couldn't be. Then they looked up as Uberjumper walked towards them. "Uber, I'm sorry," DJ began. "She's asleep, dumbass," Uberjumper said impatiently, scooping up his baby girl. "Oh. Right." Uberkid lay cradled in her father's arms, sucking her thumb while her other hand held her lockgun close. "Aww, isn't she cute." Newcomers "Right," Moe said with a tone of finality. "This is the day when I sort you people out. You are pretty screwed up. But I'll sort you out, damnit, or you'll be in a world of pain. And to provide that world, I'd like to introduce an old friend, who's recently retired. Come in, Soul." The door banged open and Soulblighter strode in, eyes gazing ferally at his prey. "And he says we're screwed up," EarthBorn muttered. "Now," Moe said. "The first thing to remember is that we will conduct this in complete anonymity. You hear that, Hunter X? No! Bad! Stop poking yourself with that copper wire!" Soul strode forwards and picked Hunter up by his throat. "Every time you poke yourself with copper wire, Pike kills a kitten," he hissed. "Think of the kittens, Hunter." He threw the unlucky weirdo against a wall, where he curled up, whimpering. "Good. Darkelf, you're up first." DarkElfLord stood up nervously. "Er... hi, my name is DarkElfLord, and I'm a bloodoholic. I'm also addicted to souls." Soulblighter gazed at him. "Do you know something about souls, DarkElf? They're slimming. Because every time someone eats a soul, I chop one of their limbs off!" "He's just a big softy on the inside," Moe assured them. "I think we'll be making some real progress over the next few days, don't you? Maria, restrain our friend, will you?" "Of course, sir," she said crisply, then hesitated. "Are we doing the general Discussions patrol soon?"
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