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The Spider Bus Returns


Actaeon

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The first light is just touching the new Spiderweb Software forum and the hill on which it stands. A sleepy sentry with a sniper rifle peers out of the robust watchtower, which rises above a rough hewn stone wall. A few lights still shine in the windows of the old UBB, a rambling wooden structure a bit nearer the river, (and, it turns out, in the flood plain) but most residents have already moved or are in the process of doing so.

 

As VCH drags a cart laden with possessions up the hill toward his new home, he passes Almighty Doer of Stuff out for a morning walk. He nods, but ADoS is looking past him.

 

ADoS: "Hey! That's my bus!"

 

VCH turns to see an aging schoolbus with a large fake spider on top shimmer into view near the gates of the old forum. He shrugs, then turns to follow ADoS, who has broken into a shambling run toward the vehicle.

 

ADoS: "No good joy-riding freeloaders! If you've broken anything I'll-"

 

Exactly what un-family friendly thing ADoS intended is cut off as he opens the door. Inside, a host of emaciated, catatonic Spiderwebbers are strewn on the seats. He steps forward and shakes the driver. Slarty does not stir.

 

ADoS: "I told you it wasn't built to travel in time, Slarty. I tried to warn you."

 

A passenger one seat behind opens his eyes blearily.

 

Actaeon: "Who's that? ADoS? Did we make it."

 

Almighty Doer of Stuff turns to Actaeon.

 

ADoS: "No, Actaeon. It is I, Hades, ruler of the underworld. I have come to claim your soul."

 

Actaeon: "I thought you worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster."

 

ADoS rolls his eyes and heaves Actaeon onto his shoulder and out into the fresh air. VCH enters, and returns with Sylae and Dikiyoba.

 

VCH: "This is bad."

 

As he and ADoS continue to evacuate the bus, Actaeon sits up.

 

Actaeon: "The next time we take a trip like that, I'm packing more provisions."

 

ADoS cocks an eyebrow at Actaeon.

 

ADoS: "Next time?"

 

Actaeon: "Of course! If you've get knocked down, the best thing to do is get right back up and try again. First thing in the morning, I'm taking this thing on a cross country road trip."

 

VCH:"I don't Actaeon. I think Slarty's in a coma, and a lot of the others aren't in much better shape. You might be on your own there."

 

Actaeon casts an eye toward the new forum, stone walls and tile roofs shining in the morning sun.

 

Actaeon: "We'll see about that."

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Arancaytar is unconscious and lying across several seats near the back.

 

The tremor of the temporal displacement causes him to stir, groaning and blearily opening his eyes.

 

He makes several more sounds that are mostly consonants while his eyes acclimate to the painfully bright lights. His head feels like it is being hit with a hangover wrapped around a sledgehammer, but without the fun part.

 

Eventually, he manages to shift and almost sit up.

 

"What the frack happened last night?"

 

He looks down.

 

"And why do I have hooves?"

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Student of Trinity wakes up at the very back of the bus. Or rather, just behind the bus. He blinks a lot. Or rather, winks. His one big eye, and all his little eyes on stalks.

 

Unaccountably, and with numerous apologies to Franz Kafka from inscrutable Fate, Student of Trinity has become a gazer. He is floating just behind the bus's rear window. Did the bus crash because Slarty caught sight of him in the rear view mirror? Or did his transformation happen because the bus crashed?

 

"Who knows?" he thinks. "We certainly don't."

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Sylae wakes up when Actaeon drops her unceremoniously on the ground outside.

 

"Hey that was fu---wait, where am I?"

 

She also looks down, noting that like Aran, she also has hooves.

 

"Well, this could have turned out worse," she says, getting up and trotting around the spiderbus, looking for damage.

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The Reverend crawls out from under the bus.

 

"Can't a man of the cloth take a nap under a tree without getting run over by a bus?!?"

 

He looks inside a brown paper bag in his right hand.

 

"Well, at least my bourbon is undamaged."

 

The Reverend find another tree, sits down under it, and falls back asleep.

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Harehunter hesitantly hops hither, hoping he won't be given the heave-ho he had had at the hands of Slarty.

 

"How can I be out of character when my character is the same inside Wonderland as it is outside."

 

Arancayter gives a grim, glowering, glance at the groveling guest. "I'm not so certain that you would be welcome here.

Your penchant for punning is tiresome and often unpleasant to those who frequent this forum."

 

Harehunter heaved a heavy sigh. "I cannot promise I shall not pun; it is too much in my nature.

I will promise to curb it to 10% of my usual frequency, and if one should be obviously egregious, I shall duck to the other thread."

 

As Harehunter faced those on the bus, he pleaded "If that is not acceptable, then I will abide apart in my humble abode."

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Excalibur trips while exiting the bus and firmly plants his face into a tuft of grass. His head slowly creaks to one side like the entrance of a tomb. A few blades of grass clinging to his face reluctantly fall to the ground as he clumsily pulls himself to his feet. Some blood falls lazily from his upper lip and splats neatly on his scabbard, which is now glowing faintly. Suddenly, a thought strikes his mind and he takes the initiative to rummage through the contents of his pack. He gingerly removes a festively marked bottle of peppermint schnapps. Excalibur scratches his head: he doesn't remember how all of the schnapps left its bottle, in fact, he doesn't quite remember how he got here at all.

 

He rubs his forehead in bewilderment, "Well, at least I didn't turn into some sort of confounded equine homunculus."

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Trenton blinks a bit as he wakes up, rubbing his eyes. He climbs out of the seat he was lying upside down in, checking himself, and his surroundings. Instead of being the Vampire he was, he was now his regular human self, wearing a black wool coat, a striped shirt, jeans, and sneakers, also with his shortsword sheathed on his side. He stumbles to the front of the bus, and pushes the doors out, stepping outside into the clean air. He grins, it was good to be back. His eyes widen in amazement as he sees the brand new castle quite near the bus.

 

Trenton: "How long was I asleep?!?

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Nikki approaches Actaeon, who is dramatically surveying the forum in the distance.

 

Nikki: "What in Avernum happened?"

 

Actaeon: "The bus runs on community spirit. We almost ran dry. The space in between stops in time- it's full of that kind of cold that lulls you to a sleep you never wake from. It's a good thing the course was already set, 'cause none of us was conscious enough to steer it. It was sort of a crash landing there at the end. But they'll recover, I think. I hope."

 

Nikki eyes him doubtfully.

 

Actaeon: "Don't look at me like that. Just because you wear mod blue these days... Anyway, we better help everyone up to General. We'll talk further when we have a nice fire going and something hot to drink."

 

Nikki: "Tea, I trust."

 

Actaeon: "What else, govn'r?"

 

The pair begin herding the assemblage toward the gates.

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Tyran awakes with a splitting headache.

 

Tyran: "I didn't have that much to drink."

 

He looks around, sees pony Aran and pony Sylae, and looks down at myself.

 

Tyran: "Huh, I must not be a true brony, as I still appear to be fully human."

 

He stumbles out of the bus and follows the rest.

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After being repeatedly trampled by people, ponies, and ... a giant floating eyeball? ... The Reverend finally gives up on his nap and follows the crowd.

 

The Reverend: "Anybody have any coffee? It's looking like one of those days..."

 

He looks down at his brand new robes.

 

The Reverend: "And does anyone know a good drycleaner? I've got tire tracks, hoofprints, and gazer bits on my best robes."

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ADoS: This is ridiculous. This decrepit old bus shouldn't have been used at all...

 

Actaeon: Well, I'm alive, so I say it turned out okay!

 

ADoS: What about everyone else?

 

Actaeon: What about everyone else?

 

ADoS: Ugh.

 

ADoS realizes that Trenton is staring in his direction.

 

ADoS: What do you want?

 

Trenton: Why is there a stuffed turtle and a flying stuffed goldfish following you around...?

 

ADoS looks behind him, and sees Trenton is correct.

 

ADoS: Oh, hey guys! Oh, you haven't met them yet, have you? The goldfish is Lampost, and the tortoise is Inspector Peanut. They're my friends!

 

Lampost: Hello, everyone.

 

Actaeon walks up and examines them.

 

Actaeon: How did you two come to be friends with ADoS anyway? It's kind of strange.

 

ADoS: It's an interesting story. Why don't you two tell everyone the story? Everyone, listen!

 

Most of the people in the area turn to listen, as Lampost and Inspector Peanut recite "The Ballad of the Toy Guardians" in unison.

 

Lampost: ADoS has lots and lots of toys, and he loves them dearly, so we're quite fond of him.

 

Trenton: Hey, Inspector Peanut, are you the reason everyone here is always talking about fluffy turtles?

 

Inspector Peanut: Yes, I inspired that.

 

Trenton: Do you really eat sanity?

 

Inspector Peanut rolls his eyes, turns away, and ignores Trenton.

 

Trenton: Oh, come on! Someone tell me!

 

ADoS groans and shakes his head, and goes back to surveying the wreckage.

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Jerakeen casually leans over the top of the wall and watches the motley crew variously trot, float, hop and stagger up the road to the new forum.

 

She picks her teeth with her little claw, then grins and waves.

 

Jerakeen: Hey, guys! Looks like I missed some trip! Come on up - there's cake.

 

Excalibur looks up, then glances around.

 

Excalibur: Who's that?

 

Tyranicus She used to be a Turtle.

 

Harehunter pops his head out from behind the tree, ears flopping, and goggles at the gargantuan gate guard.

 

Harehunter: She sure shot out of her shell!

 

Actaeon shoots him a dirty look.

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I regain consciousness as Actaeon shakes my shoulder.

 

"Come on, Diki, wake up. Please don't be dead, or in a coma."

 

"I'm awake." I look around the bus at all the sleeping and comatose Spiderwebbers. "What happened? Where are we?"

 

"At SW, I think."

 

"Oh. Good." I catch sight of Sylae. "What... what happened to her?"

 

Actaeon shrugs.

 

I stumble off the bus, almost tripping over Excalibur in the process. I head around to the back of the bus, hoping for a quiet, peaceful place to review the my photographs. Maybe one of these photos will reveal what happened while we were on the bus. Something feels terribly wrong. Instead of peace and quiet, I find a gazer. "Who... who are you?"

 

"We are Students of Trinity."

 

"You mean... you turned into... a gazer? But... but..." I try to process the unexpected transformation. "I mean, with Sylae it was only a matter of time, but you? Well, at least I didn't... didn't..." I stop, horrified.

 

Actaeon and everyone else headed toward the new forum stops at the sound of screaming. Dikiyoba is running up the road towards them as though on fire, arms flailing and camera strap tangled around Dikiyoba's neck. "Aaaaahhhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhhhh! Aaaaaahhhhhh! I'm doomed! I'm doomed! Someone help me!"

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VCH looks up from his mobile phone.

 

VCH: "Wow, maybe i should invest in a better phone, texting sucks on this antique"

 

"Wait, is Dikiyoba on fire?"

 

"Well, I don't want to get involved with that. Always be the one to run away while the hero dies; that's my motto"

 

VCH gets back on the bus.

 

VCH: Are there any heros on board? Does anyone want to be a fool?

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I halt in front of Actaeon. "No, it's too late for that. I've forgotten how to talk!"

 

"But you're talking right now..."

 

"Properly! I've forgotten how to talk properly."

 

"You mean using first-person pronouns? But you use them all the time in posts."

 

"In posts! Not in direct dialogue! Oh, if any citizen of Dikiyobia were to hear me now..."

 

Excalibur rubs his chin. "You know, I've always wondered. Where is Dikiyobia, anyway?"

 

"That's not important right now. We have to find a way to transform me back. Right away! That has to be our first priority."

 

"Can't we at least eat first? Before we starve to death?" Tyranicus asks.

 

Dikiyoba's stomach growls. "Well... okay."

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At the sound of Dikiyoba's stomach growl

Harehunter peeks out from behind a towel

 

The air was then filled with a hideous howl

of a thousand geese and some other fowl.

 

A mason picked up his trusty trowel

and yelled at the geese saying something real foul.

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Dikiyobia's hunger sated on geese,

Harehunter steps out from behind the trees.

 

"This may look like rhyme

I'm just biding my time

 

But soon you will hear

of a boot to my rear.

 

I'm just having fun,

I have said no pun

 

But can you really call this poetry?"

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Students of Trinity are having trouble orienting themselves. The big eye tries to impose a single viewpoint, but the little ones on stalks keep craning around, gawking in every direction like kindergarteners set loose. As soon as one of them sees something interesting, the others all want to see it, too. The unexpected big problem with this is that the eyestalks are quite long when they stretch right out, and carry a surprising amount of angular momentum when they whip around. Floating frictionless above the ground, Students of Trinity keep tumbling and spinning in random directions. One moment the big eye is trying to see where everyone is going, but the next it is staring up at the clouds, then unwillingly ogling the muddy tire ruts, then glancing wildly around the blur of scenery.

 

Gazing isn't as easy as it looks.

 

Was that Dikiyoba? Momentarily, there is focus. A coherent thought. Then Dikiyoba — if that's who it was — runs off again. The brief interval of clear attention seems somehow to have generated some linear momentum. Students of Trinity start to drift through the air in the same general direction as everyone else. One of the voices behind the eyes says, "How can this be? What force has acted?" Then the rolling and spinning take hold again, as the body's drift brings so many new sights into view that the eyestalks start to tangle and squabble. The central eye winks just in time to avoid getting gouged by a whisky bottle while bouncing, like a giant mutant tumbleweed with a lot of flailing eyes, over a slumbering figure. The poor fellow gets a good scraping of gazer dandruff.

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Jewels floated off the Spiderbus amid the initial chaos but for the most part unconcerned. The damage was minimal, if you could even call it damage. They had arrived with their lives and that was the most important. She caught snatches of conversations from the awakening SWers as she passed by unnoticed. Most were wondering about what happened. Only one seemed to venture a guess.

 

Actaeon: "... It's a good thing the course was already set..."

 

Jewels shook her head... it felt like stirring the wind. The bus had run out of community spirit, yes, but it had not been on course for the present time; they had been bound for the RP era. And it was not the cold between time that had lulled them to sleep, but the RP era itself and the death that had surrounded them when they arrived. The date set had not been during the vibrant, active time of the RolePlay's but actually just afterwards when they all floundered and sputtered for life by the barest of threads. They were predators surrounding the bus, sensing the activity, seeking it out and pulling it to themselves with conscious will. Like a vacuume, the once vivacious, now starving threads sucked the life right out of them.

 

Jewels glanced down at herself, barely a specter left, and shivered from the memory of it. Those who had been asleep when they arrived had been better protected; their dormant minds not offering much potential they were passed over. Sylae, however, had been driving. The RP's had latched onto her and drug her from the bus almost immediately. Aran had jumped out the door after her, one hand clasping an ankle and one the bus door. When Student of Trinity tried to help, he lost his footing and was swept away by the pull. Sylae reached for him as he passed but an unseen whirlwind changed his course and he disappeared behind the bus. Jewels herself had clung to the steering wheel, feet horizontal in the air. She could feel the years draining away from her, the spark of life ebbing. As other SWers started to stir from the commotion, their fates as equally in danger, she did the only thing she could think of...

 

Jewels: "Next stop, present time!"

 

The bus responded. It lurched and took off leaving the ravenous RP era behind. The pull subsided and Jewels had fallen to the bus floor. Aran managed to pull Sylae back inside the bus where they huddled on the floor together. Only Student of Trinity had been lost... only one...

 

Only? The sacrifice had been too much. How could she have left him behind? What else could she have done?

 

The rest of the trip was a blank. If she had done anything more, she could not remember. The damage that the incident had caused was seemingly random. Why was she a ghost while Sylae and Aran had turned into ponies? All she could think of was that her last thoughts had been of dying. Maybe she was dead. Doomed to haunt SW... perhaps as penance. She drifted off towards the forum proper leaving the bus and its inhabitants behind her.

 

She did not see the bus's emergency exit door ajar, nor the lone eye stalk that followed her passage.

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Harehunter stepped into the gaze of the gazer

his obsidian wit honed as sharp as a razor

 

His heart went out when he saw SoT's plight

He decided to try to set things aright

 

"Students of Trinity, I can see that you see

I am as confused as to how this can be

 

for over the duration of decades of years

I have listened for knowledge with my very long ears

 

I have traveled afar to see many strange places

through space and through time in dimensional spaces

 

I wish to assist you to correct this one ill

I will do it free gratis and not send a bill

 

So please take my paw for we go to the tzar

of the inter-dimensional galactic bazaar."

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Meanwhile back at the wrench, beyond the wire woods, in between three bits of machinery and "deep inside" the motor of the bus, a small congregation of gremlins and smoking imps had gathered, seemingly happy with the current transmutation of water into wine and humans into ponies, and all of them, it seemed, where ready to prolong last night's party:

-"There's nothing better than a good glass of pure cold vodka in the morning" said Upon Mars to a gremlin whilst pouring drinks down their throats.

"You can all stay here welcome and warm! The ghosts of Sheol be my wittinesssssessss. There's an entire heaven to serve in here. Better than than to reign in hell, aye?!" shouted Upon Mars. At this the imps shrieked with joy and the gremlins fumed and headed, after a short "pause-wewe", back into the black and blues of white and red wines. Wines of Afghanistan, wines Russia, wines of Australia, wines of France and America, wines of all kinds and in such quantities that it would drown the all the salt of the red sea and still be wine.

The air pulsated heavily with south korean music and smell of diesel and cheep alcohol had now filled the air of the motor, which was big enough to be half empty even if an entire drake settled in and filled it with treasure. But the engine room wasn't as sound proof as once thought and music started snake it's way out like some sort of angry pit viper with a broken rattle.

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Alorael opens the gate for the procession, and they make their way to the great hall, where they find a fire already roaring. The kettle is beginning to hiss, and Randomizer is busy mixing some concoction with cocoa and coffee.

 

Actaeon: "Thanks for this."

 

Randomizer: "Don't mention it. It was this, or be the one to go wake *i. Someone's going to have to answer to the admins eventually."

 

Actaeon: "Slarty's in no condition for it, and I'm not even a mod. To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure what happened back there. I told the most plausible tale I could think of on the fly, but all is not well. I'm not surprised by Sylae, but Aran? SoT? And now Harehunter's doing this rhyming thing that almost makes me wish he'd go back to punning."

 

He glaces towards the cluster of mods near the doorway. Sylae, Nikki, and Tyran are all discussing something deeply. Triumph sits nearby, deep in thought. SoT is gazing at something in the distance.

 

Actaeon: "There's a mystery here, and something tells me that the only way to solve it is to get back on that bus."

 

Randomizer: "Did you ever think you might be projecting your own desire for adventure into a conspiracy that doesn't exist?"

 

Actaeon: "This is Spiderweb. There is always a conspiracy."

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Students of Trinity had successfully tumbled through the gate and into the hall, floating high enough now to be less like a tumbleweed, and more like a beachball spinning away in the wind, if beachballs had eyes. Then they caromed gently off the chimney, and spun slowly to a sort of halt, midway between floor and high ceiling. Some of the eyestalks had been angrily eye-butting each other on the way in, and some others were stunned by the collision with the chimney.

 

When they come round, the gazer has stopped spinning. The roaring fire in the otherwise gloomy hall catches the little eyes' attention. They sway to it in unison, and the big eye swings blearily towards it as well. It winks to clear itself as its view finally settles. The fire is fascinating.

 

"There is always a conspiracy."

 

All of the eyestalks perk up. All gently turn to look at the speaker. The central eye focuses clearly on Actaeon. Of course. Why didn't we think of this before? Nothing brings everything firmly into one perspective like a good focus. Focus is good. Obsession? Monomania? These are merely words to frighten fools. The truth is: Focus. Everything only seems unrelated.

 

Trinit Eye remembers. Everything is so clear, now. The bus's tire ruts, in the mud: they began suddenly, as though the bus appeared from nowhere. There was that odd, faint music. And some strange smells, from the front of the bus. Like the smell of that somnolent's bottle, only more acrid and diverse. On the way here, some people tried to address us. Why would they do that? Very suspicious.

 

Trinit Eye sinks smoothly down to near floor level and drifts slowly around the hall, staring into the shadows. The truth is out there. There is always a conspiracy.

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The Reverend accepts a cup of coffee from a rhyming man standing behind a nearby tree. Given everything else he's seen since being awakened by the bus, a rhyming man handing out free cups of coffee behind a tree seems downright normal.

 

Freshly invigorated by the coffee (spiked with a splash of bourbon, of course), he makes his way through the gates and into the hall.

 

The Reverend: "What is this place? And who are these ... people? Talking ponies? Floating eyes? Is this a dream? Or a sign from the heavens?"

 

The Revered kneels and begins to pray.

 

The Reverend: "In the name of his holiness, the one and only saint Jimi, please grant me the wisdom to see through this Purple Haze. Is this the Red House, inhabited by the Foxy Lady? Or am I merely wandering All Along The Watchtower again? Truly, the Wind doth Cry Mary."

 

The Reverend stands up, puts away his paper bag, sets down his cup of coffee, and retrieves the guitar that had been slung over his back.

 

The Reverend: "Amen, and Hey Joe."

 

The Reverend begins an acoustic rendition of Spanish Castle Magic:

 

It's very far away,

It takes about a half and a day to get there,

If we travel by my uh, dragon-fly ...
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A wave of nausea overpowers the rabbit in black (who is wearing a white rabbit suit).

"What has been this line of drivel that I have spoken? I was just playing with my words as usual, but nothing punny came out."

 

It ain't easy trying to concoct a story while trying to keep the meter and rhyme.

 

 

Actaeon gives another glowering glare at the rabbit. "I warned you about punning, and you have done well (so far).

But your attempts to play with your words in the rhyming manner is not just bad, it is actually verse. Knock it off or else."

 

The penitent rabbit approached the Reverend, who was still sipping his coffee.

"Pater me ignoscat prae ego peccerem."

 

Father, forgive me for I have sinned (again).

 

"I was trying to have fun without any pun and all that came out was a rhyming run.

It was meant to enjoy, but not to annoy, I may as well play with a Tower of Hanoi."

 

To the side of the room there appeared three vertical rods. On one of the rods was a stack of wooden plates of decreasing size from the bottom to the top.

 

The Reverend pointed at the stack of plates. "Your penance is to move all the plates from the rod on the left to the rod on the right.

You may move only one plate at a time, and you may never place a larger plate upon a smaller one. Come back to me when it is done."

 

Ruefully the rascally rabbit eyed the stack. "There are a dozen of these plates. This will take some time."

Then he quietly bent to his task.

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Excalibur inspects the interior of the castle intensely. He steps out of rhythm as he trundles toward the door. "Meh, it's not as impressive as Camelot."

 

Actaeon: "There's a mystery here, and something tells me that the only way to solve it is to get back on that bus."

 

"That bus...maybe we should invest in a run-of-the-mill internal combustion engine next time," says the disheartened Excalibur. He glances at an oversized rabbit juggling plates and mutters, "...and I think one of us might have a case of myxomatosis."

 

The Reverend: "'There must be some way out of here,' said the the Joker to the Thief."

 

Excalibur nods solemnly, "But who is the Joker? And who is the Thief?" He kicks up some dirt and playfully stamps it into a neat little mound, only to destroy it in angst. Disinterested, he looks up and sees several fluffy masses of water suspended in a great sea of refracted blue light. A smile slowly engulfs his face and a dose of determination reanimates him. He deftly reaches for the hilt of his eponymous sword and reverently withdraws it from its scabbard. Those nearby squint as the gleaming blade saturates the surroundings with the brightness of thirty torches. He triumphantly raises the sword into the air, as if reaching for an object out of his reach.

 

A deep, resounding voice emanates from Excalibur's throat, "come, let us leave this place and march onward." He enters the bus with an accented stride, this time without the clumsiness of his previous exit.

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As Actaeon leaves, Randomizer thinks to himself. Great now we have to have a Mod Board meeting to discuss how to deal with him. We can't have him spreading the truth about the Conspiracy. We might have another revolt like the one with ET. We might even have to wake *i to deal with it. Why can't things stay quiet until the next game release? It's Jeff's fault delaying Avadon 2 so he can work on iPad ports. *sigh*

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As the Harehunter worked the stack of plates, he heard in the background The Reverend playing "Voodoo Child", but it sounded different than the version he knew.

The image of a Dallas boy, wearing a cowboy hat with a fuzzy tail on it crossed his vision. On the guitar he played were the letters "SRV".

 

He was starting to feel a bit temperamental, when another wave of nausea overtook him.

He turned to see his reflection in the Looking Glass beside him, and was shocked by what he saw.

jackalope1.gifLepus Temperamentalis

http://www.sudftw.com/jackcon.htm

 

Must have been that music The Rev was playing.

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The Reverend sets down his guitar and grabs his Kentucky coffee.

 

The Reverend: "I guess I must not be dreaming. There's no way I could sleep through Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."

 

He looks over at the dish-stacking, rhyming rabbit (who he initially, in his half-awake pre-coffee state, thought was a man). He practically jumps out of his robes, and manages to spill most of his remaining coffee all over them. Before his eyes, the rabbit transformed into a Jackalope!

 

The Reverend: "I guess the coffee stain will go well with the tire tracks, hoof prints, and gazer dandruff. But can somebody please explain what is going on here??

 

Lately things just don't seem the same,

Actin' funny, but I don't know why'."

 

The Reverend then catches sight of a man with a sword.

 

The Reverend: "Hey (Excalibur), where you goin' with that (sword) in your hand?"

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Sylae spreads her wings and flies around the castle, examining its architectural things. Well, this place is very well-built. Very nice things. She flies down to the rest of the mods (When did I become a mod? I was a member when I got on the bus...must be because I'm an awesome pegasus) and lands in the middle of their circle. "It looks like this new SW is stable and well-built. Much better than the UBB," she says, pointing a hoof at the wooden SW in the distance. "Speaking of which, I'm going to go check out CalRef and make sure everything's okay."

 

She launches herself into the air, flying low over the ground towards her site. The only visible portion of CalRef is a small, fortified building surrounded by razorwire and liberally coated with security cameras, many of which follow her intently as she lands and approaches the squat concrete entryway. Due to her new form, she has to hover to use the keypad, but she manages. It takes a couple tries to enter her password, but she finally succeeds and the reinforced door slides open with a hiss. Suddenly, she remembers the second form of security.

 

The only thing stopping her from opening the inner doors is a handprint scanner.

 

"Well, this really jitters my critters," she growls to herself loudly, punching a nearby intercom and yelling into it, "Hey! Iffy! It's Sylae!" No response, "Hey, I need you to get up here and open the [censored] door!" Still no response. After a minute, she sighs loudly and takes off, soaring high into the air.

 

Jewels is still an admin, she could let me in. Or at the very least, I could use the old backup at her site to override the security, she thinks to herself, glancing at SW. She'll probably be at TrueSite making sure everything's okay. She spins around and flies towards TrueSite, a small purple-walled fort sitting in a valley. As she approaches, she squints her eyes and frowns. The castle is dusty and cobwebbed, and in many places disrepair is visible. Next door, a newer fort lies half-built, although it's a far cry from complete. Sighing, she lands in the courtyard of TrueSite, the downdraft of her wings sweeping dust up in all directions, making her sneeze. She trots up to the door to the offices and knocks. Nothing. Oh well, worth a shot. She takes off again, zips over the landscape to the new SW, and lands near the entryway. Glancing around, she sees no sign of TrueSite's keeper. She sighs and enters SW, calling out, "Hey, has anyone seen Jewels? I need to borrow her hand."

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Actaeon looks up at Sylae's arrival.

 

Actaeon: "No, I haven't. Actually, there are a lot of people unaccounted for. I'd take a count, but I don't remember who all was on the bus in the first place. What do you need her for, anyway?

 

Sylae: "I need an admin to let me into CalRef."

 

Actaeon: "Get Iffy to do it."

 

Sylae: "I can't find him, either."

 

Actaeon: "Hmph. Well, I doubt their absence has anything to do with the weird transformations, but it might be worth looking into. Let me know if I can help in any way.

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The gate had not been opened when Jewels floated past. The cold steel sent a patchwork of shivers through her... essence. She had gazed up at the towering turrets as if in a trance until someone passed through her from behind. She had gasped, but only a papery sound reached her ears. It was different from the steel gate; warm and throbbing as if she could feel their heartbeat. The sensation was not altogether unpleasant but still she shuddered from the thought of it.

 

Nikki: Oh, brr! That was a cold breeze...

 

Nikki rubbed his arms and kept on walking; the back of his head retreating from her vision. Oh the innuendo she could muster if she were in the mood... Instead she stepped back and watched as the rest of the members on the bus filed past over the bridge. While few showed extreme transformations such as hers, many were being carried by other members, refusing to be roused. Mysterious Man looked blatantly comatose, but that may have been from his drink of choice.

 

Most interesting was a gazer that bumped along, eye stalks turning every which way and battering each other in the process. For a moment it seemed as if it could see her. One eye rotated to stay fixed on the place where she was hovering, but soon enough it had passed without slowing. Who had that been? Who else bore the effects of the RP era? Were there any other spirits like herself?

 

Soon enough everyone seemed to get situated in the courtyard, those who wouldn't wake up were laid out and made comfortable while the rest were mingling with each other and the SW members who had not gone on the trip. Jewels floated from group to group just for something to do, listening to their theories and concerns. Nothing substantial kept her focus until she heard her name. Jewels swung around at Sylae's voice and floated in close to listen to her conversation with Actaeon.

 

Jewels: Sylae, I'm here!. Actaeon, can you hear me?

 

Neither turned their heads in her direction. It was rather frustrating. With the din of those gathered, she could barely hear herself let alone project her voice to be heard by anyone else. She had to figure out a way to communicate with them. She deigned that the best option was to follow them around waiting for inspiration to hit and an opportunity to use it.

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As Harehunter worked his penance of the plates, he fell into a light trance and began to dream.

 

He dreamed that he was standing in the center of a large arena, filled with the din of 50 thousand roaring spectators. The grass upon which he stood was lined like an iron grid, with each bar exactly 15 feet from the others. Beside him stood 10 other jackalopes, each wearing the same livery as he, emblazoned the image of a mighty Taurus.570.gif

 

Opposing him was another squad of men wearing the livery of a Lone Star. photo.jpg

 

They all turned to salute the Emperor who watched from his place of honor.

"Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant."

 

And then the melee began. For four periods of a quarter of an hour they did battle the Cowboys of Dallas, but in the end Texans of Houston arose from the field victorious.

 

As he stood with his team and received the accolades of the Emperor, the vision faded, and once again he was faced with the stack of plates. It was finally done, He had moved the plates according to the rules.

 

"Now that my penance is done,

I must think of a powerful pun."

 

The gazer gazed at him; Actaeon glared at him; an electric stillness filled the room and ...

 

(to be continued).

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I ignore the chaos of the other Spiderwebbers and the shininess of the new message board. There is work to be done; I must find a cure to my sudden speech impediment. But I can't think when I'm hungry, especially since it seems I haven't eaten anything for months. I wander around until the find the kitchen.

 

The kitchen is glorious: granite countertops, state of the art appliances, and drawers full of the latest gadgets and utensil doohickeys that I haven't the faintest idea of how to use. Sadly, the food stock is much less impressive. After a thorough search, all I come up with is a pantry shelf full of spam, a canister of stale coffee grounds, and something mysterious and moldy in the back of the refrigerator.

 

I find people as best I can. "Okay, everyone, I'm taking the bus to the nearest grocery store, farmers market, bakery, *sigh* feed store, whatever I need to hit. Add whatever you need to the list, and if you want to come along, be at the bus in fifteen minutes, or I leave without you."

 

Dikiyoba leaves the shopping list attached to the wall where everyone can see it and heads outside to check on the bus. The shopping list currently reads: Dr. Pepper, cake, Dr. Pepper, muskmelon, pie, Dr. Pepper.

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The Reverend walks over to the shopping list.

 

The Reverend: "Strawberry shortcake. Spaghetti. And nacho ingredients. You can never have enough nachos."

 

The Reverend writes everything on the list, and starts to head towards the bus. His flask of bourbon is running low, and he figures maybe he can get a refill at the store. On the way, he notices that Harehunter has completed his penance, and overhears him say something about "powerful puns".

 

The Reverend: "Careful, son - the penance for the next infraction is four stacks (Reve's puzzle)".

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Trinit Eye concentrates very hard. All ten of his brows furrow. The ridge above his big eye positively canyons. §}() )

 

At first, nothing happens. Then, SLAM! There is an incongruous, unconvincing sound effect.

 

It is perhaps just as well for Harehunter that the gazer has been distracted by the prospect of acquiring the nutrients essential for maintaining focus after a rather hard day. The actual effect that the gazer produces does not seem very great, though. Trinit Eye may have a long way to go before mastering his Kill power.

 

Something does happen, at least. A row of black shapes, smoking faintly, appears on the shopping list. As the smoke fades, the shapes are recognizable as depictions of cups, filled with black liquid, in two different sizes.

 

One very large coffee. Nine espressos.

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Distracted by the idea of food, Harehunter's train of thought is suddenly (and noisily) derailed.

 

He hungrily hops over to the shopping list.

"A head of lettuce, and two dozen carrots, please."

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Actaeon deliberately scribbles "peanut butter", "jelly", and "bread" onto the list. He glares around as if to defend the dullness of his selection.

 

He then dons his long coat, exits Spidweb, and sits in the seat behind the driver, giving Diki a conspiratorial wink on his way past.

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All of a sudden the merry macs of the motor stop their partying, the music still playing. Sounds of reaching for pencils and ink on the bus floor reached the ears of the imps and gremlins who congregated beyond the wire woods, in between three bits of machinery and "deep inside" the motor of the bus.

The noise grows louder.

 

"Something tries to creep in!" Shouts a devil in despair.

 

Having realised that the people of the bus had already woken up, the imps and gremlins try to flee in all directions, looting all the wine and bourbon they can but... but to late!!!

 

A giant finger presses upon a wall, which slides... crushing a few of the gremlins in it's wake. Upon-Mars leaps in fright for a bottle of magical champagne and uses the fuzziness in the drink to evaporate into thin air. POP!

 

The music stopped.

 

All of a sudden, in the panic, a roar could be heard loud, clear, as thunderous and as imperial as a Roman Emperor:

 

-"Why is the radio so loud? Some of us have a headache!" says Actaeon thinking of winking again at "pang-hungry" Diki.

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Everyone watches in horror as the Big Man tears open a huge, bright yellow packet. It is full of - yes, it is as they had feared - smileys! :lol: . Blissfully oblivious to the gasps and groans, the Big Man smiles as he begins to attach the smileys to safety pins.

 

Big Man : You wear it on your chest - proudly and with your head held high. Like this, see ? ( He gives a demonstration on the correct way to wear a smiley badge, and himself wears a nice green-toothed smiley)

 

Everyone makes a big fuss at first, but they finally give in and wear the badges. Trinit Eye even catches The Reverend admiring his reflection in a mirror.

 

The Big Man walks over to the wall, takes his pen out and adds "Cashew nuts (3 Kg)" to the list.

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Trinit Eye senses a lack of movement. Quiet, stasis, with nobody asking questions, making waves, or looking behind the screen. Trinit Eye begins to rotate around, as if from portrait to landscape orientation. It doesn't help.

 

This must be just what the conspiracy wants. Nothing happening. Nothing of interest. Nothing on which to focus! Well, that's NOT GOING TO FLY!!! RAAARRRR!!!!!

 

Trinit Eye's eyestalks all stick out and his central eye bulges ominously. This story needs more resolution! BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BA-BA-BOOOOM!!!

 

 

The walls and ceiling shake as weird fiery visual effects rain down from nowhere. The floor collapses, the walls crumble, the ceiling falls in flakes and chunks. Everybody runs back toward the bus.

 

Aaahhh. Everything is so clear and sharp now. Trinit Eye drifts grimly in pursuit of the fleeing gang. He seems to have been upgraded into an iBeast. With Retina display!

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As the Reverend is admiring his new smiley face button, and how it is just the right size to cover up one of the hoof prints on his robes, the room begins to shake violently. He looks around and sees that the floor is collapsing and the walls are beginning to crumble. Or is that just a hallucination brought on by whatever was in the bourbon he bought from that strange gremlin he met a few hours before the bus appeared? Come to think of it, he fell asleep under that tree after having his first couple sips of it. And ever since he woke up, everything has seemed a little ... off. He doesn't even remember this building being here before. What did he overhear someone calling it? Spiderweb?

 

A chunk of wall hits him on the arm, rousing him from his reverie. He resumes his trek towards his bus, but with a bit more urgency now that the walls are collapsing around him. As he starts jogging, he is inspired to take another look at the bourbon bottle.

 

The Reverend: "Hmm, 'Skribbane-brand bourbon'. Has anyone ever heard of that before?"

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