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Caught in the Spider's Web

Chapter Text

One moment, he had been flying. Wind in his blond hair, expertly turning corners as he spammed rockets, one after the other. Over, under and through all kinds of obstacles, aiming for the hoops he had placed here and there. The course was familiar, no doubt he could fly it blind at this point. To the building, hard left, through the first tree, the second one, up, down under the railway, into the valley…

 

The next moment, he found himself having to swerve to dodge out of the way of bamboo that hadn’t been there the last time he came here. So far for beating his lap time. Grian looked over his shoulder briefly.

 

“Who put that there?” he muttered to himself, making a mental note to chop it down after he had finished his lap. Then he fired off another salvo of rockets to gain speed, headed for the next hoop. The bamboo was still fresh on his mind as he looked forwards again, just as he was in front of the hoop. It looked… off. Not the same as he had built it.

 

By the time he figured out what was wrong with it, he was already tangled up in the net of fine, near invisible threads. Like a spiders web. A burst of panic went through him initially. Then he started chuckling. This had to be a prank, probably a rebuttal for he many times he had pranked others by filling their bases with chickens. And it was no secret that he flew this course a few times every morning like clockwork.

 

Grian started struggling against the netting, trying to free himself before some other Hermit could see him like this. The threads didn’t budge, however, and he only managed to tangle himself up more. After a minute of trying and ending up half upside down, he just sighed and tried to relax a little, moving as little as possible to not get tangled up more. No doubt someone would come to laugh at him before helping him get down.

 

“Well, you got me! Can you free me now?” he shouted, looking around for signs of one of his friends.

 

No one answered. No one moved.

 

“Guys? Anyone?”

 

Again, the only response was the gentle lapping of the water below him, and the rustling of that bamboo. Grian briefly frowned, before wiggling his communicator out of his pocket. The angle to do so was quite uncomfortable, but there was not much else he could do. It took him a bit as well, but that was fine too. Apparently he had the time as long as he was hanging around here. Grian chuckled at his own joke, before lifting the communicator into his field of vision and started typing.

 

<Grian> Could whoever put a net in the middle of the elytra course please come and untangle me?

 

<xisumavoid> ?

 

<MumboJumbo> lol

 

<Grian> sigh

 

<Grian> I think it’s a prank, but I can’t get out

 

<xisumavoid> Where are you?

 

<Grian> the valley between the hrn line and concorp

 

<xisumavoid> On my way, give me a few minutes.

 

He sighed, then dimmed the screen. Well then. If only he hadn’t put his sword and everything in his enderchest before starting the course. Then again, it was always a pain to have to gather everything in the unlikely case that he crashed.

 

And so he waited, looking around for Xisuma to arrive as his blood slowly flowed to his head. It wasn’t a nice feeling, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

 

The sudden sound of a twig snapping made his head turn.

 

“X, is that you?” he called out, unable to spot the source of the noise. This time, though, there was a response to his call. To be precise, the sound of something whistling through the air before piercing the skin of his back. Grian yelped, then renewed his efforts to get out.

 

“Guys, that hurt! This isn’t funny anymore!”

 

As he struggled, he felt his limbs slowly growing more and more heavy. His thoughts and words slurred together, his sight becoming a blur. A panic started building as the sounds around him sounded more and more like they had to come through water to reach him. This was wrong, this was so very, very wrong.

 

With the bit of mind that was still listening to him, he commanded his fingers to type once more, even though he could barely discern the different buttons.

 

<Grian> gelp

 

<Grian> teap

 

<Grian> drigfedd

 

<FalseSymmetry> Dude, are you okay?

 

<Grian> boooo

 

By then, the letters on the screen became too difficult to read, as black started closing in the edges of his vision. Grian looked around him, becoming vaguely aware of the person closing in via the support of the hoop. Edges blending together, the blur of a person mostly being green. Though this was probably not the best time to pass out, his eyelids were starting to be too heavy to keep open much longer, and the black was taking over.

 

“X…? Imma…. sleep...” he murmured.

 

Then his communicator slipped out of his fingers, landing in the water below with a splash. The last thing Grian heard before consciousness left him completely was a laugh.

 

A laugh that didn’t sound like Xisuma at all.

 


 

 

“Grian? Are you here?” The admin flew over the stretch of course that went through the valley, looking for a red sweater, a hint of purple wing, some blond hair, anything that looked like Grian. Had someone else found him already? So far, he had had no luck finding the newest Hermit. With a frown of concern behind his visor, Xisuma landed near one of the hoops and took out his communicator, that had buzzed a few times as he was flying. Maybe there had been updates?

 

As he turned on the screen, however, there was only some barely readable yet concerning messages from Grian, and False that tried getting clarity with no success.

 

<FalseSymmetry> Grian?

 

<FalseSymmetry> Are you still there dude?

 

<FalseSymmetry> X, please tell me you got him!

 

“This isn’t good...” Once again, Xisuma frowned. If this was all some elaborate prank, it wasn’t funny, but his gut feeling said something different. Something else was at play here.

 

<xisumavoid> He isn’t here.

 

<xisumavoid> I flew over the whole stretch three times, but no Grian.

 

<FalseSymmetry> Are you sure?

 

A sound nearby made Xisuma look up from his communicator. It had sounded trice, a soft gurgling from the water. He couldn’t quite place it, though.

 

<xisumavoid> Yes

 

Again, that gurgle sounded. Coincidence? It couldn’t be. He walked a little bit closer to the water, and it gurgled again, at the same time that his communicator buzzed.

 

<FalseSymmetry> I’m gonna head over and help search.

 

<xisumavoid> Wait a moment, can you do something for me?

 

<xisumavoid> Send some messages, a few seconds between each.

 

<xisumavoid> I’ll explain later.

 

<FalseSymmetry> Uh… Sure?

 

Then he put away the little screen again, listening for the gurgles and walking closer to it every time. Six buzzes later, he stood in the water, looking down on another communicator that was valiantly doing its job, even though it was completely submerged. Xisuma frowned harder, worry taking root. No Hermit would part with their communicator so easily. Reaching into the water, he picked it up, then flipped it over to look for the engraving all of them had. The device bore the name of the missing Hermit, confirming his gut feeling.

 

<xisumavoid> I found his communicator. This may be more serious than we thought.

Chapter Text

When he woke up, he found himself in a room that was pitch black but at the same time surprisingly bright. He groggily blinked a few times, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. His memory was a blur, the last thing he clearly remembered hitting something mid-flight.

He didn’t recognise the room at all, and the black of its walls, floor and ceiling was messing with his head. How far away were they? Were there even walls, or was he just floating in the middle of the Void? It most certainly felt like he was on top of something tangible, it had to be, but besides that… Well. There wasn’t much to go with. Was he dead? Shouldn’t he just respawn, then?

 

Grian sat up accompanied by a clanking sound. Metal? He rubbed his sore arms, then stretched his wings. As they unfurled, they brushed past something cold, and Grian frowned. What was that? That’s when he felt it. The ever present slight pressure of his turtleneck had been replaced by something else. Something that pressed against his throat a bit more securely, a bit tighter. He swallowed and reached out to feel it, finding a thick metal band locked in place around his neck. Grian swallowed. This was wrong. He looked around, finding a length of chain that connected the metal collar to the square of dark slabs he was laying on. Probably not dead, then.

 

“What…? Where… Where am I?” he murmured. Wherever this was, he wanted out. For a moment, Grian clenched his eyes shut, then reopened them with the hope to wake up from what just had to be a nightmare of sorts. He was still in the void room though. Was it a dream? He went to pinch himself, and came to the wincing conclusion that he was very much awake. Awake, and a prisoner of sorts.

 

But why? Grian tried to think back to what had happened, but everything after hitting whatever he had hit was a blur of colours and sounds and feelings and smells and thoughts. It gave him a headache, and he shook his head to get rid of the mash of memories for now. He hoped they would solidify somewhere soon.

 

Maybe someone else could give him some answers, though. He started digging for his communicator, only to find nothing but air there. That was weird. Had hit fallen out of his pockets as he was flying? He couldn’t remember putting it in his enderchest, but he might have accidentally done so when preparing for the elytra course. And why would he? The thing was the only item that actually stuck with him when he died.

 

It was also the only thing he could use to contact his friends if they were in another place. It would have been lovely to have that right now. Something else, then, he had to have something else with him. With a short gesture, he opened up his inventory.

 

“Wait, what?!”

 

His rockets were nowhere to be found, and his food was gone as well. It was empty. Just completely empty. The question that needed asking was how someone had managed that. As far as Grian knew, there was no way to take things from someone else’s inventory, just like with an enderchest. Unless of course someone had killed him, and he just respawned here.

 

“Wherever here is...” he whispered to himself. “Okay, Grian, let’s get out of here. You got this.” The builder went to sit on his knees, bending over and reaching down to figure out where the floor was, if it was even within reach. This room did weird tricks with his mind, but given the way that chain was laying, it couldn’t be too far. He found the cool and smooth material about half a block down, and a little bit of patting around revealed no seams or unevenness anywhere. He swore he knew this from somewhere, but where had he see this before? Grian frowned, raking his mind, before shaking his head. Nope, he couldn’t remember. At the very least he now knew there was a floor.

 

Now the trick was to be methodical about this, and try and figure out if and where the walls and ceilings existed. Methodical, despite his natural urge to just jump up and try whatever. Methodical, unlike the chaos that was his mind.

 

And so he found himself stepping off the slabs, bare feet on the floor. A shiver went up his spine as he did so, a combination of the coolness under his feet and the unsettling feeling of standing on nothing. First things first. How far could he move before the chain disagreed with him? Counting his steps, he walked forwards, perpendicular to the edge of the slabs.

 

One, two, three. Four…? No, not four. Three and a half. Maybe.

 

With a sigh he went to sit down. Not even four meters of freedom. Grian hated it already. He was used to just be able to jump and run and fly wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Maybe, just maybe, he could break the chain if he moved fast enough? Or he could pull out the point where it was connected if he flew upwards? Both ideas would probably hurt him though, if nothing else. He unconsciously swallowed, the metal band pressing uncomfortably against his Adams apple when it moved. He also very much realised that he couldn’t just keep sitting here and wait for someone to come get him, be it friend or foe. Well, he could, but that would only drive him mad and possibly into a panic. Something else, then.

 

“Okay. New plan. Find the walls and ceiling. They have to be somewhere.” Grian very much hoped so at the very least. If he could figure out the dimensions of his cell – cause that was what it was – he had information. And with information he could do something. Escape, hopefully. If only that damned chain wasn’t there, that would make his life a whole lot easier. For now he’d just have to bear with it.

 

Standing up once more, he went to walk clockwise in a circle as far away from the slabs as he could, his left wing outstretched to hopefully graze against the wall at some point. His eyes went from the tip of his wing to the slabs, trying to keep track of how far he had already gone. The corners of the plateau were the only reference point he had, everything else just being the same dark nothingness.

 

One corner passed, and he hadn’t felt a wall. The second came, and still his wing wasn’t touching anything. The third and fourth corner brought him the same experience. So, he knew the room was at least ten by ten, accounting for his wingspan. Then Grian climbed back on the slabs, standing over the point where the chain went into the dark material. He bent his knees slightly, as though he was going to jump, and then took off into the air.

 

For a glorious tenth of a second, he could ignore his situation as his wings spread out and powerfully beat once, lifting him off the ground and into the air. Then the chain pulled taut, the collar stopping further movement upwards with a painful yank. Again, no ceiling to be felt. Grian let himself fall down a little, before stubbornly trying again, this time using inertia to move his legs higher than his face the moment the chain pulled him back.

 

Still nothing there. He fell back to the floor coughing and wincing, not sure what to do next. Laying on his back, he stared up to the place where the ceiling may or may not have been. He could almost pretend it was just a dark, moonless, starless night like this. Almost. His hand moved to his throat, feeling the heavy collar. No way he was going to get that off without tools and somebody to help him.

 

A wave of sadness went over him. Did the others know he was gone? Would they be able to find him, or…? How long would he be stuck here?

Then helplessness began settling in. It was hard to fight in his situation, having nothing and knowing nothing. He couldn’t free himself from this, he couldn’t even remember how he got here in the first place.

 

Grian only realised he was softly crying as the tears started dripping down his face.

 


 

 

Three pairs of eyes looked at the occasionally buzzing communicator in Xisuma’s hand. False’s eyes were filled with worry and anger, one hand lingering near her sword, ready for action. Xisuma was staring daggers at the thing, as though that would make it tell him where Grian was, and what happened. Mumbo looked anxious, his hands constantly twiddling with the buttons of his jacket.

 

“… And you found it in the water, right? Was there anything else there?” His voice was as twitchy as his hands were. Expectant, hoping for some good news. The admin looked at him when he asked his questions, then averted his eyes before shaking his head.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Well… There has to be a lead somewhere. Doesn’t it, False?” Mumbo now turned towards her, eyes begging. Her hand wrapped around the pommel of her sword, knuckles whitening.

 

“We’ll find whoever did this. And we’ll show them they made a grave mistake.” Her voice was chilly, and remained remarkably flat despite the thinly veiled threat she had just made. To that, the redstoner nodded.

 

“Let’s search around, then.”

 

And to work, they went.

 


 

 

Five hours later, they had combed through the entire valley. Yet, barely anything out of the ordinary could be found, and even that was stretching the definition of the word. The hoop under which they had found Grian’s communicator had some strands of what seemed to be spider silk hanging from it, as though someone had flown through a web there. The chance that that was the net that Grian had talked about was fairly small. While cobwebs were a nuisance, they were easy enough to remove or break through.

 

They hadn’t found the net either, nor evidence of there ever having been one. No footsteps of a possible culprit, so they had either flown or waded through the water. And that was all they knew.

 

Eventually, they became too frustrated by it all to still search in any efficient way. It was as though they were hunting a ghost. False was the first to leave, gone to hit the library in search for prior cases like this. Next went Xisuma, muttering something about logs, leaving Mumbo alone with his thoughts.

 

The redstoner just stared into the distance for a bit, eyes trained on the hoop. Ideas flew through his mind, theories about what could have happened, one more outrageous than the other. None of them were likely or complete enough to pursue, though.

 

“Where are you, Grian?” he whispered to the wind. “Are you okay? Are you safe?”

 

The wind didn’t answer, and the gentle breeze only made the spider silk dance.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t too sure why he had flown to the towering cylinder in the middle of the future district, instead of his own base.

 

“What if he’s there? It’s on my route anyway, might as well check….”

 

And so he landed on one of the three entryways, deciding to walk the last bit instead of just flying in. It seemed… Nicer, that way. Or maybe he was just trying to evade the possibility that Grian wasn’t in his base either for a little while longer.

 

The entryway was not infinite, though, so within seconds he was standing in the entrance. Underneath him, the base looked as it always did. A mess of shulker boxes was in one of the corners in a vomit of colours, the farms were occasionally moving and harvesting, and a beacon beam going up through the middle. The bed looked slept on, but was empty, and the sounds of both chickens and parrots were audible from somewhere in the building. Of course they were. It was Grians base. How could there not be chickens.

 

Mumbo glid down, elytra outstretched, and landed near the center of the circle. Then he looked around, hoping to spot a sign of life that matched his friend.

 

Nothing.

 

“Grian? Are you here?” he called out, hoping for an answer. “Come on man, answer!” he whispered. And he waited. “Maybe he just didn’t hear? He could be upstairs, or in his infinity room?” The muttering was mostly to make himself less anxious, hoping to calm himself if he believed hard enough that his friend just couldn’t hear him because he was in another part of his base.

 

Mumbo speedwalked over to the entrance to the infinity room and dropped through. It may not have been the best idea, though. The room was already weird and unsettling enough when he was in there with Grian, but like this, with just him and the empty chairs in the seemingly infinite expanse of white… It just felt lonely. There was barely any sound either, muffled through layers upon layers of stone.

 

He became very aware of his own breathing, his own heartbeat. Both were faster than he might have wanted, shallower than he might have hoped. Mumbo swallowed, and he could hear it clearly.

 

This feels wrong.

 

Suddenly, he had the urge to get out of there. Out of the weird room, back into the base. It might be empty, but it was less lonely than this. The redstoner walked in the direction of where he knew the exit was, hand outstretched to feel the wall before he would walk into it.

 

Before long, the blinding white was replaced by the glow of sea lanterns, and he found himself hurrying into the water elevator. The cool water washed over him, and for a few blissful seconds he could forget things, floating gently upwards.

 

Then he shot through the surface, and was faced with the empty base once more. Only now he noticed the lectern in the middle, the beacon beam passing around it. Was that always there? Mumbo squinted and came closer, questioning his memory. Something glistered in the light of the beacon beam, criss-crossing between the lectern and the floor. Cobwebs? Had the lectern been there for that long?

 

Mumbo frowned. Chaotic as he may be, not cleaning something this smack in the middle of his base was nothing for Grian. Weird. His curiosity piqued, prompting him to warily walk over to the lectern. On closer inspection, there was a book laying on it, the leather cover black with a dark green spider on it.

 

His frown deepened. The book was most certainly not something that fit in here. It didn’t have the right aesthetic. Maybe around Halloween, sure, but right now…? Not really. The builder might be messy, but he kept to a style for the biggest part. If he decided to decorate, it would all work together, and not have a single point of weirdness.

 

“Did someone else put that there? It has to be, right?” Curiosity and concern were fighting for dominance in his head. Check out the book, or inform others first? It didn’t look like the book was trapped, so that was something. Surely it couldn’t hurt to take a peek and then call them in? Just to check if it was related to Grians disappearance. Nothing else.

 

He felt almost guilty as he looked around, checking if anyone saw him. As he didn’t see another Hermit, he stepped closer to the lectern, staring at the book. His hands were fiddling with his buttons again. Then he briefly closed his eyes, breathing in and out before reaching out to the book.

 

The leather was cool under his fingers. Given that nothing exploded or clicked as he touched it, Mumbo opened his eyes again, and ran his hands over the edges of the book, disconnecting the occasional thread of spider silk. Ever careful to not move the back of the book, he opened it to the first page and started reading.

 

His eyes widened at the first line.

 

If you tell anyone that you found this book, you will never see your friend again.

 

High above him, a green figure clinging to the ceiling disappeared into the shadows.

 


 

Under the purple roofs of the fantasy district, False was diligently skimming through books. Any one of them that so much as referenced mysterious disappearances was immediately put on the side for more precise reading.

 

Given the size of the library, this could take a while. Nevertheless, she kept going. It distracted her from her worries enough, while also sating her desire to act. She was being productive like this.

 

Book after book after book passed through her hands. Page after page after page moved under her fingers. Word after word after word was visited by her eyes. Slowly, ever so slowly, the pile of useful books grew larger. The sunlight filtering through the stained glass window moved at about the same pace.

 

Eventually, as the torchlight began to take over, she put last book of her current bookcase away. Four down, just three more rows to go. She was over halfway, but it didn’t feel like it. Not with the, what, twenty-six books that needed closer inspection? That was going to take a long time as well. Somewhere deep inside, False was doubting whether this would even help. A lot of the books were on local folklore, salvaged from the various villages around the world. Only a few were actually about history. Then again, myths often had a core of truth in them. She sighed, and walked over to the next bookcase.

 

“Whatever gods are our there, please, help me find something. Anything. There has to be something in here that can help!” It started out with a mutter, and ended with an angry punch against the bookcase. It rocked slightly. One book fell out, landing spine up and open, pages to the ground. False blinked once. “Huh.”

 

She bent over and picked up the book. She was by no means superstitious, but this seemed almost like too much of a coincidence to ignore. It was once more a book about legends, worn and weathered by years. Nevertheless, False turned it over.

 

One of the pages in front of her was an illustration of a human-sized, spider-like creature sitting on a web, encroaching on a young lad that was trying to free himself from the threads. A shiver went over her spine, thinking back to Grians messages just before he disappeared. The other was the start of some myth called “Caught in the Spider’s Web”.

 

An image flashed before her eyes, of spider silk hanging from a hoop.

 

“No way...” she whispered. The other pile of books forgotten, she dragged the book to her reading corner. The resemblance was a tad uncanny, so far. Perhaps the resemblance would stay for longer, giving them an idea of where this was going, what they could expect. And more importantly, how they could get Grian back.

 


 

“This can’t be right.”

 

Xisuma stared at his communicator, bright green text declaring it was in admin mode. On his desk laid a stack of neatly organised folders, labelled by month. One lay open, and his eyes sprung between the text on his screen and the text in the folder. Nearly identical, but not completely. Some lines in the digital logs were different from the ones he had printed.

 

It was not strange that he hadn’t noticed that before. He generally only looked at the digital logs, skimming through them just before bed each day, and put the automatic printout that appeared each sunrise away as a physical backup somewhere. This was the first time he actually read through the printouts, and that was only because the logs didn’t show anything around the time of Grians disappearance. They were too neat, too perfect.

 

And now he was figuring out that someone had somehow deleted lines from his precious logs. And if these lines were only the ones that were altered after they were printed how many of them were there that were changed before that? Of how many edits was he unaware, simply because they happened before he read them?

 

The admin took off his helmet, putting it to the side. Overworld air was slightly too thick for him to breathe comfortably, but he could go without his respirator if he wanted to. And right now, he mostly just wanted to scratch his forehead, berating himself for not noticing earlier.

 

“So far for sleeping, then. Well, X, time for a good old game of spot the difference.” He murmured to himself, before putting on the half-mask Doc had made for him. It made talking a bit more difficult than his helmet did, but it was a lot less hot and way more comfortable. All in all, good for now.

 

He took up pen, paper and a quill, and started his work, copying the missing lines from the paper logs to a new sheet for overview. It was a death here and there, some glitches, instances of sudden energy waves and more. All things that happened in the night, before sunrise. What worried him most were two messages from about two months ago.

 

>> Arachne has joined the chat

 

>> Arachne has been promoted to administrator

 

Someone that had never typed in chat, who had joined very late in the evening, after Xisuma had gone to bed. Who since then would have been able to read along with whatever they had been saying. Who could be reading along on a communicator right now. Who had admin powers as well, and was able to obscure any trace in the digital logs.

 

Who possibly hadn’t realised that physical backups of the logs were made. Who possibly wasn’t aware that a trail existed, no matter their diligence in cleaning up after themselves. Who made a mistake, and gave him something to work with.

 

Gotcha!”

 


 

He was still on the slabs, curled up in as small a ball as he could become. His wings were around him, obscuring his quivering form from sight. His tears had long stopped, not a single one of them remaining in his body. At moments like this he cursed how creative his mind was. It was as good at finding progressively worse worst case scenarios as it was at figuring out interesting builds, and the last few hours – he guessed, there was no sign of time in there – he had mostly spent on trying to stay some kind of positive, to not let himself be dragged along in the negative thoughts.

 

Truth was, Grian was scared. Very, very scared. Flashes of memories of some sort of net had been coming back, and he didn’t know where to place them. He didn’t know where he was, who was responsible for this, or what they wanted with him. He didn’t know how long he would be there, chained up in a room reminiscent of the void.

 

Had he been looking around, he could have gotten an answer to one of those questions.

 

A dark form with too many limbs was observing him, four pairs of red eyes glowing in the light.

 

Watching.

 

Waiting.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, two brothers lived in a forest. They knew every path, and had befriended the creatures that roamed through the trees and bushes.

 

One morning, the younger brother went into the forest on his own, as he often did. Deeper and deeper he went, unafraid of his surroundings. He knew that as long as he stuck to the paths, no harm would befall him. And thus, he only walked the avenues of dirt and moss.

 

Halfway through, however, he came across a large tree that had fallen over, blocking the path forwards. “Surely, I can walk around this without worry,” the boy thought, and he strayed from the path.

 

Where the path had been easy on him, the brush around it wasn’t. The thorns of brambles tugged at his clothes, and he had to fight through them. The ground was uneven, and he had to be careful not to trip.

 

Then the younger brother found himself on a bit of shaded path, one he didn’t recognise. More thorns flanked the open space, and dark oaken leafs blocked the sunlight from shining upon him. Curiously, he started heading down the path, wanting to know where it ended.

 

Within steps, however, he found himself unable to move, the sticky threads of a spiders web all against him. The boy tried getting out, yet every new thread he touched stuck against him, and none of them broke.

 

Then, from one of the trees, crawled a spider as big as he was.

 

Well, well, well, what have we here?”

 


 

 

The silence in the room was broken by a voice he didn’t recognise. It was somewhere between a hiss and a normal voice, and he was unable to discern whether it was a man or a woman, adult or child that was speaking. It had a raspy quality to it as well, as though whomever was speaking wasn’t used to doing so. Some clicky sounds were mixed in as well, giving it all an eerie feeling.

 

“I... spy… with my little eyes… A little fly, stuck in my web.”

 

He looked up over his knees, and then immediately scrambled backwards as far as the chain allowed him. The creature in front of him was unlike anything he knew. Too many limbs to be human, too big to be a spider, and yet, it was also both of those. It didn’t help that it’s skin, or carapace, or however he should call it was a dark colour. It blended with the walls, making it difficult to see where one stopped and the other started.

 

“Who… Who are you? What are you? Why do you keep me here?” Grian stammered, eyes quickly bouncing between all monstrous features the creature had. He was scared, perhaps more so than before. A very tangible danger to him stood in the same room, it was more than reasonable.

 

The creature made a sound, and the builder realised it was laughing.

 

“The little fly is loud… And amusing… You sit before Arachne, ruler of this domain. And you, my dear fly, are the key.” As they spoke, the spider creature came closer, and closer, and closer, until they were standing on the slabs, and then even further, until they were towering over him.

 

“The key to getting what I desire.”

 


 

 

The trouble with administrators was that you needed to be a higher rank than admin in order to change their privileges.

 

Xisuma found that out the hard way, as he tried to remove Arachne from the system.

 

At first, he tried the basic tricks. Banning and kicking from the system. Quite soon, he figured out that that didn’t work. The bright red text on screen told him he could not remove the user due to the user being an admin.

His next step was checking if he could somehow revoke privileges. Usually, he could control those for every user in the system, but for this Arachne the option had been greyed out. So far for the graphical interface, then. Luckily, he had some tricks up his sleeve.

 

Generally, when there is a graphical interface, with nice buttons and a sleek design, there is also a much simpler text interface, a command prompt of sorts. The communicators were no different. It was just a lot more fiddly to use. Each command had to be correct to the letter, otherwise some… unwanted effects could happen. There wasn’t really an overview of all possible commands either, making the whole route a very time-intensive task.

 

He was very aware of that, but was confident enough about his admin skills to try it anyway. After all, Xisuma also knew that a lot more was possible using the text interface. If there was any way he could get this to work, it would be via this route.

 

With a steaming cup of tea on his desk, he started trying whatever he could think of. The simple, straight to the point commands resulted in more angry red text about insufficient privileges. The one where he tried to access and change the database claimed the command was not valid, while some of the more far-fetched ideas just gave back errors so long that he had to scroll through them.

 

As his tea grew cold, Xisuma grew annoyed. At the communicators, at the logs, at himself, at Arachne, at everything that had happened. Multiple times he just wanted to throw the damn thing against a wall until it broke, or just toss it in lava and be done with it.

 

A knock came from the door, making the admin frown. Who would come by at this hour? It was late, minutes having flown by as he was fiddling in the text interface.

 

“Come on in!” he called, the sound more than slightly warped by his half-mask.

 

In came Ren, or, judging by his sandals, perhaps he preferred “Renbob” at that point.

 

“Hey dude, everything all right here?” the hippie asked, eyeing the stacks of papers. “I was wo-”

 

“Does it look like everything’s all right?!” Xisuma snapped at him, harsher than he would have done otherwise. He immediately felt guilty about it, though, seeing the other was a bit taken aback by it. The admin let out a sigh, then shook his head.

 

“I’m sorry, Ren, I didn’t mean that. I’m just a little bit on edge, you know?” His tone was softer now.

 

“A little bit? You have some interesting definitions, man.” Ren chuckled, then continued. “In any case, I was wondering why there was still a light shining here, man Isn’t it a bit late to still be working? Like, sleep is also important, you know, man?”

 

To that, Xisuma only nodded tiredly.

 

“I know, it’s just… I’m trying to figure out what happened, and how it could have happened.” His eyes glid over to the clock on the wall. “I honestly hadn’t realised it was already after midnight. Speaking of which, why are you still up?” He squinted at the hippie.

 

“It’s full moon, man.” Ren made a gesture as though that explained everything, and Xisuma had enough experience with him to know that he wouldn’t get a better answer if he asked.

 

“Even so, man, you have to like, let your body rest. Give nature a chance to give you more energy, man, and you’ll be more productive tomorrow morning, man.” Once again, the admin nodded.

 

“You have a point. Maybe I should just go sleep for a bit.”

 

“Excellent idea, man. I’ll go back outside then, and leave you to it.” With that, he turned to walk away, and Ren was already at the door when Xisuma realised a thing.

 

“Oh, by the way, Ren?” The hippie turned on his heals, a questioning look on his face.

 

“Be cautious of what you send in chat. If you can, talk to people face to face. I’m quite certain someone is eavesdropping.”

 

Renbob tilted his head, squinting, trying to judge how serious this was. Something in the look on Xisuma’s face told him it would probably be best to not question that. Enough for him to even drop the hippy act for a bit.

 

“I will, my dude. Do you want me to let others know as well?”

 

Xisuma shook his head.

 

“I’ll arrange that. Just… Act normal when typing, okay? We don’t want them to know that we know.”

 

“Gotcha. Well, goodnight, dude. Get some rest. I’m gonna head off for now.” And with a wave, he turned away once more and disappeared through the door.

 

The admin was left alone in the room, staring at his now cold cup of tea. That always happened when he was too focussed on something. He sighed, and decided to just pour it away, after which he made sure to clean up all evidence of him having found something weird. Better safe than sorry.

 

And with that done, he finally went to bed, where he laid awake for a whole while longer.

 

When he finally slept, he dreamt of spiders.

Chapter Text

But the spider did not eat the boy, nor did it silence him. Instead, it asked: “Do you have any family?”

 

The boy nodded, and the spider said: “Then call for their help, and see if they come.”

 

And calling the boy did, until his throat grew dry.

 


 

 

He was sorely tempted to close the book, pretend he never opened it, and call in the other Hermits. Surely no one saw him look into it, or read the first line. That would mean someone was watching him right there and then, and Mumbo hadn’t seen anyone.

 

To be fair, he didn’t always notice everything. He could be a bit of a spoon at times, he was fully aware of that. The question was whether he was certain enough of his perceptive skills to risk Grian for it.

For a short moment, he squinted.

 

“No. Nope, not gonna try that. No.” He was shaking his head while he took the book of its lectern. Nothing exploded as he did so, which was something good. Then, after staring at the lectern for a moment, he decided to remove it and the cobwebs as well.

 

It was probably best to not leave anything here, just to make sure no one could ask about it. Cause if someone asked about it, he would have to pretend he didn’t know.

 

And everyone knew how that turned out, back in the Civil War.

 

Not too long later, he found himself digging out a small hidden room under his base, even going so far as to put a quick flush piston door with a torch key in place in order to hide it better. He couldn’t help himself, not really. It was almost the perfect opportunity for creating one. It would of course have been a lot more perfect if one of his closest friends had not just been kidnapped.

 

Mumbo put the lectern down again, placing the book on it. This time, he was going to read it through.

 


 

 

After hours, the older brother grew worried. His younger brother had not yet returned home, and it was afternoon already. So he put on his walking shoes and went out, into the forest.

 

He followed the paths he knew his brother was apt to take, all the way to the fallen tree. There, he looked around. Would his brother have strayed from the path? Surely not, for he had been warned many times about the dangers of doing so. He called out his brothers name a few times, but no answer came.

 

The older brother was about to turn and walk, when he heard rustling in the underbrush. From it emerged a large spider, larger than he was.

 

Are you perhaps looking for your brother?” it asked helpfully.

 

Yes, have you seen him?” replied the boy, and the spider nodded.

 

I caught him in my web, thus he will be my next meal.”

 


 

 

False frowned as she was reading. She couldn’t quite believe this part of the story would reflect on reality. She certainly didn’t hope it would, because that would be bad news for Grian. Or, well… For him it would be less bad news than for any of the villagers, as those didn’t respawn. Still, being eaten alive by some gigantic spider sent chills along her spine.

 

For the first time since she laid eyes on the myth, she looked outside, to find the sun completely gone, and moonlight filtering through the windows. The soft blue glow was competing for dominance with the warm red aura of the torches, and winning in but a few places. It gave the entire library a more mystical appearance, something that was straight down her lane.

 

A sigh rolled over her lips. If only she could enjoy being here a bit more right now. Deep in her stomach, worry was still churning, and she felt almost guilty for taking a break. False knew she had to take some, really, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to keep going as long as needed, but this early in her investigation it just felt wrong. Her thumb idly stroked over the edge of the pages as her eyes got drawn back to the illustration. It didn’t take much effort to imagine a different face on that struggling boy.

 

Perhaps she should just keep reading, and see where the tale would lead.

 


 

 

If you tell anyone that you found this book, you will never see your friend again.

 

If you do as I say, and follow my instructions, I will release him.

 

If you question me or my instructions, there will be punishment.

 

If you fail to satisfy my requests, you will not see your friend again.

 

If you tell anyone about the nature or existence of my requests, you will not see your friend again.

 

These are my terms. No harm will befall your friend if you keep to them. Do not try to be smart about it, as I will be watching.

 

I will arrange for my instructions to get to you soon.

 

Mumbo scratched his chin as he read through the book, eyes growing wider the further he came. It was a ransom note. A bit of a strange one, really, but it seemed serious enough. And, once again, he would rather not risk it. That seemed like the worst idea at that moment.

 

He made up his mind to go along with it for now, and hoped that the instructions would not be ridiculously difficult to do on his own. The redstoner wanted to figure out a bit more about how the last two lines would be realised, but then again, maybe he shouldn’t question it, given the third term.

 

For a little longer, Mumbo looked at the page. It was signed with a neatly drawn spider in mossy green.

 

“This person must really like spiders,” he mumbled to himself, thinking back to all other spider symbolism he had seen so far. Then he started paging through the rest of the book, that was all seemingly empty. It was quite a waste of paper, really, although he had to admit, it looked quite cool, albeit a bit edgy as well. He still had no clear idea about who had written it, or why, but he was quite sure that he would find out eventually. As long as he could get Grian back, that was the important thing here.

 

Closing the book, Mumbo decided that he should let it rest for now. He would no doubt get these instructions soon enough, so he should rest when he could. And that moment seemed like as good a moment as any.

 

He went back out of the hidden room and went to his bedroom instead, the tree and the pond a calming and familiar sight. Falling onto his bed, he had to fight the feeling that he had just made a terrible mistake.

 


 

 

The older brother gasped. Such a dastardly fate could not befall to his sibling.

 

Please, release my brother, I beg you. He has done you no harm.”

 

And the spider spoke: “You wish for your brother, while I wish for food. Why would your wish go above mine?”

 

The boy thought, then answered. “It does not have to, for there is other food than my brother.”

 

The spider grinned.

 

Then bring me a different prey, and you will have your brother.”

 


 

 

The mandibles of the creature were larger than his hands, and all eight eyes were aimed at him. Had he been able to move further backwards, he would have gladly done so. Sadly, he could not.

 

“T-the key…?” he asked instead. The creature clicked a few times, disapproving of his question.

 

“The little fly did not listen. Yes, the key.” They reached out with their… hand…? Front paw…? Leg…? Hand. Probably hand. The creature reached out, towards his face, and Grian fought against the chain, straining to allow himself to go backwards for two centimeters more, to not have to touch that thing for a little bit longer.

 

Predictably, it was to no avail. The spider still took a hold of his chin, forcing him to look up at them. Grian gritted his teeth, not wanting to look at his capturer at all, but it seems like he didn’t have a choice in the matter. He wanted to do something, but he knew that he had no cards in his hand, and the whole situation was in favour of the house.

 

“Does the little fly have a name?” The creature bent further his way, their face only a foot away from his face. Instead of answering, he looked away. He didn’t care for their question, he saw no reason why he should give them that. It was one of the things he still had, that they couldn’t take away. It was his, and his alone.

 

“It would be in the little fly’s best interest to answer.” They did not raise their voice, but there was a promise of something awful in the dark undertones they were suddenly producing. Grian swallowed, really not wanting to find out what Arachne meant, but also really not wanting to give out his name.

 

“Look at me, little fly. And answer.” The voice went low, dangerous, and he couldn’t help but look at them. Straight into their eyes. He was trembling, either out of fear or out of anger or maybe out of both. He wasn’t too sure at that point, but it did not matter much.

 

A name. He had to figure out a name. He couldn’t use any of his friends’ names, nor his own. And he had to think fast.

 

Somehow, the first thing that came to mind was a chicken. A chicken he one of his friends had owned. It had a name, and it would do.

 

“Sally. You can call me Sally.”

Chapter Text

After he had given an answer, Arachne’s hand followed his jawline. Grian swallowed, the sensation nowhere near pleasant. His mind was racing, hoping they didn’t see through his lie. He would rather not find out what would happen if they did. No doubt they could very easily kill him if they wanted.

 

Actually, now that he thought of that, that could be a way out. Last time he had slept in a bed was back at his base, so his spawn should be there. So… He could try to provoke them, and see what happened.

 

“Sally… Acceptable. Does the little fly have friends?” The spider tilted their head questioningly, their hand still on his cheek.

 

At first, he didn’t do anything, not wanting to give an answer. Oh, come on, Grian, be brave. Provoke them. Insult them.

 

Arachne squinted with a few of her eyes, as if anticipating.

 

Grian breathed in, steadying himself.

 

“I do, and when they find you they’ll kill you with ease. Just you wait.” He tried to filter the fear from his voice, to make it sound as nonchalant as possible. The result was slightly questionable. In a fit of bravery – perhaps stupidity was the better word here - he then also spat in their face to make his point. Please, let that be enough. That has to be enough, right?

 

The spider didn’t even flinch as they used one of their free arms to wipe the spit away. They weren’t even staring daggers at him. Without changing their expression, they picked him up by the collar, lifting him forwards and from the ground.

 

“That was a mistake, l i t t l e f l y .”

 

He was kicking the air, hands grasping for the collar that was choking him. Even though rationally, dying could actually be an advantage or the way out here, his body was still fighting to stay alive. Grian knew it would hurt, it always did, so he wasn’t particularly looking forwards to it.

 

“Perhaps I should teach you some manners.”

 

The pressure on his neck lightened a little bit as he felt the ground reappear under his toes. Somewhere, he was relieved. Somewhere, he was disappointed.

 

“I won’t listen to you, a-” Halfway through, his sentence devolved into a scream as he felt a sudden burning pain in his left wing. Slowly, very slowly a wicked grin spread on Arachne’s face, as she presented him a handful of beautiful purple feathers. Some of them had a bright scarlet red on the ends of their pens.

 

Grian whimpered as he stared at them. This had not gone to plan.

 

“The little fly will listen, or the little fly will not fly again.”

 


 

 

As he woke up, he did not feel rested at all. Judging by the blankets and pillow on the floor, as well as the by the protesting of his back and neck, he had slept poorly, which he did not find strange in the slightest.

 

He groggily straightened his clothes and tie, then started heading out. Or he would, had he not noticed a shimmer in the early morning light. Mumbo squinted, trying to see it better, until he realised that there was a cobweb between the tree and the way out. One with a very particular shape.

 

“What kind of Charlotte’s Web weirdness is this?” he asked himself out loud as he looked at the web a little bit closer. No doubt that was letters. Letters forming words, words forming a short sentence.

 

READ THE BOOK.

 

“I… guess?” He was perhaps a tiny bit flabbergasted. This wasn’t something he had seen before. At all. Nevertheless, it was very clear to him what was meant by it. His instructions had arrived. Probably. So he should probably go look at those, but first he should go and remove the cobwebs. Best to do that now, lest he forgot.

 

A little bit of awkward swordsmanship later, Mumbo had dumped the remains of the web on a bit of stone before setting it on fire. Seconds later, it was gone in a puff of smoke.

 

If only he could do that with all of his problems, that would be a lot easier. Sadly, the majority of his problems would only get worse if he set them ablaze.

 

The redstoner swatted out the flames, then went for his hidden room. He checked if anyone was around before pulling out a redstone torch and placing it on the side of a very unsuspecting bit of stone. Milliseconds later, a door in the side of the wall opened and the torch got broken, disappearing when it hit the ground. He quickly went through, then retrieved his torch from a chest on the side of the room.

 

Only after that did he look around the room. It was different than before, given that he most definitely did not place those cobwebs in the corners. A chest had appeared next to the lectern as well. Mumbo squinted. Someone had managed to get in here. Through his hidden door. His honour as designer of hidden bunkers and doors felt a little bit violated.

 

Shaking the unease from his head, he went to the book. It was still there. The first page was still the same, with thinly veiled threats covering its surface. The page after that, though… Where it once was empty, it now had text.

 

In the chest to the left is a pouch of dust. Find a new spider spawner and pour the dust in there, then leave it as you found it.

 

He frowned. If that was all… He saw no harm in doing that. It seemed easy enough as well, which was a good thing, probably. And if he only had to do a bit of caving to get Grian back, that was nice as well.

 

And so, he picked up the pouch from the chest, and left the room once more. He had seen a few abandoned mineshafts earlier, so he would go there and check first.

 

Mumbo was just making sure he had enough rockets with him, when his communicator buzzed a couple of times.

 

<xisumavoid> Everyone, please gather in the shopping district by 9 am. I have an announcement to make.

<FalseSymmetry> Gotcha, I’ll be there!

<Stressmonster> On it!

<iskall85> Sure thing

 

He looked at it, then sighed. He’d have to postpone his mission, then, but he couldn’t quite not be there.

 

<MumboJumbo> Alright

 


 

 

From the log he was stood on, he could see the various Hermits arriving. Some, like Mumbo, came flying in, others came popping out of the portal, some, like TFC, came walking. One by one they gathered up, taking up a spot in a large circle. Every time he heard rockets being fired overhead, the admin caught himself looking up at the sky hoping an idle hope. And every time it would be someone else that arrived, not the person he was looking for.

 

As it approached 9, he started counting heads, satisfied to find all – minus one – had gathered already. Xisuma noticed quite a few that seemed tired as well, as though they had not slept enough or at all. He couldn’t blame them. Even those that weren’t looking like zombies - or more dead than usual, in Cleo’s case – weren’t as cheerful as they generally were. The large empty gap between Iskall and Mumbo spoke for itself, and his stomach churned as he looked at it. Better to not do that, then.

 

“Since everyone that could make it is here, I’ll start. To bring you all up to speed: Grian was kidnapped. We don’t know by whom, and we don’t know what for. As far as I know, there has not been any contact with the person responsible.” His voice was very matter-of-factly when laying out the facts, maybe a little flatter than necessary. Xisuma knew that he could not show what this did to him, as he was supposed to be the admin, the leader of this group. He wanted to, though. “If anyone has anything to add, please do tell, so we can find him back as soon as possible.”

 

He looked around, resting his eyes on each Hermit for a moment before continuing to the next. Only few of them seemed shocked at this point, having had some time to process the situation already. Mumbo seemed anxious, fiddling with his buttons again as he looked at the empty spot next to him. Stress seemed like she was ready to cry, while Joe was rubbing her shoulder. Cub was looking pensively.

 

It was silent for a moment, then False stepped forwards. She had a certain gleam in her eyes, and was decked out for a fight.

 

“I may have found something. It’s not much, but… I found this.” She retrieved a book from her inventory, and held it up. “There’s a myth in here that resembles the situation quite well. So far, that is. And I kinda hope I’m wrong about this, because me being right would mean we – and Grian – are in big trouble. Long story short, this story does not have a happy ending for anyone involved. I’m going to try and keep track of it, to see where it goes, and maybe to steer the situation away from the bad ending.”

 

It was silent for a moment. Then Iskall spoke up.

 

“Are you saying someone is basing a crime on folklore?” he asked, a little bit disbelieving. False nodded.

 

“Indeed. Or perhaps on a historical event. Myths often have a core of truth in them.”

 

Iskall seemed satisfied with the answer, and looked back to the admin. Some murmurs of acceptance sounded here and there, before False stepped back into the circle.

 

“All yours, X.”

 

He nodded, and stepped forwards again, motioning all of them to come a little bit closer. They did so without question. Something in Xisuma’s face told how serious he was.

 

“And now for the larger announcement,” he started, voice as soft as he could go without whispering. “I have a lead on a possible culprit. Before anything else, I have reason to believe they are able to eavesdrop on our chat. It is very important that they don’t get to know how close to finding them we are, so please, only tell others what you have learnt in person. Everyone got that?”

 

There were nods all-round, and Joe lifted his hand.

 

“I would suggest we put this maniac on the wrong track, by sometimes sharing wrong conclusions and made-up delusions?” Of course, Joe was the first to suggest weaponising words.

 

“Excellent idea. Just make sure it is not too obvious, keep it a bit low-key. All of you. Joe, can I hand you the reigns on this?” the admin asked. The poet smiled and nodded. This was straight up his alley.

 

“Good. With that out of the way, let’s go and figure out how we can find Grian back.”

Chapter Text

The meeting turned out to be quite long, with everyone pitching in ways they could help. Doc and Scar offered the use of the Area 77 surveillance equipment, Cub suggested the ConCorp drones could be of assistance as well, and the three of them decided to be the dedicated tech support team where necessary. Meanwhile, False managed to recruit Stress and Cleo for research and sleuthing. Predictably, Joe was already scribbling out a script for the ‘discoveries’ they would make, and TFC offered to expand his bunker with a protected central meeting room. The others mostly split themselves up into searching parties for each of the three dimensions, given that they had no idea where they needed to start looking. Zedaph, Impulse and Tango volunteered to brave the Nether, while Python, Ren and Iskall were already calling their mission an extreme End Busting trip. Mumbo, Keralis, Wels and Jevin were left as the designated Overworld team, and Xisuma would personally overview the entire venture.

 

Plans were made, ideas were exchanged, protocols and codewords were put into place. Before long, the whole mission even had the code name Operation Torn Web.

 

And so they split up once again, each going out to do their task.

 


 

 

Halfway through the afternoon, Mumbo was flying side by side with Keralis to get to the next section of their search. They both had a complicated scanner hanging from their belts, that should let them know whether anyone was near. Or, at least, that was what Doc had explained as he handed them out. Neither of them really got how they worked, but that was okay. The good thing was that they worked, as he had demonstrated by finding Scar’s location through quite some layers of stone. The Overworld team had shuffled around a bit uncomfortably, not entirely okay with the amount of spy gear Area 77 apparently had laying around, but in this case it was probably for the better that it existed. It should be enough to find Grian if there was no more than twenty meters of solid material between him and the sensor.

 

For now, they had decided to split up the area in sections and work outwards in spirals with the shopping district as centre. Mumbo and Keralis would check from above, while Wels and Jevin went digging around, checking from the caves. After a specific point, the fliers would touch down and go underground, working backwards until they met the cavers. It seemed like a valid plan, and Xisuma had given them the go ahead.

 

Their last sector before landing would be some mountains to the south-east, after having flown over kilometres of ocean and small islands. Their scanners had been silent for the most part, except when they had flown over buildings with Hermits in them while passing over the main island. Every time, they looked down hopefully before realising where they were. No one was expecting Grian to be this close under their noses, not really. Not when the kidnapper had done so much to erase their tracks. Still, they checked it, just to be sure.

 

Zig-zagging through the section, both over mountains and through the valleys, Mumbo thought about how much he would have wanted Grian there. That guy was a maniac in the air, and would have been more than willing to fly close to the ground, where obstacles were many and the turns were tight. He would have loved showing off here. For a few moments, the redstoner just looked at the ground without registering what was below, deep in thought with various what-if’s and wishes and ideas and fears. The pouch of dust felt heavy in his pocket.

 

“Mumbo? Are you listening?” He blinked a few times, then looked at Keralis.

 

“Uh, sorry. Got a little distracted there. You were saying?”

 

“We should land soon. I’m almost out of rockets, and we got the section covered, I think.”

 

“Right. Yes.” His eyes went to the ground again, this time looking for a spot where they could touch down.

 

It wasn’t long before he found a tear in the earth, where a ravine followed the valley between two mountains. If he wasn’t mistaken, he also saw some rickety structure made of wooden planks span across it. That had to be an abandoned mineshaft. It was almost too perfect. Mumbo pointed it out to Keralis.

 

“How about there? It would spare us the dig down.”

 

“That works.”

 

They both dove forwards, gliding down into the ravine. It wasn’t deep enough to be opening up to lava pools in the bottom, but there were some streams of the molten rock pouring down here and there. The heat radiated off them, warming up the otherwise shadowed, cold canyon. The redstoner was aiming to land on the planks, leading the other towards it as well. Sure, it was a tad precarious, but so was flying around in the active blasting zone of tnt-dropping flying machines, and that had gone mostly well too. There was only a long drop down and a little bit of lava and water to be worried about here. And perhaps monsters coming out of one of the adjacent tunnels too, but that was just one of the realities of this world they had gotten used to.

 

Pulling up at the last moment, he landed, arms outstretched for balance. Mumbo turned to his search partner, who only just managed to hit the planks with his toes. He shot out his hand, grabbing the wide-eyed man by the shirt and pulling him in.

 

“Careful there, you don’t want to fall.”

 

“Wow, thanks! That was close.” Keralis laughed that gremlin laugh of his, perhaps as a way to clear some of the adrenalin from his system. Then he took out his compass and his communicator, switching the latter to its coordinate view. “Now, we should be heading… That way!” He pointed to one of the two tunnels that lead away from the bridge. It was still a gaping black hole, which Mumbo found no issue at all. He had a spawner to find.

 

<Keralis1> overworld flight division is going underground now, coords to follow

<iJevin> Copy that, flight division!

 

This was the moment where they would have loved to have another set of arms, so they could hold a torch, a sword and their scanners all at the same time. Given that they did not, though, they’d have to be satisfied with the swords being on scabbards on their hips.

 

The duo stepped into the relative darkness of the mineshaft.

 


 

 

He had dreamt of the open skies, of a white expanse with empty chairs, of flying through an elytra course with cobwebs everywhere. He had dreamt about a long evening of building in Hermitville, of the hippie encampment, of Sahara and the parrots.

 

All his dreams had at some point devolved into nightmares. The skies had become dark and stormy, the infinity room had blackened as if by fire, he got caught in a net and couldn’t escape the course. He hadn’t built a dragon on his house, but a giant spider, the encampment lay in ruins, the parrots had all been captured in a cobweb, and once he opened his shulker box, wave after wave of spiders washed out.

 

Through it all, he hadn’t been able to wake up.

 

Now, though, he found himself opening his eyes, somewhere expecting to be in his bed back home. After a brief moment of disorientation, he realised it had been an idle hope. It was still that void room, still those slabs. The chain was still there, as well as too many purple feathers on the ground, but at least he didn’t see Arachne anywhere.

 

Instead, he saw a bucket of water and a small plate of something else sitting on the floor. For the first time, he realised he was hungry. It had been at least a day without food, if he had to believe his perception of time, and he could certainly use a drink as well.

 

Grian crawled over to the plate, looking around wearily. Was it a trap? Almost instinctively, he folded up his battered wings tighter. It didn’t seem like a trap. Not at first glance, at the very least.

 

The builder sat down, legs tucked underneath him as he tried figuring out what he was given. It wasn’t any food he recognised. It was a bit gooey, like stew, and some bones were still sticking out of it, so he was quite sure it was some kind of meat. Prepared in some unknown way. Carefully, he bent forwards to take a whiff of the stuff, and he immediately wished he hadn’t. His eyes watered, and he felt like he was going to throw up. Did they really expect him to eat that? It somehow smelled worse than rotten flesh, and even that was a challenge to hold down.

 

Instead, he focussed on the water for now. There was little that could go wrong with that, at the very least. Except if they poisoned it, of course, a helpful voice in his head chimed in. Grian squinted, but pulled the bucket closer anyway. It seemed like normal water, at the very least. He stuck a finger in, then licked the drops off it.

 

Yep, that tasted like water. A bit stale, but that was acceptable. He put the bucket to his mouth, and drank a few long sips from it. Not too much at once, as he didn’t know when he would get more, but enough to more or less sate his thirst for now. The builder put the bucket down again, then looked at the food once more.

 

No, I’m not that desperate yet.

 

He went back to sitting on the slabs, and stretched out his wings. There were more unfledged bits than he’d liked after yesterday’s encounter with his kidnapper, but he knew the feathers would grow back in time. Eventually.

 

And so he sat, cleaning up the last few bits of crusted blood with his fingers and a little bit of spit. It wasn’t like he could do much more with his time.

Chapter Text

Somewhere, water was dripping down. The sound echoed through the tunnels, warped through distance. Their footsteps sounded louder than they actually were, but something else was moving down there as well. They could hear it slogging around, flesh and bone dragging over coarse stone. Their flickering torches cast long shadows on the walls as they moved further underground.

 

Mumbo’s eyes were almost glued to his scanner. He hoped for a signal of something, anything. On the other side, he almost hoped that it wouldn’t go off. Not if that meant inevitably getting his hopes up, to have them then blown to smithereens when it turned out to just be a few zombies or lost villagers or something.

 

Keralis looked at Mumbo from the corner of his eyes every now and then, just to make sure the redstoner was still there. This was not the moment to lose track of each other, and given the not-so-even flooring, he would not at all be surprised if there were pitfalls here or there. While the scanner could tell them many things, it would not warn them for sudden drops or holes.

 

The duo inevitably found themselves at a crossroads in no time at all. The path to the left seemed like it hadn’t been used in ages, judging by the amount of cobwebs blocking it, while the paths to the front and right seemed a little bit more used.

 

That judgement was supported by the sudden arrow wooshing past them, only missing Keralis’ arm by a few centimeters, clattering on the floor behind them.

 

“Hey!”

 

It was enough to finally distract Mumbo, who dropped the scanner in favour of his sword. The other man did the same, aiming his sword at the skeleton that was half hiding behind one of the support beams of the tunnel.

 

“We can take him, right, Bumbo?” The redstoner was already moving, though, rushing forwards and using the support as cover. He knew that he would only have a short moment before another arrow would come his way, and he wanted to use that to its fullest potential. No time to talk tactics, just roll with the punches.

 

He managed to stab the skeleton once before it aimed an arrow at him. The support strut prevented the monster from getting a clean shot, though, and Mumbo motioned for Keralis to find cover. The other man took a few quick steps towards the other tunnel, then proceeded to peer around the corner to see how the redstoner was doing.

 

The answer to that was that he was standing in a little bit of an impasse, unable to hit the skeleton without risking being hit himself. The creature – bless their lack of intelligence – kept walking into the wooden pole instead of around it, but an arrow was notched on its bow, that most definitely looked ready to release. Mumbo had his back pressed against the wall, steadying his breathing to concentrate on his next move. If he crouched, he could perhaps get the monster in the legs. It would also leave his back very defenceless as he did so, so it was probably not a good idea. Unless…

 

He laid the torch on the ground and picked up a few pebbles. Mumbo waited a second, then tossed them past the strut, ricocheting over the floor.

 

The skeleton turned to look.

 

Thanking someone above for simple instincts, he sprung out of his defensive position and swung his sword. For a moment noting seemed to happen, and then the skull fell off the spine, and all the bones clattered to the ground, lifeless once more.

 

At the same time, Keralis heard a tell-tale hiss behind him.

 

He only had the time to step a few steps forwards, before something behind him exploded, taking down the walls and part of the floor with it. The wide-eyed man tumbled down amidst a wave of rubble, landing about five meters lower, in a tunnel that looked much like the tunnel above them had, rusty rails in the middle and all.

 

“Ai!” he brought out, rubbing his back. It had caught the brunt of the blast, and his shirt was slightly singed.

 

“Keralis? You okay?” Mumbo’s worried head came peeking over the edge of the hole.

 

“A bit burnt, but I’ll be fine,” he said, giving a weak thumbs up. The blast seemed to only have been a little bit away from killing him outright, and the fall down hadn’t helped.

 

“Do you have food with you?” In response, the other man started digging through his inventory, triumphantly taking out a jacket potato.

 

“Yep!”

 

“All right, stay there, I’m going to find a safe way up for you, or make one if I have to.” Keralis nodded.

 

“Spank you very much, Bumbo~!” he called out, before the redstoner stood up once more, looking around.

 

Okay, now what? Where would he find a way down? He looked at the different tunnels, until his eyes fell on the one with the cobwebs. He would almost swear there had to be a spawner behind there, somewhere. Mumbo doubted this amount of cobwebs would have been made by a regular amount of spiders, even if they were given a few years. And he still had that pouch.

 

His eyes moved from the tunnel to the hole in the ground and back. Surely, Keralis wouldn’t notice if he spend a minute on performing his task. Besides, if he did it, he would be a step closer to getting Grian back, wouldn’t he?

 

His mind was easily made up, and he started carefully disconnecting the dusty cobwebs to form a path for himself. Cave spiders were an absolute drama to deal with, so on one hand he just wanted to get this over with quickly. On the other hand, he wanted to do this right.

 

So far, though, nothing bad had happened. He looked around every few seconds, to make sure no creeper would suddenly creep up from behind, but the one that got Keralis by surprise seemed to be the only one around. The cave spiders seemed to be unaware of his presence either, so either these were indeed all old webs, their inhabitants long gone, or the arachnids simply didn’t care that he was there.

 

Either was fine for him. As long as it meant that he wouldn’t get attacked, the exact situation didn’t matter. Mumbo moved his sword through the cobwebs some more, and only a few meters further he could see the signature glow of a spawner.

 

“Bingo,” he whispered, upping his tempo a little bit. So close. He could not fail now. The webs here were a lot less dusty, indicating that they had to be newer than the ones he just came through. The moment he touched some, he saw some creatures stir in the distance, and Mumbo knew he was in for a bad time. The critters generally ganged up on people, bit a few times, then let their venom do their work. Horrible stuff.

 

Unless, of course, you were smart and were carrying a bucket or bottle of milk around, of course, then the whole ordeal became a walk in the park.

 

Mumbo, in this instance, was not a smart man. He had no milk with him, so he’d just have to rely on the old “hit them before they hit you” tactic. It didn’t help that the spiders were able to move through the webs a lot quicker than he could, but as long as they didn’t come in groups, it should be all right.

 

The glow of the spawner became brighter for a moment, and as if by magic a small group of venomous green spiders appeared.

 

“Of course! Of course it does. Can’t be easy for once.” He sighed, but kept going anyway. It felt almost as though the pouch of dust was burning to get out of his pocket. Slowly, ever so slowly he made ground, destroying cobwebs and spiders alike as he went through. He got bit once, twice, but the arachnids were skewered on his sword before they could do more damage.

 

And then he was at the spawner. Mumbo very quickly put his torch down, to disable the mob cage, and then dug up the pouch. Inside was a glittering black powder. What it was, he didn’t know, he didn’t want to know, he just wanted to get this over with.

 

So, without much ceremony, he dumped the contents of the pouch over the spawner. Its glow dimmed for a moment, then became stronger again, except it glowed green now instead of a fiery orange.

 

“Riiiight. Okay. Yep. Keralis. Route down. Let’s do that, then.”

 

Mumbo took his torch again, and turned his back on the spawner. Task done.

 

He didn’t notice the way the arachnids were looking at him as he walked off.

 


 

 

An hour later, the older brother returned carrying the old frog. He presented it to the spider, then gently put it in the web. The spider quickly spun some silk around it, then looked at the boy.

 

It is a good start, but surely, you don’t think such a small frog will feed me as much as this boy will. Get me another prey, bigger this time.”

 

The older brother looked at his younger brother, and saw the reason in the spiders words. How did a small frog compare to a human? He left once more.

Chapter Text

It had to be the un-crime-scene-iest crime scene in the history of crime scenes. No blood, no footsteps, nothing. Well, except the footsteps they had left there a day earlier, that was. The trio was looking around, notebooks and quills in hand. They weren’t sure how much they could still find, but it was worth the try.

 

“So, that hoop with the cobwebs, which one was that again?” Cleo asked. In response, False pointed at the right one without looking up from her notes.

 

“That one.”

 

“Thanks!” The captain walked over to it, looking at it for a moment. “Did anyone actually go up there yet?”

 

“Hmm? No, not that I recall. We saw no reason to do so, yesterday.”

 

That was all the answer Cleo needed. She shoved the notebook in her back pocket, and held the quill between her teeth. Then she climbed up the hoop with more elegance and ease than the other two could imagine. Then again, climbing up here was not much different from climbing one of the masts of her ship. It was less high, the pole was at an angle, and it wasn’t moving to the rocking of the waves, that was about it. If anything, it was easier for her.

 

Meanwhile, Stress was sitting to the side, making a sketch of the scene, and a small map as well, so they could annotate where they found things if they did. It was a rough sketch, and she was planning on working it out better at a later moment, but it would most certainly do for now.

 

False was walking around, poking in the bushes here and there, trying to find something they had missed the day before. She was sure there had to be something, though she wasn’t sure what. More cobwebs, perhaps. She was mostly searching for footprints, but subconsciously she was mostly focussed on finding traces of a giant spider.

 

What would those look like? Just dots on the ground in two more or less parallel lines? False wasn’t sure, but something that regular would have been hard to miss the day before.

 

“Guys, I got something!” Cleo suddenly called out. She was looking at a couple of dark droplets on the material, and a few blonde hairs seemed stuck in them.

 

“What is it?” Stress said, jumping to her feet. False too was pulled from her inspection of the beach, and came walking fast, as though she was straining not to run.

 

“Blood, I think. And hairs.” She bent forwards a little bit and sniffed. “Yep, that is definitely blood. I’m not going to touch it, in case someone wants to see it undisturbed.”

 

“We’re at the right place, then. Unless he just bonked his head against that hoop while flying, but I somehow doubt that,” supplied False. The ice queen nodded and looked up at the captain.

 

“Can you draw it? There could be a pattern in there.”

 

“I can damn well try. It would probably be better if you could get up here to check it out, though, as our semi-official crime scene photo- uh… drawer. As our crime scene drawer. Consistency in style, you know?” Stress chuckled at that.

 

“Suuuuure…. And you are completely sure it has nothing to do with you just wanting to see me fail to climb up there?” Her smile was wide. “Well, lucky for me, I brought ladders.” During the exchange, False just stood there, rolling her eyes and sighing.

 

“Anything else up there, aside from blood, hair and bad humour?” she asked. Yes, she got that a little bit of fun should be allowed, but this was still an active investigation.

 

“Nothing, really. Well, a bunch of cobwebs, though… These strands are thicker than they usually are. As in, quite a bit.” She trailed off, looking at the strands with a frown. “How big even is the thing that created that…? Do I even want to know…?” she murmured.

 

“What did you say last? Didn’t get ya there,” False said.

 

“Oh, uh, looking at the cobweb that’s here, your giant spider theory may actually be right.”

 

“You mean… like… a spider larger than the usual ones?” There was a hint of a quiver in Stress’ voice, though she was hiding it well.

 

“More than likely, yes. Probably larger than person-sized, even, if I have to believe that myth.” False smiled gently at the ice queen, then patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, though. If you don’t want to face it, you won’t have to. Pinky promise”

 

Stress seemed to visibly destress at that.

 

“I’m going to keep you to that, you know that, right?”

 

“Wouldn’t have said it otherwise.”

 

For a moment, they were silent.

 

“Thanks, False,” the ice queen then muttered.

 

The sound of something breaking through the water surface suddenly echoed through the valley, and as they looked, they could not spot Cleo in the hoop, only a large ripple spreading out from its base.

 

“Cleo?!” Stress called out.

 

No response came, and False was already internally cursing, just in case another one of her friends had just gone missing.

 

Five seconds passed. Stress ran to the edge of the water, frantically looking around.

 

Ten. False joined in, calling Cleo’s name.

 

Fifteen. The water turned an inky black, as though smoke was spreading through it.

 

Twenty. The black was joined by scarlet.

 

Twenty-five. Bubbles emerged from the deep, so many bubbles.

 

Thirty. The two women on the shore were throwing their notebooks on the sand, ready to get in.

 

Thirty-five. An undead hand breached the surface, holding something they recognised.

 

Thirty-six. Cleo surfaced, gasping for air.

 

Fourty. False and Stress dragged her onto the shore.

 

Despite the fact that she was coughing up water, Cleo still had a triumphing grin on her lips. In her hand, she held a drenched sandal, its leather swollen up with water. It most definitely looked like the standard hippie-issued footwear Grian had been wearing.

 

“That squid did not want to let go of it’s prize,” she eventually managed to bring out. For a second, no one responded. Then Stress giggled, and not long there after they all found themselves laughing about the situation. Fighting a squid for evidence in a kidnapping case. That was a new one for the books.

 

“Hey Cleo?” False asked as the laughter had subsided a bit.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Just… Please, next time, say something before diving in to wrestle the local wildlife, so we aren’t halfway through mounting a second search party when you surface,” she calmly stated, though with a soft smile on her face. “I know wrangling all kinds of aquatic monsters is, like, your thing, but… We worry, okay?”

 

“I’ll try,” the captain sighed. “On the bright side, maybe this means he tried to leave a trail for us. Where to, that’s the next question.”

 


 

 

Sitting in the bunker, Joe was keeping track of both the clock and his script. This was a delicate situation, in which he had to dance on the fine line between truth and lie. Too much truth, and their enemy would know how far they were. Too much lie, and they might suspect foul play. But with enough of both, he could surprise them. He could make them believe the Hermits were incapable, going down a goose chase following the wrong goose. But his facts needed to be right, and there were too many blanks in the script still.

 

He just really needed the other parts of Operation Torn Web to go well, or else he would not have the input he needed for his part of it. He would make do, though. Joe always did.

 

The clock ticked further. His message was prepared, he just needed to wait a few seconds longer. Not very long now. His thumb was hovering over the send button, eyes glued to the clock. Its hands reached the right spot, and his thumb came down.

 

<joehillssays> I found tracks headed east from the crime scene! Anyone available, meet me there!

 


 

 

He was trying to get as much space between him and the ‘food’ as he could manage. It was a fun little game, except it wasn’t fun at all. It was the closest to something to do that he had had since getting here, and that was weighing down on him. He half wished they would give him something to mess around with, if even some things he could make something with. Paper, some glue and maybe a quill or pencil, that was all he wanted. Sure, he could try creating something out of the feathers he had in the end put on a small pile, but that seemed a little bit too macabre for his tastes.

 

And so he was playing the 'food game'. Yay.

 

He was just about to play another round of finding the perfect spot to be as far away from the plate as possible, when a voice sounded through the room.

 

“The little fly said his friends would find me. The little fly’s friends went the wrong way.”

 

Grian didn’t respond to that. He did not want to believe what Arachne said. He had to keep hope that they would come.

 

“Does Sally still believe in his friends? Because it seems like they will never find him.” The creature made a noise that Grian had come to call ‘laughing’, quotation marks included. It was a sound that made him subconsciously pull up his shoulders, making himself as small as possible, wings folded tightly against his body.

 

“I do.” His voice was small, but he had learnt not to disobey. That would only cause pain later.

 

"That's the wrong answer, little fly."

Chapter Text

Xisuma stood in front of the wall, staring at it intently. One side of it was completely covered in a map of the main island and one of the area around Hermitville, courtesy of Doc. He had made sure to completely grey out Area 77, but had assured the admin that if anything was there that shouldn’t be there, they would know. The other side of the wall had a big board on it, with scraps of paper pinned to it. More pins, with coloured threads tied to them, connected the various bits of information they had so far managed to get together.

 

It wasn’t much at all. Details from the crime scene, small excerpts from the book False had found, a few lines copied from the logs, dated and all, the report of Team ZIT’s findings in the Nether. Smack in the middle was a page with a large question mark on it, and the name “Arachne” scrawled across the bottom bit. The amount of information connected to that was little and was mostly coded with the grey thread of speculation. They hadn’t even found any kind of ransom note yet either, which was worrying to say the least.

 

Then again, none of them had seen any death messages appear on their communicators, which probably was a good thing.

 

“Where are you, Grian?” he said out loud, as if the bits of paper could give him the answers he wanted.

 

“Asking paper and plywood ain’t gonna help ya further, X,” sounded a gruff voice behind him. He didn’t even have to turn to know who it was.

 

“I know, I know, and yet… I’ve found talking to things helps me understand problems. Like I’m explaining it to myself by explaining it to others.”

 

“That sounds about fair,” TFC chuckled. “Unrelated side note, but what can I getcha, food-wise? It’s gettin’ late, and I know ya haven’t eaten all day.”

 

The admin shook his head to that.

 

“Thank you, but I’m not hungry. I’ll get something when-”

 

“That wasn’t the question, X. Pick somethin’, else I’m picking you up and dragging ya to the kitch’n to stuff some food in ya.” There was a hint of concern in the old man’s voice, and Xisuma knew better than to go against him. He sighed.

 

“Do you have some bread with jam? The kinds don’t matter.” If anything, he sounded a bit defeated, and perhaps a little bit more dramatic than necessary.

 

“Gotcha, kiddo. One bread with jam, comin’ right up!” TFC laughed, and Xisuma could hear his footsteps disappear once more. The older man had had a point. Now that he wasn’t focussing on the case, he noticed he was hungry.

 

And there was nothing wrong with taking a small break to eat something. He could possibly even stretch his legs for a bit, until any of the other teams would come back. The Endbusting Extreme Team could take any amount of time between a minute and a day, depending on whether they decided to come back or to camp out and press on from there. Regardless, time passed differently in the End. The ladies of the research party had already brought in their findings – The sandal stood on a little table next to the wall – and the tech team was in one of the other rooms of the bunker, setting up a way to watch the video feeds of the various drones, satellites and planes they had flying about. The only ones that he really missed right now where the Overworld fliers and miners.

 

His gaze fell on the clock on the other wall. They should have checked in half an hour ago already.

 


 

 

“Watch out!” Mumbo shouted as he started running. Behind him, the gravel he had been standing on was sinking down fast, brought into motion by carelessly sticking a torch in it. How could he have known that only the ill-informed physics of this world were keeping it up, and that he had just made said physics realise the impossibility of the situation by – quite literally – shining a light on it. How could he have known that said physics would then immediately try to set the situation right. And how could he have known that there was lava right underneath the unsuspecting floor.

 

The other three stopped in their tracks and looked over their shoulders, but as they saw Mumbo barrelling straight towards them, the sinking gravel chasing his heels, they ran as well. There was too much of the stuff here to be able to figure out which parts were safe, and they would rather not find out the hard way.

 

Wels spearheaded the run, surprisingly nimble and quick on his feet considering the amount of armour he was wearing.

 

“This way!” Pointing with his sword, he lead them through the cave, eyes searching for solid stone ground. Anything that wasn’t gravel would do. The other three couldn’t do much else than following him, as they did not feel particularly enthusiastic about an impromptu game of the floor is lava. Besides, where else would they go?

 

Running at the end of the line, Mumbo did not feel safe at all. The magma was hot on his track, and he knew that one misstep could mean him falling in and dying horribly. The question was what would run out first: the gravel or his stamina. He was already panting, giving everything he could. Maybe he should pick up running when he got out of here.

 

Meanwhile, Keralis was enjoying himself a little bit too much. This reminded him a little bit of one of his favourite games in Hermitland, the one Xisuma had made. He was just skidding around corners with a big grin on his face, though that was maybe helped by the certainty of not being last in line. There were still meters between him and the falling gravel.

 

One corner, another, and finally Wels found a spot where the cave went up to something white that wasn’t gravel. He made a beeline for it, motioning for the other three to follow him. The knight clambered up quickly, then laid down on his stomach to help pull the others up. Keralis first, then Jevin. The slime man also stuck out a hand towards Mumbo, who decided that making a jump for it was probably better than trying to slow down and climbing up.

 

Then the gravel under his feet slipped away, splashing into the lava with a sizzle. He was in the air, still moving forwards, but not with enough momentum, not with enough power.

 

The realisation that he would die horribly and lose all his items came before the realisation that two sets of hands were clinging to his arms, holding him up, feet dangling inches away from the lava.

 

“On three, Jev, let’s pull him up.”

 

“Gotcha, Wels!”

 

“One, two, three!” The two men grunted as they started lifting up Mumbo’s weight, and before long the redstoner rolled onto the safe platform. He noticed the white stone, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Oh man. Saved by diorite. If only Iskall was here to see,” he lamented. Jevin snorted, and the knight just sat back panting.

 

“That was fun, you guys. We should do that again sometimes!” Keralis was smiling widely as though they didn’t all just almost got incinerated. The redstoner just looked at him tiredly.

 

“No. No, we should not.”

 

“Awww, Bumbo, why not?”

 

In response, he only pointed at the soles of his dress shoes, that seemed slightly molten.

 

“We can get you new shoes, if that is the problem.”

 

A sigh rolled over Mumbo’s lips as he shook his head, not bothering to go into a discussion about this.

 


 

 

Logically, he knew that the venom would at some point stop coursing through his body.

 

Right now, though, it didn’t feel like it would ever stop. He was jittery, his nerves firing seemingly randomly all over the place. The builder wasn’t sure if he felt hot or cold, in pain or not, moving or still. His sight was woozy, with black spots dancing all over his field of vision, and the silence around was so loud that his heartbeat sounded like a wardrum hammering through it.

 

One consistency was how on fire his left arm felt. The one he had tried to instinctively shield his face with, as Arachne had come closer, sadism and indifference for his situation fighting for dominance in their eyes. The one where the sleeve hung in tatters from the elbow down. The one with a bite mark the size of his hand, that had since turned a sickly green.

 

Milk. He wanted milk, needed milk. Maybe if he politely asked them, they would give it.

 

No, no they wouldn’t, why would they first poison me and then help me? That doesn’t make sense!

 

But what if it did? He wouldn’t know if he didn’t ask.

 

So they can gloat some more? Never.

 

Grian rolled over on the slabs, his leg spasming and twitching, his hands shaking. He felt horrible, wanted to throw up, wanted to be helped and cared for and loved . And all this for having faith in his friends.

 

Maybe Arachne had had a point, when they said that-

 

STOP IT! NO! THEY DON’T THEY DON’T THEY DON’T!

 

His friends weren’t here though.

 

They will be! The Hermits will come to save me!

 

What if they really went the wrong way, though-

 

shut up shut up shut up shut up

 

-then they would never find him and-

 

no no no not listening not listening happy thoughts, Grian, happy thoughts

 

-he would stay here forever in this room-

 

flying, chickens, pranks, dancing with the parrots, banter, building ridiculous things

 

-at Arachne’s mercy.

 

He let out a wince, pressing his hands to his ears and closing his eyes shut. No matter how bad it got, he could not let them win. He’d have to get through this, push himself until he was saved.

 

Will I be, though…?

Chapter Text

Night came, went, then came again. And again. And again. They barely had to make use of Joe’s script to make it look like they were going the wrong way, as they were barely making progress at all. Stress had taken some of the threads from the crime scene to her alchemy lab to try and figure out if it was really just spider silk on steroids, and came to the very shocking yet unsatisfying conclusion that it was. The Endbusting Extreme Team was still not back, and ZIT had decided to go for a longer search mission as well. The Overworld Fliers had been returning exhausted every day, but with no news either.

 

They only had two significant milestones in three days: Cub, Doc and Scar had managed to bring all the drones online and linked them up to their video room, where at least one of them was watching at any given moment. Xisuma was there often as well, knowing that there was no reason to stare himself blind on the same bits of paper.

 

The second milestone was when Cleo and False found the second sandal. They had extended their search of the area around the crime scene, and had been methodically searching the ground in all directions. It had been coincidence, really, that they had chosen to go to the west first. Or, well, coincidence… They reasoned that that was the direction to go if you wanted to keep away from the other Hermits, after having just kidnapped one. It was Cleo that had come across it, precariously balanced on a jutting rock in the cliffside. How it came there was a very big question, but their running theory was that the spider had been crawling across the surface as the sandal fell off. Crawling to where, though. That was the bigger, more important question.

 

Only Mumbo had consistently been making progress. He had been getting tasks, one after the other. Some where easier than the others, and they were generally quite harmless. At the very least, he wasn’t too sure how tossing some specific pebbles into the wells of some villages would mean harm, so that was good. And hey, if he could get Grian back this way… If he was honest, it sounded more promising than the search.

 


 

 

The brother had come back once more, this time with a dead crow. He offered it to the spider, that put it in its web.

 

Thank you, but while this prey is bigger than the frog, it still won’t sustain me as well as this boy would. Get something better, and you will have your brother.”

 

The older brother looked at the crow, then at his brother, and saw what the spider meant. And so he went away once more, looking for another prey.

 

This pattern repeated more and more. The boy brought bigger and bigger preys, and yet, the spider was not satisfied. Every time, he was told it was not enough. And every time, he saw the reason in the spiders words.

 


 

 

Late in the evening, after his search of the day was over, he returned to his base to find a single spiders web in the doorway to his bedroom. He didn’t even need to check it to know it would point him to the book once more There was not really another option. With a sigh, he disposed of the web, tossing it on a torch to incinerate it this time.

 

Mumbo tiredly dragged himself to his secret room. As time passed, and he finished more tasks, the room became more and more a spiders den. The walls were simply covered in cobwebs, and there was a permanent smell of something permeating the air. The book was still there, though, just laying there, waiting for him to open it up. And as expected, there was one more page filled in, signed with that same green spider.

 

This time, though, Mumbo had some trouble believing what they were asking of him.

 

“Just… What? Why would I say that?” He was just glaring at the paper, not sure what to make of it.

 

You may tell your friends that I am in the mountains to the south, past desert and ocean. Though, do remember my rules. You cannot tell them of this book.

 

Sure, most of the other requests and tasks had barely made any sense, but this… It was weird. Why would they now tell him where they were?

 

“I suppose it does make it easier… Tomorrow morning. I’ll go by X tomorrow morning. Surely I can think of some way to justify knowing this.”

 

Mumbo rubbed his forehead. This was going to be difficult, and he better play his role well. He was a bad liar, everyone knew that. It was just that if they figured out he was lying, or telling half-truths, the chance was very very present that Grian would never come back. No pressure. No pressure at all.

 

He left the room once more, the presence of the door blending seamlessly into the wall. This was going to be an interesting night. There was a buzz of something in the air, and he was not yet sure if he liked it.

 


 

 

“Wait, what’s that? Play that again.” Doc pointed at one of the monitors, with more energy than the video room had felt in three days. Contrary to popular belief, just sitting and watching a video feed got old really really quickly. Scar, the other person in the room, hit a few keys on the keyboard, and the footage rewound.

 

Massive stone sliding open. A suited man walking out of the room behind it. Stone closing again.

 

“Can you zoom in on that? Just the bit where the door is open.” The cyborg went and stood right in front of the monitor, carefully observing what he saw. He couldn’t quite see everything in the room, but he did notice the pattern on the walls.

 

“I’m afraid this is the best I can get you. Any more zooming and it’ll just be a blocky mess,” Scar remarked, before hitting some more keys so the monitor would display the same loop over and over.

 

“That’s fine. Look at this. What does that make you think of?”

 

The landscaper came closer, looking at the footage too.

 

“If it was autumn I would’ve said someone put up their Halloween decorations earlier.”

 

“My thoughts exactly. Mumbo, Mumbo, Mumbo… Why do you have a hidden cobweb room?”

 

The duo looked over the footage a few times more, then paused it.

 

“We’re going to need to get X.”

 


 

 

Every day, the ‘food’ looked more inviting. His stomach had stopped rumbling a day ago. Instead, he just had this hollow feeling that wouldn’t leave, keeping him awake at night. Grian frankly was a mess. The venom had done him a number, and the few more times that Arachne had stopped by to ‘chat’ or ‘ask questions’ had not helped at all. Add to that the lack of decent meals and barely any sleep, plus the fact that his arguments as to why his friends would certainly come were getting more and more sparse…

 

He was not in a good place in any definition of the words. He felt so small, so insignificant in here, and his mind was trying its very best to talk him down even further. It had come to the point where he had seriously considered ways in which he could respawn. There was always the bucket of water, that he knew. He also knew that he wanted to live, if only to spite Arachne.

 

Tired eyes found their way to the plate of ‘food’ once more. It surely couldn’t taste as bad as it smelled. It simply could not. Grian knew most taste came from smell, so if he just pinched his nose shut and got it over with… Well. That should in theory work. Trying out one bite would probably be best, so he at least would get something in his system, even if it tasted horribly.

 

He crawled closer, careful to not accidentally take a sniff already. This was not at all going to be pleasant. He didn’t even have any kind of utensils, just his hands, so… That would have to do.

 

The little fly swallowed. He didn’t want to, but his body screamed for food, for energy.

 

Then he stuck his fingers in, separating enough to fill his mouth once. The texture was gooey, almost like pudding or yogurt. Whatever it was, it was not the texture meat should have. With his other hand, he pinched his nose shut.

 

And then, before he could overthink it even more, he went and just ate it.

 

It was… surprisingly edible-ish. Yes, it tasted horribly, but not as bad as it smelled. He could almost even swallow it down without gagging in the process. Tears were prickling in his eyes as he did so.

 

Well, it didn’t outright kill him, at the very least. It also made him want to eat more of the stuff, before his emotional brain could stop him from doing so. His emotional brain really didn’t want to eat more, but he was going to just have to force himself if he wanted to get any significant amount of energy in his system.

 

Once more, he eyed the plate. ‘Food’ was food, after all. His eyes watered once more, logic clashing with emotion in his head.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he found himself back on the slabs, the empty plate in his hands. He had even managed not to throw up, and keep it all in. Grian wasn’t sure about how he felt about that, but boy, was he frustrated and angry about it all.

 

Once more, he looked at the plate, then stood up. And with a roar of emotions, he threw the damned thing as far as it would go.

 

Meters further, it clattered against the wall, then fell down, leaving a few spots of brown on the infinite black.

Chapter Text

It took half a minute of knocking on his door before he woke up, then another ten seconds for him to realise what he was hearing.

 

“Be there in a minute!” the admin called out, voice groggy and warped by his half-mask. He rubbed his eyes with his palms, not too happy to be awake. Then again, it had to be serious if people came to wake him up at – he checked the clock on his communicator, the light almost blindingly bright – a quarter past two at night.

 

“Urgh… okay then… I’ll get out… it’s fine, it’s fine,” he murmured to himself as he sat up, before putting on his bunny slippers and bathrobe. He didn’t exactly care about what whomever was behind the door would think, he was tired as hell and he would show that. If the bags under his eyes didn’t betray it, his general appearance would.

 

And so he dragged himself to the door, bunny slippers and green bathrobe and loosely braided hair and all. Without much ceremony he opened it up, squinting at the sudden bright torchlight.

 

“Scar...? What’s up?” he groaned, suppressing a yawn. He felt like he could fall asleep standing right there and then, but Xisuma forced himself to stay awake, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

 

“Well, we got something you ought to see. The drones picked up an... interesting development, to say the least.” His voice had a hint of worry in it as he spoke, and the admin felt part of his tiredness be replaced by adrenalin. Virtually any development would mean progress.

 

“Lead the way.”

 

The duo walked through the tunnels of the bunker, and Xisuma’s heart raced faster the closer he got. He didn’t want to bring up his hopes too much, but maybe, just maybe this could be the thing that lead them to the missing Hermit. Gods knew they could all use good news for once.

 

The video room was only lit by the glow of the monitors, and the smell of too strong coffee was everywhere. Doc was sitting behind the control panel, eyes sweeping over the various video feeds. They all showed different places, all of which Xisuma recognised, either from having been there or from having seen them earlier.

 

“Evening, Doc.” Xisuma stepped inside, followed closely by Scar, who closed the door behind them. The cyborg nodded in greeting, then pointed to the monitor in the top right corner.

 

“Thanks for being here this quickly. That’s the one you’ll want to take a look at.”

 

The admin turned to the monitors, quietly observing what was going on on the monitor. It looked like… Mumbo’s base? Okay then. That seems normal enough, I- What’s that door? Hmm… Just the fact that the redstoner had a secret door somewhere was not a cause for concern, really. He would bet most if not all Hermits had one somewhere.

 

“Now, keep watching, I’m going to zoom in for you,” Doc simply stated, and Xisuma frowned. Zoom in? The fragment restarted just a little bit before the door would open, and it was focussed on there as well now. A second later there was movement on screen once more, as the door opened and Mumbo came out. Still, nothing special, but…

 

His eyes widened when he noticed.

 

“Wait, are those cobwebs?!”

 

“That’s exactly what we woke you up for,” Scar confirmed. “I think we may have a mole.”

 

Xisuma rubbed his forehead, a grunt of displeasure rolling over his lips. This could help them, or this could screw them over very hard.

 

“The good news is that it’s Mumbo,” shrugged Doc. “We all know how that went last time.” The admin hummed in agreement, eyes finding the monitor again.

 

“Where is he now?” Behind him, fingers danced over a keyboard, and the monitor flickered between images a few times.

 

“Last we got, he went… There. To his bedroom, so it may be safe to assume he’s asleep. I can check, but it’ll take a few minutes for the drone to reach the right position again.” The cyborg started typing further, and very briefly, Xisuma was glad that he had a base that was more underground. No spying drones there.

 

“Right. Before we do anything else, we need to figure out what is in that room, and then decide what we’re gonna do about it.” The admin sighed. So far for a good night’s rest. “If Mumbo’s asleep, this is the best moment to check. Scar, can you go get False? I want her there.”

 

The landscaper nodded, then hurried out of the room.

 

“I’m gonna have to get my helmet, aren’t I?” he asked out loud as he stared after him.

 

“Some armour and boots don’t seem like a bad idea either,” Doc responded. “Go get changed, I’ll give you a sign when all’s clear.”

 

“Yeah, I should.” It took him a second to get moving. “Thanks, Doc.”

 

This was going to be a long night.

 


 

 

With a cloak wrapped around her, she stood waiting on the platform of the Elytra course. Under it, she wore a not-so-modest amount of diamond armour, and her trusty sword hung from her side. She doubted an infiltration mission would turn out in a fight, but False liked being prepared for things like that. She even had a shield tucked away in her inventory. She would swap out the cloak and chestplate out for an elytra when then would leave, but for now, the little bit of extra warmth was nice.

 

As she heard rockets being fired in the quiet of the night, she looked up, sharp eyes searching for the source of the sound. It didn’t take long at all for her to find the glint of diamond armour coming over the Sahara building. That had to be X, no one else would be flying here this time of night. Her theory was confirmed when he landed next to her.

 

“Did Scar tell you what we’re possibly dealing with already?” he asked after greeting her.

 

“Yeah, he brought me up to speed on things. I just hope this is all some kind of misunderstanding, cause that would be great.” While talking, she accessed her inventory and re-equipped her elytra, putting her cloak and chestplate away. False stretched as the weight disappeared from her shoulders, enjoying the freedom the elytra gave.

 

“Me too, False. Me too. But let’s not bring our hopes up too much, we don’t know what they have been doing in the shadows.” He placed a lot of emphasis on the word, and she knew who he meant by it. She nodded pensively, before taking a rocket in her hands.

 

“Shall we, then? We don’t know how long he plans on sleeping, so we shouldn’t waste time.” She adjusted her goggles so that they would keep the wind out of her eyes as she flew.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

Where Xisuma opted to jump in the air and time his rocket well, False dove off the platform head first, unfurling her elytra just before hitting the ground. She pulled up hard, and started following after the admin, opting to use her rockets sparingly. Less rockets meant less noise, and less noise meant less chance of someone waking up because of it.

 

The duo flew side by side, mostly checking around for anything suspicious. Given that most of their journey went either above sea or around a currently uninhabited base, though, there wasn’t much to be noticed, except for the one drowned that tried being aggressive by tossing his trident out of the water. He also missed by a mile, given that they were flying high and the mob could not throw that far at all.

 

And then the giant glass and concrete structure that was Mumbo’s base came into sight. It was quiet, all farms having been turned off for the night. The only movement came from the polar bears in the winter section of the storage system, and the occasional chicken that was wandering around. The latter certainly had to be the product of one prank or the other.

 

As they approached, they switched from using rockets to just gliding down slowly. Doc had shown Xisuma exactly where the door should be, and both of them knew the general layout of the base, so in theory this should be a quick in and out mission. The only thing they weren’t entirely sure about was how to open the door, but they would figure it out somehow. And worse case, there were always silk touch pickaxes.

 

“Coast seems clear, let’s go for it.” Xisuma spoke loud enough for her to barely hear him over the sound of the wind and no louder, but it was fine by her. She stuck a thumb up, and dove further forwards, making some speed before her landing manoeuvre. Seconds later, the admin followed her lead, and landed smoothly, switching between flying and walking effortlessly.

 

False looked around, hand on the hilt of her sword and ready for action. She was looking out for enemies as Xisuma went and searched for the door from the video.

 

It was more the redstone torch laying burnt out on the floor than the landscape itself which eventually pointed them in the right direction. The top bit seemed a little bit smushed together where something had seemingly hit it, and that was all the admin needed to figure it out.

 

“Over here,” he whispered, and False came sneaking over.

 

“Let’s see what happens if I just…” He took some redstone from his inventory and rubbed it on the torch, that immediately started to glow again. Then, after carefully looking at how the rocks jutted out, he put the torch on the floor on a specific spot, close to where it had laid on the ground.

 

For half a second, nothing happened. Then pistons fired, the torch got pushed over, and the wall split open, revealing a room full of cobwebs and a lectern.

 

“Well, that does not look shady at all,” she stated, peering into the now no longer hidden room. “I’m going in.”

 

Before Xisuma could stop her, and before the door closed, she went in, making a beeline for the book on the lectern. The spider theme of this whole situation continued here as well. For a second, she checked around the book for traps, and then opened it.

 

False read the first line once, then again, and only after that went on with the rest. An uneasy, sinking feeling slowly settled in her stomach as she read on, first the terms, then the requests. Simple, harmless at first. Every time just a little bit bigger, a little bit more. Her mind was racing as she made the connection with the myth, suddenly realising that in this case, Mumbo was the older brother in the story. And she knew where this path would lead him, if he didn’t realise it in time.

 

Not knowing how much time she had, she pulled out a notebook, and started copying the text in the book as fast and precise as she could. It was a good thing to have, although it would have to mostly remain a secret or there would be trouble.

 

When she finished, False took care to put everything back as she had found it. And now to get out of here. Luckily, the way out was less hidden than the way in, and the button was in plain sight. What was also in plain sight where the small spiders, some of which were definitely looking at her.

 

“Nope. Nope, nope, nope!” False hit the button, and started moving out the moment the pistons started moving.

 

 

As she walked through the door, she could not shake the feeling that by the simple act of having been here, reading those pages, she had just doomed Grian.

Chapter Text

She closed the door behind them, then threw her notebook on the table.

 

“Guys, we have a problem here. The situation is a whole lot more complex than we thought.”

 

False had changed back to chestplate and cloak, and was pacing up and down the room. Xisuma went and half sat on the edge of the table, while Doc and Scar were still on their chairs. The latter was focussed on the video feeds, but the cyborg blinked a few times, gesturing to slow down.

 

“Woah, False. Go from the beginning. What happened?” His voice was calm, but it didn’t stop her from glaring at him.

 

“I was getting to that. Basically, I went into that room, and found a book on a lectern. Black leather, spider motif, you get the gist. It seemed important, so I started reading it. You guys, Mumbo is getting extorted and manipulated by that asshole.” She gestured wildly as she spoke. “Like, he has to do these tasks, or else bad stuff happens to Grian. The ‘you’ll never see him again’ kind of bad.”

 

Doc picked up the book and started paging through it, while Xisuma frowned, crossing his arms in front of him.

 

“Why didn’t he let us know, then? We could have helped,” the admin asked

 

“Because of the terms of the thing. He can’t tell anyone about the book or the tasks, or else Grian is a goner.”

 

“Geez, that’s… Not good. We’ll have to make sure they won’t find out we know, then.” He rubbed his helmet where his forehead was, visibly unhappy about the situation.

 

“Thing is, I’m pretty sure that Mumbo continuing down this road isn’t going to get Grian back either. Not if I have to believe the myth, which has so far been on point, by the way.”

 

“How did that story end, anyway? You never told us,” Doc stated, and False turned towards him, a dark look on her face.

 

“The spider kept asking for more, until the older brother decided to sacrifice himself for the younger brother. And then they both got eaten anyway.”

 


 

 

The Void was dark, as always. It was a calming yet vaguely threatening constant, certain death just meters below them. The air was starting to feel familiar, though at times they still felt as though there was a tiny bit too little of it to properly fill their lungs. And the islands… They had lost track of how many they had come across and searched. The trio had quickly taken to marking the ones they had already been on with water, because it did not take long for them to figure out that they all looked nearly indistinguishable, were it not for their coordinates. And they sure as hell were not going to be keeping track of those forever. So, water it was. Three buckets, that was all they had taken along, but it was enough.

 

At first, their enderchests had been filled with shulker boxes full of rockets, food, and a few spare elytra. Over time, their resources had dwindled, the various End cities not providing the things they needed. Sure, rockets had been replaced by enchanted gear and shulker shells, but those would not make them fly any further. And while they could eat chorus fruit in a pinch, none of them particularly liked the idea of randomly teleporting every time they tried to get some food in them. It just would not do.

 

The Endbusting Extreme Team had once again landed on an island, their scanners out but silent, as they always were. Python was stretching and rubbing his shoulders, while Iskall had put down the enderchest and was checking now much further he could still go with the resources he had left. Ren, meanwhile, had started digging up some endstone and was building a small and low roof over their heads to protect themselves from angry endermen. The madman then proceeded to anger some endermen while muttering something that sounded like “blood for the mending god” and then killing the mobs that were coming for him.

 

“Man, I will never get used to how loud those endermen are when they die,” Python remarked. He pulled out some golden carrots and sat down, gently nibbling away at one. “How’s our stock doing, Iskall?”

 

He was frowning at the shulker boxes, calculating in his head. Assuming we all use the same amount… Leaving room for manoeuvring and flying back, and accounting for cities … Hmm… About ten minutes per island, that makes… Seventeen.

 

“I think we can just about make seventeen hours of searching and then the flight back. Of course, if we take a -” his eyes unconsciously went to the edge of the island and the Void behind it “- shortcut on the way back, we can probably squeeze out two more hours, but you two need to be okay with that as well.” Python simply shrugged.

 

“I don’t see why not. We set our spawn right before we went, we can just dump everything we got in an enderchest and be done with it. Yeah, we’ll lose some levels and the chest, but those can be easily replaced.”

 

“Wasn’t that the plan to begin with?” Ren interjected, taking a short break from slicing at endermen. He then proceeded to check out the state of his elytra, seeing if it needed more mending or not.

 

“Well, my dudes, that’s settled then. Nineteen hours of searching, then we head back.”

 

His communicator buzzed, and then a few moments later Ren’s did, and then Python’s as well. Iskall frowned, wondering what that was about. As he took out the screen, though, it wasn’t the groupchat that had new messages. It was a private message.

 

<xisumavoid> You and the other Endbusters are to come back asap. We have a situation.

 

Something had to be wrong. It had to be, otherwise they would not be pulled from their mission, let alone by private message.

 

“You guys also got that order?” he asked, and the other two nodded. “So far for nineteen more hours, then.”

 

<Iskall85> Copy that. We’ll be there in a moment.

 

After putting away his communicator, he took off all his armour and his elytra, and he shoved everything he owned into the enderchest. Python and Ren saw that as the signal to start doing the same, working fast and methodically. They double, then triple checked that they weren’t leaving anything of value behind, and made their way over to the edge of the island.

 

“Gentlemen. As such concludes our Endbusting Extreme mission. I will meet you both on the other side,” stated Iskall, before saluting and stepping off the edge.

 

>> Iskall85 fell out of the world

 

“After you, my dude.” Ren smiled, and Python nodded.

 

“See you in a few minutes.” He stepped off backwards, waving as he went.

 

>> PythonGB fell out of the world

 

Ren looked around once more, trying to make eye contact with as many endermen as possible before jumping over the edge, laughing as he fell.

 

>> renthedog fell out of the world

 


 

 

The night was going to be very long. With Xisuma and False keeping an eye on the feeds, the Area 77 boys had dragged Cub out of bed for a mission of their own. Armed with a stack of very tiny cameras they flew over to Mumbo’s base, briefing Cub while on their way. In theory, their mission was very simple. Get in, put the cameras in place, and get out. Sure, they needed to make sure they were not spotted by Mumbo, but that was doable enough, especially when he was still sleeping. And they could just have someone standing watch, to warn them if something happened.

 

Scar volunteered for guard duty, which meant that Doc and Cub got the wonderful task of Big Brothering up the area around the hidden room, as well as the room itself. One of their very specific requests had been to place one in such a way that they could see what was written in the book when it was open, so they could stay in the loop as to what Mumbo was up to. That was the most important. That was the one camera that tech team really needed to get working. All of the others could fail, as long as that one worked.

 

It was Doc that went into the room itself, while Cub spread his cameras around outside. He tried getting as many angles on the door as he could, taking special care to also put a few of them in Mumbo’s portal building. Given that they didn’t know where the spider was hiding, it was best to have eyes on all exit and entrance routes.

 

The cyborg, meanwhile, had a hard time figuring out where he could put the button-sized cameras without them being blocked by the cobwebs that were everywhere. That was, until he realised he didn’t need to. As long as he had at least one angle from which something was visible, he could just put together the feeds to form a complete image. The realisation made it all a whole lot easier, and it meant he could actually put the cameras half behind the webs, hiding them from sight.

 

It was very good that he had steady hands due to his experience with building and maintaining robotics, else he would have certainly torn a web or two in the process, which would be… Less than optimal. It would be a trace that someone had been there, and he didn’t want to leave any of those. That would most certainly mean bad news, if the wrong being found out. So far, though, it all went well. He had a few close calls, where the camera almost slipped from his fingers before he could attach it to the walls, but eventually they had all been placed.

 

Doc went and took out his communicator, sending a quick message to Xisuma.

 

<DocM77> X, could you check if all cams are operational?

 

It took a while, in which he looked around the room, staring down any and all arachnid that so much as dared show its face. Then his communicator buzzed.

 

<xisumavoid> I have eyes on you and on the book. Open it for a second?

 

The cyborg walked over, and opened it on one of the first pages, the one about… throwing stones in wells? Huh.

 

<xisumavoid> Yep, all good.

 

<DocM77> We’ll return, then.

 

He put his communicator away, opened the door and looked around for the other two. Cub seemed done with his task as well, standing nonchalantly leaned against one of the stone walls, seemingly waiting.

 

“All done?”

 

“Yup. Let’s get Scar and let’s go.”

Chapter Text

First thing in the morning, the group gathered in the bunker. While everyone looked tired, Xisuma, False and the tech team looked least awake, with bags under their eyes and large mugs of coffee in their hands, courtesy of TFC. Those five hadn’t slept all night, discussing what they should do now into the early hours of the morning. By that time, going back to sleep wasn’t really an option anymore, so they had just stayed up.

 

Xisuma was looking around his fellow Hermits, doing headcounts but always coming up short. Grian wasn’t there, of course, and they had not invited Mumbo for understandable reasons, but the others… The Endbusters weren’t back yet, and team ZIT wasn’t either. He frowned. He had seen the death messages of the Endbusters, those should have been back by now. And ZIT… Well. No death messages from their side, so that was something.

 

The admin frowned, and checked his communicator as well. Nothing there either. Worry settled in his stomach, but he couldn’t show it. The other Hermits needed him to be strong, so he would be.

 

“Alright, everyone, I would like to start. There is still some people missing, but because we have a little bit of a time-sensitive situation on our hands, I’ll fill them in when they arrive.” The chatter died down as he began speaking, eyes aiming at him. Very shortly said: Mumbo has been compromised. He-”

 

The door suddenly opened, and through came Tango, Impulse and Zedaph. They were covered in sooth, and their clothes were singed in multiple places.

 

“Sorry we’re late! We had some... issues, with ghasts and lava,” Zedaph said, before finding a spot to sit. Xisuma breathed out in relief. Only three missing, then. Though, where they were… Focus, X. News first, search later.

 

“That’s fine, thanks for coming! Now, as I was saying, Mumbo was compromised. He found a ransom note that basically forces him to perform a series of tasks that he cannot tell us about. We have reason to believe our enemy is watching him, so he cannot know that we know. Questions so far?” The admin looked around expectantly, observing the faces of his friends. Stress in particular looked doubtful and worried, though she was by far not the only one.

 

“How do we know this, if not told by Mumbo?” she asked, piercing eyes aimed straight at him. Joe and Cleo whispered a few things, nodded, and the former spoke up.

 

“I have the same question, actually, and Cleo here too.” Xisuma nodded, turning to Doc. The cyborg first took a sip of his coffee before speaking up.

 

“When patrolling the Futuristic District, our drones picked up a glimpse of Mumbo leaving a secret room filled with cobwebs on his island, so X and False went to check.” His voice was very matter-of-factly, as though he was presenting some news or something. In a way, he was, of course. Joe did not seem impressed.

 

“You just so happened to pick that up while patrolling the district? That doesn’t seem entirely realistic. Are you spying on him alone, or on us too? I’ll have you know, were aren’t some goddamned zoo.” He punctuated his words with gestures and pointing, and it seemed his spirit and energy were rousing up the others as well. There was some muttering here and there, and some “He has a point, you know?”’s. Doc sighed, looking at Scar for a little bit of backup.

 

“I know it sounds a terrible lot like coincidence, but you’ll have to believe us. We aren’t spying on any of y’all, we’re just doing our jobs. Anyone that doubts that is very welcome to join us in watching the feeds.” The look that accompanied his words was a mix of tiredness, annoyance, disappointment and frustration. “We can even show you the programming of the drones, so you can see their route for yourself.”

 

“Joe, is that enough of an answer for you?” Xisuma spoke. He just wanted to continue with his story, and knew that some of the probably worst parts were yet to come.

 

“I will keep you to that, you know? Just to check that this isn’t all for show.”

 

“Alright. So. The tech team went back to this room and placed cameras, so we can see who enters it and what is written in the book. This way, we’ll know what Mumbo has to do, so we can secretly and subtly help out. Yes, Joe, this indeed is spying on someone, but it is only this room, nothing else.”

 

In the background, Cub seemingly wanted to say something, but before he could open his mouth, both Doc and Scar had more or less discretely deposited their elbows in his sides.

 

“The idea right now is to help him out, on the off chance that he can actually get Grian back with this. Meanwhile, we’ll use it as a trap for the enemy as well. We know that once a task is done, a new one is written in the book, and given that someone has to do that, we can track or tail that someone.” The admin looked around, seeing if anyone had questions before continuing once more.

 

“We know that currently, Mumbo has to tell us that the enemy is somewhere in the south. This is more than likely a trap, but we’ll have to go there to follow up on his intel anyway. The most important part here is that once again, Mumbo cannot know that we know. Furthermore, once he told us, we need to make sure that we talk about it in chat as well. Everyone got that?”

 

He looked around, and the other Hermits seemed to get the plan. Once more, Joe took out his script, and began dramatically striking some words through and making adjustments where necessary. It had been a common occurrence in the last few days, and some of the pages looked as though it would be easier to just rewrite completely, with the amount of adjusted text they had.

 

“Well then. You all know what you can do, so I’d say, good luck today!” Xisuma nodded appreciatively to them, and the Hermits started to scatter once more, Stress being the first to leave the room.

 

Not a minute later, her scream echoed through the bunker.

 


 

 

The area around them was pitch black, as the Void had been. No walls, no roof, and the only reason they knew there was a floor, was because they woke up on it. Their visions were as blurred as their memories, or maybe that was just Iskall. To him, everything that wasn’t the blackness looked weirdly flat, in a way, and he didn’t know why.

 

“Urgh… Where are we? Did we glitch out or something?” He rubbed his forehead, migraine building behind his eyes. There was a pressure on his throat, and it was a little bit difficult to breathe.

 

“I don’t think so, my dude.” Ren didn’t sound so good, and an unfamiliar clanking noise made Iskall look over. Something was different about him, and it wasn’t the metal collar and chain that were wrapped around his neck. Whatever it was, the swede couldn’t put his finger on it. Looking around further, he could see a blur of black and red laying on the ground as well, by the looks of it still in some form of passed out. At the very least he was breathing.

 

He managed to push himself upright, feeling a chain tug at his neck as well.

 

“What the hell?! Where did this come from? How even did we get here?” Iskall had many questions, and not nearly as many answers. That didn’t stop him from trying to break out of his collar, though. Generally, in a fight between metal and flesh and bone, the metal won. This was no exception, as the swede too found out.

 

Frustrated, he opened up his inventory, and then vaguely remembered putting all his things in his enderchest. That did not help the frustration situation, and it most surely didn’t help his headache.

 

“Dude. Where is your eye?” Ren suddenly asked, genuine concern bleeding through his words. The swede frowned, hand going to touch his eye socket. The dogman sighed.

 

“The other one. The diamond one.” That made him frown even deeper. His diamond eye? It should just be there, like his normal eye. As his fingers felt for it, though, he could only find the jagged edge where the metal had been torn apart, a little bit of wiring jutting out of the hole.

“I… I don’t know,” he whispered, feeling but finding nothing. He frantically looked around, as though it would be on the ground somewhere, but it wasn’t. No wonder he had such a headache. Realising that didn’t bring his eye back, though. “I don’t know, Ren. I just… Don’t know.” Not again. Not again, please, not again. How could I lose it? Did someone take it from me? Why would someone do that? Without realising, he had started breathing faster and more shallowly.

 

“Iskall. Hey, listen to me dude. It’ll be all right. We’ll get it back. Don’t panic.” Ren’s voice was calm and steady, and the swede clung to the words like an anchor.

 

From the shadows, something strange sounded. It did not quite sound human, but not like an animal either. Male nor female, old nor young. A voice.

 

“I spy… with my little eyes… Three little flies, fallen in my web.”

Chapter Text

Cleo and False were the first two to break out in a sprint, unsheathing their swords as they ran. Stress had sounded as though she was in trouble, and they did not want to lose another one of their friends. They stuck to the main tunnel for now, knowing that that was the most likely path she would have taken on her way out.

 

“Stress?! Where are you?!” False shouted out. She was looking around, but dreaded what she might find. No answer came, but as the duo came closer to the exit of the bunker, they could hear soft noises, like whimpered sobs. Relief spread through False. While she disliked hearing the other Hermits cry, at the very least this meant Stress was still there.

 

“Hang in there!” Cleo called. They dashed around one corner and then the next, and finally they had eyes on Stress. She was on her knees, shoulders shaking as she cried. The ice queen sat just before the exit, in the early morning sunlight that came through the open door.

 

Without thinking twice, False sheeted her sword, and made haste to come up in front of Stress. There, she knelt down, opening her arms for an embrace.

 

“Hey, I’m here for you. Do you want a hug?” In reply, the ice queen wrapped her arms around False’s torso, fingers digging into the fabric of her shirt and holding tight. She buried her face in her shoulder and continued sobbing, and False had never seen her so vulnerable. It broke something in her.

 

“Sssht… It’s all right now, we’re here, you’re safe. Don’t worry.” Her voice was soft, as soothing as she could make it. She gently rubbed Stress’ back, already feeling her tears wetting her shirt.

 

Cleo meanwhile had also come to a standstill, about two meters behind them. She could only look at what was in the doorway. At first, she wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Then, as the realisation dawned on her, shock overtook her.

 

“False?” she said, her wavering voice barely more than a whisper. “We have a problem.” Instead of speaking further, the captain simply pointed at the large cobweb, and the things stuck in it.

 

False looked up at Cleo, then followed the direction she was pointing in. Immediately, she felt her stomach drop. She recognised those things, knew who they belonged to.

 

A diamond eye, jagged metal surrounding it. Two fangs and a tattered black tie. A braid of brown hair, a wilted flower still tucked into it. Iskall. Python. Ren.

 

“No… Not them too!” she breathed, and her voice broke. She held Stress tighter, for now focussing on the shorter woman to not fall apart herself. Stress was very close with Iskall, with them practically sharing bases, so this had to be very hard on her.

 

In the distance, more running footsteps came closer, running towards them. How long would it take for them to notice, to realise three more of their friends were in the hands of the enemy? The first ones were skidding to a halt now, but False didn’t look up. She was looking down at the floor, her comforting motions automatic as she fought to keep her thoughts in line. Going into a panic would not save her friends. Getting angry wouldn’t solve anything, until she got face to face with whoever did this. Crying seemed like a great option, but she knew she had to be strong for Stress. She didn’t even realise she was shaking.

 

Footsteps stopped, one after the other, and she could hear the others come to their own conclusions, have their own reactions. She could hear anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, all mixed together. She could hear them calling for others, and a pair of footsteps running away again. Above all, she could hear Stress, still sobbing into her shoulder.

 


 

 

So far, his morning had been quiet. He had woken up semi rested for the first time in days, and was eager to get to work once more. It helped that his shoulders were getting used to the amount of flying he had been doing over the past few days, and that his muscles ached less than the day before. Mumbo stretched and got dressed, a small morning ritual. It all had to go in the same specific order every morning, not counting those days on which he just passed out from exhaustion and slept in his suit. Luckily, those days were few and far between.

 

Breakfast came and went, and he was sitting on the edge of his globe, looking out over the waves. He was waiting for the rest of the Overworld flyers and miners to pick him up for the next bout of searching, and more specifically, so he could tell them where they should go, what they should check out. Then that task would be over, at the very least, and he would be one step closer to getting Grian back. That would be worth lying to his friends for. They’d understand, when he explained it afterwards, he had no doubt.

 

For a while, he stared in the distance, towards the shopping district and the railway station and Grians waterfilter of a base. When he looked at it like this, everything seemed normal. For a moment, he could forget about everything, and pretend it all was fine and dandy. He could pretend that Grian would fly out of his base at any moment, or that a short moment of dropped vigilance would mean his base was covered in eggshells and chickens.

 

Mumbo sighed, a small smile on his lips. Yes, that would be good, when everything goes back to normal. He checked his communicator, both for messages and for the time. Nothing there, except for the death messages of the Endbusters. And at the very least Keralis should have been here already. It made him frown. Something wasn’t right. He opened a private message to the wide-eyed man.

 

<MumboJumbo> Hey, weren’t we supposed to meet up?

 

Then he laid it on the concrete next to him, waiting for a reaction. Had he forgotten something? Were they supposed to meet up somewhere else today? He couldn’t remember them talking about something like that, but then again, a lot had happened over the last few days, too much to all remember. A buzz next to him tore him from his deliberations, and he hastily grabbed the communicator, almost letting it slip from his hands in the process.

 

<Keralis1> Hi!

 

<Keralis1> You should probably come to the bunker.

 

<Keralis1> Like, right now.

 

<MumboJumbo> ???

 

<MumboJumbo> I’m on my way!

 


 

 

The sudden sound of fireworks put everyone in the tunnel on edge. Rationally, it could really only be one person, but there was a rather large unknown in their situation. The Hermits barely knew anything about the kidnapper, for all they knew it could also be them. And thus, multiple weapons were brandished. Doc had his trident, False, Wels and Cleo had their swords, Cub was loading his crossbow, and Impulse had his bow, ready to shoot. The only one that seemed kind of calm under it all was Keralis, despite the surprised expression on his face.

 

As Mumbo walked into view, though, instead of some form of monster, there was a clear wave of relief washing over them. That was a friend, at the very least.

 

“Guys? What is going- Oh.” He stopped in his tracks before the cobweb, staring at the items in it. Specifically, at the eye of one of his best friends. It took him a short moment to parse the situation. Iskalls eye, ripped out and stuck in a web. Two more sets of items that their owners would not have given away without a fight. The emotional Hermits at the other side of the web.

 

His hands balled to fists. Who did that spidery asshole think they were, coming in and taking his friends away from him? What was next, more threats, more things he had to keep hidden? The redstoner was seething, and he wanted nothing more than to personally strangle the bastard. But how? He didn’t know where they were at all. Though…. He knew where they would be, if he did everything right. A plan was starting to hatch in his mind. Killing them there won’t bring Grian and the others back, though.

 

Roaring in frustration, he started ripping at the web, intending to completely destroy it. The threads were thick and strong, though, and would not budge. He only managed to make his hands stick to it and get entangled in it, which made him feel even more frustrated and helpless. Mumbo just fell to his knees, hands still stuck, hot tears dripping down his face.

Chapter Text

He had taken to plucking stray strands from his sweater, where the fabric had been ruined by mandibles or fangs or claws. It was the only material he really had access to, if he didn’t count the feathers on the floor, and the urge to build, to create, was not something he was able to suppress. Of course, there was not much he could do with a bunch of red string, but he had figured something out at the very least. He just used it to make little pictures of the Hermits. It gave him something to talk to, other than himself and empty air and his capturer.

 

At that moment, he had an image of Mumbo laying on the slabs in front of him. Or at the very least, an attempt at it. It was very weird, how fast one could forget the precise details of how someone looked. Even when it was a close friend, that he had seen so many times.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t quite get your hair right, Mumbo. I just… it looks wrong, but that may just be the thread. Do you mind?” His voice was soft, barely more than a whisper. He was silent for a short moment, head cocked to the side as though he was listening to an answer. “That’s what I thought too. I’m lonely, Mumbo, and I don’t know how long I can still take this. Are you guys looking for me? Will you be here soon, to break me out?”

 

He stared at the wool intently, half hoping that it would suddenly start talking back.

 

Seconds passed.

 

The string stayed silent.

 

The little fly sighed, idly playing with the bits that made up the moustache, reshaping it into various other styles. That also didn’t make the string talk. It also made the image of Mumbo look even less like Mumbo. In the end, he just went and put it back the way it was. This was not helping him.

 

“Are you even coming at all?”

 


 

 

The feed played before his eyes, waves and grass moving quickly in the wind. Cub was fast-forwarding through the video taken by the camera near the entrance, hoping it caught something. It simply had to. A web could not simply appear out of thin air. At that moment, it almost seemed like the worst idea in history to have everyone in the meeting, and not have anyone keeping track of the security tapes. Why had they done that? Even though in theory no one else should know about it, this was just inviting trouble.

 

One by one, he saw Hermits coming into the bunker, then nothing for a bit, then team ZIT arriving. Cub hit the play button, and the footage resumed playing at normal speed. If anything was there, it had to be in this time frame. The meeting had been short, maybe fifteen minutes tops, and that was if he was very optimistic about it.

 

For half a minute, everything seemed clear. And then something moved from the shadows into the light. Something who’s movements just seemed wrong. Something big. Something with entirely too many limbs. Something that did not at all look human. Cub held his breath as the creature came nearer to the camera, more details slowly becoming visible. Large mandibles, eight blood red eyes. Spindly arms and legs, twelve in total. It moved on four pairs of them, easily navigating the terrain, while the two pairs of arms jutting out from its upper body seemed to be holding something. The entire thing was covered in a dark green carapace, from head to abdomen.

 

He tasted bile in the back of his mouth as he looked at this freak of nature, and hit the pause button, the creature fully in frame. If this was what they were dealing with… Well. Everyone was going to need the Bane of Arthropods enchantment on their weapons. Without looking away from the screen, he took out his communicator.

 

<cubfan135> I got something you all should see.

 

<cubfan135> Video room.

 

<cubfan135> The cameras caught it.

 

He put the device away and continued staring at the image in front of him.

 


 

 

“Who are you?” growled Ren through clenched teeth. “Why are we here?” Gone was his calm façade, and Iskall felt himself start to tremble again. He didn’t dare look in the direction the voice came from, not in his current state.

 

“The little fly has questions… just like little Sally had.” A different sound came forth, a completely warped version of a laugh. The swede made himself smaller, as thoughts raced through his head. Sally? Who… Do they have anyone else locked up in here? But… who is Sally? I swear I’ve heard that name before.

 

“You sit before Arachne, ruler of this domain… And you, little flies, fell into my web.” He was vaguely aware of something moving closer towards him, and judging by Ren’s gaze, the thing was right behind him. A shudder went through him. Please ignore me please ignore me please ignore me.

 

And then he felt a hand underneath his chin, following his jawline. Iskall froze in place, not wanting to give it any ideas.

 

“Let go of him!” Ren had jumped to his feet, trying to come closer. A mix of anger and desperation coloured his voice, and his hands were balled into fists. He seemed ready to throw hands if given the chance, but the chain came up short. “I swear, hurt him and I’ll-”

 

His words were interrupted by another laugh, cruel and sadistic.

 

“And you’ll what, little fly? You cannot stop me.” Their voice was low, dangerous, and then suddenly, very close to Iskall’s ear. “Should I eat that little fly first?”

 

It took all his self-control and the realisation that they still had their hand on his unprotected neck to shake his head, and to not try and punch Arachne. He liked his friends uneaten, thank you very much.

 

“Oh? The one sleeping on the ground, then?” They grabbed his chin, forcing him to look at Python’s unconscious form.

 

“Hey! Cut it out, asshole!” In his head, he was almost praying for Ren to just sit quietly by, but he also knew that that was not something the man was capable of doing. That was why he wasn’t relieved when Arachne let go of him, hissing into his ear.

 

“The choice has been made.”

 

They moved into his field of vision, and morbid curiosity was the only reason he was still looking. Iskall really did not want to, but he found himself unable to look away from the creature’s hideous form. He watched as they took a hold of Ren’s collar and lifted him off the ground. He saw Ren trying to kick and punch them, and he saw Arachne catching one of his hands.

 

“No! Stop it!” The swede found himself calling, as though the spell that made him unable to look away or react had suddenly been broken. His words fell on deaf ears, though.

 

A horrible crack sounded, and Ren let out a deafening, heartbreaking scream. He clutched his broken arm, panting heavily, but still with a glimpse of defiance in his eyes. Iskall shoved away his own fear and ran towards the spider-like creature.

 

“Don’t you DARE!

 

He managed to get within kicking range of the bulging abdomen, and didn’t even hesitate before planting a foot there. Arachne screeched in pain, head whipping around to look straight at him. Then they lashed out with one of the legs, hitting him full in the stomach. It knocked the air out of him and launched him backwards, spine painfully colliding with the edge of the slabs.

 

You will be next, l i t t l e f l y.” Their attention turned back to Ren, as the swede laid wincing on the ground. If he survived, this was going to be a bruise. Meanwhile, Ren was still trying to hurt the creature in some way or the other, with very little result. The angle was horribly inefficient, and because of the way they held him in the air, it was difficult to put any kind of power behind his kicks.

 

And then three simultaneous buzzes made Arachne halt. Without lowering their prey, they took out three devices that made Ren’s eyes widen. It was suddenly clear to him where their communicators had gone, and that they had not just glitched out, as his previous hypothesis had been. With two sets of eyes still aimed at Ren, Arachne started to type.

 

<Iskall85> cameras?

 

<Iskall85> which ones?

 

<cubfan135> The ones near the entrance

 

<cubfan135> …

 

<cubfan135> Crap

 


 

 

Somewhere in the distance beyond the void walls, he swore he could hear a scream of pain, one that sounded eerily familiar. It made him wince momentarily. It was the first time he heard something happening outside of the walls of his cell, and he was not sure what to make of it. Would that really be one of the Hermits, or was Arachne playing tricks on him again? Or was it just his mind, already going crazy from loneliness?

 

He listened intently, but heard nothing else. Grian slowly blinked once, then turned his attention back to the string, now forming the crude outline of a spider. Probably a trick of his mind, then. Of course they weren’t here, why would they be?

Chapter Text

Frankly, he should have seen it coming. He should have thought a little bit longer, or at all perhaps, before answering to a question in the group chat. It had just felt so natural to answer a question Iskall asked, that he hadn’t stopped to think that perhaps it wasn’t the swede behind the keyboard. By all means, he should have known. He knew the Endbusters were in enemy hands, that had been made clear just minutes earlier, and he could have derived that their communicators would be as well.

 

And yet, he didn’t. Cub felt like smacking his head against the desk until some common sense returned to him, but he also knew that what was done was done. He just hoped that the others would understand. Then again, it was not that much information I gave away, right? Only that we at least have cameras near the entrance, and that we know what they look like. In the grand scheme of things, that is not a lot.

 

He was in the middle of facedesking when Xisuma entered, Cleo, Scar, Zedaph, and Impulse in tow. At the very least they did not look mad, just worried. That was something.

 

Of course, most of their attention went to the screens, still showing the spider-like creature in sickening detail. Scar only glanced at it for a moment, then looked at Cub and walked over, putting his hand on his shoulder.

 

“You’re gonna ruin a perfectly good table if you continue like this, ya know?” he asked, his tone soft and not accusing. It made Cub stop, head resting on the table.

 

“That’s your concern?” he scoffed dryly. Then he chuckled and sat up, his forehead reddened by the repeated impacts. Scar just smiled back.

 

“Yup.” Cub rolled his eyes, then pointed at the screen.

 

“It seems like this is who we’re dealing with. Suddenly, all of the spider symbolism makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?”

 

Zedaph whistled and took a step closer to the screen, taking a better look at it all.

 

“So… how are we going to take care of this… thing?” Cocking his head to the side as he spoke, he looked for places where the carapace seemed weaker or in some other way vulnerable, like at joints. Not that he could learn much by looking at a still image, but at the very least he could try and that was what counted.

 

“Bane of Arthropods, probably. And diamond swords, stacked with as many enchantments as we can fit on them. Probably Godarmour is a good way to go as well,” Cub listed some possibilities on his fingers, then looked around at the others one by one. “Anyone else has a clever idea?”

 

Xisuma was stroking the underside of his helmet, and Impulse was frowning.

 

“We can try and contain first, and proceed with killing only if absolutely necessary. We need to know where they keep Grian and the others before we move to more… drastic measures, especially because we don’t know whether they respawn or not. It would be bad to kill them and then figure out they don’t come back like we do,” Cleo said.

 

“I’m pretty sure that we have a bunch of redstoners that would love to help setting a trap. We’d just need to know a location they visit reliably, and then put it there,” Impulse added, and Xisuma nodded.

 

“We actually have one of those locations. We know where they communicate with Mumbo, and we can steer when that happens as well.” He tapped his chin. “The only problem with that is that Mumbo cannot know, because at some point he will accidentally spill that. And that means we’ll have to build it all without him noticing and without him accidentally setting it off.”

 

Scar frowned at that, and Cub and Impulse seemed to have their concerns as well.

 

“So basically it has to be undetectable redstone that does not interfere with the circuitry that is already there, that does not trigger on Mumbo walking in but does when a misformed spider crawls in over any of the walls. It may even be necessary to make it activatable from a distance, if we want to really make sure that Mumbo can’t accidentally trigger it. That’s a tall order.” While speaking, he counted out the problems on his fingers. “Especially when we can’t completely regulate who goes in and out of the place, cause this will likely take a few days to set up properly, testing included.”

 

The four redstoners then promptly started discussing how the problem could be solved, one option even greater and more complex than the other. Meanwhile, Cleo and Zedaph stood next to each other, just observing and sending the occasional glance over to the screen depicting their enemy. At about the moment where Scar wanted to go get Doc, Tango and paper for blueprints, the zombie girl cleared her throat, catching their attention.

 

“Say guys. Wouldn’t it just be easier to sabotage the door release on the inside? Mumbo can easily mine out, I don’t know if that also goes for Spiderman over there.” She nodded towards the screen. One moment, it was silent, and everyone stood still. Then Xisuma slowly facepalmed.

 

“That is… probably actually the easiest way of doing it. We are derps, every single one of us.”

 

Cleo simply shrugged.

 


 

 

There were quite some frustrations in the group, and there was a perfectly fine cobweb to enact their destructive desires upon. Sure, it was not the one that had kidnapped their friends, but it was a good substitute. Stress had calmed down enough to go and try to help Mumbo, both by gently talking to him and by freezing the web around his hands. The string became brittle and snapped at the tiniest movement, falling to the ground like misshapen hail. False was busy with gently taking out the items that belonged to their friends, cleaning the spider silk off them as best as she could. It was tedious, but it was worth it. Joe had taken to removing a little section with shears, and then cutting it up in the tiniest pieces he could manage, while Tango seemed content with setting small sections on fire and burning it away. Doc was yielding his trident as though it was a fork and the web was a plate full of spaghetti, and Wels, Jevin, Keralis had their swords in their hands, cutting through string after string after string.

 

The only one not actively busy with destroying the web was TFC. He had picked up a broom, and was pushing the remains closer together, so they could more easily be disposed of later. They would probably be burnt, looking at how effective Tango’s tactic was.

 

“Ya know, I do wond’r how they were taken. It don’t seem plausible that all of them were snatched away just after respawnin’, cause their bases are miles apart. That bastard can’t be at two places at the same time, let alone three,” the old man stated, simply sweeping away at the floor. It was silent for a bit, then Joe piped up.

 

“Falsey, remind me, what did that myth say? Those other creatures, how did they all become prey?”

 

“The older brother asked them to sacrifice themselves, for his brother’s sake, and those that knew they were old or sick did,” came her answer, as she looked up from the braid she was freeing from the cobweb.

 

“Then I have a theory, hear me out if you don’t mind. ‘Cause this is about the life they consigned. They knew they would die, so we can call their choice their ‘death’, even if they had not yet taken their final breath. So they ‘die’ and then the web is next on their way. I guess you know what I’m trying to say. I think if we die anywhere along this trip, we’ll find ourselves waking up in the spider’s grip.” He set out his theory point by point, and False found herself nodding along. It did seem plausible, even though it would mean that somehow, their enemy was able to reset their spawn.

 

A shiver went through her. That was not a nice thought.

 

“That myth fits eerily well with the situation, doesn’t it luv?” Stress asked False as she froze and destroyed one of the last threads connecting to Mumbo’s hands.

 

“Mmhmm...” the blonde hummed in return. “I’m starting to think it may be more based on real events than I thought before. Sure, there’s a layer of abstraction there, but… Well. That’s what myth’s do.”

 

“So, just so we’re clear. If that’s the theory we’re rollin’ with, y’all are gonna have to do your best even more than normal to not die. I don’t think we’ll want to gather more evidence that the theory holds.” TFC sounded gruff as always, though a small sliver of worry managed to weave itself through his voice. It was grounded worry, though. The world they lived in had many ways in which one could die, both very predictable and very sudden. If dying would really send them straight into the spider’s web, as Joe had theorised, that could form a problem.

 

“Of course, man. I doubt there’s any of us that really likes the experience of respawning at all anyway, so trying not to die seems quite doable and natural,” Tango said, incinerating another section of the web and in the process leaving a small sooth mark on the ceiling of the tunnel.

 

“You know, I do hope I’m wrong about this,” the poet said. “I hope I’ve never been more wrong in my life.”

Chapter Text

With the web destroyed, the question was what to do next. Just going back to what they had been doing sounded more or less like the right thing, but they also knew that they had lost people to the spider that way. But what else could the Hermits do? Just go back to their projects, abandoning their friends? It was highly unlikely any of them would accept that. Besides, now that they knew more about what they were dealing with, they could at the very least try to prepare.

 

Mumbo mostly listened to the discussion about which enchantments they would need, and how they could possibly fix the dying situation. He knew that this could very well be the best moment to complete his task, and he was still very much unsure about whether he even wanted to do it. The bastard had taken more of his friends, yet still expected him to betray them. Well… I don’t have to really betray them. I need to tell them some information that may or may not be true. What they do with that… That is not on me, is it?

 

If at all possible, he just wanted to tell them everything. About the book, about what he had done, everything. He wanted them to know why he had done what he had done, what was at stake here. If he did it deep in the bunker, where there was no way they could find him, would that still risk Grian? Would he be risking Ren, Iskall and Python as well, then?

 

He subconsciously started fidgeting with the buttons of his suit jacket, eyes set on infinity, looking but not seeing.

 

“- Mumbo?” Cleo asked, and he snapped back to reality. Blinking a few times, he looked at her.

 

“Huh? Sorry, what?”

 

“Is everything all right? You look a bit… Well, out of it.” Her voice was laced with concern, and he saw multiple worried gazes land on his face. I shouldn’t risk it, and have a bit of faith in the other Hermits. They can deal with this.

 

“Oh, uh, yes, things are fine. Uh… I’m fine, I mean. I uh.. I was just… remembering something,” he started, half falling over his words as he went. Xisuma raised his eyebrow at him, as if saying he should continue. Well, here goes nothing.

 

“I came across something. I found a place- uh, I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went out searching more, and, uh… Yes. I think I know where we can find Grian and the others. Maybe. Probably. I saw the thing, going into the caves. In the mountains. Yes. Mountains. To the south.” He was stammering, but it was almost as though the others didn’t notice. Even Xisuma was nodding along.

 

“How far to the south?”

 

“Well, uh… I wasn’t keeping track, not really. I just know I had to fly over a desert and then ocean as well.” How are they… not noticing I’m lying through my teeth? Have I just improved that much since the civil war, or are they just that tired?

 

False was already grabbing for her sword and equipping her elytra, and Mumbo suddenly felt very bad about it. What if he was just sending them into a deathtrap, and then straight into the spider’s web? Sure, they would get to the right place, but not in the right way. Not at all. If he tried going against it now, though, that would be very suspicious.

 

“Are you going there now? Are you prepared enough?” The fumbling continued, as did the gut feeling that this would end badly.

 

“If not now, when? Don’t worry too much, I got this Mumbo. Besides, I ain’t planning on going there alone.” False walked up to him, patting him on the shoulder, and he had to fight to hold back a wince.

 

“I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind?” Wels asked, brushing a few specks of his chestplate. The knight seemed ready for battle, like always. Doc too stepped forwards, some remains of a cobweb still on his trident.

 

“Do you have room for one more?” False just grinned and nodded.

 

“See, Mumbo? Not alone. I’m bringing some of the best fighters we have here. That makes a decent scouting party, doesn’t it?”

 

He couldn’t help but agree with her. These were indeed the ones he trusted with weapons most. The only one he would have wanted to be there too would have been Biffa, but… Well. No one had seen him in months, and they weren’t sure where he had gone. He had probably just skipped to a different world, as people sometimes did around these parts. Nevertheless, in the recent light on things, Mumbo couldn’t help but think the worst about this too.

 

“It… Well, it does, frankly.”

 

“Good! We’ll go slap some Bane of Arthropods on our weapons, and we’ll be off. Anyone has any problems with that?” False said, hand on the hilt of her sword.

 

The redstoner didn’t notice the silent conversation Xisuma was having with Doc and Wels, glances and stares being the only words. The one that said good luck and be safe and please don’t die and I’m sorry.

 


 

 

The longer he sat in the void room, the smaller he seemed to become. He knew the infinite expanse of black was simply a trick of the eye, but that didn’t make it less imposing. Knowing something is a trick and being able to see through it and ignore it were two completely different things.

 

He had been toying with the strings again, but had been distracted by the skin of his arm. The place where he had been bitten was starting to have a normal colour once more, although it was still swollen, and there were a few scabs where mandibles had pierced through his skin. He had wondered if those would become scars, and had then come to the depressing conclusion that they might, if he would live long enough for that.

 

Grian frankly didn’t know what he could expect anymore. He had been left alone for probably half a day now, Arachne not even coming in to gloat or mock or hurt. There had been another platter of ‘food’ when he had woken up again, and once again, he had eaten it. It had gone easier, this time, even though it still tasted bad. The little fly did not complain about it, though. He felt as though he was starting to get some energy back again after not eating for three days, and that was worth something. Probably. He had not quite decided yet about if the ‘food’ was worthy enough in this case.

 

Still, being able to sit and think and talk to the air and to the portraits of strings was both a luxury and a curse, as far as he cared. A luxury, because he could distract himself from what was happening to him. A curse, because he was very aware of how his optimism and hope were slowly deteriorating.

 

They probably won’t come. Maybe I’m just not worth the trouble. I’m the new kid, after all.

 

“No, they wouldn’t just give up on me.”

 

Then why aren’t they here yet?

 

This place is probably hidden super well, it might just be difficult.”

 

Do you really believe that?

 

“I have to believe that, don’t I?”

 

Pathetic.

 

“Shut up.”

 

You’re too much of a coward to see what’s going on. They aren’t coming.

 

“I said SHUT UP!” Grian punched the floor hard, fist hitting solid rock. There was a crack, and his knuckles suddenly felt as though they were on fire. He winced, tears springing into his eyes.

 

That was just stupid.

 

“I know, I know, I know…” His voice was soft and fragile as he gently took his hand, looking at it. The skin had broken in a few places, and the pattern of bumps and dips of his fingers just seemed wrong. “Auch...”

 

You should have just listened to me, then this wouldn’t have happened.

 

For now, Grian mostly tried to ignore it. He had to figure out how to fix this, but he wasn’t the best at first aid. It most definitely didn’t help that he did not have any kind of bandages here, or medicine, or a potion. Should he try and ask for it?

 

Try it. That can only go wrong. Why would they care?

 

Grian frowned, unsure of what to do now. Go against the nasty voice of reason in his head, and be the naive optimist? Follow along with it and just wallow in self-pity for a while longer? He knew he wouldn’t get anywhere by just sitting there, clutching his broken hand.

 

And so the little fly went and gently cleaned up the string, stuffing it all in his pockets. Then he stood up, and walked into the direction where he thought the spider-like creature generally came from if they entered the room. The chain stopped him a few meters later, but that was fine. This was fine. It just had to be.

 

For a moment, he looked at the ground, then up at the wall. There was not much difference between them, not really, but he more or less knew what he was looking at.

 

Last chance, do you really think trying this will help, without any kind of negative effect?

 

“No, no not really. But I’ll never know for sure if I won’t try,” he whispered to the air.

 

He breathed in, then out. Here goes nothing, then.

 

“Arachne?” he called out, doubt still very clear in his voice. As nothing happened at first, he went to call again, louder this time. “Arachne?”

 

He stood there, looking at the wall. Then Grian heard a warped chuckle somewhere behind him.

 

“And so... the little fly calls for the spider.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t turn, not yet.

 

“I… did, didn’t I?” He exhaled shakily. There was probably still a way back, if he could figure out a lie really quickly. His thumb rubbed over his broken knuckles, a grunt of pain rolling over his lips as he touched the places where he was bleeding.

 

“And why would that be?” Their voice went deep and dangerous, and Grian had the feeling it was getting closer as well. Decide. Ask truthfully or lie. He clenched his fist shut a little bit tighter, and his eyes as well. He could almost feel the eyes burning on his back, he didn’t have to hear the soft and muffled footsteps to know they were right behind him.

 

Be brave, Grian. Show you’re not a coward.

 

“I- Please. I need some bandages.” Grian spoke as strongly and bravely as he could muster, which, admittedly, wasn’t much. At the very least he managed to keep a tremble out of his voice, so that was something.

 

Once more, he heard that awful ‘laugh’.

 

“Oh…? Did the little fly hurt himself?” Arachne asked, showing exactly how bad they were at pretending to be concerned. The little fly just nodded in response, not saying much. He hated this. He hated every damn second of this. He just hoped they would give him the bandages without too steep a price to pay for it and then be gone again.

 

“Tell me, Sally. Why would I care?” came their response, every hint of concern replaced by indifference. Grian blinked. He had somehow assumed that they would at least want to keep their prisoner more or less healthy, but apparently that was a wrong assumption. He swallowed, then turned around to face the spider-like creature.

 

“Because… because I’m asking…?” Already, he was trembling. Already, he subconsciously made himself smaller, and already, he was awaiting for them to lash out at him. And yet, it didn’t happen.

 

Instead, Grian could see their mandibles move upwards, almost in a grin. Instead, they grabbed his wounded arm and looked at it. Instead, he saw something in their eyes that made his gut turn.

 

“Tsssk. The little fly is amusing… The little fly will not be getting bandages.” His eyes found a particularly empty bit of blackness to look at instead of at Arachne.

 

“Instead… I have an offer.” The last word was laced with danger, and he was not sure how to deal with that, or what it meant.

 

“An… offer?” Grian repeated, still looking away.

 

“Yes. The little fly can listen. An offer. I will heal your little wound, and in return… you accept my marking.”

 


 

 

Immediately after the spider had left, Iskall had gone to Ren, beckoning him to come closer. He had tried to set the arm straight again, with moderate success, and had in the process ripped his brown jacket to pieces to function as bandages and a makeshift sling for now. It was fine. It was the best they could do in the situation, they simply didn’t have the resources they needed for it.

 

And so they found themselves sitting on the ground, side by side, trying to keep their spirits up and comforting each other. It was hard. Somehow, the situation was not entirely ideal for cracking jokes, them generally either turning sour really fast or just feeling weird. After a while, they stopped trying to make jokes altogether. It didn’t work.

 

“I wonder how the others are doing, and if they figured out what happened. We did miss that meeting, after all. I think they noticed we are gone, at the very least. They should have by now,” the swede sighed. Ren nodded.

 

“That’s likely. They would miss our handsome faces too much.” Though he chuckled, he didn’t sound happy at all. “Besides, I think-”

 

“Uuuurgh… What… what happened?” suddenly came a weak lisp from a few meters away. The heap of body parts that was Python had finally begun stirring, and was now in the process of propping himself up with his arms.

 

“Python! Thank goodness, we were starting to get worried here!” Iskall crawled over as far as the chain would allow, trying to see if his friend was okay.

 

“Shomefing is wrong. How are you thoo here? And… fish ishn’t my bashe,” he lisped, looking around and checking out what was going on. Then Python frowned, feeling at his mouth with his fingers. “Wait, where are my fangsh?”

 

Iskall looked to the ground, his hand almost automatically going to where his eye used to be.

 

“Gone. Taken. The spider caught us, somehow.”

 

Behind him, Ren also moved closer with a soft clanking of chain against chain.

 

“At the very least we ended up together,” he added. It was perhaps the only positive point about their situation. They were not alone. They had someone to talk to, and that could talk to them as well. Iskall couldn’t even imagine how bad this had to be for Grian. The man practically ran on building, social interaction and pranks, and the swede would be amazed if he could properly achieve any of those while locked up somewhere.

 

“Fatsh shomefing, fen. Sho uh… Breakout. When and how?” Python seemed serious about it, already testing out his chain and collar, as the other two had also done earlier. Much like the others, he found them too strong to break. He frowned, then started patting his pockets for his communicator.

 

“It’s no use. They took it,” Iskall said, his voice flat, almost like he had given up already. Admittedly, there wasn’t much they could do, except sit, wait, talk, and hope for the best. He knew the others were searching, he just didn’t know how long it would take.

 

“Hmm… Fat’sh… Well, bad, fen. Do we at fe very leasht know where we are?” He stood up, restlessly trying out exactly what he could still do, where he could still go, what he still had with him.

 

“I think we may still be in the End. Focus on your breathing for a second. The air still feels… thin, somehow, don’t you think?” Ren looked at the other two, judging their reactions. The swede frowned, tilting his head a little bit, while Python’s forked tongue shot out, tasting the air.

 

“Huh. I hadn’t even noticed. Then again, we’ve been out in the End for a few days already, I started getting used to it.” He stroked his beard, looking back at Ren. “It could still be some place high up in the mountains, though. Or high in the air, anyway.” Python shook his head.

 

“No, not in the mountainsh. It tashtesh too much like Void. I’m shaying End ash well.”

 

“That’s fair, I guess. I’m happy it’s at the very least not the Nether, then we’d be stuck in a bazillion degrees on top of everything.” Iskall chuckled softly at his own joke, then leaned back, hands on the floor.

 

It was silent for a few moments. Then Ren suddenly spoke up.

 

“Dudes. You know what this means, right?” The other two looked at him questioningly. “We found the place. By Endbusting. So in a way… we were right on where to search.” He laid back, his healthy arm tucked under his head as a pillow. “Just a pity we can’t rub that in the faces of the Hermits.”

 

A few seconds long, Iskall looked at him as though he wanted nothing more than to break Ren’s other arm as well. Then Python started giggling, and the swede followed suit. Before long, they all found themselves laughing at the irony of it all.

 


 

 

He blinked, unsure what to think of it. No doubt it was going to be unpleasant, though. There wasn’t really another way he could parse it. He had not expected the offer to be healed, that was almost uncharacteristically nice, so the rest would probably balance that out.

 

“Your… marking?” Grian looked up from under his eyebrows, trying to gauge their reaction. “What does that mean?”

 

Arachne let their claws dance over his wounds, making him wince.

 

“The little fly will find out soon enough. The offer stands. Decide.”

 

No way. Nope. Not gonna take it. This sounds like a trap. Too good to be true.

 

The spider grinned at him as he thought, waiting for his answer. Grian was about to open his mouth, but then they slowly, very slowly pressed the end of their claws into his wound. His breath hitched, and he tried pulling himself loose. Arachne’s grip on his arm was like a vice, though, and just pulling was not going to cut it. Meanwhile, the pressure kept increasing, and with it, the pain. Blood started welling up around the claws, and Grian couldn’t help but yelp.

 

Let go of me!”

 

His feet kicked at their legs, which only resulted in them pushing down harder, forcing him to his knees.

 

Decide, l i t t l e f l y, do you want to be healed yet?” Their voice grew low and dangerous, and Grian knew that he had made a very large mistake by calling them. Nevertheless, he shook his head.

 

No? Are you sure about that?” In a quick motion, they pushed their claws all the way through, making them emerge from the palm of his hand.

 

I don’t want it I don’t want it I don’t want it I don’t want it please stop please stop please stop

 

The little fly cried out in pain, but Arachne did not yet have their answer. And thus, they pulled forwards, slowly but surely cutting through the flesh between his knuckles. He was whimpering, feeling every bit of the white-hot pain shoot up his nerves.

 

Please stop please stop please don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me more I can’t I can’t I can’t

 

His eyes became wet, his vision blurred by tears. He didn’t want to accept the marking, but he did desperately want to be healed. He desperately wanted for them to stop this. And as it was looking, they wouldn’t stop until they got what they wanted. Was there really any other option?

 

“Please... Please heal me,” he whimpered, and immediately the pulling stopped.

 

“Good choice, little fly.” He didn’t even want to look at the expression Arachne had on their face as they spoke. Then he felt a sharp thing stab through his sweater, piercing through the layer of skin above his heart.

 

For a moment, it glowed a sickly green.

 

And then his senses dulled. He heard himself whimper as though underwater, his vision went blurry and the pain slowly ebbed away. The last thing he knew was seeing the flesh and bone of his hand knit together again, and then he lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

Somewhere beyond the black expanse, a scream sounded. It was a cry of pain, and while it was a distance away, they could still recognise it as Grian. The small amount of chatter that had been there died out, and Ren looked at the others with pain in his eyes.

 

“That was...” he started, not wanting to finish his sentence.

 

“Grian. He’s here.” Iskall somehow managed to sound bitter and worried at the same time. Bitter at Arachne, and worried for his friend. “ I swear, I’m going to destroy that bastard. He did not want to know why the builder was screaming, or how loud it had to be for them to be able to hear it. And yet, even though he didn’t want to know, his brain was supplying him with ample ideas about what could have caused it, one worse than the other.

 

“Ish fere anyfing we can do from here, right now?” Python lisped. “Can we let him know we’re here too?”

 

“We could, but then what? Pretending we’re here to rescue him will only unnecessarily get his hopes up, and telling him we’re captured too… Well. I don’t think he’d be very happy to hear that.” Ren sighed, rubbing his forehead.

 

“Knowing he’s not alone here could comfort him, though,” countered Iskall. “That’s what I think, at the very least.”

 

“That’s fair. I guess we won’t know unless we try.

 

The snakeman nodded to that, his eyes ping-ponging between his friends.

 

“Sho, who wantsh to do fe honorsh?”

 

Ren gestured to Iskall with his good hand.

 

“You’re closest to Grian, my man. I think he’d recognise you the most easiest.”

 

“I guess? Plug your ears, dudes, this will be loud.”

 

And then he stood up, gathering air in his lungs while the other two did their best to cover their ears.

 

“GRIAN! WE’RE HERE!” he shouted, his voice echoing against the walls of the room. Iskall could only hope it would be loud enough for Grian to hear it, but he would never know for sure until a response came.

 

And so, the three of them waited.

 

Seconds passed.

 

Then some more.

 

The swede looked at the other two, a silent question. Python nodded, and he filled his lungs once more.

 

“GRIAN?!” He somehow managed to scream louder this time, albeit not by much. He saw Ren wince at the volume for a moment, but nothing much else happened.

 

Once more, silence fell in the room.

 

Time passed.

 

A minute, maybe more, but no response came.

 


 

 

They knew where to find a desert to the south, and they also more or less knew how to bypass it in its entirety. It was so useful to be able to just dive into the Nether through a portal in the shopping district, fly a while, and then head back into the Overworld a large distance away from where they shifted dimensions the first time. It saved a lot of time, rockets, and elytra durability.

 

In this case, Wels, Doc, and False emerged from the portal at Stress’ Treat Your Chick ranch. The place was idyllic as always, with chickens happily clucking away in their preferred enclosures. A gentle breeze swayed the leafs of the surrounding trees, while the morning sun was doing its best to lift the beads of dew from the springy grass.

 

False whipped out a compass to orientate herself, while Wels was simply checking out where the sun stood before pointing in the direction that should more or less be the south. Given that their findings aligned, the trio took rockets in their hands once more and took to the skies, looking down on the plains . While False kept occasionally checking their path against her compass and the position of the sun, the boys were on lookout duty, searching for ocean and then mountains.

 

Plains were followed by a short bit of desert, which then became forest, interspersed with some hills here and there. Far to their right was ocean, they knew that, but they had decided to try going as south as possible without distraction, until they found the mountains Mumbo had spoken of. That was, if they existed at all. For all they knew, it could still just be a ruse, or a trap, or just meant to waste their time.

 

And yet, despite that possibility, they also knew they did not really have a choice but to follow the information. They needed to pretend to trust Mumbo, and hope it would not get them killed or abducted in the process. That would be quite the loss for the Hermits, and undoubtedly not a nice fate for them.

 

As forest turned back to desert and then to ocean, Wels broke the relative silence that the wind flowing past them provided.

 

“I think that it’s good to discuss some kind of strategy before we get there. Having something more to fall back on than ‘just stab the bastard’ would be nice.” His eyes continued their path, scanning the horizon for mountain peaks.

 

Hmm. True. Mumbo said he saw them going into a cave, but I don’t remember the book saying anything about that. Just that they were in the mountains. So yeah. We can’t say with certainty what to expect, which makes thinking of a strategy a tad more difficult.” False checked her compass, then slightly corrected her course.

 

“I’d say trying to minimize the risk for ourselves is the largest priority. We simply cannot lose more people, so that means getting out of the situation goes south,” Doc commented, letting a short silence fall before continuing at a slightly softer tone. “Of course, that does raise the issue of what to do when – no, if – someone gets in a really tight spot. How much risk can we justify taking to save each other?”

 

The other two were quiet for a moment, the question prickling in the air like static electricity. None of them wanted to even think about it, not really, but the possibility of having to leave someone behind was a fairly realistic one. And while they were generally quite okay with taking an arrow for someone, they also almost knew for sure that death would send them to a horrible place instead of having them respawn.

 

“I… Well. I don’t think we should put someone in mortal danger if there’s only a slim chance to get someone back. It’s harsh, but… We simply cannot afford to sacrifice one to save another. I will not bear a grudge if you have to leave me behind to save yourself.” Wels sounded earnest, knowing full well what he was saying. He was still focussed on the horizon, not looking at his companions. Saying things like this were difficult enough when he didn’t need to see their reactions.

 

“That’s fair. Of course, if at all possible we’ll come out of this together, but… I’m gonna agree with Wels. No grudges here either.” False looked over to Doc, almost expectantly.

 

“Same here. No grudges,” he said, before shooting off another rocket to maintain his velocity. His eyes were on the horizon, scanning to and fro before focussing on a specific spot in the distance. Some mechanical noises sounded, and the cyborg frowned briefly. “I think it’s over there. At the very least, there’s mountains.”

 

The other two looked in the direction he was pointing in, but saw nothing but ocean and the occasional island.

 

“Uh… Where, exactly?” False asked, squinting her eyes to try and see it too but not succeeding. Doc was cheating with that robotic eye of his, she was sure of it, but she couldn’t say anything about it. In cases like this, it was very useful to have.

 

“Just… Trust me. They’re there.”

 

“Alrighty then. Lead the way.”

 

The trio turned to the south-west, spamming some rockets to speed up. And indeed, before long mountains loomed over the horizon, a stormy grey against the blue sky. Their tops went quite high up, so high that they could spot snowy peaks here and there. From this distance, the biome looked small enough, but they all knew that things that were small in the distance could still be really quite big when encountered up close.

 

That seems like a place that fits the description,” Wels commented. “Let’s check it out from the sky as best as we can, and only after that try and find a cave that a large spider could fit into. Any objections?”

 

Doc and False shook their head, and the latter took out her communicator. She exchanged a look with the others, and then started typing the words that for all they knew would spring a trap.

 

<FalseSymmetry> We’ve found the mountains.

 

<FalseSymmetry> I’ll keep you all updated.

 


 

 

Had they been looking carefully enough, they would have known that something had been gradually changing . More specifically, the mobs had. The ratio between endermen, creepers, zombies, skeletons and spiders at night had been shifting ever so slowly in the favour of spiders. One by one, cobwebs had started appearing everywhere, spread out over the various districts and bits of nature. The spiders themselves… those changed too. Careful observation would reveal them to be a little bit greener than they used to be, and the creatures occasionally appeared to be just observing, instead of going about and doing their own thing.

 

Not that the Hermits noticed. They had larger issues at hand, other things that needed their attention. The few that stayed up at night generally spent it underground, in the bunker, looking at footage of drones or at the clues on the wall. Not one of them thought that observing the local wildlife was a good way to spend time.

 

And perhaps, that was a mistake.

Chapter Text

After calling out for ten minutes, they still did not have their answer. Whether that was because Grian didn’t hear them or because he wasn’t able to answer was the next question, and it was one they would not be able to answer from where they were. And so , they did decide to stop calling, and try it again at a later moment in time.

 

W ith a sigh, Iskall sat down once more, his throat sore from calling Grian’s name. He gathered his legs in his arms, resting his chin on his knees as he looked at the others. He just hoped his friend was safe and doing okay, but given what that monster had done to the three of them in the span of a few hours… He wasn’t too sure how four days in their care would have marked Grian. Perhaps something had also been taken from him, as had been done to the three of them, perhaps it didn’t.

 

A sigh rolled over his lips. If this room was good for anything, it was for overthinking things. There was simply no way that you wouldn’t eventually fall into a spiralling train of thoughts of the pessimistic kind, and it was way too easy to give in to that. Had there been any kind of distraction available, something to build with or to play with or to do anything with, it would be easier. At the very least he wasn’t alone, and he could lean on the other two when the going got tough.

 

“So, does anyone have any good stories?”

 


 

 

Ever so slowly, his eyes fluttered open. How much time had passed since he passed out, he wasn’t able to say. Could have been seconds, could have been minutes, could have been longer still. With a soft groan he rubbed his eyes, then propped himself up a little bit, looking around. The room was bright black as it was before, but he knew something had changed. What, though, that was the question. For the first time in days he felt remarkably fine, perhaps too fine for the situation. Hadn’t Arachne just ripped his hand to pieces?

 

He frowned, his eyes shifting to his hands, half expecting it all to have been a dream. One of them had blood all over it, but that was the only thing revealing that something had indeed happened. His skin looked untouched, and poking at it didn’t hurt at all. Then why did the sight of his hands and bare arms look… wrong?

 

Grian squinted, turning his hands over to inspect them from all sides. As he looked closer, he figured out two things that were not quite right. First, the colour was off. The blueish purple of his veins seemed to have switched to a dull green, like a week-old bruise. It made him look paler than he actually was. Secondly, he missed the long red sleeves of his sweater. While torn and tattered, he had still been wearing that.

 

Only now did he really look at himself. His sweater had gone, replaced by a long, dark green coat without sleeves. A few hook-and-eye closures kept it together at his waist, and the lower edges would touch his knees if he stood. The fabric seemed roughly spun, catching the light like layer over layer of cobwebs would. It was quite comfortable, though, even allowing his wings to go through. The downside was that there no longer was soft fabric between his neck and the collar, but he could work his way past that

 

As he looked down, he could spot something on the left side of his chest as well. Clear lines, venomous green contrasting sharply with pale skin. They disappeared under his coat, and as he moved it aside, he found a stylised image of a spider over his heart.

 

His stomach dropped, and the little fly swallowed. He didn’t need to ask to know that this was Arachne’s marking. After all, what else could it be? A little shiver went through him, and a small part of his mind whispered that he had nothing to fear, that this was how everything should be. It made his eyebrows knit together as he shook the thought out of his head.

 

No. No, no, no, that’s wrong. This marking is wrong, and I should most definitely fear Arachne. They’re insane. I shouldn’t even consider thinking otherwise.

 

Grian quickly brushed over the lines a few times, half-hoping that that would remove them. When that didn’t work, he tried rubbing them away, much to the same conclusion. He was relieved disappointed about it, but there wasn’t much he could do.

 

And so he tugged the coat back into place, then stood up to stretch his legs a little. Once more, he looked around, and this time he spotted the plate of food and the bucket of water standing a few meters away. His stomach rumbled. He licked his lips, then confusion overtook him.

 

Why… why am I licking my lips, as if I actually want to eat that? I don’t. It’s horrible. Just… What is going on here?

 

He found himself blinking at the plate, not entirely trusting his mind. Had Arachne somehow messed with that too, or…? Grian could barely imagine them doing tha-

 

YES, YES I CAN! They most definitely would! Shut up, mind, shut up, I’m in control here. Not the spidery bastard.

 

Exhaling forcefully, he once again tried banning any and all pro-Arachne thoughts out of his head. Those most definitely didn’t have a place there, after everything they had done to him. Despite his best efforts, though, a few pockets of resistance remained, tucked away in the dark corners of his mind.

 

He grabbed a few fistfuls of hair and closed his eyes, repeating a whispered mantra.

 

“They are evil, do not trust them. They are evil, do not trust them. They are evil, do not trust them. Whatever they say, do not trust them. They are evil.”

 

After a while, he once again inhaled, then exhaled, letting go of his hair and opening his eyes. Grian looked at the food, then decided to just go for it. Better to be over it and have something in his stomach, delicious disgusting as it may be.

 

He walked over to it, then sat down cross-legged. Without allowing himself a second thought, he started scooping the food into his mouth with his unbloodied hand.

 

This time, it didn’t even taste half bad.

 


 

 

Back in the bunker, quite a few of the Hermits were sitting in the room with the clues on the wall. Xisuma had wisely taken down the copy of the ransom note, putting it in his inventory for now. It would simply not do to have Mumbo see that they had that. It could throw off their entire plan, so it was best if he didn’t know that anyone else had been in his secret room. They couldn’t have him upping the security, or taking a closer look at that area. Not yet.

 

And so they were sitting around the table, all of them with their communicators in their hands, every so often looking at them nervously. There had been an update when the scouting party had gotten to the mountains, and not much after that. Some coordinates on where to find the biome, which Stress copied for on the plywood wall. A few observations, which would need the context of the mountains before they were useful. Nothing for a while, in which they stole glances at each other, the same hopes and fears reflected in their faces.

 

The communicators buzzed in sync, like a choir of bees taking off, and a few seconds later the sound came twice more. The first one was a set of coordinates again. The other two… those were the messages they had been waiting for.

 

<FalseSymmetry> We found a cave with cobwebs

 

<FalseSymmetry> Surroundings seem clear, we’re going in!

 


 

 

She put her communicator away, taking a look at Doc and Wels. They had switched their elytra for enchanted chestplates, their weapons of choice in their one hand and a shield in the other. Just seconds before, they had all chugged their night vision potions, so they wouldn’t have to bother with torches.

 

“Well guys, this is it. Let’s get in there and show that bug who’s boss,” False spoke with a grin, but her eyes betrayed a sliver of fear for what was to come. The trio exchanged a last set of fistbumps, before Wels nodded and took point, the other two following in his footsteps.

 

They walked slowly into the cave, wary of traps and tripwire. A dismal aura hung in the air, and it wasn’t helped by the small spiders that were most definitely looking at them from their webs. A shiver went down False’s spine, and Doc’s hold on his trident tightened, but Wels kept pushing forwards. The sooner they’d reach the end of the cave, the sooner they would be able to get out again.

 

One thing they all noticed was a distinct lack of hostile mobs. Despite the darkness, they could hear nor see any of the undead shuffling around, and no creepers tried blowing themselves up in their faces. Even the spiders were peaceful, which only made the feeling that they were walking right into a trap worse. Just token resistance would have calmed their nerves by quite a lot, but there was none.

 

Instead, they were able to just waltz on through, deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. The air cooled down, then warmed back up again as they came closer to the layer of bedrock and lava that formed the lower boundary of the world. Still, nothing tried attacking them, although the layer of cobwebs on the wall became thicker and thicker. There were more spiders here as well, and still, all of them were staring at them.

 

“How deep does this even go?” Doc asked the air, knowing full well that neither of his companions would know the answer. And yet, an answer came. None of them recognised the voice, and they couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, but it was there.

 

“Just a little bit further, little flies.”

Chapter Text

Immediately, Doc and Wels took on fighting stances, while False took out her communicator to type a very quick message.

 

<FalseSymmetry> theyre here

 

Then her communicator went back into her pocket, and she, too, took on a fighting stance. She shot a glance to the other two, and then nodded. Her grip on her sword tightened, her knuckles whitening. The bastard was here, and the three of them would show them why they shouldn’t mess with the Hermits.

 

Wels looked over his shoulder, then made a gesture with his sword to start moving deeper into the cave. His stance lowered, and he once more started pressing forwards with balanced, strong steps. Anything that would come at them would have to go through him first, but he was confident enough in his fighting skills that the thought didn’t unsettle him. Besides, even if he was the first to be attacked, he knew the other two would cover him.

 

Deeper and deeper still they went, until the tunnel opened up further to reveal a large cavern. The walls, ceiling and floor were entirely covered in thick layers of cobwebs, and a soft glow illuminated the area. Had the spiders in the tunnels been small, here they were large, larger even than the ones that regularly terrorised the surface at night. Their red eyes were still mostly focussed on them, but also on some point on the ceiling.

 

With his shield in front of him, Wels halted, feeling False and Doc come up to form his flanks. His eyes first quickly scanned through the cave, and only then got drawn up to the ceiling. The first thing he noticed was the large creature hanging upside down in the centre of the room, not quite a spider and not quite anything else either. Their carapace shone green in the glow, eyes twinkling a scarlet red.

 

“Welcome, little flies. Welcome to my web.” The voice was not pleasant in any definition of the word, and it made False and Doc look up too.

 

“Get down here, you bastard!” the former just yelled, inciting something that was probably a mocking laugh from the spider-like creature. The cyborg, on the other hand, lightly tossed his trident up, catching it once more to change his grip on the weapon. Then he launched it out of his hand with all the strength he could muster, aiming for the torso of the monster.

 

Arachne barely had time to respond, but it was enough to be able to lightly shift on the web, making the attack miss. As if by magic, the trident disappeared and reappeared in Doc’s hand once more.

 

“Oh? The little fly wants to play? That can be arranged...” Their voice dipped down, with some murderous undertones woven through it. And somehow amusement as well. As though this all was nothing more than a game to them. And perhaps it was.

 

Get them.” The words almost sounded like a hissed growl, and the spiders in the room reacted. Gone was their focus on the ceiling. Instead, all eyes turned to the puny humans that had just entered their cave, and without a second of hesitation, they came down from their webs, rushing at the trio.

 

“Formation!” Wels barked out, and the other two got ready for the fight.

 

Then the spiders descended on them in a tangle of mandibles and claws and legs. With their three shields they managed to keep them at enough distance to be able to swing their swords, glistering with the magic of enchantment.

 

False was hacking and slashing at all of the arachnids that came at them from the left, while Doc protected their right flank. Wels had to take the brunt of the attacks. The good thing was that there were simply so many enemies that it didn’t matter where they were stabbing at. At one point or another, their blades and trident would connect with a carapace, and pierce straight through.

 

Spiders were hissing in pain, trying to get close enough to bite them with mandibles almost the size of their hands. The weapons of the Hermits were enough to cut them down quickly, but wherever one spider fell, two more took its place, and soon, they felt their shields becoming heavy as spiders clung to them.

 

When Doc noticed that, he simply took his arm from the straps, and kicked the shield away from him. He fought better with his trident in two hands anyway. There was a satisfying crunch as the spider on his shield went splat between the wood and the floor, and the cyborg spun his trident around, stabbing with the teeth here and ramming the blunt edge against a head there.

 

False, meanwhile, was spewing out a stream of creative insults Joe would be proud of as she kept attacking. This could very well be a life or death situation, and she rather stayed at the side of the living. If calling out profanity towards her enemies helped her do so, she gladly thought of a few new curses. Her blade swung through the air as she dismembered spider after spider, their dying forms twitching at her feet.

 

During all of this, Wels managed to keep up his classical knight image. He fought bravely and fairly, delivering a mercy blow to any that had fallen within his reach. His sword and shield were his partners in a deadly dance, his feet moving forwards and backwards with the rhythm of the fight. Splatters of green blood covered his otherwise shining armour, and a look of determination was on his face. He knew the spiders would run out at some point, and when that happened, they would bring down the one that had captured their friends as well. This would end today.

 

Next to him, he could hear False grunt in pain as a set of mandibles managed to sneak past her shield, biting down on her arm. While her armour took the brunt of the attack, there were still some bits that were covered less well, and venom entered her system. She was quick enough to behead the creature, but she was the first one of the scouting party that was bleeding. Her vision blurred slightly, and she wobbled on her legs, but she kept going. There was a lot of anger written on her face now, brows furrowed and teeth bared in a growl. She had this. She still had this.

 

At the other side of their little line, the situation was quite different. Doc was right in the middle of being an actual blender, with the speed at which his trident moved. Bits of spider fell to the floor, their blood barely visible on his green skin but quite striking on virtually any other part of him. An end even started to get in sight, with the pile of dead arachnids on the floor being larger than the wave of spiders that were still moving.

 

At one point, he even was able to start stepping forwards slowly but surely without endangering the other two. He was panting slightly, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. On the contrary, he had barely ever felt more alive than this.

 

Wels looked at Doc with a squint, just knowing what would come next.

 

“Doc, don’t. First solve this problem, then-”

 

“Is that all you got?!” the cyborg exclaimed, heeding no mind to what Wels was trying to say and raising his trident to Arachne once more. They just started to chuckle, though.

 

“The little fly is impatient. That too can be fixed.”

 

This time, instead of words, they made a hand motion, and something started coming into view from one of the corners of the cavern. Something pink and yellow and dark green, carrying two mean-looking swords. Something they all recognised. Something they knew they could not defeat, not even if they wanted to.

 

Doc cursed loudly, then looked over at Wels, who was already sprinting forwards, jumping over the corpses of slain spiders, ever the brave knight.

 

“Go! I’ll hold him off and cover your retreat!” His voice didn’t even waver as he put down his shield, ready to block whatever would come at him.

 

“You can’t, Wels! He’s too strong!” False sounded afraid, and righteously so.

 

“I know, just… Just go! Go! No grudges!” The first blow of the diamond sword hit his shield, and Wels had to really dig his feet into the ground to keep standing. Above him, the spider-like creature looked as though this was the most amusing thing they had seen in a while.

 

False stood almost locked in place as she watched her friend fight, not wanting to leave. Doc grabbing her hand broke that spell, though.

 

“Let’s move! Don’t let this be in vain.”

 

Together, they started running, away from the cobwebs, out of the cave. They could only hope that they would see Wels again on the outside. And hope they did.

 


 

 

In the bunker, the Hermits were waiting for the next message on the edge of their chairs. Any and all idle chatter had died down minutes ago, when False’s message had come in. They had no idea about the situation other than that apparently, the scouting party had encountered the spidery bastard.

 

Suddenly, all communicators buzzed at the same time, and the group warily looked over at Xisuma. He very slowly turned on the screen, then they saw the blood drain from his face.

 

And then he cursed. Something he never did, unless something was really, really, really wrong.

 

>> Welsknight was slain by Biffa2001

Chapter Text

As he woke up, he immediately moved his hands in front of him, ready to block the next attack with his shield. Except he wasn’t wearing a shield. His sword had gone too, as did his diamond armour. The only things remaining were the padded gambeson he had been wearing under his armour, his underclothing, and his communicator, safely tucked away in his pocket. Biffa was gone too, no longer there. He died, then?

 

Wels looked around, getting to his feet as fast as he could. This wasn’t his room, and it wasn’t his bed. The walls were dark, with cobwebs in the corners. He had woken up on some kind of altar structure, hewn from a black rock. The green glow of runes on its edges slowly dimmed away as he found his bearings, and a twilight overtook the room. It did seem like no one was there, which was probably a good thing. The question was when someone would get there, be it the spider or Biffa or someone else entirely.

 

He gently breathed out, calming down. Rational thought and tactics would help him here. He had this. First things first: getting out of this room. There was not much in here, asides from a stack of metal bands in one of the corners and some red stains on the altar . Nothing he could use as a weapon. At the very least the place had a clear door, made of what looked like spruce wood, or perhaps dark oak.

 

Alright, Wels, let’s get moving. Find a weapon, the others, and an exit. Preferably in that order,” he whispered to himself, creating the beginnings of a plan in his head. He was in an enemy base, so he’d need to be very careful when moving around. First things first, though. He was here, and he had a way of communicating. He took out his communicator and switched it to its coordinate view, memorising the numbers. He wasn’t too sure which dimension he was in, but there were only three of them, so that probably didn’t matter that much.

 

Then he opened up his private messages, navigating to the conversation he had been having with Xisuma earlier. Whether these were safe from enemy influence, he wasn’t sure, but it was better than the group chat.

 

<Welsknight> I probably don’t have much time.

 

<Welsknight> I respawned, and I have coordinates.

 

<Welsknight> 3986, -2612, dimension not sure.

 

<xisumavoid> Wels! Are you safe?

 

<Welsknight> Probably not. No one is here yet, but I don’t know when they will be.

 

<Welsknight> I’m going to try to get out of here now, speak to you later.

 

<xisumavoid> Keep us updated, and be safe!

 

<Welsknight> I’ll try.

 

He put his communicator on silent, then put it away once more. Having the thing go off while he was sneaking through here was not something he wanted to happen.

 

And so he went and opened the door to a small crack. The knight peered through, observing the hallway beyond it. That, too, had dark walls, though they were partially obscured by cobwebs. A gentle glow illuminated the space, enough to lift the twilight a little bit. Some spiders skittered around here and there, moving amongst the webs with ease. There was no sign of the larger creature, though, not yet. While it was a good thing, it also slightly unnerved him. Wels hated not knowing where his enemy was, and them sneaking up on him. It went against everything he stood for as a knight. A fight was supposed to be fair, and it should follow the rules of combat. One of those was to fight openly, so it was clear who was an enemy and who was a friend.

 

Breathe in, breathe out. Be calm, then go for it. He felt the effects of adrenalin starting to course through his veins, and then he opened the door far enough for him to slip through.

 

Wels found himself in the hallway, it stretching out to the left and to the right. On the left side was another doorway, with winding stairs descending down into darkness. On the right side, the hallway turned a corner. There were openings in the walls here and there, doorless doorways by the looks of things. The question was which way would be the way out, and how far away that would be from the others. If they were here at all, that was. For all he knew they could be miles and miles away.

 

Judging by his goals, he needed to find a weapon of sorts first, so checking out the other rooms on this level seemed like a good idea. Wels crossed the hallway, almost diving into the first opening he could reach. Inside, the walls were covered in web as well, and at a few places there were even webs spanning between the floor and the ceiling in the middle of the room. Multiple shapes, too small to be human, were hanging from the spider silk, encapsulated in layers and layers of thread. A shiver went through his spine. Wels didn’t want to think about the possibility of any of his friends being in that position, but he couldn’t help it. Would they have felt it, if they were wrapped up? Would they have been scared, desperate, trying to escape their fate? Or had they already died before it happened, and were these just the corpses that stayed behind? The knight frankly did not know, and perhaps he just didn’t want to know.

 

He looked around the room one last time, before deciding there was nothing of importance in there and getting back into the hallway. Quick glances into the other open rooms on the level simply revealed more webs filled with wrapped up packets in various shapes and sizes. Almost like stockrooms of some sort. What remained were the places where the hallway turned out of his sight.

 

Wels looked one way, then the other, and decided to go downstairs first. Assuming a classical layout, prisoners would be kept in the dungeons, and dungeons were generally underground. One last time, he checked if no one was watching, then he quietly ran to the stairs, his socks muffling the sound of his footsteps. Of course his diamond boots had also gone. At this moment, though, he didn’t care much about that, it was probably even better that he wasn’t wearing anything that would clank and give away his position. Was it very knightly to sneak? No, definitely not, but it was going to help him stay alive a little bit longer.

 

As much as he wanted to cling to the walls, though, Wels also knew that that was probably a bad idea with the amount of cobwebs on them. If the spiders didn’t try and attack him for disturbing their webs, it would certainly leave a trail of broken threads that would lead anyone straight to him. That would be… less than optimal.

 

I n any case. Stairs. He stuck to the inner curve of the staircase, so he could most easily put wall between him and possible enemies. As he walked further down, though, he didn’t encounter anything except more tiny spiders in their webs. All of them had that same green carapace as the large bastard had, and he briefly wondered if these were their spawn. He hoped not. The Hermits already had trouble enough dealing with just this one.

 

Meters lower than he started, the light was back to the same twilight of the room with the altar, perhaps even a tad darker. And why wouldn’t it be? He was pretty sure spiders could see in the dark, they didn’t need the light. It made things a little bit more difficult for him, but he saw enough to be able to keep going. This level only had a long hallway, with empty doorways on both sides.

 

And from one of the ones furthest away, he heard the faintest murmur. Someone talking.

 


 

 

- and so I told him, it’s called Bumbo Cactoni. You should’ve seen his face, dudes. Mouth opening and closing as if he was a fish on land, with a very confused look on his face. I really thought he would punch me there and then, and then Mumbo just started laughing. Like, hands on his knees and wheezing, laughing harder every time he looked at the building. Ahhh… Fun times, fun times.” A soft smile was on Iskalls face as he spoke, a feeling of yearning back to simpler times washing over him. Things were easier, then. Friendlier.

 

Ren looked at the floor, picking at his nails a little while listening. They all knew the saga of the various Bumbos that had appeared in the previous world they inhabited, and also some in their current one. Still, it was a nice story. One that could drag them away from their grim reality for a few minutes.

 

He involuntarily rubbed the metal collar, thinking about the freedom that laid beyond the infinite walls. About the hippy encampment, about his dojo, about the HRN, about his base. About soaring through the air with his elytra, about swimming amongst coral reefs, about digging through the earth, about sitting on a hill and looking at the night sky. All things he wanted to do, once he got out of here and his arm was healed.

 

As Iskall leaned back, content with the story he had told, Ren went to lay down on his back, looking at the ceiling.

 

Then his ears caught something. A sound he was not expecting, not here. He immediately sat back up again. It was soft and gentle, coming from beyond the walls. Someone… singing?

 

Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men...

Chapter Text

The death message had been their cue to flee. Or well, that’s what Doc’s opinion was. False wanted nothing more than to storm back in and knock some sense and revenge into Biffa and the spider, even though she knew that that was basically suicide. It had taken Doc a considerable amount of coaxing and physically dragging to get them out of there, but in the end he had succeeded. They had flown off, going vaguely north but not entirely in order to create as much distance as possible.

 

The remainder of the scouting party flew without looking back, until they had reached Zedaph’s pyramid base. Only there did they land, and only then did False allow herself to be angry.

 

“How DARE they use our own friends against us?! First Mumbo, now Biffa, what is that bastard’s problem? What are they even trying to get out of this?” She paced up and down one of the sides, gesturing wildly with her arms as she did so. Her eyes spelled bloody murder for the first arachnid that was unwise enough to get within her range. Doc just watched in silence, sitting on the edge of the building.

 

“Do they just enjoy seeing us suffer? Is that it? Is that why they are just killing and abducting us? We never did anything wrong to them! Nothing at all!” False kicked at the sand, then sighed and covered her face with her hands, rubbing her forehead with her fingertips.

 

“Poor Wels. I just hope he’s okay.” Her volume had gone down drastically, her voice barely more than a whisper. Doc hopped down from his ledge and walked up to her, laying his non-mechanical hand on her shoulder.

 

“He will be, it’s Wels. We’ll get him back, just you wait.”

 


 

 

Mumbo had quietly walked out of the meeting. He couldn’t be there, he couldn’t stand the look on the faces of the others. While he doubted they knew, there was something in their eyes that blamed him for what had happened. And he blamed himself for it as well. Because of him, the scouting party had gone out. Because of him, Wels had died. Because of him, they were still inside, anxious to hear from False or Doc.

 

If only he had been brave enough to try and defy that asshole, it all would not have happened. He had made the choice to go along with it, in the hopes of shielding Grian from harm, but where had that brought them? Just another casualty. Had it really been worth it?

 

His legs had taken him into Sahara, up the water elevator and then to the board room. It was empty, so empty. The scale of the building didn’t make him feel less small either. Their chairs, ridiculous wooden structures that got bigger every time they had a meeting, stood unused, and the parrots were quietly squawking and flapping around when they noticed him. The animals seemed to have noticed that something was wrong, if only because of the fact that someone else had been feeding them over the past few days, and there hadn’t been music either. Sitting on their branches, they looked at him, heads bobbing up and down and cocking left to right.

 

With a sigh, he went through the door in the glass, just sitting down in the middle of the small aviary. Some of the birds hopped closer, pecking at his pockets for some seeds. Mumbo just observed them.

 

It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have told them to go. It’s my fault. All of it. I’m so sorry, Wels.

 

He pulled his knees closer, hugging them with his arms as he looked at the birds. They didn’t seem to notice what was up with him, and one flapped up to land on his arm. It squawked something that sounded remarkably like “Saaaand?”, and Mumbo felt his eyes begin to tear up.

 

Why me? Why do I have to do this, why am I suddenly the one that steers the fate of my friends? What else have I done that only makes things worse for everyone? That spawner, what effect did that have? The stone in the well, is that poor village now as broken as I am?

 

His shoulders started shaking, and a sob escaped his throat. He hadn’t wanted any of this. He just wanted everyone to be safe and together and healthy, he just wanted to build his projects and play games with the others and pull pranks and just have fun. Why was it all being taken away by that spidery bastard?

 


 

 

He briefly looked at Iskall, then at Python and then at the walls. He recognised that voice, but where was it coming from?

 

It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again...

 

It seemed to get closer as well, from just beyond the inky blackness.

 

Wels! In here!” He scrambled to his feet, hoping for the knight to be here to save them. From the corner of his eye, Ren saw the other two get up as well, torn from their daydreams of freedom and ready to experience the real deal again.

 

When the beating of your heart matches the beating of the drums...

 

The trio stood on their slabs, eyes and ears pointed in the direction of the sound. It was steadily getting louder, both because it got closer and because the one singing put more of his voice behind it. Mostly the former, though.

 

There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes~.

 

And then Wels came phasing through the void wall, as though it wasn’t even there. He seemed slightly worried and looked weirdly naked without his armour on. Pacing over to them, he started speaking.

 

Guys! Thank God, I found you!” Worry was complemented with abhorrence as the knight looked over the trio, spotting their various injuries and missing parts. “What did that monster do to you? Are you guys okay?”

 

Iskall was the first to shake his head.

 

“We woke up like this, so I’m not sure, but… they broke Ren’s arm later. Just because he tried to defend himself.” He shivered. “They literally tried to eat him, Wels.”

 

The tension and silence were palpable. Ren’s eyes went to the ground, hugging himself and gently rubbing his thumb over his arm. The memory of being picked up by that creature was still clear in his mind, as well as how close he had been to a horrible death.

 

They what?” The knight spoke in disbelief, his words accented with hints of anger. “I’m going to get you guys out of here. Can I take a look at these?” He gestured at the collars they were all wearing. Python nodded.

 

Yesh, of courshe! Jusht… Hurry. If Arachne findsh out you’re here-”

 

“They already know. They had Biffa kill me.” He paced over to the snakeman and started poking at the metal band, looking at it from every angle he could. “We figured out dying makes us respawn here. We thought-”

 

Wait, wait, wait. Hold up there. Biffa?! Didn’t he like… Move to another world, or something?” Iskall had a frown on his face, confused about the situation. Wels shook his head.

 

“That’s what we though too, but apparently… it seems like he was the first to get abducted, by the looks of things. He just… he let himself be ordered around by that bastard, and he barely even recognised me. If he did at all.”

 

W els let his thumb go over the band, trying to find where the seams and the lock were. If he couldn’t find those, getting them off would be an issue. He didn’t even have tools with him, so he couldn’t just hack out the other point the collar was connected to either. It was frustrating and stressing, but he tried anyway.

 

If they have Biffa too… That complicates things. Like, majorly. How many of us did we need to stop him the last time he went on a head hunt? Six, including the redstoners that built the trap of doom?”

 

Yep. And even then people died multiple times,” Ren supplied, as Wels squinted at the collar.

 

“This isn’t going to work. It’s like the seam just… Vanished. I’m gonna update X on this.” He took out his communicator, and the Endbusters looked at it as though they saw water burning.

 

You… Shtill have fat? Did fey not take it from you?” Python lisped, and Wels shrugged.

 

“Apparently not. Then again, I haven’t seen anyone else since coming here.” His thumbs were flying over the keys as he typed out a message to Xisuma.

 

<Welsknight> Endbusters found. I can’t break them out, there’s metal collars and no tools/locks/ weak points .

 

<Welsknight> They’re on the lowest level, last door on the right.

 

<Welsknight> I’ll send more updates when I know more.

 

Without waiting for a response, he shoved the communicator back in his pocket.

 

I sent X our coordinates, so a rescue mission should get here soon.” Wels looked around, knowing what he had to do next according to his plan. “Will you guys be okay here for a little bit longer? I’m going to have to try to find Grian and the exit next.”

 

Ren nodded slowly.

 

“Probably, as long as they don’t know we’ve spoken to you I guess. An hour more shouldn’t matter.”

 

“What Ren said, basically. Just… Take care, okay?” Iskall did his best to smile encouragingly at the knight, who nodded and gave them all a hug.

 

“I will. You guys, don’t lose hope. The Hermits are coming this way, they’ll get you out.” There was determination in his eyes as he turned back towards the wall through which he had come in. He was going to make sure they got out. All of them, Biffa and Grian included.

 

And so he walked to the wall, looking over his shoulder one last time before going through. Wels crossed the little antechamber, then peeked around the corner of the main doorway to check if the hallway was safe.

 

“There you are."

 

Chapter Text

Ever so briefly, he thought he heard someone singing beyond the walls. Softly, with words he couldn't quite distinguish. He caught himself standing still, listening to it, but it stopped just as suddenly as it started. Instead, there was just silence, and the beating of his heart.

Writing it off as a figment of his imagination was easy. This was not a place for song and dance. Far from it. It had to have been the wind, or an echo of sorts. For a moment longer, he looked at the wall, then shook his head. Probably nothing, then.

The little fly stepped off the slabs and started gently stretching as best as he could. Movement was good, and just sitting or laying around was hell on his back. Besides, what else could he do? He started by stretching out his arms as far above his head as he could, standing on the tips of his toes as he breathed in. Then he breathed out and bent over, trying to touch the ground. His fingers barely brushed the floor, but that was okay. It was better than the last time he had tried, and progress was still progress.

 

From there on, he followed up with stretches of the other parts of his body, making them more difficult as he went along. Grian rejoiced in every little victory he made, every centimetre more he managed. It was the only thing he was winning at in here, and he needed some more positivity in his life. Of course, there was not much to complain about in here, but-

 

Shut up! Bad brain, baaaaad brain.

 

He gritted his teeth and knitted his eyebrows together. The little pockets of pro-Arachne thoughts had grown larger, and so far he hadn’t been able to stop it. It was beyond frustrating, knowing that at the very least part of his mind had been influenced in a way he couldn’t control. For a short moment, he focussed on those things that made him him, to try and ban out the other thoughts. His wonky builds, his pranks, his choice in palette. His favourite colour, the weather he liked best, the flowers he liked weaving into a crown. His friends, the way he flew, Arachne, his favourite places to be.

 

Grian sighed, and returned to his stretching. Eventually, he’d get his thoughts back in line. Eventually, Arachne would let him go. He just needed to sit here and wait. It was all fine.

 

Minutes later, he heard a yelp coming from beyond the walls, followed by the very muffled sounds of a struggle. Halting in the middle of a movement, he cocked his head to the side, listening closer. There was another yelp, softer this time, and he was sure that something was up outside of his room cell.

 

What is going on out there? Is someone there to get me out? Why would they- NO, DON’T QUESTION IT! Someone’s there, call out for them!

 

He stood up, moving in the direction of the sound as well as he could.

 

“HEY! IN HERE, I’M IN HERE!” he shouted, just hoping that this wouldn’t backfire in any way. Then again, no one told him he couldn’t shout, and no one was stopping him.

 


 

 

The sudden shouting from somewhere to his right distracted him a little bit as he was running away from the creature. He felt blood trickling down his leg, where the thing had tried to grab him, and a patch of his gambeson was missing, torn away by mandibles that couldn’t get a proper grip on his shoulder. Wels’ heart skipped a beat as he realised Grian was here as well, somewhere close even.

 

And his heart broke as he realised he had no time to look for him. Not if he wanted to live and escape. The spider was hot on his heels, going any way that did not lead to the exit would inevitably mean exit for him.

 

“I KNOW, I’M SORRY!” he called back, as he ran right past the source of the shouting and back towards the stairs. Behind him, he heard the rapid tapping of feet on the floor, still close, too close for comfort, and he threw a glance over his shoulder. They were right behind him, face twisted in some kind of grin, and a hint of something bad glistering in their eyes.

 

It prompted Wels to try and run faster. It helped that he no longer had to carry the weight of his armour with him, but not much. He created a little bit more distance between himself and his pursuer, but he still needed to climb a staircase at full speed. Possibly even more than one, even, and this place… He wasn’t too sure what caused it, but the air was too thin. With every breath he took, he had the feeling that it just didn’t contain enough of the blessed element that was oxygen for him to keep running like he was for very long.

 

And then the staircase happened. The knight ran up two steps at a time, keeping close to the inner turn, while the spidery bastard had shifted onto the very same wall. By the sound of their movement, they were catching up with him once more, and fast at that.

 

Internally, Wels was cursing. This wasn’t good at all. Not in the slightest. He jumped up the last step, launching himself forwards into the hallway to keep his momentum going. He had to. And yet, it wasn’t enough. The stairs made his legs complain, and he lost a fraction of his speed.

 

A fraction that was just too much.

 

Half a second later, he felt fangs sink into the unprotected flesh of his neck. He knew he screamed, he knew he tried to hit the spider-like creature, he knew his vision got woozy.

 

He knew he was deeper in trouble, and he knew there was something in his veins that should not be in there.

 

And then he knew nothing, as his mind sunk into darkness and his body sagged to the floor, before fading out of existence.

 


 

 

Preparations to fly out were in full swing, down in the bunker. Stress was arranging godarmour together with Impulse, while Xisuma had teamed up with Scar and Cub to figure out a way to guarantee safe respawns once more. Furnaces were blazing, filled with coal and meat, and the rapid clicking of a carrot farm echoed through the tunnels like a hyperactive clock. Keralis, Tango and Zedaph had taken it upon themselves to roll as many rockets as they could, and TFC was pointing people to where they could find the things they needed. Cleo and Jevin were on guard duty, mostly on the lookout for False and Doc. When and if those two would return wasn’t clear, and while no one had said a word about it, they wanted them to be there before they left.

 

It was as though only Joe had noticed the absence of Mumbo. The poet had been looking around for the redstoner, wanting to make sure that everything was okay with him, but he couldn’t find him in the bunker. It made him frown. Where else could the man be? At his base, somewhere in the shopping district, in the Nether?

 

His communicator buzzed once as he took it out. His frown grew deeper. There was nothing in the script around this time, and he was quite sure that most of the Hermits had taken to private messages only. Dread sunk in his stomach as he turned the screen on, and he stopped in his tracks.

 

>> Welsknight was slain by Arachne

 

He knew Wels had somehow managed to not get captured immediately, but it seemed his luck had run out. An involuntary shiver raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck, and his gaze dropped away from his communicator. He didn’t want to see the message, he didn’t want to be reminded of the suffering of his friends. And yet, did he really have a choice? It was also a reminder of what they were fighting for.

 

Joe ran a hand through his hair, pushing his dark curls back before putting his communicator back in his pocket. Then he blinked, and took it back out. Right. Mumbo. That was what he was doing. He opened up his private messages, and started typing a new one.

 

<joehillssays> Where are you at, Mumbo? I couldn’t find you in the bunker, and I’m getting worried.

 

He stared at the screen, wishing an answer would come soon.

 


 

 

He felt a pang of hurt in his chest as he heard the answer. Wels was there, no doubt, and yet… he didn’t even come to get the little fly out. He knew, and he left him here, by himself once more. His hands dropped to his sides, and he slowly fell to his knees.

 

See? They’re not coming for you.

 

They… they will. They have to, don’t they...?” He knew there had to be some reason for Wels not to come look, but what it was?

 

They don’t care for you. You are not important to them. There is someone that does think you’re important, though.

 

The Hermits do care. I- I know they do.” His voice was soft, barely more than token resistance at this point.

 

Then why did Wels leave? Just admit it. He doesn’t care.

 

Grian crossed his arms before his chest, hugging himself. His thoughts had a point. Perhaps it was indeed just Arachne that cared, if only because he was the key to their plan. The little fly blinked a few times, feeling like he should cry but not actually doing so. He felt empty instead, his emotions cushioned away.

 

He looked up, eyes filled with apathy.

 

Wels… doesn’t care.”

 

And in that moment, it seemed as though a haze fell before his eyes, colouring his entire world with a beautiful green.

Chapter Text

Though his communicator had buzzed twice, he had not bothered to take it out and look. He just didn’t want to see anyone for a while. He first needed a plan of sorts, some way for him to not break once he was faced with his friends again. Mumbo knew he couldn’t, because if he broke, he’d have to explain everything. And if he explained everything… He knew what the consequences would be.

 

If only he could ease up his guilt a little bit. That would make things better. But how? He couldn’t reverse time, he couldn’t teleport those captured out of their prison, and he sure as hell couldn’t take on the spider on his own. He was simply not good enough in fighting for that to be viable.

 

And then a thought struck him. There was something he could do, something he could fix. That spawner, that he had thrown dust into days ago. He could go and disable or destroy that, and after that he could visit that village with the well. That was doable enough. His hands balled into fists, and he looked up, eyes filled with determination and the last remains of tears.

 

“I will fix things. My word, I will fix things.”

 

With the backs of his hands he wiped the tears and snot from his face, and then he stood up, slightly scaring the parrots. They flapped away, squawking offendedly as they found another place to perch. Mumbo didn’t care, though. He was already checking his elytra and rocket supplies, wanting to get going. He only opened up his communicator to check the coordinates of the ravine, and ignored everything else that was on there. He had to do this, and he had to do this on his own.

 

Not minutes later, he flew out of Sahara, headed straight for the spawner. If that spidery bastard wanted it so badly, it would be his honour to destroy it.

 


 

 

His eyelids were heavy, so damned heavy. His mind wasn’t working at full speed either, and it was almost like minutes passed every time he managed to blink. When he tried to move, his muscles wouldn’t work with him, and he had to fight to stay awake. Wels did not want to be unconscious with that monster near him.

 

He found himself laying on a large flat surface, surrounded by a blue glow.

 

Blink

 

The glow was gone, eight red eyes looked down upon him.

 

Blink

 

A chill went up his chest, where his gambeson usually was.

 

Blink

 

He was no longer on his back, someone was pulling on his arm.

 

Blink

 

Wels was cold, a warm layer of clothing suddenly gone.

 

Blink

 

Large mandibles hovered a feet above his face as something was pressed around his throat.

 

Blink

 

Gravity pulled on his legs, hips, and arms, no longer supported.

 

Blink

 

The walls were made of cobwebs, gently rocking past him.

 

Blink

 

He knew this hallway, and he knew who was carrying him.

 

Blink

 

Everything around him was black, just infinitely black as far as the eye could see.

 

Blink

 

A flat surface supported him once more, as he heard something rattle near his head.

 

Blink

 

The spider phased through the wall, and Wels could finally relax.

 

Blink

 


 

 

As ten minutes had passed, and he still had no answer, Joe moved his worried pacing to the video room . He walked in on the guys from the tech team passing a very annoyed looking white and grey cat to Xisuma. He talked to it as well, in tired, clearly pronounced words.

 

“… so if I were to execute it, the script would call the name function and- Aw geez, that one doesn’t have the right parameters. That’s why it’s failing. I am such a derp.”

 

And what do we say?” asked Scar, making the admin sigh.

 

Thank you, Jellie.” He then scratched the cat behind her ears.

 

The poet raised his eyebrow, but didn’t say anything about it. Gods knew he talked to things too if he needed inspiration. And so he cleared his throat to get the attention of the others.

 

Howdy, Joe, what is it?” Cub asked, fingers tapping on the table rhythmically.

 

I can’t find Mumbo anywhere, and I looked in the entire bunker, I swear. He also didn’t answer my messages yet, and that for his safety makes me fret.” Scar frowned, and there was visible concern in Xisuma’s eyes as well, half hidden behind his visor as they may be.

 

How long has he been gone for? Last I’ve seen him was at the meeting, waiting for word from False, Doc, and Wels,” the landscaper supplied.

 

I cannot say I’ve seen him after that, he managed to disappear in a minute flat.”

 

Xisuma rubbed his chin, looking from person to person.

 

He did seem to take the news about Wels very personally, which I can get. Perhaps he’s just trying to deal with that for a moment. Or perhaps he’s checking if he has new tasks to perform-”

 

Negative, X, then we would have seen so on the cams,” interrupted Cub, pointing at the screens displaying an almost unmoving video feed of the hidden room in Mumbo’s base.

 

Right. He’s not checking that, then. Cub, can you check if we have eyes on where he went? We’ll find him, Joe, don’t worry. At the very least he’s still alive.” Xisuma’s voice dropped to a low whisper at the end, implying more than he said. The bald man nodded and caught himself almost saluting, and Joe exhaled softly.

 

Just let me know if you find anything out. I’ll just… Go outside and take a look about.”

 

He nodded at them, then took his leave once more. He wasn’t happy with the situation. Not happy at all.

 


 

 

Their trip back through the Nether was silent, not a word spoken between the two of them. When Wels’ second death message came, it was Doc that read it first, and he told False with his eyes, leaving some well-needed room for misinterpretation. This was not a good place for False to break, he’d rather bet back to the bunker before anything of the sort happened. The Nether was a dangerous place at the best of times, and could become very deadly very quickly if you were distracted.

 

False knew that she could do nothing to help her friend, and that weighed down on her a lot. Her eyes were mostly focussed on the netherrack ground, and more than usual was she able to see faces in it. They looked at her in frozen anguish, and it wasn’t hard to start imagining them with some distinguishing aspects of her friends. Every now and then she looked up, checking if she was not about to fly into a wall or something similar before refocussing on the faces. That one to the left even looked like Iskall, with a small ledge protruding forth where she imagined the left eye was.

 

Luckily for both of them, though, they quickly arrived at the Nether hub once more. The large map of the island spread out underneath them as they aimed for the bunker portal, touching down only a meter in front of it.

 

Almost home,” Doc said, gesturing to the portal to allow False to go first. She nodded a bit shakily, but went through anyway.

 

For a short moment, the purple of the portal washed over her, before her sight went black for a short moment. At the next blink, she stood down in the tunnels of TFC’s base once more, with its almost perfectly hewn stone and glass. She could hear the chatter of her friends echoing towards her, and False realised she was shaking on her legs. All of these were friends, as Biffa had been. What if any one of them ended up like he had? It didn’t even seem impossible at that point. Could she protect them all, if she hadn’t even been able to protect Wels? Her breathing fastened and became shallower as she went through the thoughts, knowing full well that just her wouldn’t be enough to keep everyone that she cared for safe. None of them were safe. Not if that asshole had also managed to take Biffa, not if death meant getting abducted too.

 

A sudden hand on her shoulder made her jump.

 

Falsey, are you okay?” asked Doc, worry permeating his voice.

 

It took a lot for her to not shake no. She knew she had to be okay, she simply had to be, to show the other Hermits that she was brave, and that they could be brave too. And yet, she also couldn’t push herself to nod. It was a lie, and she wanted to be helped and cared for.

 

So instead of nodding or shaking her head, she just shrugged. Doc was not very convinced by that, probably not aided by the fact that she was all but hyperventilating and stood trembling on her legs. He thought for a moment, looking around if he could see TFC somewhere.

 

Let’s go get you a blanket and some hot chocolate, alright? Is that okay for you?” His voice was calm and soft, not wanting to pressure her into anything. He just wanted for his friend to be okay, and then maybe, just maybe, he could be a little bit more okay too. This, time, False did nod, just once at first, then a few more times rapidly after each other. A blanket and a hot drink sounded heavenly, even though she wasn’t even cold. Just the comfort of it all would do her good.

 

Good. Let’s go raid TFC’s cocoa stash,” Doc chuckled, and a small laugh even adorned False’s lips very briefly.

 

Yeah, let’s do that...” she mumbled, very okay with being guided through the tunnels to a place where she could just transform into a blanket cocoon for an hour or so.

Chapter Text

Sally sat unmoving on the edge of the slabs, feet flat on the floor, hands folded on his lap. The neutral façade of his face hid the storm within. Inside, small bits of Grian remained, shouting at his own apathy, at that hostile calm that was smothering him. He tried to fight against those lines of green that were pulling him under, but they were strong, so, so strong, and he wasn’t. Grian didn’t want to lose himself, not like this, please, not like this.

 

And Sally didn’t care. He just sat, knowing his master would eventually come back to get him. He had all the time in the world. No need to call out to them, no need to raise a ruckus. He could just wait, as the voice in his head tried to break out and take over to no avail. The corner of his lips simply went up a few millimetres, forming a sly grin.

 


 

 

The old man was actually the first to notice that Doc and False were back, and he knew because someone was stumbling around in the kitchen. So he had stomped over there, wanting to make sure his temporary vaultdwellers were not breaking his things. That would be neat.

 

He wasn’t too sure what he expected as he walked in, but it probably wasn’t Doc struggling to use a pestle and mortar, with brown powder flying everywhere. It also wasn’t False wrapped up in a blanket sitting next to the fireplace, smiling at the mess.

 

“Ya do know that y’all will be the ones cleanin’ up here, right?” TFC asked, a gentle smile on his lips. It seemed to attract the attention of the scouting party, with Doc managing to shove some more cocoa powder out of his mortar as he turned around on his heels, almost to prove his point. “Welcome back, you two.”

 

A hand stuck out from the blanket cocoon and formed a peace sign as a greeting.

 

“Don’t worry, we will. It’s our mess, so we will clean it up,” False’s voice was softer than usual, but he couldn’t hold that against her. Surely what those two had just gone through had been at the very least slightly traumatising, the least he could do was cut them some slack. Besides, he was already more or less planning on sweeping up after them, even if they didn’t know that yet. He’d just have to usher them out of the kitchen by the time they were done making their… whatever it was, and just refuse their help. If anything, those two needed rest.

 

“Oh, hi TFC, didn’t see you there.” Doc actively tried to hide the mortar behind his back, pretending there was not a mess of cocoa all around him. Even though he was quite a bit taller than the old man, he still felt like a child that was spotted doing something naughty.

 

“It’s easier if ya put the mortar on a flat surface, dumbass.” He shook his head, then made his way over to the fridge. TFC opened it up, looking inside briefly before walking away from it again. “If y’all want, there’s still some stew and some cake in the fridge over ‘ere. Y’all didn’t hear that from me, by the way.” He chuckled, sitting down at the kitchen table.

 

The cyborg joined him not long later, while False seemed happy to stay where she was, eyes half closed and enjoying the heat. The old man just watched Doc work in silence, his face scrunching up more and more with every pestlestrike. At some point he just couldn’t bear watching the mess unfold any more, and he grabbed the kitchen utensils out of Doc’s hands.

 

“Hey! I had tha-”

 

“No ya didn’t, or else there wouldn’t be cocoa absolutely ev’rywhere. I got this, just go sit at the fire and eat something. Ya need some food.”

 

Once more, Doc started to protest, but TFC simply sent him a very grandfatherly look that said that resistance was futile. He rolled his eyes once, then stood up and got two slices of cake from the fridge, so he could share with False. Meanwhile, the old man got to quickly and efficiently transforming the cocoa beans into a powder, the strikes of his pestle forming an almost soothing rhythm.

 

A few minutes later, Doc spoke up again.

 

“Will you at least allow me to heat up some milk?”

 

“A’ight then, ‘cause ya asked nicely. Pots are in the cabinet to the left, milk is in the fridge. Don’t let it boil.” TFC gestured with his pestle as he spoke, pointing out the right places. Optimally, the milk would have been heated up while he was making the cocoa powder, but that was the power of hindsight. Behind him, he heard the cyborg move around, grabbing a pot and a bottle of milk. Seconds later, he heard the stove turning on, and some more clanking as a pot was put on the fire.

 

“Also, don’t pour too quickly, or-”

 

“Ah, shit!”

 

He shook his head. He loved these idiots.

 


 

 

He soared through the skies, land and oceans and islands passing underneath him. Normally, he would fly slower and enjoy the view, but not today. Today he had a mission, and his eyes stayed in front. At some point Jevin’s fidget spinner came and went, and then he saw the mountaintops in front of him, rising up from the sea. His destination was not far, now, that he knew. His sword was already on his belt, ready to be drawn, and his pickaxe was on top of his inventory together with some torches. This spawner was going down.

 

He flew closer, and it was only then that he noticed something was off. The mountains didn’t look their usual grey and brown, they were more… white, almost like diorite in pattern. From even closer it even seemed as though they gently moved in the breeze, and Mumbo didn’t understand why. Solid rock did not move in the wind, so why did these mountains…

 

“Oh my word.” It was only when he flew into the valley between two mountains that he realised what he was looking at. The steep inclines were absolutely covered in cobwebs, sometimes layers thick. The trees and bushes were wrapped up as well, with large webs spanning between the branches and the ground. Only the running water below him seemed to have been spared, although here and there, sunlight caught in the threads of a web spanning across the valley.

 

This was quite a change compared to three days ago. He didn’t even want to think about the amount of spiders that would have been necessary to create this many webs. His eyes glid over the landscape, and he could see large, venomous green spiders skittering around here and there. Like cave spiders on steroids.

 

Mumbo swallowed. It could be quite the challenge to get to the place where he needed to be given the amount of spiders and webs around here. Then again, he said he was going to do this, so he would. This was setting his mistakes right. Besides, he didn’t know what would happen to the world if he left the spawner for a few more days. How much more terrain would then be covered by webs?

 

If he was honest, he didn’t even want to think about it. This, too, was his fault. Okay, it was still mostly the fault of that monster, but even then. He had… probably accelerated it.

 

“Alright, Mumbo, let’s find that spawner again.”

 

He pulled up, coming out of the valley so he could check his coordinates against the ones of the ravine. It was still a few hundred blocks away, and simply thinking about what the ravine would look like by now made his head spin.

 

As he put his communicator away once more, he looked down upon the mountains. As far as he could see, they were all that web-covered colour, and some trees further into the distance as well. This had to stop, and it had to be stopped soon. The question was how.

 

Then he remembered he had flint and steel with him. It wasn’t much, but he knew webs burned well. He just needed to light them without touching down, and then the entire thing would go up in flames. A bow with the flame enchantment would have been even better, but he didn’t have that with him. Mumbo never carried a bow, but somehow he did most of the time carry at least a handful of arrows with him. His logic in that was flawless.

 

The redstoner looked around, trying to find a spot from which to start the flames. Somewhere down there would be optimal, as fire generally went upwards, but most valley ground was covered in cobwebs as well. Except… the blue snake of a river that was meandering between the mountains. That was still safe, so as long as he would be in there, it would be fine. Mumbo just needed to make sure his flint and steel would stay dry, otherwise the thing would be useless, but this sounded like a plan.

 

“You got this. You can burn things, that’s not difficult. Just burn the webs. Dive in, light it in some points, fly out. Or swim, possibly.” He mumbled to himself, before turning in the sky and dropping down. How many chances he had for this he didn’t know, but he was going to assume it was just the one. No mistakes, not now.

 

He shot down to the water, already fiddling with the flint and steel in his hands. Grian would’ve been able to just do this from flight, but he wasn’t Grian. His elytra tricks weren’t that good, though they were getting better. Dodging the stray webs, he landed, standing to his middle in the water. This better be good.

 

Mumbo waded to the edge of the water, into reach of the nearest web. There were no spiders near, not right now, not that he could see, so he better be quick about this. In a swift, practised motion he clicked the steel against the flint, and sparks flew out. Some went through the web, onto the grass below it, and some hit the threads. Nothing seemed to happen for a moment, and then he saw a small flame appear, helped by the draft in the valley.

 

A flame that spread, following the lines of the web. A flame that became a fire, catching on its neighbouring cobwebs as well. A fire that grew higher and higher as Mumbo looked, spreading quickly. He knew that he had to get out of there, before the mountain was entirely on fire.

 

This was step one, and so far, it had been perfect.

Chapter Text

Ever so slowly, his eyes opened once more. This time, though, he felt more like himself, more in control. Sure, it still took a second for the black spots to fade from his vision every time that he blinked, and it was almost like his sight was lagging behind ever so slightly, but at the very least he could move. His mind was still spinning, coming to strange conclusions here and there, but at the very least he could think.

 

Wels sat up slowly and looked around. He recognised this kind of room from somewhere, it just took him a moment to figure it out where he had seen this before. The knight blinked, letting the details of the room come into his mind. Blackness, as far as the eye could see. Dark slabs that he was sitting on. A chain connecting a metal collar to the floor. He knew there had to be walls somewhere, too.

 

“Right! Python, Ren and Iskall were in a room like this…” he muttered to himself. There was still another place he remembered, but it was like this and at the same time not like this at all. That other room had been white, built by friendly rivals. He had only seen it in passing, once, after the civil war had ended and he was poking around the G-team base.

 

The question was not how he would be getting out of here. He knew that the Hermits had his location, and he was quite certain that a rescue operation was already under way. The question was how he made sure that the infinite black expanse wouldn’t make him go insane before they got to him. That would be bad, after all.

 

The first thing to come to his mind was simply to sing. He knew enough songs that roused the listeners into a rebellion, that helped keep hopes up. Those seemed like a good enough start. The second thing to come to mind was simply to keep moving. To not sit there, defeated, but to actively keep moving, keep practising a series of sword drills. That he had no sword or stick or anything of the sort didn’t really help him, but he could manage.

 

And so, he stood up, stretching out his arms, his legs, and the muscles in his neck.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

He switched his stance, one feet in front, the other behind. His left arm was lightly bent, as though he was holding a shield in front of him, his right arm was held as though a sword was weighing it down. Wels made sure that the chain was not in the way, and then he started moving, gently singing under his breath.

 

Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.

 

The knight moved in the rhythm of the song, blocking and slashing at a non-existent enemy. In his mind, it looked like a spider.

 

For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

 


 

 

Something was very soothing about sorting through books and puzzling out what the best combination of them was. It was very repetitive, but that was fine. It needed doing, and it kept her head off of things. Plus, if she figured out one set, she would have them all figured out, because she could just use the same combination of books in the same order. Stress would just need to give a shopping list to Impulse and he would get them from his villagers at iTrade, as well as a bunch of bottles of enchanting.

 

For now, though, they were sitting together with open shulkers filled with books around them. The pages in front of them were no longer empty, and were instead filled with neat diagrams of orders in which to combine what, some parts crossed out and done over again and again and again. Crumpled paper filled with calculations laid on the ground, all either wrong or just unnecessary.

 

“Sooo… If we were to take that Fire Protection and Projectile Protection book, and then we add the one with regular Protection, Unbreaking and Mending… That should work, right, luv? Could even add Thorns to that I think!” She was excitedly tapping her paper with the end of her quill. It was almost sad that her notes on how she made this armour were back in her ice castle, but she could manage. If she could figure it out once, she could figure it out another time. Impulse frowned, looking over the calculations to double check.

 

“Yeah, that does seem correct. Wanna try it out?” He had already stood up to gather the books from the various shulkers, depositing them next to Stress, together with some bottles with a shimmering yellow and green liquid, just in case a little bit of extra oomph was needed.

 

“Yes please!” She jumped up, all but skipping over to the anvil in the room before she realised she needed the books. In no time she had received them, starting with the Unbreaking, Mending and Protection books. The last one she put down on the ground next to her, for now, while she gently put the other two on top of each other on the anvil. The ice queen focussed her intent on wanting to combine the two books into one, transferring the enchantments onto the book touching the anvil. Then she took up the smith’s hammer and started hammering down on the books, really focussing on what she wanted to achieve.

 

With each hit, the form of the top book became more and more translucent, while the blue and purple shimmer of the bottom book became brighter, until the top book was just entirely gone. It visibly tired her, but not by much. It as still an acceptable level, and she knew that the further she got, the more tiring it would become. And so Stress scooped up the Protection book from the ground and hammered that into the first book too. It took a bit longer than the previous book, and beads of sweat were already slipping down her forehead.

 

Still, about a minute later, she had just one book remaining, glimmering gently in the torchlight. There were more runes on it than there where when she started, and she knew she had been successful so far at a glance. The runes were correct, or at the very least, they were what she expected.

 

“So far so good. Can you give me the next batch, luv?”

 

“Yep, gimme a sec. Fire Protection and Projectile Protection, right?”

 

“Ding ding ding! Yeah, that’s right!” She smiled widely as she put away the first book.

 

The second set went just as easily, as did combining the two books after it.

 

“Leggings?” she asked, hand outstretched, and Impulse delivered a pair of brand new diamond leggings into her grip. She put them onto the anvil, book precariously balancing on top of them.

 

“Bottle o’ enchanting? I’m gonna need it.” Once more, Impulse delivered, handing her one of the bottles he had gotten so far. Stress didn’t think twice and just started downing the stuff. It smelled like sugar tasted, but somehow more electric, more invigorating. Just drinking it gave her the idea that she could take on a lot more, and a few seconds later her body caught up with that idea as well. Electricity raced across her skin, and it was almost like she glowed for a second, before everything returned back to normal.

 

“Alrighty, here we go!” With renewed vigour, she started hammering the book into the leggings. This time, it took a little bit longer before the book on top disappeared, but as it did, the leggings took on that same blue and purple glint that the book had. Stress also knew that if she looked closely enough, she’d find the same runes etched into the material now, identifying all enchantments with the standard galactic alphabet.

 

“And? Did it work?” Impulse came closer, looking over her shoulder to see the result for himself. He wasn’t as good with the other alphabet as Stress was, though he could get the general gist if he just studied the letters for a while.

 

“Yep! And now… We gotta do the same for the helmet, boots and chestplate, and then do it aaaaaaaaall fourteen more times, so we all have armour. I do hope you have more books, more of the green stuff, and some strength in your upper arms, ‘cause we’re gonna need that, luv.”

 


 

 

Waiting both took ages and no time at all. Being stuck in his mind felt like an eternity, and yet, it almost seemed as though he had had barely any chance to get out before Arachne entered once more. Grian could feel his body shift, standing up and even bowing slightly. Both things he did not particularly agree with, but Sally was in the drivers seat, not him. He could only watch from the back seat as the spider-like creature came closer, inspecting his form from all angles. Grian was kicking and screaming, and it only seemed to bother Sally a little bit. Not at all enough.

 

Arachne stopped right in front of him, lifting his chin with one of their hands, so they could look into his eyes. It seemed to satisfy them, and a moment later their focus shifted to his collar. What exactly they did he didn’t know, but seconds later he felt the metal band loosening. With a clang it fell to the ground, but somehow, it didn’t feel as good as Grian had imagined it would be. It was a weird idea that the removal of the restraints actually didn’t mean freedom, but that it meant that they had him so far under their control that they didn’t even deem them necessary any more.

 

He wanted to scream, he wanted to kick, he wanted to be angry, he wanted to cry, but Sally didn’t want to do any of those things. And Sally was a lot stronger than him, pushing his wants and desires to a corner to be forgotten about. But Grian knew his mind. He knew some hooks and crannies where that other version of him would never come.

 

“And so… The little fly turned into a little spider.”

 

A single tear dripped down over his mask of perfect neutrality.

Chapter Text

All around him, the inferno blazed. The flames almost ran over the mountainside, first catching on the webs and then on the grass, shrubs and trees underneath it. The valley grew hot fast, almost unbearably hot. That was not his main problem at that point, though. The problem was the draft going over the water, pulling smoke and fire towards him. It wasn’t a lot at first, but as time passed and the fire spread, Mumbo realised that he needed to get out of there. Neither of the riverbanks was an option, so straight up it was.

 

He started fumbling with his inventory to get out his rockets, elytra already on his back. He always got a little bit butterfingered when he was stressed, and this certainly warranted for him to be more than a bit stressed. Eventually, though, he got them out, ready to pull the string on the first one. Then a tongue of flame lashed out at him, and Mumbo’s first reflex was to throw himself backwards, further into the water. Now he was wet to his chest, and his arms to his elbows as well.

 

“Oh my word, that was close.” His heart was beating in his chest, and surely, he hadn’t been breathing this hard just seconds before. Okay. Out of here. Now. The redstoner pulled the string of his rocket as he pushed himself off from the riverbed. Instead of the sensation of his elytra spreading and wind blowing in his face, though, he just found himself landing on the riverbed again. The rocket hadn’t even fired.

 

Once more he tried, much to the same result. Only then did he realise that the rocket was soaked, the colourful stripes on the paper bleeding through each other. The entire stack that he had taken out of his inventory had the same issue, and that had been everything he had with him.

 

“Ah, no. No, no, no, no, please, not now. Why am I such a spoon?!” he exclaimed, putting the rockets back where he got them from. That wasn’t going to help him. Not at all. Okay, then what? The banks were still a bad idea, and up nor down were a real option. Well, he could try digging down if he felt like drowning, which he didn’t. Not really. His only options were following the river, either upstream or downstream. The latter was probably best, if only for the simple reason that there was more water that way, and less land and cobwebs.

 

So, swimming it was, then, because of course he didn’t have a boat with him. Those were all back at his base, probably in the same chest as his diamond hoes. With his suit already ruined by the smoke and water, Mumbo just went for it and started swimming further downstream. Here and there, it seemed like some spiders had had the same idea. They were swimming, some against the current, some with the current, and it almost looked as though they didn’t notice him there. Almost.

 

Because at least a few of them were just staring at him as he swam past, almost accusingly. As if they knew what he had done. As though they wanted to do something to him, but couldn’t. Maybe even as though they weren’t allowed to. Whatever the reason, those green eyes unnerved him deeply, and it wasn’t the large spiders attached to them.

 

“Just keep swimming, Mumbo. Just keep swimming.”

 


 

 

After the yelling and the scream, they knew that something had to have happened to Wels. The question they all didn’t want to ask was “what?”. Had he been taken, had he been killed? They couldn’t know. Sure, they had their theories, but not one of them spoke them out loud, they were simply too depressing.

 

Over time, their simple chatter had just died down, leaving them alone with their thoughts. Ren lied on his back, looking at the distant ceiling – if there even was one – with longing in his eyes, while Iskall sat at the edge of his slabs, elbows on his knees and chin on his palms. Python had gathered his knees in his arms and had his eyes trained on the patch of black that Wels had come through. He was hoping for someone they knew to get here, and soon, before Arachne had additional plans.

 

Then he heard soft footsteps, and someone seemed to just appear out of thin air. One moment there was just the brightest black, then a form suddenly passed through it. They had messy blonde hair, a sleeveless green coat, and a tray with some plates on them. The edges of something purple peeked over their shoulders, their right hand had blood all over it, and their skin was pale. And their eyes… A dark green, almost seeming to glow from within. A vacant, neutral look glid over the occupants of the room, and they started moving towards them just enough to put the plates down in their reach.

 

Still, despite it all, Python recognised them, how could he not?

 

“Grian…? Fat… Fat did fey do to you?” he asked, feeling distinctly uncomfortable with the way the builder moved and looked. It caught the attention of Iskall and Ren as well, who shot to their feet. There was a mixture of relief and worry in their eyes, not helped by the fact that Grian seemed to ignore them.

 

“Hello? Grian? Are you alright?” Iskall asked, tentatively moving closer. Only now did he see the green lines on his friends body, almost as though all his veins had been infected by something. The worry in his eyes overtook the relief. Something here was very, very wrong.

 

Finally, after having put down all the plates, the little spider looked up, straight into Iskalls eye.

 

“Who is Grian?”

 


 

 

Their hot cocoa was long gone, as were the cake and the stew. It had been nice, relaxing in front of the fire, just breathing out the memories and the stress. They both knew it couldn’t last forever, though, not with the fight they were fighting, and so Doc had just sent Xisuma a message to let him know they were back and were in the kitchen.

 

It had only taken a minute for the admin to burst through the door, tech team in tow. The looked positively confused to see them there, and even more so when they spotted the empty mugs and plates.

 

“Wha… How… When… Huh?” Xisuma sputtered, and False turned to him, once again sticking her hand out of the blankets to form a peace sign.

 

“Heya.”

 

“Sup?” Doc just grinned.

 

“How long have you two been here already? We were worried sick!” The admin was already pacing through the kitchen, motioning with his hands as he spoke.

 

“I would guess… about half an hour?” The cyborg patted the ground next to him, showing Xisuma where he could sit. The latter, however, declined and just stood.

 

“Why didn’t Cleo and Jevin not warn us-”

 

“Didn’t see them.”

 

“But… How? They are guarding the main entra-”

 

“Nether portal, X. We came through the Nether portal.”

 

For a short moment, Xisuma just stood, mouth opening and closing behind his visor as though he wanted to say something but just didn’t know what yet. Instead, Scar spoke up.

 

“Half an hour, huh? Why didntcha tell us sooner?” He sounded hurt, in a way. The landscaper didn’t seem too pleased about having had to worry a lot longer than necessary. Doc just sighed and looked at the ground uncomfortably, but False looked Scar straight in the eyes.

 

“Honestly, we needed some time to… deal with stuff, ya know, before talking to all of you.” Her voice was flat and tired, and she tried to convey most of her pain with her eyes. Gone was her smile, she just looked as though she wanted nothing more than to turn back time.

 

Both Scar and Cub came closer as well, the former crouching down to be at eye level with False.

 

“What happened in there, False?” His voice was gentle, not accusatory at all. She sighed, eyes dropping to the ground.

 

“It was a trap. The spid- Arachne was there, with close to fifty cave spiders and-” she swallowed “- and Biffa. We couldn’t even get close to them because of the spiders, but then...” False shuddered, pulling the blanket closer around her, suddenly cold despite the warmth of the fire. She really didn’t want to continue her story, it was still too fresh in her memory. Scar seemed to understand and waited patiently, but Cub certainly didn’t.

 

“And then?” False lightly frowned, muscles underneath her eyes pulling for a moment. Her lower lip was already slightly trembling even before she had said anything to them, and she knew that the question was not if she would cry if she told them, but when.

 

“Then they… Biffa… They sent him to- to kill us. I just… We… Wels… Wels, he… He just- He took on Biffa a-alone s-so we could…” Apparently, this was when. A sob escaped her throat, and her vision blurred with tears. Once more, Scar came closer, hugging her shaking and trembling form while uttering soft noises of comfort.

 

“Hey, hey, take your time. It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re safe here. Ssssh…”

Chapter Text

Inside his head, he was screaming. He wanted to let them know that he was still there, that he wanted them to help him, that he wanted them all to be safe and free. He wanted to warn them about Arachne, to let them know how he got this way so they would not make the same mistake, and he wanted to tell them to not give up.

 

Still, it didn’t seem to matter what he wanted, no matter how hard he pulled on the bars of his mental prison. Sally didn’t budge at all, keeping up that perfect mask of his. Through the green haze, Grian could see the shock on his friends’ faces, the full on anger that radiated from Iskall.

 

He stomped closer, hands balled into fists.

 

“What did that bastard do to you?!” he growled, grabbing Sally by the edges of his coat. “You are Grian, you understand? Don’t make me shake that into you.” Despite his anger, worry was woven through his words. The little spider simply made a sound of disdain in response.

 

I am Sally. And don’t worry, you all will be like me soon.”

 

No! I’m not Sally, Sally is a chicken! I’m Grian, I’m Grian, I’m Grian! Please don’t hurt them don’t hurt them don’t hurt my friends please!

 

For a split second, the green haze lifted and a pleading look appeared in his eyes. Then, as quickly as it came, it disappeared again as Sally mentally kicked Grian back down.

 

Iskall lifted him off the ground just a little. Ren came up closer now, as did Python, as far as their respective chains allowed.

 

“You. Are. GRIAN! And. You. Are. My. FRIEND!” He punctuated each word by shaking the builder. Sally just chuckled, and Grian internally screamed.

 

YES! THAT’S ME! Let me go let me go let me go free me please Iskall please free me.

 

Once more, he was pressed back down into a corner of his mind as the little spider pulled back the reigns.

 

I am not your friend, I don’t even know you.” There was no emotion in his voice, except maybe condescension and scorn. So I suggest you put me down.” Iskall seemed hurt by his words, judging by the way his brows furrowed and the look in his eye. Ever so slowly, he put the little spider back on the ground, then took a step back.

 

Grian, I swear, if you’re still in there, I will get you back,” There was a tremble in his voice, an unwillingness to just give up on his friend like that. Not when the builder’s familiar form was right in front of him, albeit tainted by that damned spider.

 

The little fly pushed hard, so hard to climb back to the drivers seat of his own mind. His body was trembling, he felt it, he saw it, and once more, the haze lifted, the green glow fading from his eyes.

 

Help-” he managed to bring out, barely louder than a whisper, straining hard to get through, to push Sally aside. He was pleading with his eyes, visibly scared of what was happening. Then the little spider pushed back harder than he could handle, and the haze came crashing down full force again. Grian had to give everything he had to not be pushed out of his own mind completely. The trembling stopped and Sally straightened out his clothes, the neutrality and uncaring back in his eyes as if nothing had happened. Before Iskall could grab him again, he moved backwards, out of reach.

 

No!” Iskall, in the same moment, subconsciously moved forwards, one arm outstretched as if that would keep Grian with him for longer. “Let him go, you… you… you monster!”

 

Sally just blinked, cocking his head slightly.

 

I don’t think I will.” Then he gestured to the plates with liquefied meat on the floor. “Bon appetit.”

 

And he started walking out, hearing the prisoners shout at him to stop, to give their friend back. The little spider scoffed. He had no friends.

 

Only a master.

 


 

 

Joe hadn’t managed to find Mumbo anywhere in the shopping district. Not in one of the shops, not down in the mall, not at Sahara, nowhere. His messages had still gone unanswered, and with each passing minute, worry grew. He knew Grian had been taken without having died, it could very well have happened again. Sure, he had no explanation as to why their enemy would have kidnapped their mole, but besides that, it was a solid theory.

 

And he had more, but to disprove the first of them, he was flying towards Mumbo’s globe. It could still be that he was just gathering some resources for the upcoming mission, or that he needed some alone time after what had happened. The latter was more likely, frankly. Joe knew that he himself generally wanted to be around people when he felt bad, but he also knew that not all of his friends were that way. He knew that X just disappeared into the End when things became too much, and False generally retreated into a nearby flower forest. He knew Scar had Jellie, Doc had his redstone projects, and that Grian either resorted to pranking people or to taking to the skies.

 

And Mumbo… Well, his storage system certainly seemed to make him happy. That place, or that ridiculous industrial zone of him. Joe had seen him a few times when flying past, the redstoner just staring at pistons firing, at items shooting past in ice streams. So right now he hoped he could find the man in the same place, because that would certainly soothe his worries.

 

As Joe flew past Grian’s empty base, he only gave it a glance in passing. No use dwelling on that right now, nothing productive would come out of that. Perhaps later, he would come back here and write a poem or a song about it, but not right now. Not with their raid coming up soon. Not with Mumbo missing. Not with his friends in danger.

 

He pulled the strings on more rockets, and before long, he landed at the top ring of the globe. Joe looked around from up there, but the redstoner was nowhere in sight. The only movement he could see was that of the polar bears in the ice quarter of his base, as well as a few stray chickens here and there. Nothing that would suggest Mumbo being there, or having been there recently. Underground, then?

 

With practised grace, he stepped off the edge, elytra deploying almost immediately after. He glid down, circling around the globe, down as far as he could. Still nothing there, and he wasn’t too sure on how to get underground.

 

Mumbo? Muuuuuumboooooooooo?!” he called out, hoping for some kind of answer. Joe looked around as the wind picked up a little, bringing the smell of smoke with it.

 

He frowned. Smoke? That seemed wrong. Very wrong. The poet turned towards the south-east, where the wind was coming from, and squinted. The clouds in the sky seemed greyer there, a lot greyer. There was barely any blue visible through it, and something in him said that those weren’t rain clouds.

 

Without lifting his eyes from the horizon, he got his communicator out. He didn’t even bother going into private messages, quite certain that this had nothing to do with their rescue mission.

 

<joehillssays> Something is burning

 

<joehillssays> South-eastern wind brings the smoke

 

<joehillssays> I can’t find Mumbo

 


 

 

He wasn’t sure how he would ever reach the sea. The fire was burning so brightly all around him, even above him, and it was almost unbearably hot. The crackling of the flames nearly drowned out the hisses of dying spiders, and breathing became harder by the minute because of the smoke-filled air. The fire was growing out of hand, and for the first time Mumbo was wondering if maybe it had been a bad idea to light it from right in the centre.

 

Days without spoon moments: 0.

 

He kept going through the motions of swimming forwards, moving his arms and legs in unison at the fastest pace he could hold for a longer time. If only he had some ender pearls or a riptide trident with him, that would make this so much easier. Or if he had Depth Strider on his boots, or a dolphin swimming with him. Sadly, he had none of those things, and he had to fend for himself. He just had to keep going, it was do or die right now. And given to what happened to the others when they died… He’d rather not. Going down in a fire was painful until the last moment too, he knew from experience.

 

And so he swam, putting one arm in front of the other time and time again. His muscles were complaining, his heart was beating fast, and his lungs were begging for fresh air, or something else he could breathe in without the air scorching his throat.

 

Come on, Mumbo. You got this.

 

Spiders swam past him, going in both directions, still occasionally pausing to look at him. Mumbo, however, opted to ignore it for now. He had no time or energy to also think about that. Not with the end of the river coming into sight, not with open sea so close. How far was it still? Maybe twenty metres? The valley was already widening, the heat of the fire a tiny bit less intense here. There was still the smoke, so much smoke, but once he got out, that would be solved. Just a bit further. Just a few strokes more.

 

The gentle waves and the salty taste and smell of the water were welcome, oh so welcome. Mumbo sighed, happy to be out of there. Just a bit further he swam, out of reach of the flames, and then he just turned and started threading water, watching the consequences of his actions.

 

The mountains were ablaze, large plumes of smoke rising up and moving on the wind. Some areas were simply smouldering after the brunt of the inferno had passed over it, others where still covered in flames. Mumbo wondered if they would spread, and if he should warn someone. He also wondered if he had enough wood with him for a crafting table and a boat. That would be stellar.

 

Before he could figure out if he did, though, he felt something clasping around his ankle. The redstoner only had time to take one shallow breath, and then he was pulled under the waves.

Chapter Text

Cubs fingers were dancing over the keyboard in a fast-paced salsa. Code in bright green letters ran over his screen, the occasional pop-up asking for confirmation or authorisation coming up every now and then. On the screens on the wall, the images shifted quickly as a small amount of drones moved away from the main island, and a different group was speeding through the Nether. He wanted eyes on the situation, and he wanted them fast. Sure, he knew there were a few Hermits currently busy gathering as many buckets as they could to aid Joe once he found the fire, but coordination needed to be in place by the time they got there.

 

And so he had thinned surveillance on the island in order to get drones over there. Was it a bad idea? Possibly. Then again, they needed to find out what was burning. To the south-east was only Jevin’s base, some farms, and a lot of forest, and any of those was at least slightly problematic if it was on fire. Especially the forest. There was a lot of it, and they really had no time to also be fighting a continent-wide wildfire next to the mutated spider person that had taken their friends. It was better to spend a little bit of time on that now, before the situation grew out of control.

 

The drones in the Nether had meanwhile reached their destination, the portal that would lead to Jevin’s base. Cub hit a few keys, and all but one of them switched to hover mode. The last one went through first, just to minimise losses if it was Jevin’s base that was on fire. The video feed changed to static the moment the drone entered the portal, the energy needed to move between dimensions interfering with the signal.

 

It was a tense five seconds, and then the feed came back on. For what he could see, the fidget spinner seemed perfectly fine. It was the capitalist’s cue to also send through the other drones, and to start figuring out how he could make them fly out. There had to be some logical path there, and Cub was positive he could find it. It would probably have been better if he had Jevin there with him to guide the way, but the slime man was one of the people currently gathering buckets.

 

Nevertheless, the capitalist just went for it. He was used to high-speed manoeuvring of the drones, and once he got one out, the others would be easy. Once again, he let the majority of his platoon hover in the air while he shifted most of his attention to one of them.

 

The feed moved, showing rooms and hallways and occasionally a wall from very close by. Still, Cub knew what he was doing, and was able to dodge out of the way or break at the right moments. Before he knew it, he found a way out through the very centre of Jevin’s base. With a few more clicks, the drone halted, hovering slightly to the side of the entrance and slowly spinning in place to get a good image of everything around it. Then the rest of the platoon started moving, flying through the halls, buzzing like a swarm of bees.

 

And then they too burst through the hole in the ceiling, ready to move. The feeds were a little blurry here and there as clouds of smoke wafted past, and for the first time, Cub got eyes on what was happening. In the distance, he could see the mountains burning brightly in a scene that looked as though someone had cut it straight from the Nether.

 

He cursed under his breath as his fingers restarted their dance. At some point he would needed to make a connection from his keyboard and screen to his communicator, but he didn’t have that right now. Once more, the drones started moving, this time towards the mountains, slowly fanning out to reach decent coverage. He only had to make a few more tweaks in their paths before he found it acceptable enough, and he quickly dug up his communicator.

 

<cubfan135> It’s the mountains between Jevin’s base and the Halloween district

 

<cubfan135> Jevin’s portal is safe to go through, haven’t checked the Halloween one yet

 

<cubfan135> No eyes on Mumbo yet either

 

The capitalist sighed, straightening his shoulders and back. Back to flying the drones it was.

 


 

 

Logic dictated that if you wanted to fight fire, you needed to send in those least bothered by the heat. As someone that felt most comfortable in the Nether, Tango was the first to drop what he was doing and volunteer. He knew how to handle fire, and he wasn’t afraid to just dive in head-first if it was needed. So now he was busy scooping up buckets of water, both for himself and for the others that would be going. The question was who that would be, because as of that moment they were trying to juggle two large problems at once, and both needed attention. They were already missing six people because of that damned spider, Joe was out in the field, Mumbo was MIA and he’d be surprised if False and Doc would be going out for this.

 

Tango was considering the possibilities as he heard someone coming up to him. A quick glance to the side revealed it was Jevin, who had just put down a shulkerbox filled to about a third with buckets. He whistled, impressed by the sheer amount of them. That had to have cost a lot of iron to make. The buckets were needed, though. They couldn’t quite go and create infinite water sources all over the mountains, that would be another disaster to clean up afterwards.

 

“Are you going too?” the demon asked, bending forwards to fill yet another bucket. He wasn’t sure how many they would need, but more was probably better. Jevin put a few empty buckets on the ground, then sat on his knees on the edge of the water.

 

“I kinda have to, don’t I? It’s close to my base, I know the general area. Besides, I’m quite sure that Cleo can hold the fort without me.” He didn’t entirely sound happy about it, but shrugged anyway. There was not much he could do about it, so he’d just do what he could, which right now consisted of gathering water.

 

“Well, you don’t have to, of course, but having more people helping out is nice.” Tango swapped out the full bucket for another empty one. “Do you have fire resistance potions arranged for yourself? I can image the heat isn’t so nice with… you know.” He vaguely gestured to the slime Jevin was composed of. The latter simply nodded.

 

“Yeah, I got some on me. Skin melting and sticking to my clothes is not really something I look forward to, so I got my precautions, man.”

 

Tango made a noise of understanding, but didn’t say more. Together, they returned to just filling buckets in silence.

 


 

 

Even without a sword and shield, even without armour, Wels eventually grew sweaty and tired. His singing had gone from a loud bellowing to a softer muttering to humming to only in his head, but there was still a rhythm behind his motions. There were still clear patterns in his movements, a dance of blocking, parrying and slashing. Over time, the tempo had gone up as well, with the knight barely standing still between two moves.

 

He was so engrossed in his practice that he didn’t even notice it when someone passing through the blackness. In his perception, they just were there suddenly, standing and observing him, a plate in their hands. The moment Wels finally saw them, he stopped dead in his tracks. It was the last person he expected to just waltz in.

 

“Grian…?” he asked, panting but with suspicion in his voice. The calm and peace the builder was radiating did not align with the few sentences he had heard him shout not hours before. Something here was off, but he wasn’t sure what. It could be the lack of a red sweater, it could simply be the disdain in the way he looked at him, it could be a combination of things. The one thing the knight was sure of, was that he could trust this about as far as he could throw the person in front of him.

 

Which was to say, not really that far.

 

As the builder came closer, Wels actually did not drop his defences. His instincts were both screaming for him to do so, because this was his friend, and to please please please keep them up because there was no way that this was his friend.

 

‘Grian’ did not go to attack him, though. He just put down the plate a few meters away from the slabs.

 

“Bon appetit,” he said, in a voice that was at the same time so very familiar and so very off. The builder straightened his back once more, then started moving back to where he had entered, disregarding any reactions the knight had. Just before that, though, he turned around, looking Wels straight in his eyes with those unnaturally green eyes of his.

 

“And Wels? Thank you. You caused me to be like this.” With a soft chuckle he stepped backwards, through the black wall and out of Wels’ sight.

Chapter Text

Preparing for the firefighting action had not taken long at all, and before they knew it, Tango and Jevin were meeting Joe at the top of the fidget spinner. It seemed to be the safest vantage point, if they had to believe Cub. Given the amount of drones they could spot from where they stood, believing him was more than likely grounded.

 

“Did you find Mumbo yet, or…?” Tango asked while Jevin put down the shulker full of buckets. Joe shook his head.

 

“I did not, and though didn’t want to at first, it may be necessary for us to be prepared for the worst.” The poet started taking out a few water buckets, putting them in his own inventory.

 

“Hmm… I think you may be right, especially cause he’s not answering his comms.” The demon sighed. “Ah well. We gotta focus on the task at hand. Getting that-” he pointed towards the inferno “- under control.”

 

“What we figured out as the best tactic is to make a wall of water around the fire to contain it first. After that, Tango goes in to try and take away as much burnable stuff as possible, while we try quench the flames from the outside, working inwards. We got Cub on standby to coordinate everything, cause he got eyes on the situation. Questions?” Jevin asked, counting the points on his fingers as he spoke.

 

“No, I can’t say that I do. Let’s go for it, fire fighting crew!”

 


 

 

Not too far away, Mumbo was struggling to get back to the surface. He needed air, and he needed it now. The drowned clinging to his legs had different ideas, though. He could feel how their bony fingers scraped over his armour, trying to find his skin so they could rip it open and eat it. Or at least, that’s what Mumbo presumed. None of them knew what drove the monsters in their world, and frankly, this probably was not the moment to get all philosophical about that. He could do that when he wasn’t drowning.

 

The redstoner opened up his inventory in a hurry, getting out his sword. Wielding the thing underwater was a nightmare, but it was better than becoming fish food. He desperately stabbed downwards, to where the hands were, and he felt the blade connecting. The drowned let out a sound of pain, that the water turned into a deformed gurgle. The momentum also drove him up a little, but the monsters didn’t let go just yet.

 

Again, he stabbed, his movements slowed by the water, but seemingly still effective. One of the hands, still wrapped around his ankle, stopped moving. The drowned it had been attached to just moments before gurgled again, letting its other hand go in order to swim up and try to grab Mumbo’s arm in retaliation. The sword slashed through the water, making it twirl a rusty red as it also hit the undead. It let out a last screech, then its head detached from its body and floated up.

 

Up, that direction he should also be going. His lungs were already burning, and there was still one of those monsters clinging to his leg, clawing upwards. Mumbo kicked at it with his free leg, and he felt his foot connecting to something hard. Probably a skull, possibly bone. He didn’t particularly care, though, as long as it let him go. Just for good measure, he kicked again while he tried to swim up with his arms.

 

With only one drowned trying to drag him down, he actually started moving towards the light a little now. With renewed vigour, Mumbo moved and kicked, inching closer to the surface. The edges of his vision were already starting to darken, and every fibre of his being was fighting the urge to breathe in. He shouldn’t, he knew he shouldn’t, but he also knew that at some point his air would run out, and it was probably sooner rather than later.

 

Under him, the undead gurgled and screeched each time his kicks connected, and before long, it felt as though a weight dropped from his ankle. Mumbo rose up through the water, not wanting to think about what would run out sooner, his breath or the amount of meters to the surface.

 

Maybe half a meter under the surface, he could no longer stop the urge of breathing out the last bit he had in his lungs. The bubbles rose alongside him, but faster, and he could see them pop open as they came into contact with the air above him. The next response of his body was to breathe in, cause he had just breathed out.

 

The salt water burned as it went down his throat, straight into his lungs. With one last desperate kick he broke through the surface, just as he started to cough in reflex, trying to get the water out of his lungs. Had he still been under the waves, that would have most definitely resulted in his lungs filling up further, but here… it meant oxygen, blessed, blessed oxygen.

 

Water dripped out of his mouth and nose, the salt burning as it went, and he felt awful, but at the very least he was still alive. Drowning was not a good way to go. It was painful and scary and not at all as peaceful as people said it was. He coughed more, wanting to get rid of the horrid feeling in his chest, not to much effect.

 

The redstoner was tired, because of both the struggle for air and the struggle against the drowned, so the step to just let himself float was an easy one to make. Mumbo drifted on his back, looking up in the sky. Above him, clouds sped past, smelling of smoke and fire. And there was a bird of sorts up there too. He blinked tiredly, not entirely knowing what kind it was. He faintly recognised it, but with its four wings it was difficult to put a name to it. Maybe he was just hallucinating, that could also still be something. Birds had two wings, not four. And yet, it seemed familiar.

 


 

 

Back in the video room, Cub nearly missed the head coming up through the waves. At first glance, it had looked like a drowned, with black hair messily hanging down over greyish skin, heavy with water. He had almost sent his drone further on its route, were it not for the flash of red he saw. That, and another dot of hair, this time in the middle of the face. It made him reconsider, and he actually sent the drone lower, to take a better look.

 

When he realised what he saw, he wasted no time in taking out his communicator.

 

<Cubfan135> I HAVE EYES ON HIM

 

<Cubfan135> in the ocean, approximately 1300 -200

 

<Cubfan135> firefighters, get him, he does not seem well

 

<iJevin> !!!!

 

<iJevin> On it!!

 

His attention went back to the screens, and while he knew he needed to keep an eye on the fire, his gaze kept getting pulled to the one with Mumbo on it. How the redstoner had managed to get there, in that condition, he didn’t know, but Cub did know that they’d get him out of it, and he’d keep an eye on the situation until they did.

 

It took only a minute of watching the redstoner float on the waves before Jevin got in sight, followed by Joe. The capitalist let out a breath he didn’t knew he was holding as they did. Joe did something, then a boat laid in the water next to Mumbo. The poet landed inside it, while the slime man came down in the water. It seemed to be on purpose, as Jevin was helping Joe push Mumbo out of the water and into the vessel. The redstoner himself looked disoriented at best, looking around him as though he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. He was neither helping nor struggling as they loaded him onto the boat.

 

Then Jevin looked up, straight at the drone, and made an okay sign in it’s direction. Immediately, Cub started typing in some minor changes in altitude and movement that would make it look as though the drone nodded. He sent the drone further on its route, and then he grabbed his communicator again.

 

<Cubfan135> Mumbo has been safely recovered.

 

For a short moment, nothing happened, but then small messages of relief came flooding in. It was almost as though they too had been dreading the worst, and were now for the first time in days celebrating a little victory. It didn’t matter that they didn’t really know what exactly had happened, it mattered that this was basically a morale boost. And that was something they all could use these days.

 

Cub sat back on his chair, a small smile on his lips. This was good. One problem dealt with. Two more to go, hopefully.

 

He didn’t notice the small green spider entering through the gap under the door, and he didn’t notice how it climbed up the wall. Cub didn’t see it find a nice spot, high in a corner, in which it made a small web, and he certainly didn’t notice it turning to observe everything that was going on in the room.

Chapter Text

With Mumbo still coughing and looking not entirely there, they decided to have Joe boat him back to the bunker. Both the Nether and flying would be faster, but neither of them would be safe for the redstoner in his current state, so they had chosen the only other viable option.

 

It did mean that dousing or at the very least controlling the fire fell entirely on Jevin and Tango. It sucked, but they’d manage. Somehow. They had to. Perhaps they could even figure out what had caused it in the first place, that seemed moderately important as well. The simplest hypothesis was that Mumbo had something to do with it, because it was too much of a coincidence that they found him half drowning this close to the fire. Plus, his skin had been greyish, almost as though there had been soot or ash on there before he went into the water.

 

They’d probably have to just ask Mumbo whenever they got back home. Speculating got them nowhere, and they had a hotter issue to deal with at that point. Quite literally, even.

 

Tango took lead, flying to the south for the first leg of their quest. The further they got, the less dense the smoke was as they came past it. It probably had something to do with the direction of the wind and how far the fire had spread already.

 

“You know what I just realised?” Jevin suddenly called out. “Joe took like a third of the buckets!”

 

The demon frowned, but not much could be done about it at that point.

 

“That sucks! Guess we’ll just have to create some extra sources at some point, then.”

 

“Yep, seems that way. Oh well!”

 

As ocean underneath them transitioned to land, the duo touched down, immediately switching their fireworks for buckets. Jevin had the honour of pouring out the first water, starting their barrier at the seaside. Then he immediately went to refill his bucket with seawater, because it was still viable to do so. Even before the first watersource had finished spreading, Tango had already put down the first of his buckets a few meters further from the sea. That way, the areas where the water flowed would partially overlap, making their barrier wider.

 

The process repeated with Jevin pouring out a second bucket an equal distance further, and it didn’t take long before the duo had found a good rhythm of placing watersource after watersource. They moved just faster than average walking speed due to having to take buckets from their inventory and then taking a short sprint to catch up with the other person. It worked so far, but the question was how long they could keep this up. At some point, the fire would catch up to them, and then things would start to get tricky. It didn’t help that they couldn’t predict how fast and to where it would spread, not even with Cub keeping an eye on the situation via his army of drones. There were simply too many factors, too many unknowns.

 

Their operation mostly ran on hope that they would be fast enough and confidence in their capabilities of high-speed water placement. It was a skill that most Hermits possessed and kept polished in case of sudden falls or hordes of endermen, and Tango and Jevin were no exception to that.

 

Every now and then, Jevin took out his communicator, checking both their coordinates and the next set of instructions Cub had given. No doubt that the capitalist was keeping track of their position and that of the fire, and was steering them accordingly. Right now, the instructions called for a diagonal stretch in order to stay parallel to the edge of the mountains and the fire they could see in the distance.

 

It was easy enough, given that they were still in a plains biome that was relatively flat, but plotting their course would probably get a lot more difficult in the sections of forest at the other sides of the mountains. They had only needed to deal with one ravine on their path so far, but if anything, that had made their task a lot faster. Tango had simply pointed out that the ravine was stone, stone, and more stone, and that wouldn’t burn. So by slightly moving their barrier to line up with the beginning and end of the ravine, they were effectively able to just skip quite some distance without worry.

 

There was still quite some distance to cover, though, perhaps more than they could on their own. The only way to find out was to simply keep going.

 


 

 

The room was shrouded in a comfortable twilight, with a glow coming from somewhere. The walls seemed directly hewn from some dark kind of stone, as the hallways had been, but unlike those hallways, these walls were devoid of cobwebs. There was only one of them here, a big one spanning over the back half of the space, and only a single creature that could loosely be described with “spider” sat in the middle of it.

 

He stood next to the web, facing it with his back turned to the wall. He held his arms and hands behind him, standing at attention should he get some kind of task. It probably wouldn’t happen any time soon, though. He had just returned from one, after all. Then again, he could not look into the thoughts of his liege, so who knew what would happen?

 

And so he stood, eyes trained on the wall across from him and the person standing there. He swore he knew him from somewhere, just… from where? Wherever it was from, it had to be long ago. The few memories that his brain managed to rake up with that same person in it were vague, deteriorated by time and other things. Though, to be fair, most of his memories were. And frankly, those didn’t really matter. They gave unnecessary context, created unwanted ties to others, and distracted him from what was really important here.

 

That, of course, was his liege. They would make the world a better place, and he had been chosen to help in that. It was an honour in itself to be allowed to stand there in their very presence for so long. Even after days, after weeks of standing there, he still felt that spark of pride in his heart. Sure, in the beginning there had still been a part of him that was vehemently against it, but that bit of him seemed to become more and more quiet over time, until it had finally completely shut up.

 

The servant let his eyes glide from the person in front of him to his liege. They sat still, an expression of joy on their face and a gaze set on infinity. The gentle glow that came from their eyes betrayed that something more was happening than them just zoning out. He knew that glow, for he had seen it many times before. They were looking. How it even worked he did not dare question, he just knew that his liege was able to look at places far away.

 

Given that it could well take quite some time before they were able to give orders once more, his eyes went back to that other person. Their garb was comparable, both made from that same beautiful dark green silk. They both wore the same symbol on their chest, and the servant knew that both of them had the same vibrant green eyes. The main difference between them was the fact that the other person seemingly had purple wings, and he himself was partially made of pink and yellow metal.

 

His cool gaze was met with one bordering on neutral but not entirely there yet. Some part of that other servant looked not entirely comfortable being there, but he got that. It was intimidating to stand this close to such a powerful creature for the first time, and the servant didn’t doubt that he had been the same. It didn’t matter now, though. He had gotten used to it all. The near permanent twilight, the tasks, the presence. The screams that sometimes echoed through the hallways, the strange prison rooms that screwed with his perception, the ever present cobwebs and spiders. The other servant would too, in time.

 

In the web, Arachne stirred, blinking once. The red glow faded from their eyes, and a chuckle sounded.

 

“The little flies… I overestimated them, it seems.”

 

He kept his mouth shut, knowing that if they wanted to expand on that, they would do so unprompted.

 

“Their defences are… weak, almost not present at all. They squander their potential.”

 

With that, they started moving, expertly treading over the threads of their web. Both servants followed them with their eyes, careful to not look in theirs.

 

“You.” They pointed to him, and he set a step forwards. “I have a task, little spider. Spread these in front of their little bunker. Should they attack… Send a few little flies into my web.” Arachne presented him with a handful of purple feathers, and ever so briefly, he thought he saw the other servant twitch. It had to be his imagination, though. Half a second later everything seemed fine again, as though nothing had happened. The servant bowed slightly.

 

“With pleasure, my liege.” Then he held out his hand to accept the feathers. He felt honoured to be sent out alone, as that reflected a certain amount of trust that his liege apparently had in him.

 

“Go.” Once more, the servant bowed, a little deeper this time, before walking to the door. In his mind, a few errant thoughts came drifting up, showing imagery of a bunker, still under construction. It showed a bearded old face, an amalgamation of buildings in different styles and sizes, an entrance into a hillside. He knew where he needed to go, and he knew how he could get there.

 

And so the servant went on his way, a sword hanging from each hip and the feathers tucked away in his inventory.

Chapter Text

Judging by the sheer amount of information that had been explained to her in the past few hours, she was hard on her way to becoming some kind of backup admin. If only she had fingers to operate a communicator, and a voice she could talk with to point out the obvious flaws in the code of the Hermits.

 

Sadly, she had neither of those, and thus could only listen, a disgruntled expression on her face as she was passed between them. Sure, she got a lot of scritchies because of it, but the thing she wanted most right now was just to take a nap, preferably on something warm. Scars lap would do just fine, as would a furnace or the floor in front of a hearth. She’d even settle for the one with the blanket fort in the corner, that seemed mighty comfortable too.

 

For now, though, she was blinking at the helmeted man that sounded more desperate and frustrated by the minute as he continued explaining what he had been doing so far and why it should in theory work. He barely seemed to notice the way her tail wagged slowly, to signify her annoyance with this all.

 

“… and it goes through the list of all spawn points one by one. It then checks the coordinates against the ones Wels sent, with a margin of 100 in all directions in order to account for possible deviations. When the script finds a spawn point within that margin, it will add the person linked to that spawn point to a list, noting down the exact coordinates and the dimension as well. It all has to be run with administrator privileges otherwise the script will just throw errors and return null. But right now it just returns an empty list, which can’t be right. At the very least, Wels should be on the list, and he isn’t.”

 

She looked at him, blinking once more. If he’s not on the list then his spawn point isn’t at that place. It was that simple. Jellie let out a grumpy ‘mrow’, then swatted at his communicator.

“Hey, stop that!” He held up his communicator, out of her reach, his eyes darting towards Scar. “Your cat isn’t having it any more, I think.”

 

Her owner just chuckled, taking her from the helmeted man’s lap and holding here in his arms. He spoke up as he started gently petting her.

 

“Jellie! That’s not nice, girl, why did you do that, huh? Was that necessary?” His voice was soothing and familiar and safe, and the cat closed her eyes and purred as an answer. This was good. Above her, she heard Scar sigh.

 

“Apparently it was,” he stated, gaze once more switching to the helmeted man. In the corner, the blanket fort moved and started making sound too.

 

“Hey X, what happens when you just… I don’t know, manually check those points? If you’re sure that your script is correct, then maybe something is up with the points themselves,” a pleasant female voice sounded through the room.

 

“I can’t imagine that those being anything but wrong, really, but I’ll check.” He returned to typing for a bit, adjusting his script a little to just print the data of all spawn points, then pressed RUN.

 

He was silent for a bit as the results appeared on the screen. Then his face scrunched up in a frown.

 

“This... can’t be right. It just… How?!” He seemed slightly flabbergasted, and Jellie let out a satisfied meow.

 

“Oh, shut up you. You could have told me sooner.” In return, she looked at him smugly, and he sighed.

 

“You do realise you’re talking to a cat, right?” the blanket fort chimed in, and Scar chuckled too. However, the helmeted man ignored them, rambling on and exploring this train of thought.

 

“This means it goes wrong somewhere else. They didn’t change the spawn points, so… They somehow changed how the respawning works? Can they even do that? Wait, did they just… override the parameters, or…?”

 

He furiously started typing again, and Scar went to sit on one of the chairs. It immediately prompted Jellie to make herself comfortable on his lap. With her owner gently stroking the fur on her back, it didn’t take long for her to fall into a purring sleep.

 


 

 

It was quiet out on the ocean, save for the rhythmic sloshing of the oars. He was rowing at a pleasant speed, one he could keep up for a while without problems, back turned to where they were going. His eyes were mostly on Mumbo, who was still occasionally coughing heavily as he laid over his seat in what seemed to be an uncomfortable position. Joe noticed the other was mostly looking away, either over the low waves or up to the sky, basically anywhere that wasn’t him. He didn’t know why that was, but he did kind of want to find that out, and what had happened too.

 

The poet was about to speak up when the redstoner sank into another violent coughing fit, and he was sure he saw some water come up as well.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked softly when it died down again, worried about his friend. Mumbo sighed, thinking a moment before weakly nodding.

 

“Are you sure about that?”

 

This time, instead of a nod, he got a weak shaking of the head as response.

 

“That’s what I thought, if I’m being fair. Just… Mumbo, why where you even there? We were all looking for you, cause about your leave we didn’t have a clue.” There was worry on his face, together with curiosity. Mostly worry though, because he didn’t know what would have happened if Cub had not flown there with his drones at that time. They could’ve lost him, right there and then.

 

Instead of words, though, Mumbo was silent, responding with a shrug while looking even more away. Perhaps the other man thought Joe wouldn’t notice the clearly visible guilt on his face if he did that. It made the poet think. Had Mumbo received another task, that had just gone wrong? No doubt they would have known about that then, Cub would have warned them. It had to be something else. The question was what.

 

“Did you have anything to do with the fire?” he asked quietly, not accusing him of anything. It would just give him a puzzle piece if he knew the answer. Many questions would leave him with pieces, but this could very well be a corner piece, or an edge piece at the very least. Something that would make the rest of the puzzle easier to solve.

 

Mumbo very briefly glanced towards him, a certain pain in his eyes. He started to nod, then halted, gaze shifting over to the water once again.

 

“Yeah...” he muttered softly, almost too soft to hear over the sounds of the waves. Was that the vague outline of a puzzle piece appearing? Yes?

 

“Do you know what caused it?” Again, that soft voice. Again, the pause afterwards, to let the other decide how long he needed before answering. Joe saw Mumbo tense up for a moment, closing his eyes shut before rubbing his forehead. The poet was sure he saw the other man’s lips moving, but what he said he didn’t know. Lipreading was sadly not one of the skills he possessed, not yet at the very least.

 

“Could you speak up a little? I couldn’t hear you, not even a tittle.” He slowed his rowing pace by a bit, looking straight at Mumbo. He could just see the conflict on his face, even though the other tried to hide it. Everyone knew the redstoner just couldn’t keep a pokerface at all, and it was just proven once again. He heard a sigh, but the other was still not looking at him.

 

“… cobwebs. I-” A series of coughs interrupted him once again, but Joe had the time. After all, he was the one that decided how long this trip would take.

 

“I set them on fire. Thought it would get rid of them.” A puzzle piece, in colour this time. As to why… Still no reason nor rhyme.

 

Joe was silent in response, just tilting his head slightly as he kept looking at Mumbo. Perhaps if he stayed quiet for a bit longer, he’d feel prompted to say more. It was very interesting, though. He got why Mumbo of all people would want to destroy some cobwebs, he just didn’t know why he didn’t clue in the others or how burning a few of the things would lead to an entire biome turning into a raging inferno. It didn’t make sense yet in his head. Not until he uncovered some more pieces of this puzzle, and he had no doubt that he would.

 

“I think I misjudged how well they burnt, there were so many of them...” his voice was weak, but still audible at the very least and that was something.

 

“How many?” Only now did Mumbo look at Joe, with a tired and guilty look in his eyes.

 

“They were just everywhere.”

 

The poet noticed the guilt, but couldn’t quite place it. His guess would be that he felt guilty because the mountains were now burning, that made most sense. The other option would be that he was responsible for the cobwebs, and that was… not very likely. Unless one of his tasks had had that as result, but how could Joe ask anything related to that? Mumbo didn’t know they knew, and it was best he would be kept in the dark, else their enemy would know in no time what was going on.

 

Still, he had to ask about it, didn’t he? If only to rule out that possibility. Then again, why would Mumbo first cause the cobwebs and then destroy them? That didn’t make much sense. Joe frowned lightly.

 

“Did you know they’d be there when you got here?” he finally just asked, and the redstoner shook his head.

 

“No, I didn’t. I just…happened to fly here when I found them.” There was a slight tremble in his voice, a small change in tone and speed of his words. His eyes once more darted around to anything that wasn’t Joe, and his fingers were fidgeting with his buttons again.

 

To the poet, it was clear something about what he said wasn’t true.

 

“So you just flew out here for no reason, on your own? Don’t you know we’d worry if you go out all alone?” Perhaps it wasn’t entirely fair of him to throw in that the other Hermits worried. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely the nicest strategy for getting answers, but it would more than probably work.

 

It was once again silent in the boat for a bit, in which Mumbo very intently stared at the bottom of the boat. Joe just looked at the redstoner, one eyebrow raised, waiting until he’d get an answer. And he was stubborn enough to win a silent staring competition. It also gave him time to just study the other man, seeing a variety of emotions pass over his face like a theatre play. More guilt. Stage left: enter sadness. Exeunt, chased by helplessness. Frustration entered, then left once more, and then got replaced by a little bit of anger. Perhaps they were one and the same emotion, perhaps one was simply a logical implication of the other. Whatever it was, fear came in, then anger left. It was joined by a tad more helplessness, and then the fear and helplessness joined and merged into acceptance.

 

“I just… I needed to get out of there, you know? It’s my fault that False, Doc and Wels went, and when we got the death message… I just… I… I didn’t want to deal with that. I didn’t want them all to look at me like it was my fault, so I ran. Flew. Same difference.” Mumbo sighed. “And so I came here.”

 

Joe looked at him, cocking his head to the side ever so slightly. He saw none of the usual tells, so the redstoner was telling the truth. His gut told him that there had to be something more, but he didn’t know what. And so he did the only thing he really could do at that point.

 

“You know? That’s valid.”

 

Then he sped up his rowing pace once more, telling himself the almost relieved sigh he saw meant nothing.

Chapter Text

Ever since he had left, they had been discussing about what to do about Grian, how they could get him back. They knew he was still in there, they had seen it, ever so briefly, they had heard it. The question was how to snap him out of whatever Sally was. They needed to figure out how to break the spider’s influence. The Endbusters knew that if he returned, they had to be ready for it, because they would only get one chance to get this right.

 

“Okay, so, we know he was able to come through to us once or twice, but we don’t know exactly what triggered it. If we can figure that out, we can find a way to replicate it. My guess would be on some kind of personal connection, showing that we care and that we are his friends,” Iskall stated, looking at the other two in turn.

 

“I don’t know, man, you think power-of-friendship-ing this would work? Cause if so, we’re gonna need to step up our game. When he tried speaking he was visibly straining and still only managed to bring out one word, and that was after you tried shaking your feelings into him. It makes me worry about what we’re gonna need to completely get him to be Grian again,” Ren sighed, a frown on his face and fingers idly rubbing over the stubble on his chin. Python was tapping out a rhythm on the slab as he sat, sunken deep in thought.

 

“Let’sh jusht try to hug him until fat Shally vershion of him givesh up. And fen tell him shtoriesh of ush ash we do fat, ‘caushe he can’t leave anyway fen,” he mused, voice sounding as though he wasn’t entirely mentally present.

 

“That sounds… Maybe just strange enough to work?” Iskall pushed some hair away from his face as he looked over at Python.

 

“Would that be enough, though?” Ren’s frown deepened, and without missing a beat the snakeman answered.

 

“Do you have a better idea, fen?”

 

“Well, yes, we could… Uh… Yeah, we might just… No, that wouldn’t work either, we could… Uhm… I… No. No, I don’t have anything better,” he sighed, a little bit flustered perhaps, “not right now at the very least.”

 

“Then let’s roll with this plan for now. If anyone has any brilliant ideas, though, please do share them.” Letting out a breath, his eyes wandered over to the plates that ‘Grian’ had left for them. He didn’t even want to know what the goop on them was, let alone eat it, and he was still feeling pretty certain about that. It had been… An amount of hours since they got here. It didn’t yet feel like a day, and he was more than able to resist hunger for some time more. And even then, the swede was quite sure that the other two would help him not touch it, just like he would do the same for them. Who knew what it was, what poison could be mixed into it.

 

Besides, Wels had had contact with the other Hermits, they could just as well wait to be freed first. They could be here any moment now. Aaaaany moment.

 


 

 

So far, they had managed to steer clear of the fire. With a bit of help of the wind blowing towards the sea, the flames hadn’t spread out far from the mountains, not yet, only catching on a tree here and there. Those fires were quickly put out as they went, actually sticking closer to the edge of the forest now to minimise the damage as much as possible. Was it going to work? Only time would tell with certainty, but for now their barrier of water certainly seemed to help. The duo had even passed the halfway point if they should believe Cub, the deciduous forest switching to hilly taiga when they crossed over a river. It was also their moment to quickly refill all of their buckets before going on, because the next checkpoint was quite a ways away.

 

As they filled, Jevin cast a worried look at the sky. The sun had moved over their heads and was now somewhere behind the mountains and the big plume of smoke coming from them, casting the world in shadow. The majority of the light was either of the soft diffuse variety, or were the harsh and hot rays coming from the wildfire.

 

“We should hurry, else this is gonna be an all-nighter. Just surrounding it, I mean. Whatever is burning in those mountains is going to eventually run out anyway, but the woods out here, those not so much.”

 

Tango looked up too, double checking what the slime man had said.

 

“Yeah… I’m not overtly enthusiastic about firefighting with mobs trying to get at us, but it seems we don’t really have another choice if we want to keep the forests. And the Halloween district. Let’s not forget the Halloween district.” His eyes followed the river, and in the distance he could still vaguely see the giant phantom statue that X had built. Would be a shame if that were to go up in flames. “Gotta say, though. I’ll gladly offer up these forests if that means we won’t die. If the mobs get too much, we’ll just flee and continue at another point.”

 

“That’s acceptable. Not a solution I want to have to resort to, but acceptable nonetheless.” Jevin finished shoving the last few buckets into his shulkerbox and stood up. “Ready when you are.”

 

“Just one more bucket, gimme a sec.” With a splash, the bucket went under water, and a few seconds later the demon too stood up, nodding at Jevin to go for it. The latter was asking Cub for the right direction to go in now, accounting for the wind and the fact that nightfall would be soon.

 

“North-North-West for a while, it seems. And… We should watch out for spiders…?” The slime man frowned when passing through the last part of the message, not entirely getting it. “Those shouldn’t be able to spawn just yet, it’s still too bright out for that.” Tango simply shrugged.

 

“If he’s warning us for that, I guess there’s spiders out. Best to keep it into account, then.”

 

With that taken care of, the duo started moving once more, their next heading taking them rather close past the rocky inclines. From this distance, they could see the flaming remains of webs covering large parts of the stone, but they did not have the time to stand still and examine that. It was merely something they stored away in their thoughts to look at later. Or to have Cub look at, or someone else on the tech team. It could very well be something important, but right now, conserving the forests seemed more important.

 

Once more, they fell back into their pattern of getting a bucket, placing water, and short sprints to catch up to the other once more. The duo covered distance fast, the barrier of water ever growing.

 

Not too much further, though, they found out what Cub had meant with ‘spiders’, because they found them. Many of them. Spiders that looked like venomous cave spiders except for their size. These were a lot larger. It seemed like they had all fled away from the fire, and were now hanging from the trees, sitting on stray rocks, chittering around on the forest floor. Quite a few stopped what they were doing the moment they noticed Tango and Jevin, though. Instead, they stood still, just looking at them.

 

Then one started slowly coming closer. Then another, and another, and another. They picked up speed as well, coming for them fast.

Chapter Text

He arrived at the main island as the sun touched the horizon. The trees and various buildings cast long shadows, which he gratefully used to move around in. He tried not to get seen for as long as possible, because he still had quite a distance to cover, but he knew his colours would make that difficult. Pink and yellow stood out, even with some of the frankly ridiculous builds that were dotted around on the land. Then again, he knew that it would be fine if he encountered just a singular person, or even a small group of them. The edges of his swords were honed sharp, and their weight laid comfortably in his hands. He had no qualms about sending people to his liege, none at all. He might have had, weeks or months ago, but that voice in his head had long stopped screaming.

 

The servant continued his path, vaguely recognising the surroundings as though he had been there before. Perhaps he had been, before he was who he was now. It would make the most sense if that was how he knew. Still, there was no real way of him validating that, and so he shoved the thought out of his mind for now. He had one goal and one goal only, and that was to do what his liege had told him to do.

 


 

 

Basking in the twilight of the room, he stood, arms behind him, shoulders straightened. He felt a strange mix of rejoice, horror and calm as he watched Arachne slurp something from what looked like a cocoon of spider silk. Rejoice and calm had the overtones, while the horror was more of a secret chord playing through it all. It didn’t fit the melody, and Sally tried getting it out of his system as best as he could. That was not his emotions. That was not right, and he should get rid of it. There was nothing to be afraid of here. Nothing too grotesque to watch. It was all fine. He was where he was supposed to be.

 

And how could he not enjoy seeing his master eat to get even stronger? It was beautiful, one of the best sights. The ease with which they handled it? The grace they displayed as they moved? Both wonderful.

 

With a very small smile on his face, he averted his gaze, in order to stare straight ahead, to the point where the other servant had been standing and the wall behind it. While he still felt a tad unworthy of standing here, it was a honour too. To be this close to his master, waiting to hear the next request that he could satisfy them with? It was almost heaven. Not quite, there were not enough spiders present for that, but it was close enough. Close enough for him, in any case.

 


 

 

In the video room, Cub was on the edge of his chair as he watched the situation unfold. His eyes were glued to the feed of one of the drones around the fire, keeping track of the fight as it erupted. There were so many spiders, and just Tango and Jevin to fight them. While he had a lot of faith in them, he was all but cursing out loud for them to get out of there. If there was something he most definitely didn’t want to do, it was watching his friends die live on stream. That would just be messed up. Completely messed up. His leg was bouncing up and down, and he had been chewing on his lip for the last minute or so. He was nervous, and since no one was there to watch him, he was comfortable with showing it.

 

That was, until the door slammed open, Doc standing in the doorway.

 

“How is the firefighting going?” he asked out loud, making Cub jump. He raised up a finger towards Doc without looking at him, signalling him to keep quiet or at the very least tone down the volume.

 

“They’re no longer fighting fire. It’s spiders. Quite a lot of them.” Still, he didn’t tear his eyes away from the moving images. He could hear Doc walk closer, though, and take place in the seat next to him.

 

“Craaaap…. That’s a lot indeed. Big ones, too.” The cyborg bent forwards, looking closer at the screen too. “How far away is that? I’m wondering if we can send backup in time. Though… They have elytra, why aren’t they just flying away?”

 

The capitalist breathed in through his teeth, frowning.

 

“I don’t know. I still hope they will, because this… I don’t think they’re going to win. Not even with the water they placed down to have them walk around. There’s simply too many of them.”

 

Doc hummed in response, his eyes gliding over the monitors. The last fight with spiders was still very fresh in his mind, and while it was very tempting to watch it unfold, he also knew that he would probably not like it. Not if it could result in another death. Perhaps that was why he caught the movement on the other feeds. Random chance could still explain how little zombies and creepers were moving about and how many spiders were there in their stead, but it couldn’t explain the person he saw, currently making their way through the medieval district. A person he knew. A person he recognised.

 

“Cub… We have an issue.” He simply pointed at the screen, hoping that the capitalist would follow his finger. Without him noticing, his breathing had become shallower, quicker. He was long happy that Biffa wasn’t at the same place as the torrent of spiders flooding Tango and Jevin, but he wasn’t too sure whether this was any better. Not if he was moving towards the bunker. Not if he still had those two swords hanging from his hips. Not if he was trying to not be seen. It could literally not mean good in any way, shape, or form, and Doc wasn’t sure on what to do now. Warn everyone, get them all inside, seal the door. That would be his plan, but he didn’t know if that could realistically be done in time before Biffa would arrive at the bunker.

 

“What is i- oh shit. Is that…?”

 

“Yeah...”

 

“I’m gonna warn the others. Like, right now. This is Bad, capital B.” Cub stood up, shoving his chair backwards so hard it almost toppled over. “Can you keep an eye on this all for a moment?”

 

Doc simply nodded, eyes following Biffa as he moved through the shadows of the approaching night. Somewhere, he was angry at him for killing Wels. Somewhere else, he had the feeling that the man hadn’t been quite himself at that moment either. He had seemed to be under the control of that spidery bastard, and Doc knew he wanted to get him out of there. He couldn’t stand watching his friends suffer any more than he could stand seeing them controlled by something evil.

 

And from his seat in the video room, he could see both, clear as day. Tango seemed to be yelling something at Jevin as they continued stabbing at the spiders. Biffa moved ever closer, passing by the place the Civil War had taken place, parts of both the shopping district and the modern district visible in the backdrop. Doc’s hands were clasped around the edge of the table, the fingers of his mechanical hand actually scraping into the wood without him noticing. The cyborg was tense, and he wasn’t sure if that came from anger, from fear or from something else entirely.

 

Was he going to lose friends tonight as well? Had four on a single day not been enough? Did he have to lose more than that? His eyes quickly moved between the screens, continuously catching bits from both the feed with the firefighters and the one with Biffa on them. Both seemed to work to a climax, with spiders closing in on all side and the distance to the bunker decreasing quickly. Doc could see Jevin trying to pull out his rockets between two blocking motions with his sword, as Tango desperately tried keeping the spiders off. With the amount of dead arachnids already laying around them, they were quickly running out of manoeuvring space, and he could only hope that they could get out in time.

 

The situation was all too familiar, and he’d rather not see a repeat of what had happened earlier that afternoon. Doc really didn’t want to, and yet, he couldn’t stop himself from looking between the two feeds. His breathing only became shallower, and he wouldn’t have noticed he was shaking if he wasn’t making a mug on the table rattle with it.

 

In the end, he decided to just focus on Biffa for now. That problem was still a ways away, at the very least, that was something they could prepare for. And they should, in his opinion. They won nothing by simply letting that man roam free. If anything, they should try and capture him, try to get him back to his normal self. The one not controlled by their enemy. Their fellow Hermit. Their friend.

 

And when his communicator buzzed once, he did not dare lift his gaze away from the feed with Biffa on it. He did not want to see if it was yet another death message. He knew he’d eventually have to check, but not right now. He couldn’t. He’d just imagine it was a simple normal message for now, and deal with it all later.

Chapter Text

The mood in the bunker had shifted drastically as Cub brought the news. Tasks in preparation for the raid were dropped, and weaponry and armour were donned instead. They weren’t sure what to expect, but the Hermits did know that if at all possible, they should contain Biffa, to try and get him back from that spidery bastard. The question was how much they were willing to sacrifice for that.

 

And so everyone that was at least a little bit redstone savvy found themselves in the area in front of the bunker, digging out holes here and there for machinery to go in. Really, they just needed to lure him into an area surrounded by double piston extenders, that should work at the very least temporarily. How they would then deal with the murderous robot in a box of stone was the second question, one they could probably deal with by adding enough obsidian around it before he managed to break through. Their timing would need to be perfect, though, if they triggered the trap too early or too late things could and probably would go horribly wrong. And this only worked if he indeed intended to go to where they were creating the trap, if not… well. Then there would be no one to trap.

 

TFC was the overseer for the project, considering that he knew where to find all the resources needed, as well as where it was safe to dig and where it would be less than optimal. It mostly boiled down to him having to herd Hermits to the right places, which was almost as difficult, if not more, as herding cats was. Sure, once they got into a flow things were fine, but the moment they ran out of anything it would just be a chaos, so the old man was instructing those not building redstone to go through the chests inside to find as many supplies as possible. Mostly pistons, repeaters and redstone dust, though. Those were the most important for this project, together with as much obsidian as they could scrape together.

 

In his pocket, he felt a buzz, signifying that he received a new message. Given that a few of the others looked up and at each other, they too had received it. There were only a few reasons for receiving one, though, and barely any of them were good.

 

“You kids continue on diggin’, I’ll check it out,” he stated loudly as he dug his communicator out of his pocket. TFC noticed that at least Impulse and Zedaph were looking at him, slowly shovelling away some more dirt, but he got that. Their buddy Tango was out there, quite probably in harms way with all the fire going on. The old man could barely ask them not to worry. And so, he tried to keep his face as neutral as possible when he read the message.

 

>> iJevin was slain by Spider

 

Shit.” He couldn’t completely dodge his eyebrows knitting together, trying to think about what would be the best thing to do now. He could pretend it was nothing, but he also knew the others would find out eventually. If anything, he should tell them, as clearly as possible, and then get everyone back to work once more. Yes, it royally sucked that Jevin had fallen, but it if they didn’t get this trap up and running as soon as possible they would be even more screwed. There was simply no time to grieve.

 

Listen up for a minute, will ya?” he said, looking around. There was seriousness in his voice, and it took no time at all for the other Hermits to drop their work for a moment. “I’m gonna be blunt for a moment. Jevin died just now. One of them damned spiders got ‘em. Which means it’s even more important for us to get this trap done, ‘cause we can’t afford to lose another one of y’all. So please, try and continue workin’ on it. It’s the best way to avenge him right now.”

 

Zedaph and Impulse looked almost relieved with the news, while the others looked various levels of shocked.

 

“Any word on Tango?” Impulse asked, and TFC shook his head.

 

Nothin’. Best not to speculate, though, it ain’t getting us nowhere useful.” The other nodded to that.

 

Gotcha,” he sighed, “well, this extender ain’t gonna build itself, guys.” And with that, they slowly went to work again, a lot quieter than before, some hands shaking and some eyes teary.

 


 

 

I have to move I have to move come on fireworks work please work you need to work there’s too much of them we have to get out we have to-

 

Logically, he knew that he had died, he had felt the pain as he got bitten again and again. And yet, he still found himself trying to pull the string of a rocket as he came to. Of course, there was no rocket in sight, and neither were his elytra or his armour or anything else he had been carrying. He did still feel the familiar weight of his communicator in the pouch of his sweater, though, so that was something.

 

First things first, though, he had to find his bearings and then get a move on. Jevin wasn’t too sure where he was, but any place with black stone and glowy green runes qualified as “evil” in his book. The cobwebs in the corners only strengthening that qualification. Given that he had no idea how long he had before someone would come, the slime man swung his legs over the edge of the table he had been laying on and hopped to the ground. First priority: getting out of this room. Second priority: getting out of whatever building he was in. Third priority: getting home. It wasn’t a sound plan, but guidelines nonetheless.

 

Without checking out the room further, he made haste to get to the door, also made from dark wood. The green glow in the room hadn’t even stopped dimming as he went through, ending up in a hallway with a clear staircase down on one end, a bunch of entrances to other rooms, and a turn where the hallway went around a corner. His instincts told him to head up, up, and out, and so it didn’t take Jevin long to decide to head to the right. After all, going downstairs wouldn’t help with going upwards.

 

He moved as quickly and quietly as he could muster, erring heavily on the side of speed rather than silence. The slime that made up his bare feet stuck to the floor only a little bit, making a soft schluck sound with every step he took. Jevin was just about to turn the corner when he heard footsteps coming from the other side. One pair sounded like bare skin on stone, the others… Skittering was probably the correct word, though it didn’t entirely convey what he heard.

 

He cursed under his breath, looking to both sides before deciding to dive into one of the other rooms. There was no sound coming from there, which made it at the very least a little bit safer than going around the corner right now. He’d just wait there until whomever was there had passed. If they would pass at all. It would be just his luck if he fled into the room they needed to be in.

 

Jevin took cover directly around the corner of the doorway, pressing himself up to the wall as far as he could. Which was quite far, given that most of him consisted of slime, making him quite flexible in multiple dimensions. He breathed out softly, eyes half closed, before looking around. There were cobwebs everywhere, with neatly organised packages wrapped in spidersilk hanging from them in rows.

 

Those are – or were, perhaps – large insects . I hope. I so hope those were insects.

 

He swallowed uncomfortably as he heard the footsteps approaching, and he glanced over his shoulder, through the doorway. From where he was he could just about see the door he had come through, as well as a bit of wall with more cobweb and a few skittering small spiders on them. He sure hoped those wouldn’t somehow give him away.

 

A nd then, a few seconds later, something moved into his field of vision. Long legs, covered in a dark green carapace. A torso that seemed almost superimposed on top of the lower half of a spider, with too many arms sticking out of it, a ll plated in that same dark carapace. Large mandibles, almost glowing red eyes. Eyes that luckily didn’t seem to notice him.

 

The spider was then followed by someone that seemed human enough. Honey blonde hair, pale skin, a dark sleeveless coat that looked as though it was made from layers upon layers of dyed cobwebs. And purple wings, folded up on their back. Wings Jevin recognised, though they seemed very much out of place on that person. Speaking of which, that person seemed out of place there too. Had he not been kidnapped? Then why was he here, freely walking around?

 

Jevin frowned, not entirely understanding. Then again, he didn’ t quite have time to try and understand. He needed to get out of there, before they looked into the room he had fled from. Once more, he breathed out, then in, and decided this may be the only chance he had to sneak behind them. After all, if he could see them , they would be able to see him the moment they turned around.

 

The slime man pushed himself away from the wall, and slipped through the doorway, walking backwards as quietly as he could, while still keeping an eye on the two people approaching the door. His eyes shot to the side every now and then to check if the turn was there already, and Jevin was ready to bolt when it was.

 

And then he saw Grian stop in his tracks, and his head slowly turned to look over his shoulder. Glowing green eyes locked eyes with his, and in that moment, Jevin realised that this might not be the builder he knew.

Chapter Text

He found himself sitting at the edge of the slabs, socks touching the ground. He was facing the bit of blackness where he knew the entrance was, and he had been waiting. Eventually someone would have to come, be it the spider or Grian or Biffa or the Hermits. Sure, Wels knew that it could take quite some time, given that the plate of… ‘food’, for the lack of a better word, had been brought not too long ago. And yet he waited. There was not much else he could do in here, after all, and he could only work out and go through the motions of combat for so long before his muscles started disagreeing with him.

 

Every now and then his eyes wandered over to the plate, a morbid curiosity taking root in his mind. He wanted to know what it was, but he also very much did not want to know at the same time. He had seen the storage rooms, he could easily take an educated guess as to what had been in the little cocoons.

 

After forcing his eyes back to the wall for the umpteenth time, Wels sighed and pushed himself to his feet. This was going to keep distracting him, he just knew it. He walked over to the plate, then stood still, looking at the plate from up high. It was a reddish brown goo, with some bone-like bits sticking out from it here and there, almost as though the flesh had just melted off of them. It didn’t look like proper food at all, and Wels would much rather have had water and bread instead. Especially when what was given to him looked more like some kind of building material or waste product than something that was supposed to be edible.

 

Just a whiff, and then I’m going to put it out of sight.

 

Wels picked up the plate, and even before he got it anywhere near the vicinity of his nose he decided that he didn’t want to smell more of it. It smelt putrid, like rotten flesh, except ten times worse at the very least. With one hand he pinched his nostrils shut, then he hastily walked over as far to the back of his cell as he could to put it down there once more. No way that he was going to eat that. None at all.

 

And then he found himself sitting on the slabs once more, idly unbraiding and braiding his hair, and then doing the same for the longer hairs at the end of his tail. Was it necessary? No, not at all, but it kept his hands busy as he was focussing on the wall. And that was worth something. Perhaps he could even try out some styles he never had time for usually. He seemed to have a lot of it on his hands now.

 


 

 

With a lot of begging and hope in his eyes, he put his index finger to his mouth, signing for the other to stay silent and please not betray him. Jevin continued moving backwards, at a faster pace now, but was ready to turn around and just bolt if it was needed. ‘Grian’ tilted his head to the side, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly into a grin. His finger lifted, pointing at Jevin. He seemed just about to say something when the glow in his eyes flickered, an incredible amount of strain on his face. The motion his hand made could have easily been a spasm, except that it also looked an incredible lot as though ‘Grian’ was shooing him away.

 

It was not something the slime man wanted to try and figure out, especially not with the glow returning and the strain completely falling away as though nothing had happened. And so he started booking it even before the other started speaking. Did he make more noise than he wanted? Yes. Did he go fast? Hell yes.

 

“Master… Someone is snooping,” he could hear behind him in a voice that sounded so familiar and at the same time strange. It was the inflections, the way that the boundless energy the builder generally expressed seemed ripped away from his words.

 

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, not Grian. Not at all Grian. I need to get out of here. Now, before they catch up.

 

He skidded around the corner, unsure of where he was going but knowing he needed to find the exit some way or another. Or at the very least find a hiding spot, though he wasn’t too sure how successful that would be. After all, he didn’t know this place, and he had no doubt that his pursuers did . He could hear a command being given, footsteps that went from walking to running to… not being there at all? Instead, he heard something flapping. Wings.

 

Internally, he was cursing. He knew flying was a lot faster than running, even in hallways like these. Especially with an experienced flyer like Grian. Or Not Grian. He wasn’t too sure what to call the builder right now. Not that he really had time to think about that. He just needed to move, move, move! If possible, through a bunch of winding passages, something with a lot of corners. Where and if he could find that, though… It was unlikely.

 

His eyes rapidly checked out the doorways he shot past, hoping to find a staircase up or something that looked like a door to the outside or some other way out. Nothing of the sort came into view, though, not just yet. The process was not aided by the fact that there were actually doors here, unlike in the other part of the hallway. Some were open, revealing more cobwebs teeming with spiders of a variety of sizes or other, more empty rooms. Others were closed, and he could only imagine what laid behind them.

 

Behind him, the sound of beating wings came closer and closer by the second. If only he had his elytra and rockets right now, that would make things at the very least a bit more fair. And yet, he didn’t have them. Just his wits and an amount of energy that would eventually run out, probably sooner rather than later.

 

In front, he saw an open door and something that looked a lot like some kind of temple. Including a very large, very lifelike statue of that spider thing he had seen in passing. Candles around it burnt with green flames, illuminating the entire room with an uneasy glow. Jevin decided right there and then that he would not be going in there. Not at all. Not if he had… There! Another corner he could skid around. At the end of the hallway was a staircase up, and there seemed to be very little doorways here. Only a few on his right hand side, and just one large one on the left. It was closed, too, and it was basically the first one he encountered where the doorway was not framed with cobwebs, which was weird. Still, this was not the time for thinking about it. There was a staircase he could go up. Maybe it was even the way out.

 

A hopeful smile appeared on his face as he pushed himself that extra bit to go faster. Would it be up the stairs, or even further to the exit?

 

Almost there almost there almost there keep going Jev keep going you got this you-

 

Something heavy impacted with his back, sending him tumbling to the ground. That same something came tumbling after him, landing on top of him. And then that something put its knee right between his shoulderblades, pushing him down.

 

Oops. Caught you.”

 


 

 

There were probably people out there that would question his decision to run straight into the flames the moment he got the chance. Not Tango, though. Spiders burnt, and he didn’t, not as quickly at the very least. Such were the pros of basically growing up in the Nether. Sure, he did feel the heat immediately, the oppressively thick air heavy on his lungs, but he could handle this for at least a little bit. At least long enough to get out his elytra and his rockets. At least long enough to flip off some spiders before launching himself into the air.

 

Their mission had gone so wrong so fast. He hadn’t even noticed the arachnids practically sneaking up on Jevin until it was way too late to do anything about them, and before he knew the body of the other had faded out of existence, everything he had carried with him dropping to the floor. Some of it he had managed to pick up, but most… Most was still there, on the ground, waiting.

 

Tango circled over the place where they had fought, seeing what he could still do. He knew he probably should try to go on placing the water, but the demon found himself unwilling to swoop down and continue where he left off. It was still overrun with spiders, and for now it seemed like the fire stuck to the mountains.

 

He pulled out a few more rockets to gain some altitude before changing to a gentle glide. Tango got his communicator from one of the pockets on his vest, and opened it up to his private messages. Yeah, texting and flying was a bad combination, but right now he didn’t entirely care.

 

<Tango Tek> yo, cub, what do we do now?

 

<Tango Tek> do i go back to the bunker, or…?

 

<Tango Tek> i need some pointers man

 

<Cubfan135> Come back ASAP. We got a situation here.

 

<Tango Tek> gotcha, omw

 

He shoved his communicator back into his pocket, circled over the end of their little line of water once more before setting course for the mountains. The updraft generated by the flames took him high into the air, and off he went, wondering what the hell was going on over at the bunker that they needed him to stop fighting a wildfire in order to help.

Chapter Text

The news about Jevin having died came and went, and Mumbo couldn’t help but feel guilty about it. After all, if he had not set the webs on fire, there would not have been a need to send people to fight it, and Jevin would not have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. His fault, as Wels’ death had been.

 

Even before he tried to bring it up, though, Joe had already looked him straight into the eyes to tell him it wasn’t his fault, that he could not have known, and that Jevin had gone voluntarily. Every attempt at discussion was met with a barrage of words like only the poet could craft, and eventually Mumbo just gave up trying to go against it. It was too difficult, and it was a lot easier to just wallow in self pity.

 

And thus they sat in silence once more, with Mumbo looking out over the waves blankly. Two of his friends had died because of him, and he really didn’t want to think about the possibility of more of them dying. And yet, his mind was stuck on a loop of “who’s next?”, a question he didn’t want an answer to either.

 

Slowly, ever so slowly, land became visible in the distance ahead of them. He recognised the outline of Sahara, and the large towering cylinder that was Grian’s base just to the left of it. Soon he would have to face the others once more, there was no doubt about it. A sigh rolled over his lips, not ready at all. Still, it wasn’t like he had a choice or anything. So instead he just sat, occasionally coughing up the last water from his lungs and tried to more or less relax. There wasn’t much else he could do right now anyway, not without worrying basically everyone.

 

Minutes later, the boat ran ashore with a soft thud, the prow end gliding onto the sandy beach of the futuristic district with ease. The sun had set, in the meanwhile, and the duo would have to navigate the last bit to the bunker by the light of the scattered torches and sea pickles and lanterns of various kinds. There were voices in the distance, too, familiar voices, so that helped as well.

 

“Aaaaalmost there,” Joe said next to him, pointing at where people were moving about in the distance. It looked like they were digging and placing things back, but then the noise of pistons firing rapidly sounded and a circle of ground raised up. It made Mumbo frown. You’d think they have better things to do than mess about with double piston extenders… Still, there had to be some kind of reason for it. There simply had to.

 

“What are they doing over there?” he in the end just asked out loud. Joe looked at it for a moment, then shrugged.

 

“You tell me, mister Mumbo ‘Redstone’ Jumbo.”

 

“No, I know what they’re doing, I just don’t know why.”

 

“I don’t actually know. It might be a thing they’re building for show…?”

 

Whatever it was, the duo would find out soon enough. They walked onto the clearing in front of the entrance, announcing their presence by greeting the other Hermits. After all, accidentally scaring someone by suddenly standing behind them seemed like a horrible, horrible idea with the current events going on.

 

“Ah! Mumbo, Joe, you’re back! You two should head inside, we’re just finishing up here.” Cub came walking up to them, gesturing behind him. The redstoner peered at where he was pointing, seeing Impulse and Zedaph busy with placing some grass blocks to fill up the last signs of digging.

 

“Finishing up… what exactly, if I may ask? What’s the pistons for?” His curiosity had been piqued, but before Cub could open his mouth to answer, Doc came running from the bunker.

 

“He’s about to cross the river! Everyone inside, now!” It certainly got everyones attention, with Zed quickly putting down a last block, Xisuma picking up the last shulker box that was still standing around, and Impulse just booking it inside.

 

“Wait, who is-”

 

“Inside. I’ll explain it inside. Go, go, go!”

 


 

 

The entrance to the bunker seemed deserted as he arrived. Pathetic. Are they so arrogant they think they don’t need guards? The servant didn’t even bother to hang back at the edge of the clearing to scout it out, instead opting to go forwards. He had a task, after all. And should someone be waiting in ambush… Well. He had swords and he was not afraid to use them. Especially not when his liege had asked him to do so if needed.

 

As he walked, he took the purple feathers from his inventory, holding them in his offhand. One of his swords was nonchalantly held in his main hand, a dangerous aura of not really caring radiating from him. The servant halted right in front of the entrance, that stood wide open. Really? First no guards, now they just leave the door open? He raised an eyebrow, then looked around. He knew there was a camera somewhere, and he wanted to make sure it was clear who left the message.

 

There it is… The servant spotted the lens jutting out from one of the shadowy corners of the entrance, and turned towards it a little bit. Then, with a neutral expression on his face, he held out the hand with the feathers in it, ready to drop them. As the first of the feathers started floating down, though, multiple things happened at the same time.

 

Now!” sounded from inside the bunker, and pistons rapidly fired. The earth around him raised up and revealed the cobblestone underneath, forming a wide circle around him. Beyond it, he heard multiple sets of rapid footsteps, followed by the unmistakable sound of more blocks being placed.

 

Even before the rest of the feathers had touched the ground, he already had his second sword in his hand as well. This was not going according to plan. How had they seen him, how could they have known? The servant moved over to the wall furthest from the entrance, examining it quickly. Two blocks high, with a top layer of dirt he should be able to dig through quite quickly. And once he’d have taken that out, he’d be free once more. His liege would be very unhappy if he were to get captured.

 

Step away from the wall, Biffa, or I’ll shoot!” The words rang clear through the evening air, but he did not care. The servant started digging, using one sword more or less as a shovel to move the dirt and grass out of the way. Before he got far, though, he heard an arrow whistling through the air, which impacted with the back of his knee a split second later. He reflexively turned towards where it had come from, swords raised. Above the entrance to the bunker, he saw a zombie standing, a glistering bow in her hands. One that seemed familiar, but from where? Around the edges, just outside of the wall, he saw the heads of more people pop up as they pillared up, raising a wall of dark obsidian just behind the dirt and cobble. His window for escape was growing smaller with every block they placed, and he quickly went back to digging once more.

 

Last chance, stand down!” The servant didn’t even look back, ignoring the words and moving forwards. From the corner of his eye he saw someone approaching, making the obsidian wall higher still. He had to get out right now. She could shoot all she wanted, he knew where he would be waking up. A second arrow came barrelling his way, this time hitting him in the other knee.

 

It hurt, he felt it, and he knew that running would not be possible before he took the arrows out. He didn’t stop digging though, not this time, and seconds later the dirt popped away entirely. Behind it was a layer of obsidian already, but it only went two blocks high right now. Which meant he could clamber up there if he used the gap he just created, and after that he would be able to simply jump off on the other side and move away .

 

H e started forwards, hearing the sound of something else shooting through the air. He found out it wasn’t an arrow as the loop of a lasso wrapped around his torso and arms, the rope pulling taut almost immediately. His elbows dug into his sides, and a sudden pull on the rope nearly made him lose his balance. He was better than this, though. He still had his swords, and swords generally cut rope.

 

The servant turned on his heels, pulling the rope a little bit more towards himself. On the other side of it, he saw someone with a cowboy hat desperately holding on, feet digging into the dirt on top of the wall. With his limited movement, he brought up his swords, then let them come down on the lasso. The rope frayed as he slid the edge of the swords over them, but it held for now.

 

From behind him sounded footsteps, and the next thing he knew, someone was pulling some kind of cloth over his face, obscuring his vision. He struggled against it, but the combination of being blinded and restrained didn’t help him a whole lot. Still, he had some tricks up his sleeve, and he knew roughly where the person behind him had to be. Should they attack… Send a few little flies into my web...

 

In one smooth motion, he let the hilts of his swords spin in his hands, such that the points now pointed backwards, and then stabbed. Whoever was behind him yelped as one of them hit a soft spot, while the other skidded over their armour.

 

Guys, I could really use some assistance here!” The voice was familiar, one he had most definitely heard before, many times even. Though, before any pesky memories could come up and tell him exactly where he knew it from, he pulled back his sword, then rapidly stabbing once more, a little bit more with an upwards angle this time. The cloth got a little looser as he heard the sound of skin splitting open, and the one behind him whimpered. Very, very briefly he saw bushes in front of his mind’s eye.

 

Biffa, Biffa please, calm down. We’re trying to help you.” His voice sounded weak, pleading. Just for good measure, the servant twisted his sword as it was still embedded in the… probably the stomach of the other, making him scream out in pain.

 

“You don’t… have to do... this.” There was audible strain in the words as the other man kept hanging on to the cloth. The servant scoffed.

 

“You obviously know nothing.”

 

He heard multiple sets of footsteps running towards him, and before he knew it, hands were grabbing him from all sides, trying to keep him in place.

 

“I’m sorry, old friend.” Another voice, one he knew even better. Barely a second later, he felt something hard connect to his temple, and the darkness of being covered with cloth changed into the darkness of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

His knee sunk down further than he thought it would, before encountering resistance. It probably had something to do with the slimy build of the man underneath him, who was squirming to get free. Not with much success, it had to be said, but trying nonetheless. At the same time, Sally was dealing with another nuisance too. There were still small bits of his mind that rebelled against him, trying to tell him that what he was doing was wrong, that he needed to let go of his ‘friends’ and should turn against his master instead.

 

Small bits that could just go and die for all he was concerned. He didn’t need that sentimentality, it would only distract him from his only true desire: to serve his master to the fullest of his capabilities. Sally blinked once, forcing the thoughts out of his head with a frown on his face. He needed to focus on the here and now, on his current task.

 

The blue person under him was trying to kick him, which wasn’t that efficient, and it almost distracted Sally from the hand that was reaching between the floor and his hoodie. Almost. He reached out, grabbing the arm and moving his weight forwards a little, to put more pressure between the shoulder blades.

 

“Ah, ah, ah, I didn’t think so.” Sally yanked at the arm, pulling it out and revealing a communicator, already half stuck inside the slime that made up his hand. The man balled his hand into a fist and winced as he pressed the thing further inside his palm, out of reach.

 

“Oh, I really wish you hadn’t done that. Think of the mess needed to get that out.” He sighed, badly faked concern laced through his words. That, and something more, hidden just underneath the surface. Something more… evil, sadistic.

 

“Screw you!” the slime man bit at him, just before he tried rolling over to toss Sally of his back. Something that wasn’t very easy thanks to the knee between his shoulder blades, and the hand that tightly gripped his arm. In response, the little spider took a hold of his hair, pulling his head from the ground at a painful angle.

 

“This will be a lot easier if you don’t struggle, believe me,” Sally whispered, mouth close to the ear of the other.

 

“Never! Let. Me. GO!” growled his prey, twisting his arm down and out of his grasp, immediately followed by moving his knees and elbows closer to each other and lifting himself from the ground ever so slightly. If it weren’t for Sally using that moment to just hit him on the back of the head hard, the slime man might have even been able to get up to his hands and knees. Now, though, he went splat against the ground, head wobbling like jelly but not moving much more than that.

 

“Ugh… Now I have to carry him all the way back,” the little spider sighed, dusting off his hands and standing up. With another sigh and a roll of his eyes, he then went to pick up the slime man bridal style. Sally unfurled his wings, then took off, back towards his master.

 


 

 

Behind the black expanse of their confines, they waited patiently for someone to come. Their friends to get them out, Grian so they could power-of-friendship him back to normal, or that spidery bastard so they could just smack them in the head with one of the plates. It was the closest thing the Endbusters had to a weapon, and none of them was very tempted to try and eat the food. They didn’t care much if it got spilled while decking a horrible spider person thing in the face.

 

The trio had decided that it would probably be best if they could catch some well-needed shut-eye as well. How long it had been since the last time they had taken a nap they didn’t know, but they did know that the last proper night of sleep had been at the very least three days ago, before they had ventured into the End. Python had argued that he had been out the longest, so he’d stay up, and Ren had volunteered to stay awake as well, so Iskall could catch up on some sleep. After all, it was probably a bad idea if they all slept at the same time, and this way they could ensure at the very least two people were awake at any given moment, so the third could be woken up still even if something happened to one of the other two.

 

Ren had taken up position on the floor next to his slabs, back leaning against them. The elbow of his healthy arm was resting on a knee he had pulled up close to him, while his other leg was just laying outstretched on the floor. He was vaguely aware of Python moving about a little over at his own slabs, but he paid it not much mind right now. Even though those to were his friends, and he had quite a large social battery, at some point that just ran out.

 

So right now Ren was recharging a little bit, letting his thoughts stray, within reason of course. He wondered why that spidery bastard was doing this, what kind of ulterior motive they had to kidnap and torture and kill and brainwash. He still knew barely anything at all, just little snippets of information that Arachne and Wels and Not Grian had brought them. Not really enough to piece anything substantial together, sadly. Not enough by far. Ren knew the spider had presented themselves as the ‘ruler’ of this domain, whatever that could have meant. Did they mean this building? This region? The complete End dimension?

 

Probably not the latter, at the very least. His knowledge of endermen politics wasn’t that extensive, but he doubted they’d listen to a being such as Arachne. If they’d listen to anyone at all. Perhaps they somehow got their orders from the dragon, though that would have left them directionless in the time after the Hermits had come to kill it. Would that mean that they had done something bad by killing it? He had always assumed that the dragon was terrorising the End, not ruling it.

 

“Huh…” he mumbled, thinking further along the tangent. The endermen sure didn’t seem directionless, so perhaps they had some form of self governing after all. It would make sense at the very least. Tribal endermen. Yep. He was totally not going mad sitting here. Not at all.

 

Get it together, man, I’m Ren-diggity-done with your shit. Focus on what’s important here. Tribal endermen, pffft…

 

He shook the thoughts out of his head, and then softly sighed as he refocussed on the wall.

Chapter Text

He had come in maybe a few minutes after the short fight had finished, which made him wonder whether it would not have been better if he had stayed where he was, so he could have tried to extinguish a little bit more. Still, he was here now, and since he couldn’t quite change the past, he would just roll with it. And that’s how Tango got dragged into an emergency meeting. There had been a few in the last few days, mostly to strategise and figure out what to do next.

 

This one, however, was about how they could help Biffa break the spider’s influence. So far, they had not seen any kind of sign that the original was still in there somewhere, but if there was something the Hermits had a lot of, it was optimism, closely followed by stubbornness to get things working, no matter the amount of time or resources needed.

 

They were all sitting in the meeting room, except for False, who had volunteered to go guard Biffa. Doc had sent her a weird look, but she had just slightly smiled before she left. One of the things that unnerved Tango most was the amount of empty chairs in the room this time around. Wels and Jevin, Iskall, Ren, and Python. The lack of Grian’s usual cheerful banter only added to that. Six, that’s how many they had lost until now. Seven, if they counted Biffa, but they had gotten him back. Sort of. More or less.

 

His eyes glid past the others, trying to gauge how they were feeling. X seemed worried, Joe looked determined, Keralis was obviously in pain but managing so far, and the others were trying to maintain a neutral composure with varying degrees of success. The admin then cleared his throat and stood up.

 

“So. I’d reckon you all know why I called this meeting. We had a significant victory today in getting back one of our own. The battle’s not won just yet, though. We don’t know as of yet what exactly is affecting Biffa, or how we can solve it, but I’m sure we can figure something out if we work together,” Xisuma started. His eyes darted around the rough circle, pausing on each Hermit for a second before moving on.

 

“I would like to ask all of you to think on it, and share theories if you have any. Right now, I would say that there are no dumb hypotheses. This is a new situation, after all.” A soft murmur started as people here and there were discussing with their direct neighbours. Tango, too, was thinking about the problem in front of him. Something was making Biffa, a partial robot, do things he should not do. Like he was being controlled from a distance. He squinted slightly, looking down at the table, then up to the ceiling, and then directly at Xisuma. The demon raised his hand, politely waiting for his turn. It came quite fast, and he too stood up to attract the attention of his fellow Hermits.

 

“I think he either was hacked or he somehow got infected with a virus. Something like that, at the very least. It would explain why he acts so differently, because someone else is in control. In this case, I would say it’s that spider doing it.” He looked round the circle, seeing the pensive faces of the others, some nodding slowly in agreement. “In which case I think tech team should like… do a virusscan or something?” Tango’s eyes went over to the tech team guys, for now actually in the same room and away from their devices.

 

Doc was rubbing his chin, while Cub was frowning. Scar looked more or less impressed but not entirely, as though he was still letting the logical steps process in his head.

 

“Yeah, we should run some diagnostics anyway, adding a virusscan to that can easily be done. I got experience with debugging robotic parts, thanks to cyborg club,” the cyborg said, gesturing to his own arm and the side of his face.

 

“Wait, cyborg club…?” Mumbo asked.

 

“You heard me.”

 

“Yes, I did, but-”

 

“Let’s stay on topic here, shall we?” the admin suggested. “Anyone else has a workable angle right now?” Joe almost immediately raised his hand, and Xisuma pointed at him. “Go for it!”

 

“Well, I was thinking this may be a bit different from what you deem. After all, Biffa was gone for a few months, it might just be an extensive propaganda scheme. How to get around that I don’t know, not yet, but I’ll somehow find a way, on that you can bet.”

 

The response to this was a little milder than to Tango’s words, but it was still a fairly viable theory. It was out of the box thinking, sure, but that was the Joe Hills Difference they had all come to know and love.

 

Much in the same manner, the present Hermits kept repeating the cycle of thinking and coming up with a theory, one wackier than the other, and sharing them with the group, until TFC stood up, looking around until he got everyone’s attention.

 

“How ‘bout we let Doc here run his diagnostics before we try ‘n figure out more? Seems like the logical step right now, instead of theorising like crazy.” Xisuma exchanged a look with Doc, then refocussed on the old man.

 

“That may well be the best idea, yes. I’d say, meeting dismissed until further notice. Doc, how fast can you get those diagnostics done?”

 

The cyborg halted in the middle of standing up, looked upwards and counted a few things on his fingers.

 

“Two hours minimum. I’ll need to pick up some tools, first, though.”

 

“Go for it. Do take someone with you, just in case. No one goes out alone, especially not at night.”

 

“Gotcha. You coming, Scar?”

 

“Sure thing.”

 


 

 

She stood outside, looking into the room through the barred window. The bright, occasionally flickering lights illuminated the motionless form of Biffa, hanging limply in the ropes that tied him to a chair. Someone had removed the green coat that had been wrapped around him, which made him look a lot more like the friendly neighbourhood pvp expert she knew. Still, the sight made False shiver, and it had mostly to do with the green markings that snaked over him like circuitry.

 

Her hand was tightly wrapped around the pommel of her blade, knuckles white from strain. She was not exactly too happy to stand guard right here and now, what had happened but hours ago still fresh in her mind. Even the slightest bit of movement caused by his breathing had her on edge, almost expecting him to suddenly wake up and attack. False knew it was unlikely to happen, given how hard Xisuma had hit him over the head. And she also knew she could trust in the strength of the rope, the iron bars, the walls and the metal door. Biffa would not be able to get out of there so easily, not without his swords. She was safe standing here. Completely safe.

 

And yet, the longer she stood there, the more she got the feeling that she shouldn’t have volunteered to do this alone. Yes, it had made sense, back then, because she knew she was one of the best in pvp combat. How bad can it be, she had asked herself. I will just be standing guard, she had told herself

 

The light flickered and flashed, causing a minor strobe effect for a few seconds. few seconds in which it more than seemed like Biffa stirred. Surely he hadn’t sat in that position just seconds before, right? False tentatively walked a bit closer, one hand already going to her communicator to tell someone he was awake.

 

Still, as she looked at him, there was once again no sign of movement other than his breathing. False was sure she had seen something though. She blinked, forcing herself to breathe out slowly. Get it together, Falsey, you have this. Nothing to be afraid of.

 

There was no movement until suddenly there was. A shape crawled over the glass, on the inside of the room. Something with eight legs, something green. It was so unexpected that she physically jumped back with a small yelp, unsheathing her sword as if that was going to solve things.

 

Just a spider. Just a small, tiny spider. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all. You got this. You got this. It’s just a regular little spider, nothing else.

 

Once again, she forced herself to breathe out slowly as her heartbeat only rose in frequency. It was difficult, though. For a single moment she looked away from the room, focussing her attention on the ground under her feet briefly to ban the image of the spider out of her head. She was going to need to report that in a bit, couldn’t be too careful about that kind of thing.

 

As she looked up once more, the spider was no longer in sight. Instead, she could see a pair of venomous green eyes staring back at her from where Biffa was sitting. There was scorn on his face, and perhaps a bit of that same expression as he had had in the cave.

 

That same expression he had had moments before letting blows rain down on Wels.

 

That same expression he had had moments before he killed one of her friends.

 

The light flickered, but his eyes kept being visible, almost glowing in the split seconds of darkness. False swallowed hard. She knew she had to let someone know he was awake. Like, right now. Somehow, though, she could just not look away from those unblinking eyes. Especially not when he started moving, trying to get out of his bonds.

 

She felt her breathing get shallower, less regular, as her heartbeat ran faster and faster. Yes, she trusted the rope, but… she wasn’t too sure if she trusted it more than she feared Biffa getting out. Her knuckles whitened further as she clasped her sword harder. That gave her at least a small sense of security. Her fresh suit of godarmour helped as well.

 

Still, while her armour and sword could protect her from physical dangers, her mind formed an issue of its own. Currently it was stuck on a loop of I’m next, and she couldn’t quite stop it. Every time the light flickered, she could just see the area change into a cave. It caused violent shivers to crawl up and down her spine, urging her to do something about the situation. Instead of fight or flight, though, False followed the lesser known third f and froze where she stood, hyperventilating in place.

 

this was dumb this was stupid why did I come here why why why I’m gonna be next I’m next he’s gonna break out and I’m next please please please don’t break out I don’t want to be next I don’t want to I don’t want to please don’t let me be next I’m gonna be next I’m gonna be next

 

False was shaking, barely feeling her sword hand because of how hard she was squeezing the hilt. She could feel tears start dripping down her face in slow but constant streams, and some breaths came out joined by high-pitched whimpers.

 

And still those eyes were staring at her, those cold green eyes so foreign on her friend’s face.

Chapter Text

“Urgh...”

 

As his eyes fluttered open, he was met with the sight of eight blood red eyes staring back at him from high above. Behind that was just inky blackness, blacker than the absence of light should be able to cause. And yet… Jevin would not say it was dark where he was. Not at all. He squinted, trying to figure out how this worked, but it mostly hurt his brain. That could also be the remnants of that hit to the head he had taken, though. He wasn’t too sure, though. What he was sure about, was the fact that he would really like to not be wherever he was.

 

“I... spy… with my little eye… A little fly, that thought I couldn’t catch him. And now, the little fly is in my web once more.” The voice sounded wrong, so wrong in his ears, and that made it perhaps the right voice for this creature. It sure as hell didn’t sound human. It was followed by a sound Jevin could not quite place and an expression on their face that gave him goosebumps.

 

He glanced around, trying to figure out how to get out of there. Where he had expected walls and a floor, though, he found more of the same inky blackness as that above him. More than a little bit unnerving, that. He focussed his attention back on the spider-like creature. They were standing over him, legs flanking him on both sides. Their arms hung idle next to their torso, at the very least for now, and their head was cocked ever so slightly to the side.

 

Jevin decided that it would probably be a good idea to move out form under them, pushing himself up to a sitting position and then quickly scrambled backwards, away from them. As he did so, he felt something rhythmically swaying against his back, but the slime man decided that he had different priorities right now. Like getting the hell out of there.

 

The spider moved forwards ever so slightly before bending in his direction, hand outstretched towards him. As he moved further and further backwards, suddenly there was no more ground under him, and Jevin fell down a little bit. It was not much, but the unexpectedness of it threw him off, which was enough for them to grab him by the neck, lifting him up from the ground. Though… No, that was not his neck. That was something wrapped around it, and it sure as hell was not his sweater.

 

Not particularly enjoying the situation, Jevin took a hold of their arm, holding himself up with one hand and punching it with the other.

 

“Let me go, you bastard!” It seemed like the spider didn’t care much for his attempts, though. They simply stared at him, then caught the hand he was punching with by the wrist. It happened to also be the one he had shoved his communicator into, and it seemed that the spider-like creature noticed it too.

 

“The little fly has a choice. Give me the device in your arm, or I will take it. Decide.” His eyes went from his wrist to their face and back, an angry frown on his face. He was not about to give his communicator up this easily. Not this soon.

 

“Never.”

 

“And so... the choice has been made.” They reached out with the third of their arms, pushing the sleeve of his sweater up, the end of their claw dancing over the top layer of slime, before digging in deep without warning.

 

Jevin screamed out in agony, desperately trying to get his slime to close back down around the claw. The spider, meanwhile, tried their best to rip open his arm far enough to be able to take the communicator out. The slime man was whimpering and cursing very loudly and very creatively, but he had some moderate success with getting his skin to close again. Ah, the wonders of being made out of highly malleable slime. He was determined to make that work to his advantage.

 

The creature seemed unamused to say the slightest. So they raised up their fourth claw as well, and employed a different strategy. Instead of trying to cleanly make a cut, they now resorted to ripping out chunks of slime that were roughly in the correct spot, given that that was a lot more difficult to close back up than a simple cut. Jevin was shaking, tears of pain dripping down from his eyes while a neverending stream of curses kept coming out of his mouth. The feeling of his arm being slowly ripped to bits set his entire nervous system on fire, and he felt like he might just pass out. Still, he was trying as best as he could to hang on, to continue spiting the bastard as long as he could manage.

 

The bits of slime rained down on the ground with wet sploshes, and his arm was wearing thin, with him slowly but surely moving his slime around to protect his communicator a little while longer. Was the pain worth the sight of unamusedness and frustration on the spider’s face? No, no, definitely not. It helped make it at least the tiniest bit better, though. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

 

Despite it all, he did not want to give up and surrender his communicator. Besides, he wondered if they would stop simply because he surrendered. Somehow, they didn’t seem like the type for that. And that’s how in the end, as they ripped the device out of the thin remains of his slime, his hand broke off as well, his wrist no longer able to support its weight. The spider looked at it for a moment, then simply tossed it aside while stashing his communicator away where he couldn’t reach it.

 

Jevin was panting, his breathing ragged and uneven. His arm fell back to his side, tiny bits of slime still breaking off every now and then, dripping down on the ground. He still stared them straight in the eyes, still defiant despite what had happened. Truth was, he was tired, so goddamn tired. Being hurt took a lot of energy, so much energy, and he desperately wanted a nap but Jevin also knew that was probably not the best idea right now.

 

“Was that so hard?” The expression on the spider’s face seemed to be some kind of sadistic glee, with undertones of something else he couldn’t place. Annoyance, perhaps? He wasn’t too sure. Without a warning, they let go of him, and the slime man dropped unceremoniously to the floor.

 

“Screw you, you eight-legged excuse for a rake!” He then proceeded to spit in their general direction. They looked at him, eight eyes staring daggers.

 

“The little fly will come to regret that.” Then they turned away from him, and walked away, towards the blackness, through which they disappeared.

 

Jevin let go of a breath he didn’t know he had been holding, posture going limp as he finally allowed himself to relax a little bit. He slowly looked around at the absolute mess the spider had created. Bits of blue slime where everywhere, as was his severed hand. He was lucky it was still there, with a bit more luck he’d be able to put the bits back where they belonged. He’d just need to be more or less quick about it, before the pieces dried out too much.

 

Once again, the joys of being essentially a vaguely person-shaped heap of sentient slime.

 

His eyes scanned over the bits tiredly, realising his nap would have to wait a little bit longer if he wanted to reattach everything. Jevin sighed.

 

“Urgh… okay then….”

 


 

 

The mood in the bunker was tense and gloomy and Stress wasn’t having any of it. Sure, there was a good reason for it, but only being stressed and having no chance at all to unwind would break someone down as easily as a lack of sleep or a good flu. And they couldn’t be having that, now could they?

 

That’s why she had dragged Cleo along to the kitchen of the bunker. The zombie had only complained for about two minutes, and had then given in, realising Stress was right. She had indeed needed a break, and given how late it was… Well. Seemed like as good a moment as any.

 

The duo started searching around the cupboards for some ingredients and baking utensils. There had to be some, and if there weren’t, they would simply improvise.

 

“Oh! Look, here! Mixing bowls!” Stress practically squealed, taking about four of them out of their hiding place behind a jar of… something. Cleo meanwhile was raiding the fridge of milk and eggs and some bits of fruit that were in there as well. Stacking as much as she could into her hands, she turned to the ice queen, kicking the fridge shut.

 

“Do you think this’ll be enough?”

 

“Hmm? Oh, yes, that’s perfect! That should about be enough!” Stress was smiling widely at the ingredients while balancing on a chair to get to the highest shelves.

 

“Actually, you never said how much cake you plan on making?” Her voice went up and slowed down towards the end of her sentence, making clear it was a question. As she spoke she moved the ingredients over to the table in the middle of the room, then started looking for more things that would fit the cakes. A bit of salt, perhaps. Cocoa powder, if she could find it. Whipped cream? Flour! Definitely flour.

 

Stress looked over at the zombie, grinning ear to ear.

 

“The answer would be enough.” She chuckled, grabbing a whisk from a shelf, adding it to her non-matching set of utensils.

 

“You know? That’s valid.” Cleo too was smiling lightly, slowly relaxing.

 

The ice queen opened up one of the cupboards, and her eyes immediately widened.

 

“Cleo! Cleo, Cleo, Cleo, look at this! It’s SPRINKLES!!!!” She sounded excited, so very excited.

 

Neither of them noticed TFC walking in, looking around for a moment before shaking his head with a smile and turning around again, muttering something about ‘kids these days’ and ‘they better clean up afterwards’.

Chapter Text

When people scattered to the different sides of the bunker to do a variety of things, Mumbo lingered in the meeting room, to look at the evidence they had gathered so far. He just had to see for his own eyes what Biffa had brought. Yes, he knew that he had let something drift to the ground just before the Hermits had teamed up and taken him down, but no one had told him what it was. Almost as though they had agreed to not tell him, even, although it might just have been coincidence that no one told him. To be fair, he also didn’t really ask for it either.

 

His fingers rapped on the backrest of the chairs he passed while walking towards the wall of evidence. Most of it he recognised, because it had been there for a few days already. The only new things here was roughly a handful of purple feathers. Mumbo swallowed, his breath catching in his throat as he realised he recognised those as well.

 

Those are Grian’s… But… They said they wouldn’t hurt him! Unless… Did I mess up one of their requests? Is this the punishment they spoke of, or…?

 

He shook his head, really not wanting to go further down that avenue of thought. He had to hope that this was a punishment and not a sign that they wouldn’t see Grian again. He simply had to. Unconsciously, he was fiddling with his buttons again. It kept him at the very least some kind of calm as he took in the state of the feathers. They were ruffled, bent into some nasty angles at places. Something that was a rusty brown of colour stained the ends of the pens, and it wasn’t hard to deduce that that had to be blood of some sort. Old blood, dried blood. How old, though, that was not something he could figure out from this alone.

 

A sigh rolled over his lips, but it wasn’t a release of tension in any way. He rubbed over his shoulders and neck, just feeling how knotted up his muscles were. When all of this was over, he was going to go and run himself a nice and hot bath to relax in for a while. The question was when that would be. As far as he knew, they still didn’t know where the bastard was hiding out, and while there was no doubt that Biffa would know, it wasn’t likely that he was just going to tell them. Not in his current state, at the very least.

 

His eyes slowly made their way over the collection of evidence they had. There were more notes this time, more hypotheses that they could run on. Bits and pieces, ready to be put together. It was a note with Xisuma’s neat writing on it that caught his attention, though. It simply had two numbers on it, joined by a comma and the letters x and z.

 

Coordinates? Oh my word. Where do those lead to?

 

Mumbo knew that while they had gone quite far, they hadn’t yet gone all the way to those coordinates, he was sure of that. It could very well be worth checking it out when day came again. Going out at night was probably one of the worst ideas right now. That was, besides setting an entire biome on fire. He could not right there and then think of an idea more stupid than that had been, and that was saying something for a spoon like him. Okay, the event all of them had started calling “round pumpkin” was quite bad too, having cost Xisuma quite some time to solve, and that was with the help of a small taskforce.

 

N evertheless, he knew that if they had an idea on the location, there’d be a team going there as soon as they could manage. And before then, he’d hope to get some kind of information on what happened in the time he had been gone. That would be nice. Very nice indeed.

 


 

 

He had heard the scream, how could he not have? It had been loud, and so outstretched. And he heard the cursing, loud at first, but slowly losing volume and power. Wels knew who that voice belonged to, and it saddened him. It meant another person had died. Another Hermit, fallen into this deathtrap. He vaguely wondered what had caused it, why Jevin was there, but most of him was feeling horrible. Horrible because he could not stand by his friend when he needed it. Horrible because he couldn’t protect a fellow Hermit. Horrible because he could only pace and listen as the other was hurt.

 

It went against all he stood for, to not immediately come to aid one that so clearly called out for it. And yet, here he was. Listening, hoping for it to be over soon. He was staring daggers at the wall, his knuckles white as he balled his hands to fists. That spidery bastard should try coming close right now. Really, they would regret it, Wels would make sure of that. He was not one to anger quickly, but right now, all his criteria for doing so had been met.

 

Time passed slowly. Minutes, maybe more ticked by as the sounds slowly faded away, and Wels was glad it was basically over. It also meant that Arachne would possibly go to where he was. Which meant he could possibly get his chance to smack them in the face with a good fist, if he could get up that high.

 

He was almost sad that nobody entered his cell, not even after at the very least fifteen minutes had passed. Then again, he also had had some time to think about that spur of the moment plan a little bit more, and had come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t really help anyone further, unless he’d be able to somehow knock the spider out in one hit. And even then, what would he do next? Sit and wait until they woke up again? He couldn’t exactly run away, not while he still had that collar and chain.

 

Wels went to sit down again, rubbing his forehead before moving some stray locks of hair out of his face. He was starting to feel slightly peckish, not having eaten anything since the morning before he was taken, but a quick glance at the ‘food’ quelled any thought he had about eating it. He could wait. The Hermits would come bust him out any moment now. However long had passed since he had sent Xisuma the coordinates, it had to be long enough to prepare a rescue mission, right?

 

The knight sat on the edge for a little bit longer, and then moved more to the centre of the slabs. He crossed his legs, tail laying on the ground in a semicircle around him. He put his hands on his knees, palms open and up to the skies, and Wels closed his eyes. Getting a little bit more calm in his head with everything that was happening seemed like a good thing. His breathing slowed down and evened out, gently rolling in and out like waves on a seashore. The knight focussed solely on the rhythm, trying to ban out any and all thoughts popping up.

 

In... hold... and out... in... hold... and out… in… hold… they’ll come… and out… in… just a little bit longer… hold… and out… X got my message… in… hold… surely he’s sending people… and out… right…?

 


 

 

It had taken a little bit of time to put on a set of godarmour, but that was a sacrifice Zed was willing to make if it meant raising his odds of staying alive by a whole lot. And now his feet were taking him through the bunker, fingers following the dips and cracks in the walls he passed. He had a vague idea where he was going but no real plan once he got there, and that was okay.

 

As he rounded a corner near the stairs, he started noticing a sound coming from downstairs that shouldn’t be there. Soft, whimpering sobs, almost choked off at points. Someone… crying? Zedaph frowned and sped up his pace. He was worried, quite so, and wanted nothing more than to help whomever it was feel a little bit better, be it by cheering them up or by letting them cry out on his shoulder. Or by just leaving them alone to do their thing, if they rather wanted that, that was more than fine too. He went down the stairs, to the residential layer they weren’t using, then realised where he was and who would be here.

 

“Oh worm.”

 

His fast walk changed into a jog as he quickly made his way through the hallways. There, in front of one of the iron doors in the wall, he could see a trembling bunch of shimmering blue armour, a wad of blonde hair poking out from under the helmet. The shoulderplates moved in time with the sobs, and Zed sped down to a normal walk. Didn’t want to scare False on top of everything, that seemed like a bad idea.

 

“False? You okay over there?” Worry was interwoven in every word he said as he slowly approached. She started nodding, then seemingly rethought that and shook her head instead, not turning to face him. Zed saw that as his sign to come closer, kneeling next to her without a second thought. Yes, he briefly checked whether Biffa was still tied up – he was – but that was about everything that distracted him at that very moment. He had a troubled friend that needed his attention.

 

Unsure of whether she’d appreciate a hug right now, he held out his arms, inviting False to either hug, hold a hand, or stay at a distance at her own discretion. She picked holding hands for now, squeezing hard as if to make sure it was real.

 

“Hey, what happened? Only if you want to talk about it, that is,” he said softly, eyes aimed at her face so he could see her reaction. It consisted mostly of shuddering and vigorously shaking her head, eyes aimed at the ground.

 

“That’s okay, can I do anything for you right now?” His thumb softly rubbed over the back of her hand, ensuring that he was there for her. She nodded to this, small movements that made her hair shift around a little.

 

“S-stay? Please?” she asked, her voice barely louder than a whisper. Her sobs had mostly become silent, though her shoulders were still shocking every now and then.

 

“Of course! I’m not going anywhere until you tell me to.” He very gently squeezed her hand, then switched to a more comfortable sitting position.

 

“Thanks...”

 

“No problem at all, False. None at all.”

Chapter Text

The route through the Nether may have been a long one, but it was still about eight times faster than if they had gone through the Overworld. Doc was taking the lead, flying through the long corridors to Hermitville at top speed, his tattered lab coat fluttering behind him. Scar followed on his heels, rounding corners and evading the ice path going through the centre of the tunnel. Bumping into things at this speed was… Well. Rather deadly. Not something desirable in the slightest.

 

While both of them had experienced the hot, thick air of the Nether many times before, it was still not pleasant to breathe, and even less pleasant to speak in while exerting oneself. It made the flight a quiet one, the relative silence in the corridors only broken by the occasional sound of rockets and the soft vwooping of the portals alongside it.

 

As they neared the end of the corridor, the duo opted for heading through the Hermitville portal instead of the Area 77 one. It had mostly to do with the fact that the tunnel leading to it had not really been anything-proofed yet, and with part of the way over there being a one block wide bridge over a lava lake… They weren’t risking it to save a minute of travel time.

 

The air of the Overworld was almost soft in comparison to that of the Nether. A cool breeze swept past them as they stepped through the portal, the rustic vibes of the village creating a sense of calm in them. It was quite idyllic here, despite what was going on in different places of the world, almost as though fate dare not touch that place. Everything here was just as they had left it days ago, when the Hermits had all more or less moved into TFC’s bunker. The ever burning torches and lanterns were still lighting up their surroundings with a soft orange glow, animals were occasionally letting out a mooh or a baaaaah or whichever sound they made, and the wind was making the flowers wave on their stems.

 

Out here, it was almost possible to forget what they were there for. A small cobweb in the upper corner of the portal room was the only external reminder of what was going on.

 

“Good, this place still seems safe. Let’s get to Area 77. Scar, you added in the lightening, right?” Doc asked as he walked to the edge of the little balcony. Behind him, Scar nervously scratched his neck.

 

“Uh, yeah, about that...” The landscaper looked a bit startled, as he only now remembered that he was supposed to have done that. Then the entire kidnapping had happened, though, and he didn’t have the time for it anymore. Doc simply sent him a look before taking out his trident. Scar sighed, grabbing his sword from his inventory and hanging it from his hip. No doubt their secure compound had turned into an accidental mob farm by now. His buildings and projects tended to do that.

 

Once more, they took flight, manoeuvring around the high buildings of Hermitville, over bits of forest and then over Falsewell. Under them, in the unlit areas, there was movement, little at first but growing in frequency by the second. Zombies shambled around, creepers were stalking through the brush, and the occasional skeleton tried taking aim at them, but their numbers were far smaller than they usually were. Instead, the relative amount of spiders that were skittering around seemed to have skyrocketed. They were absolutely everywhere, both on the ground and in trees and on buildings they came across.

 

This seems wrong… Were there always this many spiders at night?

 

Scar looked around, seeing the cobwebs in the trees, and a shiver went through him. The night air wasn’t cold per say, it was just something about the sight that made his stomach drop a little. Spiders were leaving their mark upon their world, and while right now it still seemed manageable, the question was how much longer this could go on for before it was irreversible.

 

The Area 77 grounds weren’t much different. While there was lightening installed in and around the bigger buildings, the grassy and foresty areas between them had to make do with the light of the Moon and stars. It wasn’t nearly enough to prevent monsters from materialising, and Scar made a mental note to really go and fix that somewhere soon, after their current problems were resolved or at the very least resolved enough to be able to take a break.

Doc touched down in front of one of the hang a rs, and seconds later Scar followed too. It seemed safe for now, at the very least.

 

Can you watch my back while I grab the tools? We can’t have a zombie wandering in here, and these doors don’t exactly close.” The cyborg nodded towards the large hangar doors, stuck in their perpetual half-open state.

 

You know I’m bad at combat, right?” Despite it, he still pulled out his sword, ready for… something. Hopefully nothing.

 

Yeah, but you also don’t know where and what the specific tools I need are.”

 

That’s a very good point,” he sighed, “just… make it quick, will you?”

 

I’ll need a minute or two, that’s all. You got this, I believe in you.” Doc patted him on the shoulder a few times, and then he jogged inside. Scar remained in the entrance to the hangar, where he could probably use the doors as cover should it be necessary. Hopefully it wouldn’t be, because the general area here was lit up quite well, but still. It was a good thing.

 

You got this, Scar. No worries. It’s just a minute or two, that’s all. Even you are able to stand your ground that long.

 

His eyes slowly scanned over the surroundings as he heard Doc rummaging through chests and shulker boxes and tool racks behind him. So far, so good, with torches and sea lanterns keeping the runways neat and clear of mobs. The patches of grass between them were a little more shady, but still safe as well, so he had nothing to fear, not really. It would all be fine, really.

 

A gentle breeze made the long grass dance in the corner of his eyes, and Scar felt his heart throb in his throat. He swallowed it down, breathing out in relief as he realised it wasn’t in fact a creeper planning to blow him up. Still, the grip on his sword tightened, his knuckles turning white as he did so.

 

The gentle breeze did not make the spider jockey descend on the cliffside beside him, but the green-eyed monsters did not need such incentive. Instead, the skeleton just took aim with its shimmering bow and let go.

 

Scar only heard the sound of something whistling through the air before an arrow forced its way into his stomach. The force behind the hit actually made him stumble backwards a few steps, and the landscaper looked down in confusion.

 

“Auch...” he muttered, gently touching the skin around the wound. A bloodstain was already spreading through his shirt, and for a split second he was enthralled by the sight. And then he realised that whatever shot that arrow was still out there, and he most definitely didn’t have the time to look at his wounds. Scar stepped backwards even further, into the relative safety of the hangar, feverishly looking around to spot where the arrow had come from.

 

The flat area in front of him was still empty, but as he looked around, he could see the cliffs were teeming with green eyes reflecting the light.

 

“Doc, please hurry!” he called over his shoulder, not at all comfortable with the situation.

 

“I’m trying to!” came the relatively quick answer, and Scar tried to relax a little bit. He just had to hold this position a little bit longer. Just a little bit. It would be fine.

 

Another arrow shot towards him, but bumped off from his leg armour.

 

So far for relaxing even the slightest bit. With a low growl he took on a stance he had seen others use, and he stepped slightly forwards again. His bow, where was his bow? Scar quickly looked through his inventory, and while he did see arrows, his bow was nowhere in sight. No ranged weaponry then. Yep. Amayzin, exactly what I need right now. His eye fell on the doors, and Scar in a moment of clarity decided to step behind one of them instead of being a sitting duck right between them. Only his sword and occasionally his head poked out from behind it, ready to attack where necessary, and he could keep eyes on one of the cliffsides this way.

 

The thing was, if he could see the monsters, the monsters could see him. Especially the spider jockey seemed fond of that concept, which it showed by letting go of another arrow that effortlessly found Scars unprotected flank.

 

He yelped in pain, knowing that he probably wouldn’t be able to take another one of those. Okay, screw this position. I’m heading further inside. Without thinking more about it, he pushed himself away from the door, moving away from the opening as quickly as he could manage without hurting too much. Admittedly, that was not very fast, but a bit quicker than just walking at the very least.

 

“We need to get outta here,” he called out as he moved towards Doc, trying to stop the bleeding from the arrow in his abdomen. “There’s skeletons on spiders with enchanted-”

 

A blinding pain flared out from his spine, and Scar suddenly couldn’t feel his legs any more. He fell to his knees, looking up pleadingly at Doc, who had dropped the tools in favour of his trident.

 

“NO! DON’T YOU DARE DIE SCAR, DON’T YOU DARE!” The cyborg tossed the trident past him with all his might, and judging from the rattling of bones and hissing behind him, it had been straight on target.

 

“I… I told you…. I suck at… combat…”

 

The last thing he saw was Doc rushing forwards to catch his dematerialising body.

 


 

To say the situation in the room was tense was perhaps an understatement. He was barely aware of the others in the little office he had claimed, and he had actually switched out his helmet for his mask so he could dab away the beads of sweat that seemed to be inhabiting his hairline and forehead. After the discoveries of earlier in the evening, he had managed to pinpoint the exact place where Arachne had changed the way respawning worked, hidden deeply underneath layers and layers of code and admin privileges. And now Xisuma was trying to revert it, to make it right again.

 

This HAS to work. I have to fix this, the sooner the better. I’m not losing anyone else.

 

Xisuma was typing away, the various screens around him glowing with green code. Dialogue boxes popped up and were swiftly dismissed, and m ore often than not he had to confirm his actions with the root password. Deeper and deeper into the code he delved, getting closer and closer to that border between simple code and admin magic. How exactly that worked, he was not sure about, the admin just knew it did, as well as some ground rules to work with it.

 

It just had to be enough for his current goals, which laid beyond anything he had ever had to do, and that was saying something. This no longer was making something materialise, or changing the weather, or fixing a glitch here or there. This was significantly altering the laws of the world they lived in on a metaphysical level. If this went wrong… Well. That was something he would rather not think about. The consequences of that would be large, without question.

 

That was why he was rereading his code again and again before even considering saving and applying it. There would simply not be a way of bugfixing this, it had to work perfectly first time.

 

Eventually, though, he sat back, looking around to meet Tango’s and Impulse’s eyes.

 

I think I’m done here. I just need to hit enter and hope everything works as I intend it to work.” He was mostly looking at the other two to get the little bit of courage he needed to actually push through with this, knowing they probably couldn’t help him check the code.

 

Well, what are you waiting for then?” Tango answered almost immediately, while Impulse just nodded.

 

Yeah, X, we trust your judgement. If you think you’re done, then you’re done.”

 

His eyes went from one to the other once more, then he breathed out, his finger hovering over the final button.

 

Alright then, here goes nothing.”

 

His finger came down.

 

[ADMIN] Saving . . .

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 6%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 23%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 37%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 49%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 62%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 71%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 84%

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 95%

 

>> GoodTimesWithScar was shot by Skeleton

 

[ADMIN] Applying changes . . . 100%

 

[ADMIN] Process complete

Chapter Text

A gentle buzz of good news had brought them back to the altar room, just in time to see a new little fly appear as though from thin air. Brown hair, brown and beige clothing, and a brown hat to top it all off. The skin on the face was broken up by long, wide scars, suggesting something bad had happened to the man, something he survived. It could either work to their advantage or to their disadvantage, but which of the two remained to be seen.

 

Regardless, they took off his hat, to add to their collection. Next, they moved over to the pile of metal bands, picking one up that seemed like it would fit. Not that they cared much about whether it was comfortable in any way, as long as it was tight enough that the scarred man couldn’t escape. And if that meant making breathing a little more difficult… Well then. It would only help make him accept their mark faster.

 

The man on the altar started stirring slightly, a groan passing over his lips as his hands moved to a place on his stomach. They knew they had to act at least a little bit on the quick side, before he recovered from respawning enough to become a nuisance, like some of the others had. And thus, Arachne moved towards the altar, pressing down the upper arms of their newest toy with two hands so he couldn’t get up. Then, while letting out a specific series of clicks and hisses, they started bending the metal band around his neck, ignoring the surprise and the pointless attempt at struggling from his side.

 

“Stay off a’ me!”

 

When he grabbed their wrists, and tried to bend his body in such a way that he could kick in their general direction, Arachne could not help but chuckle, amused by the foolish bravery these… Hermits… seemed to have. He didn’t even get anywhere that could loosely be described as ‘close’ anyway.

 

“Tssk… The little fly shouldn’t struggle… It will only make matters worse,” they mused out loud, before applying ever so slightly more pressure to the metal band to get the ends to meet. Perhaps it indeed was a little bit too short, but Arachne would make it fit.

 

The man let go of their wrists, instead desperately trying to grasp at the band but coming up short, the very tips of his fingers only gently brushing over the edge. His face started to become a bit paler and a bit blueish as he was visibly struggling for air. He seemed scared as he wheezed, his breaths short, shallow, and unsteady.

 

In the meanwhile, Arachne’s thoughts were analysing the situation, ever trying to turn it even more to their advantage. Their claws danced over the metal as another series of clicks and hisses originated from their mouth, fixating the collar in place first and foremost. Then they bent forwards a little bit, looking him straight in the eyes.

 

“If the little fly wants to breathe, he only has to accept my marking.” Their mandibles curled into a grin as the man on their altar shook his head vigorously.

 

“’m not… fly…” he managed to bring out, followed by some weak coughs. In response, Arachne simply put a little bit more pressure on the metal, closing off his windpipe ever so slightly further. Almost immediately, they could see his eyes start focussing and unfocussing in rapid succession, and his grasping for his throat grew more desperate.

 

They tried judging how far they could push this before he met his limit. Ideally, they would bring him as close to that limit as they could, but not over it, and then keep him there until he accepted. For now, though, it seemed as though he was still able to get at least some air, but by no means enough.

 

“Decide, little fly. Don’t you want to breathe?”

 

The man very weakly shook his head, and Arachne could see the struggle in his eyes. They knew he was thinking about it, as their other two servants had as well. They simply needed to add in a little extra kick to his pride, a little more helplessness, and it would be done. Once more, they grinned, calmly raising the pressure a bit more as they kept looking the man straight in the eyes.

 

The struggle in his eyes stopped, one hand moving away from his throat to tap them on the arm.

 

“Please… air… I‘ccept...” A wicked grin appeared on their face as they let go of the collar.

 

“See? Was that so hard?” With one claw, they traced over his chest, stopping right over his heart. A few clicks and hisses rolled past their mandibles as the man thankfully took in large gulps of air. Then the claw elongated slightly, and Arachne felt it pierce skin, a bit of muscle and then something more.

 

The man’s eyes widened as he felt it, a whimper escaping his mouth, quickly followed by a cough and then a sigh as his eyes slowly fell closed. From under the edges of his collar and sleeves, they could see faint green lines start to spread, moving up in time with the beating of his heart. His body went limp, his hands falling to his sides, and Arachne went through the motions of removing the metal band, replacing it with one that was ever so slightly longer.

 

They’d have to let new garments be brought here, but that was not an issue in the slightest. That’s what they had servants for.

 


 

Time was hard to keep track of, especially with no sun or moon to base it on. The duo only had their internal clock as a reference, and even that had been thoroughly screwed with due to their time in the End. Had hours passed? Minutes? Days? Well, okay, probably not days, given that Iskall had not yet woken up, but still. Since Jevin had stopped screaming it had been silent outside of their cell, and neither Grian nor the spider had come back to visit.

 

Ren was remarkably okay with that. He still remembered that bastard trying to eat him, and it was really fine if there wasn’t a reprise of that. Speaking of eating… His stomach gurgled, complaining about not having had anything since the morning, however long ago that had been. He glanced over at the plates, almost forgotten where they stood to the side of the room. One look at the ‘food’ was enough to make his brain win from his stomach.

 

Nope. Not gonna happen. Not if the others are gonna be here soon.

 

A sigh rolled over his lips, as he looked over at Python, who was fidgeting with his chain a little. He seemed a little bit out of i t, staring at a non-distinct piece of wall in the distance. Ren scooted over a bit, as far as his own chain allowed.

 

You okay there, Python?” He tilted his head slightly, looking at the snake man with a hint of concern in his eyes and voice. Giving up hope was quite literally the last thing any of them should be doing right now, and Python… Well. Wasn’t looking good right now.

 

I… want to shay yesh, I really do.” His words fell flat, and yet, that flat surface did the same as the walls here: they showed a depth and darkness that they really shouldn’t be able to. His eyes never wavered from their spot on the wall as links of chain clanked together, gliding through his fingers one by one, almost like prayer beads or a rosary.

 

That’s a no, then.” Ren reached out, coming just short of being able to touch Python or pat his shoulder or grab his hand or pull him in for a hug. It was almost as though the snake man didn’t notice, though. At the very least he didn’t react to it in any visible way.

 

It’sh jusht… I fought fey would’ve been here by now.” He blinked slowly. “Inshtead, we jusht get to hear more and more of our friendsh shcream and beg in pain. Firsht Welsh, then Jevin… And whatever ish going on with Grian… I-” He let out a shuddering breath, his eyes dropping to the floor. His words were softer when he next spoke.

 

If I’m honesht, I’m not sho shure we’re on the winning shide of fingsh anymore.”

 

Python, don’t you dare lose hope. It’s the friggin’ Hermits we’re talking about here. The kind of people that regularly spend days if not weeks or months doing ridiculous projects because it would make their lives marginally better. The kind of people that literally chase the very limits of the rules of this world to find loopholes and do things that should not by any kind of reason be possible. The kind of people that team up for the tiniest possible reasons, to bundle their powers and ideas and strengths. And you believe these people would sit by idly if someone went after their friends, after us and Wels and Jevin and Grian? If anything, they’re currently figuring out some over-the-top plan to get us outta here. So please, please have a little faith in them, my dude. They’ll get here, just you wait.”

 

W ithout lifting his eyes from the ground, Python sighed, then slowly nodded.

 

I guesh you’ve got a point fere…” The chain links were still periodically clanking. “I’ll try, but we’ve been waiting sho damn long already. And ash much ash I don’t want to, I can’t help but fink fe worsht.”

 

Then don’t think. We’ll wake up Iskall, and you can try to sleep. I’ll be fine holding out a little bit longer my dude.” His tone was gentle, worry and concern and care still clearly woven through it. The snake man finally looked to the side, and Ren smiled an encouraging smile at him.

 

Are you shure?”

 

Positive.”

 

Fen let’sh do fat.”

Chapter Text

After the meeting had ended, Joe had helped him limp back to his bed. While his wounds had mostly closed, mostly wasn’t completely, and one could only drink so many health potions before suffering from side effects. As for golden apples… He was already under the effect of the bunker’s regeneration beacon, adding a golden apple to the mix wasn’t gonna help much more. The question was now which would happen sooner: The regen effect having healed him completely, or the timer that dictated when he could have another health potion running out. Somehow, Keralis doubted he’d fall asleep before that point.

 

That had in no part to do with the fact that Joe had just returned with a mug full of coffee and two slices of cake covered in so many sprinkles that the whipped cream used to stick them to the cake was barely visible at all. A certain twinkle appeared in his eyes, and his lips curled into a wide smile.

 

“Is that… cake?” He unconsciously licked his lips already. The poet chuckled and walked closer, setting the mug and the plates down on the little table next to the bed.

 

“It would certainly seem that way on first sight, and the smell does indeed raise an appetite. But can we ever truly trust what we see or smell or feel? How can we know for sure if something is real? This could indeed be cake, or it might just be a lie. But if Stress and Cleo are truly dastardly…. It may secretly be a pie.” He kept completely serious as he spoke, in that intense tone he always had when he discussed things. Still, his facial expression told a different story, with a lazy grin and laughing wrinkles around his eyes.

 

“A pie?! No way!” Keralis feigned shock, which wasn’t really hard for him at all. “Joe, look into my eyes, and nothing but my eyes. We need to get to the bottom of this! If this isn’t cake, these cake crimes can’t go unpunished, what do you say?”

 

“Justice… Will be served.” With a grin he adjusted his glasses and pulled two forks out of his inventory, handing one over to the other man. Both of them took a slice of the cake – or pie, perhaps – and they happily started eating.

 


 

He had felt the call before he heard it. It resonated through his head, suggesting for him to move, to retrieve things, to go to his master. All tasks he could do without issue. Seconds later, he saw and heard spiders enter, clicking and hissing the same message. How he understood, he wasn’t sure of, he just knew that he did.

 

And so, without thinking more of it, Sally moved away from the spot he had been standing in for quite some time now, his mind idle as he had managed to silence that other voice in him more and more and more. Hopefully it was finally realising there was no point to his struggle, finally giving in to the master, finally shutting up for good. Whatever it was, Sally didn’t really care as he walked to one of the storage rooms. Unlike most of the others, this one wasn’t meant for food storage, instead having various items made of cloth or stone or metal neatly tucked into chests or hanging from hooks in the walls.

 

Let’s see… Deepstone slabs, four of them. A length of chain. A servant’s coat.

 

The combination brought him joy, for the simple reason that it meant another little fly had fallen into the web, another one had started the path of serving the one true master. Without much issue, Sally retrieved the requested items, putting the slabs and chain in his inventory while he kept the coat hanging over his arm. Such an item simply didn’t deserve to be put in an inventory, where none could see it. It had to be carried out in the open, where the deep green webbing of the fabric could display its marvellous pattern of light and shadow.

 

T hen, after gently closing the chests once more, he made his way downstairs, to the altar room. There he found his master, closing the collar around a figure in brown and beige. The face was obscured behind the arms and legs of his master, and yet… The figure had a certain familiarity to it, Sally just couldn’t point out where it came from. Not that it mattered, in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps he had known this person once, perhaps he had not, the only thing that mattered was the fact that he would know the person they would become.

 

“I brought what you requested, master.” He bowed shortly as he spoke and made his presence known.

 

Excellent, my little spider. Now… replace the little fly’s… garments with the ones I asked you to bring.” Sally nodded.

 

Of course.” Then he went to work, first propping up the unconscious form and then taking off the jacket. Only now could he see the face of the man, and the lighter lines all over his skin triggered something within Sally. Or rather… within Grian.

 

Scar! No, no, not Scar too! Let him go! Let him GO!

 

Sally’s hands wavered for a second from the shirt buttons he was undoing as the builder was giving everything he had to try and take control again. He was not doing this. Not with the green that seemed to slowly be spreading through Scar’s veins. Not if it meant the landscaper would suffer the same fate as he had.

 

Grian’s control ceded the moment he realised he was still standing practically next to Arachne. It gave caused a small pause in his concentration, and that was all Sally needed to get back on top, to kick Grian to the backseat where he belonged. The unbuttoning continued, and slowly but surely Scar’s surprisingly toned chest and abdomen came into view, the pale skin riddled with both deep scars and more of the meandering green veins. Not that Sally cared much for any of that. Instead, he just diligently removed the shirt, neatly folding it up and putting it on the altar. Then he took the coat and carefully slipped the arms of the unconscious man through the designated holes before closing the clasps on the front.

 

Stepping backwards, he turned towards his master, ready for another task. Instead of words, however, they simply picked up Scar as though he weighed nothing, basically princess style with more arms involved, gestured for him to follow and then moved out of the room. That was acceptable too. It was clear what was expected of him.

 

And so, as expected, he followed.

 


 

Shards of glass rained to the floor as he retracted his fist. He knew the screen hadn’t deserved it, he really did, but Cub didn’t know what else to do. He had shouted, angry, so angry with fate. It had not been enough to give him the emotional release he so desperately needed, hough, and he had searched for something else, some other way to decharge. The capitalist didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t cry , even if he wanted to. He had never been one to cry, he had always picked himself back up, looked at the situation and kept going, ever practical in his approach to problems.

 

His best friend dying, slipping away into the claws of their enemy, was not a problem he could easily get a grip on. He was close, so close to just strapping on his elytra and a suit of armour, to fly out towards the coordinates that Wels had sent, to take matters into his on hands. And yet, he knew he shouldn’t, he couldn’t justify it. The risk was too high, they couldn't afford losing someone more, especially not in exchange for the slim chance of emotional, impulsive revenge.

 

Cub stood up, pacing through the room and kicking shards out of his way. How hard he was grabbing his own hands behind his back was the only thing to keep them from shaking, and the sharp stinging sensation where the glass had grazed the skin of his knuckles didn’t allow for his thoughts to wander too far. Where his mind stayed on track, though, his eyes certainly didn’t. They shot around, going from the floor to the ceiling to the screens to the walls, restlessly searching for something.

 

If it hadn’t been for that restlessness, the capitalist might have never noticed the spider with glowing green eyes, sitting high up in the corner of the room. Perhaps it was a gut feeling, perhaps it was simply a response to the fact that spiders had been proven to be untrustworthy over the past couple of days, but Cub just knew something was up. He immediately stopped in his tracks, his eyebrows knitting together as a frown appeared on his face.

 

Green eyes… Hmmm… Don’t they normally have… red eyes? And yet… This is strange, Biffa also had- Oh damn. Biffa. Biffa also had green eyes, and green lines. Green. Green, green, green, are they linked? They have to be, right? That bastard was green too. Shit.

 

“I gotta show this to X...” he muttered to himself, very briefly looking through his inventory for something to contain the spider with. Preferably something opaque, just in case. He came up empty, though, until his eyes found their way back to the desk, where various mugs and sheets of paper formed an abstract still life.

 

“Yep, that works.” Cub went and dragged a chair closer to the wall, so he could reach the spider a lot easier. Sure, he might possibly have been able to get it without chair, but that would required him jumping and hoping for the best. He had one shot for this, though, so it had to work out the first time. Okay, maybe he had more tries, but one shot before the spider would know what was going on. Then he grabbed a mug and a sheet of paper full of idle doodles. Those would be his weapons for now.

 

As silently as he could muster he climbed up on top of the chair. That was to say, he wasn’t really silent, because the chair was made of wood and apparently felt quite insulted at being used as a glorified stepladder, creaking in protest. Cub just hoped that regular spiders were at least a little bit deaf because otherwise, the benefit of surprise had just disappeared.

 

It didn’t seem like the spider particularly cared, though, just sitting in its little web, staring down at the capitalist and the room. Or rather… Staring down at the screens, and what was going on on them. The positioning was a little bit too perfect to be a coincidence.

 

“I didn’t think so, asshole,” Cub muttered under his breath, putting the cup over the spider in a smooth motion. The web broke, the sticky threads now either hanging down thanks to gravity or finding a new point of attachment on the edges of the cup. Then he slid the paper between the wall and the cup, after which he carefully took the improvised container between his hands, so the spider couldn’t escape. He could feel it move through the paper, feel where its legs tapped down with each skittering step. It was quite unnerving, somehow, even though he wasn’t in the slightest afraid of the little bastards.

 

Well, let’s show ‘em to X then.

Chapter Text

Doc was nowhere near a state that could even loosely be described as “okay”. He was so sad and angry and done with the situation that he frankly barely cared about what happened next. Much as he didn’t want to admit it, the day had taken its toll, and he was looking forwards to the sweet embrace of dreamless sleep. The question was whether he actually could fall asleep with everything currently running through his mind. Oh, how tempting it was to just hole up in the comms tower for a while, far away from everything that had been going on. That way, there’d still be a bit of Scar near him, something beside the bits of armour and the shulker boxes and the cat treats he had picked up from the floor minutes before.

 

He couldn’t, though. There had been a reason they had come here, and wouldn’t forfeiting that reason mean Scar had died in vain? The cyborg frowned, pulling himself a bit more together with a shaky breath, forcing himself to care at least a little bit. Any time he spent here being a mess was time not spent on getting Scar and the others back. The Hermits were waiting for him to get back, to diagnose what was wrong with Biffa and hopefully figure out a way to help him. And after that… hopefully Biffa could in turn help them.

 

Before doing anything else, before picking up any of the other tools he needed, he first took some blocks of cobblestone, plopping them down in such a way that the entrance to the hangar was blocked. All the while he was berating himself for not thinking of that earlier. Had they done that, Scar would’ve still been here. Doc stopped in his track, clenching his fists and closing his eyes shut as he tried to not let a sense of failure and guilt wash over him.

 

No. Don’t think like that, that won’t bring me anywhere. I can’t change the past, but I CAN change the future. I gotta focus on the future here. I’m gonna bring that bastard down. I swear, I’m gonna bring them down.

 

A breath filled with purpose left his mouth as he made up his mind. If he could channel his emotions towards revenge, that would be a lot more productive than sitting here wallowing and being sad and angry. With a short nod and a little bit more determination in his eyes, he went back to what he was doing, which in this case was gathering up the various tools and cables he was going to need. Some were simply screwdrivers or tools to remove plating, others were clasps connected to a small display via a cable. There were more scanners as well as a small computer that had diagnostic programs programmed into it. Doc had no doubt that he was going to need that.

 

It all disappeared into a shulker box that then proceeded to go into his inventory, now quite full with all kinds of things. There was nothing in there that he particularly wanted to toss out or leave behind, though, most of it was necessary if only for the purpose of remembrance and promise. Then, after checking whether he had everything for one last time, the cyborg took up his fireworks, ready to once more leave for the bunker.

 


 

Even though he had originally wanted to keep up his façade of calm and reason, he had realised that if he didn’t allow himself to be emotional now, what reason would be good enough?

 

Ten seconds. I could have saved him if I had been ten seconds faster, if I had doubted myself ten seconds shorter. Maybe even five would’ve been enough.

 

Xisuma looked miserable as he sat there, hugging Jellie tightly as he cried. He wondered whether she knew, even though they had been careful to not say what had happened out loud. For now she seemed to be accepting the hugs, only looking moderately miserable as his tears rolled onto her fur. A hand appeared on his shoulder – either Impulse or Tango, he wasn’t sure – then started rubbing small circles with its thumb, and the admin found himself leaning into the touch. Even though the other two had to know that he had screwed up, they were still there for him, and that somehow made him feel better and worse. Better, because he knew there were people that still believed in him, even if he could not save all of his friends. Worse, because they just had to be disappointed in him. What else could they be? They had laid their trust in him as admin, and he had broken that trust.

 

“X, buddy, are you okay?” Impulse asked from what seemed to be a few meters away, though he knew that was wrong, probably. The sound seemed to… Well, almost muted, in a way. As though there was a wall between them, which Xisuma knew there most definitely wasn’t. That being said, though, he shook his head to answer truthfully. There was no use in lying, not to anyone that could see him, which both Impulse and Tango qualified for right at that moment.

 

“Ya know, it’s not your fault Scar- what happened wasn’t your fault, not even close. You couldn’t have known.” At the demon’s mention of her designated human, Jellie perked up, looking around as though searching for him. It made Xisuma’s breath hitch in his throat as he gently stroked her back.

 

“I mean, I-I… You… I-I guess you’re r-right, but- just… Just a f-few s-seconds and-”

 

We know. We don’t blame you, though. Did you know this would happen?”

 

“N-no, but-”

 

“If you had known, would you have done something different?”

 

“Of course, I-”

 

“Just answer the questions, X. You took longer double-checking everything to make sure your solution was absolutely correct, right?” Impulse continued, effortlessly catching on to what Tango was trying to do.

 

Xisuma sighed, more or less knowing where this was going.

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“You did the best you could given the information you had at the time, right?”

 

“Yeah, but-”

 

“Then why are you blaming yourself for what happened?”

 

Xisuma finally looked up, and his brain shortly failed him. The other two had a point, one he couldn’t easily parry or deny. There were several conflicted corners of his mind screaming for his attention with ill-formed arguments and reasonings that stranded halfway through. The lines on his face spelled out that conflict for all to see as he tried to find words to express what was going on in his head.

 

Before he could get there, though, the door opened, and in came Cub, holding a mug in a very particular way, one of his hands covered in scratches and bits of blood.

 

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but- oh.” His hands dropped a little as he sensed and saw the mood in the room. “I’m guessing you guys saw the message as well, huh?”

 

Xisuma rubbed over his forehead, wiping a few tears to the side.

 

“You could say that, yeah.” It queued Cub to tilt his head, staying silent to wait for an explanation of sorts.

 

“It came in the middle of X trying to fix the re-” Impulse was interrupted halfway through by the capitalist violently shushing him. Confusion seemed to spread on the faces of basically everyone that wasn’t Cub, Jellie included.

 

“Cub, what…?” Xisuma asked, and the other man tapped on the side of the mug a few times. Only now did he see the bit of paper poking out from under it, almost as though…

 

“I caught one of the bastards spying in the video room. What do we do with it?”

 

The admin’s expression hardened, his hand balling together in a shaking fist rather than continuing to stroke Jellie.

 

“Get rid of it. I don’t care how.” His voice was filled with icy rage and searing hate, way more cool and harsh than he usually was, not a single hint of care presenting itself. It scared the others, though maybe not as much as it scared Xisuma himself. He was never like this, not even when he had banned- Even that time hadn’t brought him this far down a path of wanting to see something obliterated. Then again, that person had not been as evil as the bastard they were facing now. Arachne had actually killed and abducted and brainwashed and he would not stand for one of their lackeys just waltzing into their hideout and spying on them. It would just not fly.

 

“I’m going to instate a new rule: any spider is to be exterminated on sight, except if that would put you in mortal danger. Especially when they’re in the bunker.”

 


 

He was rudely awakened from his meditation-turned-nap by the sound of voices and blocks being placed. For the shortest moment, before he opened his eyes, he had forgotten where he was, instead believing he was in his base, napping away near a furnace array. As he opened his eyes, though, the harsh reality set in. Instead of the dark wood and stone bricks he half-expected, he was greeted by walls and a ceiling of black nothingness, and in front of him, he saw something moving. Multiple things, even.

 

The purple wings easily gave away the identity of the one currently in the process of placing slabs on the ground, just a bit out of reach. The spider was present too, fiddling with a chain and something in their arms. Immediately, Wels was on his guard, squinting his eyes shut again and looking through his lashes. It would probably be best to pretend to be asleep for a little bit longer, lest he gave them any ideas. Nevertheless, he did want to know what they were up to.

 

Judging by the fact that the slabs and chain seemed to be positioned much in the same way as the ones he was on were, he’d almost say they were preparing for another poor soul to be abducted and captured. The possibility already hurt his heart. None of them deserved this, none at all.

 

Grian – or, well,‘Grian’ – finished up the square of slabs and stepped aside, folding his arms behind his back like some kind of servant waiting for orders, and the knight swallowed. This was so not how the builder should be acting. Even during his various bits of acting and roleplaying, he never managed to completely get rid of that puppy-like enthusiasm and energy, always moving this or that, always with the beginning of a smile in his eyes. And this version of him just… Well. He stood still with almost vacant eyes, barely any emotion to be seen. Or… Actually, that wasn’t completely true. Wels could see a hint of something that could only be described as sadistic glee, and it made him wonder what had happened, what had made Grian turn into this… this twisted version of himself.

 

He thanked me, when we met last. He thanked me for causing him to be this way, but… What did I do? Why would he say that? I didn’t do anything, I didn’t even see him when I got here. I just- Oh. I ran past him while fleeing from that spider. Is that it? Is it because I chose running away and maybe living over going to see him and certainly dying? But… what does that have to do with anything?

 

He must have made a sound, because next thing he knew, ‘Grian’ was looking at him intently. Wels instinctively closed his eyes completely, hoping he hadn’t noticed, and he waited.

 

“Master, I think he’s awake,” echoed through the room, and the knight swallowed. Seems like he had noticed. Great. Still, it sounded like he might not have been sure about it, so maybe Wels still had a chance, if he could just play the role of being asleep a little bit longer.

 

“Check it, little spider...” The voice sent shivers down his spine, and not a second later he heard footsteps approaching. The rattling of chains subsided, and something heavy was put on the floor, but Wels dare not look. The footsteps stopped in front of him, and he felt a hand being laid on top of his head, followed by a thumb pulling up his right eyelid. He could see ‘Grian’ standing in front of him, blocking his vision as he peered at his eye to figure out whether he was awake or not.

 

The knight did his best to not look around further, and to breathe slowly, the little things he knew a sleeping person would do. Nevertheless, something must’ve betrayed him, because the next thing he knew was that ‘Grian’ was grinning. That could not bode well. The thumb disappeared, and he let his eyelid fall closed again, even though his gut told him to not do that, to keep his eyes on the enemy.

 

“He’s most definitely pretending, Master.”

 

His stomach sunk, and not just because of the way his friend seemed to be serving his enemy.

 

“Excellent…” Skittering footsteps sounded coming closer, as a pair of more human footsteps moved ever so slightly away. “Stop pretending, little fly. You aren’t fooling anyone.” Judging by the sound, and the fact that he could ever so faintly feel the air move as they spoke, he knew they had to be very close right now, closer than he was comfortable with. Then again, it didn’t seem like the spider had a notion of the concept of personal space.

 

Despite his gut’s better judgement, Wels decided to just not listen and keep pretending to sleep. Little acts of resistance were the only kind of fighting that was really viable right now After all, there was no way that his bare fists would be able to dent their carapace, no matter how hard he tried.

 

“Tsk… Don’t you want to see your friend?” It seemed like they moved away now, and seconds later he heard something impacting with flesh, followed by a soft whimper.

 

And it wasn’t ‘Grian’ making that sound, Wels was sure of it. Morbid curiosity overtook him, and he opened his eyes to a squint, looking over to the other set of slabs. He hadn’t quite expected to see someone else wearing the same kind of clothes as ‘Grian’ did, and the face was turned away from him. Still, this was someone he recognised. The scarring on basically every bit of exposed skin gave it away, especially when combined with that brown hair. The green that seemed to be infesting the man’s veins worried Wels more than a little.

 

No! Not Scar too!

 

His teeth clenched together, and the knight opened his eyes further. He didn’t want to have Scar be hurt more because he refused to cooperate. Had the spider just slapped or kicked Wels, that he could live with, but letting others be hurt because of his actions… That went against his code.

 

That’s what I thought...” The face of the spider changed expression, their mandibles moving to something that had to be a grin of sorts. Wels returned the foulest look he could muster, not at all impressed. He mostly just hoped that the spider and their servant would leave soon, so he could check up on Scar, who looked like he was out cold.

 

And what does the little fly say, now that I brought him a friend?” If he had been able to, Wels would have made his expression even fouler, but he couldn’t. Instead, he spat in the direction of the spider.

 

Screw you, that’s what.” The spider came closer, looking at him with a glint of something in their many eyes.

 

Oh? That is not what I had in mind, little fly. Try again.” Their voice turned dangerously low, like a rumble preceding a volcanic eruption. It wasn’t like Wels didn’t know what they wanted him to say. It was that he absolutely refused to say it. He was not going to thank someone for killing yet another of his friends. Absolutely not. The spider came closer, and instead of moving away from it he stood up, using the slabs to stand a little bit taller. Even so, the spider towered above him, and he had to look up to properly face them.

 

They bent forwards, grabbing his chin and pushing it up even further, the sharp claws at the end of their fingers biting into his skin.

 

Well? I’m waiting, little fly.”

 

Hi waiting, I’m not gonna listen to you.” Wels stared at them, dead-set on spiting them before even considering saying anything nice to them. It seemed to anger them a little bit, judging by the hard punch that connected to his solar plexus, knocking the air out of him. Wels was wheezing, trying to get the breath back in his lungs, but it was worth it. Despite the pain, though, there was a victorious smile on his face. Someone that had to resort to violence to get their way had already lost the battle in his opinion.

 

The little fly will regret that.”

 

Oh, will I now? I don’t care what you do to me!” It looked like that pushed some buttons. Their claws now actually pierced through his skin as they lifted his chin further, forcing him to stand on his toes in order to not be lifted into the air. This time, he actually saw the blow coming, and the knight was able to flex his muscles to catch the brunt of it. Still, he groaned as it connected, thanks to the sheer amount of power behind it. And yet… it didn’t wipe the smile from his face. It seemed to frustrate the spider even more, and they looked like they were about to do something more significant damage-wise.

 

Right before following through with it, though, they stopped. Their grin returned as they slowly lowered him back to the ground.

 

The little fly does not care about himself… but what about his friends?” There was a sound that almost had to be a chuckle or a laugh, in context, and that actually scared Wels more than anything they could have done to him. They walked over to Scar’s still motionless body, and his gut turned.

 

“NO!” He moved forwards, his hand outstretched in an attempt to get to the other man, to shield him from harm. “He has nothing to do with this, you hear me?! Leave him out of it!”

 

“Then say it.” For a moment, they looked at him, waiting for what he would do. Then, given that he didn’t say anything for two seconds, still thinking about what to do, they lashed out with one of their many legs. It connected to Scar’s unprotected flank, and a groan emerged from his mouth.

 

“Well?” The leg was pulled back again, and raised for another kick. Wels bit his lip as the chain fell short, stopping his grasping fingers half a meter too early. He really didn’t want to say it, but he also really didn’t want to see his friends get hurt, let alone because of him. Conflict warred on his face, but didn’t resolve fast enough. The leg came down again, and it was followed by a whimper. Wels’ hands balled to fists, his brows knitting together in anger.

 

I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to but please please please don’t hurt my friends I don’t want anyone to hurt my friends. I can say those words, I have to be able to, I have to if it helps my friends. I can take a blow to my ego if that means Scar won’t get hurt more.

 

He clenched his eyes shut, pushing his internal conflict towards a victory on one side. As he did so, he could hear yet another combination of a kick and a groan, and he wondered somewhere how much more it would take before Scar would wake from whatever slumber he was in.

 

“Thank you,” he muttered, barely more than a whisper.

 

“What was that?” The spider had stopped in their tracks, leg still in the air to administer another kick.

 

“I said ‘Thank you’,” Wels growled, unhappy with the entire situation. “Now leave him alone, I did what you asked.”

 

Again, that horrible, horrible chuckle sounded.

 

“The little fly should know better than to try to command me.” As if to punctuate that sentence, they kicked once more, this time eliciting a whimper that lasted a bit longer than the previous ones had, and Scar actually started moving a little. The spider scoffed, and moved away from him. Their eyes locked with Wels’ eyes, and there was a hint of something in there that the knight really didn’t like.

 

“Have fun, little flies.” With a simple gesture, they walked out of the room, seemingly disappearing through the walls, with ‘Grian’ following suit.

 

And then Wels was alone with Scar.

Chapter Text

Time ticked by slowly but surely, and he had no way of keeping track of it besides counting seconds in his head and observing others. For all he knew it could be far into the night, but he had no way to check it. After all, he doubted the two others he knew were there would answer any of his questions, and it wasn’t like the windows let in any kind of natural light. There was just the harsh glow of end rods to light up the place, and it was starting to annoy him.

 

What was more annoying, though, were the ropes forcing him into the same position for seconds, minutes, hours too long. The sensors in his shoulders and knees had been registering an unhealthy amount of strain, and the heat sensors around his wrists had told him that the friction caused by the rope shifting over the metal had heated the panels up quite a bit. Both things that weren’t too good for his body and the circuitry within. Still, he was probably better off than anyone else in this situation. After all, the servant didn’t exactly have skin that the rope could bite into, no blood circulation that could be cut off to speak of. And any damages sustained could be repaired fairly easily with the right tools. Ah, the joys of being a consciousness uploaded to a robotic vessel…

 

Nevertheless, even if he was better off than others, that still didn’t mean that his situation was one he didn’t want to get out of. On the contrary. If he could, he’d obliterate the ropes, and the chair, and the door to his cell, and anyone standing in his way of getting back to his liege, former friends or not. And yet, here he sat, unable to open up his inventory, unable to access his swords. They must’ve taken those from him while he was out, as the entire belt was missing, scabbards and all. His coat, his symbol of status, was gone too, and that was perhaps the thing he was most pissed over. Perhaps his idea of obliterating his way back home would need to be amended slightly to fit in getting his servants’ coat back. After all, he was quite positive about the fact that his liege would end him if he were to lose that.

 

Really, do these lowlifes have any idea what they have taken from me? Do they have any idea how much trouble they may have put me in?

 

There were no lowlifes he could currently ask those questions to, and he had no doubt they would not care. How could they? They had not yet embraced his liege as the one true ruler, and somehow still believed they were evil, where he knew that that wasn’t the case. His liege was genuinely a good person, who was simply trying to make the world a better place, and who understood that some sacrifices needed to be made for that. It was a hefty and important task, one that his liege had all too gracefully taken upon themselves such that no other would have to. They weren’t doing this for themselves, they were doing it for the betterment of everyone.

 

T he sound of a key turning in a lock broke through his thoughts, and almost immediately his eyes were on the metal door, cold and waiting. It swung open, and in came a man with green skin broken up by robotic parts in various places. A tattered labcoat hung from his shoulders, and in his hands he held a box, which was promptly put down to the side of the room, out of the servant’s reach. The expression on his face was neutral, but in a forced kind of way. It was something the servant could make use of.

 

Oh, what have they done to you, Biffa?” the cyborg remarked, coming closer to inspect him. The servant remained silent. He did not recognise what was apparently a name that should mean something to him, and he had absolutely no reason to give the other man any kind of information. Instead, he just stared at him with hate-filled eyes, which the green man seemingly ignored as he came closer, looking over his various parts but not touching any of them yet.

 

Hmm… This is gonna take some time to diagnose and repair. Really, you oughtta take better care of yourself, man, this ain’t healthy.”

 

Again, the servant did not answer. Instead, he scoffed, not believing someone could interpret the signs of his loyalty as something bad. Perhaps, though, this man could set him on the path back to his liege once more. He just needed to play his cards right, and to take his chance as it presented itself.

 

And so he found himself observing the cyborg as he moved around, getting back to the box and kicking it open. After that, he took out a bunch of electronics, wires and clasps and connectors and screens that jogged his memory but didn’t quite kickstart it just yet. He did , however, realise that those things could probably harm him just as much as any blade could, or perhaps even worse. The servant was not too giddy to show that, though, nor was he keen on showing the growing unease in his system. Then t he green man returned, shifting the electronics to one arm as he reached out with the other.

 

I’m sure you know already, but this may feel a little bit... unpleasant.”

 

Without further warning, the man started pressing a few button combinations on the servant’s chest, gingerly evading the green lines that spread out all over it . It indeed was u npleasant, but that was about all feeling he could attribute to it. None of his sensors registered any kind of pain or other anomalies, not really, but that didn’t mean the lack of feeling anything related to it was nice either. There was still the pressure, there was still the outright violation of his personal space, and each new press made him want to lurch out of the way but he couldn’t. At the same time, the situation somehow felt familiar, as though this had happened before. The cyborg seemed to know what he was doing, after all. And so he stared back at the other man, squinting, his bright green eyes filled with hate and disdain , not entirely sure about what would happen. Logically, he knew that he had to know it somewhere , but the memory was not just outside of his grasp.

 

What he did feel was a panel on the side of his neck popping open, sending a small pulse of electric discharge coursing through his limbs. That was also unpleasant, but in a different way. This was also exactly the point where he was done with this place. Capturing him, sure. Tying him up, that was logical. Annoying, but logical. Pressing his buttons, m aking his body do things outside of his command? That went too far.

 

Stay off of me,” he bit towards the cyborg, as he bent as far away from his hands as he could. It wasn’t far, not really, and he knew he had to do something else to get out of this place. Judging by the twitchiness of the various pneumatic systems in his joints, his body did share that opinion, and he knew that given the chance, he would definitely bite or headbutt his way to freedom.

 

“This is for your own good, you know. I have to figure out what’s wrong with you, so I can fix it, so I can help you,” the other man said. There was a shaky quality to his voice, and he seemed a little bit taken aback by the servant’s justified hostility. Nevertheless, no matter how the other was feeling, he still continued, plugging the wires into the screen, which he then put in one of the pockets of his labcoat.

 

“I don’t need your help. On the contrary. You need mine.” The servant wiggled in his bonds, trying to get the chair to move away from the cyborg, or to break free. Either would be fine, though the latter was heavily preferred. “Don’t you see? Subject yourself to my liege and you will find freedom.”

 

“I’m not the one tied to a chair here, Biffa,” came his response through gritted teeth. “And even if I was, I would never follow someone that makes me murder my friends.” Maybe rougher than absolutely necessary, the cyborg put his hand on the side of the servant’s head, pushing it to the side to open up some more space to access his neck. “Hold still.”

 

That was exactly what the servant did not do. Instead, he was moving even more, trying to break free, not at all wanting to continue with whatever this was. It made a frustrated frown appear on the face of the other man, while he took the different wires in his hand, trying to plug them into his neck. Sensors all over his body were whining for his attention, to warn about overheating or overstretching or general security alerts, but he ignored them for now. The alerts were not going to help him right now.

 

“All those going against my liege need to be terminated, friend or not.” He spat out the words, the word ‘friend’ like poison on his tongue. He attempted to straighten his neck once more, but it was a battle of the pneumatic systems in his neck against the cybernetic systems in the cyborgs arm. And really, given the purpose of both it was not really a fair fight at all. He was shaking with strain, but the servant got exactly nowhere. On the contrary, the cyborg seemingly didn’t need to make an effort to keep him down at all. With a lot of ease the green man plugged the wires into his neck, each one sending a shock through his body, spreading a cold feeling throughout him.

 


 

A cold spread through him, and he gritted his teeth. He didn’t like this feeling, he never did, but Biffa knew why it was necessary. His left arm had been malfunctioning, and it didn’t seem to be a mechanical defect. And since hardware was in the clear, they needed to debug his software. Doc’s hands stopped as he noticed.

 

You doing okay there? I can slow down if you want me to.” His thick accent poorly hid care, and Biffa shook his head.

 

No, just keep going. The sooner this is over the better.”

 

Alright man, but just tell me if it becomes to much.” The robot nodded, and tried to focus on something in the distance in order to take his attention away from the feeling. More wires were plugged in and clamps were attached to strategic points, the cold feeling spreading further until his entire body was shivering involuntarily. Still, he did not ask for Doc to stop or slow down.

 

Okay, everything is set up. Whenever you’re ready I’ll put you in debug mode.”

 

Just go for it, Doc. I’ll see you on the other side, and you better have some tea ready by then.” He trusted the other enough, they had gone through this multiple times already in cyborg club. Doc was damned good at what he did.

 

You and your tea… is coffee okay too?” There was a smirk on his face as he started tapping some things on his screen, no doubt getting ready for the deep dive.

 

Absolutely-” He was interrupted by the cyborg pressing a last button, his mind filling with static, his vision replaced by falling green code.

 


 

Him gritting his teeth was interrupted by a very clear memory, and he blinked a few times, as though a fog had just lifted ever so briefly. It came crashing back in just seconds later, clouding his memory once more. The cyborg didn’t seem to notice, too busy trying to type in something on his screen with one hand, the other still holding him down.

 

“Doc… you better have some tea ready… when I get back...” he found himself whispering as the clarity was replaced by static. He saw a look of recognition and surprise bloom on the cyborg’s face as his world shattered into bright green spider webs, the threads unravelling until only darkness remained.

 


 

[END OF ACT 1]

Chapter Text

The place was ever changing and yet always the same. The backdrop was a purple so dark it appeared as black, an endless expanse that seemed to loop on itself in multiple ways, multiple directions. Matterless matter swirled around, a glittering purple like stardust morphing between hundreds of shapes each minute, all barely recognisable as something real, something that existed somewhere, but pulled from its context and warped like a shadow on uneven ground. Generally the shapes didn’t cross or intersect, but when they did, the overlapping pieces turned entirely into a pulsing black darkness, falling away once more as the shapes shifted again.

In the middle of it all was a figure, floating between the shapes, unable to really interact with them. The matter didn’t care about them sticking out a hand to try and swirl it around even more, and so they had stopped doing it altogether. Not instantly, of course, but after a while it had started to feel ridiculous to even try. How long it had been… there was no way to be sure about it. There were no days here, no nights, and neither a feeling of hunger, thirst or tiredness. If anything, this place felt like stasis, ripped away from the space-time continuum until only space remained.

And yet, despite that feeling of stasis, that never changing place had changed. A distance away, something new had appeared. Something the figure knew from Before. Not a shape, but… a colour. Compared to the backdrop, it seemed almost neon, that was how bright the new matterless matter was. It still acted the same as the purple matter did, shifting between shape after shape after shape ad infinitum, only smaller this time. There was only a small amount of green amidst the sea of purple, but it most certainly had their attention, and they floated over towards the new matter. It wasn’t like there was anything to do except to float and to think, and they might as well do those things near an interesting change of scenery for a once.

 


 

At long last, the bunker had become silent and still, most people having finally decided to go to bed. The kitchen was a relative mess, and despite Cleo’s and Stress’ best attempts there were flour and sprinkles everywhere, with some splatters of batter left on the walls and ceiling where mixing had gone a little bit awry. At least they had properly done the dishes before going to surprise the others with cake.

Elsewhere, Joe was fast asleep, slumped in his chair next to Keralis, a book still laying open in his lap as his glasses slowly slid down his nose. His coffee cup stood empty and forgotten on the floor, on top of messily stacked plates. Keralis was unconscious as well, having been lulled to sleep by a gentle voice reciting poetry. His wounds had stopped bleeding too, courtesy of another healing potion, and come the morning nothing would remain but a faint scar.

M
umbo had wandered the hallways until he ran into TFC, who was able to fill him in on what had happened in the time he had been away burning down cobwebs and almost drowning. Sure, the story was perhaps not the most straight to the point, with quite a lot of backtracking and going off highly specific tangents related to bunker vault architecture at times, but it was complete and understandable. With that out of the way, the old man had basically kicked the redstoner to bed on the grounds of ‘layin’ unconscious in a damn boat don’t count as rest’. Mumbo had complied all too quickly, deciding to crash in the bunker instead of in his base. Somehow the thought of being out there on his own made his skin crawl.

I
mpulse had been the one to lead Doc to Biffa. The two of them had looked quite worried when they spotted False sitting on the ground, back against the wall, but a simple smile and accompanying gesture from Zedaph had seemingly taken most of that away. Doc had gone into the cell to do his thing, while Impulse had stayed behind, half to stand guard, and half to convince False that it was okay to go and take a break and a nap and to poke the other girls for some over-the-top cake. It took a while, but in the end he succeeded at that, also thanks to Zed’s help, and False finally agreed to go find either a bed or a nice armchair to curl up in. And so Zed and False walked off, first finding cake, then claiming one of the residential rooms. She had drifted away even before hitting the pillow, and he gently tucked her in before making himself comfortable in the chair, crossing his arms on the table and using that to lay his head on. No doubt his shoulders and back would complain about it in the morning, but that was well worth it. After all, he had promised False not to leave until she told him to, and even if she had, he’d rather not have her wake up all alone if she had bad dreams.

It hadn’t taken long for Cub to make his way down to the lowest levels of the bunker, where he found a small pool of lava that TFC generally used as a trash chute. It would certainly do for the purpose he had in mind. No kill like overkill, after all. Without much ceremony, he crouched down, coming as close to the searing hot liquid as he could without burning himself, and then tossing in the spider, mug and paper and all to give it no chance to escape. One short sizzle later, the items had molten and burnt away, leaving no sign of there existence except for the tiniest puff of smoke. With that out of the way, the capitalist returned to the surveillance room, making a small detour past the kitchen for some coffee. This could well be a very long night, without Scar’s banter to pass the time with. On the positive side, that would leave him with quite some time to figure out a solution to the wildfire problem, that more than likely was still raging in the mountains. While it was not really the largest issue they had right now, it still was a problem that best wasn’t forgotten about.

Meanwhile, Tango was trying to convince Xisuma to finally go to bed. The world wouldn’t just crash and burn overnight, and it was better to be rested before trying to delve too deep into the code and the fundamental truths of the world. At least, that’s what the demon thought. The admin didn’t entirely feel the same way, being hell-bent on monitoring whether his changes would stay and whether they had unpredicted side-effects. He wanted to be able to immediately intervene the moment things went wrong, instead of having to do damage control and clean-up later. Anything if it meant no one else would fall into the hands of that bastard. Xisuma explained that all in clear words, and then managed to call Tango ‘Zed’ instead. At first he tried to justify it by blaming his breathing mask, that it had simply warbled the sound too much, that that happened more often, that he wasn’t tired at all, but the demon’s stare combined with the eyebrow he raised higher and higher eventually made him fall silent. Then, with a muttered ‘yeah, maybe you’re right’ he caved, logging out and heading off to bed while Tango headed to the bathroom to wash the layers upon layers of sooth off his skin.

 


 

H is eyes opened slowly, lazily blinking a few times as he stared into an abyss filled with light blue stars. Jevin couldn’t remember falling asleep, nor could he really guess what time it was, not without natural light. About that was the moment reality started setting in. Any serene feeling he might have had about what he saw disappeared when he realised the abyss was very much a wall, and that the stars were simply splatters of slime he had not been able to reach. He shot upright, chain rattling as he did so.

Right. That’s where I was.

He looked around, first and foremost checking whether he was alone. It surprised him a little that that bastard had let him sleep and heal up a bit, given the threat they had made before leaving. There was no one in the room with him, which was a good thing for now. Breathing out slowly, Jevin let go of some of the tension in his shoulders, before gently stretching. Then he rubbed his wrist. The jagged line where his slime had been torn away and reattached was clearly visible, the bits that had fallen off having turned a little bit lighter due to dehydration. Sure, it would revert back to its original colour eventually, but for now he’d have to deal with a hand that looked a little bit deformed and discoloured. Still, it beat not having a hand.

Jevin went to sit on his knees. With the inspection of his wounds done, he finally had the time to try and figure out where the hell that sound of chain had come from, and it didn’t take long for him to spot it. Grabbing the metal, his hand followed it up to the place where it was connected to a collar around his neck.

Well, that’s that figured out then. That a-hole forgot one thing, though.

A grin appeared on his face despite the situation he was in. He took the collar with both hands, then gently started pressing it upwards, towards his head. At the same time, he forced his slime to slowly morph out of the way, squeezing and stretching in order to fit through the metal ring. It was slow, so slow, but there was no reason to hurry, not right now at the very least.

Minutes passed, then some more, but eventually he held the collar in his hands, the last bits of his face shifting back into their original position.

“And that’s what we call a pro-gamer move,” he muttered to himself as he put it aside and stood up. It was time to get out of here.

Chapter Text

As always, he awoke by the gentle flutter of the backups materialising on the floor next to him. Xisuma yawned, half wanting to get up, half wanting to just turn around and sleep for a few minutes more. The knowledge that it was only sunrise didn’t help one bit with the decision, but at the same time he knew that there was still a lot to be done before they could fly out to get back their friends.

In the end, he just grunted, deciding to read the logs like some kind of morning paper, and then get up. It seemed like an acceptable compromise, especially since he hadn’t been able to skim through the digital logs the evening before. He reached down, picking the papers from the floor, and then shifted himself and his pillow around so he could comfortably sit up as he read.

Most of the logs weren’t even that interesting to read through. Some diagnostics of local energy levels and waves, an hour-to-hour weather report and predictions for the day to come, statistics on farm efficiency, and a small section dedicated to trade price changes, like a tiny stock exchange report. All a lot easier to digest in digital form, as he would actually have interactive graphs and diagrams then.

Then there were also those bits that mattered a lot more. The fire warnings showed that at least part of the extinguishing attempts had worked, the fire only having spread north, into the swamp area bordering on the mountains. Some areas along the edges had burnt out in the meanwhile, but it seemed the heart of the mountains was still burning as brightly as the day before. At least, that’s what he could deduce from the temperature charts. Xisuma took a mental note to ask someone on the tech team to send out a drone for surveillance and reconnaissance in the area, and then continued on to the next part.

One he dreaded, frankly. It was the conversation logs of the day before. It didn’t contain any of the private chats between Hermits, they never had, but he knew what would be in them. Nevertheless, the admin started scanning through them, his eyes getting pulled to the lines in bold font without his express permission. Iskall. Python. Ren. Wels. Wels again. Jevin. Scar. Each of the death messages he read back felt like a dagger to his heart, but he couldn’t stop himself from going over them, one by one. Xisuma closed his eyes, holding his forehead against the papers for a bit.

“I’ll get all of you back, don’t you worry. Just hang in there a little bit longer, we’re coming soon.”

 


 

“Hey Ren?”

“Hmm…? What is it, Iskall?”

“It’s been quite a while, and… Well, we’re still stuck here. As much as I don’t like to think about it, I… it may be time to talk about what we’ll do if they-” the swede looked down and away from the hippie, not entirely happy with what he was going to have to say “- if the Hermits don’t come. I’m not saying they won’t! Just… What’s our contingency plan?”

Ren stayed silent for a bit, looking from Iskall to Python, who was starting to stir once more. He had a pensive expression on his face as he slowly stroked over his injured arm.

“Well, that all depends on if we can get out of this cell or not. If we can, we should try to get out of this place. If not…” He trailed off towards the end, and Iskall looked up. Ren was chewing on his lip, his brows knitted together. “Well… I don’t think there’s many options, then. Question is how long we’re willing to hold out waiting for the others.” His eyes drifted off towards the plate of grey sludge that was apparently food, A strange expression on his face before he shook his head and refocussed on Iskall. “Of course, that’s only if the Hermits don’t come, and I would bet quite a bit on the fact that they will.”

Iskall nodded, but looked away.

“So our backup plan is just... giving up, then, giving in to whatever that spidery bastard wants?” His voice was soft and sad, lacking its usual energy. Logically, he knew it had only been a day, maybe two tops since they had come here, and there was no reason to give up yet. He knew Grian hadn’t given up, either, not for three days, and he had been locked up all alone. Logically, he knew he should most definitely be able to keep up the hope a few days longer at the very least, if not more. Still, he knew that comparing himself to others wasn’t fair, not towards himself and not towards his friends. That Grian had managed to keep hoping and keep fighting didn’t mean he could.

It can still inspire me, though. It can still give me a reason to keep fighting, if only because it could help him.

“You okay over there, dude?” Ren broke through his thoughts, and Iskall blinked to get back to the here and now.

“Yeah, I’m… No, you know what? I’m not fine.
I want my eye back, I want my friggin’ depth perception back, I just want to go home.” He let himself fall down on his back, staring up at the ceiling. “Is it too much to ask for this all to just be over?” he whispered as his breath suddenly caught in his throat. Somewhere to the side, he could hear shuffling and the now-familiar rattling of chain.

“We’ll get out of here, one way or another. Just… Just keep hope a little longer. The Hermits will be here soon, allow them some time. Wels only gave them the coords less than a day ago, and despite X being the admin they still need to fly to get places. To fly and to prepare armour and weapons and food and rockets…
All of that costs time, and that’s still without accounting for any time they would need for making some kind of weird and over the top plan to keep themselves to. You gotta give them some time, dude.”

Ren’s voice sounded closer than it had before, but Iskall didn’t look for its source. He was fine just staring at the ceiling for now, if there even was one. His eye stung, and the collar felt more choking than it had before. Or it could just be a lump in his throat, he wasn’t too sure, nor did he care particularly much.

“I know, I know… And yet-” He only barely managed to swallow down a sob, his voice rising in pitch. The pressure on his throat only grew, and he wasn’t too sure he would be able to say a whole lot more without actually starting to cry.

Again, the chain rattled a little, followed by Ren cursing under his breath.

“Look, I’m not particularly thrilled to sit here a few hours longer, believe me, but we don’t really have a choice here. We gotta deal with what we’ve got and keep the mood up until the Hermits finally haul their asses over here. Alright?” The gentle rustle of clothes betrayed that he moved some more. “Just so you know, I’m holding out my hand so you can shake it or hold it or whatever, this damned chain isn’t letting me closer. Thought I’d tell ya, cause you seem rather preoccupied with staring daggers at the ceiling there.” Ren followed up his words with a soft chuckle, laughing at his own little joke.

Iskall, on the other side, felt a bit of wetness travelling down the side of his face,
his chest shocking with every silent sob. Still, his hand reached out to the side, first patting around the stone, searching for Ren’s hand. As he found it, he hesitated only briefly before grabbing it in a tight vice grip. The hippie’s thumb started gently stroking the top of his hand, not even breaking its rhythm as Iskall’s nails dug into his skin, finally allowing himself to just cry the pain and fear from his system.

 


 

As time passed, more and more of the green matterless matter appeared, swirling around freely, unpredictably. The figure had since started and stopped wondering where it came from, knowing the matter itself wouldn’t give them the answer. Nevertheless, on occasion they still philosophised about it. After all, there wasn’t much more to do for them, and this was more pleasant than trying to overanalyse the circumstances of them getting sent here. A lot more pleasant. Even after all this time, they weren’t sure as to why it had happened in the first place.

Whatever it was, that didn’t change the situation. They were stuck there, with no clear way out. And so, the figure simply observed, waiting for their chance to get out of this place, waiting to go back to Before, if that was still even a possibility. They observed as the green swirls intersected with more green, and where purple colliding with purple turned the deepest black, this turned into a brighter light than they had ever seen. The light was gone before their eyes had stopped hurting, long used to the dim darkness of this place.

From that point forth, with the growth of green meant more sudden flashes of light, too blinding to look straight into, too quickly gone to slowly get used to. If only their visor could block it… Yet, they could only wish for that. There was no way to adjust it without the proper tools, without taking the helmet off. As far as they knew, they were the only thing of actual matter around, air included, thus adjusting the visor was a sheer impossibility. They’d just need to learn how to live with the blinding flashes.

And so they floated, their once simple world quickly turning into a kaleidoscope of green and purple, the deepest darkness and the brightest light.