I'm actually surprised that the story has gotten this far. It's probably one of my more… ambitious projects, and of course I'm not the only writer. There are pieces of the other Roleplay players work scattered throughout this. (If you see something that looks especially good then don't assume I've had an unexpected influx of talent, it's probably one of them as opposed to me!)

It's getting closer towards the end now. There are still some older pieces by other writers to work into the story, and plenty of excitement to go. Here's hoping I can pull this off.

Villains and Alliances.

'Well, the good news is that whatever the monster back there attacked you with, it's not eating any further into your software.' Chuck said, examining the data-gash in Random's face, the thin blue strands of coding woven with black. It dawned on Mark that they could see right through the Cyborg's head and into the darkness that lay within. It wasn't a stream of numbers or digits, the way he'd thought it might be based on those simulations and coding changes Chuck was always running, but rather, a spider-web-like collection of constantly moving threads and tendrils, bouncing around inside of Random's brain, weaving in with the darker strands.

Mark shuddered and pushed this thought away, looking back to the sky swirling and twisting overhead.

The dimension was collapsing all around them, and yet they sat, taking a brief respite on a literal floating atoll, crafted out of chewed up "trees", buckled "vehicles", disintegrating bones and dust, like an island moving across a thrashing ocean. The remnants of the Nevershine Forest, and the Catastrophe Junkyard were being drawn, just like everything else in this place, towards the centre of the dying world. Towards Ace.

Mark kept reminding himself of that last bit, whenever he felt tempted to panic. They were heading towards Ace. Just by standing here, on a patch of ground that somehow wasn't vanishing beneath their feet, they got ever closer to their goal.

'You realise that we're probably walking right into some kind of trap,' Lady Illusion said calmly.

'I know.' Mark shrugged, unsure what else he could say.

'Still wherever we are seems to have turned out in our favour, man,' Chuck said. 'The land area we're on is... probably big enough to not disintegrate before we get... wherever we're going. I suppose.'

'You suppose,' Sparx said, dryly. 'Yeah, thanks, Chuckdude. Your confidence is totally rubbing off on me here.'

'It's this, or trying to drag ourselves across miles worth of... of whatever is left of the outside world, being sucked down like quicksand, Sparx,' Random says, dryly. 'At least wherever we are now, it isn't... sinking.'

Chuck was guessing, but since his guesses were probably worth a lot more than Mark's solid research, he said nothing. Random's face had been cleaved open in such a way that, if he were human, Mark would've been thinking of painkillers and a lot of reconstructive surgery about now, but the cyborg offered no reaction to this predicament.

'Zoar damn it,' Sparx whistled in a tone half impressed, half disgusted. 'That's gonna be one ugly scar, Random.'

Random, scowled. 'In case you don't remember, I've experienced worse. A lot worse.'

'No you haven't,' Sparx quipped, 'never happened, remember? Videogame.'

'Yes, my life became a hellhole because some kids thought it would make an interesting plot twist. Thanks for reminding me.' Random grunted. A sarcastic Random, Mark thought, was a notably disturbing thing.

'Still, you're lucky that the attack hit this side, there was a stronger defence, what with the metal plating and everything' Chuck said.

Random didn't look reassured. He gazed bitterly at the landscape all around them: the twisted shells of scrapped cars which had never actually been driven on roads and smashed up equipment coated in lianas.

'Out of all the places in the Sixth Dimension which could possibly have survived this long.' Random growled bitterly. 'Why'd it have to be here?'

Chuck patted Random's back reassuringly. 'Bad luck, dude, it figures.'

'I don't think it was just luck,' Mark muttered, still frowning at the "sky" above. 'I mean, how did this island end up in the middle of that nothingness anyway? There's no way that could've happened...'

'Unless it was forced here by something else,' Lady Illusion finished Mark's thought. 'Something –or someone– may well be trying to protect us by placing us within this bubble.'

'No prizes for guessing who.' Random muttered, and his shattered face curved into an almost smile. Mark shuddered again at seeing the program weaving and dancing inside of Random's head.

Of course right now, Random wasn't the only thing around that looked messed up. The strange island they had found themselves on was... well, to be honest, island wasn't really the correct word for it. It was as if somebody had taken a building, stripped it down and turned it inside out, then smashed it into a rolled up bundle of wood, like a small child bringing together two brightly coloured lumps of modelling clay. Mark thought he saw Cockroaches, at least the size of his hand, scrambling and staggering on half buckled legs, but they stayed silent, and there were no other signs of life.

Everything around them that wasn't being smashed up or torn apart was being warped and twisted out of shape. Like…

…Well, like something being sucked into a portal. In fact, the only noticeable difference between this place and the outside was that fact that they weren't sinking into anything. There was nothing for them to sink into.

'My guess,' Chuck said, 'is that we're currently floating around beneath the superficial visuals of the game itself. We've sunk right down to the coding level. We've slipped through the cracks in the game and into the programming. This is where all the ones-and-zeroes happen. Where the game is put together.'

'In other words, we're floating through our world's metaphorical bone marrow?' Lady Illusion suggested dryly, sounding strangely calm about the whole thing.

'Uh,' Chuck gulped; Mark didn't blame him; that had to be the yuckiest allusion he'd ever heard. 'Well, I was gonna say it's more like we're stuck inside the brain of the world, but your way works too.' Chuck said, stepping away from Random and carefully closing his practically useless laptop. 'So, now what?'

He didn't really indicate who he was directing the question at, so it was a few moments before anybody spoke. 'I guess we keep going,' Sparx muttered, 'or rather, keep letting our bubble here take us wherever it's going. Like I didn't feel manipulated enough as it is.'

'We have no way of knowing if it's going where we wish it to go,' Lady Illusion glared in frustration at the nothingness of blue-almost-purple around them.

'The way the wind's blowing?' Chuck suggested.

'We're inside of a videogame, Chuckdude,' Sparx sighed impatiently. 'There isn't any wind.'

Chuck shrugged. 'No... But there's an energy flow. You can feel it pushing us along. We're going somewhere that's for sure.'

The next thing Mark heard nearly shocked him into a stupor. Mostly because... well, it wasn't anything he'd expected to hear ever again, and that he was hearing it here and now was neither logical nor desired. It was a shrill smattering of laughter which could only belong to one person.

'Oh god,' Chuck muttered under his breath. 'Dude, please tell me that when I turn around, I'm not gonna see who I think I am.'

'He's right, ya know, kiddies. You are goin' somewhere. Reckon we'll be comin' along.'

Lady Illusion snarled, turning abruptly, the crystal projectile forming in her hands before Mark had time to think. There was a burning sensation as the explosive swept past his ear and collided with the huge figure skulking in the shadows. Energy spat and bled all around them and mark frowned as the light of Lady Illusions attack broke and shattered into pieces. Like glass. That… Didn't usually happen when she attacked.

Then there was a familiar guttural roar. 'Heeey that hurt Anvil!'

'Dude, what the hell?' Chuck gasped, and Mark wished he had an answer for him, he really did. But there was nothing that could explain this: Anvil, Dirty Rat, a scrambling, rattling noise nearby that sounded very much like Pigface with his head buried in a trash can again.

Oh no, here we go again...

But when Anvil's form skulked out of the darkness, Mark felt himself shudder.

It's Anvil alright. Or… it's mostly Anvil, yet he seemed less imposing, somehow. Less huge. His thin face was mostly teeth and eyes. There were fragments of his body torn out and replaced with the transparent rivulets of coding they could see shining through Random's face. Looks the same, exactly the same. He could see the smouldering bubbling "flesh" where Lady Illusion's attack must have impacted against Anvil's shoulder, and if he squinted hard enough he could see a mesh of insect-like ones and zeros curdling within Anvil's body. The Rat was the same, body flaking away like a zombie, peeling to reveal the cells beneath, eyes red. Their forms were fizzing and crackling as he had seen Ace and Sparx do so many times before.

In short, it was all pretty gruesome. Mark deliberately didn't look at Pigface. He didn't want to know what he'd see.

Even Lady Illusion seemed to hesitate, rising slightly from her protective stance, shifting back and forth. 'What happened to you?' she asked. 'How did you get here?'

'Anvil gave his power to Lord Fear.' Anvil said, sounding torn between proud, terrified, acceptance, and a number of other feelings Mark had never thought Anvil smart enough to comprehend. 'Lord Fear is there now, with the Storm. Googler with him too. Googler be there when world falls and burns, when world comes back again as his. Lord Fear is strong. Lord Fear will remake Sixth Dimension in his own image.'

Well, that made sense. In his own image, Mark thought uneasily. Those didn't sound like Anvil's words. They sounded borrowed from someone else. They shouldn't have been here, he realised. They should've been back on earth, in the Kent Brother's carnival, wreaking havoc in Conestoga Hills. Or at very least they shouldn't have been here specifically, in this bubble drifting beneath everything.

And yet here they are, right here right here.

Yep. Right here. Bodies falling apart and crumbling, coding held together by tatters and fragments. Their entire world sinking into the gold murkiness.

Amazingly enough, Mark couldn't help but feel a little sorry for them.

'Wait, hold it,' Sparx snaps, breaking the moment, and Mark can hear the strained hope in her voice. 'Fear's alive?'

Pigface laughs deeply, his ugly voice straining and crackling at the edges. 'Lord and Master never alive, silly Lightning Knight Angel person! Lord Fear dead and deathness. Lord Fear is death of world!'

'He's talking gibberish,' Random mutters.

'Yeah, heh, an' you'd be familiar with that wouldn't ya, robot butt?' The Rat chuckled maniacally. 'You know aaaaaall about gibberish; what with all that messed up scrambled garbage buzzing about inside of ya head. Lord Fear knows what he's doing. And we're gonna be there to see it all go down.'

'I… I don't think that's such a good idea, man.' Chuck said slowly, and was clearly surprised at himself for sounding so close to composed and controlled when he felt about this close to throwing up with terror.

'Pigface not care what puny mortals think!' Pigface grunted. 'Pigface and Anvil do what they want.'

'Oh, and this is what you want, is it?' Mark snaps. 'For the world to be… swallowed up and spat back out again as… as whatever it's going to be spat back out as? We'll all be dead by the time Ace is finished with us!'

Then Mark jumps and clamps a hand over his mouth, realising just a little too late what he has said. What he has admitted to the minions, but Anvil merely sneers with an expression so much crueller than anything Mark has ever seen from him before.

'Oh come on, squirt, this is crazy! You really think Ace is the one destroying everything? Ace Lightning? You're all a bunch of terminal brains! And I don't even Zoar freaking know what you're talking about anymore!' Sparx glared at Mark temporarily. 'I mean, maybe he's got something to do with this, sure, it's his game, but how can you think he's the cause of the world falling apart? Did messing with that amulet scramble your brain, or something?'

'I dunno. Probably. And you still followed me, didn't you?' Mark muttered, and then realised this was completely the wrong thing to say.

'Because that's what Ace would want,' Sparx snapped. 'He wouldn't let any of you be hurt, Mark. You can see that, can't you? That's not Ace… this… this isn't Ace.'

'Oh, what so Lady Illusion can chance and Ace can't?' Mark snapped. 'For god's sakes, Sparx, get your priorities sorted!'

'Says the kid who can't seem to decide whether we're going to rescue Ace or stop him or… I don't know what you want. Maybe if you explained to us a little better!'

'Uh, guys—'Chuck started to interrupt but was silenced by a glare from Sparx.

'I don't want Ace to get hurt, Sparx!' Mark snapped.

'And you think I do?' Sparx snapped. 'I never wanted this; I never wanted any of this.'

The burgeoning argument was interrupted by a loud, irritated cough from the Rat. 'Well, well… what is this, eh, kiddies, trouble in paradise? And here I was thinkin' you and Fear had this kinda freakish bond thing goin',' the Rat mimed throwing up. This looked even more disturbing what with the fact that there were gaping holes in his chest. 'Ya know his Lordship doesn't take too kindly to turncoats. He mades that explicitly clear.'

That's not what I meant you blunder brain!' Sparx started to snap… then she cut herself off. Pausing. A faint smile curled around her lips. 'Sucking up to him in your dying days, rat? You're beginning to sound like Staffhead.'

Sparx smirked, sword of Jacob held out in front of her, stance relaxed, and Mark frowned, wondering what she could be thinking. She stood halfway between Mark and Chuck, looking very much like a sentinel. Like an image carved out in sketchbooks by traditionally minded artists, pencil lines carved in clay, then carved in plastic, then taken apart piece by piece, put back together out of coding and digital colours, stories crafted around her, histories, traditions, dreams, hopes, wishes, look...

Mark shook his head sharply, trying to separate the voice's thoughts for him own.

'...But I guess even you don't speak ill of the dead. Or erased. Or disintegrated. Or whatever.' Sparx was saying as Mark pulled himself back to the moment. 'Why should I believe a word you're saying?'

Rat paused for a moment as if working out what Sparx implied. Then he snorted, snatches of black and blue coding drifted out between his stubby teeth. 'Heh, that's funny. She thinks we're lyin', Piggy. Thinks our lordship ain't really here anymore.'

'How could he be?' Sparx snapped. 'I saw the Haunted House fall apart, I barely got out in time.'

'Stupid stupid Lightning Knights, stupid, stupid humans, working on Lightning Knights brains,' Anvil garbled, lunging forwards several steps. 'Will not stop Lord Fear. Anvil will crush you first.'

Then he was raising his anvil fist high in the air, bringing it down to slam the ground in front of him. Mark winced, expecting the ground to buckle in wards and the air to tremble. Neither of these things happened. Anvil's hammer hit the ground with all the force of a pillow hitting sand. A few dust particles spread, but that was it. Anvil growled deep and low and lifted the anvil again, pushing confusedly at the sand with it, rumbling in frustration.

'Wow,' Random said, dryly. 'Frankly I'm quivering in repressed terror. Weakling.'

'Anvil not weakling!' Anvil screamed. 'Anvil destroy puny lightning Knights, Anvil—

'Aw, pipe down, ya big galoot,' Dirty Rat said. Except his voice was softer now. Lacking the snide smugness of before. He sounded almost tired. 'Ya just ain't got it in ya anymore. We gave it all to Fear.'

'And what is Lord Fear going to do with this impressive reserve of power?' Lady Illusion asked.

Dirty Rat looked at her firmly, and for one long second mark could've thought something a bit like understanding passed between them. As if there was something they both understood in all this. Maybe because they'd both been minions… 'Ain't it obvious, black widow gal? He's gonna do what he was supposed to do from the start. He's gonna destroy Ace Lightning.'