Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
Cherry wogged through the forest as she searched for the crazy smarmel. It was too dark to see anything well, but Cherry figured she would hear the smarmel before she saw her even if it were a bright day in the middle of a field. She doubted the smarmel was stealthy. She expected her to scream again at any time. The fact that she did not worried Cherry more than if she had. After about twenty minutes by Cherry’s figuring, she returned to Numer. This endeavor took her another ten minutes until she sleeged back to the beach, unable to find him.
On the beach, Zeth examined the front of the Transpide. “All right, lights…” He pressed a button on a remote control. The front lights shone into his face. He yelped and tumbled backwards into the surf.
“Zeth!” Cherry sleeged back to the beach. “Zeth! Where did you go? Don’t tell me you’re lost, too.”
Zeth poked his head out of the water. “What do you mean, ‘too’?”
“Numer’s still in the forest,” Cherry said. “I think he might be lost.”
“All right, you really should have gone in with one of these,” Zeth said. He pulled out from under the front seat two flashlights. “Good for searching through spooky manors and late-night forests.” He handed one to Cherry, and they entered the forest.
They searched for half an hour according to Zeth’s timepiece, finding neither Numer nor Smatilla. Cherry felt something tap her back, and she turned around. She saw no movement. “Zeth, there’s something here,” Cherry said.
“Something’s wrong with these trees,” Zeth said, shining his flashlight on them. “They look sick and dying, as if they had no nutrients.”
Cherry felt another tap and turned again. The forest remained still. Cherry looked down. “Maybe I’m just paranoid… Numer, where did you go-” Something thin with the feel of fresh leaves wrapped around her tail. Cherry yelped as she fell and slid backwards along the ground. “Zeth!”
“What? Hey!” Zeth shouted. “Where are you going?”
“How should I know?” Cherry shouted back. Zeth sleeged after Cherry and grabbed her arms. He slid along with her. “Something’s grabbed me!” Cherry said. “It feels like a plant or something.”
“Do you mean like a rope?” Zeth asked.
“Maybe, but I don’t…” Cherry saw Zeth’s mouth drop agape. “What is it?”
“It’s no rope,” Zeth said. “Don’t panic, but I think we’ve just come across a monster.” They had been pulled to a clearing. The moonlight shone on a green flower bulb almost as big as a house. Countless vines emerged from below the bulb, some twisted around the nearby trees, others raised in the air. Some ended in bulbs about the size of a slube’s head. Two cocoons made of vines floated in the air. Through gaps in the vines Cherry could see Numer and Smatilla inside.
“Keep pulling!” Cherry said. “Keep… Wait! Grab the vine.”
Zeth sleeged past Cherry and grabbed the vine. “What now?”
What did he think he should do? “Keep pulling back!” Cherry shouted as the vine pulled them to the big bulb. She flipped onto her back and sat up. She grabbed the vine, and they pulled back until it snapped off from the bulb and fell limp to the ground. Cherry panted. “Numer! And the smarmel. We have to get them free.”
“Look, at the base of the bulb,” Zeth said. Numer’s mallet and Smatilla’s katana lay on the ground.
“Got it,” Cherry said. She tied the broken vine into a lasso and swung it around the katana and mallet. She pulled them towards her, but another vine grabbed the weapons and pulled back. “Hey! Come on, at least give us the hammer; it’s ours, after all.” Zeth grabbed the lasso and pulled.
The main bulb rumbled. Like a geyser, the bulb rose into the air by a green stem beneath it wider than most trees. The bulb opened into a red flower with green spots and four trailing petals as long as a slube. Yellow spikes like teeth lined the petals and a central hole. A low growl gurgled from the flower that rose into a roar. “I really wish the Transpide was working right now,” Cherry said.
The vine cocoon moved Smatilla towards the wide-open flower. “Hold on!” Cherry yelled. She shook the vine lasso from the weapons and swung it at Smatilla. She grabbed the cocoon and pulled it back. Several more vines grabbed Smatilla and pulled. Another vine with a bulb on the end descended to Cherry and expelled pollen. Cherry coughed and let go of the lasso. She stumbled back and fell over, clenching her eyes as her sight blurred.
“Oh dear!” Zeth said. “Oh my!” He reached for the lasso. The bulb released more pollen. Zeth jumped back. “Okay, I won’t touch it. But what do I do? I need to, I just…” He sleeged for the katana and mallet. The bulb released pollen, and Zeth dove to the ground. He crawled towards the weapons until a vine snaked over to him. “Oh… Hello?” The vine hissed and split open like a mouth, revealing sticky goo and sharp teeth.
Zeth screamed and shuffled backwards. The vine lunged at him. A pair of clawed feet dropped onto the vine’s mouth and smashed it to the ground. Zeth looked up. A stroo wearing a sun hat, its brim twice his head’s radius, stood before him. “Oh! Hello, there,” Zeth said. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Pocerni,” the stroo said, pulling Zeth up. He ripped the vine into a piece about his height and handed one end to Zeth. “Grab this and swing me to those thick vines up there with it.”
“Oh dear,” Zeth said, “I’m afraid I’m not quite capable physically. My friend, Cherry, may be able to, but she was sprayed with pollen, and-”
“No time,” Pocerni said. “Magnocoden’s wild, dude. It’s not gonna wait.”
“It’s what now?” Zeth asked. Pocerni ran at the main stem of the plant. Vines flew at him from all directions. He jumped off them like tightropes to Smatilla. He ripped through the vine cocoon with his clawed feet, and he and Smatilla fell to the ground below.
Pocerni pulled the vines off Smatilla as Magnocoden roared. Smatilla screamed and shoved Pocerni aside. She jumped up and ran at the stem. “Wait! Hey, stop,” Pocerni shouted. “You’re okay! Calm down, already!”
“She’s not going to calm down,” Zeth yelled.
Pocerni stared at Smatilla. “Oh.”
Vines lunged at Smatilla. She slid under them, flipped up, and circled over them, pulling the vines together until they tied in a knot. She grabbed her katana and slashed the main stem. Steaming, bright green goop leaked from the wound. Magnocoden roared and flailed its main stem. Vines ending in sticky mouths flew at Smatilla She sliced them into confetti.
“Zeth!” Cherry shouted as she coughed. She shook her head and rubbed the pollen from her eyes. “Why would you free her before Numer?”
“I didn’t; he did,” Zeth said, pointing to Pocerni. “Besides, now that plant is busy.”
“Don’t worry, dudes, I’ll free your friend,” Pocerni said as he ran by them. Cherry sleeged after him and bounced off his back up to Numer. She grabbed onto the vine cocoon.
“Numer! I’m getting you out!” Cherry shouted. “We shouldn’t have split up back there. We’re a team. I’m not going to let you get hurt.” As she pulled the vines off Numer, another vine sneaked behind and grabbed her. “Go away, you botanic abomination.” Cherry pulled the vine off her. More vines reached out to grab her; she slapped them away with her tail. Okay, so that stroo with his foot claws would have been helpful.
“Aw, carp, dude,” Pocerni said, looking at Cherry from the ground. He turned to the main stem. “Oh, carp. Get back!” he said to Zeth. “Magnocoden’s got the stun pollen coming.” He and Zeth backed away as yellow bulbs flew at Smatilla and released pollen. She dropped to the ground as stiff as a statue.
“Oh dear,” Zeth said, “those mouths it has look ready to tear her apart.”
“Draw its attention somehow, dude!” Pocerni said, running to the edge of the clearing.
Zeth mumbled to himself. He hurled his flashlight at the main stem. The mouth vines turned to him. “Hey, you gooey-mouthed saps! Er… Come and get me? I’ll… come over there and give you a wallop? I’m not incapacitated yet!” The vines lunged for Zeth. He screamed and sleeged. “Why did I do that?”
“Yo, over here!” Pocerni waved his wing to Zeth. He stood next to a tree covered in vines. Zeth sleeged for the tree, but the stroo stopped him in front of it.
“Let me behind it,” Zeth shouted, flailing his arms and pushing past Pocerni. “They’re going to tear me to bits!”
“Hold on, dude. Just- Hold on!” Pocerni said. When the mouths grew near he jumped to the side with Zeth. The mouths crashed into the tree, biting through the vines. The vine cocoon holding Numer fell to the ground.
“Ah! I see,” Zeth said. “You got the vines to—” He jumped back. “Oh dear, they’re still coming!” He sleeged as the mouth vines pursued him.
The last thing Numer remembered before everything turned dark was something like wet leaves wrapping all over him. Then he felt some pressure on his back, a jolt, and a hole appeared in front of him that let in light. He saw a stroo’s face, and he saw… “What the hex is that thing?” Numer screamed, flailing out of the tangle of vines. It looked like a slimy green tree with a giant flower mouth in the sky. “Is that the figgin thing that grabbed me?”
Cherry dropped to the ground and sleeged to Numer. “Numer! Are you okay?”
Numer shuffled back. “I’ll be better when we’re away from that plant thing!”
“Right, you guys get out of here,” Pocerni said. “I’ll take care of-”
“How do I get these things away from me?” Zeth shouted, the mouth vines still chasing him. Numer screamed and sleeged away. Cherry grabbed him and pulled him back.
“Let me go and run away!” Numer screamed.
Cherry shook him. “Numer! Look! There’s your mallet.” She pointed to Numer’s mallet, sitting near the base of the plant’s stem.
“You guys got a mallet?” Pocerni asked. He stared at Numer and then shook his head. “We can’t get to it with those pollen-poofers around it.”
“Well, I’ll distract them, get them away, and you guys get the mallet,” Cherry said. She sleeged at one of the regular vines and grabbed the end. She pulled back until the vine snapped forward and whipped her into the air.
“She’s sure got some daring,” Pocerni said.
“Yeah…” Numer said. Cherry slammed into Magnocoden’s stem with her tail. She bounced off and landed on the ground; the pollen-poofers lunged at her. Cherry sleeged away as fast as her tail could move her. Numer knew he couldn’t run away, not while Cherry risked her tail. He had to show he could keep up with her. He looked at Pocerni. “Let’s do it, whoever-you-are.”
“Right, dude, let’s go,” Pocerni said. He and Numer hurried to the base of Magnocoden. Numer picked up his mallet, and Pocerni picked up Smatilla’s katana.
“How do we get rid of this thing?” Numer asked.
“Send it toppling,” Pocerni said. “Knock down the stem. This sword should be able to cut through it, but there’s a lot of stem to get through.”
“Well, that smarmel started it, so I’ll push it a little further,” Numer said. He swung his mallet and whacked the stem against the wound Smatilla made. The gash opened further, and Magnocoden wobbled. Pocerni slashed across the stem, and green goo gushed out. All the vines chasing Zeth and Cherry charged at Numer and Pocerni.
“Knock it down, dude, quick!” Pocerni shouted. Numer gave the plant another smash, and the stem ripped off. Magnocoden roared as it toppled like a great tree. It crashed against the ground with a loud thump. Green goo splattered over Numer and Pocerni. The vines flailed and dropped to the ground limp.
Numer flicked the green goo of himself. “Gross.”
Smatilla moaned. Zeth inched towards the stem stump. “Is that it?” he asked. “Is it over?”
“When the main stem of Magnocoden falls, the rest has got no directive,” Pocerni said. “It’ll all become normal plant matter and decompose now.”
Smatilla screamed and jumped up. She grabbed her katana from Pocerni and shoved him to the ground. “Why do you have my sword?”
“Sorry if I startled you, miss,” Pocerni said, standing up. He clasped his wings together in front of him. “I greased and oiled your sword for you. You fell asleep in the lobby so I came to bring it to you. Unfortunately one of the lobby’s plants went rogue.”
“Oh. Oh, right,” Smatilla said. She held her palm on her forehead. “Sorry, my mind has been cloudy lately. I’ve been a bit forgetful. Thanks for fixing up my sword; how much do I owe you?”
“Ah, this one’s on the house,” Pocerni said. With a wink he added, “Just don’t tell anyone about this incident, ‘kay?”
Smatilla smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t. See you.” They waved to each other, and she left.
Zeth slouched and stared at Pocerni, his mouth agape. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” Pocerni asked.
Cherry crossed her arms and leaned to the side. “Not make her want to chop your head off.”
“I traveled with an insane smarmel once,” Pocerni said. “You just gotta make it up as you go. That seems to be what their mind does. Now then, for Magnocoden…” The big stem already looked wrinkled and brown. Pocerni leaned into the open stem base, and green goo covered him.
“Okay, still gross,” Numer said. “Where’s the beach, guys? I want to wash this stuff off.”
“Found it!” Pocerni said. He pulled out from inside the stem a glowing, green seed. Scratch that, it was… No, it couldn’t be… Numer screamed and stumbled back—it was a bright green orb. “What is it, dude?” Pocerni asked.
“Another orb?” Numer shouted, throwing his arms in the air. “Of course, I should have known.”
“What do you mean, ‘another’?” Pocerni asked. He stared at Numer but then shook his head. “No, you’re not Ambrule. Who are you three?”
“That’s what we should be asking you,” Zeth said.
“Minus the ‘three’ part,” Cherry said. Numer stared at Pocerni. Now that he thought about it, since he didn’t have a monster plant to think about, Pocerni looked the thinnest he had ever seen a stroo—as thin as a slube, even. His wings looked longer, too. His feathers lighter, his feet sharper… He was clearly a stroo, but every stroo part of him looked a little off.
Pocerni stared at the slubes and then sighed. “All right. Come on over to my camp. Maybe we can clear up some details for each other, ‘cause, believe me, I’m also confused about some stuff.” He took a splotchy, goo-covered step. “Er… maybe I should also wash off first.”