Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
After Numer and Pocerni washed the goo off themselves in the ocean, the three slubes and Pocerni pushed the Transpide into the forest to Pocerni’s campsite. There stood a tent, within which lay a few rolled-up blankets. A smoking pile of sticks must have been a campfire, next to which sat a bag of fish.
“Why do you have several blankets if you’re alone?” Cherry asked.
“I was traveling with some dudes before,” Pocerni said. “Was hoping to find more cleeple for help.”
Pocerni stoked the fire while Zeth returned to repairing the Transpide. “So many advances…” Pocerni said. Numer and Cherry watched him. After Pocerni got the fire burning, Zeth wogged over. The slubes sat across the fire from Pocerni. “Okay, who starts?” Pocerni asked.
“I guess we should start at the beginning,” Cherry said.
“Well, I’d probably be the beginning,” Pocerni said. “Wait, no. The beginning. I imagine that would be… Darmenzi.”
“Then you know about it?” Zeth asked.
“Then you know about it,” Pocerni said. “How much you know?”
“Well, we know it was sealed underground,” Cherry said. “Right, Numer?”
“That’s what it said,” Numer said. “That it had been locked away for years.”
“Right,” Pocerni said. “And I…” He rubbed the bottom of his beak. “Hold on, can I ask, what year is it?”
Zeth help up his finger. “One thousand!” Numer, Cherry, and Pocerni stared at Zeth. What was he talking about? “Oh, no, no, that’s right. One thousand is the year set by the PPP.” They continued to stare at him. “The Planet Peacemaking Power,” Zeth said. “A coalition between Mintop and the two nearby planets, Zhop and Derantu, intended to prevent any- Um, you… seem bewildered.”
“You have contact with places outside the world?” Pocerni asked.
“Let’s get back to the year,” Numer said. “It’s the year 12054 by Gelago City’s calendar.”
“I was gone a long time,” Pocerni said. “I’m from the year 2256, the year that I trapped Darmenzi underground—and myself in the process.”
“Ten thousand years?” Cherry asked.
“Well, you look great,” Zeth said. “Better than most stroos I know, actually.”
“I was frozen in time all those years, I think,” Pocerni said. “Guess I haven’t aged a day since then. Well, I’ve aged two days. I spent that time looking for these orbs.” He held up the green orb. “But they weren’t where they were before. I’d just about given up when the waves washed me out here. What luck, huh?” He smiled. “I guess you three knew where they were, though, right?”
The slubes stared at Pocerni. Numer raised his finger. “I’d just like to have it be put on record that I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You were looking for the orbs, right?” Pocerni asked.
“No,” Cherry said. “Perhaps you should explain your story.”
“Right,” the ancient stroo said. “You said to start at the beginning, and that’s Darmenzi. I don’t actually know too much specific about it, but it appears to be a demon, possibly from outside our world.”
Zeth held up his hand. “World as in the sphere we live on or world as in the universe?”
Pocerni shrugged. “Beats me, dude. I mostly got third-party info. The figgin thing just kinda goes around to various worlds and causes chaos.” Numer nodded. That much he had gathered from its remarks atop Mount Chiphus. “It’s like it likes to play games, but its games involve making everyone miserable. That’s what it did here, but I guess someone had prepared for it. That’s where the orbs came in. My story, too. I’m from ten thousand years ago, apparently, when I lived in a society protected by a great sky dragon.”
“Sky dragon?” Numer shouted. They’d fought a dragon that flew down from the sky…
Pocerni stared at him. He sighed. “Just let me finish, first, dude. So, yeah, we had a guardian. Then one day the society was… basically destroyed by Darmenzi.” His entirely society destroyed. Numer shuddered. Could Darmenzi do that to them at any time? Was it just playing with them so far? “I was separated from my cleeps and met an old dude who had me gather the orbs. With the help from some other dudes I met, I gathered the orbs and used them to trap Darmenzi beneath the planet, though I trapped myself in the process. Sacrifices, y’know?”
Numer waited for Pocerni to continue. No one spoke. When the silence almost felt awkward, Cherry asked the question on the slubes’ minds: “What about the crystal?”
The three slubes looked at each other. “The crystal,” Cherry slowly said, “that maintained Darmenzi’s seal… and then broke… and then… Darmenzi took and used to change into a more powerful form.”
Another silence followed, one that quickly felt awkward. “Ambrule!” Pocerni said, looking into the fire. “What happened, dude? How did that get messed up? What happened to you after I was gone? Why didn’t anyone know…?” Some half a minute of silence followed, and then Pocerni looked back up. “I’m sorry. Where was this crystal?”
“In our town,” Cherry said.
“It seems Darmenzi was sealed almost directly below our town,” Zeth said. “Quite a scary thought.”
“The orbs were down there, too,” Pocerni said. “I’ll bet they kept your town safe from any influence Darmenzi had while sealed. And I’ll bet it did have influence. That crystal is probably the one that it usually carried on a staff. It seems to be a part of it, and it was probably seeping into it from the seal all those thousands of years. It wasn’t there to keep Darmenzi trapped; it was there so it could escape.” Numer lowered his head. Darmenzi completely tricked him. It made him think the crystal was a good thing, something to keep safe, but that’s what Darmenzi wanted all along. “After almost ten thousand years,” Pocerni said, “it finally broke free.”
“No, actually, it was freed by a…” Zeth cleared his throat. “Lunatic, I suppose is the word.”
Duth_Olec: I did not, Zeth! Oh, wait, he was referring to another lunatic.
Wally_Plotch: I don’t think even you’re crazy enough to release Darmenzi.
Duth_Olec: I will definitely support your theory.
Wally_Plotch: I would hope so.
“Hey, I guess Conrad was actually helpful,” Cherry said. “He removed the crystal, and then it shattered. We put it back together and placed it back—because we thought that would stop a terrible disaster.”
“Instead, that just caused a worse disaster,” Numer said. He decided not to mention how Darmenzi completely tricked him into thinking the crystal was the key to his jail cell, and not… well, the key to his jail cell, in the form of a missile launcher.
“We were played for saps by the cruel hand of historical legends,” Zeth said. “To think! If we had just let Conrad take the crystal away…”
“He’d have come back with a fleet and blown us up,” Cherry said. “We were stuck between a rock and a hard place, but the rock had a pillowcase over it.”
Pocerni smiled. “Hey, I just realized… I’ll bet your town’s the same one those slubes settled at.”
Cherry sat up. “Settled at? Wait, were you at Flaeneath when the slubes left?”
“I was,” Pocerni said. “Took part in the war between the slubes and phials. I helped chase the phials out of the slubes’ territory, but the place was such a wreck they couldn’t live there anymore. Even Chiphus left-”
Numer looked up from his misery of being a fool. “Chiphus? You mean that thing was a guardian? Okay, look, I can see them as guardians of the orbs, but these things guard cleeple like they’re pudding.”
“Well, I don’t get why you would’ve fought Chiphus if you weren’t after the orb,” Pocerni said.
“Hm, giant fire bird that wanted to kill me,” Numer said. “I can’t imagine why I would want to defend myself against something like that.”
“Maybe it thought you wanted to challenge it,” Pocerni said.
“Maybe it can’t see because its eyes are made of fire,” Numer said.
“So what’s the deal with these orbs?” Zeth asked.
“Right,” Pocerni said. “The orbs are a lot older than I am. Beats me where they came from, no one ever told me, but I’m thinking they were made as a defense, if not specifically for Darmenzi then for just such a thing. There are seven of them, each with its own guardian. Each guardian was once the protector of a different society, with each society populated by a different species. Seems now that boundary is gone. Chiphus was the slube’s protector. Maybe the phial’s, too; I’m not really sure how that dynamic worked. We already fought Magnocoden-”
“That thing is a guardian, too?” Numer shouted. These “guardians” made Conrad look like a cuddly lummin.
“Well…” Pocerni scratched his head. “They didn’t always act as guardians or protectors. In some cases it was more like just worship. Magnocoden was actually sacrificed to. It’s the wildest of the guardians, so at least it’s out of the way. I’m surprised, though; I can understand the other guardians leaving their former places, but Magnocoden was petrified into a huge tree on your island. It should have still been in that tree…”
Numer moaned and swayed. That giant tree in the middle of Reptibia Rainforest… it had trapped a giant monster plant, and he had Zeth knock it down to save a crystal that was part of a demon. Why did things have to be so complicated?
“All right,” Cherry said, “so there’s the green orb, we have the red orb, and we also have a gray orb.”
“Zykardo!” Pocerni said, shuddering. “Uh, yeah. Zykardo. It…” He stammered.
“You said that dragon is your guardian, right?” Numer asked. “It guards about as well as ours, then.”
“Right,” Pocerni said. He laughed in such a stale way that it could have been years old. “Good. That’s it there, then. So that’s green, red, and gray. Let me think… Carp. That’s problematic.”
“Why’s that?” Cherry asked.
“Six of the seven orbs are linked together. Each orb links forward to two others, and in turn each orb has two others linked forward to it. Having two orbs that link forward to a single one can allow you to get a sense of where that third orb is, but none of the ones we have now link together to an orb.”
“How do you find an orb when you don’t have any?” Numer asked.
“Well, in my time, you would probably live near a guardian that had one,” Pocerni said. “Certain cleeple have special senses that help them tune in more with the orbs. The old dude who helped me could sense an orb using only one. I can’t.”
“So we don’t know what to do next?” Numer asked.
“These orbs are the only way we’re going to stop Darmenzi, isn’t it?” Cherry said. “And we’ve hit a roadblock there.”
“Well,” Zeth said, “let’s start with step one: getting the other orbs back.”
“Back?” Pocerni threw up his wings. “You don’t have them?”
“We gave them to a friend for safekeeping,” Zeth said. “Research, too. Who knows! Perhaps he has found something that will prove useful.”
“Let’s hope so,” Cherry said. “This is worse than Conrad. He never held all the cards, but he had his own full deck that he could draw from—we just took him down before he could draw from it. Darmenzi… it controls the deck that we thought would help us, and now we need cards from a hidden deck!”
“Can you stop with the metaphors?” Numer asked. “This is already a lot to take in. I think I really need to sleep on it.” He looked at Pocerni. “Or, more accurately, sleep on one of your blankets.”
“Hold on,” Pocerni said. “Who’s this Conrad dude you keep mentioning?”
“That’s our beginning,” Cherry said. “We’ll tell you the whole story. He calls himself The Conrad the Conqueror, though his name is apparently Conrad. He comes from another world-”
“As in a different sphere than the one we live on,” Zeth said.
“Right,” Cherry said, rolling her eyes. “Conrad is an invader of worlds, and a year ago he attempted to invade Mintop…”
Luckily for Numer he had lived the story, so he knew it already—before Cherry reached the second day of their tale, he fell asleep.
Wally_Plotch: Sheesh, rule of seven. Duth, you think it’s a requirement or something that powerful items are grouped into sevens?
Duth_Olec: No. Quiet! I was totally original when I made those orbs.
Wally_Plotch: You made those orbs? Wait… You made those orbs?
Duth_Olec: Um. I mean metaphorically. As a plot device. For the story. That I’m writing.
Wally_Plotch: But I’m writing the story.
Duth_Olec: Oh, yeah. I sometimes forget this is a reality and not from the scripts I wrote for a television show and am rewatching years later after my glory days have long ago faded from memory and now I just hide out on my flying mansion disguised as weather trying to relive my youth. No, I definitely still have my youth. Or a facsimile of it, anyway.
Wally_Plotch: What were we talking about?
Duth_Olec: I dunno. Certainly not anything I created. Let’s go somewhere else.
Wally_Plotch: Where are we now? Is this Interpolis?
“This sucks! I should be tried as a child. I’m only, like, nine. And I act like a child, too!” Sunlight filtered into a jail cell through a grated window. Steel walls and an iron door shut the room up tight. Terrent sat on a plastic bed, while Sal coiled up on a bed suspended over the other.
Terrent had been going on like that for a while. Sal wondered if he should say something. “It’s not so bad,” he said. “The food here’s pretty good. It all tastes like chicken.”
“You’d eat anything that tastes remotely like food,” Terrent said.
Terrent hopped off the bed and jumped below the window. “I just want to know what’s going on. We’ve been here two days and there’s been no news! No rescue! For all we know, the slubes are dead and The Conqueror rules the planet, but he just forgot about us. Come on! Give me a boost to the window!” Terrent rose to the grated opening. “Oh. Thanks.”
Sal looked at his tail, which was nowhere near Terrent. “Thanks for what?” he asked.
Terrent looked down. He stood on air. “Holy carp! I’m floating!”
“Wow! I didn’t know The Conqueror’s gene spiter thingy gave you that ability,” Sal said. “I wonder if I can fly, too.” He jumped up and splatted his face onto the floor.
“The only one here who can float,” a voice from nowhere said, “could float even before The Conqueror’s influence.” A big, white blob appeared from the air. It held up Terrent with an arm bigger than the young kasdde.
“Oh carp!” Terrent yelled as he jumped back and fell onto Sal.
“Oh, hey, Czar Spiest,” Sal said, lifting his head up. “Did you get thrown in jail, too?”
“No, you nitwit,” Czar Spiest said. “I’m here to break you out.”
“Oh boy, jail break!” Sal said.
“Hold on,” Terrent said, “just let me grab the food they… Hey! Where’d the pumpkin they gave us go?”
“We had a pumpkin?” Sal asked. “I never saw any pumpkin.”
“Come on, let’s go already,” Czar Spiest said. It floated out of the room.
Sal followed and smacked his face into the wall. “Ow. Uh… Czar?”
Czar Spiest poked its face back in through the wall. “Oh. Right. You’re solid. All right, let’s do it the hard way.” It floated back out. A laser blast blew apart the tiny, grated window. Czar Speist said from outside, “Okay, toss Terrent through the window.”
Sal picked up Terrent with his tail and threw him out through the opening. “Ow!” Terrent shouted. “It didn’t mean literally toss me out!”
“Yes, I did,” Czar Spiest said.
“Okay, Sal, put your tail through the window,” Czar Spiest said. Sal did so, and Czar Spiest pulled him out. They hit a snag at the end, as Sal’s head was wider than the window, but the czar just kept pulling until Sal was out.
Terrent laughed. “You look funny.” Sal’s floppy head looked like an upturned umbrella. He couldn’t see anything but the sky and his own skin. Wow, was his face really that green? “So, what now?” Terrent asked. “Are those slubes dead? Is The Conqueror taking over the world?”
“No,” Czar Spiest said. “Everything got ruined. Our orders are to return to the base and wait.”
“Just wait?” Terrent yelled.
“Watch and wait,” said Czar Spiest. “The Conqueror is waiting to see the next moves of our enemies and how things play out.”
Numer opened his eyes. Where did it go? Conrad’s scouting space station. The crystal. The energy core. Darmenzi. Numer just saw trees and the bright sky above him. He must have been dreaming… about the past… but it didn’t go that way. Darmenzi never appeared on Conrad’s scouting station, did it? And Cherry and Zeth…
Numer sat up. Cherry stood next to him, and Zeth sat in the Transpide. Numer touched Cherry’s snout. She pushed him away. “What are you doing?” she asked.
Numer sighed. “You are still alive.” He groaned. “That’s not something I wanted to go through before waking up.”
“The discussion from last night was heavy, wasn’t it?” Pocerni asked, placing his supplies into a pack.
“I guess,” Numer said. What did he mean by heavy?
“Heard you mumbling about that Conrad guy in your sleep, dude,” Pocerni said. “The guy sounds like bad news. Don’t think Darmenzi’s gonna to be any better. I’m totally sure it’s got no remorse. It’s got no goal for itself. All it wants is chaos. You might be able to stop Conrad, but I’m not sure if you can do more than delay Darmenzi.”
“I’m not sure if there’s more we can do than delay Conrad,” Numer said.
“Well, we’d better hurry,” Zeth said. “It seems Darmenzi plans to cause space chaos. Remember, it and Chee tried to leave Mintop in a rocket ship.”
“We blew that thing down,” Cherry said. “They couldn’t get another one going so quickly, could they?”
“You saw her base,” Zeth said. “She could probably store…” Zeth muttered to himself and then said, “two and three-eighths more ships in there.”
“So the Transpide is working?” Numer asked.
“Fit as a fine-tuned fiddle,” Zeth said, tapping it with his hand. After a short pause he said, “See? A comically unfortunate yet minor problem did not even arise from the Transpide after my saying that.”
“What about that light?” Cherry asked, pointing to a light glowing on the Transpide’s dashboard.
“That’s just the service engine light,” Zeth said. “It doesn’t mean anything. Now, with all luck, I can find the way back to Interp from here. Let’s go.”
Numer and Cherry sat on the Transpide’s back bench. Pocerni squeezed in between them, leaving just enough room to move their arms and for Numer to itch from Pocerni’s feathers. Numer stared at Pocerni’s sharp feet. He leaned his tail away from it. Pocerni felt so angular compared to the slubes. Was that normal, or was that the effect of all he’d gone through?