Note this is the prog (in-progress) version and may change when the book comes out
The slubes and Pocerni returned to Interp as the sun reached its high point in the sky. Pocerni stared at the many cleeple and buildings as they drove past, although not more than Numer usually did. “You know, Pocerni,” Cherry said, “you’re not actually as surprised by the size of this place as I thought you might be.”
“Oh, I’d already been here,” Pocerni said. “Went through all my shock and surprise two days ago.”
Zeth parked the Transpide outside Marl’nt’s home. At one story tall it was a midget compared to the several stories of buildings surrounding it. A metal tower half the house’s width rose from its roof as if a rocket had crashed onto the house but never blew up. They crossed the stone path through the lawn, covered in a grass shorter and harder than that found at Nottle. Zeth knocked on the front door. A red verk’lon with yellow, wavy stripes down her sides pushed the door a quarter open. “Yeah, what’s up?” she asked, her voice a tone usually reserved for the seventeenth phone call in an hour.
“Oh, good day,” Zeth said. He shook his finger back and forth. “Hold on, don’t tell me, yes, you’re Marl’nt’s niece, correct?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” the red verk’lon said. “You’re that racer slube from last year, aren’t you? My unc’s asleep, let me wake him up.” She opened the door further, and the slubes entered. The verk’lon looked around the lounge room, furnished with a couch that bent in the middle along two walls, a couple wooden chairs, and a bookcase overflowing with books. Marl’nt’s niece looked up and shouted, “Uncle Marl’nt, wake up!”
Cherry heard a yelp from the couch, and the cushions shifted. Marl’nt turned visible, lying on the floor in front of the couch. “Oh, yes, Lin’mp, I’m awake.”
“You got guests,” Lin’mp said. She walked into a hallway in the back and climbed up a ladder in an alcove only wide enough for one clerpson at a time. Well, that was a short meeting. She didn’t even give a real greeting.
“Guests?” Marl’nt looked up at the slubes. “Ah, professor. And your friends. Well met, glad to see you’re okay. After I took note of that big wreck where you had gone, I looked around for you, but saw neither hide nor tail of you.”
“We made a quick exit after that,” Zeth said. “Places to go, cleeple to try and kill us.”
“Hey, Marl’nt,” Cherry said, thrusting her thumb at the ladder, “your niece sure is terse.”
“Oh, she’s not always that way,” Marl’nt said. “She can take some time to warm up before she knows what to make of you. Although right now I suspect she was just interrupted. She’s been watching this show, I believe the name is Professor What, she’s really gotten into it, you know. Between you and me, though, I think she just thinks the lead actor is handsome.”
“So what have you been up to in the last couple days?” Zeth asked.
“Oh, so many things,” Marl’nt said. “I may have forgotten some there’s so many.”
As Zeth and Marl’nt talked, Cherry looked behind her. She didn’t see Pocerni anywhere. “Hey, Numer, do you know where Pocerni is?”
“Oh, he stayed outside,” Numer said. “He seemed kind of defensive about it. Kind of apprehensive, too, now that I think about it.” Well, that’s not a friendly way to act in the 121st century. Then again, it’s pretty much how Marl’nt’s niece just acted.
“We’d love to stay and catch up further,” Zeth said, “but I’m afraid we are in a bit of a hurry.”
“Ah, yes, the orbs,” Marl’nt said. “Now, where did I put them…?”
Cherry glared at him. “Do not say you lost them.”
“No, not at all,” Marl’nt said, “they’re in a closet.” He entered the hallway and opened a closet door. An assortment of items fell out, from cymbals to seashells to pencils as big as Marl’nt’s tail. “Ah, here they are.” Marl’nt pulled out the red and gray orbs from the closet and handed them to Zeth. “I actually did find some very interesting things in the past two days. Supposedly these orbs are linked to a time when all the species of Interp were in separate tribes. It’s quite funny; there’s little evidence of a specific structure like that in the continental lands, but perhaps-”
“We know, we know,” Cherry said. “We already found out about the orbs.”
“-the islands being separated by water meant the species were more likely to organize separately. What? Oh! Really?”
“They’re protected by these guardians that once watched over the different, er, tribes you mentioned,” Cherry said. “Something like that.”
“Fascinating!” Marl’nt said. “You must tell me all about it sometime.”
“You didn’t happen to find any information on locations of other such orbs, did you?” Zeth asked.
“Only that there may have been more long ago,” Marl’nt said, “but that no longer seems to be the case.” Sounded like that research would have to be updated now.
The slubes thanked Marl’nt and said goodbye. They returned to the Transpide to find Pocerni inside. “What are you doing out here?” Cherry asked.
“Oh, I was just admiring the scenery,” Pocerni said.
“No, you weren’t,” Cherry said. “Well, maybe you were, but that’s not why you’re out here. Something’s bothering you.”
“No, it’s nothing,” Pocerni said.
“Yes, it is,” Cherry said. “You come back after ten thousand years in a strange new world, and you need to have somebody to trust.”
“Look, I have a…” Pocerni sighed. “Those two creatures have the same form Darmenzi… usually took when it attacked the islands.”
“It must have been in the continents first, then,” Zeth said as he drove the Transpide through the city. “That’s where verk’lons are from. When Chee released it a few days ago, it took the body of a crawber.”
“A crawber? Really?” Pocerni asked. “Darmenzi took the form of one of those dopes?”
“Yeah, and then it got the crystal and became a huge monster,” Numer said.
“Right,” Pocerni said. “It’s still Darmenzi we’re dealing with, not a crawber. Far more dangerous and competent.” Again, not exactly the best way to act in the 121st century, although Cherry had met cleeple who still saw crawbers as incompetent. Still wasn’t an excuse.
“By the way, Zeth,” Numer said, “where are we going?”
“Oh, well,” Zeth said, “I thought one of you had an idea.”
“You’re our driver, Zeth,” Cherry said. “You’re supposed to know the destination.”
“Head north,” Pocerni said. “This island had an orb in my time; we might find a clue on the north side where it was.”
They arrived at a residential area in northern Interpolis. The tall buildings that punctured the sky gave way for houses, none more than a couple stories tall and each with its own lawn. The grass looked short and stiff, and a fence surrounded every house. As Zeth described the area to them, a scream burst through the rumbles and chatter of the city. “What was that?” Numer asked.
“Up there,” Pocerni said. He pointed to the sky. A smarmel wearing a white robe fell towards the Transpide as if shot from a cannon.
“Oh dear!” Zeth opened the Transpide’s bubble roof, and the smarmel crashed onto Cherry, Numer, and Pocerni. “Are you okay?” Zeth asked. “What happened?” He stopped the Transpide on the side of the street.
The smarmel moaned. He rotated his head to Cherry. “Oh! Hello, Cherry. Funny meeting you here.” He sounded as if he were unsure of speaking at every word.
“Oh, it’s you,” Cherry said, rolling her eyes. “Sweak. That makes sense. Worst student in Master Hydra’s martial arts school.” She’d fought there a year ago to win a shard of the crystal. She could have beaten Sweak with both arms tied behind her back.
Sweak mumbled and laughed. “Well, I was just fighting… You can probably guess who.”
“They let you fight him?” Cherry asked. That would be Crawmaster: best student of Master Hydra’s. He hadn’t been able to best Cherry, though.
“Oh, hey!” Sweak clambered over the Transpide’s occupants like a marionette and grabbed the green orb from Pocerni’s pack.
“Hey, give me that,” Pocerni said, grabbing it back. “It’s important. I can’t just let anyone grab it.”
“Oh, sorry,” Sweak said, rubbing the back of his head. “It reminds me of orbs my grandfather used to tell me stories about. Stories about ancient orbs guarded by monsters…” He turned his head away. “Sorry, just a thought.” He climbed out of the Transpide, but Pocerni pulled him back in.
“Your grandpa told you about ancient orbs with guardians?” Pocerni asked. “Were they linked together in patterns?”
“I- I don’t remember,” Sweak said. “I mean, they’re just… stories.”
“Let me see your back, dude.” Pocerni turned Sweak around and examined his hump.
Sweak giggled. “Hey, that tickles.”
“You just might be…” Pocerni turned Sweak around and handed him the green orb. “Here. Take this, dude. Hold it up to your head. Focus on it; try to form an image in your mind. Think blue, think water, liquid, fluid, seas…”
Numer leaned forward. “Hey, Zeth,” he whispered, “can we make a rest stop?”
Sweak mumbled to himself. “I don’t- Oh, hey. I- I can see Shellport.”
Pocerni took the orb back. “That’s it. We need to go to someplace called Shellport.”
“Easy-sneezy,” Zeth said.
“What was all that about?” Cherry asked.
“The old dude I told you about,” Pocerni said, adjusting his sun hat; “guy was a smarmel. He could sense where other orbs were with just one of them.” He put his wing around Sweak and pointed to him. “Dude must be a descendant.”
Wally_Plotch: Well, that was convenient.
Duth_Olec: That Pocerni knows how to make stuff up as he goes along? Yeah, totally.
Wally_Plotch: Wait, make stuff up?
Duth_Olec: You don’t really think he knows what he’s talking about, do you?
Wally_Plotch: Well, I did.
Duth_Olec: You don’t really think I know what I’m talking about, do you? That’s why you were the court stenographer and not a lawyer, Wally.
Wally_Plotch: All right, I get your point. So it’s not convenient.
Duth_Olec: Actually, it is, but for all the wrong reasons. Hey, look, some guys are showing up, back to writing.
Wally_Plotch: Oh, right, continuing.
“Ah, Miss Cherry.” A thyvae wearing a white robe walked up to them: Master Hydra. A crawber almost as big as the Transpide followed him: Crawmaster. Cherry crossed her arms; she did not want to deal with them now. “It seems the ejection resulting from your last match has brought to us favor, Sweak.”
“Hey, dude, is that Darmenzi?” Pocerni whispered to Numer.
“No,” Numer said. “Darmenzi looks far more monstrous.”
“I don’t have time for your smooth self-aggrandizing today,” Cherry said.
“I suggest you make time,” Master Hydra said. “Crawmaster has retrained and is ready to face you in a fight again.”
Crawmaster lifted up his claws. “I’VE GOT A STRATAGEM TO WIN,” he shouted in a monotone loudness.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m busy,” Cherry said. She pushed Sweak out of the Transpide. “The crystal was a demon, the demon is out, and we probably have a world to save. I’ll bet none of your students can say they’ve done that!” She pointed at Zeth. “Drive, Zeth!”
Zeth drove the Transpide away, leaving Master Hydra calling for Cherry to defend her title. “Save the world?” Sweak asked. “What is this, some sort of anime?”
Wally_Plotch: Okay, Duth, I’m probably going to look like a fool for asking this, but what’s anime?
Duth_Olec: Don’t worry, Wally, you look no more foolish than usual. Anime is, at its simplest, a style of cartoon originating from Japan, or in another sense any cartoon originating from Japan.
Wally_Plotch: I see, and Japan is a place somewhere on Mintop?
Duth_Olec: Oh, no, Japan is a country from Earth made up of four main islands.
Wally_Plotch: Wait a minute, how can they have anime on Mintop, then? Earth isn’t in this universe, so there’s no Japan to have anime for Mintop to know about.
Duth_Olec: Oh, right, but, you see, in this universe there is a… place by the name of Space Japan. It’s located next to Space Canada.
Wally_Plotch: That doesn’t make any sense.
Duth_Olec: They are weird cultures, yes.
Wally_Plotch: No, I mean, how can a universe without Earth just have someplace named after an Earth place but with “Space” in front of it?
Duth_Olec: Like I said, they are weird cultures. After all, there are chickens everywhere. Maybe every universe has its own Japan. Are you sure your dimension didn’t have its own Japan?
Wally_Plotch: Yes. My dimension didn’t have space to have places.
Duth_Olec: Now look who’s not making any sense. You just don’t understand their culture.
Wally_Plotch: Okay, never mind.
Zeth drove the Transpide west out of Interpolis. They crossed the steel pathway suspended above the sea to Shellport. Pocerni let out a long, “Whoa.” He stared at Shellport with his eyes wide and mouth agape. “This place is totally made out of metal.”
“I guess you hadn’t gone here yet,” Cherry said.
“No kidding,” Pocerni said. He slowly shook his head. “This is built over the sea. It’s crazy! How did they even do this?”
“It certainly is a marvel of modern construction,” Zeth said.
“So what are we looking for?” Numer asked.
Pocerni looked at Numer. “Oh, right, dude. We’re looking for Sybius, guardian of the blue orb. It’ll be closer to the sea, so let’s head down there.” They drove to the big elevators in the center of the port.
“What does it look like?” Numer asked.
“You’ll know it when you see a big, blue ball,” Pocerni said. They rode down to the harbor and splashed the Transpide into the magenta sea.
“Is this guardian related to water?” Numer asked. “Fire, wind… plant? I guess that doesn’t make as much sense. But then why would it be blue? Isn’t water magenta?”
“Science corner!” Zeth said, pointing up a finger. “Actually, water on Mintop absorbs most visible light except for that near the high end of the visible spectrum, so it should appear purple, but due to impurities with particles in the water and the atmosphere and light from the sun and science”—at this word he tossed a handful of confetti into the air, which Numer could only assume he kept on hand for when rambling, or explaining, or something—“it looks magenta. Of course, hold up a glass of water and it looks clear. Anyway, I believe one of our planetary neighbors has blue oceans.”
After a few minutes with no change, Cherry asked Pocerni if he was certain the guardian was there.
“I’ll admit I’m surprised,” Pocerni said. “I wouldn’t think any of the guardians would go someplace with lots of cleeple. Then again, Sybius was-”
“Hold on, something’s happening,” Zeth said. The water bubbled in front of them. One bubble expanded beyond the others, shifted from magenta to blue, and turned opaque, now half the size of the Transpide.
“Here it is,” Pocerni said. The blue ball turned transparent.
“Aw, it’s cute,” Cherry said.
“This is a guardian?” Numer asked. “After a giant fire bird, storming dragon, and carnivore mega plant, we’re facing this?”
Inside the bubble stood a round, furry creature a quarter of a slube’s height. Its furless hands and feet looked as small as its black eyes, and it smiled, showing its buck teeth. Its whole body appeared blue, a possible tint from its blue bubble. Pocerni waved to it. “Hey, Sybius.” The furry creature waved back and made bubbly chirping sounds.
Not all the guardians were monsters, then. “So, what, it’ll just give us the orb?” Numer asked. Sybius shook its head.
“No, all the guardians gotta challenge those who want the orbs,” Pocerni said.
“What? Why?” Numer asked. “That’s dumb. Why does all this have to be about fighting? Can’t you just determine if someone is pure or noble or just not a horrible jerk?”
“Heh, yeah, like that’ll work,” Pocerni said. “Anyone trying to get these orbs has to deal with Magnocoden. It’s not for the pure or noble, dude.”
“That makes me feel so much better,” Numer said, rolling his eyes. He didn’t want to fight except for a good cause. He didn’t think “because you might be weak and squishy” to be a good cause.
Duth_Olec: Come on, Numer, it’s the best cause. Right, Wally? Most of the trial battles you typed down were due to that, right?
Wally_Plotch: No? The Cosmos Court didn’t really hold trials on fighting, at least not on such a small scale.
Duth_Olec: Hm. “Because your universe might be weak and squishy”?
Wally_Plotch: I don’t think that’s a thing.
“Well, perhaps we should move inland, then,” Zeth said. “No reason to risk damaging the port… again.” Sybius shook its head.
“Then what about out at sea?” Cherry asked. “Sybius might even have an advantage there.” As she spoke, Sybius’ ball grew to the size of the Transpide. The water furball ran in place, spinning the ball from within. It rolled across the water and rammed into the Transpide.
“The fight’s started, dudes,” Pocerni said. “Remember, just because it’s not trying to kill you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your all.”
“Uh, right,” Zeth said, sitting up in his seat. “Let’s show the furry little guy our own shoving power.” Sybius dashed at the Transpide again. Zeth fired a burst missile and blew Sybius back into a docked ship.
“HAAAAALT!” screamed a shout from the docks. A thyvae in full military uniform—a blue peaked cap, blue sleeveless overcoat that covered half his legs, a green tie, belt, and several medals—stood on the highest area of the docks. Soldiers of various species rushed in and surrounded the harbor. “I will not have any parties causing a ruckus at this port. You will cease fighting immediately, or I will stop you myself. Do you even know the damage that was caused the last time a fight took place here?”
“Yeah! We were there,” Cherry shouted.
“Then you four, missy, are prime suspects,” the thyvae said. “You are messing with Colonel Zurco, in charge of defense security at this port.”
Zeth shook his head. “I knew we should’ve gone some-” Sybius slammed into the Transpide again.
“Don’t let some blowhard distract you, dude,” Pocerni said. “This is important!”
“Right, okay,” Zeth said. “All things considered, the Transpide works better on land.” Sybius scurried across the water at them. Zeth drove to the side and shot an electric spark at it. Sybius flailed and bounced about in its ball.
“That does it,” Zurco shouted. “Fire!” The soldiers fired their guns on the Transpide and Sybius. A blue shield shimmered around the edge of the docks and stopped the bullets.
“Sybius must be serious about fighting us here and now,” Pocerni said. The furball dove into the water and emerged with a second blue sphere around the first. Zeth shot another electric spark, but Sybius’ outer sphere absorbed it.
“All right, fine,” Zurco shouted. “If shooting you does not stop you, we will do it by force.”
“You mean that wasn’t force?” Cherry asked.
The soldiers pushed against the shield but could not pass through. In fact, neither could ships sailing to the docks. “You are disrupting trade traffic!” Zurco screamed.
“Look, we didn’t want to fight here either, but, well, here we are,” Numer said.
Zeth opened the bubble roof. “Well, as long as Sybius is all we have to worry about, ready your mallet, Numer.”
Numer threw his arms up. “What? Why me? I don’t even want to figh-” Sybius rammed into the Transpide, and Numer fell into the water.
“Come on, Numer! If you don’t fight, it’ll run you over,” Cherry said.
“I find that hard to believe,” Numer said as he treaded water. Sybius certainly didn’t look like something that wanted to kill them. Fire-breathing bird? Death. Monster plant trying to eat him? Death. Sky dragon forming a tornado? Death. Little furry thing in a ball? Maybe a little rough playtime. He didn’t see why he should fight just to impress someone. Even if that was what he usually did in regards to Cherry. That was different, though. Right?
“Hey, you slow slugs!” shouted a thyvae from the docks—Sheryl. “If you’re going to fight that gross, little thing, come at it from two places. There’s a Shell Surfer over there.” A scallop shell as wide as the Transpide sat in the water tied to the docks.
“Stop giving advice to these hooligans, lady!” Zurco shouted. “You are aiding ruffians damaging the harbor, and we will arrest you if we have to.”
“Go jump in the ocean,” Sheryl yelled. “They’re heroes in this port.”
“We have no need for heroes. We have the military,” the colonel yelled.
“Yeah, well, nobody wants you here,” Sheryl shouted.
“All right, we’ll fight on two fronts,” Cherry said. She jumped into the water and swam to the Shell Surfer. Sybius rolled after her.
“Hey!” Numer yelled. He fired his mallet over Sybius to get its attention. It turned to Numer. “You don’t attack a lady while she’s swimming.”
“I thought you didn’t want to be a part of the fight,” Zeth said. Sybius dashed at Numer.
“Well, I think you are now, dude.” Pocerni yelled. Numer screamed and dove under the water.
“I’ll keep it busy,” Zeth said. He fired burst missiles at Sybius and pushed it away from Numer and Cherry. “What are you going to do?”
“Stay here,” Pocerni said. “I can’t swim.”
Cherry climbed onto the Shell Surfer and untied it from the docks. Numer splashed towards it. “Cherry!” he shouted. Cherry leaned down and pulled him aboard. “Thanks.”
“Okay, I’ll drive the Shell Surfer, and you fight Sybius up here,” Cherry said. She dove into the water.
“Wait, what? No! I don’t want a part in this fight,” Numer said. Cherry entered the Shell Surfer through a hole on the side. “This fight is stupid. Didn’t Pocerni prove himself before, anyway?” The Shell Surfer lurched forward. Numer yelped and flopped onto the ungainly surfboard. “I mean, fighting a monster that looks like it wants to kill me or a lunatic trying to take over the world is one thing, but this is just a furry little guy.” Sybius rammed into the Shell Surfer and knocked it upside down. Numer fell back into the water.
“Well, you’ll have to do something, dude,” Pocerni shouted. “It may not kill you, but if it thinks you’re unworthy, we won’t get the orb, and Darmenzi’s gonna win.”
Numer resurfaced. “Were you saying something?” Sybius bowled over him.
“Ouch,” Zeth said. “It may not kill him, but it sure might put him in pain.” Sybius slowed its rotating ball to a stop. It jumped back and cried out. Numer hung onto its ball as if he had suction cups in his hands, glaring at Sybius from outside. Sybius squeaked and rolled its ball in place. The world spun and splashed about Numer. He kept his grip on the ball, and Sybius stopped.
“No. I’m not fighting,” Numer said. Sybius rolled its ball again. “I’m still not fighting,” Numer said as the world spun in place, “but I may puke on your ball.” Sybius rolled its ball once more. Numer lost his grip and fell into the water. He resurfaced and coughed as he shook his head. Sybius chirped and hopped up and down with a smile on its face. “You think it’s funny, do you?” Numer asked. Sybius looked at Numer and chittered. “Are you going to roll over me again?” Sybius shook its head, and its ball glowed. Numer stared, transfixed as the ball shrank and grew opaque.
“Wait, what’s it doing?” Pocerni asked.
“Why, it transformed into the blue orb,” Zeth said.
“Most of them do,” Pocerni said. “Except for Magnocoden, their spirit or body becomes the orb when beaten. But I thought you had to beat Sybius in a fight.”
“Seems a dull life,” Zeth said. “Forced to be an orb all your days.”
Numer swam to the Shell Surfer and pushed open its top. “Cherry! Are you okay in there?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Cherry said. “That was crazy of you, Numer. You could have gotten hurt.”
“I could have gotten hurt by fighting it,” Numer said. “I think this way was better. It worked, at any rate.”
“Yeah, but what if it hadn’t?” Cherry asked. Zeth drove the Transpide to them, and they climbed back in.
“Well, what if just beating it up made it sad and leave?” Numer asked.
“I beat it before, dude,” Pocerni said. “It wouldn’t have done that.”
They drove to the blue orb, where a motorboat floated on the water. “I will be taking this contraband,” Zurco said, grabbing the blue orb. “You four will come with me. Maybe if you are absolved of any wrongdoing, you can have it back.”
Pocerni jumped onto the Transpide’s wall and kicked Zurco off his boat into the water. He grabbed the orb and shouted, “Drive, Zeth!”
Zeth drove them out of Shellport to sea as Colonel Zurco screamed after them behind. “Um, perhaps we shouldn’t go into Shellport again for a while,” Zeth said.
A flat figure floated behind a trash can in Shellport. It watched the slubes fight—or at least flail ineffectually—against the blue ball. The figure wondered what material composed the ball and if it could be sliced through. Eventually the blue ball disappeared, and the buzzsaw watched the slubes leave the port. “Hey, Conqueror! I got a report for you,” Sawn said.
Sawn’s internal communication system activated. “Go on,” Conrad said through it.
“Those slubes, they were just in Shellport,” Sawn said. “They’re with a stroo, apparently. Should I attack them?”
“Do not engage,” Conrad said. “Follow them. Watch them. Continue to report. They’re likely looking for some way to fight Darmenzi, and whatever they find, I’ll take for myself and get my revenge on that wretch.”
“Hey, you got it, boss,” Sawn said. “Off I go now!” It flew into the sky, tracking the Transpide wherever it went. Surveillance wasn’t nearly as fun a job as carving stuff into pieces, but Sawn guessed had to be done.