Note this is the prog (in-progress) version and may change when the book comes out
Chee’s machine leapt onto Zeth’s. The Transpide just scraped along from loss of a wheel. The particle blast charging at the end of her machine’s tail now outsized Zeth.
“In a matter of moments you’ll know who the master engineer is,” Chee said. “Then you’ll know nothing, once I toss you into the frozen, empty vacuum of space.”
“Oh, come now, you don’t need to go that far, do you?” Zeth asked.
“Soon I will have power of life and death over everybody.” Chee looked up at Mintop and screamed, “Chee is the ultimate inventor! Soon Chee will be the ultimate ruler! I will have all the–” Chee’s machine exploded by a blast from the side. It tumbled off the Transpide, the entire right half blown apart. The legs scattered as the tail slid along the ground, scraps of metal flying about. The machine rolled halfway across the barrier before it settled on the side, looking like a scrap heap from a junkyard.
Chee climbed out of the wrecked machine, scratched and bruised and charred. She hung onto the overturned side. “What the hex was that?”
Darmenzi laughed. He laughed past the point that any normal being would run out of air. Zeth watched him, sitting in the crippled Transpide. Chee watched him, hanging onto her wrecked machine. Numer and Cherry watched him, wobbling upright.
Darmenzi abruptly stopped laughing. “Getting a little power-mad, aren’t you, you disgusting little blob?”
Chee pounded her fists on the wrecked machine. “Now I’m just getting regular mad.”
“Well, that has never been a difficult accomplishment,” Darmenzi said.
“What the hex, Darmenzi?” Chee asked. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m just ending this façade,” Darmenzi said as his smile flipped to a frown the way a log flips to reveal an underside of bugs. His usual jovial demeanor transformed into a somber, displeased tone, like someone who heard a bad joke too many times. “I’ve had many associates in my time, but few have been as blind as you. You really thought you would get to use me to rule Mintop?”
“We had a deal,” Chee said.
Darmenzi laughed, but it sounded nothing like a cheerful one. He laughed like a rich clerpson, a clerpson who had made a fortune cheating everybody; a clerpson who now spent his time dangling poor cleeple over a cage of carnivorous monsters. Numer recalled Pocerni’s words. He was right. Things didn’t go well for Chee. Things didn’t go well for anyone with Darmenzi around.
Darmenzi snapped his claws together. “I had a deal with Conrad. Look what happened to him. All you’ve done for me is speed up my time of freedom and give me a terrible body, which I had to revamp. I’ve grown tired of your angry barking, though, so it’s time to end it all.” He teleported over the dark pool. “This isn’t just a power source. This is a controlling source. The power I’ve infused into this runs all the way to the core of this moon. I’ll take control of it, stop its orbit, and fling it straight into your pitiful planet.”
Numer gasped. The ability to destroy select cities could give them control, but hurling the entire moon at Mintop would be uncontrollable destruction of everything. The planet could rupture, it would probably go flying out who knows where; even the balance of nearby planets could be disrupted. Such an event was just what Darmenzi wanted, wasn’t it?
Chee flailed her arms and shouted, “You don’t even gain anything from that.”
“I gain a guarantee,” said Darmenzi. “I have been trapped in that miserable planet for far too long. I will make sure it will never happen again. I will remove the planet that I have been trapped in. My punishment to it is total annihilation. Say goodbye to your planet. Say goodbye to your lives. Say goodbye to everything you once knew!”
“Cherry,” Numer said, holding his head. He held Cherry’s shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. “Cherry, I can’t let it end like this without you knowing my true reasons for everything. Cherry, I–”
Darmenzi laughed and smiled. “Still trying to tell her you love her?”
Numer screamed and squished his head between his hands, clenching his eyes shut. He didn’t even get to tell her himself. He never imagined it happening like this. What did it even matter now?
“Wait, Numer,” Cherry said, clasping his hands. “Is that…? All this time, you–”
“Sorry, time’s up,” Darmenzi said. His crystal glowed like the edge of an eclipse. “I’m going to kill you all now–” Darmenzi screamed a death cry.
Numer stumbled back and stared at the light exploding from the dark goo. It enveloped Darmenzi like a volcanic eruption. Red light flashed with a feeling of smooth heat. Yellow followed with a tingling sensation. Green glowed with a sense of stickiness, and then blue rushed past with a moist feeling that seemed to soothe Numer’s pain. A brown light flared with a dry feeling, though Numer felt more energy with it, and then a gray light followed with a burst of wind that nearly pushed him off his tail. Finally there shone white, a great white light that expanded, filling the bubble, passing the bubble.
Darmenzi’s scream dissolved into groaning, shrieking murmurs, interposed with shouts of “no”. It melted into a screech that sounded like a waterfall of molasses which trickled away.
The light darkened like a candle going out, and a louder shout of, “NO!” slammed through Numer like a tidal wave. A red claw, dark as the last few seconds of sunset and the size of several Transpides, shot up from the dark pool. It appeared to be an ethereal claw, like a shadow puppet becoming more real than the puppeteer. Darmenzi screamed, no longer of agony but like a tyrant ready to destroy a lone rebel who had nearly toppled him. His head emerged like the ghost of a crawber caught in a fiery explosion.
“Not this time… Not this time, you feathery bastard! I will not be trapped again.” Pausing on each word, Darmenzi screamed, “I will kill all of you!”
“It’s Pocerni!” Cherry shouted, snapping Numer back to reality. She looked at him. “He’s alive. He’s trying to pull Darmenzi into his own pit using the orbs. We have to help him.”
“But what can we do?” Numer asked. Darmenzi was fighting even the objects they had brought to defeat him. He looked stronger than ever, a being of pure evil magic rage ready to rip apart everything.
“Bash Darmenzi into the pit,” Cherry shouted, throwing Numer into the air. He screamed and crashed to the ground.
Everything seemed to stop for a moment. Numer really would have liked a warning for that.
“Bash Darmenzi into the pit,” Cherry shouted, throwing Numer into the air.
“Okay, I got it!” Numer was ready this time. He swung his mallet down right on top of Darmenzi’s head. With a bang that sounded loud enough to be heard on Mintop, Darmenzi collapsed into the hole. A light as bright as the sun nearly blinded Numer, and an invisible force knocked him to the ground. The light vanished. The dark pool of goo had disappeared. In its place sat the husk of a shell of a crawber and Conrad.
Did that end it?
Numer and Cherry slowly approached Conrad. His head lay against the ground, his tentacles sprawled out. A crack spread out across his brain glass. Numer saw no sign of Pocerni, not even a lone feather.
The crawber shell appeared in the normal shape of a crawber with none of the terrifying monstrosity of Darmenzi. It looked drained of color, a pale red almost as gray as the moon. It looked like it would crumple if touched, as if everything had been sucked out except the general shape.
Conrad groaned. He stirred and rubbed his head. He lifted it away from Numer and Cherry. “Well, that was a waste.”
“Conrad?” Numer couldn’t believe he was still alive. Then again, Conrad had escaped the destruction of his space station, so maybe Numer shouldn’t have been so surprised. He might have felt a little dismayed, though? Maybe that wasn’t something he should think when it seemed victory over demonic odds had been achieved, but he did, and that wasn’t going to change. “What happened?”
Conrad turned around. “Oh. You’re still alive. That bird. He used the orbs against Darmenzi’s own power. He made the entire thing backfire. Looks like it pulled Darmenzi into the crust.”
“Then Darmenzi is sealed again,” Cherry said. “This time, into the moon. Hopefully no one will bother him here. I don’t see the crystal, so maybe it got sealed as well.”
Numer looked around Conrad. “Pocerni didn’t have to seal himself too, did he?”
“He sacrificed himself,” Conrad said. “Had to do it to trap Darmenzi inside.”
Cherry looked down. “Then I guess he’s stuck down there with Darmenzi again. He wouldn’t want us to free him at the risk of Darmenzi escaping.”
“No. I mean he had to die for it to work,” Conrad said.
Cherry’s head snapped to Conrad. “What?”
“He had to die?” Numer looked down and sighed as if deflating. “He was really adamant, then, about Darmenzi being stopped in any way.”
“It’s too bad,” Zeth said, wogging to Numer and Cherry. “He gave up everything to stop Darmenzi, and when it was given back to him he had to give it all up for good.”
Numer nodded. For whatever uncertainty he’d had on Pocerni, he was glad to have met him. “He really was a brave–”
“Okay, enough with that,” Conrad said, lifting a tentacle. “Get to the ship, or I’m going to leave you here. Actually, I need to bring the ship here.” He reached underneath him and pulled out a flat, round device no bigger than a slube’s head. He placed the speaker on it against his front neck holes. “Still there? Yes, of course this is The Conqueror. Fly the ship’s entrance into the bubble. We’re getting out of here, and my hover-chair’s gone.”
As the ship hopped to the bubble, Conrad recalled the memory of Pocerni’s sacrifice.
Darkness shrouded the world around Conrad. In fact, the world around him may have just been darkness. Wavy, gray lines could be seen in the distance, but they appeared static. The void contained no landmarks. Conrad could only see Pocerni, himself, and a translucent barrier formed by the rotating orbs.
“What happened? Where are we?” Conrad asked. They floated in the void, no apparent gravity, but he could still move. He felt not a thing, yet some force existed for them to move against. It could not have been a vacuum, for they made noise, although nothing else in the empty darkness did. Perhaps the barrier blocked the vacuum and created air.
“You almost got us killed, dude,” Pocerni said. “I just barely had the chance to use the orbs to keep us alive. Now we’re stuck inside Darmenzi’s figgin doom pit. You might’ve made things easier for us, though.”
“I assume you have a plan, then,” Conrad said.
“If we can find the core of this pit—the source of all this dark energy—we can use the orbs to destroy it. We might even be able to make it backfire on Darmenzi.” Pocerni looked around. “This way.” He floated away, waving his wings forward as though swimming.
“How can you possibly know where to go?” Conrad asked. No landmarks, no directions—this bird would probably wander across total oblivion forever. Still, Conrad followed, as the barrier stayed with the bird.
They traveled through the inky void, maybe. Conrad could hardly tell if they made any progress. The only reference point he had was Pocerni, and they moved together.
Conrad knew not how long they traveled, but eventually they arrived at a black sphere. It looked as dark as the abyss, perhaps darker, but Conrad could see the outline from a break in the distant shapes.
“Here it is,” Pocerni said. “Darmenzi probably made this from his own energy. If we blow it up, it just might suck him right in and trap him again.”
“What do we have to do?” Conrad asked. “Sacrifice someone? Does it need a living body as a catalyst for its demise?”
Pocerni cocked his head. “What gave you that idea, dude? We just need the orbs. They’ll rupture the core, and chaos is gonna start. At that point, float for your life! Whatever way the light shines from is the way out.”
“How do you know all this?” Conrad asked.
“One of the orb guardians is also a guardian for stroos,” Pocerni said. “Between that, the wisdom of Dorpthal, and being trapped with the orbs for so long, I picked up quite a bit.”
The seven orbs floated around the sphere, spinning rapidly until they blurred. Light surged into the core, and a white crack appeared. The core exploded. It felt like a door was opened to the vacuum of space as suction pulled them towards the shattered core. A screeching howl blasted throughout the abyss.
Light flickered behind them like a wild strobe light. “There’s the way out, dude,” Pocerni shouted. “Go!” He swam towards the light.
Conrad grabbed Pocerni and yanked him back. “Don’t think so, birdbrain.” He would not have someone else risking his glorious plans. He tossed Pocerni screaming into the ruptured void. Conrad pushed his tentacles back and thrust himself towards the light. A force from behind shoved him forward, and colored lights rushed past. Then everything turned black.
Conrad’s eyes rose in a mouthless smirk as his ship landed halfway within the barrier. That stroo may have succeeded earlier in his venture to beat Wrodin, and he may have used Darmenzi’s power against him, but he still lost against a plain, old backstabbing. Conrad would not let anyone stand in his way, as he knew that stroo would.
The truce was over.
“Gaddfern it,” Zeth said. Chee’s rocket flew out of the barrier. It left behind a machine about Conrad’s size shaped like an upside-down funnel.
“We totally forgot about her,” Cherry said. “We probably shouldn’t have let her get away.”
Conrad scoffed. “I wouldn’t worry about her.” No matter what she tried, she would not stand a chance against his might. He turned to his ship. “Get in here so we can return to Mintop.”
The slubes looked at each other and then slowly pushed the three-wheeled Transpide into the ship. Before they left Conrad sent a few spleeches to examine the machine Chee left behind: a device that created an artificial environment, thus the barrier. They left it there as a marking of Darmenzi’s prison. The system would probably shut down after a week without any power source.
Conrad’s ship entered Mintop’s atmosphere. They returned to his base, and he and the agents immediately took the slubes prisoner, declaring the truce over. Conrad proceeded to brainwash them and turn them into his slaves as part of
Duth_Olec: Wait a minute, what was that?
Wally_Plotch: Well, that was what just happened.
Duth_Olec: That’s a terrible ending! We can’t end the story like that!
Wally_Plotch: That does seem like a pretty awful ending.
Duth_Olec: Most awful. We’re going back and doing it over.
Wally_Plotch: We can do that?
ALFALFA: Are you going to change events again?
Duth_Olec: Of course not. We were probably just in an incorrect dimension, or that was just a dream Numer had after he dozed off, or one of other several plausible happenings that doesn’t mean I’m just changing an event to fix everything, not that I would get any thanks for doing so. Okay, let’s get hooked to Numer POV. Go ahead, Wally.
Wally_Plotch: So did you actually change anything?
Duth_Olec: Write! We’re almost done.
Conrad’s ship entered Mintop’s atmosphere. In the lower level near the exit, Numer, Cherry, and Zeth examined the Transpide.
“Well, it’s back to having just three wheels,” said Cherry.
Numer covered his mouth and then erupted in laughter. He leaned against the Transpide as Cherry and Zeth stared at him. He didn’t even find it that funny. He couldn’t even believe he remembered how, a long year ago, Zeth had forgotten to add the fourth wheel when he first showed them the Transpide. Maybe Numer just felt stressed. After five days of running around and danger, not knowing if they would make it out okay, it all finally seemed to be over.
Cherry joined Numer in the laughter, and Zeth chuckled a bit as well.
Once they stopped laughing, Zeth said, “At least we won’t need wheels to get home across the ocean.”
From the nearby hallway spoke what sounded like Sal: “…slubes is, again?”
“Are you really asking me this?” That voice was Czar Spiest. “Is your brain as misshapen as your head? It’s entirely simple. As soon as we return to the base, we’re to rush the slubes and take them captive.”
The slubes gasped and huddled closely. Of course—they were still on Conrad’s ship. Now that they had no reason to work together, they were at his mercy, and he had none.
“We have to get out of here,” Cherry whispered.
“No kidding,” Numer said. “If we end up back at Conrad’s base, we’re done for. How do we get out before the ship lands, though?”
“We just need to leave before it reaches the base,” Zeth said. “We can land somewhere else if we change the ship’s course like we did Chee’s. I assisted in preparation of the engine, so I know just what to do.”
Numer, Cherry, and Zeth drove across the ocean in the Transpide, looking back at the waterlogged wreck of Conrad’s ship. Numer had hit the weakest and most critical spots on the engine with a steady stream of particle beams until it blew up. Just like Chee’s first ship, it spiraled out of control and crashed into the ocean. The slubes had plenty of time to escape.
Conrad and the agents shouted after them. Their plans weren’t over, not by a long shot, but for now the slubes had made it out okay.
Duth_Olec: That’s a better and less horribly depressing ending. It is here, on their drive home, that we will end this story.
Wally_Plotch: Only one thing left to do, I gather.
“So,” Cherry said, dragging out a single syllable into what felt like an entire essay.
Numer felt every muscle in his body twist and freeze. In all the chaos he had nearly forgotten that Darmenzi revealed his secret.
“Numer.” She looked at him. “Near the end there, you were about to say something, and Darmenzi interrupted us, and he said that you loved me?”
Numer turned his head towards Cherry at the rate of grass growing.
“Numer? Is it true? Do you love me?”
Numer whimpered. He tried to open his mouth, but it felt glued shut.
“Yes!” he screamed like a balloon bursting. “Yes, all this time! I love you, Cherry. I’ve wanted to tell you so for the past five days, but I’ve been constantly interrupted. I wanted to tell you for a year– no, longer than that, but I’ve never had the guts or the nerve or the strength or the tail or the spirit for it. But now I’m telling you. I love you!
“I’ve loved you ever since I first moved to Nottle. I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful and courageous and clever and nimble and smart and charming and outgoing and completely wonderful you are. But I was nothing. I moved to Nottle because I wanted an easy life, for crying out loud. You wanted challenges, and”—he began to stammer—“I couldn’t aspire to that. So I just admired you from afar, never risking to even let you know I existed.
“Then that whole thing with the crystal happened, and you were my inspiration the whole time. I never would have done it if it weren’t for you. It was my chance to prove to you—to prove to myself—that I could aspire to that. That I could be somebody to you, for you, and then I just…”
Numer groaned; he clenched his face and gripped his head. “But what was I thinking? Now I look like a foolish lunatic, don’t I? It was all just a pipedream. I love you, Cherry, that’s never going to change, but…” But what? Did he just jump off a cliff without looking at what was behind him?
Cherry held Numer’s hands and lowered them. “Numer, open your eyes.” He slowly did, and he saw Cherry’s smiling face near his. She looked so sweet. She always looked radiant. He knew the fact of his love would never change.
“It’s okay,” Cherry said. “I know you’re nervous. I know you’re panicky and don’t think you’re brave. Some people even think you’re lazy, although you’ve definitely proven that an incorrect assumption. You’re not gutless. You’ve done stuff few other slubes have.
“Even if everything you’ve done is for me, we all need something that drives us. Whether it’s for the good of everyone”—she placed their hands over Numer’s heart—“or just one clerpson you think is very special.”
Numer whimpered but managed a wobbly smile. He didn’t know what to think now, not that he could think very straight anyway. He felt like his insides were melting, but a good melting, like a gooey fruit treat. His eyes began to water.
Cherry opened her mouth to speak but stopped.
The Transpide had stopped moving.
Numer and Cherry looked at Zeth, who watched them from the side of his seat. “Don’t mind me,” he said, waving an arm.
Cherry stifled a laugh. “Numer, I know it may pain you to wait, but maybe we should discuss this someplace more private.”
Numer mumbled and stammered, but he managed to say, “Okay.”
Zeth shrugged and resumed the drive back to Nottle. Soon after, Cherry held Numer’s hand and smiled at him. Numer smiled back.
Cherry wrapped her arms around Numer and squeezed him in a big hug. Numer blushed green, eyes wide. Only one way to go now. Their heads twisted, mouths opened, and they locked together in an embracing kiss. There, out on the ocean, they kissed, eyes closed, all the hardships of the past and future nothing for that moment.
Zeth clapped as he watched them. “Hooray!”
And from that kiss on, their relationship bloomed like so many cherry blossoms on a great, sturdy tree.
Duth_Olec: And there we go. We have just won an award for sappiest ending.
Wally_Plotch: Sappiest ending? That was wonderful. It was heartwarming; Numer and Cherry get a happy ending.
Duth_Olec: Scoff, I say. I prefer to keep my heart chilled about thirty degrees below room temperature, served inside a bowl of gelatin. Like we have at our food court. Which, plot twist, was really just a refrigerator all along.
Wally_Plotch: What about all those times you saved cleeple and such? You just saved Numer, Cherry, and Zeth, too. You basically said you wanted them to have a happy ending.
Duth_Olec: Yeah, but not a sappy ending. No sap, no syrup. I want these pancakes dry. That—oh, wait, ugh, never mind. Have you ever had cold pancakes? Disgusting. I take back everything I said after saying “the”.
Wally_Plotch: Wait, when was the last time you said “the”?
Duth_Olec: The word “the” has never been spoken by me. Except for just then. If anyone has gone back to check this, I will thank you not to try and prove me wrong.
Wally_Plotch: Okay, so, Duth, I have a question.
Duth_Olec: Q&A will come at the end of this book.
Wally_Plotch: But the story is over.
Duth_Olec: Just ask your stupid question, Wally.
Wally_Plotch: Oh, well, you said that Darmenzi attacks the Cosmos Court after the events of this story, but he was still imprisoned back in the moon.
Duth_Olec: Oh, well, I guess I was wrong, because even though Darmenzi broke free from imprisonment once, I’m sure he can’t do it again.
Wally_Plotch: When does he break free, then?
Duth_Olec: Certainly not in this story, because it is over.
Wally_Plotch: So, like last time, the story Darmenzi is over, but the story of Darmenzi is not?
Duth_Olec: You got it. You’re learning, Mr. Narrator.
Wally_Plotch: Good, because you still haven’t told me from where you know Darmenzi.
Duth_Olec: History is other cleeple’s concern. Darmenzi has a long future before he arrives at your former employer, but for now he will stay put. We have some other appointments to see. Numer finally has his feelings out in the open, and although Conrad will continue to be busy, we will leave these characters we have met in Slubes and Darmenzi for now. There happens to be a couple of other planets we have not really examined yet.
Wally_Plotch: Derantu and Zhop, correct?
Duth_Olec: Right you are. While Conrad was preparing and failing to invade Mintop and Numer was discovering hidden bravery, three new friends decided to make a journey to find their place in their world.
Wally_Plotch: So unlike Numer, who started out timid and questionably lazy, these three head out to do something important?
Duth_Olec: Yes, and as it turns out, Numer had the right idea. Zhop is not what I would call a friendly planet, and as they look deeper it seems even less friendly. They’re not exactly welcomed, being that Alden is of a species seen as of backwoods, Ropak is of a species seen as simple and tribal, and Top is, well, a beach ball.
Wally_Plotch: That doesn’t sound like a nice place. Wait, a beach ball?
Duth_Olec: That’s right, a beach ball.
Wally_Plotch: How does that happen?
Wally_Plotch: Oh. So they try to make something of themselves on Zhop, but Zhop doesn’t want them?
Duth_Olec: More or less. In fact, Zhop is such a jerk of a place that they should probably just try Derantu. Maybe that planet has fewer jerks. Maybe not. One thing is for sure, Top, Alden, and Ropak have a long journey as they seek their… Wandering Fortunes.