Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
Numer sleeged down a path in Hackney fields, treading over cut and flattened grass as the crystal weighed him down. Around him the grass grew taller than him, and in the distance loomed Mount Chiphus. When it looked like he was hidden from view of the town, Numer set the crystal down and caught his breath.
It was time to take stock of the situation. So… Numer stared at the crystal. He slapped his hand onto his snout. He just took part of the crystal out of Nottle. That was the opposite of what he wanted. He could cause a disaster by removing the crystal. Still, Conrad was a disaster in of himself. And that crawber…
A red figure appeared from the direction of Nottle. The crawber was flying after Numer. He yelped and dove into the tall grass with the crystal.
“You can’t escape from me, you fool,” the crawber shouted. “I’ve already regained some of my power.” It snipped the grass with its claws. “You can’t hide in here forever.”
Numer watched the crawber from the tall grass. He slowly wogged around it. Just let it get close, and he could give it a mallet to the- Numer yelped and fell into darkness.
He looked around him. He had fallen into a cave of dark rock smaller than his house. The hole must have been hidden by the grass. The ceiling was too high for him to reach, but he saw a tunnel leading east. Away from Nottle, unfortunately, but maybe he could find an exit. He carried the crystal into the dark tunnel.
Sleeging from Nottle was a mistake. The crystal had to stay in town. He had to get back as soon as he could. He was sure Cherry and Zeth could keep Conrad from the rest of the crystal.
Duth_Olec: This is known as dramatic irony, not to be confused with dramatic iron which is when steel ponders life and the definition of the word “be” in classy language.
Wally_Plotch: Indeed, ‘tis quite an ease to misconstrue
A meaning such as that when one is cra’y.
Wally_Plotch: All right, just a little joke.
Now that Conrad was back, this made Nottle a huge target. Well, he couldn’t think of a worse disaster than that. Maybe they should scatter the crystal. He recalled a conversation with Cherry and Zeth, where they considered that removing the crystal from the area may release some energy, causing the disasters. Maybe if they didn’t keep the crystal in Nottle, there would only be one disaster, and then Conrad would leave them alone. Right? Oh, how he wished he didn’t have to deal with this sort of thing again.
Then there was that crawber. It said something about its power and being locked up. Why did it want the crystal? It called itself a force of chaos… At least it appeared to be opposed to Conrad, too. Great, then. Now there was a third party after the crystal.
Numer stumbled and fell. The cavern was dark as could be, and he sweated from carrying the crystal. He pulled himself up and kept wogging. He hoped he would find an exit soon.
After a while, a faint, red light came into view. Numer quickened his pace to the light. He stopped. Red light? He hadn’t gone all the way out to Mount Chiphus, had he? The tunnel had grown hot. It wasn’t the exertion making him sweat—he was heading towards magma. Numer wondered how long he’d been out there. He’d chide himself for forgetting a watch, but he hadn’t told time by numbers for years. Cleeple in Nottle just used the sun.
Numer inched to the opening. The light brightened and cleared, and he entered the cavern: the central cavern of Mount Chiphus. A pool of magma in the center tinted the charred brown rock walls red. The heat felt like a kiln, and his tail felt like he stood on hot, hard clay. This was no place for a slube. This was no place for anyone, really. Far above Numer the walls stretched into the sky, where a tiny hole of freedom sat. It was further away than the hole to the cave he had fallen into.
The cavern shook, and Numer jumped and fell back onto the crystal. “You! Why have you come back?” bellowed a voice from the bowels of the planet. The magma pool in the center spurted like a fountain warming up.
Numer screamed. “You can’t still be alive, too!” He sleeged to the exit, but a black stone slab dropped and blocked off the tunnel. He was trapped.
“I am! I was nearly spent when I erupted the volcano… but Cagnorm lives!” The shaking settled down, and a magma tentacle rose out of the pool. A black spot appeared on the tentacle and blinked at Numer.
Cagnorm: like Wrodin and Sawn, given life through Conrad’s technology, but in this case it wasn’t a machine, it was living magma. Magma with the ability to control the volcano it resided in.
“Actually,” the magma monster said in a whiny voice, “I would have died if The Conqueror’s other guys hadn’t gotten me back here. I almost hardened into stone after flying out.”
Numer bashed his mallet against the stone slab. He had to get out.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Cagnorm said, “is that…? It is! It’s the crystal!” Cagnorm laughed and jiggled in the pool. “I knew they wouldn’t leave me out! The Conqueror had them lead you here so I can take you out, right?”
Numer turned to Cagnorm. “Uh…”
“I knew it! I knew they wanted me to help. This is the best birthday ever!”
Numer looked around the cavern. His gaze curved around the wall; a wide stone staircase spiraled to the top. Gray in color, it appeared to be smoother than the rock of the volcano wall. Numer sleeged up the stairs.
“Hey, wait! Come back here and fight me,” Cagnorm yelled. “Come on! Come back. I won’t hurt you. I just… I want someone to talk to. Pleeeease?” To itself it muttered, “I’m so lonely…”
The stairs wound up the tall volcano several times. By the time Numer reached the top he was panting as though he hadn’t breathed for years. He crawled up the last stretch, the crystal on top of him. He pulled himself onto the mouth of Mount Chiphus and fell over, still panting. The cool breeze above the heated cave was little reprieve.
As Numer panted, a red figure flew onto the volcano and landed next to him. Numer looked at the crawber, groaned internally, and slowly got up, still panting. He tried to speak, but he could only gasp for breath. He fell over. The crawber chuckled. “Go on, my boy. Catch your breath, first.”
Once Numer could talk again, he said, “Why did it have to be today? I was finally going to tell Cherry I loved her, but now everything… Why am I worried about this now? Whatever. What do you even want with this crystal?”
“You’ve no idea, then?” the crawber asked, its face a wide grin that never seemed to fade. “How I have been locked away for so long, sensing the crystal far above me? Whatever do you need it for?”
“It… It prevents disasters,” Numer said.
“Ah, disasters,” the crawber said. It placed its staff upright on the ground and sat on it, holding onto the staff with its thin legs. It leaned forward to Numer. “What fun! I always love a good disaster. A bad harvest, a tidal wave, an attack of bandits…”
“Wait… You caused those disasters?” Numer asked.
“It is what I do best.”
“But you said you were locked away,” Numer said. “The disasters only happened when… the crystal… It’s a lock. The crystal locked you away.”
“Did it,” the crawber said. “And when that lock goes away, I begin to escape.” It grabbed its staff and floated higher. “Now I have been fully freed.” It pointed its staff forward. “Do you hear me, world?” it screamed to the sky. “Darmenzi is free, and I will see to it that this planet pays for detaining me so long!”
Wally_Plotch: Darmenzi?? This thing is Darmenzi???
Duth_Olec: Don’t be so fake concerned, Wally.
Wally_Plotch: No, I’m very concerned!!!
Duth_Olec: Oh, sorry. All those multiple punctuations give off a feel of fake concern.
Wally_Plotch: Duth, let’s get out of here. Darmenzi is here. You do remember it destroyed my old workplace, right?
Duth_Olec: Of course. It’s done a lot more than just that. But don’t worry, it’s not at full power right now. Besides, we’re in The Cloud. We’re safe and fine.
Wally_Plotch: But if it’s weak right now, couldn’t we destroy it or something?
Duth_Olec: You’re the one who chided me for messing with events before.
ALFALFA: That was me.
Duth_Olec: You were ganging up on me. Anyway, no, Wally, we’re here merely as documentarians, not to change events.
Wally_Plotch: I just don’t like it.
Duth_Olec: Events don’t like you, either. Get back to work.
Darmenzi looked down at Numer and drifted closer. “And now, the crystal, if you please.”
Numer backed away. “What do you want it for?”
“To keep that frightful Conrad from getting it,” Darmenzi said. “You have no need for it, after all. I shall dispose of it for you.”
Numer held up his mallet. “Wait a minute, you just said you want this planet to pay. You said you caused those disasters. What if you just cause more?”
“Come, now, I’m on the level. I was merely caught up in the joy of freedom.” Its staff waved in front of Numer. “Surely you agree that this is the best choice of action… Surely you agree that you should do as I say…” Numer stared at Darmenzi.
Were Numer not staring so intently at Darmenzi… and had he not climbed up the volcano staircase… and…
Duth_Olec: And had he a time-and-space-warping flying reality-bending ship he could use to document all this…
Wally_Plotch: Er, right. If all that, then he would have seen this.
Duth_Olec: Or at least could have.
Wally_Plotch: Or could have.
Cagnorm looked up from the magma pool. “Blaargenhaargen. I can’t even see him anymore.” It sighed, or at least gurgled. “First clerpson I’ve gotten to talk to in months. Nobody ever visits the magma monster…” The magma pool rippled. Some bubbles popped out, and a rumble sounded from below. “Huh?”
Cagnorm screamed as the pool surged up like a miniature eruption.
“You have no quarrel with me,” Darmenzi said to Numer. “Now, why don’t you give me that crystal?” Darmenzi’s voice echoed in Numer’s head. He wasn’t sure what was happening, and he couldn’t remember what he was doing. He held out the crystal to Darmenzi…
A shriek scattered the fog in Numer’s mind. He screamed: a flaming bird as big as Numer’s house flew before him above Mount Chiphus. Its beak was thin and orange, and its clawed feet black and thick as a slube. Its tail looked like a black torch, with a wild flame surpassing even the fire on its body in intensity.
“Chiphus,” Darmenzi muttered. “I see you are out as well.” Chiphus? This bird, on Mount Chiphus, was called Chiphus? The bird screeched and engulfed Darmenzi with a stream of fire from its wings. When the flames subsided, Darmenzi was gone.
“Oh! Oh!” Numer said. “You- You just got rid of him. Are you on-” Chiphus screeched and released a volley of fireballs from its body at Numer. He screamed and sleeged around the mouth of the volcano. “-not my side!” The inferno charred the ground behind him.
Chiphus thrust its beak at Numer; he fell back and stumbled away. He looked at the great, flaming avian and pulled himself up. He wouldn’t let himself go down. He shot Chiphus with his mallet. The energy shots reflected every which way. Chiphus flapped a flaming wing at Numer. He changed his mind; he would go down, to the ground. Numer flopped down flat, and the wing passed over him. The heat burnt above him, and the flames licked his eyelids. He felt his eyes would dry out, followed by the rest of his body burning to a crisp. He had to get out of there.
Numer looked west; Nottle was tiny, but in view. He couldn’t lead Chiphus to the town, though. He looked north; the ocean! If he could reach the ocean… But he didn’t even know how he could get off Mount Chiphus.
Chiphus’ screech brought Numer back to the fight. It flapped its wings and hurtled fireballs at Numer. He sleeged around the volcano, barely keeping his tail from burning. He shot his mallet at Chiphus. The shots still reflected off.
Chiphus struck down at Numer with one of its black talons. Numer swung his mallet and knocked it back, though it was bigger than his whole body. He stumbled backwards and fell onto his back. Chiphus struck its other talon into the rocky ground beneath Numer and shattered it. Numer screamed as he tumbled into the air. Chiphus jabbed its beak at him. He grabbed onto the blazing bird’s beak. It was big as his body.
Numer yelped and looked into Chiphus’ eyes; a bright, brilliant, burning blue. A blue unlike his skesh; no, this was like the sky, or more like the sun were it blue. Filled with energy, indeed its eyes looked like two blue suns.
Numer clenched his eyes before they burned away. It was like looking at the sun, too.
Chiphus shook its head and flung Numer back onto the volcano. It struck at him with its talons, but he rolled away. Numer shot Chiphus again. Still the energy shots reflected off it.
“Stop it!” a voice wailed from below.
“What?” Numer said. Was that Cagnorm? The volcano shook.
“What did I ever do to you? I mean… recently? If you’re going to shoot me from up there, I’m going to pound you from down here!” With a rumble, a barrage of stones launched out of the volcano and smashed into Chiphus. It cried out as the sharp rocks tore through its body. Smoke streamed out where the rocks slashed it.
The rocks! The energy shots couldn’t hurt Chiphus, but the solid rocks could. He could kill one bird with a bunch of stones, regardless of how awful an idiom that would be. Numer bent near the ground and shot at Chiphus from below. The shots reflected into the volcano.
“Ow! You’re still doing it!” Cagnorm shouted. Another rock barrage bashed into Chiphus. The bird screeched and fell onto the mouth of the volcano. Its wings hung off the edges.
Numer held up his mallet and inched towards Chiphus. All the fire on its body went out, revealing its smooth, yellow feathers. Even without the fire it looked as bright as sunlight. Only the flame on its tail still burned. When Numer grew close, Chiphus looked at him with its burning blue eyes. “So,” Numer said, “can we, maybe- I dunno. I didn’t want to fight, but you attacked, and—look, maybe…” Numer stammered. “Can you even understand me? Am I just talking to myself?”
Chiphus gave a cry almost like a sigh, and the fire on its tail went out. Its body collapsed into a pile of ash and billowing smoke. “Oh. Okay,” Numer said. “I guess… I did kill it. Or… it suicided. Yes. It couldn’t handle being outmatched by a tiny slube, so it turned itself into ash and smoke. And… what’s that?” Numer shuffled through the ash where Chiphus’ head had been. He found a red orb no bigger than his own head. It was opaque, solid, a perfect sphere, and it felt slightly warm. He felt drawn to it like a family heirloom—he had no idea what it was, but it felt important to him.
“Haha! Like that? Take that! And that!” Cagnorm shouted. “I’ll bet you’re more black and blue than you are yellow now!” The rock barrage ended. “You probably got hit by so many rocks you stumbled back and fell off the volcano! Haha! That means I’m talking to myself now! Haha! Ha… haha… ha…” It trailed off to mutterings between sobs.
Numer looked off the edge of Mount Chiphus. Even without stumbling off backwards, getting off intact would be difficult. He had his mallet, the orb, and the crystal, and he was no mountain climber. He couldn’t even climb a tree. And this would be mountain descending, and with three objects to carry…
Numer looked at the crystal chunk. Maybe he could slide it down the mountain. He’d slide himself down the mountain, but his skin would probably peel off.
Then he got an idea.
“This was a terrible idea!” Numer screamed. He slid down the mountain, riding the crystal chunk like a surfboard—well, a sled—well, more like a hospital stretcher with no wheels, no padding, tumbling down the jagged, craggy surface of a mountain, while he lay flat on a rough surface with almost nothing to hang onto but the wide sides of the crystal, while also holding a mallet and an orb.
At least he was past the most vertical upper part of the volcano… Numer would have thought were he not currently screaming any thoughts out of his mind while he steered the crystal to not to crash into a rock or flip over, or he tried not to fall off the crystal or otherwise do one of about a million things that could go wrong and kill him.
And there it went. The crystal slipped out from under him, and he tumbled down the mountain, rolling like a tire, falling at such a velocity that he would splat like a bug into a windshield were he to hit a chunk of rock now.
Luckily for him, he instead rolled off the edge of a cliff and freefell to the base of the volcano, the fields of Hackney far below him. They wouldn’t be below him for long, though.
Duth_Olec: Luckily for him? I think you mean, “Bye, Numer!”
Wally_Plotch: I don’t think this was just a terrible idea, I think it might have been a suicidal one.
Duth_Olec: Well, no, if it was suicidal, he would probably die.
Wally_Plotch: I’m not sure how that changes my point.