Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
Numer, Cherry, and Zeth sailed across the ocean. The sun had set, and the moon hung in the middle of the sky. It had gotten kind of boring being chased by Wrodin all over the ocean, so he brought Cherry up to speed on what he had done. “So that’s where I found this orb,” Numer said, holding up the red orb. “I’m not sure why I still have it with me.”
“I’m not sure why you got it in the first place. The crystal is what’s important.” Cherry smacked her tail onto the crystal, sitting below the Transpide’s bench seat and leaving little room for their tails. “You shouldn’t have left Nottle.”
“I know,” Numer said, looking down. “And I would apologize a thousand times-”
“Don’t start on that again. Just focus on next time,” Cherry said.
“-but you keep stopping me,” Numer said. “Yeah.” He looked up at the stars in the clear sky. They sat silently for a while. “Cherry, since we apparently have some time out here while we’re chased endlessly in stalemate, and, I admit, this seems like a weird time to say it, but-” The Transpide rocked, and Numer fell out of his seat. Well, that killed the mood that they didn’t even have to begin with.
“Hold on, back there,” Zeth said. “We’re entering rough waters.”
“Are you sure we should be going this way, then?” Numer asked. He looked into the sky and did a double take. Just a few moments ago the sky was clear, but now gray clouds filled it.
Duth_Olec: Brace yourself, Wally. Lots of other clouds around here. Looks like we showed up at a time of high traffic.
Wally_Plotch: What are you talki
Wally_Plotch: Ouch! My chair nearly fell over. What was that big jolt?
Duth_Olec: Uh… would you believe we hit a dragon?
Wally_Plotch: Not really, no.
Duth_Olec: Oh. Oh well. I’m flying lower out of the congested area, so we should be done with the turbulence section of our flight.
Wally_Plotch: I hope so. It’s hard to type while shaking about.
In a matter of minutes the moon disappeared behind the clouds, and the sea slipped into darkness. The waves grew in height and speed, pushing the Transpide to and fro. “Zeth, we’re heading right into a storm,” Cherry said. “Turn back.” She and Numer looked behind them at Wrodin. “Okay, maybe don’t.”
“Trying to lose me in a storm, are you?” Wrodin shouted. “I can weather this storm like a mountain. I’ll…” A looming wave tumbled over Wrodin. “Oh, carp!” The wave swallowed Wrodin, and the machine disappeared.
“Zeth, dive under the waves,” Cherry said. The Transpide submerged into the ocean. The waves pushed it back to the surface.
“This is worse than Wrodin chasing us,” said Numer. “At least that was smoother sailing.” The Transpide jerked, and Numer fell onto Cherry. Before he could jump off like a frightened rodent, the Transpide jerked again, and Cherry fell onto Numer.
“Zeth, you have to get the Transpide under control,” Cherry shouted. The Transpide flipped around and rolled through the waves.
“I do believe we have lost stabilization,” Zeth said.
The slubes shouted as they tumbled through the raging ocean. A glow appeared in the distance. Were they near land? Numer had no idea where Zeth had driven them to. No, that wasn’t land…
“Well, well! This is certainly a strange sight,” Zeth said. A wooden ship as big as a few Nottle houses sailed nearby, its deck high above the water and its masts sticking through the sky. Many planks in the hull appeared to be missing or hanging loose, and even those that looked secure appeared dark and rotten. Gray sails upon the masts had more tears and holes than they did fabric. It looked like the galleon equivalent of a fruit salad left out in the sun for a few days or years.
“How the hex is there a ship like that out here?” Cherry asked.
“And…” Numer rubbed his eyes. “Why is it glowing?”
“Well, maybe we’ll find out,” Zeth said. “At our current trajectory, we’re going to crash into it.” Numer scrunched his body for the impact. His skin tingled, and it only prickled more when the crash didn’t come. He opened an eye to see the ship floating away. Numer sighed and rubbed his mouth; they wouldn’t crash after all.
The waves shifted, and the Transpide smashed into the ship. A gaping hole remained in the side of the wooden hull. Numer saw several white balls half his size lying in the water. He screamed and held Cherry. They were spiest, ghostly beings with a penchant for mischief and fright.
Numer realized that he was holding Cherry, and he fell over.
“A literal ghost ship, I surmise,” Zeth said.
“I wonder what they’re doing out here,” Cherry said.
“Considering this big hole we just made, sinking,” said Zeth. Despite that, the ship did not take on water; the luminescent light seemed to act as a barrier.
Several spiest floated out from the wooden ship hull and looked at the slubes with their single capsule-shaped eyes. “What have we here? A big, old cannonball, perhaps?”
“A big cannonball filled with slugs, it is.”
“A big cannonball that be trying to wreck our ship.”
“No,” Zeth said, “we’re stuck in the storm like-”
“Quiet, ya scurvy slug!” a spiest yelled, shaking a sword at him with an arm half the size of its body. “Our captain will be wanting a look at ya.” The spiest picked up the ones who had fallen into the water. One floated into the Transpide’s walls, and the machine floated up to the ship’s deck.
“Oh, come on, don’t do that,” Zeth said. “Please? Get out of my Transpide?” The Transpide landed on the deck.
“Yar-har, so these be the scalawags what tried to wreck our ship?”
“No,” Zeth said, “I already said-”
“Well it won’t work!” A spiest brandishing a cutlass floated over to them. It wore a black tricorne hat with a white feather as tall as its body.
Numer stood up. “What did I miss?” He screamed. “Spiest!”
“That’s right. Ye be in spiest territory now, and by territory, I do mean this ship. This ghostly ship, with a crew of spiest in the walls powering it along. It shan’t sink, and it could float through the air if it had to. Ye have entered the realm of Captain Ghostbeard.”
“Why do they call you Ghostbeard if you don’t have a beard?” Cherry asked.
“Yar! That’s Captain Ghostbeard to ya, wench. And alas, me beard… I had to let it go. ‘Tis but a ghost now. Hence, they call me Ghostbeard. Captain Ghostbeard. Because my ghost is a beard. G-Get…” It slapped its face. “Yar! No, ye silly ghost. I practice these lines all day long, and when finally I get to say them, I mess it up. My beard is a ghost. Now that’s it. No more questions from ye.”
The slubes’ safety straps withdrew, and the Transpide’s bubble roof opened. Though the storm was dry, Numer felt the wind smack against him as if a great beast flew overhead. “Captain Ghostbeard!” A spiest lifted up the crystal from the Transpide. “Look what they got.”
“Give that back,” Cherry shouted. She raised her fists at the spiest, but the entire crew pointed their swords at her.
“I think not, missy,” Ghostbeard said. “Y’are on my ship now, so be lucky I’ven’t keelhauled ya.” It muttered, “And be lucky I know not what that even means.” Ghostbeard pointed its cutlass at the slubes. “Now, file outta your pod. This thing ought to be worth some gold on the invisible market.”
“Not the Transpide!” Zeth said, hugging the dashboard. “Don’t pull me away from my baby.” He let go and adjusted his glasses. “I mean the mechanical machine I have no emotional attachment to.”
“Yar! Ye be lucky I’m letting ye keep your heads for now!” Ghostbeard said. It poked its cutlass at the slubes, and they inched back until they fell out of the Transpide. “I be taking yer pod! And I be taking yer tool!” It swiped Numer’s mallet. “And I be taking yer shiny apple!” It swiped the red orb. “I’d be taking the clothes off yer back, if ‘tweren’t indecent.”
“But none of us be wearing clothes,” a spiest said.
“Speak for yerself,” Ghostbeard said. “I got me this nifty hat on, I do… Now! Throw these scurvy slugs into the brig.”
“Yessir, captain.” Four members of the crew pointed their cutlasses at the slubes and prodded them below decks.
The night wore on, and the windy storm continued. The ride felt rough but not nearly as much as in the Transpide—the spiest really could control the ship. Numer, Cherry, and Zeth sat on a wooden bench behind a row of iron bars. The bench looked and felt like someone had tried to dull a knife on it, and it hung from the wall by iron chains the color of dirty clay. The internal walls looked no better than the hull, and Numer could see the cloudy sky through the holes made by splintered wood.
They were prisoners—prisoners of pirates. They were dead if they didn’t escape. Those pirates could do anything to them. Numer looked at Cherry and Zeth. “What are we going to do?”
“Cherry,” Zeth whispered, staring at the cell bars. “If you escaped from the prison on Wrodin’s submarine, couldn’t you escape from this prison?”
“It should be easy,” Cherry whispered. “It’s not like the bars look that strong, and they’re not electrified. The problem is we’re being guarded. And they have swords. We’re weaponless.”
“Right. I forgot about that.”
“We should have fought back when we had a chance,” Cherry said, looking at Numer.
“We were outnumbered,” Numer said. “If I raised my mallet, one of them would just possess it. Then they might have been moved to hurt us.”
“Instead of later, like they probably will do?” Cherry said.
“Better to put it off,” Numer said. “Keep our heads down until we can find a way out of here. The more time we have, the more chances to escape.” Numer hoped that sounded convincing.
“With or without the crystal?” Cherry asked.
“With, yes,” Numer said. “But how? I don’t even know how to fight spiest.”
“As was shown the last time we fought spiest,” Cherry said, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall. “You were useless then.”
Numer looked down. “That hurts.” He shut his eyes and sighed. “Cherry, do you know why I followed you after the crystal last year?”
“Hey, where are you going?” Cherry asked.
Numer opened his eyes. “I’m not goi- Oh.” The spiest pirate guards left the brig without a word. “What’s going on?”
In the hold, known by some of the crew as That Room That Looks like All the Other Rooms with the Rotten Wood and Stuff, Ghostbeared took a look at its booty. “Harhar! Metal! Precious jewels! This is one great haul, ghosts! We’ll be rich again soon enough.”
“As long as ye don’t spend it all on hair growth tonic again,” a crewmember said.
“Yar, I won’t, I won’t. Now, let’s ride out this storm and…” Smoke poured into the room; Ghostbeard looked around. “Yar! What’s this, then?”
A cackle echoed through the room, like the laugh of all the minions of the underworld. A voice like that of all the managers of the underworld spoke, “You weak fools have something that I am af… er…” The voice calmed as it said, “Hey! Smokey Spiest! Turn off the smoke machines already.” The smoke thinned to reveal a group of spiest, including one four times the normal spiest size, its capsule-eye yellow.
Ghostbeard chuckled and then belted out a hearty laugh, its crew joining in soon after. “Looky here, ghosts! We got us a spiest fatter ‘n our chests are with loot.”
“How d’ye even get that fat as a ghost?” a crewmember asked.
The large spiest discharged a blazing yellow blast from its eye like a surge of straight lightning. The blast blew apart the wooden floor, leaving a long hole edged by jagged wood with bits of flame. The pirates stopped laughing. “I am not fat, I am large! Huge! I mean great! I am your rightful ruler!” It rose up its arms. “I am Czar Spiest!”
Duth_Olec: Yet another agent of Conrad, as if you couldn’t guess, you intelligent, well-groomed reader, you.
ALFALFA: You have resorted to flattering the reader.
Duth_Olec: Hey, it’s better than threats. Hey, you! Reader! Be entertained or I’ll slap you with a slice of ham!
Wally_Plotch: I’m just going to ignore this…
“Yar! Czar Spiest?” Ghostbeard said. “It’s a monarch, ghosts! We shan’t ever succumb to a monarch!”
Czar Spiest’s grin doubled in size. “Then I’m going to have to execute you.” It pointed at the pirates. “Take their swords.” The spiest of Czar Spiest flew at the pirate spiest’s swords, but they bounced off.
“Harhar! These swords can’t be possessed,” Ghostbeard said. “We’re spiest too, after all. We know the tricks.” It pointed its sword at Czar Spiest. “Now slice ‘em into spiest patties.” The pirate spiest flew at the others, swords up high. Czar Spiest blasted them away with its eye-blast. Ghostbeard stared at the czar. “Yar, all right, then,” it shouted. “Get every crewmember here on the double! We’re gonna need everyone not occupied with the ship.”
We now return to the previous scene, already in progress. “All right, we’re unguarded,” Cherry said. “Let’s break out.” She slammed the iron bars with her tail.
“Are you sure that you can break those bars?” Numer asked.
“No,” Cherry said. “But what I’m betting on is…” She slammed a bar again, and the wooden floor and ceiling attached to it broke. “Yes! The wood’s getting rotten.”
“Captain Ghostbeard should really look into obtaining a new ship,” Zeth said. “I understand the aesthetics of a ghost ship, but it can’t be very strong.”
The three slubes hurried into the empty corridors. They opened up doors and glanced in for their belongings. Cherry saw the Transpide in a room and shouted to Numer and Zeth, “I found it!” Zeth followed her in, and they found Numer’s mallet and the red orb in the Transpide. What did Ghostbeard do with the crystal?
Numer sleeged into the room screaming. “It’s that Czar Spiest! They’re all on the deck fighting! There’s like a million spiest out there—or maybe thirty, but that’s still a lot! And Czar Spiest has the crystal!”
“Carp,” Cherry cursed. Seems Conrad caught up to them, or at least the more dramatic of his agents had. Sounded like a whole spook party out there. “Okay, everyone into the Transpide. We’re not on a metal ship this time, so let’s ram through it.” They climbed into the Transpide, and Zeth drove forward. They crashed through the wooden walls until they burst onto the deck and screeched to a halt.
On the deck raged a crowded battle of spiest. Swords swung, cannons fired, and Czar Spiest’s eye-laser blasted. Czar Spiest held the crystal away from the pirates as they charged at it. Other spiest blocked the pirates. Only by the presence of a sword could Cherry guess whose side a spiest was on.
Zeth discharged electric sparks from the Transpide at the spiest; each one dropped from the shock. A spark shocked Czar Spiest, and it dropped the crystal to the deck. “You three?” the czar shouted. The middle of its eye lowered. “I should’ve known you were on this ship somewhere. Everyone, take their machine.”
Spiest circled around the Transpide, mouths open wide and cackling. “Um,” Numer said. “I don’t think bringing the Transpide out was the best idea.”
“You… may be right,” Cherry said.
With all the calm of a whale crashing through the front door of a house, a great roar bellowed across the sky like thunder. All the fighting froze to a halt as everyone looked up. The clouds twisted; a full hurricane was forming. Numer lay down flat on the bench. “What the carp is that?”
A slender head shaped like a tornado appeared in the clouds, two wide blank eyes and rows upon rows of teeth in a wide mouth. The long neck and slender body of a dragon as big as the pirate ship descended from the clouds. Its white body, tinted blue, looked like a thick cloud. Legless and armless, it instead had wings on its sides larger than the rest of its body. The wind picked up as it descended; it flapped its wings and blew wild gusts. Several tails like hoses whipped about.
Duth_Olec: See, Wally? I told you there was a dragon.
Wally_Plotch: Okay, I have to give you that one, sorry.
“Yaaar!” Ghostbeard screamed, waving its arms up and down. “I know not what it be, but I like it not! Fire! Fire! Fire!” The cannons on the ship fired at the ethereal dragon. The cannonballs sailed through the dragon’s body, and the holes quickly filled back up. The dragon roared, and its hose tails whipped at the ship. A hole at the end of each tail blasted streams of air like jet engines.
The world became a cyclone as the ship whirled into the sky. Screams mixed with the howling wind as everyone tumbled through the air. The ship collapsed, and wood chunks flew about like a fountain of wood. Everything was chaos in the wind.