Note this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
Numer rattled his head back and forth. The world had finally stopped spinning, but he couldn’t tell where the Transpide had landed. They appeared to be between two hills covered in some sort of light blue moss, each no taller than the Transpide. Straight ahead was a cliff. Numer leaned up and peered over the cliff, and he saw the ocean many stories below. He looked up and saw the storm clouds rather nearer than he expected, as if a mere ladder could reach them. He looked at the mossy ground again. He looked at the cliff and noted two holes no wider than a slube. Behind them appeared to be spires of blue moss.
From far off came the thought, as if it had taken several trips through Numer’s body and gotten winded: The Transpide was sitting between the crests atop the giant dragon’s head.
“Get us off!” Numer repeatedly screamed at Zeth.
The dragon shook its head, and the Transpide tumbled down the dragon’s puffy back. Zeth fell onto the dashboard; the Transpide released a spark, a burst missile (which disintegrated), and a stream of flames. The fire tore through the dragon’s back. It roared as it burst into flames. The Transpide splashed into the ocean below. “Well, that was a mess,” Zeth said. Wooden planks and dazed spiest lay scattered across the water.
“Where did the crystal go?” Cherry asked.
“Yar! Ye owe me a ship, ye scurvy cloud beast!” Ghostbeard floated over a fragment of the ship with a cannon on it. “Back to where ye came.” The cannon fired at the dragon. The dragon roared; one of its tails sucked up Ghostbeard and the cannon into it like a vacuum hose. It fired them like an air cannon off into the distance.
Numer leaned forward next to Zeth. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” The dragon turned to them. Carp, it noticed them! “Go, go, go!” One of the dragon’s tails suctioned the Transpide.
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Zeth said. He accelerated the Transpide, but the suction pulled them out of the water and into the tail. Zeth hit the flamethrower button. The fire ignited the tail, and the dragon roared. The Transpide tumbled out of the tail back into the sea.
“It must be weak to fire,” Cherry said.
“Most things are like that,” Zeth said.
The dragon folded its wings around itself and spun in place. It whirled itself into a tornado that dropped onto the ocean. The twister sucked water into it, spiest and wood following. “Get away from it!” Numer yelled, waving his arms.
“I can’t! The waves are too choppy,” Zeth said. The Transpide was pulled into the twister. It tumbled around like a rolling boulder. The slubes held onto their seats as they whipped about the Transpide.
Zeth pulled himself to the dashboard and hit a button. Electricity shot out of the Transpide and scattered around the slubes in the twister. “Zeth, what did that do?” Cherry shouted.
“Sorry, wrong button!” Zeth said. He hit another, and flames shot into the tornado. Their sight clouded as the water evaporated into steam. The gray fog then disappeared as fire raged all around them. Numer lay flat against his seat as the world ignited. The Transpide flew out of the fire and splashed into the sea, smoking. The twister transformed into a tornado of fire.
Numer threw up his hands. “We could have died!”
Zeth waved his hand. “The Transpide can handle that level of heat.”
“Did you know that before placing us in the middle of a swirling vortex of fire?” Cherry asked.
“Abso-proba-maybe,” Zeth said.
The twister faded as the flames dispersed to the ocean like the remains of fireworks. The dragon stopped spinning, but its body remained on fire. In an instant it burnt up like a balloon. The storm waves shrank, and the clouds dispersed. Moonlight broke through the dwindling sky fog, and soon the sea was still.
Numer rubbed his mouth; at least that dragon’s terror was over. He saw a sparkle fall from the sky where the dragon had been. “What’s that?” Numer asked.
“Maybe it had the crystal,” Cherry said. They drove to the spot the sparkle had fallen and opened the glass roof. They looked down into the water.
Numer yelped. He reached down and pulled up a gray orb, translucent; it looked very much like the red orb, though it felt cooler. “What is going on?” he shouted. “Where are these orbs coming from?”
“Monsters, apparently,” Cherry said. “We need to find the crystal, though.”
Zeth drove the Transpide through the water. “The radar shows it nearby, but I’m getting another reading north of here and moving.”
They found half the crystal they’d had floating in the water and pulled it into the Transpide. “I’ll bet it broke apart in the chaos, and Czar Spiest grabbed the rest,” Cherry said. “Let’s go after it.”
“Can’t we just call it a tie?” Numer asked, bent over. “I’ve hardly eaten today, I haven’t slept for I don’t know how long, and I really think we should just go back home for now.”
“He’s right,” Zeth said. “You’re freed, so we’re in better shape than we were earlier, and I’m sure your father is beside himself with worry.”
“Oh, you’re right,” Cherry said. “The last he knew I was captured. Yeah, let’s head back to Nottle. We’ve at least still got one piece of the crystal.”
“The crystal is gone?” Zeth asked.
“No,” Numer said. “It’s right here in the Transpide.”
“Oh, right,” Zeth said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Numer, Cherry, and Zeth returned to Nottle. As it was the middle of the night, the town was dark and silent, but Cherry’s home remained lit. There they entered to let Caleco know she was safe. Immediately upon entering the front door, he hugged her and proclaimed for several minutes how worried he had been.
Once Caleco finally seemed satisfied that Cherry had returned home safe, Numer asked, “So what happened to my house?” Upon their return to Nottle, they had found Numer’s house in shambles—the roof had caved in, and the walls appeared cracked and near buckling.
“Oh, yes,” Caleco said. “It was quite horrible. A strange contraption emerged from the hole Zeth made this morning.” The four of them entered Caleco’s foyer, centered by a curved ramp leading to the second floor, a glazed clay railing surrounding it. Grass carpets covered a floor of glazed clay, while slube-height battery-powered lamps offered dim light throughout the room.
“Hey, that Darmenzi crawber thing made that hole,” Zeth said. “Wait. What was the contraption like?”
“Two drills, a long tail, six legs… A tan blob clerpson was riding it,” Caleco said.
Zeth slapped the top of his snout. “I completely forgot about her.”
“Chee.” They stared at him. “Oh, you guys never met her. She’s a shiffle, a species from a far-off continent. She was in that race I entered a year ago to acquire one of the fragments. She was real nasty and destroyed most of the other racers. In the end I accidentally wrecked her vehicle instead, and she probably still holds a grudge against me for it.”
“Do you think she’s working with Conrad?” Cherry asked.
“I don’t know about that,” Zeth said. “She released Darmenzi, so she might have different plans. I’ll bet both are against us, though.”
“Was anyone hurt in the attack?” Cherry asked.
“One clerpson was hurt,” Caleco said. “She’s resting in here, actually. Sort of.” He led them up the ramp to a guestroom.
“Gern! Your arm!” Cherry said. Gern was sitting up on a bed wearing a sleeveless gown. Her right arm was gone; only a bandaged stub remained.
“Hiya, Cherry,” Gern said, smiling and waving her left arm. “I sure do look a sight, don’t I? I’ll bet nothing like this ever happened to you.”
“It’s starting to get dangerous just living in town,” Paige said, her arms crossed. She appeared perfectly fine.
“She tore off your arm?” Cherry shouted.
“I did not!” Paige said.
“No, I mean the clerpson in that machine.”
Gern shrugged. “Oh, sort of. That machine drilled into it. That tore it off. The doc here patched me up.”
“She was in trouble for a while there,” said the slube doctor, Ryrem Tode. “I was able to patch her, uh, stub, but she did have quite a bit of blood loss. Really, she should be lying down right now. But she keeps trying to insist.”
“It’s just an arm lost,” Gern said, waving her stub.
“Sheesh,” Cherry said. “Gern, do what the doctor says.”
“If she’d done what I said, she wouldn’t have been at the attack,” Paige said.
“I was just trying to cheer up the wounded from this morning done by that big red machine guy exposition,” Gern said.
“Yes, we know about the wounded from Wrodin’s attack,” Zeth said.
“Whoa, Zeth saying the normal thing?” Cherry said. “That’s unexpected.”
“All right, all right,” Ryrem said. “Would you please lie back down, Gern? Logically, you should be in a lot of pain right now.”
“Oh, I am.”
They exited to the hallway and left Gern to her rest, even though she probably wouldn’t. “Why would Chee have released Darmenzi?” Cherry asked. “What could she be up to?”
“I suspect the possibility that fire bird did not destroy Darmenzi,” Zeth said.
“Speaking of which, what is going on with these orbs?” Numer yelled.
Ryrem shushed him. “The patient needs her rest.”
“Then you should probably get her back in bed,” Cherry said. She pointed down the hall; Gern left the guestroom and wogged down the hallway.
“Hey!” The doctor sleeged after her.
Cherry laughed and shook her head. “She’s such a kook. Anyway, maybe we should look into those orbs. I have those old texts in our library that mention the crystal; maybe there’s something about the orbs, some connection between them and Darmenzi. The orbs didn’t seem to show up until Darmenzi did.
“Numer,” she said, “since the house you use is half-destroyed, maybe you could stay here tonight and help me research.”
“M-Me? S-Stay here?” Numer asked. With Cherry?
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Zeth said. “I’ll spend all the time I can working on the Transpide. I’ve got to get those burst missiles working…”
“So how about it?” Cherry asked.
Numer stammered. “Um, sure! Y-Yeah, I’ll help all I can.”
Though it was the middle of the night, Numer and Cherry entered the carpeted library on the first floor; with so many bookcases, it perhaps held the most wood of any room in the house. On desks sat battery-powered lamps no bigger than a slube’s tail, the light concentrated on chairs.
Numer and Cherry combed through the old texts. Numer sat back in a chair as the night marched on; he flipped through a crusty, old book sitting on his tail. He had been so busy looking through the books that he had not stopped to be nervous about being in Cherry’s home, alone in a room with her. Yet book after book held no useful information. He looked up and watched Cherry as she flipped through one book after another.
Now was the time. He was alone with Cherry. Nothing to distract them. He could tell her. Yes! He could tell her he loved her right then. Not the ceremony he had hoped for, but there was only himself stopping him, and he could probably overcome that. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
When Numer opened his eyes, his book was gone. Cherry was gone. The lights were off. What happened? Numer sleeged out of the library. He halted by a window and squinted his eyes at the bright sky. It was morning.
He had fallen asleep.
Numer pulled down on his face. Why? Why couldn’t he do it? Why was it that every time he meant to, he couldn’t? Was he not supposed to? Would he never get to tell Cherry he loved her? Why, why, why?
“About time you’re awake.”
Numer turned and stumbled. Cherry stood behind him. “Oh! Cherry. Um… I think I… fell asleep.”
“Yeah, no kidding” Cherry said, her arms crossed. “I tried to wake you up, but you were out completely. I did everything short of punching you, and you wouldn’t wake up for a moment.”
“I guess I was really tired,” Numer said, looking down.
“I guess so,” Cherry said, throwing her hands in the air.
“Did you find anything on the orbs?” Numer asked.
“Not a thing,” Cherry said. “I found something on a big bird of fire, though. There was supposed to have been a fire bird that acted as the guardian of Flaeneath—the island slubes are from.”
“Guardian…” Numer said. He didn’t feel guarded when it attacked him.
“And there was an entry on a dragon, too; a gray dragon that attacked cleeple, supposedly destroyed a civilization. But there’s no connection between them at all that I could find.”
“It doesn’t sound like we really know anything new for sure about it, then,” Numer said.
“Yeah, but we have more problems of the present for now,” Cherry said. “There’s breakfast in the dining room down the hall. Eat up quick so we can get going. We have to get the crystal back from Conrad.”
“I’ll be quick,” Numer said.
He entered the dining room, through which a wide window offered a view of the ocean. In the center stood a clay table covered by a grass tablecloth and an assortment of fruits. He picked up a shepa.
“Ah, Numer, good morning.”
Numer spun around and saw Merag Caleco wog into the room. His grip on the shepa slipped, and he caught and dropped it several times before placing it back on the table. “Oh, yes, good morning, Merag,” Numer said.
“You don’t have to be so nervous, Numer,” Merag Caleco said. “The fruit is free. It’s mostly that which we had no room in the storehouses for.”
“Thanks, yeah,” Numer said. “You just startled me.” He picked up a banana, placed a hand on the peel, and stared at it.
“Numer?” Caleco asked.
“You seem a bit distracted this morning,” Caleco said. “I suppose I can’t blame you. All this madness happening again. Will it ever end?”
Numer mumbled a response. He didn’t need to worry about that when he’d spent the last year worrying about other things that hadn’t been resolved. A question occurred to him; he looked at the merag, opened his mouth, but then looked at his banana.
“Did you have something you wanted to say?” Caleco asked. “Come on, you’ve gotten much more open lately.”
Numer looked away. “No, I really shouldn’t.” He had a sensitive question in mind…
“Come, don’t worry yourself,” Caleco said. “I’m your merag, I’m here to help.”
“When did you and Sorbam first know you were in love?” Numer blurted.
Merag Caleco stared at Numer as his mouth dropped open. Numer immediately regretted asking. He had heard directly from Cherry what had happened to her mother—a fall from a tree she had climbed years ago had put her into a coma, and she died. He hadn’t wanted to bring up bad memories for the merag.
The merag laughed. Numer shook his head; that didn’t sound like a bad memory. “Oh, my,” Caleco said, rubbing his chin, “I haven’t thought of that in years. I couldn’t say the exact moment I fell in love, I’m afraid, and I couldn’t say when my dear wife realized her love, but I certainly remember when we became aware of each other’s feelings.”
“When? How?” Numer asked.
Duth_Olec: And so Caleco proceeded to tell Numer the story of how he revealed his love to his late wife, Sorbam, and it was all very touching, and, unfortunately, we don’t have room to show his narration of it.
Wally_Plotch: We don’t? Why not? Can’t you make room?
Duth_Olec: I could, but I’m not going to. This is the last chapter he appears in this story anyway.
Wally_Plotch: Oh no, he doesn’t die, does he?
Duth_Olec: What? No, he doesn’t die. He just doesn’t have a role anymore. Look, in the time we spend discussing this, we probably could have fit it. Just summarize it for us, Wally.
Wally_Plotch: If you want to take the romance out of it, then sure.
Duth_Olec: Well I do. I mean, uh, you mean you’re not romantic?
Wally_Plotch: Er, well… no. No, I’m not. I’ve never even been on a date.
Duth_Olec: Neeeerd! Disclaimer, neither have I, but I have an excuse in that my planet metaphorically blew up.
Wally_Plotch: How metaphoric is that?
Duth_Olec: No time for that, summarize!
Wally_Plotch: All right, I’ll get to writing.
Merag Caleco related to Numer of how Sorbam had one day climbed Mount Dynamo. As usual, Caleco tagged along, and though he lagged behind, he was determined to make it to the top. Hours after Sorbam reached the summit—in fact, near sunset—Caleco finally arrived. There he pronounced his love for her, they kissed, and they lived happily ever after until she died.
Numer sighed. It sounded like an amazing way to reveal ones feelings, with the vast landscape stretching far below. He had nothing so wonderful to share with Cherry were he to reveal his love. Every time they turned a corner, some villain wanted to destroy their way of life or their life in general. How was that a romantic way to express one’s feelings?
“I do have another question,” Numer slowly said. “Did you and Sorbam ever have an argument?”
Caleco looked away, and his face fell. “Y…Yes, we have. It’s… Well, not everything…” He sighed. “Those are not the memories I wish to keep in my mind, of course.”
“Right, sorry,” Numer said. “I didn’t mean to… bring up any bad memories.”
“It’s all right,” Caleco said. “Perhaps I was in the wrong then, perhaps not. We didn’t let it brew anger. Arguments never lasted.”
“That’s good to hear,” Numer said. “Thanks for the talk.”
“May I ask why?” Caleco said. “Where did this curiosity come from?”
“Well,” Numer said, rotating his hand, “you see, I just… Oh, hey, you know, I think I can hear Cherry call-” Cherry popped her head into the dining room.
“Numer, what are you doing?” she asked. “Oh, hi, dad. Come on, Numer, hurry up, we have things to do.”
“Sorry, I’m coming,” Numer said. “Good bye, merag.” Numer and Cherry left Caleco staring to the side, his eyelids wrinkled.
Numer and Cherry entered Zeth’s lab. It appeared more of a mess than usual, with paper and metal scattered everywhere as if a smaller wind dragon had visited the lab. Stains of various colors plastered one of the walls. Zeth lay in the Transpide asleep wearing his splotchy, patched lab coat. Numer thought Zeth really should clean his lab up.
“Hey, Zeth! Wake up!” Cherry yelled.
Zeth yelped and flailed his arms. “I completed it; I completed it!” He hit a button, and a missile shot out of the Transpide at Numer and Cherry. They screamed and jumped aside. The missile blew up against the elevator like a blocked air cannon.
“Oh- Oh my! I’m so sorry,” Zeth said. “Are you okay? I was still asleep, I’m afraid.”
“We’re fine,” Cherry said. “At least you got that working.”
“Indeed, I did. I hope. Are you ready to set out again?”
“Where are we going?” Numer asked.
“There’s an energy reading coming from Interp,” Zeth said. “I suggest we head there posthaste.”
“Back to Interp, huh?” Numer said. He recalled their journey there last year—not in a favorable light. He had fallen flat on his face chasing a bird holding a shard of the crystal halfway across the big city of Interpolis.
They got into the Transpide and left Zeth’s lab through a tunnel up to Nottle. Before they left the town, Caleco wogged up to say goodbye. “You mean you’re leaving again?” (Okay, maybe not to say goodbye exactly…)
“We have to,” Cherry said. “You’ve seen what happened to Gern.”
“That’s exactly why I worry,” Caleco said. “If you get hurt out there, you won’t have the immediate help we can get here.”
Cherry shut her eyes and rubbed her snout. “I thought you were over this.”
“I’m sorry, but I just…”
“Let me put it this way,” Cherry said. “If we stay here, the whole town is endangered, including us. If we go, we can keep the town from being in danger. And that reminds me: We’re not coming home tonight.”
“You aren’t?” Caleco asked.
“We aren’t?” Numer asked.
“I don’t want a repeat of last year,” Cherry said. “If we leave any part of the crystal in town, it’s a target. Until we have the whole crystal again and figure out what to do about Darmenzi, we can’t bring the crystal back.”
“But there’s…” Caleco looked down and sighed. He looked back up and put on a small smile. “Good luck, my Cherry blossom. Do your best for us.”
“Thanks, dad,” Cherry said. She leaned out to hug him.
Numer groaned and lay back. He felt the backrest shake, and he looked at it. “Hey, Zeth, I think there’s something up with the back of this seat.”
“Possibly,” Zeth said. “They open up to reveal a compartment. I might have put something in there and forgot.”
Numer jumped off the seat onto the crystal. “What would you have put in there that would be moving around?” He slowly extended his hand to the backrest.
“I don’t know,” Zeth said. “A live chicken?”
Numer lowered his hand. “Why would you put a live chicken in there?”
“I’m not sure,” Zeth said. “Just a suggestion.”
Cherry pushed the backrest inward, and it popped open—rather forcefully, as a small slube burst out and fell onto Numer. “Hi, guys!” Jake said. “Are we out at sea yet?”
“Jake!” Cherry said, glaring at him. “What are you doing in there?”
“I wanted to come along and help you guys out,” Jake said. Cherry lifted him up. “Aw, we’re not even out of Nottle yet.”
Cherry laughed. “Come on, Jake, you’re too young to go out with us.” She lowered him out of the Transpide to Caleco.
“But you’re not too young,” Jake said.
“Well, I am older than you,” Cherry said.
“Don’t worry,” Caleco said, placing his hand on Jake’s arm. “With all luck, they’ll take care of any villains out there and you won’t have to fight them when you’re older.”
“That’s no fun,” Jake said.
Numer stood up. “Fun? It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be mind-numbing terror and danger! When we come back, get me a campfire, and I’ll make you glad to not go out on these trips.”
Jake smiled. “Scary stories? Cool! You’ve got a deal.”
Numer sat back on the bench seat and rubbed his face. They’d better come back, he thought.