Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
A Spiest’s Snatching
Witnesses report seeing a large number of spiest going through the city yesterday, apparently on the hunt for something. Reports are that they were more malicious than previous encounters to the point of attacking people.
Reports also came last night that a slube child from Nottle named Jake had been kidnapped. The perpetrator in question was said to be a spiest. Immediately after this event was confirmed, three residents of Nottle set out to take the matter into their own hands, reportedly the same slubes that had repaired the generator three days earlier.
Reports are sparse, but witnesses say later in the night the three slubes returned to Nottle with Jake. Residents are advised to avoid making contact with any spiest and to report sightings to the authorities.
After the recent mysterious events with the collapse of the eastern warehouse and reports of an attack on Shellport up north, there has been some worry of more strange attacks and disturbances to take place. Mescho Chuck has been reported to say, “Naw, don’t worry about it. Anything bad comes up, I know a few slubes who can deal with it.” The chief of police declined our request for a comment.
Numer was on the hook. Namely, a very large hook hanging from a long string. He looked below him and saw a stampede of carp-faced herfs loudly splashing through the water. (Do all his dreams have herfs in them or what?)
Numer tried to recall why he was on the hook. Suddenly he heard a call: “Go fish!” He looked up and nearly fell off the hook in fright; several mountainous spiest were floating above him. One of them, with a yellow eye, held a fishing rod that ended in the hook Numer was on.
“No way! I know you have a queen!” the spiest shouted.
“No I don’t; I’m not cheating!”
“Oh, fine, I’ll go fish. But only because it’s so much fun!” At this the spiest whipped its rod’s line through the air. Numer screamed and clung to the hook; it went flying into the splashing stampede of herfs.
As dreams are wont to do, it all became fuzzy for a bit. The next thing Numer knew he was riding a carpy herf out of the water. Together they soared into the air, a rainbow forming among the spray. Numer swung the Mallet Blaster. Energy shots flew out. The spiest were struck. They reached for Numer. The herf flew out of their grasp. A pie flew around like a flying saucer. Numer effortlessly shot the spiest. Their eyes were hit. Lasers flew! Ghosts cried out! Boom! Pow! Pew! Koosh! Froom! Tnew!
Numer opened his eyes. The world was dark and fuzzy, like taken through an old camera. Slowly Numer’s eyes refocused to the light coming through his window. Cherry was watching him from the edge of his bed. “Numer! You’re awake!” she exclaimed.
“What? What happened?” Numer asked, realizing he was in his bed.
“You passed out last night while we were coming back,” Cherry explained. “I was worried about you.”
“You… were worried about me?” Numer asked, sitting up.
“There was nothing to be worried about.” Numer saw Zeth standing in the doorway of his bedroom, smiling. “I’m sure he was just tired. After all, none of us got a lot of sleep last night.”
“Numer…” Cherry began, looking down, “I was thinking about it and I probably shouldn’t have pressured you to come last night.”
“What do you mean?” Numer asked.
“I’ve taken karate classes,” Cherry said, “and Zeth mostly just drives the Transpide…”
“Hey!” Zeth exclaimed but jollily added, “she’s right.”
“But you’ve never trained, have you?” Cherry asked Numer. “You don’t really have any special skills, you’re probably not as ready for these challenges, and we’ve mostly been pushing you to do this… How did you get roped up in this, again?”
“I believe that’s partly my fault,” Zeth interjected. “When the crystal first disappeared, he was the only one outside. As such, I invited him to my lab to explain what was going on.”
Numer figured this was it, the truth was out. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t brave. He was just Nobody Numer. “To be honest… I had no idea the town was empty, or that anything had happened. I had just slept in and was completely confused. It wasn’t bravery that got me here. It was happenstance.”
“But you still came with us,” Cherry reminded him. “You could have stayed behind but you went anyway.”
“Oh, um, well… yeah, I did…” Numer agreed. He wasn’t sure if that showed bravery or just foolishness.
“I was afraid you were hurt pretty badly back there,” Cherry said. “So I’ve been thinking. If you want to stay behind, you don’t have to keep coming…”
“Like I said, I shouldn’t have forced you to come last night,” Cherry told him. “It’s like how I pushed Zeth to come inside with us last night. However, that ended up to our advantage, so-”
“I’m coming anyway,” Numer interrupted.
“Yes,” Numer said. “I’m not going to let you two go out there alone.”
“Well, I was right, then,” Zeth said.
“You are brave. Three times now we’ve been attacked over the crystal, and that surely won’t be the end of it,” said Zeth. “But if you’re still coming—that’s bravery.” He left the room but then poked his head back in and added with a half-smile, “Of course, there could be a different reason you’re coming.”
“Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re still coming,” Cherry said.
“You are?” Numer asked.
“Now, come on,” Cherry said, “we need to get going; it’s already noon!” With that, she dashed out of the room.
Numer lay back down on his bed. He wondered if he should reconsider.
Eventually, though, Numer got himself up. Soon he was outside and getting in the Transpide. A brand new, non-cracked casing was fitted to it. “So where are we going?” he asked.
“The scanner points to an island northeast of here. I suggest we head out there and then turn back to Hackney,” Zeth said.
“Do you know what island we’re going to?” Cherry asked.
“Well… no. I’m just assuming it’s an island. The shards could be in the ocean,” Zeth said.
“I’m not sure which would be worse,” Numer muttered. He felt it was certain they would be attacked again…
Caleco walked up to the Transpide. “Cherry…”
“Dad, I’m sorry,” Cherry said. “I had to-”
“No, I’m sorry,” Caleco said. “From the start I’ve been nothing but a hindrance to you.”
“Don’t worry, mescho, you haven’t hindered us at all!” Zeth said.
“I mean it,” Caleco said. “I’ve done nothing but try to obstruct you.”
“But, dad, you do it because you care about me, I know,” Cherry said.
Caleco shook his head. “Too much, I think. Too much, then,” he said, his voice softer than they had ever heard it. “Seeing Millie and Jake reunite almost increased my determination to stop you but then seeing how Jake was hardly bothered by it all—he was rather excited by it, after the fact. I realized I was treating you like me and not how I should be treating you—how I would treat the slube you took after…”
Caleco nodded. “I don’t need to protect you. I probably never did need to. Go on. Do what you have to do, and I’ll be proud of you just as I knew your mother…” He stopped, choked up. Cherry leaned out and hugged him.
“Dad… I’ll make you proud. And I’ll come home, safe and sound. I know you’ll worry, but that’s just what you do. So I’ll try and hurry up so you can stop worrying.”
Caleco waved to them as they left Nottle and for the first time made no attempt to stop them.
Several hours passed. They tried to keep themselves entertained but playing “I Spy” out at sea gets old quick. Numer was almost ready to scream from boredom, but an island stopped him. An island! Up ahead!
“That must be it!” Zeth exclaimed. A tall mountain rose from the center of the island, splitting it in half. No signs of life were visible. No animals, no plants, no anything.
“It looks like a deserted island,” Numer said.
“It looks devoid of anything, really,” Cherry said.
“Perhaps that could make it easier,” Zeth said. “Less obstructions.”
Once they arrived on the island they saw up close that their assumption was correct. There was no life on the island—not even plants. The soil was gray and barren. The island was a wasteland. But it was not completely empty.
The island was covered in junk. Scrap metal. Debris littered the island all over. From the shore inward. Small pieces, big chunks. Handles, seats, nuts, bolts, gears, steel plates, broken rifles, smashed engines, bullets, wheels, and junk that was so worn and rusty it was no longer identifiable.
It smelled of rust, rot, and refuse—destruction.
“This is like… an island junkyard,” Cherry muttered. The three of them got out of the Transpide and looked around. “How could something happen like this?”
Zeth scooped up some of the soil. It quickly fell apart. “Hmm… This soil… All this scrap has prevented anything from growing here. The soil is just… ruined. Completely degraded.”
“I wonder how long this place has been like this,” Numer said.
“But look on the bright side, hm?” Zeth said. “It should make our search fairly easy!”
“Quiet,” Cherry said. She whispered, “Did you hear that?” Off in the distance came a booming noise.
They looked up and saw cannonballs flying through the air towards them. They screamed and scattered. Soil was showered through the air, and a cloud of dust surrounded the three slubes.
Once the dust settled—and Numer finished coughing—he yelled, “There must be someone here and they don’t like our presence!”
“How could anyone live here, though?” Zeth wondered. “This place must be abandoned!”
“I don’t know but I think I can see cannons!” Cherry said. On a hill in front of the mountain, several cannons were set up. The cannons fired into the sky.
“Let’s get closer,” Zeth said.
“Closer?” Numer yelled.
“Someone’s controlling those cannons, and I wanna know who!” Cherry said.
They jumped back into the Transpide and drove towards the cannons. Cannonballs blasted down around them. Zeth swerved to avoid both them and the metal junk strewn about the island.
Numer squinted to try and see the cannons better. “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say no one’s working those cannons!”
“Perhaps they’re automated,” Zeth said. The ground erupted in front of them. Before they knew what happened, the Transpide was flipped onto its back. “Well, that’s not good.” A drill machine about the size of the Transpide drilled out of the ground. It was rusted and patched with various pieces of metal like a metal quilt.
“Now what do we do?” Numer asked.
“You two get the Transpide upright; I’ll try to take control of that drill,” Cherry told them. She jumped out and shouted at the drill to get the driver’s attention.
“Cherry!” Numer exclaimed. The drill turned towards her.
“She’s capable. Come on; let’s get the Transpide on its wheels!” Zeth said. They climbed out and began trying to push it upright.
When the drill came close enough, Cherry flipped to the side. She then jumped to the door and bashed it open. “All right… um…” There was no one driving the drill!
“Okay… got it!” Zeth said as they pushed the Transpide back upright. “Now let’s-”
“LOOK OUT!” Numer shouted, pushing Zeth down. A cannonball whizzed over them. It smashed into the side of the drill and left a dent.
“Hey guys!” Cherry yelled, holding onto the drill’s doorway and waving at them. “There’s no one driving this THING!” She was thrown out as the drill rapidly spun in place. Zeth opened the Transpide, and Cherry landed inside.
“Then let’s deal with it vehicle to vehicle,” Zeth said. He and Numer climbed back into the Transpide. The drill charged at them, and Zeth fired an energy wave below it. The explosion toppled the drill onto its back.
“Let’s see how you like it, huh?” The victory was cut short as the Transpide was bashed in the side by a cannonball, nearly toppling it over again.
“We’ve still got cannonballs coming!” Numer yelled.
“Numer! Do you think you could knock those cannonballs away with the Mallet Blaster?” Zeth asked.
“Um, maybe,” Numer answered.
“While the Transpide is moving?”
“What? Uh, that I’m even less sure of,” Numer worried.
“There’re too many cannonballs coming at once! We need to deflect some of them!” Zeth said.
“Um… okay, I’ll try,” Numer said. Zeth resumed driving towards the cannons and opened the Transpide’s shield.
Numer stood up on the seat. He held the mallet close. The stale wind blew into his face… “I… I can do this…” he mumbled to himself. “I can… I… can’t…” A cannonball flew straight for him. He screamed and swung the mallet.
The next thing Numer knew, he was on the ground behind the Transpide.
“NUMER!” Cherry shouted. “Go back! Back! Numer fell out!”
Zeth spun the Transpide around to face Numer. “The cannonballs are still coming! Get up, Numer!”
“What?” Numer realized what Zeth meant: the cannonballs were coming at him! Numer scrambled up and wildly swung the mallet. He clenched his eyes closed; the only things that told him he was hitting the cannonballs were the sounds of the mallet hitting them and the fact that his head wasn’t smashed inward.
The Transpide rushed by Numer and he gripped its edge. It then turned back and resumed its path to the cannons.
“Numer, are you okay?” Cherry asked. He was just hanging on.
“I think so,” Numer said. “But I’m not hitting anymore cannonballs while in-” The Transpide sprung up into the air as cannonballs crashed below it. Numer screamed as the planet dropped. At the apex of the jump Numer drifted over the Transpide. A cannonball flew straight for him.
Almost automatically, without thinking, Numer swung an energy-charged swing.
The mallet smashed the cannonball back. It barreled into a cannon and shot out the other end. The cannon was split open in half.
Numer landed back in the Transpide as it made the trip down. With a great jolt it landed on a long metal platform and drove down it back onto land.
“Amazing! You completely destroyed one! Shoom! Right into the cannon’s mouth!” Zeth exclaimed.
“I what? I did? I what? What did I do?” Numer asked.
“That was quite a shot!” Cherry said.
“I did that?” Numer asked, seeing the destroyed cannon.
“Why, if you can keep that up-”
“NO!” Numer interrupted Zeth. “I mean… I…” He mumbled incoherently.
“He’s right,” Cherry said. “That was too much. We’re almost at the bottom of the hill; I don’t think the cannons can reach us there.”
Indeed, the steep incline at the foot of the hill blocked them from the cannon’s line of fire. “Can the Transpide even make it up this slope?” Numer asked, looking up. It was like a great wall of soil.
“I should think so,” Zeth answered. “Let’s-” The two remaining cannons drove down the hill on wheels and immediately blasted them again. The three slubes screamed as the Transpide fell backwards. “Whoever designed those must be an amazing engineer!”
“Come on; let’s get this upright before they attack again!” Numer shouted.
“I’ve got it!” Cherry said. She slammed her tail into the bottom of the Transpide, and it tilted back upright. Zeth drove away as the cannons chased them down, one right next to the other.
“I’ve got to time this just right…” Zeth muttered.
“Time it before they fire again!” Numer yelled. The cannons fired. Zeth swerved around and sprang the Transpide over the shots. As soon as they landed, driving backwards, he fired an energy wave. Both cannons were blown into the air and crashed into several pieces.
“Ha-ha!” Zeth exclaimed as the Transpide came to a stop. “No machine is better than the Transpide!”
As if to challenge that statement, explosions engulfed the area around the Transpide. “What was that?” Numer asked once the air cleared.
“That was ME!” Something slammed into the Transpide from the side; it began to topple over again.
“Lean!” Cherry shouted. They leaned to one side, barely keeping the Transpide upright.
“I really should install robotic appendages to prevent the Transpide from toppling,” Zeth said. They noticed a red sphere slightly bigger than the Transpide sitting on the ground nearby.
“What’s that?” Numer asked.
“Who said that?” Cherry asked, looking around.
The metal sphere began to shudder. It opened in two halves, one top and one bottom. Connecting it was a black cylinder. Two darker half-circles could be seen below the top half. “My name is Wrodin,” the sphere said.
The sphere tilted to the side when Zeth asked, “Is it just me, or does that look like an shap core?”
“I thought it looked like a mushroom on a mirror or something,” Numer mused.
“I think my dad has a lamp that looks just like that, actually,” Cherry said.
“NO!” Wrodin barked. The force of this shout pushed the slubes back. “I AM WRODIN, THE WAR MACHINE! It is my duty to rebuild the crystal, and once I do, I will become The Conqueror’s top general!”
Just like Sawn! The cannons, the drill—they must have been sentient machines! “Just who is The Conqueror?” Cherry demanded.
“You are uninformed about The Conqueror… Before long, you will be singing mandatory songs of his praise. The Conqueror is an intergalactic ruler. A conqueror of worlds, hence the name. He has taken over many planets… and yours is next.”
Numer, Zeth, and Cherry looked at each other. This wasn’t the work of something within Mintop; it was the work of something outside of it!
“And my first victory as The Conqueror’s top general…” Cannons emerged from its top half. “… WILL BE AGAINST YOU!” Wrodin blasted shells at them. Zeth yelped and drove backwards as the ground exploded before them. “You’re not getting away that easily!”
Wrodin kept up the barrage of shells. Zeth drove around it in circles. The blasts from the shells nicked the Transpide. “We can’t just let it constantly attack us!” Cherry shouted.
“We need some cover. Try that large rock over there!” Numer suggested. Zeth drove the Transpide behind it. Blasts continued on the other side. “First Sawn, now this?”
“If we can’t get in and attack that thing, we’ll get blown to bits eventually,” Zeth said.
“Then we need to get past its heavy weaponry,” Cherry said. The rock they were behind exploded into pieces.
“OKAY, MAYBE IT WASN’T THE BEST COVER!” Numer screamed.
“I’ve got it!” Zeth shouted. He drove directly towards Wrodin, swerving away from the onslaught of shells.
“Going for a suicide attack, are you?” Wrodin asked. Another hole opened up, and a rocket blasted out.
“It has missiles too?” Cherry shouted.
“I know just what to do!” Zeth exclaimed. He activated the springs and bounced over the rocket.
“That thing can jump?” Wrodin shouted. The Transpide came down, and its flamethrower torched Wrodin’s center. Wrodin quickly bounded back and away from the fire.
“Direct hit!” Zeth exclaimed.
Wrodin closed its outer shell, making it a red sphere again. It rapidly spun in place and rushed at the Transpide. Zeth drove backwards and shot electric sparks at Wrodin, to no effect. Wrodin slammed into the Transpide, and they spun out screaming.
“That thing must have a tough shell,” Cherry groaned. Wrodin rushed at them again, and Zeth sprung the Transpide up. Down onto Wrodin they slammed and shoved it into the loose soil. The Transpide then skidded off and landed back onto the ground.
As they drove away to make distance from Wrodin, it popped itself back open and out of the ground. “While it’s open!” Zeth shouted. The Transpide charged back at Wrodin.
“Repeated tactics lead to nothing but defeat!” Wrodin shouted. Its top half promptly sprung down to its bottom and discharged a shockwave. The Transpide was knocked back and spun out again.
“I’m starting to get sick. I want off this ride!” Numer complained.
Wrodin resumed the shell barrage. Zeth resumed fleeing from the barrage. After several shots, holes opened up all around Wrodin’s top half. It rapidly spun in place and smaller shots blasted out all around. The Transpide was hit no matter where it went.
“If we keep getting battered like this, the Transpide will break down!” Zeth mashed a button, and an energy shield formed around the Transpide.
“How long have you had that shield?” Cherry asked.
“I just recently installed it,” Zeth said. “What, you think I had it all along and just forgot about it? No, no, of course not…”
Wrodin prepped another rocket and fired at the Transpide. Zeth sprang over it. Immediately Wrodin fired a second rocket, and the Transpide was blasted. It dropped to the ground, but its shield held up.
“We need to find some way to divert its attention…” Zeth muttered.
“Then let’s do it!” Cherry said to Numer.
“D-do it?” Numer asked. He dreaded what she was about to suggest.
“We’re nimbler and smaller targets than the Transpide is!” Cherry said. “We only need to draw attention so Zeth can get a hit in, anyway.”
“I hope so…” Numer muttered. “We’re going out into a war zone.” As Zeth kept driving, the two of them leapt out and dashed the opposite way.
“A distraction tactic? You underestimate me.” A hole opened on the very top of Wrodin. With a boom, miniature versions of itself were fired into the air. They landed between Wrodin and the two slubes.
“Mini-Wrodin?” Numer asked.
The miniature Wrodin mumbled among themselves. “Call us wro, I guess,” one of them said. They swarmed the two slubes.
Zeth tried to get an opening to hit Wrodin but couldn’t get a strike in without getting blasted himself. The distraction tactic wasn’t working.
“These things are resilient!” Cherry shouted. The wro spun at them. She punched them and smacked them with her tail. After each hit they hopped up and resumed the attack.
“At least they aren’t blasting us,” Numer said. He smacked the wro away with his mallet.
“Wait; I’ve got it!” Cherry exclaimed. “Knock them into Wrodin!”
“What? Oh!” Numer smashed one of the wro into Wrodin. Wrodin ignored this at first but after several more wro it turned around.
“If I have to blow you up myself, I will!” Wrodin shouted at them. It prepared to fire but was shocked by an electric spark from behind.
“It worked!” Cherry exclaimed.
“You worthless things are just in my way!” Wrodin shouted. It retracted itself again and spun towards the wro (as well as Numer and Cherry). The slubes screamed and ran out of the way. All the wro were bowled over by Wrodin.
“Quick, get in!” Zeth called out. Numer and Cherry climbed back into the Transpide.
“I won’t quit until you’re all destroyed!” Wrodin shouted. A new hole, larger than the others, opened on its upper half. The hole began to glow from inside.
“I think I should start driving!” Zeth yelled. A massive blob of red blasted out of Wrodin. The energy blast cut through the ground just behind the Transpide. The ground exploded. Soil scattered. A crater bigger than the Transpide remained.
“Keep going! Keep going!” Numer shouted. Wrodin resumed the onslaught of shells. Before long, Wrodin had battered the Transpide to the point that the energy shield was exhausted and faded away.
“If we don’t do something soon, our ride will be shot!” Cherry yelled. The sides of Wrodin’s top opened up, and four missiles emerged.
“Rather literally,” Zeth added.
“Say farewell!” Wrodin shouted. The missiles blasted towards them.
“Okay then, let’s go!” Zeth said. He drove the Transpide straight for the missiles.
“Are you trying to blow us up?” Numer asked.
“Not quite!” At the last moment they sprang over the missiles and landed safely.
Or not. “They’re coming back!” Cherry shouted. The missiles had turned; they were still coming for them.
“They’re homing in, and won’t stop until you’re blown to bits!” Wrodin yelled.
“Or something is!” Zeth said as he drove at Wrodin.
“You never learn!” Wrodin discharged another shockwave. Zeth sprang the Transpide up over the shockwave and Wrodin. They landed behind it and spun around to face it.
“What did…?” Wrodin saw the missiles screaming towards itself. “Oh.” The missiles hit. The explosion engulfed Wrodin. When the smoke cleared, it was gone without a trace.
“We did it!” Numer shouted.
Zeth sighed in relief. “That was…” A loud bang. Smoke from the Transpide. “… bad.”
“Something tells me the Transpide took a bit too much damage,” Cherry said. “But more importantly, what Wrodin said about The Conqueror… An intergalactic ruler?”
“So we’re basically being invaded?” Numer asked.
“You seem awfully calm about it,” Zeth said.
“Well of COURSE I’m calm! It’s just alien invaders, nothing to get WORKED UP about!” Numer screamed.
“Come on, we’ve stopped everything he’s put in our way so far,” Cherry said.
“Yes, but… on our own planet,” Zeth said. “This… is a much graver situation. At the moment, we do not have a way to actually get access to The Conqueror. Individual skirmishes are one thing, but he surely has a larger force beyond Mintop.”
“Yeah, so we can just keep going with the thought that if we don’t succeed our planet will be enslaved by aliens,” Numer said. He then sighed. “Okay… just let me calm down…”
“We’ll stop him,” Cherry said. “Um, that is, if we can get the Transpide working again.”
“Luckily, we’re on the island that junk forgot,” Zeth said, opening up the shield.
“If the junk forgot it, why is it still here?” Cherry asked.
“Oh. I mean, the island that… junk… forgot… to remember… to clean up?”
They stared at each other for a moment. “Okay, well, I’m going to try and use this scrap to fix the Transpide. The scanner detects energy on the other side of the mountain, so while I fix up here, why don’t you two search for shards? It’s all we can do to oppose The Conqueror at the moment, I imagine.”
So Zeth got the easy job, Numer thought. “All right, so-”
“Once again we go adventuring while you’re stuck with the Transpide,” Cherry said.
“Yeah, sor- I mean, stuck? Yes, stuck here. It’s the price I pay for being an engineer,” Zeth said.
“Come on, Numer. Up we go.”
“But…” Numer looked at Zeth then Cherry. She was already leaving. “All right…” He didn’t want to go hiking but at least he was with Cherry.
It was impossible to reach the east side of the island without crossing the mountain. It reached to the shores, where the land was so steep sliding off into the sea was a constant danger. It rose into the sky, culminating in a point at the top.
The path the two slubes followed brought them higher and higher up the rigid, gray mountain. Less and less scrap metal blocked their path.
Instead, the mountain itself posed a challenge. Although a flat stretch of rock zigzagged up the mountain like a path, it was worse for wear. Boulders and gaping holes littered it, and ancient, now-compacted landslides hindered their progress. If they weren’t careful they would slide off and fall further than the drop at Spiest Manor, and this time onto solid rock.
It was quite a task for Numer, especially as he carried his mallet. But, although he had at first been frightened of it, it now felt like a friend. A cold, mechanical, unfeeling, unspeaking, unfeeling… Okay, it wasn’t like a friend. It was like a security blanket. He felt stronger with it. Yes; he felt he could actually do something with the Mallet Blaster with him.
Eventually they made it more than halfway up the mountain. They were so high they could almost touch the clouds. They looked out across the entire western side of the island.
It was a rotten view considering the island was covered in junk.
Numer noticed a nearby cave. “Hey, there’s a cave over here. You think it leads to the other side?”
“Let’s see,” Cherry said. The inside of the cave was puny, smaller than Zeth’s lab. Light shone in from an exit on the other side. “All right! Let’s see what the other side looks like.”
They headed for the exit. As they went, Numer slowed down and looked around the cave. The walls were cracked and curved into the ceiling at a single point, making the cave walls almond-shaped. “Something about this cave doesn’t seem right…”
“What do you mean?” Cherry asked, waiting by the exit. A frightening thud, and there was no more light. Numer nearly jumped out of his skin. WHAT WAS THAT? he asked himself, although in his shock his thoughts sounded more like WAHGAHGAHGAHGAH!
After a moment, light returned. At the top of the ceiling burned a floating flame, lighting the cave. Two massive stone slabs now blocked the exits.
“Do you hear that?” Numer asked. A clattering sound permeated the cave. Near the wall, piles of bones were shuddering. “What’s that?”
“Skeletons… but of what?” Cherry said. The bones, still shuddering, lifted up and reformed into three skeletons. They appeared to be stocky birds, only reaching to the bottom of a slube’s head. They gave the impression of a chicken, though their spines were straighter, their skulls and wing bones were longer, and their necks were shorter.
A flame lit up in each of their empty eye sockets.
“Wh…What are those?” Numer asked.
“I know I’ve seen them somewhere before…” Cherry said. The skeletal birds pulled out rusty, grimy rifles from behind them. “… but I don’t think now is the time to ponder it!”
One of the birds aimed its rifle and fired. The rifle exploded, knocking the bird’s bones to the ground.
There was a pause. “… Ha! Those things must be so old, they’re defective!” Numer said. The remaining two birds tossed down the rifles and ran at them.
“They still want a fight, though,” Cherry said. One of the birds swung its skeletal wing at Cherry. She ducked and gave it a punch, hitting it right to the bone. Well, I guess that would be obvious.
The other one thrust its beak at Numer. He yelped and jumped back. They repeated this several times. Finally the bird kicked Numer with its clawed foot to the hard stone floor. It tried to stomp him; though he’d lost his breath he knocked off the bird’s leg with his mallet.
The bird fighting Cherry swung at her with its wing. With each swing she hopped from side to side. The bird pecked at her; she grabbed its beak. Her grip caused the head to pop off. “That… that’s real nice,” Cherry groaned.
The other bird pecked at Numer, its rifle in place of its missing leg. Numer slid back, keeping out of its reach. “Let’s see how you take this!” Numer charged up his mallet and clobbered the bird. Its skeleton collapsed on impact and went flying.
Cherry jumped back. The last bird swiped its wings at her. “Hey! Ho! No! Maybe you’ll do worse if you can’t see where you’re going!” Cherry threw the bird’s skull into its ribs backwards. The bird wobbled around like a drunk. With this moment Cherry slammed her tail into the bird, and it collapsed like the other.
“THE ISLAND OF LOST SCRAP!” Zeth shouted. He had been reinforcing the Transpide’s outer wall with plates of scrap metal. “That’s what I should have called this island!”
“Are they gone?” Numer asked. The stone slabs retreated into the wall. The flame at the top of the cave went out.
“I think so,” Cherry said, examining one of the birds’ skulls.
“Great, then let’s get out of here before something el-”
“OF COURSE!” Cherry shouted. Numer jumped.
“What is it?”
“I knew I saw those things before! This could be it! The island slubes originally came from!” Cherry exclaimed, turning to Numer.
“I’ve read from several sources that slubes were not originally from Hackney. We actually came from an island named Flaeneath. It was there that two species lived in a shaky peace, the slube and the phial.”
“Phial?” Numer asked.
“I’ve only found a couple really old drawings of them, but they looked sort of like this. It’s said that there was a huge war, the end result being the phial was wiped out and the island was so battered the slubes left.”
“You’d think more people would know about this place considering it only took us, what, a couple hours to get here?”
“In the Transpide,” Cherry pointed out, “and it’s pretty out of the way from most places. I mean, who would come to a place like this? It’s just a bunch of dirt and junk.” She sighed. “One war and it’s completely devastated…”
“So if we slubes left the island after the war… and that crystal has been at Nottle as long as we have…” Numer considered. “What was that war about?”
“That’s all I know. There’s not much information on the war, but if you’re getting at what I think you are, yeah. That war may have involved the demon sealed by the crystal.”
“And if it escapes, this could be our whole world,” Numer said, motioning his arms to the island. “Alien invaders trying to conquer the planet cause a destructive creature from inside to be released, leading to a hugely devastating war. Sounds like the plot of a novel.”
“It’d never make it. Sounds flimsy and unbelievable.”
“So if the phial were wiped out, did we just… destroy the last remaining trace of them?” He didn’t want to be responsible for wiping out the remains of a species, even if they were just bones. And had attacked them first.
“I don’t know. Maybe some survived and also left the island.”
“I’d rather not dwell on it,” Numer said. He left the cave. Outside he saw the expanse of the island’s eastern side before him.
It was just as bleak and junk-filled as the other side. “Well, I can’t say I was expecting better,” Numer mumbled.
“Do you see anything?” Cherry asked.
“Ruin. Lots and lots of ruin.” Numer thought this place could bring just about anyone down.
“We’d better start searching,” Cherry said. “We have half an island to comb.”
The two slubes took another path down the mountain and began their search. For a while, they found nothing. And why should they? There’s nothing to point them in any direction at all! They’re just blindly looking, which is an oxymoron!
Anyway, a giant wall of fire appeared before them, and terror erupted from their mouths as screams. “How did that happen?” Numer shouted.
“I made that happen,” a suave voice spoke. A metal snake floated towards them through the fire. No, not a snake—it was connected to a backpack behind it. It was a flamethrower.
“Another machine brought to life?” Cherry moaned.
“That’s right. I shall set this planet ablaze, beginning with you,” it spoke through the nozzle.
“I think we should run,” Numer suggested.
“I agree,” Cherry said. They fled. Another wall of flame appeared to block their escape.
“Do you know anything about flamethrowers that might help us?” Numer asked, watching the fire.
“I may have studied a lot of history but I didn’t study much military history,” Cherry answered.
“Then we’re in trouble,” Numer said. He looked behind them. The flamethrower was just scraping along. The nozzle hit the ground and pulled the hose forward, dragging the cumbersome backpack behind it. “It doesn’t have much mobility, though.”
The flamethrower shot another stream of fire. Numer and Cherry dove to the side, nearly torched. “I need no mobility, for I can trap you in a wall of flame and… and…” The flamethrower coughed. “Oh, don’t tell me… could I be all out?”
“Hold on,” Numer said, “if all this scrap metal and stuff are from that old war, then…”
“Of course!” Cherry realized. “It must be extremely old. I’m surprised there was any fuel left in it.”
“I’m surprised anything in this place even worked. So how about it, you pitch, and I bat?” Numer asked, shaking his mallet.
“Are you sure? It could be volatile still,” Cherry warned him.
“Oh! Well, in that case-”
“But okay!” Cherry ran over to the flamethrower.
“Wait, no! Get away from me!” the flamethrower cried. It tried to blow fire, but nothing came out. Cherry grabbed the nozzle with both hands.
“Coming up!” Cherry said, swinging the flamethrower by the hose. She let go, and it went hurtling at Numer. He screamed and swung his mallet. The swing sent the flamethrower crashing into a large, collapsed metal cube in the distance.
“I’d like to get out of here before we have to deal with anything else,” Numer muttered, crouching on the ground.
“Then you’re in luck,” Cherry said. She held up another crystal. “This fell out of its backpack when you smacked it.”
“Then let’s go!” Numer exclaimed, jumping back up. “I don’t want a fighter jet to show up or something!”
The two of them made the trek back up and then down the mountain. On the other side, Zeth had the Transpide fixed up and ready.
“A flamethrower?” he asked.
“Yeah. If it hadn’t run out of fuel, we’d probably have been burnt to a crisp,” Numer said.
“Then you’ll be glad to know that we’re done here!” Zeth said.
“Then where’s our next destination?” Cherry asked.
“Reptibia Rainforest!” Zeth answered.
“Finally!” Numer sighed. He knew the forest as the southern tip of eastern Hackney. “Nothing supernatural, no machines of war; just a regular forest.”
“I don’t know about that,” Cherry said. “I’m sure at this point The Conqueror will be pulling out all the stops. He must be furious at our victories by now.”
At that moment The Conqueror was laughing.
The Conqueror was in the prison—just visiting, of course. Tiny jail cells lined the walls in columns of three. In four of these cells were four spleech, last seen near the beginning of this story. The cells were hardly big enough for them. “So, you really thought you could betray The Conqueror, did you?”
“Aye! And we’d do it again, if the chance arose!” one of the rebels shouted, holding its mechanical tentacle in the air.
“SILENCE!” The Conqueror shouted.
“No, you are!” another spleech retorted.
“You think you can make a fool of me? Ha! You’ve done nothing!” The Conqueror told them.
“I thought we threw a spanner in the works,” a spleech said.
“Aye, the lad’s right! That crystal shall never be yours!”
“But it shall. One by one I have brought the denizens of the planet below under my command!” To prove his point, The Conqueror turned and pointed to Executive Spleech. “Send another Gene Splicer down to the planet!”
“Oh, uh, right away, sir,” Executive Spleech said. It hurried out and headed for the weaponry room.
“Now then,” The Conqueror resumed, “I’ve been told you haven’t been very cooperative. And I can see that is entirely the case. Tell me who the other rebels are!”
“We’re not telling you anything!”
The Conqueror pulled a lever, and the cells surged with electricity. Searing pain flooded the spleech’s bodies; they screamed, save the one with a mechanical tentacle, who passed out. After several seconds, The Conqueror stopped the flow of electricity. “One of you will break. Sooner or later.”