Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
By early evening Numer, Zeth, and Cherry had arrived at their destination. The sun was nearly halfway down the horizon. Before them loomed a large expanse of trees that made up a third of East Hackney: Reptibia Rainforest.
“We could get lost in there,” Zeth said.
“Near the center of the forest there’s an incredibly tall tree,” Cherry said. “That should make a good landmark to tell us where we are.”
“As long as there are no ghosts or explosive machines,” Numer said.
They entered the forest, and the visibility immediately cut in half. Trees blocked a large part of the view ahead; the leaves blocked their sight of the sky, darkening their view as if there were no sun out.
For half an hour of driving they saw nothing but trees. They saw very few wild animals, just chickens and small snakes in hiding. Were they wary of the Transpide, perhaps?
They arrived at a clearing, though one no less dark than the rest of the forest. In the center of this clearing was a single tree. A massive tree. To it, the other trees were twigs.
This was the oldest tree in Reptibia Rainforest.
Numer and Cherry got out of the Transpide. Numer was amazed at the sheer size of the tree, its height taller than anything even at Interpolis. It was not only tall but wide, too. It could take a minute just to walk around it.
“This tree is truly a marvel at what plant life can do,” Zeth said.
“It’s been growing since before written records of it were kept,” Cherry said. “Some people believe that the spirit of an ancient deity resides inside it…”
“Well that’s just silly, don’t you think?”
“Over the past few days, everything that I thought was impossible—” Numer stopped. Neither Zeth nor Cherry had spoken that. “Wait, who said that?” They looked around for if someone else was there.
“Why, I did. Up here.” They looked up. Hanging from a branch of a regular tree was a long, striped green snake. The snake lowered himself so he was eye-level, although upside-down. He looked to be at least five times as long as a slube.
The snake slowly swung back and forth, watching them with his green, triangular eyes. “Hello there, I’m Sal.” He had a wide, flat head, a bit like a perpendicular cobra. The top and bottom of his head curved out to four points vertically in line with his eyes.
“Um… hi?” Numer said. He was wary that this might be another enemy to fight.
“A talking snake? What is this, a cartoon?” Cherry asked.
“I have never seen a snake documented like you before,” Zeth said.
“That is because I’m special,” Sal said. He lost his grip on the branch and fell to the ground head-first. “Ouch.” The snake lifted his head up and held it high in an attempt to be dramatic. “I am Sal, Sneaky, Slithery Serpent of The Sonqueror!”
“Sonqueror?” Numer asked. Another adversary to deal with?
“I-I mean, Conqueror, Conqueror. That’s what I meant.”
“You work for The Conqueror?” Cherry asked.
“Correct! Do ya know him? ‘Cause, you know, I haven’t actually seen him before, but…”
Ah! He didn’t know who they were! “Have you found any crystals?” Zeth asked.
“Yeah, I ha- Wait a minute…” Sal muttered, looking at them closely.
“What?” Cherry asked, smiling and trying to sound innocent.
“You guys are the crystal collectors, aren’t you?”
“W-what do you mean by, by that?” Numer asked. He knew!
“You guys take the crystals to bring back to The Conqueror!” Or not.
“Exactly!” Cherry exclaimed, breathing a small sigh. “So, if we could just have what you’ve found…”
“Sure thing!” Sal said. He lifted the end of his tail into the air and slammed Cherry into a tree with it.
“Cherry!” Numer shouted, looking back at her.
“Ha! You think I’m going to fall for that crap?” Sal yelled. “I’m not as dumb as you look!”
Numer blasted Sal with an energy shot. He grunted and crashed onto the ground. “That’s for hurting Cherry!” Numer shouted.
Sal lifted his head up. “Why you… You want to tussle? Fine! Prepare to be defeated at the hands of…” Sal looked at his sides in confusion. “Well, you know what I mean.” Sal shouted and lunged at Numer. Numer ducked and rolled away. Sal nearly crashed into the Transpide, but Zeth drove back to avoid him.
“Whoa! Give a guy a warning first!” Zeth yelled.
“No way, drivey guy!” Sal shouted. He bit down onto the Transpide’s shielding with his four pointed teeth.
“Oh my!” Zeth shouted, getting a close view of the inside of Sal’s mouth. It was almost large enough to swallow the Transpide. “What a big… mouth… cavity… you have.”
“C’mere, you!” Cherry shouted, grabbing Sal’s tail. She pulled him away from the Transpide. “Let’s see how you like it!” Sal screamed as Cherry swung him around into the massive tree.
Sal groaned. “I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with…” he said, turning to them.
“After facing ghosts and a war robot, I don’t want to know,” Numer muttered.
Sal opened his mouth wide and hurled out a purple liquid out onto the ground. The liquid sizzled and ate away at the ground, forming a hole.
“Holy carp,” Zeth said, “that’s some potent stomach acid.”
“Now just imagine that melting your bodies!” Sal shouted with a smile. He spewed out acid, and the slubes scattered about. After several spatterings of acid, the old tree was splattered by some. Its massive trunk began to dissolve away.
“Hey! You destroyed part of that old tree!” Numer yelled.
“Oh yeah. So I did.” Sal spewed more acid onto the tree. It further dissolved away. “Oops, did I do that?” Sal laughed until he was shocked by an electric spark. “Yow! What, not fond of my subtle humor?”
“It’s about as subtle as your acid is!” Cherry shouted.
“Getting back to that…” Sal slithered at Cherry, preparing to expel more acid.
“No!” Numer yelled. He leapt onto Sal’s back and tried to climb up to his head.
“Hey, get off!” Sal shouted. He undulated like a bucking bronco, except he’s a snake, so more like a bucking boa.
Numer was thrown off Sal and fell onto his back. Sal turned to him, towering over him like a pole. “Get ready to melt bye-bye, you worm!” Sal opened his mouth to spit up again. Numer held up his mallet and shot it into Sal’s open mouth. The force knocked Sal backwards to the ground.
“Ow! Whoa! Bleah!” he hacked out. “Did… did you just…? You shot a freaking energy blast into my mouth! What is with that? I mean sure, I was trying to expectorate acid all over you, but…”
Sal was yanked backwards by Cherry pulling his tail. He slid backwards and crashed into a tree in a heap. “We’ve already defeated four of The Conqueror’s minions.”
“Well I guess I’m the fifth!” Sal shouted and lunged at Cherry. She flipped backwards and slammed her tail into Sal’s head from below. Sal paused to rub his jaw with his tail and then resumed hurling acid at Cherry. With slug acrobatics (which sure is a thing), she evaded it.
“You couldn’t hit the broad side of a tree!” Cherry said.
“I can too! Watch!” Sal vomited more acid onto the massive, old tree.
“We really need to stop him from doing that,” Numer said.
“Perhaps some fire on his belly will help,” Zeth said. He fired the Transpide’s flamethrower onto the mid-area of Sal’s body.
Sal flicked his tongue out. “Ooh, hey, something smells grea-” He screamed once he realized he was burning and leapt into the air.
“That was a big jump,” Numer said, looking up.
“Where’d he go?” Cherry asked. Sal seemed to have disappeared.
“HERE I COME!” Sal came swinging down through the air like a pendulum. He slammed into the Transpide face-first and brought it with him on the trip back up using his face.
“Didn’t that hurt?” Zeth asked. Sal’s face was smashed into the Transpide’s casing.
“… Yeeeeees,” Sal mumbled through the casing. At the apex of the swing the Transpide was tossed into the air. After all, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. And something about gravity, as the Transpide then began falling.
“Oh no! Stay upright, stay upright!” Zeth shouted as the Transpide plunged towards the forest floor. The Transpide flipped upside-down.
“Here I come again! I’m going to throw up!” Sal shouted as he swung back down. True to his word he hurled acid all over the ground and old tree. Both began dissolving away.
By now the tree was becoming unstable. Half its base was already destroyed. Numer realized it was likely to fall… He looked back at Sal. That snake was destroying such an amazing thing!
As Sal swung back down again, Numer slammed his mallet into his head. Sal crashed into a tree and fell to the ground in a heap.
The Transpide continued its fall. “This impact is not going to be pleasant!” Zeth shouted. Suddenly The Transpide flipped back over and slammed onto the ground wheels-first. Zeth slowly pulled himself up off the floor. “Well… that was lucky.”
Cherry dashed over to Sal to give him another hurl. Before she could grab Sal’s tail, he grabbed her instead. “Hey!”
“HAHA!” Sal shouted, lifting his head up. He wrapped Cherry up with his tail. She tried to pull herself out, but Sal pinned her arms down. “Look what I have! Hey! You! Blue-shirt!” Numer gasped and held his mallet up. “Make any sudden moves, and your little friend here will have more shattered bones than a sky diver.”
“Most sky divers would have no shattered bones if they do it right,” Cherry pointed out. “Furthermore, slubes don’t even have bones; we have a cylinder of cartilage.”
Zeth drove the Transpide back. “So, how’s the battle- Oh no!”
“You don’t move either!” Sal ordered. To himself he mused, “I’ve always wondered what slube tastes like.”
“Um, uh, you don’t want to eat me,” Cherry said; “I taste like banana!”
Sal made gagging noises. “Oh? Banana? Bleah. Uck. Gah. Hurk. Bleah. Bluh. Ew. Oh. No. Ew. Blurk. No way. Banana? Ugh. Now I’ve lost my appetite. … No matter, I can still squeeze the living brains outta ya!”
Numer and Zeth tried to think of a plan. Numer looked at the old tree. “Of course,” Sal said, “I might spare her if I were given the crystal…”
Numer turned to Zeth.
“Hey, that could be considered a sudden move, ya know,” Sal said.
Numer sighed. “Okay. We’ll give you what we have of the crystal.”
“No!” Cherry protested.
“I have to,” Numer said. “I can’t let him kill you. I can’t…”
“Don’t listen to what my dad said about dire consequences!” Cherry shouted. “There’ll be more dire consequences if you give him the crystal!”
Sal tightened around Cherry to stop her from talking. Numer winced. “I don’t think I can believe that…” He looked at Zeth.
“You’d better have a plan…” Zeth whispered. He handed Numer the crystal from Flaeneath. Numer tossed it over to Sal. “I don’t like that plan!”
Sal dropped Cherry to the ground and picked up the crystal. “Haha! Oh, yes! I’m pretty talented, if I do say so myself.”
“Cherry!” Numer yelled. He ran over to make sure she was all right.
“You shouldn’t… have done that…” Cherry gasped out.
“I have a plan,” Numer whispered. He turned to Zeth, pointed to the old tree, and expanded his arms outward.
Zeth stared at Numer, his head cocked to the side.
Numer held up his arm and dropped it forward so it would look to Zeth that it was falling on Sal.
Zeth smiled and nodded. He waved Numer to stand clear.
Numer gave Cherry support as they got away from Sal. The big-headed snake was currently rubbing the crystal onto his face.
“Boy, it’s cold,” Sal noted.
With the area clear save Sal, Zeth mashed a button on the Transpide. An energy wave shot out towards the old tree.
“I wonder if this tastes like banana…” Sal wondered.
The wave reached the tree. It entered the dissolved portion near the bottom. Then, the explosion—the already-weakened tree wobbled. Sal noticed a shadow over him.
“Well of course there’s a shadow over me, voice in my head! We’re in a forest, after… all?” A slow, deafening tearing sound cut through the forest. Sal turned around and saw the tree, its size making him look like a piece of string, falling towards him. “… Mommy.”
Then all he saw was bark.
The tree flattened Sal, toppled many other trees, and shattered the crystal into pieces. Birds flew for the sky; grounded animals fled in all directions. It was as if the rainforest itself had exploded. Minutes later, silence flooded back.
“Thank you, Numer,” Cherry said. She still hurt from the squeeze she had been in but gave Numer a hug.
Numer practically turned orange. He thought he was going to faint. But, this time, he kept his cool and didn’t start babbling like an idiot.
Zeth started picking up pieces of the shattered pieces of the shattered crystal. Or something.
“This plan of mine… came at a price, though…” Numer said. The trunk of the fallen tree was wide enough to build a house on.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Cherry said. “But this tree will eventually become part of the soil. Every ending marks a beginning; it will help more growths. And perhaps someday a new tree will grow and become just as tall as that one.”
“Yeah… but we’d never see it,” Numer said, scratching his head.
“Hey, you two lo- er… you two!” Zeth called. “Part of the crystal is still missing!”
“Of course, my plan didn’t come without other hitches…” Numer muttered.
“Looking for this?” The three of them turned; a green frog head with long appendages—that is, a floggle—in scarlet red tunic and pants was standing on a branch. A pointed hat with a leaf in it sat atop his head. In his hand was a shard of the crystal.
“Why, yes, we are!” Zeth said.
“Why, that’s already twice I’ve assisted you, and you’ve only just met me,” the floggle said.
“Twice?” Numer asked.
The floggle jumped down to the ground. “If it wasn’t for my quick slingshot skills, that rock I fired would not have saved you from crashing upside-down in that machine of yours.”
“Ah, so that’s why the Transpide flipped back up!” Zeth realized.
“Indeed. The name’s Robble Hoard.”
“I know that name!” Cherry suddenly shouted. “Robble Hoard, a well-known outlaw and thief.”
The floggle made no motion. “I see my reputation precedes me.”
“A phrase often attributed with him is ‘He steals from the all and gives to the himself’,” Cherry added, glaring at him.
“Not the best grammar… but he did help us out on two accounts, though,” Zeth said.
“Indeed, and so I have for you a proposition,” Robble Hoard said. He produced another shard from his pocket. “I wager that none of you can hit a target better than I. If you succeed, you will receive both shards. Otherwise, I keep both. Deal?”
“Why should we deal with an outlaw?” Cherry asked.
“I suppose I could just take both these and be on my way,” Robble Hoard said.
“No, wait, I can try!” Numer said. “I mean… I have been aiming a lot lately with the Mallet Blaster.”
“Excellent!” Robble Hoard exclaimed, taking the bow on his belt. He pointed to a target painted on a distant tree. “We will shoot from here. I’m up first.”
“You already have a target set up?” Cherry asked. She crossed her arms.
Robble Hoard placed an arrow on his bow and took aim. With a twang, the arrow shot. It looked like it hit the target close to the center. “There we are. You’re up.”
Robble Hoard handed Numer his bow. “Let’s see…” Numer mumbled; his aim was a bit wobbly. He shot the target; it looked slightly off-center. “I guess that wasn’t too bad.”
“But alas, not good enough,” Robble Hoard said. “Looks like I’m keeping these.”
“But we need those shards,” Zeth said. “You see, ther-”
“Very well, I will wage another bet,” Robble Hoard interrupted. “If you win, you receive both of these. Should you lose, I get two more.”
Numer mumbled uncertainly. Robble Hoard shot; it looked slightly off-center. When Numer went for it, the shot looked fairly close to the center.
“Ah, too bad. Close, but no banana, slug!” Robble Hoard said. He swiped two of the shards Zeth was holding before they could respond. “Care for another go?”
“But we d-”
“Convenient invention to the rescue!” Zeth interrupted Numer. “I’ve got this computerized automatic alignment bow in the Transpide that I’ve always had in there for some undisclosed reason. Let’s see you win when I use that!”
“Very well, I’ll give you another shot,” Robble Hoard agreed with a laugh. Again, he took a shot that looked near the center.
Zeth held up a crossbow made of metal. Red, green, and blue lights blinked on it (because all inventions need blinking lights), and two wires went from the edges to a helmet and visor that Zeth wore. Through these he saw the target from the center of the crossbow. “Your target is a bit lopsided,” he remarked. After compensating for this, a message appeared on the helmet’s screen. He was lined up.
The arrow FLEW PAST THE TREE Actually, no, the arrow hit. In fact, it looked like it had hit dead center.
“Ah, just barely, but once again I am the victor,” Robble Hoard said.
“But… it looks li-”
“Are you questioning my keen eye?” Robble Hoard asked Numer.
“Well, no, but…”
Cherry tapped Robble Hoard on the shoulder. “I think you’re cheating.”
“My lady, I assure you I have never cheated once in my life,” Robble Hoard said.
“Yeah, that’s great,” Cherry muttered, rolling her eyes. She punched Robble Hoard in the face. He dropped to the ground out cold. “Thanks for playing.”
“Brilliant deduction!” Zeth exclaimed. “I suspect that, as a thief, he was attempting to pull a fast one on us.”
“So is that all we have to do here?” Numer asked.
“Well-” Before Zeth could answer the four shards Robble Hoard had dropped were grabbed by a long, green tail.
“Haha! Didn’t expect to see me again so soon, did you?” Sal asked. He was next to the broken bottom of the giant fallen tree, holding the shards in his tail.
Numer looked at Sal and the giant tree still on the ground. “How did you get out from under that tree?”
“Turns out part of it was hollow,” Sal answered. “I just went right through the bark. And now, the escaping!” Sal placed the shards in his mouth and slithered away.
“This is an unexpected development,” Zeth said. “We must chase after him!” They climbed into the Transpide and drove off after Sal.
Up ahead, Sal curved through the trees like a fast-moving stream. The Transpide swerved left and right like a big machine driving through a forest. “Come back here, you handbag!” Cherry shouted.
“That’s harsh!” Sal shouted back and slithered up a tree.
“I really should develop flight capabilities for the Transpide,” Zeth mused, parking at the base of the tree.
“You should do a lot of things. Don’t worry, though; we can go after him,” Cherry said.
“W-we?” Numer asked. His last experience trying to climb a tree for a shard didn’t go so well…
“Come on!” Cherry said and grabbed onto a branch. She whipped her tail above her for leverage and pulled herself up onto branches.
Numer mumbled and began to climb after her, trying to use Cherry’s technique. He was much slower at it, missing several times before getting up on a branch.
“Ha! They’ll never get up here. I mean, they’re slugs!” Sal said, reclining on a tree branch.
“We’re slubes,” Cherry said. She stood on another branch level with Sal.
“What? How did you—whatever! Maybe I will be in the mood for banana!” Sal whipped his tail at Cherry. She leapt through the air and landed on Sal’s long body. Down she slid, using her tail like a surfboard.
“You think you’re so fancy at fighting,” Sal whined. The end of his tail lashed out at Cherry. She jumped off and gave an uppercut to Sal’s head.
“Fancier than you are!” Cherry said. She landed on another branch. It curved down; with a great jump she bounced into the air.
“I don’t need to be fancy!” Sal shouted. His tail whipped at Cherry again. She grabbed it and swung off from it. A branch bounce later she flew by Sal and landed another punch on him.
“Stop getting all these cheap hits in!” Sal growled. Cherry bounced by again, but Sal dodged her.
“Let’s see how you like a banana spin punch sandwich!” Cherry yelled. After bouncing into the air she went into a spin. Fists forward, she slammed into Sal like a yellow rocket.
“Ow! I hope I don’t swallow these shards…” Sal mumbled. As Cherry bounced off branches like a pinball, Sal grabbed a branch with his tail. As Cherry came towards him, he pulled his tail taut, and she crashed into it, blocking her inertia.
With Cherry stopped, Sal looped his tail around her. “Looks like I’m going to put the sque-” Before Sal tightened, Cherry pulled herself out and landed on a branch. “You aren’t supposed to do that!” Sal grabbed for Cherry with his tail. With each grab he either missed, or Cherry smacked his tail back.
A great force conked Sal in the back of his head, and he spat the shards out. Behind him on a branch was Numer, holding out his mallet. “I never thought anyone could be worse than that Czar Spiest, but you’re getting there.”
Sal shouted, “I’LL GET MORE THAN THERE, YOU LITTLE…” Cherry bounced by and grabbed Numer. Together they dropped down right into the Transpide.
“I give that landing a 9.4!” Zeth said.
“At least it wasn’t off a roof this time,” Numer said.
“I’M NOT DONE YET!” Sal shouted, again swinging down like a pendulum. The Transpide sped away, and Sal’s face slammed into a tree. He fell to the ground in a heap.
“I grabbed the shards when they fell,” Zeth said. “Based on the size and shape of them, I’d say we have-”
“One persistent snake after us!” Cherry interrupted, looking back. Sal slithered after them like a rocket. “Come on, let’s shake him!”
“I’m trying! What do you expect me to do?” Zeth asked.
“Maybe we could get him tied up in a knot?” Numer suggested.
“I don’t think that would actually work…” Zeth said.
“Well, I see light up ahead,” said Cherry. “We must be almost out of the forest.”
“But we’re heading west!” Zeth said. “If we completely went all the way through the forest, then that must mean…”
“Mean what?” Numer asked.
“READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!” Sal shouted, inches from the Transpide.
Zeth thrust the Transpide faster towards the light.
“What does it mean?” Numer asked again. They finally broke out of the forest, and the red light of the sunset shone on them. Immediately Zeth made a right, spun around, and stopped.
Sal followed them out and turned his head towards them. “What?” Why did they stop? Then he noticed the world was strangely tilting towards the right…
Sal had fallen off a cliff on the edge of Hackney. A wrinkly, blue blanket flew up at him. “Oh, carp.” His head splashed into cold ocean water. The rest of him followed suit.
The slubes watched Sal’s fall. “That should hopefully take care of him this time,” Zeth said.
“Is that all we have to do here?” Numer asked.
“That’s it,” Zeth said. “Let’s head home.”
The crystal was almost completely rebuilt now. A hole no bigger than a slube’s hand remained. Tomorrow, the search would certainly be over.
Unfortunately, the scanner told Zeth it would not be easy. Indeed, he had been avoiding this area all along…
High above, the challenge seemed trivial.
“So… the crystal is all but in the hands of our foes…” The Conqueror muttered. He watched the planet below through a wall-sized window. His front tentacles clasped one another behind him.
“There is one area left, sir, but the readings are weaker. It is likely that there isn’t much there,” Executive Spleech said, reading a clipboard. “However, it is-”
“We have more pressing matters,” The Conqueror interrupted. “We must take the crystal back from those defiant fools. How nice of them to have gathered it all up in one place, though. It should be easy to take it from them.”
“But, sir… the tractor beam is still not fixed, and we have failed befo-”
“FAILED?” The Conqueror shouted, whirling around inches from the spleech. His brain swelled with rage.
“The creatures! The agents you have created and brought to our side have failed, I mean!” Executive Spleech restated, shaking.
“They were guideless,” The Conqueror said. “Now I have a plan. They will either surrender the crystal or die burning in fire.”
“And the rest of it?”
“Yes, that.” The Conqueror turned back to the planet. “Where is it located?”
“On the same island, in fact,” Executive Spleech said. “The area seems to be a rupture on the planet’s surface leading into its interior. Namely, a volcano.”
“A volcano…” The Conqueror repeated and began to chuckle. “Then if they don’t die burning in fire… they will still die burning. Send an Animator.”
“An… an Animator?”
“Yes! This will be the crowning achievement of the Animator!” shouted The Conqueror, turning back to the shaking spleech. He snatched him up to eye-level, The Conqueror’s eyes wide. “And with it, I will achieve my victory or blow that island to smithereens!”