Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
The next morning, Zeth and Cherry woke early. The day was bright and warm, only one cloud in the whole sky. Was it the final day of their adventure? Would they then have to plan a counter against The Conqueror?
At the moment their problem was Numer—where was he? They looked everywhere in Nottle; he was nowhere to be found.
Through his bedroom window, Zeth and Cherry saw him in bed. “Still asleep,” said Cherry. “Remind me why we didn’t look here first.”
Zeth pulled out an air horn and blasted the sound directly at Numer. The sleepy slube flailed about screaming and then looked around frantically. With a smile Zeth said, “Wake up, wake up, you don’t want to waste this beautiful day!”
“Did you… have to wake me that way?” Numer muttered, still lying down.
“I suppose not,” Zeth said, chucking the air horn behind him.
“Come on, hurry; we have a big day today,” Cherry said.
“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” Numer said.
About ten minutes later they were outside discussing the day’s plan. “So where are we going today?” Numer asked as he ate an shap muffin.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going to be easy,” Zeth said. “It-”
A loud, jolting sound interrupted Zeth as it spread across Nottle. A few seconds later a louder, longer blast sounded through the area. Panicked screams immediately erupted in the town.
“What now?” Cherry shouted. With another blast, the marketplace erupted in fire. Buildings collapsed. Slubes ran for their homes.
“Dad!” shouted Cherry. Mescho Caleco was rushing towards them. They hurried over to him as the town around them erupted in fire and smoke.
“Cherry! Are you all right?” Caleco asked, hugging her.
“I’m fine; what’s going on?” They could barely hear each other over the blasts.
“We’re under attack,” Zeth said, staring into the sky. “Look!” Up in the sky missiles screamed down, raining explosive destruction on Nottle.
It was only four days ago that they had been attacked from above. But this was different.
This was scattered all over Nottle.
This left destruction in its wake.
This left slubes on the ground who, no matter how much you prodded or dragged them, would not get up.
“We have to get to the underground shelter,” Caleco said. The underground shelter—a cavern carved beneath the town in its early years. It had originally been made due to fears of Mount Chiphus. Later it had been learned the volcano was extinct.
“But we can’t just let our town be leveled while we hide!” Cherry yelled.
“But what can we do?” Caleco asked.
“WE CAN LOOK OUT!” Numer screamed, fleeing from the spot. A missile sped down right above them. They ran for it, and the ground behind them blew apart.
“We must get to my lab; the Transpide is there,” Zeth said. That would be no small task. They’d have to go directly across town. And, in case you forgot, it was currently being bombed.
“It looks like most residents have made it to their homes,” Caleco said. Each home had a tunnel leading to the shelter. “Cherry, let’s go.”
“I’m going with Zeth,” Cherry said.
“You—but you could be caught in a blast!” Caleco worried. “We don’t even know what this is! This could be bigger than what you’ve gotten yourself into; it could-”
“There’s only one reason anyone would attack our town,” Cherry interrupted, “and I’m not backing down now. Not after all we’ve been through.”
“Speaking of a reason…” Numer said, pointing offshore to the west. A submarine bigger than the houses in Nottle surfaced, and the top hatch opened up. A round, red and black object shot out into the air and landed on the submarine.
“I thought we destroyed that thing…” Zeth said.
Wrodin shouted with the force of a loudspeaker: “ATTENTION RESIDENTS OF THIS TOWN: I AM WRODIN, THE WAR MACHINE! IF YOU DO NOT SURRENDER THE CRYSTAL TO ME, THEN I SHALL BE FORCED TO LEVEL YOUR TOWN AND TAKE IT BY FORCE!”
“I knew it,” Cherry said. “I knew this was about the crystal.” It was sitting unguarded at the center of town. Cherry made a dash for it.
“CHERRY!” Caleco shouted, holding his arm out. He watched as she rushed for the crystal through the war zone.
All around Cherry the ground exploded, smudging her with dirt and smoke. Just as she reached the crystal, a black aura surrounded it and began to grow; Cherry slid back.
“Cherry!” Numer shouted and ran after her.
“Numer! Wait!” Zeth said, but Numer wouldn’t wait. He was running to Cherry.
The aura began to grow taller and cracks formed on the crystal. A dark ring of energy blew out from it, and a shockwave knocked Cherry back into Numer. “Ack! Oh! Numer! The crystal! I think we’re too late! I think the demon is breaking free!”
“What? But we only had a little bit left to find!” Numer said. “Why now, of all times?” As he spoke, a missile sped down right to the crystal. The blast covered the crystal in smoke, and a screech became audible over the explosions. The slubes held their heads, but the screech died down; the black aura wavered like two tidal waves canceling each other out and finally receded without a trace—even the cracks had disappeared.
“Come on, Numer, let’s get this to the shelter!” Cherry said.
“But… but what just happened?” Numer asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, already pushing it back to Zeth and Caleco, “but there’s no time right now!”
“Uh, right!” Numer said and helped push it back; they were both covered in ash by the time they made it.
“Dad, get this to the shelter. We can’t let that Wrodin get it,” Cherry said.
Caleco looked at her and then nodded. “All right… all right.” He hugged her. “Just please, please be careful.”
“You can go through my house; we’re closest to it,” Numer said. Caleco pushed the crystal into Numer’s house. Thus the only ones left outside were Numer, Zeth, and Cherry.
The three of them huddled behind a still-intact market building. “All right, if we make a mad dash to my lab, we should be able to reach it… relatively unscathed,” Zeth said.
“I’m not sure if there’s a ‘relatively unscathed’. It’s either unscathed or blown to pieces,” Cherry said.
“… Right. We should be able to find cover at the west end of the market,” Zeth said. They hurried down the market path. Around them, shops continued to be hammered with missiles. Fires burned throughout the market.
“LOOK OUT!” Numer shouted. A nearby shop blew apart. Wooden shrapnel fell all around them.
“Are you two okay?” Cherry asked.
“I think so,” Zeth said. “We’re almost there.” They hunkered down at the edge of the marketplace. Zeth watched the missiles’ trajectories.
As they waited, something caught Numer’s eye, and he cried out. Curling up, he tucked his head down and lifted his tail over it.
“Numer, what is it?” Cherry asked.
“D… death… death!” Numer was right. In the collapsed rubble, in the blazing fires, lay dead bodies. Only a few were visible. But there lay dead bodies of slubes they knew.
Cherry was frozen for a moment. Then, she turned to Numer. She said his name. He didn’t budge. She pulled him out of his fetal position. Tears streamed out of his eyes. “Numer, look at me.” Her voice was audibly shaky. The only inhabited place to be attacked had been Shellport, but they hadn’t heard of any deaths.
But now… here… in Nottle…
Numer’s stomach was in knots. He could hardly look at Cherry but he saw she had tears too. “We have to be strong,” Cherry said. “We… we can’t lose our nerve now. If we do, this… everything will be like this if The Conqueror attacks.”
She was right. They had to keep going. Numer had so little nerve to begin with, he couldn’t spare any. He looked into Cherry’s eyes. They moved closer… closer… closer…
OH, JUST KISS HER ALREADY, WILL YA? Sheesh.
“I don’t mean to interrupt this upsetting moment, but… we should get moving,” Zeth said.
“R-right,” Numer said. “I’m okay. I just…” He clenched, inhaled, and shouted, “He’s going down! For the town!”
“That’s the spirit!” Cherry shouted. “Let’s make sure this never happens again!”
With the way to Zeth’s lab free from blasts, they sprinted out as fast as their tails could go.
Wrodin scanned the town. “Soon this town will look worse than my own island. And then—” Its gaze came to Numer, Zeth, and Cherry. “IT’S THEM! THE ONES THAT WERE ON THE ISLAND! FIRE! FIRE! DESTROY THEM!” The sub began to aim all of its missiles at Numer, Zeth, and Cherry.
“IT’S SPOTTED US!” Numer shouted.
“Faster!” Zeth yelled. “We’re almost there!”
“So are the missiles!” Cherry shouted.
“We’re not gonna make it!” Numer yelled.
“Jump!” Zeth screamed. They all took a great leap, and the ground erupted in fire.
“Did we hit them?” Wrodin said. “Resume attacking the whole of the town!” it called down into the sub.
In fact, they did not get hit. Just before the missiles exploded they had leapt into the short strip of sea between Nottle and Zeth’s lab. Safe from the blast and blocked from Wrodin’s view, they climbed up and entered the lab.
“So what happened out there?” Zeth asked as they went down the elevator. “I saw a big burst of something come out of the crystal.”
“I’m not sure,” Cherry said. “I don’t think we need ancient texts to tell us there’s a demon locked away, though.”
“You think so, then?” Zeth asked. The elevator reached the bottom.
“Maybe it was trying to shatter the crystal from inside its prison—it’s regained enough strength to break the lock, but that explosion disrupted its focus,” Cherry said.
“Well, whatever it was, we have more pressing concerns now,” Zeth said.
“What are we going to do?” Numer asked.
“We’re going to get in the Transpide and engage Wrodin’s sub in aqua combat,” Zeth answered.
“The Transpide versus that submarine?” Cherry asked. “The Transpide’s the size of a paddle boat compared to that sub!”
“Do you have a better idea?” Zeth asked. “Besides, it won’t be just the Transpide. If we can damage the sub enough, it should have trouble staying high above the water. You two can then climb on board and fight Wrodin.”
“We do what?” Numer asked.
“And while Numer distracts Wrodin, I can get inside and put the sub’s operators out of action!” Cherry said. “It looks like Wrodin left the hatch open to relay orders to them.”
“I have to go up against that destructive thing alone?” Numer yelled.
“Don’t worry,” Cherry said, taking his hand, “all you have to do is keep it busy. Easy, right?”
Easy… None of this was easy… but Cherry gave him strength.
“All right!” Zeth exclaimed, pulling a lever. A section of the lab’s floor descended to reveal an underwater tunnel. “Let’s go!”
“Wait, when did you install that? The Transpide didn’t have the water stuff until a few days ago!” Numer said.
“It was in the works before. I was anticipating its completion.”
“Do we really need to sit around talking about this?” Cherry asked. The lab rumbled a bit from the outside explosions. “I think that proves my point. Get going, you two!”
The three of them jumped into the Transpide. Zeth drove into the water tunnel, and soon they were out in the sea.
“INCREASE THE BARRAGE!” Wrodin shouted, sitting on top of its sub. “I expect to see this town reduced to rubble by-”
“Sir!” A wro hopped out of the sub. “We’ve detected three organic creatures coming this way! The location suggests that they may be the three slubes we attempted to destroy earlier.”
“What? Coming this way?”
From out of the water burst the Transpide. It sailed through the air like a pufferfish dolphin before splashing back onto the water. Cruising by the sub, it shot out several energy waves, though the bursts only rocked the sub to and fro.
“GET THEM! GET THEM! FIRE THE TORPEDOES!” Wrodin shouted. The wro bolted back into the sub. A torpedo shot out into the sea and rushed towards the Transpide.
As Zeth watched Wrodin’s sub, Numer kept an eye on the Transpide’s radar. “Something’s coming right at us!”
“It’s probably a torpedo!” Cherry said.
“Well then, in that case…” Zeth thrust the Transpide away from the torpedo at full-throttle. “FLEEEEEEE!”
Wrodin watched the torpedo home in on the Transpide. “We’ll attack them from the sea and air! Missiles, go!” Missiles shot out and whizzed down towards the Transpide.
“What do you propose to do about this, Mr. Pilot?” Cherry asked.
“That’s Professor Pilot,” Zeth said. “And dive, of course!” The Transpide submerged into the sea. The missiles hit the water, slowed down, and exploded above them.
The torpedo tore through the water at the Transpide. Zeth darted to the side, but the torpedo turned around and continued after them. “Let’s fight their weapons with the same,” Zeth said.
“Sir General Wrodin, sir!” A wro popped out of the sub again. “They’re heading directly towards us!”
“A pitiful attempt to have our own torpedo hit us, I’m sure,” Wrodin said. “Fire another torpedo. Sandwich them!”
Ahead, the sub fired another torpedo. Soon they would be trapped between the two explosions. “Rule Number Something of War: sometimes expect the expected!” shouted Zeth. At the last moment the Transpide shot up. The two torpedoes smashed into one another. An explosion erupted beneath the Transpide and with a rush of water was thrown into the air.
Wrodin jumped back as the Transpide burst up and shot out an electric spark. Electricity surged throughout the sub and its metal attendants. Wrodin and the wro screamed.
The Transpide splashed back into the water. “Shouldn’t that be shocking the whole ocean or something?” Numer asked.
“Of course not,” Zeth answered. “You see, electricity always seeks the path of least resistance, and since the steel sub is the path of least resistance, it won’t flow out much beyond that point.”
“What about the Transpide?” Cherry asked.
“It’s fitted with rubber. If you’re going to play with electricity, you should have an insulator.”
“So do you have it heat-proof, too?” Numer asked.
“Explosion-proof?” Cherry asked.
Zeth wobbled his hand side-to-side and mumbled, “Eh…”
“General Wrodin!” a wro reported. “We have lost radar functions, but the weapons system is still online!”
“Then fire torpedoes!” Wrodin shouted. The wro rushed back into the sub again.
“Now, let’s get close, and you two can get aboard,” Zeth said. They sailed closer, but the sub fired another torpedo.
“Another torpedo’s coming!” Numer shouted. “Evasive maneuvers!”
The Transpide submerged, and a few moments later a spray of water splashed up. Wrodin cursed. To the sub hatch it shouted, “Get radar functionality back so I can tell if we hit those-”
Wrodin stopped as two yellow figures burst out of the water and landed on the submarine. “Hello, blast-brain,” Cherry said.
“-damn slugs!” Wrodin finished. Immediately it fired a shell at Numer and Cherry. They leapt away, and the shell rushed by into the sea.
“Okay, keep him busy, Numer,” Cherry said.
Numer mumbled. This went against everything his instincts told him. He shot his mallet at Wrodin to get its attention. With it focused on Numer, Cherry jumped down through the sub’s hatch.
“It shouldn’t take much to kill you!” Wrodin shouted. It opened its cannons and blasted away. Numer jumped to the side, but the shockwave nearly threw him off the edge.
“Now hold still so I can blast you to dust,” Wrodin said, aiming for Numer.
“Wow, you really did a number to your own sub there,” Numer said.
“What?” Wrodin shouted. The shell blast had nearly blown a hole through the sub. While it was distracted, Numer ran for the other end of the sub.
“FINE!” Wrodin shouted and fired non-explosive but drastically quicker shots. “I’ll kill you without the heavy artillery!”
Numer screamed, still running. The shots whizzed around him like a machine gun. Wrodin honed in and had Numer right in its line of fire…
The sub rocked like an earthquake, and Wrodin lost its aim. The Transpide was off the side of the sub, shooting energy waves. “DON’T STOP ATTACKING!” Wrodin shouted down to the wro. “FIRE MORE TORPEDOES!”
Down in the sub, groups of wro charged at Cherry. She punched them away as they came for her. No matter how many she punched, though, there were enough to keep her busy while the others manned the controls.
“Firing torpedoes!” a wro said.
“I just realized: how do we hit buttons without appendages?” another wro asked.
“Don’t ask questions about illogicalities! Just fire!”
Cherry smacked the wro with her tail, trying to knock them into the wro working the controls. It failed to stop them. Let’s go see how Numer’s doing.
Numer was hiding behind the submarine’s fin. He pondered if he was suicidal to do this.
“Now I’ve got you!” Wrodin rushed at Numer from behind. Numer screamed and fled around the submarine fin. Wrodin gave chase, firing upon him with energy shots. They looked like a couple of cartoon characters running around that fin.
Wrodin screeched to a halt and turned around. Numer kept running until he crashed into Wrodin, like crashing into a bumpy steel wall, and was knocked onto his back.
Wrodin fired an energy shot. Numer fired his mallet. The two shots slammed together and the shockwave threw them back. Numer took this chance to flee to the other side of the sub.
“You’re not getting away from me!” Wrodin shouted. It fired off more energy shots. Numer turned and countered with shots from his mallet. Wrodin shifted to firing four missiles at Numer.
Missiles! Just like last time! Numer ran towards the missiles and dove to the ground. The missiles whooshed over him. With the air clear he slammed his mallet onto the sub and launched himself over Wrodin.
Numer flopped onto the edge of the submarine hatch. He wheezed all the air out of his body as his midsection crashed into the edge. With a groan he slid down inside.
“Get out of my… sub?” Wrodin turned around; the missiles were flying towards it. “I hate them.” The missiles exploded. Wrodin went flying into the air and down the submarine hatch.
“How many of you pests can there be?” Cherry asked, still attacking the wro.
“A lot!” a wro answered.
Numer flopped to the floor behind her. “Cherry!” he gasped out.
“Numer?” Cherry asked, looking behind her. “You’re supposed to be-” Numer gave a cry and ran up to Cherry. Wrodin crashed to the floor behind him.
“YOU SLUGS!” Wrodin screamed, steaming like a teapot.
“Why do people call us that? We’re two distinct species,” Cherry said.
“YOU SHOULD HAVE ESCAPED WHILE YOU WERE STILL IN ONCE PIECE!” Wrodin shouted. It primed a missile to fire. The wro screamed and jumped about.
“No, Wrodin, no! If you fire that in here, you’ll blow a hole in the sub!”
“That’s right!” Cherry said with a smile. She slammed a wro with her tail at Wrodin. The wro crashed into the missile and it exploded. The sub rocked like a hurricane.
“I think that’s kind of dangerous!” Numer said.
“Kind of? The hull’s been breached!” shouted a wro. A small hole had been made, and water was surging in.
“Well then, if this sub is going down, you’re going down with it!” Another hole opened on Wrodin. Red energy charged within. The wro jumped about, crying that the hole could be patched.
“Numer,” Cherry said, “I think we should take a dive.”
“What do you mean?”
“UNDER THE CONTROL PANELS!” Cherry shouted. She pulled Numer down under the console. Wrodin unleashed a massive blast of red energy. The walls ruptured. The front of the sub blew open. Water flooded into the submarine.
The water swept everyone up. Cherry waved for Numer, the two of them just above the tide. The roar of the rushing water drowned out all other sound.
Numer and Cherry tried to swim against the oncoming current. Not until the sub had filled with water were they able to swim out. As they swam for the surface, the sub sank deep to the ocean floor below.
Numer was considerably slower than Cherry. He felt his lungs contracting. He scrambled to reach the surface in time. He needed air!
Suddenly something bumped against Numer from below. “Going up!” Zeth exclaimed. The Transpide pushed Numer to the surface.
Numer gasped for a good minute before he could speak. “Glad that’s over.” He and Cherry climbed into the Transpide.
“We’re going to have to rebuild the town…” Cherry said. More than half of Nottle was wiped out, leveled, a destructed mess.
“It could be worse,” Numer said. “If The Conqueror was to unleash full-scale war on Mintop… the entire planet could look like this.”
“That’s just it, though,” Cherry said. “There’s nothing stopping him from waging a full-scale war. We have to find a way to stop him before that happens.”
“I spent the night mulling over it. We may be able to get a ride,” Zeth said. “We need to finish rebuilding the crystal, first, though.”
“Right,” Cherry agreed. They drove back into town. “We’d better go tell everyone the crisis is over.”
“THAT’S what you think!” A green kasdde stood at the center of town. “Terrent’s back! And I expect to get paid for this appearance, too!” (He’s not even getting paid for his first appearance.)
“What are you doing here?” Numer asked.
“Always have a Plan T!” Terrent shouted.
“Oh, go away,” Cherry shooed him. “We’re busy.”
“SHUT UP! You’re gonna be even busier when you find out what I’ve done!” Terrent revealed a plunger detonator behind him. “While you were playing Battleship, I set up remote explosives in every tunnel leading to your lousy town cave! With the push of a… this… boxy thingy… they’ll all blow up, destroy the town, and everyone will be crushed!” Terrent laughed.
Cherry glared at him. “And you want us to give you the crystal, is that it?”
“Course! Now get outta that thing,” Terrent ordered. They filed out of the Transpide. If Terrent wasn’t bluffing, they’d have to tread carefully. “Now, where is it?”
“The crystal is underground,” Numer said.
“So if you collapse the town, the crystal will be buried, too!” Zeth said. “Your plan won’t work!”
“You’re stupid! The crystal can withstand getting buried! Probably. So you’re stupid!”
Numer looked at Zeth and Cherry. “What do we do?”
“I’ll tell you what you’ll do!” Terrent shouted. “You three will walk together to that house, and then you’ll go down into the shelter and get the crystal!”
“Me?” Numer asked.
“Yeah! And don’t try anything funny!”
“There’s nothing funny about this, anyway…” Zeth said. The three of them looked at each other, at a loss as to what to do. Slowly they walked to the house, Terrent watching their every move. Numer went inside while Terrent kept watch on Zeth and Cherry.
Inside, Numer found the hatch to the shelter. He opened it and climbed down a single-pole ladder on it. Below, he reached a dirt tunnel and found a cube inside. It was smaller than his hand and had a red, blinking light on top. The explosive, he guessed. Was there really enough to destroy the whole town?
“Explosives?” Mescho Caleco asked. Numer had reached the shelter and found Caleco.
The shelter was rather wide, nearly as wide as the entire town. Its height, though, was only about two-and-a-half slubes tall. Its walls were dirt, some supports keeping the ceiling up. It was simply carved from the ground.
“Yes,” Numer said, weakly shushing Caleco. The two of them were speaking alone, away from the rest of the residents. “If we don’t give him the crystal, everyone will be killed.”
“But my daughter told me that without the crystal, an evil demon will be awakened…” Caleco said.
“Yeah, don’t remind me. I don’t know what to do…” Numer worried.
“Can’t we get rid of the explosives? It’s not like he would know,” Caleco said.
“It would take too long. He might get suspicious. Plus, we couldn’t get rid of them without him seeing… He’s sure to notice!” Numer said.
They thought about it for a few moments. Caleco said, “If we relinquish the crystal, it’s certain doom. If we don’t, it’s certain death.” He paused. “Which do you think sounds better, doom or death?” Numer was looking up at the ceiling. “Numer?”
“I have an idea. It’s risky. It has multiple risks. But it might be our only chance. Should we do it?”
“What is it?”
“Is he always this slow?” Terrent asked.
“Uh… yes!” Cherry answered.
“What? What do you mean, he’s-” Zeth mumbled the rest; Cherry held his mouth shut. If Terrent suspected foul play, he’d blow up the town.
“Because if not, he’s just trying to annoy me, isn’t he?” Terrent shouted.
The door Numer had gone through opened. He walked out with the crystal on his back.
“Here’s the crystal,” Numer said, looking at the ground.
“You’re not really going to-”
“Q-quiet, quiet,” Numer muttered to Cherry, not looking at her.
“Well, bring it here!” Terrent yelled. Numer slowly made his way to Terrent. Halfway there he fell over and dropped the large gem.
“Ugh. Slow, clumsy… how the hex did you beat me at that port? Come on, get up and give me the crystal!” Terrent demanded.
“I can’t… my… I sprained my tail…” Numer winced.
“Ugh. You!” Terrent pointed at Cherry. “Bring me the crystal!”
“No way!” Cherry defied.
“What? That’s… I… Ugh! What’s wrong with you losers?” Terrent walked over to the crystal himself, grumbling.
Cherry had to do something. She couldn’t let him get the crystal (even though it was quite obvious that it was too big for Terrent to actually carry away). She had to stop him!
Suddenly the ground beneath Terrent fell open. He screamed, flailed about like a cartoon, and fell into the hole.
“The top entrance!” Zeth exclaimed.
The hole led into the underground shelter, another single-pole ladder set up below it. At the bottom lay Terrent. “Ow…” He stood up. “If I didn’t have this shell… huh?” Terrent looked around. He was surrounded by slubes from the town. “No, no, wait! Come any closer and I’ll…” His detonator was gone. “Aw, crud.”
Numer stood up, his tail not actually hurt. “NUMER!” Cherry exclaimed, hugging him. “That was brilliant!”
“Oh, it, it wasn’t really brilliant,” Numer said, blushing a little. “I had just hoped Terrent didn’t know about that entrance. And that I dropped the crystal at the right place. And… that the detonator didn’t fall and activate. And…”
“C’mon, that was great!” Cherry exclaimed. “You saved the town, you saved the crystal… You saved everybody!”
“I don’t mean to put a damper on things, but we’re not done yet,” Zeth said. “Everyone needs to start getting the town cleaned up.”
“Right. We need to get rid of those explosives before someone gets hurt,” Cherry said.
“And then…” Zeth said and looked east, “our next stop: Mount Chiphus.”
As the cleanup of Nottle began, Numer, Zeth, and Cherry drove east to Mount Chiphus. Its height towered over all of west Hackney. It gave anyone who looked at it a feeling of diminishment. This was certainly something Numer did not need. “Are we going to have to climb that?” he asked, head craned to watch the top.
“Nope,” Zeth said. “The energy is radiating from within the volcano.”
“But we’ll get burnt up by lava, won’t we?” Numer asked.
“It’s extinct,” Zeth tried to assure him. “It’ll be hot, but likely no lava. Besides, we’ll be in the Transpide.”
“Do we have air-conditioning?” Numer asked.
“So if we’re not going up and into it, how are we getting in?” Cherry asked.
“I’m sure there are tunnels to the surface left by old magma vents,” Zeth said as they drove around the volcano. Sure enough, they came across a hardened cave at its base.
“Ah, yes, see!” Zeth stopped at the mouth. The cave was black and coarse. “Andesite. This tunnel was formed by magma that must have burst out long ago.”
“It’s not going to burst out again, is it?” Numer asked.
“It shouldn’t. It hasn’t erupted for thousands of years; the general consensus is that it’s no longer connected to any magma vent to erupt with,” explained Zeth. He drove the Transpide into the dark tunnel.
The daylight disappeared the further they drove inside. Zeth switched on the Transpide’s lights. For a while, the only change was that the tunnel became darker.
Then another change happened. Numer squinted. That wasn’t the change, though. “Is that light up ahead?”
“Light?” Zeth shut off the Transpide’s light. Dim light, like of the first few rays of a rising sun, shone into the tunnel further on. “Light… that could only mean we’re nearing magma.”
“Magma? But I thought this volcano was extinct!” Numer shouted.
“Well… Magma pockets,” Zeth said. “The volcano won’t erupt, but there must still be pockets of magma that were left after it went extinct.” They drove on, slowing down a bit. The tunnel was straightforward, leading right into the heart of the volcano.
This heart they arrived to was a cavern almost as big as Nottle. A pool of magma sat at the center, taking up half the cavern floor.
“Wow… It’s a good thing that magma pocket is shallow, or we’d be burnt to a crisp, huh?” Cherry said.
“I think we’re at the center,” Numer said. The walls reached up as high as the eye could see. Where they ended, the sky began. Right above them was the mouth of the volcano. (Is this really what the inside of a volcano looks like? I don’t think this is scientifically accurate. Oh well, fantasy, science fiction, whatever.)
It was all a bit dizzying, at the bottom of such height. The cavern rose up like the walls of a prison. The top, in comparison, a tiny hole of freedom.
“Strange,” Zeth said. “The shard should be right in here. Where is it?”
“The magma?” Cherry said.
“That would explain the strange temperature reading,” Zeth said. “This magma is far cooler than it should be; something must be absorbing the heat, but it’s still hot enough to burn us alive, so if the shard is in there…”
“Then how do we get it?” Numer said.
Everything went out of focus. Without warning a tremor had begun to rumble through the volcano, as though bombs were going off in the walls.
Numer panicked and waved his arms. “I THOUGHT THIS VOLCANO WAS EXTINCT! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE! WE’RE GONNA BURN TO DEATH!” He nearly jumped up to the front seat with Zeth.
“CALM DOWN!” Cherry shouted, grabbing Numer. “This is just… the planet moving… or something.”
“Well…” Zeth began.
“What is it?” Cherry asked.
“I’m stumped,” Zeth admitted, laying his head on the dashboard. The shaking intensified. The magma pool began to spurt like a fountain warming up.
“Although… perhaps it would be wise to leave.” Zeth turned the Transpide around and drove for the exit. Before they reached it, part of the wall collapsed and blocked the tunnel. “Of course, staying’s nice. Staying works too.”
“WE’RE TRAPPED?” Numer screamed.
“Of course not,” Zeth said. “Well, maybe. Well, busting out might cause the volcano to-” A deep, earth-shaking voice interrupted Zeth:
“SO, THE ENEMIES OF MY CREATOR HAVE COME TO CLAIM THE CRYSTAL… BUT, MY BIRTH SHALL BE ACCOMPANIED BY YOUR DEATH…”
The voice bounced off the walls and smacked into the three slubes repeatedly. Cherry looked around for the source of the voice. “Why have such a terrible tragedy on the same day as a wonderful miracle!”
“A TRAGEDY FOR YOU… IS A MIRACLE FOR ME!”
With that the pool of magma burst upwards. Magma surged out like an overpowered fountain. Zeth swerved the Transpide around the pool, trying to avoid the fiery spray.
“What is that?” Numer screamed.
“It’s… impossible,” Zeth answered. The fountain stopped. Sitting in the pool of magma was… more magma. However, this magma was lifted into the air like some sort of tentacle.
“Impossible? Nothing is impossible for The Conqueror, as you shall now realize!” The tentacle receded, and a larger portion of magma lifted into the air. The top curved towards the three slubes, and a black, blinking spot appeared.
“He brought a saw blade to life,” Numer said; “machines that had been dead for centuries… and now…”
“I am Cagnorm, a force of nature! LIVING LAVA!” Cagnorm’s shout echoed throughout the volcano.
“You’re still inside a volcano; you’re technically living magma,” Zeth pointed out.
“Shut up. No, wait; I’ll shut you up myself!” shouted Cagnorm. It receded into the magma pool, and the shaking intensified again. Chunks of the wall as big as the Transpide broke off and fell towards it.
“Here we go again!” Zeth shouted. He thrust the Transpide forward and circled the pool. Rocks crashed around them like chunks of meteorite.
“So if that lava, magma, whatever thing is causing these rocks to fall, does it have control of this volcano?” Cherry wondered.
“After just seeing it, I wouldn’t be surprised about anything!” Numer shouted.
“How do you fight magma?” Zeth wondered.
“Look out!” yelled Cherry. A magma tentacle from the pool swung at them. Zeth swerved out of the way and spun the Transpide around. An electric spark from the Transpide shocked the tentacle into receding.
“You dare harm Cagnorm?” it shouted in the third-person.
“Yes, we do dare!” Zeth challenged. A wave of magma burst out of the pool and gushed at the Transpide. “Oh, carp.” Zeth drove away, and the magma crashed down behind them.
“Well, you certainly know how to throw yourself around,” Cherry said.
“That would make me feel dizzy,” Numer said. “Then again, being liquid would.”
“You don’t think all this magma is me, do you?” Cagnorm asked. “I just have control over it!”
“Well then, we know what to aim for,” Cherry said. Another tentacle swiped at them. Zeth swerved to avoid it.
“I’m going to have to separate you!” Zeth yelled. He fired an energy wave into the pool. The explosion threw magma about, and Cagnorm screamed. “Hey, it—whoa!” The magma came raining down onto them. Zeth drove away from the magma rain.
“You said the Transpide is heatproof, right?” Numer asked. He watched as the magma smoked and sizzled like a fried egg.
“Yes, to a point,” Zeth said. “I suppose I should activate the energy shield, although that magma rain wasn’t too dama-” A magma tentacle smacked the Transpide. It spun out and stopped next to the magma pool, teetering on the edge.
“DON’T FALL INTO THE LAVA!” Numer screamed.
“Magma!” Cherry corrected him.
“Hot, spicy, rock soup!” Zeth cried. Together they pushed away from the pool, and the Transpide leveled back onto the ground.
“At least the shield is holding up against magma well,” Zeth said.
The Transpide was blasted by a stream of magma. The force slammed it into the wall. In a matter of seconds the shield was nearly depleted. “No, no, no, no…” Zeth drove the Transpide out of the stream.
“Now what?” Numer asked.
“The shield can recharge, but it’ll take time. It’ll never recharge if we’re continually attacked,” Zeth said. He checked the shieldometer.
“Then we’ll keep it busy!” Cherry said, turning to Numer.
“Wh-what do you mean?” Numer asked. He should’ve known it’d come to this.
“We’ll give that rock-brain a taste of its own medicine,” Cherry said.
“And get burnt to a crisp?”
“Not if we’re fast enough! Come on!”
Zeth sighed. “We need a new strategy at this rate, so, why not? I think Cagnorm is absorbing most of the heat from the magma, so it’s not like you’ll burn up from just being out there.” He opened the casing to let them out.
“You two are coming out?” Cagnorm asked. “You must be suicidal!”
“Sometimes I wonder!” Numer said. He made short hops as he dashed over the hot rock.
Cagnorm shook the chamber again, and rocks crashed down towards them. Cherry dodged the big rocks and knocked the smaller ones into the magma pool. They melted but not before tearing through Cagnorm.
Cagnorm shouted and hurled magma at them. Cherry ran on to keep ahead of the magma, pulling Numer along with her. Periodically she knocked more rocks into Cagnorm.
“You know, I have to wonder why I came along!” Numer said.
“Come here, you!” Cagnorm shouted. It swung a magma tentacle at them. Numer yelped and shot his mallet at it, splitting it in two.
“Numer!” Cherry came to a stop. “Attack it!”
“Fire your mallet at it! I think it’ll work!”
Numer shot at Cagnorm with his mallet. With each hit, Cagnorm grunted. “It is working!” Numer exclaimed.
“So should this!” Cagnorm shouted. It threw more magma at them. Cherry pulled Numer ahead and they ran ahead of the magma.
“Too bad for you; looks like it’s not!” Cherry said.
The two slubes continued their offensive. Cagnorm began to move about in the pool to avoid the rocks and shots. It grabbed a rock with a tentacle and threw it back.
“I think it’s starting to counterattack us!” Numer cried.
“Then we’ll just counter-counterattack it,” Cherry said.
“You won’t be able to!” Cagnorm shouted. Rocks crashed down with increased frequency.
A rock half Numer’s size crashed onto his tail. He screamed and was jerked back, falling to the floor. He pushed against the rock like a frightened animal. “Agh! I can’t… get this… off!”
“Hold on!” Cherry said. She spun in the air and smacked the rock with her tail into the magma pool. “Are you okay?”
Numer looked at his crumpled tail. It looked like a deflated balloon. If slubes had bones, it’d probably be broken. As it was, though, there was no feeling. “I can’t get up!”
“A SITTING ROAST CHICKEN, THEN!” Cagnorm shouted. It blasted a stream of magma at them. Just before they were fried, the Transpide drove by, and Zeth grabbed them.
“You two okay?” Zeth asked as the Transpide drove on. He held onto them as they hung from the side.
“We’re okay enough!” Cherry answered.
“No one’s driving the Transpide!” Numer shouted. The Transpide crashed into the wall. The jolt knocked Zeth down and he pulled in Numer and Cherry. Zeth quickly closed the casing afterward.
“You really need to add an autopilot to this thing!” Cherry said.
“I need to do this, I need to do that. It’s on my to-do list!” Zeth claimed.
“Is the shield charged up?” Cherry asked.
“Not completely, but it’ll do for now,” Zeth said.
“And not a moment longer!” Cagnorm shouted. It continued to hurl magma at them. Zeth drove away, but a rockslide fell and blocked their path. The Transpide turned around, but another rockslide trapped them in the middle.
“Now let’s really test your shield!” Cagnorm blasted another stream of magma at them. The Transpide sprang over the rock blockade, and the magma missed.
“Numer, let me borrow your hammer,” Cherry said. Numer handed his hammer to her. He wouldn’t be of any use with his crumpled tail anyway.
Cherry leapt out of the Transpide and slammed Numer’s hammer into one of the rockslides. The pile of rocks collapsed into the magma pool and covered it. Cagnorm screamed, squeezed between the rocks.
“Shake well!” Zeth said; he fired an energy wave into the pool. The explosion threw rocks and magma (and a sparkle) into the air like a tossed salad. Cagnorm stopped screaming and all was silent.
“Look!” Cherry said. The final shard was on the floor. “It’s a shard!”
“It must be pretty tough to withstand magma like that,” Numer said.
“Many hard minerals can withstand magma. Magma to diamond is just warm water to us,” Zeth said.
Cherry tried to pick the shard up. She quickly jerked her arm back. “Well, it sure is hot.”
Zeth picked up the shard, slightly smaller than his hand, with some tongs. He placed it in a compartment in the Transpide. “Why do you have a pair of tongs?” Cherry asked as she climbed back into the Transpide.
“Well… why not?”
“Can we just get out of here before Cagnorm wakes up?” Numer asked.
“NOOOOOOO! NEVER! I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO LEAVE HERE ALIVE!” The volcano began its most violent rumble yet.
“Too late for that!” Cherry shouted.
“The magma is rising!” Numer yelled, watching the pool. “You don’t think it’s…”
“I don’t think we should wait and find out!” Zeth yelled. He drove them out of the chamber and through a tunnel.
Then, behind them, the world exploded.
… but we don’t have time for that because scene change!
Cleanup at Nottle was going rather smoothly. The explosives had been disposed of, and repairs of the buildings had gotten underway. With such a small, tight, cohesive town, they had all banded together through the struggle and crisis. Slubes had died. Slubes mourned. But they had a town to rebuild.
(I have no idea what they did with Terrent, though.)
“Come on, Paige, Gern, pick up the pace,” Caleco directed.
“What do you expect from us?” Paige whined. The two girls were carrying a pile of wood to a halfway-destroyed building. “We’ve never done this heavy of lifting before!”
“You’re the one who almost wished we had an economy,” Gern pointed out.
“Yeah, but I’d just get a desk job or something, not construction,” Paige complained.
“Well, hey, it could be worse,” Gern said. “Cherry’s out there, and who knows what mess she’s getting in.”
“Yes…” Caleco looked out towards Mount Chiphus. Before Cherry, Zeth, and Numer had left, they had told him that they were going to the volcano.
Caleco had considered objecting to it. After all, the volcano? Heat, lava, crashing rocks… It’s a disaster area! But he decided that after all they had gone through, with him constantly in worry the whole time, that perhaps he should let her go with no protest…
Caleco turned back to the rebuilding and smiled. Cherry had been on quite an adventure for the past several days, and yet he was the one maturing…
Caleco snapped out of his thoughts. Jake walked up to him, head down. Caleco bent his body so he was at Jake’s level. “Hello, Jake. Doing better since your frightful experience a couple days ago?”
“Y-yes, Mr. Mescho, but… but I… I…”
Caleco realized that something was bothering Jake; he was on the verge of crying. “What is it? What’s-” An explosion and a rumble interrupted him. Screams followed.
Caleco looked up. Everyone was looking to the east in shock. He turned around. There it was. Mount Chiphus. Erupting.
Erupting? He had been told it was extinct… that it couldn’t erupt… and now Cherry was there!
“Everyone!” Caleco called out as he rose. “Hurry! Back to the underground shelter!” He told Jake to come with him, but as everyone scrambled to the shelter, he turned back to the volcano.
Mount Chiphus belched fire into the sky. Lava burst out of it all over. The island shook as if in fear.
Why, oh why, had he not protested Cherry’s going there?
Cherry wasn’t sure what was louder: the volcano rumbling or Numer’s screaming.
The Transpide rushed through the tunnel, magma gushing behind after them. “Zeth!” Cherry shouted. She could hardly even hear herself! “Zeth, how- Zeth!” He couldn’t hear her either!
Cherry held Numer’s mouth shut to stop his screaming. “Zeth, how is the shield doing?”
“It looks fine,” Zeth said, “but I’d rather it not be an issue!”
“Well, it’s going to be one soon!” Cherry said. The magma was almost upon them. The tunnel suddenly spun and she was looking ahead of them—Zeth now drove backwards, facing the oncoming magma.
“Zeth! What are you doing?” Cherry shouted.
“Causing a blockage!” Zeth fired a wave along the ground, and the blast collapsed part of the tunnel, leaving the magma blocked by rocks.
Cherry sighed. “Well, at least we’re safe, now.”
“Well, we’re not out of the volcano yet,” Zeth said.
Numer mumbled something, his mouth still shut by Cherry.
“Oh, sorry.” Cherry let go of Numer. “What was that?”
“Look ou-” They all screamed as the Transpide tumbled backwards and fell out of the tunnel into the open air.
“Well, now we’re out,” Zeth said.
“Look at that,” said Cherry. Atop the volcano gushed out lava, huge rocks flying out and tumbling down.
“We may be out, but we’d better get away, too,” Zeth said. “Let’s get back to Nottle.”
“Right,” Cherry said. “We’ve got all the shards of the crystal; what do we do now?”
“What do you mean?” Numer asked.
“We’ve still got The Conqueror looming over us,” Cherry said. “We need to find some way to stop him.”
“Like I said, I have an idea,” Zeth said. “I just hope that it’ll work.”
And speaking of work, The Conqueror watched over the spleech as they worked on fixing the tractor beam as if their jobs were on the line.
They were, in a way. If their job was “Alive Spleech Who Isn’t Dead”.
The Conqueror had received the message from his new agents: they had been beaten. Surely his enemies would fall to the might of nature under his control—a creature made of magma would burn them to a crisp.
Still, dumb luck or dumb skill has a way of seeing things through. He needed to get the crystal as soon as possible, if not before, and he was going to have to do it himself.