Chapter 17: Final Challenge

Note this is the prog (in-progress) version and may change when the book comes out

After the blinding white light and sensation of lifting, Numer noticed a stale sea smell like a bag of salt left out in the rain. Numer felt a jolt of worry. If he could smell the sea, he wasn’t in the Transpide anymore.

Confirmation of his fears came once the light faded and Numer found himself looking directly at Conrad, who towered over him in the hover-chair. Surrounding them, caging them in a box about his Nottle house’s size, a blue, translucent barrier flowed as if liquid clouds in a shimmering flat form.

Swallowing the lump in his throat to the pit in his stomach, Numer looked for the others. To his left he saw another box against his where Wrodin towered over Pocerni. He turned around and saw two more boxes. Czar Spiest towered over Cherry at the corner, and right behind Numer Zeth in the Transpide towered over Sawn.

“Aw, gaddfern it,” Sawn said. “I gotta fight that thing?”

“It looks like it,” Zeth said. He waved a hand at Sawn. “Go ahead. I’ll give you a free shot. Just try to saw through the Transpide.”

Sawn stared at the Transpide and then sawed against the blue barrier wall.

“Hey! That’s not…” Zeth looked at Dorpthal. “Is that legal?”

“What do you mean by legal?” Dorpthal asked.

Conrad laughed. “In that case, I guess anything is legal.” Four particle blasters, three rocket launchers, and five miniature cannons popped out from his hover-chair, turning it into a fortress.

Numer screamed and sleeged in a circle as Conrad fired all manner of beams and explosives at the slube. The smoke from the blasts filled the arena, and Conrad stopped the attacks.

When the smoke cleared, Numer remained standing, holding up his mallet and eyes clenched shut. He peeked his eyes open and then rubbed his body. He really did survive.

“How did I miss?” Conrad screamed.

“Just lucky, I guess,” Numer said. “Maybe all the smoke worsened your aim.”

Conrad growled and retracted the weaponry. Two pincer claws connected to steel arms jointed at the middle emerged from the hover-chair and lunged at Numer. He sleeged from one and smacked the other with his mallet. Seemed Conrad wanted to remove luck from his aim.

Czar Spiest floated over Cherry. “Hello again, little one.”

“Can the spook talk, ghost,” Cherry said, bending in a fighting stance.

“In a hurry to meet your demise, I see. No mirrors to reflect my eye beam this time.” Czar Spiest blasted the eye beam at Cherry. She dove below the czar, who followed her until upside-down.

“What happened?” The czar flailed its arms. “Everything’s upside-down. I can’t get myself oriented.”

Cherry slammed her tail into Czar Spiest from behind, and the czar crashed against the barrier. Czar Spiest flipped back around and grumbled. “Okay, if you’re going to play the solid game, I’ll play the can’t-touch-me game.” The ghost turned invisible. “Ooh! Where am I? You can’t see me. I’m invisible. Ooooh!”

Cherry leapt up in a spin and then landed on the ground.

“Ha! So what if you can hear my voice?” Czar Spiest said. “You still go right through me.” A beam shot at Cherry from thin air. She dodged to the side. “You can’t dodge me forever when you don’t know where I’ll fire from.”

Pocerni and Wrodin looked at one another. “Hey, Sal!” Wrodin said. “I know you like chicken, but will some fried stroo do?”

Sal, still crumpled in the sidelines, said, “Maybe! I’ve never tried it.”

“You look familiar,” Pocerni said, rubbing the front of his neck. “Were you built by the phial?”

“I don’t know,” Wrodin shouted. “Who cares? Just blow up in peace. Pieces!” The war machine fired a shell at Pocerni. He dashed away, jumped off the barrier wall, and stood atop Wrodin. He bent down.

“Yeah, pretty sure you were, metal dude. Why don’t you try hitting me with a rocket?”

“Well, maybe I will.” Wrodin fired a rocket that honed in on Pocerni. The stroo jumped off. The rocket blasted Wrodin instead.

“Yep. Same design flaw,” Pocerni said.

“I’ll show you design flaw!” Wrodin fired a volley of bullets.

Numer yelped as Conrad grabbed him in a pincer claw. He shoved Numer against the barrier, trapping his arms at the sides. “Now hold still,” Conrad said, “not that you have a choice.” He aimed a beam weapon from his chair at Numer.

The slube wriggled in the claw but couldn’t shake himself free. “Zeth, help!” Numer twisted his upper body to look at the barrier behind him.

“I can’t help,” Zeth said, driving to the barrier. “Our fights are divided up.”

“I don’t care! Help me!” Numer shouted, planting his face against the wall. A blue light enveloped Numer and the Transpide, and they floated through the barrier. It felt as though the barrier pulled him into the other arena. Numer couldn’t tell what left him immobile, the barrier or his surprise.

“Wait, what?” Conrad shouted. “No! Come back here.” He tightened the claw arm’s grip on Numer, but the slube slipped out and into the arena with Sawn. Zeth and the Transpide entered Conrad’s. “No, no, no!” He looked up at Dorpthal. “What the hex was that?”

Dorpthal looked down. “Huh? Oh, right. That’s the tag team function. You can switch your arenas with one of your allies and fight someone else.”

“Wait, really?” Sawn slammed into the barrier wall face-first. “Czar! Hey! Czar Spiest!” The buzz saw repeatedly shouted the czar’s name and “Hey!” until the ghost rematerialized.

“What is it, you glorified can opener?” Czar Spiest shouted.

“Switch with me. Come on! Switch, switch!”

Czar Spiest looked at Numer and laughed. “With pleasure.” The czar floated to the barrier and switched arenas with Sawn.

Numer yelped and shuffled back. “I’m not afraid of you.” He knew immediately that he sounded in no way convincing.

“Even if I do this?” Czar Spiest turned invisible. Numer shuffled back more, his backside against the barrier, and he held his mallet up in front of him.

In an instant Czar Spiest filled Numer’s vision and shouted, “Boo!” Numer screamed and stumbled to the ground. He shuffled back to a corner. His gaze stayed glued to Czar Spiest, his eyes wide-open. The world around him turned blue, and he was pulled backwards onto his back.

Numer looked up to see behind him. Wrodin glared down at him. He jumped up and pounded on the barrier corner with his mallet. “This is worse!” he shouted with each pound.

Pocerni switched with him again. “Sorry, dude, I thought you’d want to get out.”

“It’s okay,” Numer said, shaking. He stood up and took a deep breath. “If I’ve got to face this spiest, I will.”

Wrodin fired a barrage of shells at Pocerni. The stroo ran along the barrier ahead of each explosion. From a hole atop Wrodin several wro shot out. “Let’s see how fast you move with these things in your way.”

The tiny Wrodin robots shouted like bad actors told to scream anger, and they charged at Pocerni. He hopped across them.

“Hey!” shouted a wro. “What are we, platforms?”

Pocerni hopped atop Wrodin. The war machine fired out another wro, which Pocerni promptly kicked back down into the hole. Wrodin screamed as it clattered and rumbled like an old engine with a bad cough. Pocerni jumped off as Wrodin shuddered and smoke erupted from within.

“That is it,” Wrodin yelled. “I’m blasting you with something I know you can’t reflect back.” Another hole opened, and sparking, red light crackled within.

“Want to reconsider that, mecha-dude?” Pocerni asked.

Wrodin’s eyes glowed brightly. “Not a chance!” The war machine unleashed a red particle blast taller than Pocerni. The stroo jumped aside, and the blast struck the blue barrier like a solid, glowing battering ram. The blast and barrier sparked and crackled until the particle beam smashed through the barrier, tearing through the ancient room.

Terrent screamed. “Whoa! Move!” He and Sal scrambled away. The blast blew a crater in the floor where they had sat.

“I can shoot through this barrier?” Wrodin shouted. “Then why the hex am I fighting you? I just need to recharge this thing.” Wrodin’s outer shell closed. Pocerni pushed Wrodin around the arena.

“Hey, we’re still here,” a wro said.

“Nobody cares, small dude,” Pocerni said.

The wro looked down. “Yeah.”

Conrad fired missiles at Zeth while the professor countered with burst missiles. Conrad’s volatile missiles pushed through Zeth’s and blasted the Transpide against the barrier.

“Your piddly machine is still no match for my hover-chair.” Conrad fired a barrage of missiles at the Transpide. Zeth bounced over them, but Conrad shot the Transpide to the floor.

“Hey, Zeth,” Cherry shouted, jumping about the arena while Sawn flew after her. “I think we need to give Conrad a smaller target and Sawn a harder one.” She jumped at the barrier corner, and Zeth backed up to it, switching her and Zeth.

“Gaddfern it!” Sawn shouted. “This is the same raw deal I had to start with.”

“Hey, Conrad,” Cherry said, punching the air. “Remember this?”

“Yes,” Conrad said. “I’m sure you remember this.” He fired missiles at Cherry.

Czar Spiest blasted the eye beam at Numer as the jittery slube sleeged around the arena. “I think fear works as a better weapon against you.” Czar Spiest disappeared.

Numer looked around the arena. That ghost could be anywhere at any time, so he had to attack everywhere at every time. Numer held out his mallet and spun in place. He rapidly hit the fire button, shooting particle beams all around him. A few smacked Czar Spiest, and it reappeared.

“What? Beam weapons can hit me while I’m intangible? Nobody ever told me that.” Czar Spiest growled and expanded, and its mouth and sharp teeth grew. The edge of its eye tinted red. The czar darkened. A shadow formed over Numer. The ghost swelled to fill nearly the entire arena. Czar Spiest laughed, a deep, echoing laugh that shook Numer’s body like shepa juice as his eyes widened, staring at Czar Spiest in fear—

Numer glared at Czar Spiest. Now wasn’t the time to lose his nerves. He shouted and shot particle bursts from his mallet, nailing the czar in the eye. The capsule eye sparked like an overloaded power circuit. Czar Spiest screamed, “Not this again!”

Numer jumped at Czar Spiest. “I’m not afraid of you anymore!” He pounded his mallet through Czar Spiest’s eye. The czar screamed and collapsed to the floor, appearance returned to normal.

“Point to Pocerni’s side,” Dorpthal said. The barrier forming Numer’s arena disappeared.

“Okay, get him!” Terrent shouted. Sal lunged at Numer with a shout. He smacked against a blue barrier.

“Hey!” Sal shouted, rubbing his head. “We just wanted to congratulate him.”

Numer looked at Czar Spiest. The czar rubbed its face and stirred. Numer shuffled away to the other side of the arenas. If that czar woke up, he didn’t want to keep fighting, though he didn’t need to be afraid of that ghost, Conrad, or any of his minions. Numer and his friends would always beat them. He still wished Conrad would leave them alone, though.

“Conrad! I mean, Conqueror!” Sawn shouted, face planted against the barrier. “Switch with me, would ya? I can’t do nothing to this guy’s machine.”

“Switch with Wrodin,” Conrad shouted. “I’m busy.” He continually fired missiles at Cherry, but she hopped and slid away from each.

“I can’t,” Sawn yelled. “It’s busy being rolled around like some giant egg.”

Conrad growled. Cherry slid towards him and jumped onto his head.

“Time for your pummeling,” she said. As Cherry punched Conrad’s head, he activated the claw arm and grabbed Cherry with it.

“It’s time to finally blow you to pieces.” Conrad held her in the air—this time, away from the barrier. A rocket emerged from his hover-chair. Cherry pushed against the claw arm but remained in place.

Numer sleeged to the barrier wall and slammed it with his mallet, shouting Cherry’s name. They could beat Conrad. He didn’t want to be proved wrong on that. He had to get through the barrier and help her. He couldn’t let her get hurt.

Conrad fired the rocket at Cherry.

A blue flash filled the arena. Numer jumped back. His heart felt like it would puncture his chest. The flash faded, and Numer felt his heart flip.

Two new box barriers replaced the arena, separating Conrad and Cherry. Cherry was alive. She looked perfectly fine.

“What?” Conrad screamed. “No! What happened?”

“Point to Conrad’s side,” Dorpthal said.

“Put us back and let me kill her!” Conrad shouted.

“Why would I do that?” Dorpthal crossed its flippers. “In fact, if that’s the way you’re going to act, I’m not letting you out.” The barrier around Cherry faded. Numer, eyes wide and moist, hugged her.

“Cherry!” he gasped out. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I think.” Cherry looked down. “Sorry, I couldn’t get out. I let my guard down, and Conrad got me.”

“I don’t care. I don’t care about that,” Numer said. He held her at arm’s length and looked at her eyes. “I’m just glad you’re safe.” He had to tell her his love now before another near-loss like that. “Listen, I need to-”

A screaming laughter interrupted him, and Wrodin popped open, pushing Pocerni to the floor. “I’m all charged up.” Wrodin turned to Zeth’s and Sawn’s arena.

“Wrodin! Great. You’re awake.” Sawn shouted, “Switch,” over and over like a broken record.

“No need to, my hyper, cutting friend. Just stand back.” Wrodin blasted the red particle beam at the barrier, pushing against it.

Cherry ran to the arena, and both she and Pocerni yelled for Zeth to look out.

“What?” Zeth looked up from under the Transpide’s dashboard. Wrodin’s blast broke through the barrier and surged at the Transpide like a murderous dragon. “Oh my!”

With a bright flash of blue light, the red beam disappeared, and Wrodin’s and Pocerni’s arena vanished.

Wrodin’s eyes dimmed. “Wait, what?”

“Cheater!” Dorpthal said, pointing an accusing flipper at Wrodin. “You’re a big cheating cheater! You’re disqualified.”

“I’ll disqualify you!” Wrodin shouted. “Just as soon as I’ve charged up my mega blast again.”

“Wait, no, don’t take Wrodin away,” Sawn shouted. “I need to switch! I can’t do nothing to that professor guy.” Sawn screamed like an upset child and spun against the barrier ceiling. The barrier built up in the spot Sawn pushed against like rapids in a river. The blue substance enveloped Sawn and slammed the buzz saw down at the Transpide. Sawn squealed as it crashed through the Transpide’s glass dome. Zeth screamed as Sawn struck him.

Once more a blue light flashed, and they appeared in separate boxes, Zeth unscathed and the Transpide’s roof repaired.

“Oh. That worked,” Sawn said.

“Point to Conrad’s side,” Dorpthal said. “With the disqualification of Wrodin-”

“Hey, Dorpthal,” Pocerni said. “I’m willing to excuse Wrodin if you’re willing to put us back into battle.”

“Are you nuts?” Cherry shouted. “Just take the win.”

“No point in taking a win you don’t actually earn,” Pocerni said. “Ha! Nah, I just want to embarrass it.”

“You’d make a horrible military general,” said Wrodin.

“And you’d make a horrible emotional clerpson, dude,” Pocerni said.

“Hey, not true! Robots have emotions,” Sawn said. “There’s anger, and… well, yeah, that- Anger’s pretty much all I have experience with.” The buzz saw growled like a sick baby carpple.

Dorpthal shrugged. “Okay, if you say so.” The arena reformed with Pocerni and Wrodin inside.

“Big mistake, bird!” Wrodin shouted, eyes bright. “I’m turning you into (potential, since clearly we cannot actually kill anyone here) roast dinner!”

Wrodin opened a hole on its outer shell. Pocerni jumped up and jammed a wro into the hole. “What?” Wrodin asked.

“Yay, someone remembered me,” the wro said.

“What?” Wrodin screamed, eyes flashing rapidly. Wrodin’s munitions exploded internally and blasted it upwards. The machine crashed to the floor and fell over, sparking.

“See, dudes?” Pocerni said, wings outstretched. “Not a problem.” The arena disappeared again, and, like before, the combatants returned to their initial state.

“Point to Pocerni’s side,” Dorpthal said. “Final score: two to two. That-” Dorpthal stammered. “Wait, actually…”

“Now what?” Numer asked. The entire thing seemed pointless. Why would Dorpthal even consider giving the orb to Conrad?

“The winners fight.” Sawn shook. “I fight the one who doesn’t have a weapon.”

“No, I have a better idea,” said Dorpthal. “You’ll just have to share the orb.”

“Share the orb?” Conrad shouted.

“We can’t share it.” Numer pointed to Conrad. “He wants to take over the planet.”

“Well, you’ll just have to learn how to,” Dorpthal said. “Otherwise just figure it out on your own.”

“Gladly,” said Conrad, glaring at Numer and Cherry.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, dude?” Pocerni asked.

“Have you ever known me to be wrong?” asked Dorpthal.

“Can’t say I’ve known you long enough for that to be a meaningful question,” Pocerni said.

“Oh. Well, you should probably work together anyway,” Dorpthal said. “Orb time.”

The shiny statue glowed like a great lantern. The white light filled the room and then retracted to the head. As the light retreated, Dorpthal reverted to stone. Finally the light condensed to a sphere and formed a white orb. It floated down towards them.

“Get ready to grab the orb and run to the Transpide,” Cherry whispered to Numer.

“Get ready to saw them in half when they make a grab for the orb,” Conrad said to Sawn.

The orb lowered until a few tail lengths within reach. A blur whooshed by, and the orb disappeared.

“What was that?” Cherry asked.

“Who took it?” Conrad asked.

“Oh no,” Zeth said, rubbing his hands close to his chest. “How did she get here?”

“Why did you take my peach?” Smatilla shouted, standing on a fallen pillar. She held her katana in one hand and the orb in the other. “What do you think, these things grow on trees? Each one is special. Each one is unique. And this one is mine, so why did you take it?”

“Who is this idiot?” Conrad asked.

“Quiet, Luigi!” Smatilla shouted, prompting no less than a tirade of anger and curses from Conrad. “Yoshi has your peach. I don’t know what he did with it, but-”

Sal bellowed, lunging from behind the pillar at Smatilla. He grabbed her in a mouth over twice her size.

“Smatilla!” Zeth shouted. The crazy smarmel held Sal’s mouth open as she stood on the edge. She dropped the orb, the katana wobbling in her hand.

“Yoshi! Stop trying to eat me,” she yelled.

Sal inched his mouth shut around Smatilla. Zeth fired a burst missile into Sal’s mouth. The blast shoved Smatilla to the floor and knocked Sal to the ground. Sal coughed and hacked before he could say, “Wow! That’s just like eating a can of compressed air.”

“Got it,” Terrent shouted, holding up the orb. Numer slammed him with his mallet and grabbed the orb as it dropped. Sawn shot spinning at Numer but crashed into Terrent’s shell and careened to the floor.

Okay, he had the orb. Now what? Numer sleeged straight for the Transpide.

“Why won’t you worms just die?” Conrad roared. He blasted rockets at them. Wrodin and Czar Spiest joined with shells and eye beam.

Zeth screamed. He drove in circles to avoid the barrage. Numer jumped back from both the explosives and the speeding Transpide. How would he get in now?

Cherry threw Numer into the Transpide and jumped in. Pocerni leapt in after. Numer lay on his head, no time to get the safety straps on. Zeth closed the bubble roof and drove into the pool at the waterfall’s base. They escaped back into the waterlogged part of the castle.

They were out of there and had all the orbs. Now they just had to figure out a way to stop Darmenzi.

“If they escape, I am going to murder one of you!” Conrad screamed.

“Not it,” Terrent said.

Okay, first they had to shake Conrad.

Chapter 18: A New Truce | Table of Contents