This is a preview of the published version of Darmenzi, available January 17th on Smashwords.
Numer sleeged through Hackney fields, treading down a path of cut and flattened grass as he struggled under the crystal’s weight. Around him, outside the path, the grass exceeded his height to where he couldn’t see what was nearby, and some eight miles to the east loomed the volcano Mount Chiphus. Numer set the crystal down and caught his breath.
It was time to take stock of the situation. Numer stared at the crystal for a moment and slapped a hand onto his snout, wishing he hadn’t done what he just did. He took part of the crystal out of Nottle! That was the opposite of what he should have done. When the crystal was removed from the town in the past it caused disasters. Still, Conrad was a disaster in of himself. And that crawber . . .
As if drawn by suggestion, the crawber flew towards Numer, coming from Nottle. The slube yelped and dove into the tall grass with the crystal.
“You can’t escape from me, you fool,” the crawber shouted, pointed mouth curled into a grin. “I’ve already regained some of my power.” He snipped the grass with a claw. “You can’t hide in here forever.”
Numer watched the crawber from the tall grass and slowly wogged around him. Get close, let the crawber get closer, then give him a mallet to the–
The slube yelped and plummeted into darkness until he hit bottom with a squishy thud. The crystal tumbled down after him, crashing inches from his head.
Shaking as he hauled himself upright, Numer looked around him at a cave of dark rock smaller than his house. The hole must have been hidden by the grass. The ceiling rose too high for him to reach, but he saw a tunnel leading east. Away from Nottle, but maybe he could find an exit. At least he was hidden from that crawber. He picked up the crystal and headed into the dark tunnel.
Sleeging from Nottle was a mistake. I need to get this fragment back to town. For according to legend, a disaster would happen to the town were the crystal removed for too long. At least Numer was sure Cherry and Zeth could keep Conrad from the rest of the fragments.
This is known as dramatic irony, not to be confused with dramatic iron which is when steel ponders life and the definition of the word “be” in classy language.
Indeed, ‘tis quite an ease to misconstrue
A meaning such as that when one is cra’y.
Don’t do that.
All right, just a little joke.
I make the jokes here, Wally.
Yes, I’ve noticed.
Now that Conrad was back, this made Nottle a huge target. Well, nothing was a worse disaster than that. Maybe they should scatter the crystal. He recalled a conversation with Cherry and Zeth, where they considered that removing the crystal from the area might release some pent-up energy, which caused the disasters.
Maybe if we didn’t keep the crystal in Nottle there would only be one disaster, and then Conrad would leave them alone. Right? Uh, yeah right. I really wish I didn’t have to deal with this sort of thing again.
Then there was that crawber. He’d said something about his power and being locked up. Why did he want the crystal? He called himself a force of chaos. At least he appeared to be opposed to Conrad, too.
Little comfort. Now someone else is after the crystal.
Numer stumbled and fell. The cavern was dark as could be, and carrying the crystal was exhausting. His body was warming up from the exertion. Still, Numer pulled himself onto his tail and kept wogging. Hopefully he would find an exit soon.
After a while a faint red light became visible ahead. He quickened his pace towards it but stopped after a few weary tail-pushes. Red light? He hadn’t gone all the way out to Mount Chiphus, had he? The tunnel had grown hotter, he realized. He wasn’t warmer from exertion. He was heading towards magma! Numer wondered how long he’d been pushing through the tunnel. He’d chide himself for forgetting to bring a watch so that maybe he’d know, but he hadn’t told time by numbers or even owned a watch for years.
Numer inched to the opening, growing warmer and warmer. The light brightened and cleared, and soon he entered the cavern—the central cavern of Mount Chiphus. The glow from the magma pool in the center tinted the charred rock walls red. The heat felt like a kiln, and his tail felt as if he stood on hot clay. This was no place for a slube. This was no place for anyone. Far above Numer the walls stretched up to tiny hole of freedom where the sky was visible. It was farther away than the hole to the cave he had fallen into.
The cavern shook, and Numer jumped and fell back onto the crystal. “You! Why have you come back?” bellowed a voice from the bowels of the planet. The magma pool in the center spurted like a fountain priming its pump for a great expulsion.
Numer screamed. “You can’t still be alive, too!” This was worse than Wrodin—worse than Conrad and all his other agents combined. Numer sleeged to the exit that had so recently been his entrance, but a black stone slab dropped and blocked off the tunnel. He was trapped.
“I am! I was nearly spent when I erupted the volcano, but Cagnorm lives!” The shaking settled down, and a magma tentacle rose out of the pool. A black spot on the tentacle blinked at Numer.
Cagnorm, like Wrodin and Sawn, had been given life through Conrad’s technology, but in this case it was not a machine but living magma. Magma with the ability to control the volcano that contained it.
“Actually,” the magma monster said in a whiny voice, “I would have died if The Conqueror’s other guys hadn’t gotten me back here. I almost hardened into stone after flying out.”
Numer bashed his mallet against the obstructing stone slab and looked for a crack. He had to get out of the volcano, out to anywhere.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Cagnorm said, “is that . . .? It is! It’s the crystal!” Cagnorm laughed and jiggled in the pool. “I knew they wouldn’t leave me out! The Conqueror had them lead you here so I can take you out, right? Ha-haaa!”
Numer turned to Cagnorm. He uttered an uncertain syllable. Should he tell the talking magma with control over the volcano that they were right and thus had reason to attack, or tell the goopy mass that he had arrived by accident and thus Cagnorm wasn’t part of Conrad’s plan, thereby making the hot mass sad and probably angry? Neither choice seemed beneficial to Numer.
“I knew it! I knew they wanted me to help. This is the best birthday ever!”
Numer looked around the cavern. His gaze followed the curve of the wall; a wide stone staircase spiraled upward to the top of the volcano. Gray in color, it appeared to be smoother than the rock of the volcano wall yet was easy to miss if you weren’t looking right at it. Third option: say nothing. Numer sleeged up the stairs.
“Hey, wait! Come back here and fight me,” Cagnorm yelled. “Come on! Come back. I won’t hurt you. I just . . . I want someone to talk to. Please?” Cagnorm looked down and muttered, “I’m so lonely . . .”
The stairs wound up and around the tall volcano’s central chimney several times. By the time Numer neared the top he gasped in great breaths of fresh air as though he hadn’t breathed for years. He crawled up the last several steps, the crystal on his back. When he reached the lip he pulled himself out of the mouth of Mount Chiphus and fell over, still panting. The cool breeze above the hot cavern gave little relief to his overheated, overexerted body.
As Numer panted, a red figure flew onto the volcano and landed next to him. Numer looked at the crawber, groaned internally, and slowly got up, still panting. He tried to speak, but he could only gasp for breath. He fell over, the world spinning and fuzzy.
The crawber chuckled. “Go on, my boy. Catch your breath, first.”
Once Numer could talk again, he said, “Why did it have to be today? I was finally going to tell Cherry I loved her, but now everything . . .” He held onto the crystal and struggled to stand. “Why am I worried about this now? Whatever. What do you even want with this crystal?”
“You’ve no idea, then?” the crawber asked, his face a wide grin that seemed tattooed to his awful, jagged face. “You don’t know how I have been locked away for so long, sensing the crystal far above me?” He looked Numer up and down. “Whatever do you simple slugs need its magic for?”
Numer looked between the crawber and the crystal. The crawber seemed to know a lot about the crystal’s power. “It prevents disasters.”
“Ah, disasters,” the crawber said. He placed his staff upright on the ground and sat on it, holding onto the tall stick with his thin legs. He leaned forward towards Numer. “What fun! I love a good disaster. A bad harvest, a tidal wave, an attack of bandits . . .”
Those things sounded rather familiar to Numer. Wait . . . Those are things that happened in Nottle’s history when the crystal was removed. “You caused those disasters?” Numer asked.
“It is what I do best.”
“But you said you were locked away,” Numer said. “The disasters only happened when the crystal . . .” Numer’s words trailed off as the thoughts sleeged together in his head. “It’s a lock. The crystal locks you away. It protects us from you.”
“You got it,” the crawber said. “And when that lock is removed, I begin to escape and to spread my magic.” He grabbed the staff and floated higher. “Given enough time I could escape in full, but someone bypassed the lock. Now I have been fully freed.” He pointed the staff out over the island. “Do you hear me, world?” he screamed to the sky, smile widening. “I will see to it that this planet pays for detaining me! It’s time for the return of Darmenzi!”
*clatter* *”Darmenzi? Oh no, oh no.”*
Darmenzi?? This thing is Darmenzi???
Don’t be so fake concerned, Wally.
No, I’m very concerned!!!
Oh, sorry. All those multiple punctuations give off a feel of fake concern.
Duth, let’s get out of here. Darmenzi is here. You do remember he destroyed my old workplace, right?
Of course. He’s done a lot more than just that. I know as well as anyone what Darmenzi is capable of, but don’t worry, he’s not at full power right now. Besides, we’re in The Cloud. We’re safe and fine.
But if he’s weak right now, couldn’t we destroy him or something?
You’re the one who chided me for messing with events before.
That was me.
You were ganging up on me. Anyway, no, Wally, we’re here merely as documentarians, not to change events.
I just don’t like it.
Events don’t like you, either. Get back to work.
Darmenzi looked down at Numer and drifted closer. “And now, the crystal, if you please.”
Numer backed away. “What do you want it for?”
“To keep that frightful Conrad from getting it,” Darmenzi said. “You have no need for it now. It’s no longer doing its job. I shall dispose of it for you.”
Numer held up his mallet. “You just said you want this planet to pay. You said you caused those disasters. What if you cause more?”
“Come, now, I’m on the level. I was merely caught up in the joy of freedom.” Darmenzi waved the staff in front of Numer. “I’ll be off with it and no more disasters. Surely you agree that this is the best choice of action . . . Surely you agree that you should do as I say . . .”
Numer stared at Darmenzi.
Were Numer not staring so intently at Darmenzi, and had he not just climbed up the volcano staircase . . .
And had he a time-and-space-warping flying reality-bending ship he could use to document all this . . .
Er, right. If all that, then he would have seen this.
Or at least could have.
Or could have.
Cagnorm looked up from the magma pool. “Blaargenhaargen. I can’t even see him anymore.” They sighed or at least gurgled. “First clerpson I’ve gotten to talk to in months. Nobody ever visits the magma monster . . .” The magma pool rippled. Some bubbles popped out, and a rumble sounded from below. “Huh?”
Cagnorm screamed as the pool surged up like a miniature eruption.
“You have no quarrel with me,” Darmenzi said to Numer. “Now, why don’t you give me that crystal?”
Darmenzi’s voice, now sweet and kind and somehow sticky, echoed in Numer’s head. He wasn’t sure what was happening, and he couldn’t remember what he was doing before that voice entered his head. He held out the crystal to Darmenzi . . .
A shriek scattered the fog in Numer’s mind and he screamed. A flaming bird as big as Numer’s house flew before him above Mount Chiphus. The bird’s beak was thin and orange, the clawed feet black and thick as a slube. Its tail looked like a black torch, its tip a wild flame surpassing even the fire on its body in intensity.
“Chiphus,” Darmenzi said. “I see you are out as well.”
Chiphus? This bird, on Mount Chiphus, is called Chiphus?
The bird screeched again and engulfed Darmenzi with a stream of fire from its wings. When the flames subsided, Darmenzi was gone.
“Oh!” Numer said. “You just got rid of him. Are you on–” Chiphus screeched and released a volley of fireballs at Numer who screamed and sleeged around the mouth of the volcano. “Nope, not my side!” The inferno barrage charred the ground behind him.
Chiphus thrust its beak at Numer who fell back and stumbled away. He looked at the great, flaming avian and jumped back onto his tail. He’d fought things far scarier. Okay, maybe not, and with help from Cherry and Zeth, but was determined not to go down by flaming bird.
Numer slid away from a fireball and shot Chiphus with his mallet, but the particle beams reflected every which way. Chiphus flapped a flaming wing at the standing slube. Numer changed his mind. He would go down, but to the ground. He flopped down flat, and the wing passed over him. The heat seared him as it passed over and the flames licked his eyelids.
Gah, that’s hot. This is gonna dry out and shrivel my eyes like old fruit! Then I’ll just burn to a crisp. I need to get out of here.
Numer looked west. Nottle was tiny but visible. He couldn’t lead Chiphus to the town, though. He looked at the magenta ocean. If he could reach it, maybe he could extinguish the bird. But he didn’t even know how he could get off Mount Chiphus.
Chiphus’ screech brought Numer back to the fight. The fire bird flapped its wings and hurtled fireballs at Numer. The slube sleeged around the volcano mouth, barely keeping his tail off the flames. He fired his mallet at Chiphus. The shots still reflected off, and Chiphus struck down at Numer with a black talon. Numer swung his mallet and knocked it away, though it was bigger than his whole body. He stumbled backwards and fell onto his back. Chiphus thrust the other talon into the rocky ground beneath Numer and shattered it. Numer screamed as he flew into the air, tumbling with loose rocks and dust. Chiphus jabbed towards Numer with its beak, which was as big as him. The jittery slube grabbed onto it. He yelped as he looked up before him into Chiphus’ eyes, which were a bright, brilliant, burning blue. A blue unlike his skesh; no, this looked like the sky, if it were made of fire, or more like two searing-blue suns.
Numer clenched his eyes before they burned away. It felt like looking at suns, too.
Chiphus shook its head and flung Numer back onto the volcano. The bird struck at him with its talons, but Numer rolled away, clutching his mallet. Numer shot Chiphus again. Still the particle beams reflected off the flaming bird.
“Stop it!” a voice wailed from below.
“What?” Numer said. Was that Cagnorm? The volcano shook.
“What did I ever do to you? I mean, recently? If you’re going to shoot me from up there, I’m going to pound you from down here!”
With a rumble, a barrage of stones shot out of the volcano and smashed into Chiphus. The bird cried out as the sharp rocks tore through its body. Smoke streamed out where the rocks slashed it. Rocks! The particle beams couldn’t hurt Chiphus, but solid rocks could. Numer could kill one bird with a bunch of stones, regardless of how awful an idiom that would be. Numer bent low near the volcano’s lip and shot at Chiphus from below. The shots reflected off the bird and into the volcano.
“Ow! You’re still doing it!” Cagnorm shouted.
Another rock barrage launched into Chiphus. The bird screeched and fell onto the volcano’s lip. Its wings hung off the edges. Numer held up his mallet and inched towards Chiphus. All the fire on the body went out, revealing smooth, yellow feathers. Even without the fire the bird looked as bright as sunlight. Only the flame on the tail still burned. When Numer grew close, Chiphus looked at him with its burning blue eyes.
“So,” Numer said, “can we, maybe—I dunno. I didn’t want to fight, but you attacked, and—look, maybe . . .” Numer tried to collect his thoughts, watching the flaming-blue eyes. “Can you even understand me? Am I just talking to myself?”
Chiphus gave a cry almost like a sigh, and the fire on its tail went out. Its body collapsed into itself, now a ragged shape of ash on the volcano’s lip and billowing smoke slowly blown away by the wind.
“Okay,” Numer said. “I guess I did kill it. Or it suicided. Yes,” he continued to convince himself. “It couldn’t handle being outmatched by a tiny slube, so it turned itself into ash and smoke and”—a glint among the ash caught his attention—“what’s that?” Numer shuffled through the ash where Chiphus’ head had been. He pulled out a red orb. It was no bigger than his own head, opaque, a perfect sphere, and it felt slightly warm. He felt drawn to it like a family heirloom—he had no idea what it was, but it felt important to him.
“Haha! Like that? Take that! And that!” Cagnorm shouted. “I’ll bet you’re more black and blue than you are yellow now!” The rock barrage ended. “You probably got hit by so many rocks you stumbled back and fell off the volcano! Haha! That means I’m talking to myself now! Haha! Ha . . . haha . . .” The magma monster’s joyful rant trailed off to mutterings between sobs.
Numer looked off the edge of Mount Chiphus. Even without stumbling off backwards, getting down intact would be difficult. He had his mallet, the crystal fragment, and now this orb, and he was no mountain climber. He couldn’t even climb a tree. And this would be mountain descending, and with three objects to carry, it could easily turn into mountain falling.
Numer looked at the crystal chunk. Maybe he could slide it down the mountain. He’d slide down the mountain himself, but his skin would probably peel off. He looked at the crystal fragment again, judging its size and the finish of its surfaces.
It gave him an idea.
“This was a terrible idea!” Numer screamed. He slid down the mountain on the crystal chunk like a surfboard—well, a sled—well, more like a hospital stretcher with no wheels and no padding, tumbling down the jagged, craggy surface of a mountain, while he lay flat on a rough surface with only the wide sides of the crystal to cling to, while also holding a mallet and an orb.
At least he had slid past the most vertical upper part of the volcano, or so Numer might have thought were he not currently screaming so loudly his thoughts fled his mind as he steered the crystal to avoid crashing into a rock and pushed his weight on the crystal so it wouldn’t flip over and tried not to fall off the crystal or otherwise do one of about a million things that might kill him.
And there it went. The crystal slipped out from under him, sending him tumbling down the mountain, rolling like a tire, falling at such a velocity that he would certainly splat like a bug on a windshield if he hit a chunk of rock now.
Luckily for him, he instead rolled off the edge of a cliff and freefell to the base of the volcano, the fields of Hackney far below him—they wouldn’t be below him for long, though.
Luckily for him? I think you mean, “Bye, Numer!”
I don’t think this was just a terrible idea; I think it might have been a suicidal one.
Well, no, if it was suicidal, he would probably die.
I’m not sure how that changes my point.
Darmenzi! Available now–or tomorrow, depending on when you’re reading this–on Smashwords!