Underground With Nickelan Wand, Book One: Kid City

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Chapter 10

The drumming was disorganized and wild. It didnt follow any obvious pattern. There was a beat, but you couldnt dance to it. The noise was more akin to a stampede or avalanche of sounds rather than a musical composition. It evoked fear, which is exactly what it was intended to do.

Pirates,Hooken whispered.

Gelsomina gathered the group in a circle, their backs to one another. They faced out in all directions.

Drums echoed off the crashing surf, bounced over the sandy beachfront like a ball and shook the branches of the surrounding woods, sending leaves fluttering down to the ground. It was pitch-black, and while the kidseyes had adjusted to the darkness they still couldnt see more than an arms length before them.

Where are they coming from?asked Chairman Meow, pulling the long cat tail between her legs.

As if to answer her question, lights danced from within the woods, illuminating the rough trunks of the trees. A secondary rhythm played beneath the overpowering pounding of the drums. It was the sound of chanting and crunching dry twigs and leaves, as the pirates grew closer.

Were trapped,Count Blood said, lifting his black cape to his plastic fangs, which hung loosely from his mouth.

There was no place to hide. The ocean behind, the pirates moving on them, and from either side stretched exposed beach. They could only stand their ground.

Shiny Buttons held up her magic wand with the sparkly star on top. Spike Vrusho spread his legs, bent his knees and swung his bat over his shoulder, waiting for the intruders to reach his strike zone. Hop Long removed his toy pistol from its holster around his waist and, cocking it, took aim at the play of torchlight coming from the woods. Chairman Meow let go of her tail and held her costume claws defensively in front of her. Hooken Ladder held a plastic ax. Count Blood bared his fake fangs. Fischel Bocephus pulled down the sun visor on his space helmet, which looked intimidating but was counterproductive as it made him blinder than he already was in the lightless night. Gelsomina Gillespie tightened her little hands into small and powerful fists. Nickelan Wand reached for the sword that he had lost during his battle with the Makas and finding it missing was resigned for the second time that day to die.

Once dark and lifeless, the woods were now alive with the flickering flames of handheld torches. They lit the dense wooded area like a nightmare, making the woods even more threatening than when shrouded in darkness. The drums were almost deafening, but the shouts and calls of the pirates rode over the pounding like a traumatic melody. Air filled with the heavy scent of burnt rags, wood and gasoline. The kidsmouths were dry. They could taste the coming conflict as if it was a piece of rotten meat. Their skin was colder than their damp clothes warranted. All five senses were alarmed.

A tumble of ragged teenagers rolled out laughing onto the sandy beach like circus clowns. They flipped and fell over one another, dropping their torches and pouring out a strong drink from the earthen jugs they carried.

What are you doing on our beach?asked one of the pirates, noticing the circle of kids glaring at him with their sharp little eyes. Get lost, were trying to party here.

The teenaged pirates threw their torches together, making a large bonfire, and huddled around the growing flames beating their drums. When their mouths werent wrapped around fat jugs of strong drink they sang off-key sea shanties.

Go on!the pirate shouted. Get! Scram! We dont want a bunch of kids messing up our good times! Make like a foot and shoo!That made him crack up, but Gelsomina kept a stony expression on her face and held her fists firmly in front of her.

The pirate was reedy, tall and skinny with a mossy growth of facial hair that fell long but sparsely from his chin. He wore a black three-cornered hat with a skull and crossbones made from an actual skeleton pinned to its front. His chest was hairless and naked except for a tattered purple vest with gold trim. Around his waist was a thick belt with an oversized square buckle made of tarnished silver. A telescope, a musket with a muzzle that blossomed at the end of its barrel like a dangerous flower and a wide, curved sword hung from the belt. On his feet, and reaching just below his knees, was a pair of beaten-up leather boots. He looked the picture of a pirate, right down to the eye patch fixed to his face, but it didnt cover his eye. The eye patch rested above it, on his dirty forehead and was partially covered by the long, greasy locks of hair that dripped over his face like an oil spill. Only the constellation of pimples that dotted his forehead and cheeks disrupted the ferocious image of piracy he created.

Are you dumb or something?the pirate asked. Youleavenow,he added slowly, as if talking to a dumb animal.

Come on, team,Gelsomina said, still keeping her fists high and her eyes on the pirate and his crew, who were dancing around the bonfire they made. Lets go.

Gelsomina?the pirate asked. Gelsomina Gillespie?

Dollar?Gelsomina asked. Dollar Green?

Ho-ha!Dollar Green ran up to Gelsomina and hugged her so hard that she came off the ground. I havent seen you in ages.

Put me down, you lug.Gelsomina laughed. Youve changed.

Yeah,Dollar Green said, Ive grown up. Sort of.He rubbed his weak beard. Im still a team leader, only as you can see Im not flying the Kid City flag anymore.

I was wondering what became of you,Gelsomina said.

Hey fellows!Dollar Green shouted at the oblivious pirates. This is Gelsomina Gillespie, the toughest kid in Kid City. She was on my team, back when I was a kid.

What are you now?teased Gelsomina.

Dollar Green feigned a series of jabs and uppercuts. I still got the energy of a kid only in the body of an adult,Dollar Green said, resting his fists by his side. I feel like Im going to explode! Come on, lets have a drink.

Cautiously the kids broke from their defensive positions and joined the rollicking pirates as they danced and sang around the raging bonfire.

The teenage pirates had long been the scourge of both Kid City and Thunder World. They lived as nomads, sailing the channels of the Lands Between and raiding Kid City and Thunder World outposts for their sustenance. Pirates were too old for citizenship in Kids City, but young enough that theyd be enslaved if they ventured into Thunder World. Denied by both, they rebelled against all and plundered at random what they needed without care for where they came from or where they were going. They lived hand to mouth, those hands armed with swords and muskets and their mouths singing foul rhymes broadcast over the tinny speakers of their portable radios.

Windshield Wipers Go!shouted one pirate, a bandanna tied around his head and nearly blinding his bloodshot eyes.

The Darkness Begins!shouted another, lying on the sand unable to stand.

The Darkness Beginssucks!shouted the pirate standing with the bandanna over his eyes.

Windshield Wipers Goblow!spat the other from the ground.

Oh yeah?said the bandanna-wearing pirate. You suck!

I suck?answered the pirate, struggling to stand. No, you blow!

The prone pirate managed to get on his feet, but his knees wobbled from too much drink. The blindfolded pirate in the bandanna jumped on him. The two wrestled away from the fire and disappeared into the night screaming, Windshield Wipers Go! The Darkness Begins!

They both suck,Gelsomina said, smiling at Dollar Green, who sat with her on a log a few feet from the fire and the merriment of the pirates.

No way,Dollar Green said seriously. The Darkness Begins rock.

Id rather play than listen to that noise,commented Gelsomina.

The Darkness Begins and Windshield Wipers Go were currently the biggest acts on pirate radio. The radios in Kid City often tuned in on the pirate stations, but with little interest. Music was an ignored soundtrack in a land where roller coasters served as public transportation and the streets were paved with candy.

When did you take over the team?Dollar Green asked, changing the subject.

You left us leaderless,Gelsomina said, someone had to protect the Eastside.

Well, I got too old for kid stuff,Dollar Green said. Why secure the borders of Kid City if all you want to do is get the hell out of there?

And go where?asked Gelsomina. Thunder World, the Lands Betweenyoud rather be a slave or a dinosaurs lunch?

Youre just a kid,Dollar Green said, frowning. You dont understand.

Yeah,Gelsomina said, Im not as mature as you and your friends.She gestured at the drunken mass, some pissing into the bonfire, the only thing holding off the nights chill.

Have a drink and relax,Dollar Green said, shoving the half-empty jug under her nose.

The fumes from the jug made Gelsominas eyes tear. Fischel grabbed it from her. Ill have a swig,he said and turned the jug upside down over his agape mouth. The clear liquid poured into Fischels mouth and over his lips, spilling onto his space suit and discoloring it. Fischel dropped the jug into the sand, his eyes popping from his head as if they were about to shoot out of his skull. Ugh!he gagged. Fischel spat onto the sand and clutched his stomach. My mouth is on fire!he screamed, much to Dollar Greens amusement.

How do you two know each other?Fischel asked, trying to distract attention from himself and his retching guts.

I told you, boy,Dollar Green said, casually using the insulting term for kid that the grown-ups bantered about like a weapon. Gelsomina was on my team back in the days when I was a team leader in the Kid City army.

He was my first commander,Gelsomina added. Dollar Green was a great leader. We had some adventures,she said, her dark eyes becoming reflective. Battles with Makas, dinosaur huntsremember that time we stumbled on a dragon mother protecting her eggs?

Youre fiercer than any dragon.Dollar Green laughed and followed that by upturning another jug and sucking down the dregs.

When I first met Gelsomina she was a mere pup,Dollar Green said tossing his empty jug into the bonfire. She had been abandoned at the gates of Kid City. Just a little baby wrapped in a towel, she was the cutest thing.

Shut up,Gelsomina said, embarrassed.

Before she could walk, Gelsomina knew how to use a sword,Dollar Green said impressed. When she could walk, she walked right up to me as I was marching my team through Kid City and demanded I take her on as an apprentice soldier. Gelsomina may talk about protecting a kids right to play, but shes a born fighter, tough as leather and just as hard. I wouldnt want to mess with her. But what are you doing so far from Kid City?

We were on an intelligence mission and got surprised outside of Thunder World by a Maka platoon,Gelsomina said.

Id think even a battalion of Makas would run scared from the mighty Gelsomina Gillespie,Dollar Green smiled.

Yeah, well, we were overpowered and imprisoned,Gelsomina said reluctantly. Wed be at the slave auction now if it wasnt for this guy.She pointed to Nickelan.

Nickelan Wand,said Nickelan, sticking out his right hand to shake.

Dollar Green let Nickelans hand hang there.

Ive always loved pirates,Nickelan added, trying to be friendly.

You havent met many, have you, boy?Dollar Green said coldly.

Dont mind Nickelan,Fischel said, spinning his index finger in a circle around his temple, he hears voices.

A baseball bat smashed the log inches from where Fischel was sitting. The impact sent wood chips raining over him. Fischel fell to the ground, wrapping his arms over his head.

Next one wont miss,Spike sneered at Fischel. He turned and nodded respectfully to Nickelan before returning to the festivities around the bonfire.

They think hes the Redeemer,explained Gelsomina to the perplexed Dollar Green.

And what do you think, Gelsomina?Dollar Green asked.

I think Im thirsty,she said. Do you have another jug?

Dollar Green grabbed a jug from the swinging arm of a nearby reveler and passed it to Gelsomina. The fermented juice inside sloshed around in the jug as Gelsomina tilted it to her small lips. Her cheeks filled and reddened. She spit out the offending liquid at her feet where it quickly absorbed into the sand.

Why do you drink that swill?Gelsomina asked.

It makes me feel happy,Dollar Green answered, before it makes me tired, then sick and achy the next day. But the day after that theres always another jug to start the whole thing over again.

Youre nuts,Gelsomina said, returning the jug to Dollar Green who took a long pull from it.

Dollar Green wiped his wet lips with a pale and sandy forearm. He looked over the at other pirates dancing and singing around the bonfire. Gelsominas team had joined the pirates. They were throwing sticks and stones into the great fire. Some hesitantly tasted the booze only to immediately spit it out into the fire, which flamed in appreciation of the added fuel. Others were urinating or vomiting into the fire, and the flames accepted these tributes as well. The party raged on into the night, pirates and kids passed out in heaps around the strong fire. In time the kids on Gelsominas team would be pirates, even Gelsomina herself, though she would never admit it.

When it was almost dawn, hardly anyone was conscious. The last revelers sucked the remnants of moisture from the few jugs that had not been broken and fed to the fire.

The bonfire was dying as the Fire over the Pipes once again ignited in the East and began its slow journey across the patchwork of greasy metal. Gelsominas eyes were as steely as the Pipes and the fire burning behind her dark orbs as intense as the Fire lighting the dawning sky.

Dollar Greens eyes were dull from drink and half-closed. He couldnt sit erect and wavered over the log he was sitting on like a tattered Jolly Roger on a pirate ship.

We ship off this morning,Dollar Green slurred.

Youre in no condition to sail,Gelsomina observed.

Im a pirate!Dollar Green stood, suddenly animated. Im in no condition to do anything! But if you want safe passage to Kid City, you can board with us.He motioned to the carpet of prostrate and moaning bodies that littered the beach like the embers from the last gasp of the fading bonfire.

We dont have much of a choice,Gelsomina admitted. Wheres your vessel?

Yonder,Dollar Green said, pointing to where the beachfront curved around a rocky jetty.

Youve come a long way from Kid City,Gelsomina said, captaining your own pirate ship.

Yes,Dollar Green smiled, Im quite the overachiever, but Im just the first mate.

Whos your captain?Gelsomina wondered aloud. Her question was answered by a thick silhouette, which appeared between her and the Fire, a formidable figure of great bulk that held itself with authority. The form hobbled forward on a peg leg. The individual wore a long flowing overcoat with many buckles and medallions. There was a parrot on his shoulder. His face was partially hidden by the shadow of his elaborate headgear, a hat that was so festooned with flowers and feathers that it resembled more a garden than the hat of a distinguished sea captain. But, then, this was not a distinguished seaman, but a pirate captain, and even from a distance Gelsomina could see that it was no teenager but a man.

Ahoy!the captain shouted. Avast, ye bilge rats, blotted on grog again, are ye? Dollar, gather ye urchins, we haul keel presently!

I know that voice,Nickelan said groggily as he pulled himself from the sandy bed he had tried unsuccessfully to sleep in. Selwyn Harris!

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