Underground With Nickelan Wand, Book One: Kid City

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Chapter 17

The blackness dulled Nickelan Wands senses but didnt deaden them. He could hear Baber Groans voice as if from a great distance. It was joined by the cackle of Baby Booba and Maka Mickey. Nickelan tried to open his eyes, but the lids felt as if they were made of lead and laid heavy as a metal slab on his face. Still, grayness lightened the black curtain that Baber Groans blow pulled over Nickelan. Through that film he could almost make out figures and movement. He felt himself moving, lifted by the strong arms of a Maka, its hot breath burning his skin.

A flapping sound made Nickelan turn his head, but it bobbed and fell unable to support itself. The noise got louder. There was a scurry of feet and the sound of dirt being kicked up.

Let them go,Baber Groan said, his voice echoing through the gray mist.

Nickelans eyes opened under the awning of Baber Groans chin. The Chief Maka was carrying him. Above the Maka, Nickelan saw the soft underbelly of the dragon. It was flying away, and though he couldnt see them, Nickelan knew it was flying away with Gelsomina and her Red Team. Nickelan would have felt frightened and abandoned if he hadnt already felt so much pain. His head was throbbing and with each agonizing beat the discomfort grew. He closed his eyes again, but now the grayness was spotted with what looked like colorful fireworks exploding inside his head. There was no escape from his misery.

Theres no escape from Baber Groan, boy,Baber Groan said, as if reading his mind, noticing Nickelan was conscious again. Looks like your team has sacrificed you,he said, looking up as the dragon glided off into the still dark night. You were lucky the first time we met, but your luck has run out.

How?Nickelan could barely utter a word yet alone string together a series of them to form a sentence. His curiosity was greater than his discomfort. He forced a question through his bruised mouth: how did the Makas escape the wreck of the Happyland?

Poor boy,Baber Groan said, looking down at the battered and limp Nickelan Wand in his large arms. It was almost as if he was empathetic to Nickelans plight. You didnt actually believe a little water could stop a Maka? All your friends managed to do was extend your false sense of freedom for a short time. I hope it comforts you when youre back in Thunder World and chained to a work gang.

Nickelans hands tightened to fists and he tried to lift one, but was too weak. His face was lying against the meaty expanse of Baber Groans chest. Nickelan bit his teeth into the Makas exposed skin.

Ow!Baber Groan recoiled and dropped Nickelan to the ground. Fool, think you can hurt me? I was simply startled. But thanks for reminding me, Im hungry.Baber Groan looked hungrily at Nickelan and for a moment Nickelan thought he might be Baber Groans meal. Fix a fire,he barked to his henchmen. Well camp here for the night.

It was cold and Nickelan crawled to bask near the fire. He slowly regained his strength and noticed beyond the mask of pain there was a rumbling in his stomach. He was starving, and it didnt help that Baber Groan, Baby Booba and Maka Mickey were roasting their dinner and filling the air with its savory smells. They shoved large sticks into the fire and from the sticks hung gamey strains of meat dripping grease that crackled when consumed by the flames. The food looked awful, but Nickelans empty stomach hungered for it.

Give him a piece,Baber Groan said to his henchmen, we dont want him to die before we can sell him.Baber Groan then wiped his lips, which glistened with fat in the flickering flames of the fire.

You give him a piece,Baby Booba said to Maka Mickey, Im hungry.

No,Maka Mickey replied sharply. He turned to Baber Groan. You give him a piece!Then sheepishly: Ah, sorry, boss, but I dont have enough to share. I need my nutrition. I am flying us all back to Thunder World in the morning.He then stretched out his wide wings and flapped them for emphasis, which fanned the flames of the fire, lighting up Baber Groans angry face.

Give him some of your meat,Baber Groan said to Baby Booba.

Boss,Baby Booba hesitated, its obvious that this skinny boy is a vegetarian. Just look at him, his sickly pallor is a sure sign.

Those are bruises,Baber Groan corrected him.

Still, I wouldnt want to further assault his sensibilities,Baby Booba defended himself. Its a personal choice and I respect it. There are many environmental, economic and ethical reasons not to eat meat. I choose to ignore these, but our young charge has taken a different life path. I think we must recognize his decision and abide by it.

Baber Groan chewed what was in his mouth and appeared to be chewing in his mind what Baby Booba had just told him. Then with a sudden blow using the stick that had been cooking his meal, Baber Groan slapped Baby Boobas food to the ground. Give it to him!Baber Groan ordered. Baby Booba reluctantly kicked over the smoking flesh to Nickelan, who was curled up beside the fire like a dog.

Nickelan snapped up the fallen meat, but his mouth refused to open as he brought it to his face. The meat was covered in dirt, which was bad enough, but it was also poorly cleaned before going into the fire. There were clumps of fur and burnt hide still clinging to the meat. Nickelan would have eaten around that, his hunger was that severe, but the sight of maggots crawling through the cooked meat, where the fire hadnt burnt them to a crisp, made him lose his appetite. He threw the food into the fire.

See,Baby Booba said triumphantly, I told you he was a vegetarian! But Im not,and with that he reached into the hot flames to save the discarded piece of meat. Baby Boobas arm came back from the fire with the meat in his hands and his flesh burning from his wrist to his elbow. Maka Mickey salivated with renewed appetite as he eyed Baby Boobas arm. Its all mine,Baby Booba said, staring back at Maka Mickey and patting out the flames that licked his arm. Nickelan wouldnt have been surprised to see Baby Booba gnawing on his own arm after he finished devouring the scrap of meat he rescued from the fire.

After dinner, the Makas sat around the fire burping and farting. Nickelans hunger passed and was replaced with a desire to escape. He was still weak from Baber Groans attack, but resting by the fire had revitalized him to the point where he felt once more in control of his body, even as it protested even the slightest movement.

Nickelan sat up and all three Makas jerked their heads in his direction. They calmed their guard seeing Nickelan pull his legs into his chest and wrap his arms around them as he looked at the glowing embers of the dying fire.

The Makas went back to burping and farting and generally enjoying the aftermath of a full stomach. Nickelan pretended to lose himself in the dance of the dying fire, but his mind was working on a strategy. Once he was free of the Makas, where would he go? He had no idea how to find Kid City or if what waited for him outside the dim ring of light from the fading fire was worse than being the Makasprisoner. One thing he knew was that he had to act, take responsibility for himself. Ever since landing in this topsy-turvy world Nickelan had been pulled about and ordered to and fro by a succession of dubious individuals whose intentions werent clear. It was time Nickelan took control of his own life. The idea terrified him, all the more so because he had no idea whatsoever of how to get away from his captors.

He needed a plan, but none came to him. He stared into the fire as if it might offer a suggestion. All the fire did was cackle at him and spit sparks as the last of the sap from the wood extinguished.

Chain him up,Baber Groan ordered. Its time for us to rest and Ill not have our boy sleepwalking in the middle of the night.

Chains?Baby Booba asked.

Didnt you bring the chains?Maka Mickey asked.

You didnt bring the chains?Baber Groan felt his stomach bubble with indigestion.

Theyre so heavy,Maka Mickey admitted. I had to carry you and Baby Booba from Thunder World, over The Septic, to here, and Ill have to take that much more weight coming back.He pointed heatedly at Nickelan. The chains would have broken me.

You work out, dont you?Baby Booba asked.

Well, yes, I do.Maka Mickey blushed. But its really more for definition than strength.

You look good,Baby Booba complimented Maka Mickey, who smiled and turned his head shyly to the side.

If you two lovebirds can stop courting one another for a moment maybe you can get strong vine to bind our prisoner?Baber Groan spoke in a tight, high voice to contain his fury.

Its dark out there,Maka Mickey said.

Yeah, I cant see anything,Baby Booba chimed in.

Get the vine, now!Baber Groan screamed, losing the battle of self-control.

The two henchmen left the weakening fire and disappeared despondently into the pitch-blackness beyond the campsite. Nickelan was alone with Baber Groan, the fiercest Maka of them all, but still only one Maka as opposed to three. Nickelan knew he would never have a better opportunity, and though he still had no idea what to do, he knew he had to do something now.

So,Nickelan stalled for time, do you come here often?

Whats that?Baber Groan had almost forgotten that Nickelan could speak. He thought of him merely as a package for delivery.

Gelsomina said no grown-ups could pass The Septic,Nickelan said, figuring out a course for his conversation to take. That there are no grown-ups in Kid City.

There is more to the world than little Gelsomina knows,Baber Groan said.

But shes never seen a grownup make it past The Septic into the Lands Between.Nickelan was fishing, hoping to hook a gregarious side of the powerful Maka.

Please,Baber Groan dismissed Nickelan. That open sewer? Its just waste. Do you think I cant hold my nose? Do you think I, who can wrestle a Tyrannosaurus Rex to submission, care about excremental matter? Id drink the entire contents of The Septic if I had to. Id have made Baby Booba and Maka Mickey swim through the muck with me surfing behind them to capture you, Nickelan. Makas are warriors.

Baby Booba and Maka Mickey are warriors?Nickelan asked sincerely. He thought of them more like elephants at the circus, big and powerful, but ultimately silly entertainment.

Yes,Baber Groan took a reflective tone, they are warriors of a sort. Dont let their bickering confuse you. They can tear a boy apart like a dried leafand eat him whole without chewing,he said, looking directly at Nickelan.

Nickelan gulped, but not out of fear. His plan was to get the Makas attention off of him and now Baber Groan was staring down at Nickelan. It wasnt much of a plan, but it was all he had.

Are there grown-ups in Kid City?Nickelan asked to engage Baber Groan, but also to figure out where his parents might be.

Why would a grown-up want to return to Kid City?Baber Groan asked, genuinely confused. Thunder World has everything a man needs. There are plenty of dinosaurs to battle, other warriors to fight, test your killing skills.

Nickelan sensed an opening, a way to get Baber Groan away from him, if only for a minute. You battle dinosaurs?

Sure,Baber Groan said, smiling. You dont?

Ive never seen a real dinosaur,Nickelan admitted, only fossils in a museum.

Poor boy,Baber Groan said with real concern. Well remedy that soon enough.

You must be awfully strong to take on a T-Rex,Nickelan said.

The strongest,Baber Groan said, flexing his muscles in a grotesque pose.

Bet you cant lift that tree out of the ground,Nickelan said, gesturing towards a massive oak, its branches just visible in the dim light.

That little thing?Baber Groan chuckled. Ill use it for a toothpick,he said, striding over to the edge of darkness around the fire.

Baber Groan wrapped his solid arms around the tree, hugging it tightly, bending his knees and squatting. He grunted and Nickelan saw the muscles of his body rippled beneath the taut skin. With a roar he rose and standing took the great tree out of the ground. Dirt flew everywhere and Baber Groan twisted the stubborn roots from the ground with a crunching noise. Leaves and thin branches rained down around him like confetti in a parade. Well?Baber Groan turned proudly to witness the amazed look on Nickelans face. Only there was no amazed look because there was no face to hold it. Nickelan was gone.

No!Baber Groan yelled and threw the tall tree into the fire, smothering the last embers in a shower of sparks. With a leap that took him many feet in the air, Baber Groan jumped over the fallen tree and ran into the dark woods in search of Nickelan.

Baby Booba!Baber Groan called. Maka Mickey!But his henchmen didnt respond. Baber Groan stopped before the woods thickened with brush. He bent down and saw broken twigs. Picking up Nickelans trail, Baber Groan ran into the woods, knocking trees down with his broad shoulders.

Nickelan was running so hard his lungs hurt. He could hardly breathe, but continued pumping his feet, racing through the woods. He could hear Baber Groans earth-shattering gait behind him. Baber Groan was getting closer.

Baber Groan leaped over Nickelan and landed in front of him, facing him. The impact sent Nickelan off his feet and he rolled into Baber Groans legs, which stopped him, hard.

You missed the show,Baber Groan said. I lifted that oak out of the ground by the roots. You should have seen it. But, oh, you planned that, didnt you? Clever. Not so clever, though. Now youve worn out my generosity. Forget the vines. I wont tie you up. I think Ill bury you up to your neck in the hole where that tree once grew. Seems fitting, doesnt it?

Nickelan didnt respond. He jumped to his feet and ran, but he didnt go anywhere. Baber Groan laid a huge hand on Nickelans shoulder.

What about the tree?Baber Groan asked. It never did anything to you.

Nickelan turned to face Baber Groan. He loomed above Nickelan as big as a tree, his skin as hard as bark. Nickelan hit Baber Groan with his fists, pounding on his granite stomach until it was slick with blood, Nickelans blood.

Dont hurt yourself, boy,Baber Groan said, lifting Nickelan to his eye level. Therell be plenty of time for pain later.

Nickelan wanted to cry. He was emotionally, physically and mentally spent. It was all gone. He could do nothing more than wail in anguish. Nickelan collapsed against the broad torso of Baber Groan and closed his eyes, trying to blot out the reality of his dire situation.

Baber Groan looked confused by Nickelans fit. Come on, boy,he said. There are winners and there are losers. Youre a loser. If you werent then how could I be a winner? Think about it.

Nickelan looked up at Baber Groans face. It almost appeared sympathetic to his plight, but of course Baber Groan was going to take Nickelan back to Thunder World, where hed be enslaved, never to see his parents again, never to see Gelsomina again. Was she all right? The last time Nickelan saw her, she had been knocked unconscious by Baber Groan. Nickelan looked back up at Baber Groans face. His mouth was like a scar across the lower part of his head. In it were rows upon rows of sharp teeth like a shark.

Nickelan wanted to beat Baber Groan into pulp. He had no sword, no weapon. But there was something. He felt it hard between his body and Baber Groans mass. Reaching into his pocket, he removed a bar of soap that Springo had flushed down the toilet and Nickelan had pulled out of the Happylands head before it sank.

Whats this,Baber Groan asked, unconcerned, a snack?

That gave Nickelan an idea. He took the bar of soap and shoved it into Baber Groans grinning mouth. He shoved it as far down the Makas throat as his little arm could reach.

Surprised, Baber Groan dropped Nickelan to the ground. He landed on his bottom and from his seat at Baber Groans feet looked at the towering bulk of the Chief Maka and shared Baber Groans surprise.

Baber Groans face was almost completely covered in sudsy white foam. It poured out from his mouth as if he were rabid. Bubbles filled the air. Hesitantly, Nickelan put a hand into one of the bubbles. He feared it might burn or somehow have turned toxic in its journey from the world above. But it was just slippery soap. Nickelan rubbed it between his fingers and saw the brightness of his skin emerge from the dirty covering gathered over his adventurous stay underground.

What witchery is this?Baber Groan demanded. There was a hint of panic to his voice, something Nickelan had never heard coming from the powerful Maka before. Youve murdered me!

The soapy foam had engulfed Baber Groans head and was dropping over his shoulders, entombing the powerful Maka. He looked like a broken washing machine and clattered about blindly spewing the bubbling vomit from his mouth. Nickelan stood up and began to run, but was too amazed by the scene and slowed down to watch the mighty Maka brought to his knees by cleaning froth.

Help!Baber Groan called. I cant see. Everything is white, and it stings my eyes!

Boss!It was Baby Booba or Maka Mickey, Nickelan couldnt see, but he could hear them approaching fast and didnt wait around to find out.

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