Queen Ann Soforth's invasion of the Nome Kingdom gets off to a rocky start. (Get it? Rocky? It's funny because the Nome King rules a kingdom of minerals. That's kind of like rocks, see? Laugh, damn you!)
The Nome King tries to capture the Army of Oogaboo in a pit trap (Challenge Rating 1, according to my D&D books); Tik-Tok avoids it but his superior officers and Queen Ann herself fail their dice rolls and fall in. Tik-Tok marches straight on into the Nome King's throne room and informs Ruggedo that he has been conquered. Ruggedo declines, and there's a bit of a stand-off at gunpoint, but the Tarantino moment ends quickly when Betsy and Hank wander in.
The Nome King threatens Betsy, and she almost approaches Dorothy-esque levels of insouciance. The Nome King's steward Kaliko disables Tik-Tok, but a swift kick from Hank the Mule prevents General Guph from capturing Betsy. In the confusion, Kaliko, who is a decent enough chap even though he works for a megalomaniacal tyrant, leads Betsy to a small cavern refuge and supplies her with mushrooms and mineral bread with "petroleum butter."
Historical Digression: Petroleum butter was a reference Baum's audience would have recognized. Back in 1848 the inventor and entrepreneur Samuel Kier began marketing two patent medicines: Kier's Rock Oil, and Kier's Petroleum Butter. Patients were supposed to drink the Rock Oil, but the Butter was applied topically. Now since the main ingredient of Kier's Rock Oil was actual petroleum refined from a salt water well Kier owned in Pennsylvania, its medical benefits were limited to violent purging from both ends. Unsurprisingly, Kier's medical products were money-losers, so he switched to refining kerosene from his oil well and selling it as lamp fuel. With the price of whale oil surging at the time, Kier's kerosene was a hit, and the American oil business was born. Petroleum butter apparently lingered on as a skin protectant and treatment for burns, and we know it now as petroleum jelly.
Anyway. Betsy stays hidden in her cosy cavern, but Queen Ann is more resourceful. She and her officers can't climb out of the pit, but she finds a side-passage and boldly leads her command structure into it. It's a literal Dungeon Crawl!
The Shaggy Man, waiting outside with Polychrome, Ex-Pfc. Files, and Ozga the Rose Princess, happens to mention that he intends to use the Love Magnet to overcome Ruggedo if Tik-Tok fails to conquer him. But the Shaggy Man has not reckoned with the Surveillance State — in the person of Ruggedo's henchman the Long-Eared Hearer. The Hearer hears about the Magnet and informs Ruggedo, who prepares a trap.
Shaggy gets tired of waiting, goes inside — and walks right into the Nome King's trap. He gets snared in ropes so that he can't reach the Love Magnet and wave it around to make Ruggedo love him. (This is a slight change from Baum's earlier depictions of the Shaggy Man's magic item: in past volumes just having it on him made people love him. Now he has to show it.) For some reason Files and Ozga follow him and also get captured by Nomes.
Polychrome, smart Cloud Fairy girl that she is, tries to wake the dragon, but Quox is too sleepy, and his hide is too invulnerable. So she goes to have a look at Ruggedo's throne room herself. The lovely Rainbow's Daughter doesn't need a magic magnet to make Ruggedo fall in love with her. He offers to let her captive friends go if she'll agree to stay and be his queen.
Ruggedo the Nome King is in good company here: another well-known underground monarch, Hades, also fell in love with a divine maiden of the upper world and used all his magic powers to capture her. In the case of Hades it was Persephone, and he was only able to keep her in his underground realm by trickery for half the year. (Presumably during her six months of absence the gloomy king of the shades of the dead played a lot of videogames and ordered takeout a lot.)
For a good-hearted fairy maiden, Polychrome is actually kind of hard-nosed: she won't stay in the underground kingdom even to save her friends — and her fairy powers make it quite impossible for Ruggedo's Nomes to capture her. So he decides to up the ante, and proposes to torture his other captives if Polychrome refuses to stay. But Ann et al have gotten out of the pit and cannot be found, and Betsy and Hank are safely hidden from the Nome King's Gestapo.
He does manage to transform the Shaggy Man into a dove, and with Ex-Pfc. Files and Ozga at his mercy, Polychrome flees again to fetch the dragon. This time she manages to wake him, and Quox storms into the Nome King's cavern. But once again Ruggedo, like all good supervillains, has a trap prepared, and the dragon is wrapped in heavy chains held by a thousand Nomes.
Evil has triumphed! Poor Ozga has been turned into a fiddle and Files into a bow! Can nothing stop the Nome King's reign of terror? Don't miss our next thrilling episode!
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