A tap on his arm woke Zack. DG gestured for him to follow her out of the tent. He yawned as he shoved his feet into his shoes. She waited at the log, and the suns were barely up. "Sorry, do you need coffee?"
"Bleah, no. Does the O.Z. have Mountain Dew?"
"Nope, just coffee. And I spent a week here running for my life everyday before anybody told me."
Zack groaned. "My backpack needs a cooler in it. Did you get any sleep last night?"
DG turned to hide her face, but he had seen the dark smudges under her blue eyes. "A little, before the nightmares woke me up. I have to do something about them."
"I'm not a therapist, why wake me up?"
"I need to learn some self-defense. Hand-to-hand combat means you or Glitch. And Glitch will be too afraid of hurting me."
He ran his fingers through his hair. He wasn't surprised at the asking, not after what had almost happened. And it was stupid to not give a target some training. Even April knew a few moves, and was getting scary competent with a katana. "You'd probably be better off with a baseball bat."
"They don't have baseball in the O.Z."
"Damn, the one team sport I'm decent at. What?" He asked at her skeptical look. "I'm too short for basketball and not stupid enough to try football. Wait here." The men were still asleep, so he was able to pull his backpack out of the tent without any issues. "First, we get out of the way." He headed toward a grassy spot away from the tents. "Second, have you ever fought before? Real people not holograms." Her face reddened. "Fess up; you're too much like Allie for me not to believe you never took a swing at anyone."
"I'm not sure I should be flattered by that with the way you describe your sister."
"I love my sister and she only uses her violent tendencies for good."
DG sighed. "I broke Jimmy Gulch's nose our senior year. And he totally deserved it. I also had a self-defense lecture when I started college. How to use pepper spray and keep your doors locked."
Zack held up his hand for her to stop. "I know about that useless lecture." He set the backpack down. "I don't have a mat, but neither does real life situations." He marked the other three corners by sticking his sais and the iron knife into the ground. "This is the sparring area. Now, I need to see how strong you are."
"No holding back because I'm a girl."
"I'm going to hold back because you've never done this before. Go at full speed and you won't see what to do." He clasped her hands and pulled her arms up to chest level. "Push as hard as you can." She was stronger than he had expected after five months of palace life. "I'm gonna push back. Don't let me push you over." She had to dig her heels in but her eyes widened. She hadn't realized how strong she is. "You grew up on a farm, right? Chores tend to build muscle."
"I have muscle? Wow." DG flexed her arm.
"I doubt the O.Z. has weightlifting for princesses, but you need to keep up your muscle strength."
"There are plenty of stairs. I'll never need a StairMaster again."
"Do push ups, real ones, for upper body strength." Zack settled into the basic stance. "The most important thing is to keep on your feet. You can do more damage that way."
DG nodded and copied his stance. He pushed her over. "What the…?" She glared at him.
"Nobody gets that stance right the first time. You need to train your body to go to it instantly. You tossed any hay bales?" She nodded, her blue eyes narrowed. "Mime doing that." She set her feet, bent over, and swung her arms out. "Again." This time he tried to push her before she bent over. DG didn't budge. "That's your stance. Don't look so surprised. Most martial arts were invented by farmers to fight against superior forces."
"Really? I thought it was those samurai guys."
"They're responsible for bushido and jiu jitsu. Karate, kung fu, and taekwondo were invented by farmers and monks."
She put her hair in a ponytail. "So what do you have a belt in?"
"Never heard of it."
"It also called ninjutsu."
DG's mouth fell open. "You're a ninja? There's real ninjas on the Other Side?"
"Maybe not in Kansas. But there's real aliens and mutants on Earth too, so why not ninjas?"
"I think I left right before things got interesting."
"Maybe, but look what you got in return?" Zack gestured at the surroundings.
Her face was bleak. "It's not what I wanted. Or what I need."
"You don't need Cain?"
She let out a strangled groan. "Unless you want to have a TMI moment, don't go there."
"Okay, just one question and back to the serious stuff." He struggled to keep his face straight. "No vibrators in the O.Z.?"
"None! I grossed out Az when I asked and then had to describe what I was talking about. Apparently, princesses aren't supposed to get sexually frustrated." She huffed while Zack chuckled. "You are truly evil, you know that?"
"It's little brother survival syndrome. You get used to it. Get back in the stance. You like to charge in. Second most important thing, let your opponent do the charging so you can use their momentum against them."
"That doesn't make any sense."
Zack moved his feet. "Come at me."
DG shrugged then ran at him, arm cocked back to hit him. He grabbed and heaved. She blinked up at him, sprawled out. "Ow. Okay, I get it." She sat up on her elbows. "But what if there's an advantage to charging in?"
"Not without a lot more training." He pulled her to her feet. "You have guards and bodyguards to take care of that."
"I don't need them to fight for me!"
"Then look at it as fighting with you! But your position in the team is to look helpless until a nasty Longcoat tries to grab you, and then," he threw his fist into the palm of his other hand. She looked at him dubiously. "Borrowing strategy from role-playing games, you protect the wizard because they can heal you or blast the enemy with a fireball. Once you know how to use your magic that way, you can charge in. But you need something for when you can't use magic."
She cocked her head with a small smile. "If you can't get back, can you stay with me and talk sense into the well-meaning idiots? I try to say something like that, and all they hear is 'the Princess wants to get herself killed!'."
"I can't make any long term promises, but I'll do my best. Now I'm going to come at you, and you throw me." It took about five times, stressing the best places to grab, before she managed to sling him over her shoulder. He tucked into a roll and found his feet. "It'll be easier with a bigger opponent."
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall. What if they come from behind?"
He wrapped her arms around him. "I don't recommending falling back if they're bigger in that case. I've been slung over a shoulder before too. Foot between their feet, twist, and slam your elbow in their side." He pressed his elbow against her side. "Got that?"
"I think so." She moved to the center of the sparring area and put her back to him. "Ready."
Safe place, and no one had bothered them, was that why he didn't sense danger until it was nearly too late? Or was it because the attacker was ninja-quiet himself? Instead of grabbing DG, Zack shoved her away. He dropped and kicked out as he spun to face his attacker. The man fell back but kept his gun steady and pointed at Zack's head. He leapt away from DG, somersaulting in the air, and came down on his feet out of the path of the gun near his knife. The gun swung to meet him, and Zack tensed to dodge again.
"Wyatt Cain!" DG sat up and roared. "Put that gun away before I take it from you!"
Cain sat up and the blaze of anger on his face put Charlton Heston's NRA speeches to shame. Also the gun never wavered. "He was attacking you!"
"He was teaching me self-defense!" She climbed to her feet and set her hands on her hips. "Because I asked him to!"
The hairs on the back of Zack's neck pricked. He looked up. No, he couldn't reach the nearest branches of the trees and get out of the line of fire. He was too far away from the participants to get their attention off each other and nearly everyone in the camp was watching and he was going to be pulled in simply for trying to do the right thing.
Cain holstered his gun as he stood. Zack relaxed his muscles, but didn't rise out of the crouch just yet. Cain turned to DG but watched Zack too. "That was not self-defense. And it's not proper for you to be wrestling in public."
Zack cringed. Okay, who would be the safest to give the clue-by-four to? Jeb, please tell your father that DG is the same age as my sister and I'm not into older women. Cain wouldn't hurt his own son.
"I don't care what it looked like to you. Or what you think is appropriate. I want to be able to hurt Longcoats!"
Zack's eyes widened. She hadn't told anyone what happened to her in the tent. Man, Cain was going to get reamed and he didn't have clue it was coming or why.
"Tough, you're a Princess. It's not your job to hurt Longcoats, no matter how much they deserve it."
The wind circled the sparring area. "I am sick and tired of everyone in this realm giving me job advice. I'm the one with crown!"
Cain's hands clenched. "Then act like it!"
The wind blew harder. "And how should I do that? Keep in my rooms while the Zone falls apart? Not learn anything that's not on the approved list? Marry the man the Queen and her advisors say is the best deal? Squeeze out babies like a damn brood mare so the House of Gale won't run out of heirs? And never set foot out of the goddamn castle until it is stormed? And beat the invaders away with only a stick!" The wind buffeted the tents.
"Kuso," Zack muttered. He wrenched the iron knife out of the ground. He had no idea if this would work as he ran to DG. He slapped the knife against her shoulder where it wouldn't cut her.
Something like an electrical current pulsed and knocked him back. The wind stopped howling, and DG hissed, hugging her arm. She whirled to face him. "What the hell was that, a cattle prod?"
He stared at the iron knife. "And Lexington made fun of me for wanting it."
Cain's icy blue eyes stared down at him. "Stay out of this."
"Can't. She gave me a job." He stood up, and pointed to DG. "You can't blow us away because Cain is being a jackass." Zack ignored him to turn to Glitch, Raw, and Jeb, who crept forward. "Do you have iron in the O.Z.?"
"It's very rare," Glitch answered slowly.
"Kuso." Zack took the sheath off his leg. After sliding the knife in, he shoved the whole thing into DG's hands. "You wear it and you grab hold of it the next time you feel like throwing a temper tantrum."
"That was not a temper tantrum," she hissed.
"I didn't say it wasn't justified. But at this rate, you're going to start spawning tornadoes, if not a full-fledge hurricane. Iron short-circuits it." She looked disdainfully at the knife, and Zack felt his own temper spark. "Unless you want to kill one of your friends or an innocent bystander!"
Her eyes went wide and she clutched the knife and leather to her chest. Raw touched her shoulder. "Come DG. Jeb needs help."
"Yeah," the young man with thick blonde hair said looking at his seething father. "Opinion on magic." They led DG away, and Jeb only paused to yell at his soldiers to get back to work.
Zack crossed his arms as he turned to Cain. "I grew up in New York. You don't scare me."
"I never want to go to the Other Side then," Glitch muttered.
Cain's lips and jaw twitched for nearly five minutes before he managed to say anything. "You're filling her head that she can take on Longcoats."
"No, I was teaching her how to knock a Longcoat on his ass and run like hell if one tried to grab her. Which was what I was taught when I found out a megalomaniac wanted to kill me." Zack sighed, "Look, the rest of my clan made the same mistake with my sister. We can fight the baddies; she's just a dainty girl. Allie almost went insane before they got their heads out of their shells, and she didn't have DG's added stress. Until she has her magic under control, she needs a way to fight back." There, it made sense and didn't spill any secrets.
Cain heaved a sigh. "You're trying to help. And after what almost happened, she needs to feel safe." Zack's eyes widened. "Yeah, she told me. But you can't beat up on our Princess in front of everybody, training or not!"
"It wasn't in front of everyone until you made a scene."
"Can you wait until we're on our own again?"
He was trying to be reasonable. That was heaps of progress from pointing the gun. "If DG agrees, I'm good with that plan." Zack held his hand out. Cain's lips twitched but he shook it.