Tin Man: Dragons and Ninjas

Chapter Eight

Cain stalked to Jeb's headquarters with Glitch on his heels. The soldiers watched them, but kept their comments to themselves. "Zipperhead, you don't know anything about what DG doesn't want you to know about."

"I understand, Cain. I just wished someone trusted me with it."

He made sure none of the soldiers were in earshot. "I haven't figured out why she trusted me with it. Especially since you're the compassionate one."

Glitch clapped his shoulder. "You underestimate your compassion, especially when it comes to DG."

"What was that getting married rant about?"

"One of the Queen's new advisors suggested that the best way to keep DG safe was to marry her off to the most suitable suitor and to have a baby as soon as possible." Glitch's wide mouth frowned. "He recommended six babies being the optimal number. DG rejected the idea rather colorfully, something about treating the livestock back in Kansas better, and said she was only marrying for love."

"The Queen replaced you with that guy?"

"I know. I can't believe it either." He led them to the headquarters tent.

Raw and Jeb both looked up. DG sat at a table, her hands resting on turned over papers and her eyes closed. "DG concentrating," Raw explained.

She blew a raspberry. "I could totally suck at this, but I can't sense any magic on these papers, Jeb." She looked at Cain. "You didn't shoot him."

His lips twitched. "We worked out a compromise. You can continue the self-defense once we're back on the road."

"Okay, thank you." She turned the papers over. "It must be some sort of code. I didn't get a good look at them, but that makes sense, right?"

"I've never seen a code like that before." Jeb propped his elbows on the table opposite from DG, who started shuffling through the papers. Her forehead furrowed. "DG?"

"Raw, go get Zack, please." The Viewer nodded and left.

"What is it?" Glitch asked as he looked over DG's shoulder.

"I think it's another language from the Other Side." Raw returned with Zack in tow. "Do you know Japanese?"

"Not fluently. Why?" She pushed the paper across the table so he could see. "It's kanji, alright, not so much hiragana and katakana. I don't think it's modern Japanese." He looked up. "How did you guess?"

"We had anime in Kansas. Can you translate it?"

"I'll try. I speak it better than I read it." He stuck his arm into his black bag and pulled out a thick hardbound book, a strange book that had pages bound with a spiral wire, and a pen. He opened the wire-bound book to a page with blue lines drawn on it. He copied the symbols from the papers, and printed out in Common what it must mean next to it.

"Why are Longcoats using a language from the Other Side?" Jeb asked.

Glitch moved to look over Zack's shoulder. "And how did it get to the O.Z.?"

"A travel storm went to Japan," DG suggested.

"But was it a natural one or manufactured?"

"Longcoats, please." Jeb rubbed his temple.

"Code talkers," Zack said.

Everyone turned to DG who shrugged. "What are code talkers?"

"Wow, I might actually pass the final. World War II."

DG huffed. "When I had world history in high school, the teacher spent three weeks on Napoleon's blue eyes and we only got to World War I by the end of the year." Zack shoved the hardbound book down the table to her. She opened it near the end. "Code talker is a person who talks using a coded language. It is frequently used to describe Native Americans whose primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages."

"It was Navajo in the Pacific theater," Zack added. "The Japanese had never heard or seen it, and they never broke it."

Jeb sat up. "How did that work?"

"They coded stuff with Navajo words. Grenade became potato. The two Navajo on the ends of the transmission knew the code. Anyone listening in the middle would have to know Navajo first and then figure out what they were talking about." Zack set the pen down. "I think we lucked up here. Whoever is using the Japanese with the Longcoats didn't take that extra step. There's only one word that doesn't make any sense, rei. It means nothing."

"It's not a word?" Glitch and Jeb both looked at the translation.

"Yes, it's a word. It means nothing, naught, the concept for doesn't exist. But it's following daishou."

"Bless you," DG said.

"That's a military rank, like a general. Rei should be a name in the sentence. 'Report to General Nothing at river Gill family.'"

"Gillikin River," Glitch corrected. Jeb pulled a map of the Northern Territories in front of him on the table. Zack jotted down the corrections to his list.

"DG!" Raw held her on the stool. The blood had drained from her face, and she clutched the hilt of the iron knife.

Cain started around the table to reach her, but she spoke before he did. "Could rei mean zero?"

"Sure," Zack frowned at her, "zero means nothing."

"Zero is a name." Cain gritted his teeth. "Akio Zero was a general of the Longcoats under the witch."

"But the prison he is in is in the Black Mountains, past the Crack in the O.Z." Jeb snorted, "He's gonna have a hard time making this appointment."

Now Glitch's face went paler than normal. His head swiveled between father and son. "You don't know, you don't know, you don't know."

"Maguire Prison was attacked three weeks ago. Zero was one of the escapees." DG focused her panicked blue eyes on Glitch. "I told the Generals to tell them. They said they were!"

Glitch stopped glitching without anyone hitting him, and he turned away from DG's gaze. "Yes, they agreed the Cains should know of his escape."

Jeb slammed his hands on the table. "Then why weren't we told?"

Cain looked back at DG and her stricken face focused on him. "I thought you knew," she breathed out. "I thought you knew and you came back anyway."

He stepped toward her. "Nobody told me anything, kiddo."

Raw whimpered. "No, DG. Everyone safe. Zero not get Cain. Everyone safe."

"For how long!" DG hugged the knife to her chest as she wrenched herself away from Raw's grasp. "I'm a traitor-in-training only tolerated because Az can't rule!" Tears rolled down her cheeks. "No, no, no! No more! She can't punish you if…" She sobbed and tried to run.

Cain caught her, holding her close to his chest. She didn't fight him and that alarmed him more than the outburst. "Raw, can you do anything?"

The Viewer had tears caught in his fur, but he laid a hand on DG's head. "Be calm. DG, listen to Cain. Come from dark road. Find heart and courage again. Please be calm." Raw's voice or his gifts worked. Her sobbing quieted, but she didn't lift her head from his chest.

A roaring Cain had never heard before echoed through the forest that housed the camp. Jeb jumped and ran to the doorway. Zack put his forehead on the table with an audible thump. "And cue the dragon."

"Is it coming this way?" Jeb asked as it roared again.

"I don't think so. Sounds like it's headed that way." Zack pointed to the northeast.

"Dad, take DG to her tent. That'll have my men distracted." Jeb plunged out of the doorway, and Cain followed with DG scooped into his arms. His son was already getting the men in line. Cain's long legs strode across the camp. DG didn't say anything as he eased them through the canvas flaps.

He sat her on her cot, and she still didn't say anything. "Can you put up a silencing spell? We need to talk."

She set the knife on the pillow and drew her hand over her head. "Set," she slid off the cot to kneel.

He set his hat on a stool and squatted in front of her. "DG, what's wrong?"

"I can't do this any more. I can't fight her any more." She stared at the ground between them. "Not if she's going to take you from me."

"Who?" But he already knew the answer.

"The Queen." Her voice cracked but she continued. "The Generals agreed with me that you and Jeb should be warned that Zero was loose. The only one who can overrule the Crown Princess is the Queen."

"Maybe the Generals had a military strategy, and they needed me and Jeb unaware." He reached out to touch her arm.

She shied away, and he dropped his hand before touching her. "Everything has been to punish me. I deserve it. I let the witch out. I put the O.Z. through hell."

"Stop it. You were only a kid, DG. You saved the O.Z. when you could."

She shook her head. "Don't think, just do what I say. Don't leave the palace. Don't use your magic. You can't be trusted. Don't meet the people. Stop them cheering for you. I was the one who was locked away for years. You must wear dresses and make-up and the pretty crown on your head. Stop being ungrateful. Stop missing the Other Side. You don't need friends. You don't need your nurture units. When are you going to stop acting like you don't know the O.Z.? Stop fighting with your father. You have your family back, why aren't you happy?" She looked up with the tears sliding down her cheeks. "The Queen says it better with a loving smile. Hell, she might even think she loves me. No, she loves the little girl she sent to the Other Side. She hates the Slipper that came back to take her place."

"DG," he whispered as his chest constricted.

"I owed it to the O.Z. to take it. I have to fix what the witch broke. I don't need her love." She touched the silver locket resting against her chest. "I had a mother and father. I made Glitch take me back to Milltown, to find out how much was faked from Father Vue. They didn't have to give me this! It wasn't part of their programming. They hated having to hurt me by keeping me trapped on the farm. But they knew I was going to fix everything, so they did their best. I could be strong for them, for you and Glitch and Raw. I would do what the Queen wanted, as much as I could stomach. No matter how it wasn't me. I survived being erased once, what's a few more times until the O.Z. is whole?"

Her hands fell to her lap. "I can't live with her attacking you."

"I wasn't attacked, Darlin'."

Her head jerked back up. "What reason is there for you not to know about Zero? He wants to kill you!" She closed her eyes. "I grabbed the knife 'cause I wanted her dead and I didn't know if my magic would do it."

Cain took a deep breath, but didn't feel like any air got to his lungs. "You're not a traitor, you're just upset. It's gonna be alright."

"She attacked you. She already fired Glitch. I don't know what she will do to Raw. Just because you side with me and call me friend. That's war, Cain. But I won't send you into battle; I'm loyal. Even if she doesn't deserve my loyalty."

He knelt, moving closer to her. "DG." His voice had never sounded so rough. She shook as he said her name. "There is no war."

Her shoulders flared back, and she looked him unflinching in the eye. "Jeb can spare two soldiers to escort me back to the Central City Palace. You keep Glitch and Raw safe. You're the only one who can."

"What are you going to do?"

"Give her back her light."

"WHAT!"

She didn't move. "She'll be strong enough to rule again. She won't have to worry about an embarrassment inheriting the throne after her."

He grabbed her shoulders and shook them. "No, you will not!"

"She might not even want it back. She might be happy just to wipe my memories and make me a little Stepford Princess, a doll brought to life to be the perfect fucking princess she never gave birth to!" Cain released her shoulders, but she grabbed two fistfuls of his duster. "No matter what happens, I won't be here anymore. I can't protect any of you. You're the only one who can! Promise me, Tin Man! Promise me you'll keep Glitch and Raw safe!"

Cain gripped her arms. "No."

"You have to!"

"I'm not making that promise to you."

"It's the only way to heal the O.Z.!"

He shook her. "The O.Z. doesn't need any more blood spilt on it, no matter how willing you are." He let her go and she sank back on her heels, not looking at him. There was only one solution. He felt colder than he felt coming out of the iron suit. He would survive without her some how. It would be easier knowing she was happy. "You're going back to the Other Side."

"You want me to cut and run, Wyatt Cain?"

His lips twitched. "Yes, run back to your peanut butter and pizza and motorcycle. Forget about the O.Z. and be happy again, back home."

"But that won't work!" DG jumped up to her feet and clutched at her head in frustration. "The Other Side wasn't home either! I just miss it because for fifteen years it was all I knew."

Cain stood up. "Then where's home?"

"Where your heart is." She dropped her arms. "Home is where your heart is; Popsicle always told me that. It wasn't in the programming." She had a glimmer of hope in her bloodshot eyes. "He had to tell me that because he loved me, right?"

"I'm sure that's why." He laid his fingers on her arms. He had to ask, but it would kill him as sure as a bullet, if she answered the cave. "Where is your heart, DG?"

She closed her eyes. "I gave it to a Tin Man who said he didn't have one." She stepped forward and laid her ear on his chest. "Still beating." It was beating hard enough to split his chest. "I guess I managed to fix one thing in the O.Z."

He wrapped his arms around her, pressing his cheek against the top of her head. He had to swallow a couple of times to regain his voice. "We can't have a heartless Princess. I guess I'm going to have to marry you, so you'll believe you have mine."

DG pulled her head back to stare at him, but didn't move her arms from around him. "Are you proposing to me, Tin Man?"

He smirked. "How many Princesses are available? And I've been falling for you since you let me out of the suit." He stroked her cheek, keeping his right arm planted around her waist.

"You haven't even kissed me yet."

"Well, that's your fault. You've delivered about five blows to my head today alone. No wonder I've gotten it all out of order." DG started to protest, but he crushed his lips against hers. She relaxed against his arms. His left hand cupped the back of her head and tipped it back. Her lips parted, letting his tongue dart in. She arched against him.

He let go of her lips, and touched his forehead to hers. "Yes," she whispered. He opened his eyes. "My answer is yes."

"No offering your mother your light? No offering your marbles to get erased?" She shook her head, rocking her forehead against his. "What about going to the Other Side?"

"Only if you go with me."

Cain stroked her back and she pressed harder against him. "I'd like to see where you grew up. And since my scary Tin Man face doesn't affect Zack, New York City sounds interesting. Do you think there'd be objections over a honeymoon on the Other Side?"

DG shifted her head to his chest. "Yes, but I'm ready to zap the people objecting. What good is being a Princess when nobody listens to you?"

"They're gonna start listening." He had something else to add; maybe along the idea of he would make them. But DG pulled his head down and kissed him. He gasped for breath as she trailed kisses down his neck. "Darlin'." He sat on the cot with her straddling his lap, unsure of how that move had happened and vaguely not caring as her tongue probed his mouth. He groaned into the kiss as she ran her fingers through his hair and down to his shoulders. His hands ran down her back to squeeze her backside, and she arched against him in response.

Her hands started attacking the buttons of his vest. He grabbed them, keeping them closed in his own. "Slow down, DG."

"Oh hell," her breathing was just as ragged as his. "Teasing me for months with those pants, staying off limits, and being so… so you! Damnit, you can't do this to me!"

He eased her back on his lap, and rested his hands on her hips. "Going through an emotional wringer is hardly perfect circumstances." Her frustrated face was adorable. "You need some time."

"No, I don't. I need you."

"Okay, then I need some time."

She placed her hands on his chest, apologetic. "I'm pushing too fast after Adora. I'm sorry. I can wait until you're ready."

Cain chuckled as he kissed her right hand's palm. "You just went from suicidal to trying to ravish me. Give me time to process that, Princess." She smiled, and his heart leapt to see the gleam in her blue eyes again. "Besides, you're forgetting political reality."

"I already told them I'm marrying for love."

"And you don't want it annulled because of treason." Her eyes widened as she sputtered, and he kissed her. "It's an old law, hasn't been enforced in years, but you and the House of Gale have enough enemies that might use it."

"Oh, that is just too messed up," DG sighed. "Pre-marital sex with a princess is treason." Cain nodded. "Does Jeb have a chaplain in his unit, a priest, someone who could marry us?"

He grinned, "You're serious?"

"Yes! DG is tired of not getting what she wants because of somebody else's stupid rules! Let's get married and rock my world, Tin Man."

She scrambled off, but he pulled her back down sitting across his legs. "Hold on." She relaxed against him. "You're not a virgin."

Her body stiffened. "Is that a deal breaker?" she whispered.

"No, of course not." He fought down a surge of jealousy. "It's just…. Things are different on the Other Side."

"I already traumatized Az with their sexual revolution. For a week, all she could say was 'I can't believe Father agreed for you to go.' I had sex once and it was a mistake. I didn't go work the Sin District."

"Why was it a mistake?" He hugged her closer.

"I thought it was something it wasn't, and I was rebelling a little bit. In case you're thinking Mom and Dad didn't cover the wait until you're married topic, they did. Jimmy Gulch took me to Senior Prom."

"The man who gave you the speeding ticket?"

"No, that was Elmer. Jimmy is his cousin. Prom is a ball the school gives to celebrate that you're almost done and to give you some experience with fancy clothes." She sighed, "And then I get over here and all the fancy clothes are different. Anyways, Prom is properly chaperoned. The parties after Prom aren't. I had some drinks, Jimmy was nice, I was always lonely, and I was tired of the farm and all the rules, so I said yes."

Cain didn't know what to say, so he pressed his head against hers. She had traded one set of rules for a worse set. And they wondered why she was cranky at the Palace?

"He wasn't my Prince Charming, but I thought it was something to build off of until life forced us apart. That lasted until I got back to school on Monday and found out he was telling everybody what a slut I was. By lunchtime, I cornered him and broke his nose. He told everyone he tripped and fell on his face."

He laughed and hugged her tighter. "You are just full of surprises."

"So are you." She sat up with a warm smile. "I need to make you laugh more. So the getting married right now idea?"

"DG, you deserve better than an ad hoc ceremony in the middle of the woods. What about your family?"

Her blue eyes blazed with anger. "No. You might talk me out of the right now, but she threatened you. And Ahamo will turn into an ass. They are not welcome at my wedding until I'm sure they won't have you assassinated behind my back. Az I would like, but I don't know how, 'cause I'm not taking you back to the Palace until after we're married." He knew that expression, and there was no changing her mind. "Unless Jeb has a problem with us."

"No worries there." He smirked. "I omitted certain details about my old ring."

"You lied? Doesn't that give you a Tin Man demerit point?"

"I didn't lie. I omitted that Jeb pulled it off my hand while ranting that you probably thought I was still hung up on Adora. And then he made me go buy these." He took out the jewelry box and set it on her lap. "And then I tried to dodge it because what business does a Princess have with an old broken Tin Man and left them with him, and damn if he didn't bring them here." She shuddered. "DG?"

Her eyes flew open. "I'm here. I'm okay." She opened the jewelry box. Two gold bands nestled in between the mounds of white fabric. Each had a round cut star sapphire embedded in the metal. The blue of the stone matched DG's eyes, while the star that shimmered inside the stone matched the blue of Cain's. "Wow. They're wedding bands, right?" Cain nodded. "Wow. They're beautiful." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Great taste in jewelry," she looked him in the eye, "and this broken Princess wouldn't want anyone else, Wyatt. Never," she whispered.

He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, pouring everything he couldn't find words for into the sensation. "I love you," he whispered.

"And I love you." She kissed his forehead before studying the rings again. "Jeb brought these to you?"

"Gave them to me last night. Why?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just getting paranoid about riddles and scavenger hunts."

"Knock, knock," said Zack outside the canvas door. "And please don't shoot me."