Tin Man: Dragons and Ninjas

Chapter Nine

Zack made short work of the three terse pages of military directions and started to create a code book for the words that hadn't come up yet. He translated the names on map of the O.Z.

"This is terrible." Glitch swayed on his stool. "I mean it's not unexpected, the way DG's been reacting to everything. But I was hoping that getting her out of the Palace would snap her out of it."

Jeb didn't look from the measuring tools he used on another map. "Maybe if the Palace used her strengths instead of breaking her, she would be fine."

Zack left the kanji for strength and break on the list.

"I have been trying! And hampered at every turn. Now we have a headcase Princess without even getting her marbles removed."

"Cain fix," Raw declared.

"Oh please, Fuzzy, the Tin Man isn't screwed real tight either."

"Hey!" Jeb did look up with that.

"No offense, Jeb. But he already knows. I told him all about it after his tumble out of the Northern Palace. Unfortunately, all the names I remembered for referrals had been killed by the witch. I think she must have had something against the field of psychiatric medicine."

Zack bit his lip. Now he had the kanji for medicine and witch, but he had been trying to remember the one for road.

Raw shook his head. "Glitch afraid he hurt trying to help."

"I didn't supervise her lessons with Tutor, I didn't stop her from reading every communication that came for her, I didn't help her sneak around the Palace to do something she wasn't allowed to. And I left her alone so many times."

"To be with Azkadellia. DG understands."

Glitch's shoulders slumped. "I'm DG's chief advisor and I couldn't save her with all my marbles."

Zack pushed back his black bangs. "Captain, just give me a list of words you think the Longcoats will probably use and I'll give you translations. This way is not working, unless you want Glitch's speech in Japanese."

"No, once is enough." Jeb shook his head and turned back to the map.

Zack patted Glitch on the back. "She's a fighter. She doesn't know what to fight for."

"If she fights her mother, it will tear the O.Z. apart." Glitch didn't meet Zack's eyes. "She won't do that."

"Glitch stop worrying. Can't do anything without DG."

"Raw is right. Think about something else." Zack moved to the doorway. "I'll be by our tents." Jeb nodded. He meandered to the log near their tents. DG's tent had a golden glow on it. Working magic had to be a good sign. Raw set his backpack at Zack's feet and sat beside him. "I don't need babysitting."

"Your mind quiet. Soothing."

"I guess it's not much fun being an empath around this crowd."

"Most time happy." Raw heaved a sigh. "Zack misses sister."

"DG reminds me of her, before she found Mike."

Raw's dark cat-eyes closed briefly. "Her mate and your brother." He looked at Zack curiously.

"Do you have adoption in the O.Z.? 'Cause otherwise, it's complicated."

"Viewers have fostering. Raw have son not of flesh. Not so common with humans." His gaze turned to the glowing tent. "DG was fostered. People don't think of that when trying to understand her."

"I think that's the most I've heard you say."

"Feel more when quiet."

Zack was about to ask a question about DG and her birth mother when a woman in a long, brown suede skirt and matching jacket appeared right in front of them and sagged to the ground. He wrapped his arms around her waist before she hit. "Easy!"

She turned her face to him but her brown eyes weren't focusing. "Where's DG?"

"Raw get Glitch." The Viewer was gone before Zack could say anything.

He heaved the woman onto the log and kept one hand on. "I don't know what you just did, but it took a lot of your chi." He pulled his backpack over using his foot and took out a granola bar. "Eat to restore your energy level."

Her waxen face gazed up. "Where's DG? She won't talk to me!"

He unwrapped the bar, put it into her hand, and brought the hand to her lips. "Eat before you pass out. DG is fine." He hoped he wasn't lying to her.

She chewed on the granola, but didn't stop staring at him. "You're not a wizard," she said after swallowing.

"No, I just know a couple."

"Azkadellia!" Glitch skidded to a stop on the other side of the log, plopped on it, and wrapped his arms around her. Zack barely had time to move his hand out of the way. "How did you get here?" Glitch swept his hand along the twist her hair was tied up in.

"I teleported."

Glitch sat up, and his mouth hung open. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?"

"I had to get to DG! I felt her panic and fear, but she wouldn't tell me what was happening. She slammed her mind shut on me." Tears filled her brown eyes. "Nobody is going to hurt my little sister! Besides, the witch could do it, so I should be able to."

Glitch gaped like a fish for a few more moments. "But the witch didn't try to do it across the whole O.Z.! You used up nearly all your magic! What if we were in the middle of a fight?"

"She told me you made it to Captain Cain's camp. That's why I didn't know what had happened." Color returned to her cheeks as she finished the granola bar. "And you're not telling me either, Ambrose. What's wrong?"

"I'll go get DG, but she needs some more food." Zack stuck his head between the glowing field and the tent without having to go inside. DG and Cain were talking, but she didn't sound hysterical. "Knock, knock," he said to the canvas door. "And please don't shoot me. DG, your sister is here."

"Az? What? How?" She thrust her head out of the tent, and made to follow through with the rest of her body.

Zack stopped her. "Glitch is chewing her out right now. Wash your face and then take your turn." DG huffed and dropped the tent flap. It landed on Zack, so he could still see into the tent.

Cain handed DG a rung-out washcloth with a smug smirk. "What are you laughing at?" she asked him.

"You, charging ahead and not giving a damn what your face looks like after a crying fit."

She blew a raspberry at him. "If it makes you feel any better, that's weird behavior on the Other Side too."

He shook his head as he picked a jewelry box off the cot and set his hat back on his blond head. "It's not weird to just be you, Princess."

"How do you do that?" She hung the washcloth on the washstand, looking a little more pulled together, even though her eyes were still bloodshot.

"Trade secret." Cain guided her out of the tent with his hand on the small of her back. Zack trailed after them, grinning. Raw should have taken bets.

"Geez, Az!" DG ran to her sister, grabbed her hand, and sat down on the woman's left side. A soft yellow glow surrounded their hands, and Az's color darkened. "What did you do?"

"I teleported. You wouldn't tell me what was wrong!" Az nudged Glitch and he let her go, so she could grip DG's chin and turn her head to see her face. "Who do I kill?"

"Azkadee," Glitch said with a sigh. "That's the voice that freaks people out."

DG pulled her head out of Az's grasp. "Everything's fine, Az. You don't need to do anything. It's fine."

"Bullshit." DG's mouth fell open at her sister's anger. "I felt you. Our link doesn't work that way and you know it. And you have been moping around the Palace badly hiding it from me, and Ambrose won't discuss his worry. You are not fine, you haven't been fine, so don't even try to hide behind that." DG tried to speak, but couldn't get a sound out. "And don't hide behind Az was possessed by the witch either. I'm stronger than you give me credit for."

DG looked unconvinced. "That's right, doll. She hasn't had a nightmare for a long time." Glitch smiled as he squeezed Az's hand.

DG pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead and made a gibberish noise. Cain clasped her shoulder. "Tell her."

"There's too much. I don't know how."

"Raw help." The Viewer placed a hand on each of their shoulders. They closed their eyes and the light between their hands pulsed. Cain and Glitch both let go.

Raw let them go and they blinked their eyes. Az had tears in hers, and hugged DG. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"What could you have done? She's not on best terms with you either."

"I'm forcing her to work on that rather than ignoring me. But I could have talked to Father." Az wiped her eyes and turned to Glitch. "If we do adopt, you better not turn into an idiot." He blushed bright red. She turned back to DG. "Her imprisonment changed her, but I'm sure her intentions are good."

DG frowned. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I can't trust her."

"Well, we still have the problem with Longcoats and the Guild lords." Az looked at both DG and Cain and smirked. "And now you want to get married."

"We can wait until after the mission." Cain squeezed DG's shoulders as she looked up at him. "We can. You and Glitch have turned your single status into quite the weapon."

"Like hell," DG muttered. "But I'm getting the wiggies with all the coincidences."

"What are wiggies?" Glitch asked.

"Uneasy feelings," Zack explained.

"Oh well, upcoming nuptials have that effect on people."

"Wiggies for what?" Zack looked at the confused DG. "Everything is here for you to have a wedding, and that bothers you why?"

DG let out a frustrated growl. "Something shouldn't be here. Even Az is here. I feel like I'm being set up. Everything since I got to the O.Z. has been a set up."

"Not true." Raw patted her shoulder. "Stopping the witch, yes. Saving us, no."

"I was just in the right place at the right time, that's all."

"No. The Zone looks after you."

DG twisted to look at him. "What does that mean?"

"Zoe knew when we reached Hyrule," Zack offered. "She could feel it. Maybe you got a connection to the O.Z.?"

DG covered her face with her hands. "Okay, that's it. Somebody get me an encyclopedia I can read and maybe that'll fill in the blanks that everyone wants to leave blank!"

Az looked up at the Viewer. "How did you know about that?"

"Humans forget much. We remember."

Az bit her bottom lip. "What do you know?" DG demanded.

"There is a connection, but only between the O.Z. and the Queen since the days of Ozma the Great and the Grey Gale. It's all a bit vague. In return for good stewardship, the Outer Zone will make sure the Queen has what she needs."

DG stared at the ground. "I'm being manipulated again."

"No, the Zone doesn't manipulate." Az gripped DG's hands so she would look at her. "You needed Ambrose, Cain, and Raw to defeat the witch. But you still had to choose to save them, to make them your friends."

"So the Zone is saying it's a good idea for DG and Cain to get married now, but they can decide not to?" Zack asked. Az nodded.

"Is there a way to test for this connection?" Cain asked, frowning.

"I don't remember learning of one," Az answered. "But it makes so much sense."

Glitch frowned too. "Cain's right, it's just a theory that needs more research before we say anything. Unless Raw knows something?"

Raw snorted. "Human politics."

"You live in the O.Z. too."

Zack realized what Cain and Glitch just worked out. DG and Azkadellia's mother shouldn't be Queen if this connection thing was real. DG still didn't see it. "My vote is for the wedding," he said to keep the Princess from thinking about it.

"It's up for a vote now?" DG muttered.

"Life is short. Why wait?" He rocked on his feet, hoping he looked innocent.

DG lifted her chin to look at Cain behind her. He stroked her cheek. "And then what? Continue onto Lord Gillikin's fortress?"

"We still need to find out if the all the Guild lords are loyal, so yeah."

He sighed. "I'll go talk to Jeb."

Az squealed as she pulled DG to her feet. "You are not getting married looking like that. Come on!" She dragged DG back to her sister's tent.

Cain headed toward the headquarters tent. Glitch looked at Zack. "I hope you know what you just suggested. As in you know what you're doing when you suggested it."

"I'm used to acting on my feelings. She's going to need Cain's strength."

"She already has that," Glitch said.

"But once they're married, they can't be forced apart because of politics. She needs that reassurance."

Glitch tugged on his long coat. "I hope you're right."

Zack picked up his backpack and headed to the headquarters tent. He should finish the code book now before wedding prep madness took over.