Tin Man: Dragons and Ninjas

Chapter Sixteen

DG hugged Chelsea as she cried again. This time it upset Hal, and he started. Cain scooped him up. "Let's find supper." He carried the toddler back to the bags and distracted him by digging through them. It surprised her how easily he did. He didn't miss this portion of Jeb's life, she remembered with a jab.

Chelsea hiccupped. DG patted her back. "How did you save him?"

The girl wiped her face. "I shouldn't have been watching him, but his nurse…." Chelsea looked into the flames, embarrassed.

"She snuck away and asked you to cover for her. Probably to see a guy," Zack said. "My sister always had me cover for her sneaking out."

Chelsea nodded. "Hal got hungry, so I took him down to the kitchen. I didn't want to call someone to his rooms and them see the nurse wasn't there. We were in the kitchens when the monster roared." She shivered. DG wrapped a blanket from her pack around the girl. "It tore a hole in the wall with its claws. It was as big as the tower! Longcoats started coming in through the hole. I locked me and Hal in the root cellar." She shuddered again and DG tightened her half-hug. "When I finally let us out, the monster and the Longcoats were gone, and everybody in the castle was dead."

"Raw is right, you've been very brave." Chelsea smiled at DG.

"Did the monster look like this?" Zack pulled a medallion out from under his shirt. "I'm not trying to scare you." He passed the necklace to Chelsea. The gold metal had a carved profile of a dragon's head with a purple gem for its eye.

"Similar, but the snout was different." Zack dropped the necklace back over his head and dug into his backpack He passed over a binder folder. It had a picture of a green Chinese dragon coiled around a pagoda. "Aye, like that, only white."

Cain looked at the image over their shoulders. "That's a dragon?"

Glitch joined them and frowned at it. "That's not what the bestiaries have images of."

Zack shrugged, taking the folder back. "I always thought it was artistic license."

Cain handed Hal to DG. He settled against her with a yawn. She looked at the girl again. "You were going to look for us?"

"He's a lord. I can't take care of him properly."

"As a minor, Hal becomes a ward of the Queen until he is old enough to manage his lands." Glitch said as he went back to his seat. "And I doubt the attackers meant to leave him alive."

Chelsea didn't burst into tears. "All his sisters are dead, and they wrecked his rooms."

"So he is Chelsea's little brother Hal until we get to safety," Zack suggested as he helped Cain pass out slices of bread and cheese.

"That may not be enough." Glitch chewed as he mulled the problem. DG looked at Chelsea, who didn't look as upset since they were taking Hal's safety seriously. "Ideally, your cover story shouldn't involve Gillikin Fortress at all."

DG looked at Cain as he sat next to her. Oh no, her Tin Man did not like where this was headed. The set of his jaw gave him away. She chewed quickly in case she needed to throw her opinion in.

"You want to continue to Lord Quelala's, Zipperhead?"

"It's not my first choice. But we're in the best position to find out if he's behind all this. And we can't send them to Central City alone."

Cain turned to her with his lips twitching. DG shook her head. "I'm the one he has to answer to. Besides, bad things happen when we split up." She tried not to think about the green crypt.

"I hate it when you're right."

"No, only when I'm right and it's dangerous." She grinned and was rewarded with one of his half-smirks.

"Why do you have to go to Lord Quelala's?" Chelsea pulled out a couple of blankets and a bedroll and made a bed between her and DG.

Cain scooped Hal off DG's lap and laid him down on it without waking him. DG stretched her legs out, feeling the pins and needles. He settled back, and then pulled her against his chest, draping his left arm over her shoulder and across her torso. "We have to find out where his loyalties lie. Somebody controls the dragon and the Longcoats. And he's our last suspect."

"Do you know anything about him?" Glitch asked.

Chelsea shrugged, "Servant hall gossip."

"Best kind."

"Lord Gillikin had problems with the current Lord Quelala's father-border disputes, water rights, those things. He made overtures when Ichiro assumed the title, but they were rebuffed."

"Ichiro?" Zack frowned. "That's his name?" Chelsea nodded.

"It's Japanese, isn't it?" DG asked.

"I'd put money on it."

DG twined her fingers with Cain's. "How long will it take us to get there?"

"By tomorrow night."

"DG, how good are you at making clothes?" She peered at Zack. "Az was proud of how you made your tiara. The only other clothes I have are my ninja gear and I don't think you want to advertise that you've got somebody who knows Japanese."

Cain snorted. "They're going to know you're a Slipper the minute you open your mouth."

"Ninjutsu is the art of invisibility. Sometimes, the best way to be invisible is right out in the open."

DG yawned. "I'll see about the clothes in the morning." She blinked. Zack was no longer sitting next to Chelsea.

"Okay." They looked up to see him grinning behind them. "I'll take first watch." He receded into the shadows without a sound.

"That was just showing off," Cain muttered.

"He wouldn't have to if you'd be nicer." DG watched Cain's twitching lips. Boy, she should have had a hint what he could do with those lips by how they twitched when he wasn't happy. She liked thinking about his lips better than what they were marching into.

He released her. "Let's get some shut eye." Raw and Glitch had stretched out on their bedrolls. Chelsea turned from watching them to set up her own bedding next to Hal.

DG nestled against Cain's chest after he lay down next to her. He draped his duster over them both, and then kissed her. It almost erased the wiggies she had.