Tin Man: Dragons and Ninjas

Chapter Twenty

Zack wasn't sure what would be the protocol for his children when he gained control of the Foot Clan, if he corrected himself silently. He doubted the fight would actually end the blood feud between the Hamato and Oroku clans. His kids would probably need bodyguards. And he didn't want to unleash this misery on anyone ever.

They were stuck in a medieval dining hall that hadn't been modernized at all. Or maybe this was how the nobility still ate in the O.Z. since his only other example of dining practices was a Royal Army mess hall tent. The three dinners sat at the table on the dais looking out at the empty room that could probably seat a hundred easily. Ichiro and Glitch sandwiched DG between them. The only thing good about that seating was it didn't strain the conversation any. Cain and Zack stood at attention against the wall behind the dais, which let Cain stare icy glares at Ichiro's head. Two of his guards in purple uniforms stood against the walls facing the ends of the table. None of the kitchen staff tripped over any of them this way.

"Interesting rebuilding plan you have going on." Glitch set the goblet down on the table.

DG stirred her soup. "I haven't seen another castle like this one in the whole Zone. Who did you get to design it?"

Ichiro leaned comfortable in his chair. "I suppose I did. Though I had to hire clever engineers to actually make my ideas work."

"Most rebuilding in the O.Z. is because the Sorceress's destruction." Glitch swallowed some soup before continue. "I was surprised to see the rebuilding here, since she never did have much fighting with the Northern Guild territories."

"Every Lord Quelala has added to the fortress, except for my father. I guess I'm just making up for what he should have done." Ichiro leaned forward again to finish his soup. "It's easier now, not to have to worry about the Sorceress swooping in and stopping everything."

The servants entered through a small door to Zack's left and started exchanging the soup course for the salad course. DG leaned back in her chair as the plates switched in front of her. "Couldn't the building wait until after you met with my mother?"

"Why in the world would the House of Gale care about what the Lord of Quelala thinks?" Ichiro stabbed his fork into his salad. "I have no position of power, no place on the Queen's Council, no appointments to maintain, no respect in the greater Zone. Once my family had these things, many years ago. They were lost because my great-great-grandfather had a daughter. These lands and this title were all that were good enough for her. My first duty is to them."

"It's a chance for a new O.Z. with the Sorceress defeated." DG's voice was quiet and a little hesitant.

"And the O.Z. is immediately handed over to the woman who lost it in the first place?"

"It was her reign that was interrupted," Glitch responded forcefully.

Ichiro took a few bites of his salad, letting that remark hang in the air until he finished chewing. When he finally spoke, he looked directly at DG. "You were brought here and plunged straight into war. Did you make any study of it on the Other Side?"

"Nothing beyond history lessons. Why?"

"My great-grandfather was brought from war and plunged into the peace of the Zone. He never trusted it. Most of his lessons involved what he called the art of war."

Sun Tzu? Allie had once declared it the most useful book that had ever been recommended to her, and kept telling Zack he needed to read it. If some snot-nosed punk in an alternate world with two suns knew all about it, maybe it was time to.

DG set down her fork. "Art is about creating something beautiful. War is only destruction. Believe me; I've seen it up close and personal." Displeasure clipped her voice.

Ichiro shrugged. "My apologies. I was not trying to cast dispersions on the sacrifices to defeat the Sorceress. It was his terminology. In truth, it would be more precise to call it the philosophy of war." The servants entered again with the main course this time, something that smelled like grilled fish to Zack. "One bit of philosophy he liked to quote, 'to the victor go the spoils.' Queen Galinda hardly seems like the victor of the civil war."

"I've heard that quote before, mostly used by people to excuse the wrongs they were doing." DG drank some water, probably to cover how heated she spoke.

"Doesn't make it any less true," Ichiro's voice was bland as he picked up his fork.

"Doesn't make it relevant either," Glitch said evenly but with emphasis. "It was Queen Galinda's plan that defeated the Sorceress. We were nothing more than tools to achieve that end."

Ichiro chuckled. "And I thought how I felt about my father was the epitome of horrific child and parent relations. Does your mother know you feel like a pawn?"

DG turned a dazzling smile at him, which Zack could only see a corner of. "How I feel about my mother is complicated, and it probably will always be. But I'm grateful for what she did; otherwise, I'd be dead."

"Yes, that would have been a tragic loss. But I hope this gratitude doesn't lead you to blindly agree with her commands. I constantly challenged my father's; it is our family's way to train leaders."

"What is best for the Zone is how I make all my decisions," DG's voice dropped, "then what is best for me. Luckily, those are my mother's priorities as well."

"And Queen Galinda has decided that my going to Central City and declaring my fealty from bended knee is best for the Zone?" Ichiro laid down his utensils and leaned back in his chair.

"It is for the people," Glitch answered. "They have had enough bloodshed. They need to see that the leaders of the Zone are not at odds with each other."

"How is that a brave new Zone, DG?"

"The Zone can't go back completely to how it was before the Sorceress, but it can heal. If everyone works together to achieve it." There was a slight, barely audible pleading in her voice. Zack recognized it, the please-don't-make-me-do-this-to-you tone, because he had used it himself.

"You would do anything that's in the best interest of the people, wouldn't you?" Ichiro leaned closer to her.

DG stiffened but didn't shift away from him. "Yes."

He moved back with a smile. "Proper attitude for a future queen. I'm glad to hear it from you. I had heard rumors that your Other Side raising made you unsuitable for the throne. Not that I believed them. Do you like your gift?"

Zack flinched. Yeah, that was a smooth transition. He glanced without moving his head at Cain. Other than the tic on his jaw, the man's expression hadn't changed.

"Oh, it's nice. Thank you. Haven't seen anything like it in the Zone." DG's hand Zack could see gripped the seat of her chair.

"My great-grandfather was a Slipper. He brought the design from his old kingdom. He died when I was ten." He took a deep breath. "Would you like to see his portrait? It's just down the hall in the study. Though it can wait until morning if you are too tired from your journey."

"I'm fine; I'd like to see it tonight."

That answer must have made Ichiro's night the way he jumped out of his chair and headed to his man to Zack's right. Too bad they were too far away for him to understand what they were saying and Ichiro stood right in front of the guy's face, so even if he could read lips, they weren't observable. The guard nodded at the instructions and left the room through the kitchen door. Ichiro came back to the dais with a bounce in his step and Zack resisted the urge to trip him.

He offered his white jacketed arm to DG and she slowly accepted it, with the lightest touch and not linking elbows. Ichiro accepted this, leading the way around the table and between the two long tables the occupied the rest of the room. Glitch's hands were curled into fists as he followed them. Zack fell into step next to him. Cain and Ichiro's guard was right behind them.

The double doors out of the dining room led into a cavernous room with multiple doors set on every wall. The giant ones on the south wall must lead outside, just the right size to intimidate visitors. Ichiro was taking DG to the middle door on the west wall, which was human-sized, at least.

The study was possibly bigger than Allie's brownstone. Three stories tall and a metal spiral staircase wound up to the balconies making up the second and third stories lined with books. Another door was set in the west wall and a desk as big as a dining table for ten sat in the northwest corner. A sitting area with settees and overstuffed chairs filled the southeast corner. A folding screen wall was folded flat in the center of the south wall. The door in the north wall was offset to the east from the center. But the flag that hung above the door on the west wall nearly froze Zack in his tracks.

The red rising sun had rays extending to the edges of the flag, but the World War II replica had been modified. The five-sickle wheel mons was embroidered with golden thread into the red sun. DG had stopped walking to stare at it. "Our crest. My grandfather redesigned it when he became Lord Quelala."

"It's very red," DG recovered quickly. "The portrait?"

Ichiro gestured to the desk. A gilded frame hung on the north wall of the office area. He ushered her closer to the desk. Zack crossed the room, wanting to keep as close to DG as possible.

"My great-grandfather was a proud man," Ichiro said softly as they stood in front of the desk at an angle to see the portrait. "He often blamed himself for the family's lost of stature, that it would have been preserved if my great-grandmother had married another Ozian noble instead of a Slipper. He wanted so much greater things for his descendents." He let go of DG's arm to face her. "I know why you are here."

DG took a step back. "Of course you do, I told you."

Cain and Glitch moved toward them now, but Ichiro's guard blocked them with swipes of a bo. Glitch whirled, dodging his blow, and managed to land on his feet again, but Cain was knocked back. Before DG could yell a protest, the north door opened and men in the black leather trench coats poured into the room.

Ichiro's hand glowed with a purple light laced with red. He gestured and the screen wall closed, dividing the room in half. The tissue-thin wall was not blocking out the sounds of the fight on the other side. "Your mother was not victor and she can be conquered again. But I will bargain with you, DG, for your hand in marriage. Once I am King with you as my Queen, I will not unleash the Longcoats and the dragon on the people."

"You are so not my type," she snarled.

"Deny me and your companions will be the first to suffer. Then I will take the throne by force. How much war do you think the O.Z. can withstand this time?" She kept moving away from him, backing into the more open space away from the desk, and staying away from his still glowing hands. She pulled up a yellow glowing shield in front of her, but his hands reached right through it. "I'm the only one in the O.Z. strong enough to tame you."

DG's fist pulled back and socked his jaw in a perfect right hook. Ichiro staggered back. "Like hell, you're not as strong as tin!"

Zack grabbed her hand and tossed the smoke pellets on the floor between them and Ichiro. She didn't resist as he pulled her to the door on the west wall. The door led to a long tunnel of a hall. "Run!"

"Cain and Glitch!" She jerked to a stop.

"Told us to run! You promised him!" He pulled her down the hall and she stopped trying to resist.

"Damn Tin Man safety protocols!"

"Less swearing, more running!" The hall didn't appear to have any branching offshoots or any rooms connected to it. He could only hope it ended with a door before Ichiro sent Longcoats after them. He could see moonlight and torchlight ahead, an open archway to outside. "Come on!"

They pounded through the archway and skidded to a stop. "Oh you've got to be kidding!" DG backpedaled as the squared-off reptilian head as big as a tank lifted off the ground.

A metal gate dropped closed in the archway, and the two Longcoats in the tunnel laughed. "You beat the Sorceress, Princess. Now tackle a dragon!" They slammed shut a metal door behind the gate.

The dragon was definitely an Asian style and now that it moved its head, Zack could see a silver collar cutting into its white scales just below its jaw. The manacles on the legs keeping it chained to the ground were too tight as well, and blood oozed as it moved. The dragon's eyes were open and staring at them, one was a blue orb and the other was silver.

DG grabbed his arm. "Okay, you have the dragon experience. How do we kill it?"

"We can't." Zack felt his throat close tight as his rage made breathing hard.

"I know we're a little short on firepower, but I'm pretty sure I can make a rocket launcher or something!" She shook his arm. "Talk to me!"

"That's not a dragon!" Zack turned to her and she let go of his arm with a step back. "That's Lyle!"

The dragon lifted its head to the sky and roared.