Tin Man: Dragons and Ninjas

Chapter Twenty-Five

Finaqua

DG was in the lake at Finaqua. She didn't know why, because according to Az princesses didn't swim in full view of the public like that. DG thought it was a waste of all the shinny medals she won on the swim team during her freshman year of high school. But hell, this was a dream and nobody here to bitch at her for doing something unseemly for a princess.

She sprang up in the water and dived back down, going deeper than she thought possible. The sunlight filtered through the water, coloring everything under it with blue hue. The surface had looked so deceptively calm. But underneath, a school of fish swam to her and moved to include her in their pack before swimming in a different direction. The water rolled around her, making her hair shift around her, even when she wasn't moving. Zack was right; the calm lake was teeming underneath. Everything was alive, and actively enjoying their life.

Like she did. She stopped swimming and bobbed in the water. Her life back in Kansas, she had only stopped to sleep. Even the calm that came with drawing and painting was active; her hands would move the tools over the paper and canvas. Her first week back in the O.Z., even with learning how badly she screwed the Zone up, had been non-stop running for their lives and to save everyone. She had been holding onto those feelings for five long months of being told to sit and look pretty and be calm because she was a princess and that's what princesses did. But she didn't passively sit through her life, she ran, she laughed, and maybe if the music was right, she could dance. Az was the one to sit pretty.

Holy crap. Az and DG, yin and yang, light and dark, passive and active; no freaking wonder they were stronger together, they were the embodiment of the duality stuff Zack had talked about. Only here in the O.Z., the colors had gotten reversed. Dark was the active, while light was passive. No wonder she had so much trouble with her light her entire life; she was in no way in hell passive with that calm strength Az and her mother had.

The water twisted around her like an underwater tornado. She almost felt like it was laughing at her. About time, was said all around her.

It dropped away as suddenly as it had come up, and she could see Cain sinking deeper into the lake. She torpedoed through the water to reach him. This wasn't part of her dream. His face was bruised since she had last seen it, he was struggling to reach the surface and he could swim as well as she could. His body thrashed but he couldn't move his arms and legs. She cupped his face, staring into the panicked and feral expression. "No." She grabbed his hands and kicked her way to the surface, pulling him up with her.

The water surged up with them, shooting them both above the surface of the lake in a geyser. Wyatt was gone.

And DG sat up with a gasp and stared down at her hands. The deep blue energy that shone with its own light receded back. She looked around the hut, and nothing was out of place. The magical surge must have followed her Tin Man.

"DG?" Raw rumbled softly as he propped himself up on his elbows.

"I'm fine. Go back to sleep." The Viewer believed her and lay back down. She sighed and decided to listen to herself and sank back on her bedroll. Okay, powers. I have to figure out how to use you and how to save Wyatt, Glitch, the dragon kid, and my realm tomorrow. So do me a favor and let me rest unless they start trying to kill Wyatt again. We gotta deal? She shut her eyes.

When she woke up again, sunlight streamed in through some carefully camouflaged skylights in the roof. Zack chuckled as she sat up. "Man, when you finally stop, you stop."

"What time is it?"

"Still before noon. Raw took Chelsea and Hal out to stretch their legs for a bit. I think they have some kids Hal's age in this village. And they sent some food." He passed her plate with a couple of biscuits and some fruit on it. "We've ate already."

The biscuit crumpled in her mouth just like Momster's used to. "Whatever we're going to do, we have to do tonight. They were doing something horrible to Wyatt last night. I don't know how much of it was dream imagery or how much of it was real, but I ended up sending him a surge of energy." She finished the biscuit and moved on to an apple, trying not to squirm under Zack's gaze. "Um, night is best for mad ninja skills, right?"

"Yeah, but we still have that little problem of being outnumbered." Zack ran his hand through his hair. "I could get them out, if I leave Lyle. But as soon as they're discovered missing, Ichiro will go to step two."

"Starting a war by aiming the dragon and Longcoats on the populace." DG had lost her appetite, but if she had learned nothing else between running to the dinner, to classes, and back to the farm, she had learned to eat when she had the opportunity. She took another bite of the apple. "So we need to engage in an assault, like Rambo."

"Rambo knew what he was doing."

"Well, my trying to be James Bond worked out so well last night."

"You didn't do too bad, considering. But right now, if we're looking for movie influences, I think we should aim toward Willow and Lords of the Rings." Zack sighed, "And maybe just a touch of the Princess Bride."

"Have fun storming the castle?" DG laughed when he nodded. "I think I made a breakthrough with my powers last night, but I still need to train them."

"But we're not going to have time for you to recharge, if you want this to happen tonight."

"Oh yeah, I wanted to test that too." She pounced on her pack and dug into it, pulling the box free from her clothes. The glow inside the Emerald of the Eclipse pulsed when she pulled the pendent out and put it over her head. "It's a magical artifact. And I wore it when I sent Az to Finaqua, and I didn't get wiped out at all."

"You've had a conduit the whole time?" Zack crossed his arms over his chest.

Now DG did squirm. "Az insisted I take it with me. But it's like a priceless artifact, I didn't want it to fall into the wrong hands or break it!"

He pulled his backpack out of the pile and rooted in it, pulling a metal cylinder about as long as a paper towel roll out. "The Zone makes sure the Queen has what she needs." DG stared down at the Emerald sitting innocently on her chest and her jaw dropped a little. "If you're through eating, we better get started."

She finished the apple and followed him out the door. He stopped to talk to Yowl, who sat on a stump that had been carved into a seat. Raw looked up from in front of a sunken hut where he was watching Hal and a couple of Viewer children of various ages, and his mouth dropped open. Okay, it wasn't often she got the drop on Raw. She grinned and waved at him before following Zack further into the forest.

He finally stopped in a small clearing. "Okay, nothing to flashy. We are still too close to Ichiro's fortress and he might have troops searching."

DG sighed. "Magic is will made manifest, right."

"Good, you did listen last night." He leaned against a tree to her side, so he was out of the way.

Okay, just for that. Her skin didn't quite tingle, instead it was the same feeling she had when she had punched Ichiro in what he called a waking dream. The cool power roiled under her skin like it was rapids in a river. A deep blue aura surrounded her hands right before Zack's trident shaped daggers landed in them. "Ha!" They floated up from her palms, spinning slowly, then faster, and then she slowed them down again. All she could manage with the doll was one speed. She let them come down into her hands and she wrapped her fingers around their hilts.

Zack looked a little impressed, but he hadn't moved from his tree. "Think you can do that with a Longcoat?"

"Spin him through the air? What good would that do?"

"Plenty of ouchies if you slam him against a wall. Now can I have my sais back? I don't think it'll make Cain happy if you accidentally impale yourself."

She huffed and walked them back to him. He had a point about making Longcoats fly through the air. She paced in a circle and made a shield surround her. It glittered like ice in the sunlight. She expanded it. It was barely taking any energy for her to manipulate it. She shrank it down until it shimmered over her skin.

She let it stay there while she thought about what else she could possibly do. Well, if they were going to go with movie examples…. She aimed her hands out at the forest floor and bolts of blue lightening shot out of her finger tips, scorching the earth. She pushed the air down flat to make sure nothing sparked and caused a forest fire. She felt the Emerald pulse and her energy level went up again. Then she faced Zack with a grin. "Beat that Star Wars quote!"

He laughed. "I can't. But I did a Gandalf. Course, all my witnesses to that are on another world."

DG waved it off. "If we want to get technical, I've done a Gandalf too. But I was seven and then I was mind-wiped, and I just remember Raw showing me what happened not what really happened."

"Meh, you're not missing much. Pain, going dark, hearing Cass screaming at me to not let go, some more pain, and waking up."

She stared at him. Maybe it wasn't all personality traits for why he saw her like his sister. She absorbed the shield spell into her skin and sat down in front of him. "The witch possessed Az, and she did the Vader choke hold on me. My mother put her light into me to bring me back to life, and then set everything up to defeat the witch at the Eclipse."

Zack swallowed hard. "Agmaraa tried to kill me with magic. Cassandra stopped the spell, but it left me so weak she had to give me some of her chi to bring me back from the edge. Umbriel helped too. It worked, and a couple of months later I was able to go home." He twirled one of the sais in his right hand without looking at her or it. "It wasn't just chi, though how DNA would transfer with magic I have no idea. Last year, I was given this stuff to make me mutate and I started turning into a gargoyle. It was reversed obviously, but I was left with a few effects. I'm stronger, have excellent night vision in pitch blackness, and my eyes glow like a gargoyle's when I get pissed." He set the sai down next to him. "It's less cool than Spider-Man, but beats getting left with purple skin, wings, or a tail."

"Sometimes, I think my mother regrets saving me." DG admitted softly. "I disappoint her that I didn't turn out like she expected."

"I can't help with parent issues. Mine died when I was about four-months-old, and Allie was all I had left. Billy wasn't raised with us. April adopted us when I was eleven, but she acts more like another big sister only with control over allowance. I was fourteen with Cass and the magic thing, and she pretty much declared that made me like her hatchling so please don't get freaked out because she didn't get to raise the one she had before. I think it was more a way to have me stick around where they could keep an eye on me." He sighed. "Master Splinter is the closest thing to a father I have, but he's still not my father."

"My parents are complete strangers to me. The ones I considered Mom and Dad were robots that the witch destroyed. The last time I saw them, she had reprogrammed them to work for her and set up this illusion of Kansas, so I would tell them what she wanted to know. We found their broken pieces after we defeated her."

"Damn. No wonder you cling to your friends, you're as much an orphan as I am." He shook his head. "We are quite the pair."

She grinned. "Think we got what it takes to save the realm?"

"I'd be honored to fight by your side. Now are you finished with the magic testing?"

"Think so. And I'm not even the slightest bit tired."

"Then back to basics." Zack handed her the metal cylinder he had pulled out of his backpack earlier. "I guess you could say it's a wedding present." He grinned at her confused expression.

"Aren't you supposed to get something for both me and Wyatt?"

He shrugged as he reached over and showed her the twist in the center of it. The cylinder expanded for both ends to make a six-foot long pole. Then he showed her the thumbnail thin button to unlock so she could twist it back and retract the ends. "I figure Cain can't worry so much about you using a stick if it's made out of titanium, so that's his half."

DG twisted it out again. "Where did you get this?"

"Donnie made it for me when I wanted to cosplay Gambit for a con. Well, I suck at the Ragin' Cajun X-Man, and he decided he liked having a traditional wooden bo, so it needs a home." He stood up and pulled her up to her feet. "Let me show you how to use it."

It was a good acceleration from the sparing they had done earlier. She already knew her stance, now it was a matter of not letting go of the staff. Zack forced her to repeat the sweeps over and over again, to an opponent's feet, to his head, to his torso. Once he was sure she had them down, he squared her off against the biggest tree ringing the clearing. "You have to be able to take what you lash out." He explained as he stepped back out of the way.

Okay, hitting a solid oak as hard as she could was a mistake. She dropped the staff and shook her hands to get rid of the pain. "Force meets unmovable object. I should have paid more attention in physics."

"I doubt Longcoats are as hard as a tree. Try again."

With that encouragement, she did, but not at full strength. Again and again, swinging from the left and then the right, and giving the tree a few pokes to the gut with the end. She didn't realize she had gained more of an audience until Raw spoke.

"Why Cain make fun of DG with stick?" He asked Zack, sitting next to him when she whirled around.

Zack shrugged. "He's a gun man, probably under appreciates the value of a good stick." He turned his attention back to DG. "How do you feel?"

"Thirsty." She caught the canteen that Raw tossed to her. She shrank the staff and stuffed it in pocket. It poked up to the side of her stomach, but it would have to do until she figured out something better. The water was cool on her throat.

"DG hid Emerald from us," Raw said sadly.

"I didn't want anybody to know I had it, Raw. Can you imagine what Ichiro could do with it?" She stood over them. "What now?"

"Now, we need to eat and get our strategy planned." Zack smirked as he stood up. "It's been a few hours. I think you and the staff are as good as you can get."

"I didn't realize it had been that long." She looked up at the suns. Sure enough, they had crossed the zenith point of the sky and were closer to the western horizon.

"Chelsea has food ready." Raw led the way back to the village. DG really didn't feel hungry. Was Ichiro even feeding Wyatt and Glitch? That thought kept her quiet as they headed back to their hut in the Viewer village.

She accepted the bowl of stew from Chelsea with a smile. Hal was laying down for a nap. Zack had his notebook out and was writing furiously into it. Feeling her gaze, he looked up at DG. "You saw how Ichiro blocked off the dragon with the way he designed the walls."

"It wasn't that hard. I'm an artist; I'm used to seeing how things work spatially."

"Think you can draw up layouts of the fortress?" She nodded and pulled her sketch pad out of her pack. She alternated the spoon and pencil in her right hand and tuned the rest of them out as she pulled up the fortress in her mind.

"I can't believe you lot are crazy enough to go back into the place again." Chelsea sat on the floor with her own stew bowl.

"You and Hal aren't," Zack told her. "If we don't come back to get you, Yowl is going to make sure someone takes you and him to," he faltered.

"To the Army at Lord Gayelette's fortress led by General Olson," Raw said.

"Yeah, it'll be safe to tell them who Hal is and they'll get you to DG's mother."

Chelsea smacked her bowl against the floor. "Lord Quelala has hundreds of Longcoats."

"Actually Jeb's estimate was two hundred and fifty were unaccounted for out of the Sorceress's troops. Plus the thirty that escaped from the prison and any recruiting, we're probably looking at three hundred."

"So you're going to take on a hundred Longcoats each! He will kill you as soon as you waltz in! Or that dragon will eat you!"

Zack sighed, but turned to DG. "Are you done with the drawings yet?"

"I think so." She passed her pad to Zack. He smiled at the drawings, complete with her estimates of where rooms were in the Tower. "So what is the plan?"

"I saw a chute for a garderobe on the river side of the fortress. Ichiro's moved to modern plumbing, but I bet it's still an open passageway. Once we're inside, we find the dungeons and free Glitch and Cain and anybody else that happens to be there. Then you guys go let in the backup, while I try to reason Lyle back to human form."

"What backup? Yowl said he doesn't have any fighters." DG crossed her arms over her chest.

"Oh, wasn't thinking Viewers anyway. Do you think you can put a skin-suit shield on Raw so he won't hurt while we're in there?"

So he had been watching her work magic that closely. "Yeah, but I think magically creating soldiers is past my abilities."

"You have soldiers."

"Four days away."

Zack sighed. "Do you know how to do the teleporting thing Az did?"

"I'm tired of answering your questions when you are ignoring mine. But yes, I think I can. It's all a matter of concentrating on who you want to see or where you want to be."

"Good, you think you can tell Jeb you lost his father and need his help to get him back?"

DG's mouth dropped open. "That is brilliant! Jeb is probably going to be pissed at me, but he'll help."

He nodded as he went to his backpack"So we just have a few more preparations to make, then we can finalize plans with Jeb, and get started. But we have to shake it. We need to get inside the fortress between sunset and the first moon rising, and we won't know how long it'll take for Jeb to get into position."

"Why don't I just teleport us inside?"

"Thought about it, but you might end up getting us locked into the same cell with Cain. Or Ichiro would sense your magic use and then we lose the element of surprise." He pulled out a wide, black nylon belt covered with pouches everywhere except for a sword frog and two sheaths in the front for his sais. Two pieces of u-shaped metal with laces across the top came out of one of the pouches. He turned them over and she saw four staggered metal spikes on the other side. "Ashiko, you wear these on the balls of your feet." Next he pulled out a metal band that had four spikes pointing in one direction. The spikes poked through a black band that ended in a small belt. "Shuko, you wear on the palms of your hands." He demonstrated by slipping it on. It fit right above his thumb and the small belt wrapped around his arm. "You need to make these for you and Raw to wear while we scale the castle wall."

"Okay," she turned to Raw and started measuring his feet. "What else?"

"Well, I can't teach you two to be ninjas in a few hours. So how much Harry Potter did you see before getting here?"

DG's head shot up curiously, and then her brain caught up. It was so great having somebody to toss pop culture back to her. "Raw, find our cloaks."