Cain buttoned the last brass buttons on his dark blue uniform jacket. It had been seven annuals since he'd last worn it; the Mystic Man didn't stand on ceremony and let his protection detail wear their personal clothing. But it had been decided that if Azkadellia could make a statement, so could the Tin Men. He pulled on his gun belt and bandolier with a sigh.
"I wish it hadn't come to this," Adora said behind him. She was dressed, but sat on the bed with her dark-blonde hair loose.
"A good man and his family will die if we don't do anything." He checked his gun before sliding it into the holster tied down to his leg. Adora would grumble about this until the last possible second.
"And how many more good men will die because someone decided this was better than a prison break?" Cain frowned at her. She knew how much he disagreed with this stand at Central City Square instead of storming the jail. She pressed her lips together, matching his frown, until she sighed. "All the records are destroyed, right?"
"At every station house, Headquarters, and the Academy. If the Longcoats want to find out who served, they'll have to work for it."
Adora handed him a filled canvas bag with a long enough strap to wear across his chest. "I packed some food, a disguise, and a field kit." She moved and snatched her brush off the dresser across the room. "Gods willing, you won't need it." She attacked her hair with the brush.
Her hair was twisted and tied up with a ribbon before Cain turned her to face him. "I love you."
"But?" Adora asked with a smirk.
"You always start something I'm not going to like with 'I love you,' so what am I not going to like more than what's going on right now?"
"If you see a chance, take Jeb and get out of Central City."
"Not again, Wyatt Cain, no!" The whole world was going to hell, but he still knew how his wife would react. "We are staying with you and fighting. The whole point to destroying the records was so they couldn't track down families!"
"But it's not foolproof."
"Nothing ever is!" She folded her arms.
He took a deep breath, "Adora."
"How can we even get out now, Wyatt? Longcoats blockaded the Brick Route." She shook her head. "I'm not promising you something so you feel better if the worst happens!"
"Do you think that would make me feel better? Do you think I like putting my duty to the City and the Tin Men ahead of you and Jeb?"
Adora wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm not asking you to choose. I never have. Trust me to take care of Jeb and you worry about your own neck. And the Commissioner's neck," she added before their lips met.
Cain pulled back, stroking her cheeks. "I'm going to see Jeb before I go." Adora let him go without saying anything. He opened the door down the hall from their bedroom. His ten-annual-old son slept in the pre-dawn hours. Cain knelt next to the bed, marveling how long Jeb was under the covers. He brushed away Jeb's brown hair and pressed a feather-light kiss on his skin. Jeb continued sleeping as his father crept out.
Adora met him in the parlor of their apartment. Cain hugged her. "I'll be back for you and Jeb."
"After you've saved your boss and run the Longcoats out of town." She cupped his face before kissing him. "Go, you have to be in place." He didn't look back to see her watching him go.
The Tin Men surrounded Central City Square, hiding in the buildings and alleys surrounding the newly built gallows. Cain frowned in disgust. If the death penalty was necessary before Azkadellia's coup, the convict was taken discreetly to the Deadly Desert. Even headcasing wasn't used that much, though rumor said the Sorceress had revived it as a punishment for treason. Public hanging didn't have anything to do with stopping crime; it was a message to stop resisting.
Thompson crouched next to Cain in the alley, looking straight at the front of the scaffolding. "I thought we spread the word for the public to stay away?" He glared at the crowd beginning to shape between the alley and the gallows stage.
"People don't always listen to good advice." Cain tried to relax his fingers around the butt of his gun.
"Thought you didn't want to see innocent people hurt."
"Too late for that now." Cain pressed his lips together to keep them from twitching. It was too late with the Fourth Division of the Royal Army defected to Azkadellia's side, too late when she named herself Sorceress instead of Queen, and definitely too late by the time the Commissioner reminded her that the Tin Men's charter meant they didn't answer to her and they would arrest all Longcoats breaking the laws in Central City. And breaking into homes to terrorize people into naming resistors was against the law. Her answer was to sign his execution order.
The Sorceress Azkadellia stepped to the railing of the balcony viewing area, constructed on the roof of the building they turned into a jail for the condemned. The morning light gleamed off her brass gardbraces. Guards in black leather trench coats surrounded her. The doors under the balcony opened. The executioner in a black hood led the parade up the scaffolding steps, followed by two Longcoats escorting a man in a police officer's uniform between them. The cloth sack was already placed over his head and his arms were restrained behind his back. Another Longcoat carrying a rifle brought up the rear. Before all their feet touched the stage, the first wave of Tin Men broke through the crowd.
The executioner and the armed Longcoat fell under the barrage of bullets. But the crowd didn't scatter. Cain frowned as the second wave was cut off from the first wave by the non-panicked bystanders. He glanced up at the smirking Sorceress. "Something's wrong."
Thompson spared him a glance. "What?"
The crowd shimmered and the illusion dropped away, revealing more Longcoats in battle formation. "It's a trap! Fall back!" Cain shot two Longcoats aiming into the alley. The rest of them fired into the exposed ranks of the Tin Men. "Fall back!"
The front row of Longcoats aimed like a firing squad. The Tin Men who had climbed the gallows to free the Commissioner all dropped. Cain and Thompson laid cover fire from the alley, allowing six of their men to escape down it. Then they ran.
More Longcoat troops marched down the streets, but they didn't know the back alleys. Cain and Thompson lost their pursuers and threw themselves into the abandoned store they had commandeered as a hiding place. Ten other officers had made it this far; Cain had hoped to see more. They had four other hiding holes in the City though.
"The bitch routed us!" Thompson seethed in the dusty dark. "How the hell did she figure out the plan?"
"Does it matter?" Cain glanced out the peek hole to the main thoroughfare in front of the store. "She's got enough troops to blanket Central City." He turned away to let Thompson see the street for himself. "Is anyone injured?"
Four of the men were, one with a bullet still in his shoulder. Cain handed over the field kit and set two of the healthy men on guard duty. Thompson moved from the spy hole and wiped his face with his hand. "How do we regroup?"
"How can we? No Headquarters, no station houses, no Academy," Cain sighed. "All the Longcoats need to do is ask for names in a building to building search." Thompson glared, but didn't argue. "We're going to have to fade away."
"After everything the Old Man did," Volkov, a rookie from Thompson's station house said, "that don't sit well."
"Don't like it much myself, but I can't protect my family if I'm dead." Cain pulled out the faded black jacket and cap Adora had packed. They were far from his usual style worn while protecting the Mystic Man, and he would blend in with the crowd. If there was ever a crowd available to blend in with.
Thompson turned back to the spy hole. "I don't know how you plan to get back to your precious wife and son." Cain paused in changing his outer layers, but Thompson wasn't sneering. "You should've packed a Longcoat uniform."
"Didn't expect there to be this many." Cain put his badge in one of the pouches on his gun belt before pulling it and the bandolier on over his shirt. The jacket was long enough to hide the holstered weapon. "We'll have to sneak out singularly or in pairs and stick to the back alleys."
Thompson nodded. "Best idea yet to get out of this mess. You go first, Cain. You're the only one with a kid among us."
Cain pulled the soft cap over his blond hair. "It's been a privilege, gentlemen. Good luck." He saluted the other officers before slipping out the alley door. The Longcoats patrolled the main streets. He dodged towards the Sin District. It might take longer, but it had more alleys and Cain knew it better than any other district of Central City.
Reports were broadcasting about how the Sorceress stopped a rebellion led by the Tin Men attempting to free a traitor to the O.Z. He turned up the collar of the jacket as he slouched past the bars and diners blaring the wireless news-heralds. He shifted his face away from patrolling Longcoats, but that was behavior expected in the Sin District.
The residential area east of the Sin District had fewer Longcoat patrols. Soon he would be back with Adora and Jeb, and they would figure out what to do next. Maybe head out to their vacation cabin and farm it, while sending up blue smoke to help the Resistance. Now he was a block away from his apartment building with nary a Longcoat in sight. He kept his pace steady and hoped none of his neighbors were Sorceress sympathizers.
Their apartment building didn't have a doorman, so Cain let himself into the lobby and went up the stairs. He gripped his gun before stepping through the open door to their apartment. The rooms were too quiet for anyone to be home, but he called any way. "Adora? Jeb?" No one answered as he treaded through the parlor and dining room with a rapid heartbeat.
A cocking gun greeted him in the kitchen. "They're not here, Cain." The man with dark blond hair sneered as he aimed at Cain's chest. "But you were expecting them to be." His sneer widened to show his teeth. "You and the little woman disagreed over your traitorous activities?"
Cain remembered this Longcoat from the Academy. He had ended up in a different station house after graduation, and had joined Azkadellia's army a while back if Cain was reading the rank insignia right. "I didn't know you knew where I lived, Zero." Cain dangled his gun by the trigger guard.
"The Sorceress wanted to know everything about the Mystic Man's Tin Men." Zero shrugged as he took Cain's gun. "Too bad you didn't consider that before planning your last stand." Cain didn't respond. Over the six annuals he had worked for the Mystic Man, no one had paid any attention to the protection detail. "Let's go."
Cain didn't argue as he went out the door between the kitchen and dining room. He saw the figure in black against the wall out of the corner of his eye, but didn't change his movements to give another Longcoat an excuse to jump him. Zero followed him with the gun pointed at his back.
A cane slammed down on Zero's arm with a yell from its wielder. Cain threw himself to the side as the gun fired. Pain sliced his calf, but he ignored it as he rolled against Adora's china cabinet. Zero doubled over and the Mystic Man cracked his walking stick over the Longcoat's head. Zero slumped to the floor.
"Cain!" The Mystic Man unwound a white scarf from his neck. "Getting you shot was not part of the plan."
"It's just grazed." Cain tied the scarf around the wound. Then he took his gun back from the unconscious Zero.
"Good, then we can still get your hard head out of Central City." The older man used the dining room table for leverage and pulled Cain to his feet.
Cain kept most of his weight off his charge as the Mystic Man supported him. "Wait, Adora and Jeb."
"Are waiting for you. Now, come on."
Cain wondered if the white-haired man used magic to ease the trip down the stairs. In six annuals, he had never given a straight answer if he was a mage or not. The Mystic Man's sedan was parked on the street behind the apartment building. Cain winced as he shoved over to the passenger side. "Maybe I should drive."
"Nonsense, I remember how to do this." The car squealed down the street, and the Mystic Man chuckled as Cain braced himself so he wouldn't slide across the seat. His chuckles died and clear blue-grey eyes glanced at his bodyguard. "The Commissioner and his family were killed last night."
"And Azkadellia set a trap for us loyal fools."
"Loyalty wasn't the foolish part. It never is. Though I do find fault with keeping your wife and Jeb in the city."
"Adora wouldn't go."
"Of course, if you weren't leaving."
"And I wasn't going 'cause you weren't. Maybe my son should make the travel plans."
"Gods know he couldn't make worse decisions." The Mystic Man shook his head and the car wobbled. "No more arguing about it. Take care of your family, Cain. Fight for them."
Cain blinked. The pain in his leg must be making his eyes water. "They're the only reason I fight, to make the O.Z. safe for them."
The rest of the ride to the lakeside docks was silent. Cain dared not introduce a new subject in fear of the Mystic Man losing control of the car. Chaos surrounded the available boats at the docks as people realized the Longcoats didn't control this exit from Central City. The Mystic Man slowed his speed to avoid hitting pedestrians. The car parked in front of the gangplank of a small cargo steamer. Adora charged up it, looking worried sick, and Cain slipped out of the car before she yelled. "Thank the gods," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around him.
"You two better go," the Mystic Man said with a sad smile. "The ship can't wait forever."
Cain bent to look through the car door window. "Sir, you can't stay. The Sorceress will come after you!"
"Come with us please," Adora added.
The white-haired man shook his head. "I still have answers left to give."
"You can't do that if you're dead," Cain snapped.
"I doubt it will come to that. But it is all the more reason to come up with a way to give answers from beyond the grave." The Mystic Man smirked, "Isn't that a riddle? I'm sure I'll solve it. Now get on board and I'll see you down the road." Adora pulled Cain from the car. It motored away after a jaunty honk of the horn.
She helped him down the gangplank. "You can't save everyone, Wyatt."
"I know." But knowing didn't ease his gnawing sense of duty. The Sorceress would be gunning for the Mystic Man, even more so if Zero got a good look at him.
She brought Cain to a sitting area below the deck where Jeb fiddled with his toy horse. "When he showed up at our door, I thought you were dead." She glanced annoyed at his leg as he stretched it. "Jeb, get the other field kit."
"I didn't get this at the Square," Cain said defensively to her look. "A Longcoat was waiting at our apartment."
Adora nodded with a sigh. The sound of the engines changed, and the boat moved from the docks. She untied the ruined scarf and rolled up his pants. "Do you think they know about the cabin?"
"Doubt it, we never finished the paperwork to separate it from your father's holdings. No need to rush that, remember?"
"I remember. Though I don't know if we want Jeb that close to the Papay."
"Mo-om." Cain suppressed a smile at how his son stretched the word. "I really don't want to get eaten." Both Cain and Adora let Jeb expanded on that subject to leave no doubt in his parents' minds how he felt about being Papay dinner. Their cabin would be a safe haven, especially if they kept their heads down.
DG pressed harder against him, and moved her hand from Cain's chest to his shoulder under her cheek. Her squeeze was comforting rather than enticing. He had wondered if it would upset her to hear about Adora. But she knew how the story ended.
Spencer propped his chin in his hands. "What happened?"
Cain took a deep breath. "The Sorceress got the Mystic Man hooked on vapors and turned him into a sideshow freak instead of killing him."
"A magic mist containing a spell of bliss," DG explained. "But he was the star of the show and was proud of it. And he still had the answers when they were needed."
But his inability to save the Mystic Man twice still hurt even after all this time. "He shook the effects long enough to give the clues to defeat the Sorceress, and she killed him." Now for the even harder part of the story. "Zero found us in the cabin about a cycle after we left Central City, and brought eight men with him. They took Adora and Jeb away, and when I didn't tell them what they wanted to know about the Resistance, they made me think they shot them. I--"
DG pressed her lips against Cain's shoulder, right on the scar he got in the Brain Room.
"I don't remember much after that. When I woke up, I was locked in an iron suit, a prison just big enough to stand a man inside and fueled with magic to keep him alive. And all I could see was a projection of the Longcoats destroying my family. Left alone to remember how I failed them, the Mystic Man, Central City, and the entire O.Z. For eight annuals."
Spencer's brown eyes widened. "How did you not go mad?"
Cain barked out a humorless laugh and tightened his grip around DG's waist. "I'm not sure I didn't. Did I frighten you when you let me out?"
DG picked up her head. "After I saw what the Longcoats did to you and what they did to me, I was too pissed off at them to be scared of you. And you didn't seem that crazy, wanting revenge. Who could blame you? I realized you weren't a killer after a couple of days." She smirked, "But if it makes you feel better, you were really intense."
"You didn't let me forget that I'm Tin Man."
"Through and through," she snuggled against Cain again. "But finding Jeb helped you more."
"You found your son?" Spencer asked.
"Zero lied to me and told them I was dead. Adora died while I was in the suit, but Jeb had become a leader in the Resistance." Cain couldn't keep the pride out of his voice. "He led the attack on the Tower during the Eclipse."
Spencer rolled over. "No one lied to me. I helped bury my family." His body shook. "I couldn't have saved them if I had been in the house. The roof … it caved in from the cannon blasts. I wish…."
DG raised her head again. "Who did you have a fight with?"
Spencer jerked around to look at her. "How did you know?"
"I had a fight with my mom the afternoon before the Longcoats attacked. We never settled it before my parents died."
He hid his face again. "My father didn't think I was taking my future or the traditions of Pingaree seriously. Now he'll never be proud of me. I left, signed up with pirates."
Cain rested his hand on the boy's back. "Why did you?"
"To see who attacked Pingaree punished."
"No father would be ashamed of that."
The boy stopped breathing as he looked up. "How do you know?"
"You are a good kid, so your father had to be a good man. There's no possible way he's not proud of you." Spencer curled back down. "Now let's try to get some sleep. Dawn comes way too early on this boat."