Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, but if someone wants to hand Cain over, I'm not going to say "no". Strictly for fun, there is no profit. And I don't have any money.
He was waiting.
Dim light shone through the portcullis-style door of his cell, but it didn't matter. He stared unseeing into the gloom as he sat with his back to the wall, elbows on his knees, feeling neither the cold nor the damp of his prison. Just waiting.
He had known. The wench would turn, the hag would fail. He had voiced this opinion, but the Master had not listened. "Let it run its course." He had said. "There are alternatives should she fail."
And failed she had. Given his present state, however, a feeling of vindication was not forthcoming.
He stared, unmoving as the heat surged through him again. The boy would pay. Oh, yes, he would pay for his trickery. He had spilled his guts to the mere wisp of a boy. Perhaps young Jeb Cain thought himself clever, preying upon the fears of his victim, using the threat of torture to glean the information he had wanted from him.
Spoons? He'd dig the boy's heart from his chest with those spoons and revel in every glorious moment as the light of life left those eyes.
His father could watch. He began to rock gently on his haunches as he thought of Wyatt Cain. The man had refused to die. His time in the suit had made him stronger and harder. It had not broken him as it had done so many others. Vengeful, yes, but not broken. A bullet had not stopped him. He had bested an entire squad of Long Coats.
And then Wyatt Cain had locked him in the suit. He had called it fateful justice. If they survived the raid on Azkadellia's castle, they would return for him. If not, then he would suffer the fate that he himself had sentenced so many others to.
Return he did. He rocked faster, his breathing coming in short, shallow, angry breaths. That had been the worst. After only a week in the metal prison, he had found himself cowered against the back, already half-mad from the sensory deprivation. The Tin Man had opened the door and looked down at him. . .
He would never forget that. The damnable pity, as though he was looking at a lesser creature. There was no hate or malice. Cain had simply pulled him from the suit and together, he and his bastard son had brought him back to Central City.
And locked him in here. The ultimate insult, to lock a man away in a place where he had once walked the halls a free man, looking through the doors at those he had incarcerated. The cold blue eyes finally shifted to examine his cell.
Locking him away as though he were nothing more than a common criminal. A lackey to her highness, the Sorceress.
Soon, they would know of their mistake, he knew. It was just a matter of time. He stopped rocking and became still once again.
He sat awhile longer, not thinking, not moving. Patience. Patience would be rewarded. Then he would have his revenge. Slow, deep, painful revenge. It would be sweet and extracted carefully.
The cell grew colder and for the first time, he noticed the temperature of his surroundings. He did not move as he watched the water condense on the stone walls and freeze. First, there were only droplets, and then within minutes, a solid sheet of ice had formed, covering the rock. At last he stood and covered his face, just as the wall was blown away.
The free air blew into the dim cell as he lowered his arm. It was freezing and he felt it empower him. He drew strength as he moved forward to the opening. The drop was nearly a thousand feet straight down.
Slowly, he raised his cold eyes to the familiar figure floating before him, the face timeless and frozen. He reached out a hand.
At last, Zero grinned. His true master had come for him at last.
With a sigh, DG sat up and loosed her frustration on her poor, unsuspecting pillow. Beating it soundly in the center, she fluffed it a bit before flopping back down on it. For what felt like the hundredth time that night, she closed her eyes and ordered her mind and body to relax. She took a deep breath and tried to settle in.
Within seconds, she had thrown herself from the deep, warm bed and began to pace the marble floor beside it. She wasn't getting to sleep tonight. Something was out of place and she just couldn't seem to put a finger on it.
She had gotten used to sleepless nights for the first couple of weeks after the fall of the Witch. Images of lost family and friends in danger wove in and out of her dreams in an unending horrific parade. More than once, DG had sat bolt upright in bed, sweating and trying to gain control of her wildly beating heart. But lately, the nightmares had been fewer and further between as she had settled into her new life as Princess DG of the O.Z..
But at least, in the beginning, she had been able to get some sleep. Not like tonight, she thought as she stopped pacing and stared at the vaulted ceiling. Tonight, she wasn't even close to dreamland. She was wide awake as if something in the back of her mind refused to let her fall into an unconscious state.
DG picked up her robe from the footboard of her bed and pulled it over her pajamas before crossing the expanse of her chambers. It was a long shot, but perhaps a walk through the halls of Finaqua would settle her down some. Quietly opening the door, she slipped into the moonlit hallways.
She moved slowly, taking in the ornate carvings on the walls of the palace, still wondering at the sudden changes in her life. A bare month ago, she had been waiting tables at small diner in Kansas. Boy, if Carter could see her now. A princess, living in the lap of luxury, gifted with magical ability. It was a switch, to say the least.
And not at all what she expected. Disney sure never portrayed the whole princess-thing like this. Impossibly beautiful, kind-hearted souls waited for their Prince Charming to ride in on white horses to take out the bad guys. Didn't see Cinderella being chased by deranged monkey-bats, did ya?
And then, the handsome prince whisked the princess away to a beautiful castle on the hill, or in the clouds, or some unbelievably stunning locale. . . okay, so nothing she had ever seen in the movies could compare with the Mountain Palace or Finaqua. At least she had that.
But, why was it they never showed the aftermath in which the beautiful princess and her family were now responsible for the well-being of thousands of subjects? Her family had escaped Central City as soon as possible for the calm, healing waters of their summer retreat, but the frequency of Queen Orianah and Ahamo's visits back to the Ozian capitol was increasing. They had just returned again this afternoon and DG's heart had fallen when she saw her beautiful mother careworn and aggravated, her lovely fine features hung with the heavy burden of reconstructing a troubled land.
And to top it all off, ugly step sisters remained ugly step sisters that deserved everything they got in the end. They never became repentant friends that the princess had to watch slowly spiral into depression.
Azkadellia was physically fine, but her mind was a different story. There were so many memories from her possession that would simply not come. The Witch had used her as a front, forcing back Azkadeellia's own personality and will when the girl had rebelled against the terrible deeds she was being made to carry out. It was only in the later years that the Witch had allowed any sort of control when she believed that she was managing to bend Azkadellia to her own will.
All the while, the Witch concocted and carried out her own schemes, taking over the Princess's's mind completely when she had planned something even a possessed Azkadellia would have found repugnant. There were some attacks that the elder princess had no recollection of whatsoever.
It made it hard when the damage reports had started to come in. The shock was doubly hard for Azkadellia. Not only was the devastation enough to turn her stomach, but the sickening realization that her magic was responsible always made it worse. Mother and Father tried, but they couldn't shield their oldest daughter from everything. Cities had been burned, people killed, lives destroyed. DG had managed to get Azkadellia to talk a bit about what she was feeling, but more often then not, she would be drawn to her sister's distress just to find her sitting with puffy, red-rimmed eyes.
Wonder why I can't sleep. DG thought sarcastically as she rounded the corner and entered the Great Hall.
Ahead was the main balcony that looked over the lake and a familiar form stood there. He was still fully clothed, gun on his hip and, leaning on the rail, looking out over the water. Quite possibly, this was another source of her insomnia.
The changes in Wyatt Cain had been subtle, but DG and her friends, Glitch and Raw, were close enough to notice them. The reinstated Tin Man had been a rock during their journey, looking out for all of them. After the Witch fell, he had thrown himself into reconstruction efforts and had been instrumental in beginning a training program for new Tin Man recruits. His input had been vital in setting up an interim police force comprised mainly of resistance fighters that had begun to clean up the delinquent chaos in Central City.
He had initially refused the post of Head of Security for the Royal Family. He had told DG that he didn't want to be trapped in a cushy job just because he had friends in high places. That had been before the first death threat against Azkadellia. Then, he had begrudgingly offered his services, more out of a sense of loyalty to DG rather than to protect her sister, but DG was still grateful.
If DG were going to pinpoint an exact time that he became more moody (which she really wouldn't have thought possible) she would have to say it was just after he had returned from a visit with his son, Jeb. Cain had returned a day early, stormed through Finaqua, ignored Glitch's surprised greeting and rounded on some poor unsuspecting guard in the East Wing.
Raw was particularly sensitive to the Tin Man's foul mood. The Viewer's large eyes would follow Cain when the man's back was turned, a look of concern and sympathy on his face. DG began to notice that her friend was even more edgy than usual, pacing from one window to the other as though he expected an attack any moment. More than once, she and Glitch had exchanged a worried glance at dinner when Cain had not shown up.
Steeling herself just a bit, she began to move towards him. She wasn't surprised when, without turning, he greeted her. "Hey there, Princess."
She smiled. Always from him, it was acceptable. "Hi, Mr. Cain."
DG came forward and stood beside him, leaning on the railing and putting her head in her hand. She noticed the glass he held, but decided not to comment. "You okay?"
He swirled the amber liquor, not taking his eyes from it. "I'm supposed to ask you that."
"Friends ask each other that."
"What's got you out of bed? Dreaming again?" Cain had avoided the question neatly and it didn't escape her notice.
She let that go, too. There was a certain art to discussing anything with Cain. You had to feel him out and either take him straight on or dance with him a little bit to get what you wanted from him. She decided to dance. "I haven't been to sleep at all."
Cain finally looked at her, concern in his steel-gray eyes. "What's the matter?"
"You want the whole list or just the top ten?"
He smiled a bit. "I know. It's not easy."
DG sighed and decided to pour her heart out, just a bit. Cain always seemed to understand, odd as that was. "Mother looked so tired today. I think it was the conference with the Black Mountain Clan leaders."
Cain nodded. "Probably. They lost a lot. They feel someone should pay."
The Black Mountains and the plains surrounding them, from what DG understood, had been fertile farming and grazing lands before the Witch began her reign. Now, they were reduced to wastelands after the violent strip mining to gain the rare, precious metal known as Moritanium required for the Sun Seater. "It wasn't Az's fault."
"I know that." Cain stood up and tossed back the last of the whiskey. "But when so many people are hurt, it's natural to feel like someone needs to pay. Possession is not an excuse a farmer is going to understand when he's looking at a scorched corn field or starving cattle."
It was something her friends wrestled with. All of them had lost something during the siege and try as they might, it was nearly impossible not to feel resentment towards DG's sister. It was a deep-seated hatred that spanned fifteen annuals. Cain put forth more effort to be kind to her than the others, something she admired him for, considering it was his wife that had been taken from him.
"I wish everyone could know her like she was. Or like she is now." DG watched the reeds on the shore blow in the soft, night wind. "Of course, Glitch did know her and does know what happened. He still can't stand to be in the same room with her."
"I don't think he can help it, kiddo. It's a flight or fight response."
He was probably right. Ambrose "Glitch" Grant was quite possibly the most kind and sweet person she had ever met. He would never hurt anyone intentionally, but whenever he reported to the queen and Azkadellia was in the room, he began to sweat and talk too fast. When he had finished, he would all but run from the room. The lengths he went to avoid her were elaborate and did not go unnoticed by either of the princesses. "It makes her feel terrible."
Cain gave her look, but she added. "I know how he feels, though." Before he could take up Glitch's case, "Maybe I'll try talking to him again when we go riding tomorrow."
"Riding? Don't you have lessons with Tutor tomorrow?"
"Yes." She said in a disdainful way that made him chuckle. "Thank you for the reminder."
Something else to worry about. Magic was not coming as easily as DG had hoped it would. "Letting the light flow" was not as natural as it sounded. There always seemed to be a barrier that she couldn't clear, a fine-tipped control that she lacked. In all honesty, she was fairly certain Tutor was as frustrated with her as she was with herself.
"Don't worry. You'll get it."
"Wish I had your confidence." DG grumped. "Maybe I'll put off the ride for a couple of days and really work with Tutor. Maybe Saturday." She grinned suddenly. "Glitch and I will drag you along. It'll do you some good to take a day off."
Cain was looking out over the lake again, avoiding her eyes. "I'm not gonna be here, kid."
Her face fell as she felt her stomach drop. It wasn't like this was a surprise. She had just been dreading it. "What?"
Cain studied the water. "I've been reassigned."
"You mean you asked Mother for a reassignment."
"I told you I wasn't staying long." Cain rolled his empty glass between his palms, "The Security Detail is as good as it's gonna get. You don't need me anymore."
DG took a breath and reminded herself that arguing with him was going to be counterproductive. "Where are you going?"
"Home." It was said quietly, with reverence.
That didn't make any sense. With all those bad memories there? "You mean back to the cabin?"
"No, home. The Eastern Territories. It's where -" He paused and backpedaled. "It's where I was raised and stationed just after I left the Academy."
"What are you going to do there?"
"Your mother wants to start ferreting out whatever is left of the Witch's Long Coats. Most have them have fled to the north and east. They're starting to cause trouble."
"I know." That report hadn't escaped DG's ears either. Lacking proper leadership, many of the Long Coats had turned to sheer pillaging and mayhem. Town burnings and random abductions were particularly popular. The Eastern Territories could use someone like Wyatt Cain. Obviously, that's where he wanted to be.
She sighed heavily and resigned herself. "Good luck, Mr. Cain."
DG would have laughed if she wasn't so depressed, his head spun around so fast. "I was sure I'd get a little more of a fight."
"You're not happy. If this is something you need to do, I understand." DG felt tears behind her eyes, but checked them. "If you ever want to come back, even just to visit, our door is always open."
"I appreciate that, kiddo."
"Have you told Jeb yet?"
DG wondered if she had made a mistake. Cain's back stiffened and once more she had to question what was going on between the Tin Man and his son. "Not yet."
At his young age, Jeb had won a position as a commander in the Royal Army for his role in the rebellion against the Witch and her minions. He was now stationed near Central City as part of the reconstruction effort and Cain's reassignment would even more distance between him and the son he barely knew.
DG was just wondering if she should mention this fact when the night went a little darker. Cain noticed the odd look on her face. "What's up?"
Holding up a hand to quiet him, DG focused on the vision. Fear and apprehension were building in her chest as she traveled in her mind's eye down the corridor she had just physically walked. She was back in the hall that led to the chambers where the Royal Family and their friends slept. Past her own door on the right and her parents on the left. She was now looking at Azkadellia's door. It opened. Az was asleep on her side, the soft wind stirring the sheer curtains that hung from the bed. They pushed away as the princess rolled to her back. A knife blade flashed in the dark, a scream. . .
DG was running before the pain that had seared through her chest had eased. Skittering around the corner, she grabbed the wall to bring herself back to balance before tearing back up the stairs that led back to the third floor. She could feel Cain behind her, keeping pace but letting her lead him. It felt like it took an eternity to get to Az's door, but finally she grabbed the handle and fell against it before Cain could stop her. There was a man standing over her sister, knife raised.
"Hey!" She reacted on instinct and threw out a hand before Cain could get to his revolver. There was a great crack and burst of blue light that knocked the weapon from the assailant and tossed him backwards. But that was it. The flash of magical control vanished.
But the man was thrown back against the wall by Azkadellia's wardrobe, pinned there by an invisible force. Awakened by DG's scream, Azkadellia had taken over instantly. She was standing beside her bed, hand in front of her, keeping her assailant immobilized. Cain had drawn his gun and she knew as well as DG that the Tin Man would use deadly force to protect his charges.
"Have you got him, Princess?" Cain asked as he crossed the room towards Azkadellia, gun still trained on the intruder.
She nodded, wide brown eyes never leaving the man she held.
Cain stooped to pick up the knife as DG went to stand beside her sister, feeling the adrenaline ebb from her bloodstream.
"I'm all right, Deej." Azkadellia answered the unspoken question.
"What is going on?" Ahamo was in the door now, concern etched on his handsome features. He looked from where his daughters stood to the man Azkadellia had pinned. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, Father." The pair answered together.
Orianah was behind him and looking at the man as well until she caught sight of Cain holding the knife. "By the gods."
DG looked to the man again. He was dressed in a uniform. The white uniform worn by Fiaqua's kitchen staff. "Marcus?"
The man was around Cain's age, though he appeared much older. DJ knew him. He was a pleasant enough gentleman that often snuck her tart or some other treat from the kitchens. He had always seemed so kindly.
A sob escaped his throat and tears began to run down his beleaguered face. Azkadellia slowly released her hold and the man fell to his knees and began to weep, hunched over.
The disbelief still clung to DG's thought. "Marcus? What-? Why would you do such a thing?"
His breath hitched a few times before he raised his head, looking straight at Azkadellia. "My wife. My daughters. Why?"
Understanding came to Azkadellia's features. He wanted vengeance. DG's heart broke as her sister remained mute, guilt washing over her lovely face.
His voice rose as he went on. "They were just children. Just children! You could have stopped her! You can't tell me you couldn't have stopped her!"
Cain, deciding everyone had heard enough, put his arms under the other man's and set him on his feet. The Tin Man was forceful as necessary, but only just. DG noted the touch of sympathy with which Cain handled Marcus.
Tears were in Azkadellia's eyes as she whispered, "I am so sorry."
Marcus didn't answer, but he didn't have to. His eyes spoke volumes as Cain led him from the room. Her apologies were not enough and would never be enough.
Azkadellia stood, clenching and unclenching her fists with her eyes closed until DG wrapped her in a warm embrace. She crumbled like a glacier succumbing to the sea, weeping into DG's shoulder. Orianah stepped in as well and with her help, DG guided her sister back to the bed and sat down beside her. Their mother smoothed her hair and whispered softly as Ahamo came to sit behind all three of them.