That was one heck of an ambush…

The Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow slowly crept out from behind the rocks, keeping their sights on the guards parading below. They were still chanting that strange song… and they were heading into the castle! The three friends quickened their pace slightly and managed to finally fall into place at the back of the line of warriors; the Scarecrow in front, Tin Man behind him, and the Lion bringing up the rear.

Creeeeeeeeaaaaakkkkk, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang. The drawbridge closed slowly and noisily, giving the friends a chance to break from the line unnoticed. They pressed themselves against the wall and recovered from the adrenaline of getting into the castle. The Lion was the first to break the silence. "Where do we go now?" he gulped.

"Arf, arf!" Toto yipped, attracting their attention to a staircase to their right. "There!" the Scarecrow declared, and charged up the short staircase after Toto, skidding to a stop in front of a large wooden door. Toto seemed certain, so this must be the room where Dorothy was being held. "Wait," the Scarecrow told the others, "We'd better make sure." He turned to the door and called, "Dorothy! Are you in there?" The Tin Man also called out, "It's us!"

"Yes!" came the muffled cry, "It's me! She's locked me in!" There was a sound of running feet as Dorothy ran to the door. "Oh, no! We gotta get her out! Gotta get her out!" the Lion fretted. "Hurry, please hurry!" Dorothy cried frantically, her voice clearer, "The hourglass is almost empty!" Hourglass? The Tin Man wondered. What happens when it runs out? Honestly, he didn't want to find out. He wielded his axe and ordered, "Stand back!" Then he swung the axe hard into the door, splintering the wood. He swung repeatedly, going as fast as he could, praying that they would reach Dorothy in time.

Finally the door gave, and the trio was able to get through to her. She stood just inside the door, basket on her arm. The Tin Man met her as she rushed forward and hugged him tight. "Are you alright?" he asked. Dorothy didn't answer. Something was amiss. He pulled back and looked at her. Tears lined her innocent brown eyes, which were red and swollen, indicating she had been crying hard for a while. But there was something else about her eyes that seemed wrong; they were… empty. The Tin Man's own eyes widened as Dorothy dropped like a stone and he caught her midway down. The Scarecrow and Lion watched with frightened expressions. "Dorothy?" the Tin Man whispered.

Meanwhile, the Scarecrow looked into the room that had been Dorothy's prison. On a table near the center of the room sat an intricate hourglass filled with blood-red sand… and all that sand was on the bottom. Dorothy's time had run out before they were able to help. "Tin Man," the Scarecrow whispered. The Tin Man looked at him with pained eyes. The Scarecrow gestured to the hourglass, and the Tin Man's brain clicked. Dorothy was gone. She wouldn't come back. They couldn't save her now.

Time seemed to stop. All the oil rushed from the Tin Man's face, and he felt cold. This innocent brown-eyed beauty was just murdered… over a pair of shoes. He looked at the ruby slippers. As he watched, they slowly slipped off of Dorothy's feet and rested on the ground, replaced by Dorothy's brown farm shoes.

Anger pounded through him, and he looked again at Dorothy's pale face. Her expression was sad, and the tears that remained in her eyes fell, soaking the dirt on the stones of the castle floor. The Tin Man leapt to his feet, brandishing his axe menacingly, and pounded down the steps, while the Lion and Scarecrow remained rooted to the spot, shock and grief weighing them down.

The Tin Man reached the bottom of the steps and screamed in anguish, "WITCH!" No answer. "Witch!" he yelled again, "Show yourself!" Her hideous green face appeared on the balcony just above him. She sneered at him with a kind of amused gloating expression. "I see you've recovered your little friend, have you?" She snapped her fingers, and Dorothy's body floated next to her, lying on its back as though on an invisible table. Anger amplified itself inside the Tin Man, and he gripped his axe so tight, he was sure his metal knuckles would split. He was vaguely aware of his friends now flanking him on either side.

A hand rested on his shoulder, and he turned to see it belonged to the Scarecrow. The straw man glared at the green woman above with a wrathful light in his eyes. The Lion did the same, growling fearlessly. The Witch sneered again and held up the hourglass, tossing it down and letting it shatter against the stone floor, resulting in a mini explosion.

As if on cue, guards streamed in and surrounded the boys, cornering against the now-locked front entrance. The trio refused to back down. They now had a new objective; they had to avenge their brown-eyed beauty. The Scarecrow observed the room, looking for something to help them escape. He spotted the chandelier just above the throng of guards, and followed a rope down to the wall on their right. If he could cut the rope, the chandelier would crash down on top of the guards, and maybe give the Tin Man time to get to the Witch. The Scarecrow had very little time to execute his plan; the smoke from the hourglass was beginning to clear. He grabbed the Tin Man's axe and chopped through the rope, and the chandelier collapsed on top of the crowd of warriors.

The Tin Man took his chance. He bolted up another staircase towards the Witch on the balcony. She must have seen him coming, because by the time he got to the overhang, she had turned and run. As she did, her spell on Dorothy's body was broken, and the girl plummeted toward the stone below. "NO!" the Tin Man cried, making a desperate grab for her lifeless hand. He missed, and he watched helplessly as Dorothy soared toward the ground. Just as the hem of her skirt touched the ground, the Lion dove under her, using his body as a cushion. Dorothy landed on top of him and the Scarecrow lifted her off of him, holding her bridal style.

He met the Tin Man's eyes and nodded once, as if to say Good luck. The Tin Man returned the action and threw his axe at the door. It hit it in the middle, splintering the crease just enough for the Lion to work the rest of it open. As he watched, the Tin Man's friends sprinted across the drawbridge, which had fallen by force when the door opened, and ran in the direction of the Emerald City, and he himself turned in the direction the Witch had run.

To Be Continued...