Many of you were concerned about the intensity of the last chapter, so I hope this makes you feel better. We find out more of the lore of the OZ, and Jeb makes a plan to find his father.
Jeb sent pages racing through the academy delivering tons of notes to his fellow officers. He sent a messenger to each branch of the militia to warn them about the attack at his father's camp, and pulled several of the new high-ranking recruits for a special recon team. He assembled the board to discuss the crisis, and they had a few answers. Finally, Jeb met with the Queen, Consort, Princess, Glitch, and Raw in the throne room.
"What do we know?" the Queen asked, once Jeb stood before her.
"The camp was attacked with firebombs made of crude items; rags soaked in pure alcohol, rocks, and twine ties," Jeb began. "According to my informant, nearly three quarters of the tents burned also contained bodies, each of which slept two to three people. There are still thirty-eight soldiers unaccounted for, including my father. Princess DG is also missing. They may have been taken hostage, though it's unlikely that whatever group attacked them was large enough to take thirty-nine people. All we can hope is that they've escaped, but they've been good about covering their tracks. Apparently they found signs of an injured person fleeing the camp, from a trail of a single footstep accompanied by a drag mark, and they believe it to be one of the attackers, who was likely picked up by one of his associates. That's all we know, for now."
The Queen and Consort exchanged a look of worry.
"I'm deeply sorry for the loss of your men," the Queen said solemnly.
"As am I. But it was their first night in the camp, which is usually the least disciplined, although I don't understand why there wasn't an established perimeter already, I—the board is very concerned with retrieving the bodies and returning the identifiable ones to their families." He cleared his throat, swallowing the lump that grew there.
"And they found no sign of DG or Cain?" Glitch asked. "They must be together at least."
"We aren't sure of that—"
"Raw is sure," Raw said. "Cain would not leave DG."
"Is someone looking for them?" Azkadellia asked.
"I have assembled a team, but they haven't been sent out yet. We're waiting on the last messenger from the Emerald City, in the hopes that they took refuge there," Jeb said.
"Thank goodness we did not stay in the Emerald City, my dear," Ahamo said to the Queen.
"I will not give thanks until I know my daughter is safe," the Queen said sharply.
"I admit, I'm considering going with the recon team myself," Jeb said. "The board can make decisions without me, and I don't have much faith in the men we've assembled to track my father. He's got to be miles away from the camp by now, and won't have headed back towards Emerald City. If he's with DG, they are on the run and getting further from Finaqua every moment."
Azkadellia crossed the marble tiles and stood beside him. "I will go."
"No, Azkadellia, dear—"
"And I," Glitch said, stepping forward.
"Raw, too, will go." Raw stood beside Glitch and the zipper head clapped his hand on the viewer's shoulder.
"I cannot allow this," the Queen protested.
"Mother, who better than us to find DG and Cain? Cain's son, who knows how to track him. Raw, who can see if they've been where we look. Glitch… for his muchness, and me, for my magic," Azkadellia said. "We're a small band, so we'll slip under the radar of any longcoat troupe. We're the best choice."
"I do not like it," the Queen said, sitting back against her throne.
"Azkadellia is right," Glitch said. "Raw and I have travelled with DG and Cain before. Jeb and Az have a right to be there and let's be honest, furball and I are fierce, but we're not magic, nor are we the head of the Tin Man academy. We're their only hope."
"We don't even know where they are heading," the Queen said. "It's unwise to send you without a destination in mind."
"I believe they may be headed for a royal residence, where there are guards and people who can assist them further," Jeb said. "If I know my father, and I think I do, he is thinking of the Northern Palace. It's the opposite direction, which means that they'd hopefully be able to put off anyone on their trail."
"Except for us," Azkadellia said, smiling at Jeb. He returned the smile.
"I will allow it," the Queen sighed. "If you go undercover, and you promise to be careful."
"Of course," Jeb said.
"We're their best chance," Azkadellia said. "And if DG remembers her magic, they've got an even better shot."
Azkadellia, Jeb, Raw, and Glitch all bowed to the Queen and Consort, and then left the throne room to prepare for departure. The Queen spoke her worries again to her husband quietly, and he reassured her that his daughter and the Sergeant would be found, all the while concealing his own, deeply seeded concern.
Cain awoke DG before the suns had even broken over the hills. He had stolen new clothes for them off a clothesline at a nearby farm, noting that both of them would be highly recognizable in their valuable clothes, DG especially. Once she unclothed herself, Cain wrapped her thigh tightly in a stretchy cloth, and then helped her put on the male clothing he had stolen. She would be attired like a farm boy, him like a farmer. They'd be less noticeable that way.
Though they had paid for the room the night before, Cain snuck DG out through the kitchen and behind the far side of the Inn, where the stables lay.
"I don't feel good about this," she whispered, as Cain picked the lock on a stall door.
"We don't have a choice. We have to move quickly," he said. The latch popped open and Cain entered the stall. In a matter of minutes, he had the horse inside saddled in a farmer's saddle that had been carelessly left in the stall. He helped DG up onto the horse and then climbed up behind her. Cain nudged the horse forward quietly until they had cleared the inn by several hundred yards. Then, he picked up the pace, galloping as fast as the horse could take them.
When the suns were high in the sky, and the shadows were short, Cain slowed the horse considerably.
"I'd like to find some supplies to camp so we don't leave a trail of breadcrumbs from inn to inn," he explained to DG, who leaned back against him with most of her weight.
"You could trade your knife for some," she suggested.
"No, that I must keep. I refuse to be entirely unarmed. I'll barter your dress."
"I didn't like that one anyway," DG said. She turned her head and looked up at him, smiling slightly. He returned a half-smile, but he was very distracted. "How much longer will we be on the road?"
"I don't know."
"Where are we headed?" she asked.
"The Northern Island," he said.
"Where are we now?"
"I don't know that either. We're somewhere to the west of the Emerald City, and we need to be North East of it, but I don't want to take the main path past the city, because I don't know if the attack on camp was meant for the soldiers… or for you," he said, sighing. "They could be waiting back at camp, or following us, or waiting in the city to ambush us. Gods, DG."
"Yeah. This isn't where I thought we'd be when I asked to go with you."
"Thank Gods you did. If the attack was meant for you, I wouldn't have been with you when they sprung it on you at the palace. If it was for the men, I might have been dead asleep and gone now."
DG turned more in the saddle. "Is that what you think happened to the men?" she asked softly.
Cain hesitated for a moment and then nodded. DG looked away and leaned back against him.
"Why do you say "Gods" when you get upset?" she asked after a few minutes.
"Same reason you say "God" when you're upset."
"Because Ozians believe in multiple gods?"
"Some of us believe the OZ is watched over by six Gods, yes," he said.
"Do you believe that?"
"I only know the children's story about them," Cain said, chuckling.
"I quite like children's stories," DG replied. "Come on, it will pass the time."
"I suppose you're right," he said. Cain cleared his throat. "Well…when the OZ was a young realm, they say that the six gods were spun from gold stardust by the Great Spinner, Avaric. First, He created Nor, Goddess of the Soil, and Nor formed the clay soil into hills and mountains. Then, He made Liir, God of Water. Liir pulled water from the clouds and created streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Avaric then created Manek and Arduenna, the twin sun Goddesses, in the hope that the long day would allow Nor's soil and Liir's water to mix and grow lush plants. Then, He created Irji, the God of the Moon, who would take the place of the suns during the dark hours and watch over the realm. Last, He created Sarima, Goddess of the Shadows, so that Avaric could see even the darkest parts of his new world.
"Avaric sprinkled the dust from lesser stars on the earth and man grew from that. Then munchkins, and viewers, and the rest. Men ruled the Crag in the plains, while Munchkins took the Quadling mountains. Viewers created a hidden paradise between two mountains, which they called the Den of Frex, for Frex was the lioness that they followed. Avaric knew that his peaceful realm wouldn't remain so forever, so he proclaimed to his Gods to watch for the arrival of a young girl from another world, who would one day save the OZ from evil.
"Sarima, the Goddess of the Shadows, and Irji, the God of the Moon, found themselves turning to the darkness and away from Avaric. They had four daughters, against Avaric's wishes, and those four introduced magic to the OZ. They were witches; two benevolent, and two nefarious. The good daughters, Galinda and Gaylette, aided Crag, Quadling, and Frex, while the bad sisters, Elphaba and Nessa, sought to rid the OZ of the mortal inhabitants. Gaylette was slain protecting Frex, and the viewers were enslaved. Galinda created her own helpers, the bubble fairies, and they successfully hid her from her two evil sisters. Meanwhile, Elphaba and Nessa took over Quadling, and the Men took up arms against them. The men lost, and Elphaba took Crag for herself, ruling over men with terror.
"Hundreds and thousands of years later, your great-great-great grandmother Dorothy slipped through from the Otherside. She came on a travel storm sent by Manek and Arduenna. When Dorothy slipped through in her small house, it fell on Nessa and she was slain. Then she melted Elphaba with a pail of water. Galinda reappeared to help Dorothy, but hasn't been seen since. It was believed that all evil had been banished from the OZ and all displaced peoples returned to their homes. But Sarima came to earth when you were a girl, likening you and your sister to her two favorite daughters."
"And then she possessed Azkadellia!" DG exclaimed.
"Yes. You know the rest of the story," Cain said.
"No, I don't. I know there is still evil in the OZ," she said.
"What about Avaric? What happened to him, couldn't he have stopped Sarima and Irji's children from taking over the OZ?" DG asked.
"He could have. But he wanted his people to learn to fight for themselves, to learn strength," Cain said. "Once Elphaba and Ness were slain, he gave over dominion of the OZ to his Gods entirely. Now he watches over another realm. That's what the stories say, anyway."
"Maybe he watches over the Otherside," DG said. "Many people over there worship just one god, a man. Maybe that's where Avaric watches now."
"Maybe," Cain said. "They wouldn't call him Avaric, I imagine. The names of the Gods were created by us that came after them, I doubt that he named them."
"Why is that?"
"He wouldn't need to. I mean, why do we name things? To show that we own them. To show others, specifically. The leader of Men named Avaric, and his Gods, to claim them when the language of men was created. The god on the Otherside wouldn't be called the same thing, because he was named by different men."
"Why do both realms call them "gods," then?"
"I don't know. Maybe more people have slipped between the OZ and the Otherside than you and your father," Cain said. He smiled at DG when she turned around, and then kissed her temple.
"I'm sure I learned all this when I was little," DG said, sighing. "I don't remember any of it."
"There are several nursery rhymes about the Princesses' proclivity to mischief as well," Cain chuckled. "I don't think you were interested in silly stories of the past."
"They're not silly, they're beautiful," DG said.
They rode silently for a while, while DG digested the myths of the realm she might someday rule. She wondered if Sarima was truly gone. In the middle of the day, the shadows were short, but they were still there. Had DG and Azkadellia really banished her? She didn't know, and she was suddenly worried.
A/N: So, now most of the gang is on the road! If you can tell me where I got the names of the Gods, you get an invisible cookie. Thanks always for taking a moment to review!