Disclaimer: wait for it, wait for it…. Yup, still don't own anything…
A/N: Ye gods, I'm slow! I'm so terribly sorry that this took this long! I hope it was worth the wait. Thanks to all you wonderful people who took the time to review and give me lovely words of encouragement!
The idea of using "cycles" for months came from a story on the LJ group TinmanFic, unfortunately, I don't remember whose story it was… Sennight comes from all the historical fiction I read (although now that I think of it, I can't actually remember if they used the term 'weeks' in Tin Man. thinks to self that she should probably go check).
As Cain settled into his saddle, waiting for his son to give the marching order, there was a loud crack, followed by a flash of light and suddenly someone was standing in front of him. Someone who hadn't been there a second ago. Horses whinnied in fright and men shouted at the unexpected event and before there was time for anyone to blink more than twice, the person was surrounded by armed men with guns trained on them.
"Hold fire, hold fire!" Cain shouted, Jeb barely a second behind him with the same order. Fingers moved slowly away from triggers and the soldiers sank back slightly, still alert, awaiting their next order. Both men dismounted, their eyes still trained on the still, hooded figure before them.
The person, a woman by the build, reached up to pull down the hood of the travelling cloak and the long ebony locks of the Gale women tumbled down. Cain lowered his own weapon slightly as he stared into Azkadellia's dark eyes.
"Thank you, General. Forgive me for the intrusion," Azkadellia's eyes stayed locked on Cain's even as she directed the apology at everyone there. "I'm afraid we need to talk," she continued, her words this time only for Cain. He searched her eyes for a moment, then nodded and lowered his gun the rest of the way.
"This way," he gestured, turning as he did so. The crown princess stepped forward, ready to follow him, when Jeb spoke.
"Wait," he ordered, weapon still trained on the ex-Sorceress. "You don't go alone." What might have been pain flickered across Azkadellia's face, but it was gone before anyone to make note of it.
"You are, of course, welcome to hear my news as well, General Cain." She glanced over at the younger Cain man, before looking away.
"Jeb, it's fine," Cain put out a hand to forestall his son's arguments. "Why don't you come see what she has to say, too." Jeb eyed Az again, then nodded sharply and reluctantly lowered his gun. The rest of the soldiers in the clearing watched silently as their two commanding officers walked off with the woman who had, however indirectly, guided the OZ into 15 annuals of darkness.
Once they were a good distance away, they all stopped and Az spoke again. "Thank you, Mister Cain. I'm sorry for startling your men."
"How 'bout you start with what you're doing here, Princess," Cain said, his heart already starting to beat faster in fearful anticipation.
She took a deep breath, which only made his heart quicken its pace. "I'm afraid you won't like the news I bring, or how out of date it is." She grimaced apologetically at that. "DG – DG went into a travel storm just over a cycle ago." Az eyed both Cain men, especially the older one, cautiously as they took in this news.
Fighting down the panic beginning to well up inside him, Cain tried to be as calm as possible, but just the words DG and travel storm being spoken in the same sentence could in no way be counted as good news.
"What exactly do you mean; she went into a travel storm?" Both the princess and former resistance fighter flinched at the barely leashed rage in Wyatt Cain's voice.
Az raised her chin and called on the reserves of stubborn bravery that her sister had helped her rediscover within herself. "DG despised being at the palace and hated everything about being a princess. Somehow, she secretly learned how to control her magic and one cycle ago, she called a travel storm and left."
"And your parents didn't stop this?" Jeb asked incredulously. Az shook her head
"Deege and our parents have not gotten along in the time since she has come back. By the time she disappeared, she still had little memory of her life here before being sent to the Other Side, and, as you might imagine, her personality is not one that meshes comfortably with what is expected of royalty." She paused for a moment in recollection, sadness crossing her face. "Mother was no help in that. She had an image in her head of DG being a quiet, dutiful daughter who would graciously take up the responsibilities expected of a princess of the realm and carry them out effortlessly and gracefully, while blending perfectly back into our family."
Both Cain men felt their eyebrows rise at the amount of bitterness and venom the elder princess allowed to be heard in her voice as she spoke. It appeared that there was bad blood all around in the Gale House. Not a good sign for a war-torn country trying to regain its footing. Seeing their looks, Azkadellia hastened to reassure them.
"We are keeping this all from the public eye. You two are among the very few outside the palace who know that DG is gone, and the number of people who do know is mainly due to how very loud and obvious her leave-taking was." She favoured them with a small half-smile. "Unfortunately, travel storms are neither quiet nor subtle. In matters of politics, we are forming as united a front as we are able, but internally, I'm afraid my family had quite fallen apart."
Ignoring that for what he felt was one of the more salient points in this conversation; Cain asked Az the main question on his mind. "If she's been gone that long, why in Ozma's name have you only showed up now?"
Az levelled a wintry stare at him that reminded him rather abruptly that this woman was the heir apparent to the throne and had been the unwilling host to an evil, powerful Witch for much of her life, and was also quite powerful in her own right.
"I have waited this long, Mister Cain, because firstly, the sudden and rather public absconding of the long-lost princess and saviour of the OZ caused something of a stir in the palace, which then took rather a long time to calm. As well, my parents were watching me constantly as they believed, and still do, that I helped her plan her escape. I came as soon as I was able to release myself from my burdens and responsibilities at the palace."
Cain hid his involuntary flinch at both the rebuke in the way she said his name and the sarcasm she hurled at them with the rest of that sentence.
"Did you help her?" Jeb asked curiously.
"No. DG spoke to no one of her plan or her secret training, not even me. No doubt, she was trying not to hurt me or risk having me accidentally betray her intentions." She looked saddened by the thought, by shook it off quickly, as she had done many times in the past few sennights.
"So why are you here now, Princess?" Cain asked.
"Because I'm hoping that you will be able to find her."
"As much as I hate to say it, Princess, I don't think I'd be able to. I don't know anything about the Other Side."
Azkadellia shook her head. "I don't believe that she is on the Other Side anymore."
The Cain eyebrows went up again, both sets. "Care to explain that?"
"All right, look. Ambrose somehow deduced that time runs differently on the Other Side than it does here, which is actually a theory DG had before she left. He has concluded that time runs more slowly here in the Outer Zone, but not by how much. With that in mind, some of the rumours I have been hearing began to make more sense."
"What rumours? And how is Glitch now?"
Az smiled again, a rare sight for her. "He is well; the two halves of his brain have finally made peace with each other and merged seamlessly. It has taken much of the stress off of him, although now he has, of course, taken on more with all the duties he has assigned himself. As for the rumours, just over a sennight ago, word began reaching me of a mysterious person wandering the outer reaches of the Zone and into the outer realms themselves. So far, I have managed to keep these rumours from my parents, since they would no doubt send out a search party immediately if they suspected that person to be DG. And I do think it is her."
"Why?" Cain demanded, trying to still the hope beginning to flutter inside him.
"Because by all accounts, the person in these rumours has magic." Before Cain or Jeb could comment, she pressed on. "I know that magic is actually not an uncommon thing to have here, but the type and the amount of power fits DG. The rumours are of a person who shows up silently in towns or encampments, offers to heal any sick or injured, and not just people, but animals and vegetation too." Here Az stared hard at Cain, and a memory from more than an annual ago whispered at him. "After this person has healed every person and thing in need, they disappear as quietly and suddenly as they came, only to show up at another place and repeat the process. I know the type of magic my sister possesses and you yourself, Mister Cain, have been witness to it as well."
He nodded, the incident in the Papay fields, when DG had healed the tree, now firmly in his mind.
Jeb frowned. "But if it is her, wouldn't people recognize her? I mean, even in the border lands, her face is pretty well known."
Az shook her head. "That's another thing that makes me sure it's her. None of the accounts are conclusive of what this person looks like; many of them state that it is likely a woman, but they don't remember for certain. Half the people who have seen her only vaguely recall anything about her, other than that she healed their sick and helped them in their fields. A powerful long-term confusion or forgetting spell would be necessary for that to happen, and a great deal of power is needed to keep it so widespread. Power that is simply not available outside the House of Gale."
"You really believe it's her?" Cain looked at her speculatively. Az breathed a quiet sigh of relief that there was no longer any doubt or mistrust in his eyes. He would find her sister, of that she was certain. And then hopefully the course of fate that the two of them had been so rudely pulled from would be able to continue, uninterrupted this time.
"I do, I really do."
"And you want me to find her." It was more statement than question, but she nodded anyway.
"I am not ignorant of your duties here, Commander Cain, nor of yours General," she added with a nod at Jeb. "But I also believe that if you set your mind to, there is nowhere in the OZ that my sister could hide from you."
Cain tried to ignore the pride that swept through him at that statement, as well as the unease. If Azkadellia could read him so well in regards to her sister, what of the Queen and Consort?
He looked over at his son and the two communicated silently for a minute, before Jeb nodded and sighed. "We'll be fine in the Realm of the Unwanted, won't exactly be the first time I've been there," he added with a rakish grin far too old for the young man wearing it. It dropped from his face after a moment and he continued quietly. "Go dad, I know you need to find her."
Cain stared at his son. Need, not want. Jeb knew him and his heart far better than his father had suspected. He nodded his thanks and embraced his son with a grip that was slowly becoming less awkward over time. Jeb returned it briefly, before both men stepped back. With a final nod to his father and a short but respectful bow to his Princess, the young General turned and made his way back to his troops, wanting to reorder their march and their plan now that he was short a Commander and advisor.
Cain watched his son walk away for a moment, before turning back to the Princess. "Do you know where she was last seen; I'll probably have to move quickly to catch her."
Azkadellia nodded. "I'm relatively sure I know where she is, or at least close to it. It won't take long for me to get us there."
Cain stared at her, apprehension starting to roil in his guts once again. "What do you mean 'us', Princess?"
She arched a queenly brow of her own at him. "My method of travel is much swifter than yours, wouldn't you say?" reminding him that she had appeared out of thin air from halfway across the Zone.
"You're not coming with me," he stated flatly.
"I'm afraid, Mister Cain, that in this you are wrong. I am coming with you."
A/N: Whew, lot of dialogue in this one! My deepest, deepest apologies for how long this took me to update. I have been dieing of thirst in a rather prolonged creative dry spell and am terribly parched. I think reviews might help quench my thirst though (hint hint).
I am taking suggestions on whether anyone would like to see either Az/Jeb or Az/Glitch in this story (there probably won't be much, either way, but I'm curious). I have a pretty good idea what I want, but I'm curious what you guys think. Feel free to send me your vote!
Thank you to everyone who has actually stuck by this story and not walked away in disgust over my bad updating habits! Much love! -Druid