Cain found him first. Glitch was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground, bruised and bleeding and semi-conscious. A shaft of early morning sunlight slanted through the trees, highlighting the still form. He might not have looked out of place in one of the dark prison corridors of Azkadellia's fortress, but in the stately palace gardens of Finaqua this cruelty was like an intrusion from another world, an inexplicable nightmare.
Cain knelt beside him and touched his neck—still warm, thank goodness—to check for a pulse. It was there, though weak and rapid. This wasn't a momentary collapse that he could fix with a good slap. Cain touched Glitch's cheek lightly and his eyes fluttered half-open, then closed again. Cain considered going to get help, but he was worried about leaving Glitch alone. His dilemma was solved a moment later when a guard appeared on morning rounds and stopped in surprise. "Don't just stand there!" Cain growled. "Bring help!"
After a moment the guard snapped out of his shock and ran back the way he had come, shouting, "The Queen's advisor is hurt! Get help!"
A few minutes later the garden was filled with people. Cain was glad to see a trusted alchemist, though he would rather have seen Raw. "Stay back," the alchemist ordered, shooing people away. Cain was still kneeling beside Glitch, but fortunately no one tried to shoo him away, or there might have been violence. The alchemist examined Glitch briefly and looked very grave. Two assistants ran up with a stretcher; the alchemist waved them over, and under his direction, they carefully lifted Glitch onto it. "Gently, now," said the alchemist as they moved toward the palace. "Take care not to jostle him."
News must have traveled quickly, for when they reached the door to the infirmary, the Queen was already waiting just outside. "Put him in the royal suite," she instructed the alchemist. "Keep me notified of his condition."
DG and Azkadellia came running up as well, just in time to see Glitch being carried in. Their mother lifted a hand and both young women skidded to a halt just outside the door.
Walking alongside the stretcher, Cain entered the private room unchallenged.
"Oh, no!" he heard DG say. "How could anyone do this?"
Az's voice was shakier. "I did worse when ... during the bad times."
The voices seemed to be moving away, but he was able to make out DG's soothing reply. "That wasn't you."
But it's a good question, thought Cain. I've never seen anyone fight like Glitch. How *could* anyone do this? An ugly thought struck him. It must have been someone he knew. Someone who could get close without arousing suspicion.
Cain stayed, hovering, as the alchemist patched Glitch up as best he could. He didn't try to talk to the man; he figured that as long as he didn't attract attention, he wouldn't be ordered out. When the alchemist was done, Cain went and sat by Glitch's side. His friend was in a painless, drugged sleep, and didn't wake up when Cain laid a hand on his arm. Still, it may be a comfort, he thought, and left it there, not wondering to whom it was really a comfort.
The Queen was allowed entrance a little while later. She went to the other side of the bed and looked down. "Oh, Ambrose," she sighed, and bent to kiss his forehead. "I've sent for Raw," she added. "He's visiting his people, but he says he'll come back as quickly as he can. And Ahamo is returning from the Central City in case we need help in the investigation."
"That's good news, Your Majesty," said Cain.
She smiled down at Glitch, patted his hand, and left.
It was hours later when Raw arrived. He had ridden hard on horseback from his people's homeland, and he entered the room tiredly. The Queen and Ahamo, looking exhausted as well, came in with him. "We're so grateful for your help," the Queen murmured.
"Of course Raw come for Glitch," Raw said simply, looking down at Glitch. "This is very bad," he added, "but I can help." Cain moved away to give Raw more room, and the healer took his place.
Raw took in Glitch's injuries and looked up at the Queen. "Who did this to him?" he asked, and Cain heard the suppressed anger in the quiet voice.
"We don't know," she said. "He hasn't regained consciousness. Is there any way you can tell?"
"Maybe," Raw said reluctantly. "Would rather heal body first."
"Others may be in danger," Ahamo said, his voice somehow both pleading and commanding.
Raw sighed. "Then we must know, if we can. I will try."
The Queen went to the door and spoke to an attendant. Returning, she said, "I've sent for a mirror. Is there anything else you need?"
Raw shook his head. "Not for this. But I will need to talk with the alchemist very soon. Find out what has already been done to help Glitch."
Two servants entered, carrying a large mirror on a stand. At the Queen's direction, they placed it near the bed, bowed, and left. Raw placed one hand gently on Glitch's head and placed the other on the mirror. He closed his eyes in concentration, and faint images began to appear.
As the vision displayed in the mirror became more coherent, Raw began shaking his head slowly from side to side. The images were blurry and jumpy, like watching someone else's nightmare, but the basic content was clear enough, and terrifying. The blond man with eyes of ice never said a word as he pounded Glitch to within an inch of his life, then let the limp body fall to the ground.
There was a long silence after the images ended.
Cain didn't know what to say. He was grateful for the Queen's first words.
"I can't believe Cain would do anything like that," said the Queen firmly.
Raw shook his head. "But it looked like Cain."
"It seems unlikely," said the Queen. "We received word recently that a pocket of renegade longcoats who worked directly for Zero had been located, and I ordered Cain to take a patrol out to round them up. I believe they left shortly before Ambrose was found."
"Should we have them recalled?" asked Ahamo.
"I haven't left! I'm here in this room!" Cain exclaimed.
"I would prefer not," the Queen said, continuing as if Cain had not spoken. He realized with a sudden sick sensation that she was looking right at him or at least in his direction, and she couldn't see him. "Their mission is vital. We should try to find a way to communicate with them."
The group left the room, leaving Cain alone with Glitch—and his thoughts. He was shaken to the core by what he had just learned. It was as if someone had taken over his body and kicked him out, leaving his disembodied mind to wander invisibly. How could this have happened? He cast his mind back and discovered something else disturbing. He remembered finding Glitch. He couldn't remember anything that had happened immediately before.
Racking his brains, he finally dredged up a memory of stepping outside sometime earlier that morning. There was something important he needed to do, some reason for him to be out so early. He tried harder to focus. The Queen had spoken of a mission. Something clicked. That was it. The longcoats who had accompanied Zero into the Realm of the Unwanted had been spotted a few days' march away. He was supposed to be taking a team to round them up.
What happened? He remembered stepping outside just before dawn ... then nothing until he found Glitch. By that time the sun had risen. There must have been a period of several minutes that he couldn't remember at all. I guess this is what it's like to be Glitch, he thought ruefully. It was an insight he would happily have done without.
Cain soon realized that healing Glitch was not going to be a quick matter, like the time Raw had healed his sore leg after their first escape from the Papay. Glitch had been severely injured, and the alchemist's lifesaving interventions had complicated matters. Raw worked in short sessions that left him exhausted, then retired for a few hours to refresh his energies and allow Glitch's body to adjust. Cain stayed out of his way, although he didn't think that Raw could see him anyway. Every now and then Raw would look up suddenly and stare in Cain's direction, but then he would shake his head and look away.
The royal suite within the infirmary was much grander than any hospital room Cain had ever been in; it held Glitch's bed, a nightstand, and a couple of chairs at one end, and a conversation area with armchairs and couches at the other. Raw sometimes napped there between sessions.
When Raw was sleeping or out of the room, Cain sat with Glitch, sometimes dozing, sometimes awake and puzzling over the strange situation in which he found himself. As far as he was concerned, he was still as much himself as ever, but no one else seemed to be able to see or hear him, and after a while he also realized that while he was sometimes tired, he was never hungry or thirsty. It was most unsettling.
After the first session, Glitch continued to sleep soundly without regaining consciousness. After the second, Cain thought once that Glitch might be waking up. His eyes opened partway, then closed again, and he moved his head a little bit. A faint moan escaped his lips and he cried out in alarm, in a faint and scratchy voice, "Cain?"
"It's all right, I'm here," Cain said softly, forgetting that no one could hear him.
To his surprise, Glitch smiled, then returned to a peaceful sleep.
Maybe it's only people with whole brains who can't see me, Cain mused.
After a few more sessions, Raw stepped out into the antechamber. Cain heard him asking one of the orderlies to summon the royal family. As they entered, Raw said, "Glitch is much better. Time to try another viewing."
The group was somewhat larger than Cain expected, and apparently Raw looked surprised as well. "I asked the Royal Tutor to join us," said the Queen. "Azkadellia and DG invited themselves."
"You are all welcome, of course," said Raw politely.
Raw was able to get a much clearer image of the attack this time, incorporating more of the prelude as well. In the mirror, Cain appeared to saunter up to Glitch and back him up against a tree.
"Cain?" Glitch sounded startled, but not alarmed.
"Don't you think we ought to get to know each other better?" Cain's voice had purred, as his arm reached out as if to stroke Glitch's face.
The gesture had turned into a hard, efficient punch that splintered a rib, driving the shards into the lung. Glitch couldn't fight back while he was doubled over in pain, gasping desperately for air.
Cain turned away, unable to watch the rest of the attack and sickened by what he'd learned. Whatever demon was inside his body, it didn't just have his physical appearance; it knew his deepest thoughts, the ones that Cain had pushed away and refused to think about.
Cain knew when his opinion of Glitch had gone from disdain to respect. He didn't know when it had gone from respect to attraction, but it was undeniable, and, he had thought, known only to himself. He had no idea whether Glitch felt the same way and no interest in embarrassing himself to find out.
It was all he could do to listen calmly to the others discussing the situation.
"It seems obvious that Cain was somehow possessed during the attack," said the Queen.
Azkadellia looked thoughtful. "It was more than that," she said. "I don't think Cain was there at all. It was someone else entirely." She gave a rueful chuckle. "Believe me, if anyone knows what it's like to be possessed, it's me."
"Az is right," said the Royal Tutor. "This is evil magic indeed. I've read of such a spell in my studies of ancient magic, a spell to drive out one's soul and replace it with that of another."
"Is it like what I—the Witch used to do to kill people? Like Lonot?" Az asked hesitantly.
"Not exactly," said the Tutor. "The Witch would suck out the life energy from a person's body, leaving it completely drained. Once the body was dead, the person's soul would leave as if the body had died normally."
"Then I—she—wasn't actually feeding on their souls?"
The Tutor shook his head. "No," he said.
She sighed with relief. "I used to have terrible nightmares about that. I didn't understand what she was doing, and I was afraid those poor people were trapped forever. But I couldn't stop her."
"Toto, how come my soul didn't leave when she killed me?" DG asked. "The Witch, I mean," she added, with a hasty glance toward Azkadellia.
"I believe she made the attempt too soon, when she was still struggling to control your sister. Azkadellia wouldn't let her drain you completely; your mother was able to restore your life energy before your soul would have departed." He turned to Azkadellia and smiled at her. "It took great power, and great love, to resist the Witch like that," he said.
"I didn't resist her much after that," she confessed.
"You couldn't. Keeping her from completely draining DG had exhausted your resources. By the time you recovered, she had taken over." Azkadellia looked relieved. The Tutor continued, "What the Witch did was exactly the opposite of what happened here. Cain's life energy appears intact, but somehow his soul was forced out. Very few have heard of such a spell, and fewer still know how to perform it."
"And of those few," said the Queen, "which of them would want to hurt Ambrose? And why?"
The room fell silent.
Finally the Tutor said, "If we can compel Cain's body to return, I know where to find the counterspell to remove the usurper."
It was DG who spoke next, in that flat voice she used when she was trying to cope with strange and frightening situations. "Then we just need to get him back here, right?"
Ahamo nodded. "And to find the real Cain."
"If he's still alive," the Tutor said softly.
"What do you mean, Toto?" asked DG.
"Rarely does a soul thus expelled remain long among the living," said the Tutor, his voice grave. "Unless there is something close by to keep it here."
"Something like a duty?" the Queen asked.
The Tutor shook his head. "Usually it's more like a person, Your Majesty. Someone he loves, or for whom he feels intense personal loyalty. If his wife, or the Mystic Man, were alive ... "
"But they're not," DG said.
"Then it's possible he's joined them already."
"What about Cain's son?" asked Ahamo. "He's alive."
"Too far away," replied the Tutor. "It would have to be someone nearby, preferably right here in the palace."
"He hasn't really been here long enough to form any attachments," mused the Queen.
DG and Raw exchanged glances. "Oh, I don't know about that," said DG.
The Tutor shook his head. "Even if he has remained, he could survive in this condition for only a short while. We would have to find him quickly."
Cain was no longer paying attention to the voices from the other side of the room. The mention of the loved ones he had lost had reminded him of that familiar, sick feeling he'd had when he found Glitch. "I don't want to lose you, too," he said softly.
To his surprise, Glitch smiled. "I'm not going anywhere," he said, his voice cracked and faint, but matter-of-fact, as if they were merely in the middle of a conversation. "What … makes you think I would?"
"We almost lost you," Cain told him, hearing his own voice break despite his attempt at control.
Glitch opened his eyes and looked right at Cain. "That's right," he said. "I forgot." He was breathing hard, as if talking was hard work, but he kept doggedly on. "Something terrible happened." He closed his eyes again, then scrunched them up, as if to keep the memory from returning. "I ... I think I remember now ... no!" He flung up his arm as if to protect himself and cried out in pain at the sudden movement.
"Hush," said Cain. "You're safe now. It's all right."
Glitch's outcry wasn't very loud, but the others heard it. Raw looked up. "Excuse me," he said. "My patient's awake."
DG followed him over to Glitch's bed. Glitch was pale, and his breathing sounded raspy, but he was clearly awake, and talking to someone they couldn't see.
"Glitch," asked DG, "who are you talking to?"
"Cain, of course," said Glitch. "Who else?"
There were relieved smiles all around. DG stared at Raw. "How come you can't see him?" she asked him.
"I wasn't sure," said Raw. "I kept thinking I saw something. Out of the corner of my eye. But I'd look again—nothing there."
"He's right here," said Glitch, looking at the others with puzzlement. "Clear as day."
"Are you sure?" asked the Tutor.
Glitch smiled, a faint blush tingeing his ashen cheeks. "Well, I should know!" he said, and began coughing. After a moment, he got his voice back and added, "He's holding my hand."
Cain rolled his eyes. "There goes my reputation for stoicism," he muttered.
"Tell Cain we're going to get him back," DG ordered. She looked at the Tutor. "We will, won't we?"
"If there's a way to do it, we will," the Tutor said firmly. "There are some spells I need to prepare. I will let you all know as soon as I am ready."
I've made a few mistakes, Airofday admitted to herself, looking around the camp at the sleeping soldiers under her command, but I've done pretty well so far.
In her line of work, it was important to maintain a wide stock of information, and she let it be known that she would pay well for arcane knowledge. Some suppliers wanted to be paid in platinum, others wanted to barter for other information she had, still others … well, sometimes it was advantageous to be beautiful. This particular spell had come to her in a cache of rare magical scrolls; they had been expensive, but well worth the price.
The Seeker hadn't seemed pleased by her acquisition. "This is dark magic, Airofday," he had warned her, glancing through the ancient texts and putting them away hastily. "You should burn these scrolls."
"Oh, I'll burn them," she'd said. "But I'll learn them first. You never know when one of these spells might come in handy."
"They're not just dangerous to use!" he had protested. "They're dangerous to know. They'll poison your mind." She had shrugged off his warnings and followed her plan.
She was proud of herself for having the presence of mind to recall the spell just before she died, and pleased that it had worked perfectly. In a disembodied state, she had waited out the eclipse before visiting Finaqua, where the Queen had set up strategic headquarters. She observed the goings-on until she overheard the report that her quarry had been found. When the Queen ordered Cain to take a patrol out to capture them, her choice of host was clear. She felt a moment of regret in expelling his soul; she had no quarrel with him. She kept telling herself that it was the only way to carry out her plan.
She hadn't been pleased to run into Glitch so shortly after taking over Cain's body. The man was dangerous, one of the few people who knew Cain well enough to recognize the substitution. She could easily imitate Cain's accent, but it was quite another matter to know what to say. She had needed to put Glitch out of commission. A girl had to be able to take care of herself in the Realm of the Unwanted; she had learned to combine fighting skills with subterfuge, and she was used to sidling up to an opponent with a sexy proposition until she could strike at close quarters. She applied her strategy, moved in, and was already halfway through the attack before she remembered she wasn't a she anymore. Well, astonishment seemed to work just as well as attraction to put people off their guard; she filed that information away in case she needed it later.
She also hadn't realized this body's strength. I didn't mean to hit him so hard. Thank goodness I didn't kill him, she thought. A murder investigation might have forced Cain to remain at the palace, and she was longing to be on the hunt. Besides, she had no reason to want Glitch dead. She was out for revenge, not senseless killing. The thought of revenge made her smile. From what she had heard, the two guards who had brutally murdered her were among this group, and she had promised herself they would die far more slowly than she had.
A few days later, Airofday was congratulating her soldiers curtly on their good work; every renegade was alive and none was seriously harmed. She walked up and down the line of prisoners, scowling. The Witch had chosen her longcoats from a remarkably homogeneous pool, favoring tall, stern-faced men with close-cropped hair. They all looked alike; they had even been drilled to move alike. She could not tell which were the two who had killed her. She was able to rule out their leader; the men who had killed her had been light-skinned. Beyond that, she just couldn't tell.
She cleared her throat, reminding herself to speak in a commanding manner. "We received intelligence that two of you were among the party that murdered the seeress Airofday. It is imperative that I learn the identity of these men." The prisoners were silent, and she silently cursed. She hadn't really expected them to turn themselves in, given that they would fear extra punishment, but she had hoped one of the others would volunteer the information. There would be no justice in killing the wrong men.
Perhaps there was another way. She cleared her throat again. "The seeress was an enemy of the current Queen," she began. "There will be a reward and possibly a commutation of punishment for whoever got rid of her."
They all stepped forward. She hadn't expected that, either. Airofday sighed, wondering what to do next.
As it turned out, the decision was suddenly irrelevant. The line of men facing her, and the soldiers guarding them, suddenly pointed up into the sky behind her. She turned and saw an iridescent greenish bubble descending toward the clearing where they all stood. Before she could move further, it enveloped her, as softly as a curtain of silk. She tried to struggle, but once she was inside, the transparent walls were impenetrable. She beat her fists against it a few times, futilely, then felt it lifting her into the air. Below her, she could see the others watching helplessly. One of her men lifted a rifle, but another pushed it down; she could see him shouting, but couldn't hear him. Soon they were out of sight, and she was being whisked away above the trees.
A small group was gathered in the garden near the spot where Cain had found Glitch. The Queen and Ahamo were seated in elegant chairs, while the Tutor was standing in the center, wearing his mantle of authority as gracefully as his long emerald robes. Azkadellia was standing behind her mother's chair, pale but determined. DG was moving around, unable to sit or stand still. Glitch, substantially recovered but still shaky, was sitting on a bench with Raw hovering beside him. Cain, invisible to the others, sat on Glitch's other side.
The Tutor was making subtle motions with his arms, guiding a tiny far-away bubble that seemed to grow larger as it drew closer. At last they could see a human figure within, half-hidden by the swirling green walls of the bubble, with outspread arms braced against the sides of the bubble.
Under the Tutor's expert guidance, the bubble finally landed on the grass in the center of the party, and its green walls faded away, leaving the occupant standing on the grass.
It looked like Cain, and it was dressed like Cain, and it even had a somewhat Cainlike attitude of aggression and defiance. But something about the stance was off; Cain didn't thrust a hip out like this person was doing. And Cain didn't toss his head as if to shake a long curtain of hair out of the way, either.
The Tutor bowed. "Welcome," he said courteously. "I wouldn't run," he added in the same pleasant tone, as the person wearing Cain's body looked around warily, sizing up the situation. "There's a solid perimeter of guards not far away."
"And you would be ... ?"
"I am the Tutor to the Royal Household. I'm afraid you have the advantage of me."
"I was once known as Airofday." Cain's voice took on a hint of an exotic accent.
Ahamo started. The Tutor merely nodded. "The gatherer of knowledge from the Realm of the Unwanted. You have appropriated something that belongs to a friend of ours, and we have brought you here to request its return."
"I'm not done with it," she said.
"Yes, you are," he said. "You can't imagine that we will let you return to what you were doing."
"But those men are still out there. The men who killed me."
"They're in custody," said the Queen, speaking for the first time. "They will be punished."
"But not by me!" cried Airofday. "I want to see them suffer for what they did."
"What does it matter who punishes them?" asked Ahamo gently. "What really matters is that they won't be able to hurt anyone else the way they hurt you."
She seemed to notice him for the first time. "Seeker!" she said, smiling. "You're in mighty high company."
"I guess you could say that I found Ahamo," he said, returning the smile.
Her eyes narrowed in calculation. It was an expression Ahamo had seen often when Airofday learned something new, though it looked strange on Cain's face. "You had us all fooled," she finally said.
"I take that as a very great compliment," said Ahamo.
She nodded. "But I'm still not giving up this body. Not without doing what I came to do."
"I can assist you in vacating the body," the Tutor continued. "If you don't return it soon, Wyatt Cain will die."
Airofday considered the Tutor's words. Finally, she shrugged. "Sorry," she said. "Not my problem."
"We don't have to have your compliance," said the Tutor coldly. DG and Az were staring at him in surprise; Cain realized the princesses had probably only ever seen him as a kindly teacher. A person didn't get to be the Tutor of Magic to the Royal Household by being cuddly. "The easiest solution, if you resist, is to have Azkadellia take the life-energy from Cain's body and force your soul to leave."
"That wouldn't return the body to you in usable condition," she said.
"It wouldn't be an optimal choice," the Tutor said. "But it would be preferable to allowing you to continue to use it."
She looked contemptuously at Azkadellia. "You're bluffing. Things have changed. In her present condition, she doesn't have the power to remove me."
"She does if I help her," said DG forcefully, clasping hands with Az.
Airofday looked at the soft light that was generated by the princesses' clasped hands. "I know more dark magic than you may realize," she said. "It would be quite a battle."
"In the end," said Azkadellia firmly, "you would lose."
Ahamo rose from his chair and stepped forward. "Airofday," he pleaded, "don't do this. The people who loved you as you were wouldn't want you to be like this."
"No one loved me," she said coldly.
"I did," said Ahamo.
"Ha!" she said bitterly. "I gave you many chances, and you rebuffed me every time."
"There are many kinds of love," he said. "I loved you like a daughter. Like the daughters I thought I had lost forever to the forces of evil." Keeping eye contact, he spoke from his heart. "I don't want to lose you to the darkness."
Airofday blinked that slow blink that used to show off the sequined eyes painted on her eyelids—another gesture that was incongruous on Cain's face—and smiled. "And I thought you just visited me to pick up information." Again she had that calculating look, the look of one who had just discovered critical new information and was adjusting her evaluation of a situation.
Ahamo continued. "I don't know if you've fully considered our last interaction. You know now that the girl on the wanted poster was the lost princess." He nodded toward DG.
"You brought her to me, remember? If you hadn't, she would never have completed her quest in time, and the Witch would have won. The O.Z. would now be in complete darkness. Airofday, you're not a criminal. You were instrumental in saving us all."
The Queen spoke for the second time, with quiet regal grace. "Your name shall not be forgotten," she said to Airofday. "Let it be remembered for the good you have done."
They could almost see thoughts whirling behind Cain's eyes as Airofday took in their words. Finally, she relaxed visibly. " I guess that makes me one of the good guys," she said. "I never wanted to be a killer. I was so angry—I thought I wanted revenge—I guess what I really wanted was to see justice done." She turned to the Tutor. "What do I need to do?"
He smiled. "Nothing. Stand still, and when you feel a tugging sensation, don't resist."
He walked right up to her, then stepped back, counting. At exactly three paces he stopped and began to chant softly in the language of the ancients. As he spoke, he moved both arms in sweeping circular motions, as if he were pulling something toward him. His voice grew louder and louder until the words echoed all around and magical power trembled in the air.
Cain's body shuddered, and a faint smoke seemed to come from his mouth and nose, coalescing into a translucent form that took on the shape of a lovely young woman with long hair. She took a step aside, and Cain's body dropped like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Glitch moved over to kneel next to him.
Ahamo smiled at the ghost of Airofday. She smiled back, did a slow blink, and vanished.
"Since she left voluntarily, there should be no damage," said the Tutor, looking down at Cain's body.
Glitch looked up at the Tutor. "How does he get back in?"
"He needs to align himself with the body as completely as possible. Then I will recite the second half of the spell."
As far as Cain was concerned, it had felt all along as if he still had a body. He wasn't quite sure how to follow the instructions. He lay down, somewhat gingerly, on top of himself, and found that where he was lined up exactly, he seemed to sink in.
"I'll help," Glitch said, and moved around, pulling one of the body's legs into exact position, then the other. "You've got your arms in the right place," Glitch mumbled. "Tilt your head—no, a little more to the left. Here, you stay still, I'll move your body." He put one hand on either side of Cain's head and carefully guided it into position. "There, that's you all over."
Cain felt a sort of popping sensation as he sank down completely into his body, then panicked. There was something wrong; he couldn't breathe, couldn't move. He tried to cry out for help, but now that he was back in his body he couldn't move independently of it.
Glitch seemed to understand. "It's okay. There's one more step, remember?" He put a hand on Cain's shoulder, but Cain only felt it as if through many layers of stifling cotton.
Cain was spiraling into darkness when he heard the Tutor's voice softly reciting the nonsense words—ancient language, he corrected himself—that made up the second half of the spell. It felt as if an electric shock were passing through him, painful but revitalizing. He gasped and shuddered, coming half off the ground in his effort to gulp in air.
It worked. He caught his breath; the world steadied. He found himself half-sitting, half-lying on the ground, propped up on one elbow. He took another breath and felt the chill in the air, the warmth of the sunlight, the sweet smell of the grass beneath him. It was good to be back in his body. Until now he hadn't realized it, but the world had been gradually fading, growing duller, almost to black-and-white.
He turned and looked at Glitch, whose hand was still on his shoulder. Glitch's eyes were dark with worry, but he smiled at Cain. Cain smiled back, and reached up to put his hand over Glitch's.
They stayed like that for a long moment, until Ahamo cleared his throat politely and DG said, "Awwwww."
Cain and Glitch both scrambled to their feet and Cain turned to the others. "I owe all of you a debt of gratitude," he said formally. He stepped up to the Royal Tutor. "And to you, I owe far more trust than I've ever shown." He held his hand out hesitantly, afraid the Tutor wouldn't be willing to shake it.
The Tutor shook his head. "You really had no reason to trust me once you caught me dropping those recording disks for the Witch," he said. "But I'll take it now that I've earned it." He took Cain's hand solemnly, then laughed and pulled him into a bear hug.
DG and Az joined in, laughing and hugging, and then passed him along to the Queen, who kissed Cain on the cheek, and Ahamo, who shook his hand warmly.
Raw stood back from the others just a little bit. "Raw," Cain said, going over to him. "What would we have ever done without you?"
Raw thumped Cain on the back and smiled.
Finally Cain turned back to Glitch and found he couldn't speak.
"Glad to have you back," Glitch said. "I almost lost you."
The next morning found Cain and Glitch, both rested and recovered, walking through the garden in the early light, talking over the extraordinary events of the past week. "So," Cain said, feeling awkward, "you do realize it wasn't me who attacked you, right?"
"Of course it wasn't you," said Glitch, sounding amused that Cain would even think so. "I knew it all along."
Cain quirked an eyebrow at him as they strolled along. "Really?"
For a moment he thought his friend had glitched again, since it took a while for him to formulate an answer. "Well, actually, I originally thought it wasn't real at all."
Intrigued, Cain barely noticed that Glitch had switched from strolling to a more purposeful walk. "What do you mean?" Cain asked, shifting direction to keep up.
"The way it began," Glitch said. "I understand now—Ahamo told me—that's how Airofday usually got close enough to people so she could attack them." He shrugged, stopped walking, and turned.
Cain stopped as well, abruptly realizing that his back was against a tree.
"I thought I was daydreaming," Glitch said, and leaned in and kissed him.