Title: An Ageless Light
Story Particulars & Table of Contents
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This Part: I 01 & 02
Length: 1,373 words
Summary: Concerned by the emotional unrest of his friends, Cain quickly discovers that the Queen of the O.Z. has certain expectations, and Glitch is not willing to sacrifice his independence without a fierce fight.
Cain was escorted directly to the Queen’s Conference Room. He was not pleased to have been kept waiting an hour and a half downstairs, and nearly outpaced the page sent to lead the way. He waited impatiently while he was ‘announced’, as if there weren’t only one woman standing there who knew perfectly well who he was.
“Thank you, Perrin, that will be all,” said an even voice.
The double doors had barely snicked closed before Cain dropped what little vestige of protocol he’d been maintaining.
“All right, Lavynia, what’s going on?”
“May I offer you refreshment, Wyatt?”
“I’m not here for tea or cakes, I’m here to find out what’s been going on. Glitch won’t answer my letters, DG looked near tears when I saw her in Finaqua, and rumors are starting to circulate that you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown!”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “How dare you.”
“Speak the truth? Didn’t the eight of us decide we were going to do just that, no matter what? You want me to sugarcoat it for you?”
She didn’t reply, but Cain stood his ground. Those who had witnessed the passing of the eclipse that fateful day had formed a pact and he was sticking to it.
Recognizing that all of them had been weakened and wounded by annuals of captivity, exile, injury, and loss had only been half of it. There had been problems long before….both DG and Azkadellia had nearly been lost as children, the queen’s powers severely reduced in the process. The witch had slipped in unnoticed. General Lonot’s betrayal had been unforeseen.
They wanted no more surprises, no more failures, no more balls dropped. To that end, it had been decided that in the coming days they would set protocol aside and watch out for each other, support each other. First names were to be used whenever there were no outsiders present. Everyone was to have the freedom to speak plainly, to call things as they saw them, and bring attention to any signs of trouble.
Cain was seeing signs.
Most of the stress seemed to be brewing between the queen herself and Glitch. Lavynia struggled to call him anything but Ambrose, and Glitch seemed to struggle equally with addressing her as anything but Your Majesty. He’d even gone so far as to plead that he couldn’t remember her name, and though everyone doubted that a little no one had the heart to say so. For the two people who had known each other the longest, their relationship had become the most strained.
“The rumors are false,” she said tightly.
“I was sure they were, I’m only telling you what I’ve been hearing.” As concerned as he was for the queen of the O.Z., Cain was more concerned for his friend.
“And what’s Glitch upset about?” he went on bluntly. “I’m used to a weekly eight page missive, even if I do only understand a third of it.”
The woman dropped into a wingback chair by the window. “We’re still arguing over the surgery, of course, which he keeps putting off. And his duties, which he won’t attend. And now he’s taken the insane notion to go traveling off somewhere,” she flicked her fingers toward the window dismissively, “which would be more time wasted, and I couldn’t spare anyone right now to escort him even if he were in any condition to go.”
“Yes, Wyatt, the condition of being half out of his mind, in case you’ve forgotten as well!” The queen stood up again, and she looked pale against the cool purple-blue of her gown. Wyatt was too far away to tell, but he thought she might be trembling.
“Where is it he wants to travel to?”
“Does it matter?” she nearly shouted.
“It might matter to Glitch.” He turned and let himself out without waiting for the page. He strode down a series of marble corridors, with the rhythmic beat of his boots for company, up several flights of stairs, and along a carpeted runner until he came to a certain oak door in the western wing, flanked by a pair of tables bearing potted orchids. He knocked on the wood firmly.
“Glitch?” he called. “It’s Wyatt.”
The latch clicked and disengaged from the jamb by an invisible hand. No presence waited in the widening dark slot beyond. Cain pushed it in until he had space enough to slip inside. He surveyed details in brisk, old instincts. A single lamp burned on a spindle-legged table. The drapes were closed tight. A breakfast tray had not been touched. A bed in the room beyond had not been slept in.
The door plinked shut. Cain twisted around. Glitch looked terrible, and Cain resisted the urge to say so. Perhaps platitude and pleasantries instead.
“Yes, isn’t it,” mumbled Glitch as he roused from the corner. But he found something in Cain that hadn’t caught his immediate notice. “Been to the tower to visit the Queen?”
“She asked me to.” He sucked in a breath, vowing not to let Glitch raise his temper. He longed to stay on neutral, indifferent ground. “There seems to be a growing amount of concern coming from multiple places, and I—”
“Are you always this defensive in the morning?” Glitch inquired, manner purely sardonic.
“Are you always this cranky?”
But then Glitch smirked, the comeback appreciated. Cain smirked with him. Defenses abated, replaced by a flood of consociate intuition. This appeared far more heavily in favor of Glitch than Cain, for Glitch narrowed his eyes speculatively, leaving Cain unbarred.
“I know what you’re doing here.”
Glitch disappeared into the adjoining bedroom, a large, rectangular space with touches of personality here and there, and Cain noticed a few new treasures added to a brief collection.
“It couldn’t be that you won’t answer my letters, could it?”
“You came for answers.” Glitch rolled his eyes as he opened an impressive wardrobe. “You always come for answers. What do you want to know?” A fashionable dark green coat was tugged on, the cuffs of his white shirt readjusted, and brass buttons done up. “Why haven’t I written, or why did Her Majesty want to see you before I wanted to see you? Oh I knew you were here. Knew the second you passed through the gates.”
“Right now, I’m wondering why you’ve put a coat on. The Queen—Lavynia—said something about you getting this idea into your head about going away.”
“Don’t worry, Wyatt, I’m not running away just yet. I couldn’t possibly run away right now; I have a few errands to complete before I execute any sort of clandestine escape.” He made show of closing the wardrobe up and sauntering from the room. He knew Cain would have no choice but to stagger behind, bewildered and blinded. The piece of toast he grabbed from the breakfast tray had long been cold and soggy. He chewed while Cain pouted. As he had gained a knack for in previous weeks, Glitch found the precise moment Cain was about to speak and pounced upon the words with his own.
“Did you have breakfast yet?”
Dumbly, Cain shook his head. “No, not hungry. Glitch, we need to talk about things. Not a single letter from you in weeks, and—the Queen—”
“Breakfast first,” Glitch pretended not to hear him, “then errands. We’ll go eat at one of those little hole-in-the-wall places where all the poor students go. Besides, I want to go to one of the shops over there. I need a new map of the O.Z. Come on.” He indicated the door to a sedentary Cain, frozen because he’d been repeatedly interrupted, jubilantly ignored, and was now being ushered like a pup in training. “It’s a nice day for a walk.”
Cain’s gaze went cold. “It’s pouring rain.”
This news failed to have the desired affect on Glitch. He shrugged, eyebrow arched as if to ask how rain made a walk any less desirable, and drifted from the room. It was a dare, nothing less than a dare. And, of course, the challenge was accepted. Cain was once more obliged to catch up to Glitch.