What nobody seemed to realize was just how much damage could be done to a person's mind if an evil witch had been taking up residence there for fifteen annuals.
Azkadellia didn't really like to talk about those years, instead opting to put on a smile and follow her parents' lead in all things regarding the reformation of the O.Z. It was much easier to pretend that everything was just like it was when she was younger, before the evil witch stole into her mind and began to corrupt her, before the witch convinced her that nobody truly cared about the eldest princess.
Some days, it worked. Az could laugh at the jokes DG shared from her time on the Other Side and wander with her sister to pick apples from the forest and exchange pleasantries with Cain and sit in council with Mother and slip off into Father's workshop to see what he may be working on today. Some days, she could almost believe that none of the past fifteen annuals had ever happened.
But some days, nothing helped. On those days, Az would shut herself into her rooms and brood over everything the witch had ever said to her. Every word designed to convince a young, frightened girl of only twelve annuals that the world would be better off if she just surrendered completely to the evil residing in her head would reverberate in the silence, and it was difficult to ignore that voice even though it was no longer present.
Occasionally on those bad days, she would sit out on the balcony and watch the world below, dwelling on how her actions (and even if she'd been influenced by the wicked witch, her hands were the ones that had done the deeds) had nearly damaged the O.Z. forever. Sometimes she would spot people like Raw or Kalm or Ambrose, and remember that it was because of her that they had been permanently damaged in some way or another. She could only watch for a little while then slip back inside and remain locked away until the evening meal was long past.
One of her bad days found Az sitting in the gardens. She had been on her balcony until she noticed that no one was close to the rose bench (it had been one of her most favored spots as a girl to study her magic while DG was still a baby), and waited until the gardeners moved towards the spring fountain to make her way down. True, it was probably a bit dangerous to simply change her skirts for a pair of trousers and scurry down the trellis, but it was the quickest way to the rose bench without anyone spotting her.
And Azkadellia most definitely didn't feel like faking a smile today.
She didn't know how long she'd been seated on the rose bench, looking out over the flowers, when she heard footsteps on the path. She held herself still, willing whomever it was to pass by quickly so she wouldn't have to make even brief conversation.
The fates hated her.
Az managed to paste on a smile and turned to face the man still standing on the path. "Oh. Good morning, Ambrose. I didn't hear you."
Ambrose smiled back, his more real and carefree. "That's okay; I wasn't really trying to be noisy. Or quiet." His smile slipped into an expression of confusion for a moment as he tried to decide if he was saying the words he wanted, but it was back just as cheerfully a moment later. "What brings you out here all alone, Azka-D?"
"I, ah," she faltered slightly, guilt settling in the pit of her stomach. She had been only ten annuals when Ambrose had become Mother's advisor, even though he himself had only been the same age DG was now. She could remember him as a brilliant, thoughtful man who spent little time in frivolous pursuits, and had admired that quality even when the witch was slowly poisoning her mind.
This man standing before her and smiling so freely was very much at odds with the man she remembered and she would never forgive herself for what she had done.
Apparently something in her expression had slipped, for Ambrose now looked worried. "Azka-D? Are you alright?"
"How can you even speak to me?" passed her lips before she even realized she was speaking. Now that they were out, however, Az couldn't stop more words from coming: "I did so much damage to the O.Z., to most of the people in this city, to you personally. How can you stand there and be concerned for me after every evil thing I've done over the past fifteen annuals?"
Ambrose's frown deepened and he dropped onto the bench next to her. Somehow even though he was dressed in new clothing, he managed to keep the almost rumpled air that had become part of his mannerisms after... well, after.
"Azkadellia," he said, voice taking on a very serious tone that she hadn't heard since that day over two annuals ago. "I want you to listen to me. Don't talk," he added in a slightly louder tone as she opened her mouth to interrupt, "just listen. You are not to blame. It was not your fault."
"Yes, it was," Az insisted. "If I had been stronger, the witch-"
"The witch may have taken DG instead. Or she would have just been a bit more forceful in taking you. Don't keep blaming yourself."
"How can I not? I look out over the city and I see the damage I did."
"The damage that the witch did," the man insisted, his expression still very serious. "Please believe me when I say this: nobody blames you. Your family has been very clear in telling everyone in the O.Z. that your actions weren't your own, and a lot of people worry that the witch hurt you more than she hurt anyone else."
Az blinked, wondering why her eyes felt wet. "Why... why would they worry about me?"
"Because the witch did hurt you, Azka-D. She did a lot of damage, and we all want you to get better."
The man grinned slightly and shook his head. "Glitch," he corrected. "I know that I'll never be the same person I was before, and in a way I'm kind of glad for that. I do a lot more things now than I ever did when I still had a brain."
She could sit there and point out that the scientists had only taken half of Ambrose's brain, but she didn't want to. What she wanted, more than anything right now, was to believe what he was telling her. As a little girl, she'd admired Ambrose; maybe as a woman, she could learn to like the man Glitch had become.
"Do you think it's possible that I can ever be the person I would have been if the witch had never been released?" Az asked softly, lifting one hand to wipe at the tears she refused to let fall.
Glitch shook his head even though his grin didn't vanish. "Probably not," he replied. "But I think you'll be a better, wiser, more generous woman for surviving everything she did to you."
They fell into a companionable silence, seated next to one another on the bench as a slight breeze carried the scent of the roses through the garden. It was... nice, actually, to have someone around who wasn't related to her, someone who was willing to say the things she didn't realize she needed to hear in order to start moving forward.
The suns were nearly overhead when Az turned to smile at her companion. "Would you like to come with me and pick some apples, Glitch?"