Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


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~~“Have you ever read the ingredients on one of these cereal boxes? It’s pretty much all sugar.” Meredith asked, as the group sat in their apartment and she stared at the back of the box of cereal, which she was eating, despite her complaints.
“Beggars can’t be choosers.” William replied, simply.
“We’re not really beggars.” Henry pointed out.
“We’re thieves.” Jake added with a smile, clearly unashamed of the fact.
“We do what we need to do.” William reminded him.
“And that’s why you survive.” Katherine smiled at him from across the room.
“Right.” William looked at her, suddenly confused. “Why are you here?”
The rest of the group looked at him in confusion. Meredith spoke up. “Is something wrong?”
“We’re not supposed to be here.” He replied, rubbing his head as he tried to figure it out. “We were in the palace…we were supposed to be getting ready for a fight. We need to get ready…” The room began to dim into darkness until there was nothing left except for him and the guardian.
Katherine locked her eyes on him. “Yes and you always do what you need to do.” She faded into the darkness and disappeared.
William tried to call out to her but he couldn’t seem to make any sound. Suddenly, he blinked and sat up in his bed, looking around at his room in the palace. He looked down to where Josie was sleeping beside him and breathed a sigh of relief, realizing it had just been a dream. He considered laying back down, but knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, so he climbed out of bed, careful not to wake the sleeping child. Deciding he needed a walk to clear his head, he pulled on some clothes and headed out the door, where he found Valda, waiting.
“Good, you’re up.” The she-elf commented.
“Good morning to you, as well.” He pulled the door shut and looked at her. “What are you doing outside my room?” He considered making a joke, but realized Valda had her sword strapped to her side and he decided joking would be a bad idea.
“I was waiting for you to get up.” She answered. “Since you intend to stay and fight in our war, you can’t afford to slack off on your training.”
“Right.” William put on a smile, not looking forward to whatever training plans she had in store for him, now that he was sticking around. When the group had told Katherine their plans and she’d hugged each of them, he had felt good about the decision. However, the more he thought about it, the more reasons William came up with for leaving. He kept his peace about the subject, though, refusing to go back on his word.
“Are you ready to go?” Valda’s tone made it clear that he’d better be.
William nodded. “Just lead the way.”

The city training grounds were big enough to fit the entire wood elf village. Soldiers were sword-fighting on one end while archers shot arrows on the other. In between were people practicing hand-to-hand combat. William frowned as he realized that other people would see him getting knocked down during training, but he shrugged that thought off. When they were travelling, the whole group had watched his training session. At least, these people were mostly too busy to notice him.
Valda found a large, unused space and turned to William, drawing her sword. “Take your stance.”
He nodded and drew his own blade, which he had managed to grab before they left the palace. He set his feet and watched his trainer, waiting for her to make the first move. She lunged and they locked blades for several minutes. He managed to avoid getting knocked down, much to his relief. However, he still wound up with a sword point at his throat.
Valda dropped her blade and stepped back into a fighting stance. “Again.”

The twins rolled out of bed a few hours after William. Jake walked over to the window and looked out over the streets. “Want to check out the city, today?”
Henry shrugged. “I was thinking we might just explore the palace some more. We haven’t even seen half of it, yet.”
Jake gave him a knowing smile. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with wanting to run into a certain princess, would it?”
“What?” Henry stared at him, trying to look baffled. When Jake’s smile didn’t fade, henry threw a pillow at him. “Shut up.”
Jake caught the pillow and shrugged. “Hey, I’m not judging. She’s pretty. She’s not my type, but she’s pretty.”
“It’s not like that.” Henry looked away, trying not to blush. “I mean, she is really pretty and she seems sweet, but I doubt she would have any interest in me, anyway. She’s a princess, after all, and I’m just…me.”
“And by that, you mean you are one of the five people who have travelled from another realm and are destined to save the world from the dark sorcerer?” Jake commented. “You don’t think that would impress a girl?”
“It’s not like I’ve done anything impressive.” Henry pointed out. “I mostly just walked or ran the whole way here.”
“Hey, don’t underestimate your running skills.” Jake told him, teasingly. “They can be very impressive.” When Henry was clearly unconvinced, Jake gave a dramatic sigh. “Well, perhaps I will woo her, then.”
Henry looked at him in surprise. “I thought she wasn’t your type.”
“I changed my mind.” Jake replied, simply. “I realized I am much better suited for her than you are. After all, I am the more handsome of us and a princess deserves the best.”
“Like she’d want anything to do with your ugly face.” Henry replied, not caring that they were identical twins.
“We’ll see about that!” Jake headed to the door. “Well, I am off to win the heart of a princess. Farewell, brother. Enjoy your life of solitude.” He opened the door and stepped out.
“Don’t even think about it!” Henry called as he rushed out after his brother.

Meredith woke up and decided to walk around the city some more. She changed into a clean dress and brushed her hair as well as she could. As she passed William’s room, she saw Josie standing in the doorway and stopped. “What are you standing there for?”
Josie looked at her and gave a smile, shrugging. “Will left before I woke up and I’m not really sure what to do, now.”
“Ah.” Meredith wasn’t really surprised to learn that Josie had wound up in William’s room. She knew the girl felt more secure next to him. She was never very good at being alone. A thought struck Meredith and she smiled. “Would you like to go for a walk with me? I know where there are some kids your own age to play with.”
Josie frowned, uncertainly, but nodded and took Meredith’s hand, allowing the older girl to lead the way.

“You weren’t serious about what you said back there, right?” Henry asked, as he and Jake wandered down the winding hallways.
“What are you talking about?” Jake feigned innocence. “What did I say?”
“You know what you said.” Henry didn’t want to repeat it for fear of being overheard as they passed several palace workers going about their day.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Jake insisted, wearing a smile that gave away the lie.
“You weren’t serious, right?” Henry persisted, feeling insecure.
“Well, if I knew what you were talking about, I’m sure I would be very serious, but since I have no idea, I can’t be particularly serious, can I?” Jake replied, vexingly.
Henry was about to demand clarification when he spotted Gabriella coming down the hallway and all his words seemed to disappear. Her golden curls were pulled up, showing more of her delicate features and porcelain skin. She wore a blue dress, as usual, bringing out her eyes.
Jake saw her and smiled. “Good afternoon, your highness.” He gave a dramatic bow.
Gabriella giggled. “That title is reserved for my brother, Nicholas. I’m just Gabriella.”
“But you have such a royal air about you, it makes me feel like I should bow and exalt your name.” Jake replied.
Henry watched them, wishing he could think of something clever to say. It seemed that his brother was always better at such things. He looked at Gabriella, trying to find a way to impress her. He opened his mouth and managed to say, “You look really pretty.” His cheeks immediately flushed and he wished a hole would open in the ground to swallow him. Why couldn’t ground wyrms appear at convenient times?
The princess just smiled. “Thank you. You look nice, as well.”
Henry ran a hand through his hair, remembering that he hadn’t really brushed it. “Thanks.” He wished desperately for something interesting to say which might distract from his awkwardness.
Jake didn’t see nearly so awestruck by her presence. “We were just wandering around. Any chance you might give us a grand tour?”
She smiled and nodded. “I can’t promise it will be grand, but I can show you around.”
“That sounds terrific.” Jake beamed and nudged his brother. “Don’t you agree?”
“Yes.” Henry replied, too quickly. “I’d really like to see more of the palace with someone who knows where they’re going.”
“Well, follow me, then.” Gabriella started walking, making sure they kept up as she went.

As they reached the orphanage, Josie fell behind Meredith, still holding her hand, but hiding as much as she could. She had never been good at meeting new children. It had created some issues when she entered new foster homes. Now, Meredith was doing her best to help the child make new friends. “There’s no need to be afraid. I’m right here.”
Josie nodded, but didn’t come out from behind her as she watched some of the children playing in the yard.
Meredith couldn’t help smiling at the child. She looked around, spotting Chloe sitting under a tree with a book in her lap. Meredith wondered if she ever played with the other children and knew she probably didn’t. When Meredith was a child, she had spent more time with books than people. She walked over to the child, still holding Josie’s hand. “That must be a really good book.”
“It is.” Chloe replied, never looking up from the page.
A boy ran over to them and smiled at Josie. “Hi. Are you new?” He looked to be a few years older than Josie, who nodded and moved further behind Meredith.
“This is Josie.” The older girl told him. “She’s a little shy. What’s your name?”
“I’m Caleb.” He replied, moving to look at Josie. “Do you want to play?”
She moved around to hide again and didn’t respond.
“We could play hide and seek.” He told her, following again.
Meredith looked down at Chloe. “Don’t you want to play with the others?” She didn’t know why she felt the need to encourage such a thing. She just remembered everybody worrying about her because she didn’t want to play with the other children. She knew it was one of the reasons foster parents didn’t keep her around much. She made them think there was something wrong with her and no one was prepared to deal with it.
“I’m okay.” Chloe replied, just as Meredith would have at her age.
“She never wants to play with us.” Caleb commented, looking up at Meredith. “She just wants to sit with her books.”
“Nothing wrong with that.” Meredith assured them. “Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing hide and seek, either.” She cast a pointed look at Josie. “Go on and play for a while. I’ll be right here.”
Josie frowned at her, clearly uncertain about the idea of playing with strange children.
“It will be fun.” Meredith assured her.
“You can count first.” Caleb offered, still smiling at her.
Josie stared at him for a moment and closed her eyes. “One, two, three…”
The other children heard her and rushed to find hiding spots. Meredith smiled and released her hand as Josie went looking for her new playmates. The older girl took a seat next to Chloe, trying not to interrupt.

After hours of training, during which William grew to be very sore and tired, Valda told him it was time to take a break for lunch, much to his relief. At the thought of food, William’s stomach growled, reminding him that he had forgotten to eat breakfast that morning. Valda walked away, but William needed a moment to catch his breath before he could follow.
A swordsman who had been practicing nearby approached him and smiled. “You’ve got quite a teacher.” The man looked to be in his twenties and was wearing loose-fitting clothing, which was probably good for training in.
William gave a brief chuckle. “An apt description.”
“I’m not sure whether to pity or envy you.” The man remarked.
“Both?” William suggested.
The man laughed. “Alright. I’m Christopher, by the way.”
“William.” He replied. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You were with the guardian’s group, weren’t you?” Christopher asked. “I saw you all arrive together.”
William nodded, not really sure how to respond to that. It was odd being recognized by people he didn’t know.
Christopher leaned closer and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “So what’s it like travelling with wood elves and a dark elf together?”
William thought about it and shrugged. “They did their job and protected us.” He didn’t want to talk about his travelling companions, especially to a stranger. “At any rate, I should be heading back to the palace. I need to get lunch before my afternoon training.”
“Fair enough.” Christopher replied. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

Josie played with the other children for a couple of hours while Meredith sat next to Chloe. As the children giggled, Chloe looked up, watching them in silence, her face unreadable.
“Penny for your thoughts?” The older girl asked.
Chloe looked at her in confusion. “What?”
Meredith sighed, realizing the issue. “It’s a phrase where I come from. I just meant to ask what you were thinking about.”
“Oh.” Chloe shrugged. “Nothing interesting.” She looked back down to her book.
“I’m sure you have many interesting thoughts.” Meredith tried to assure her. When the girl didn’t respond, she looked over at the playing children. “You know you could join them if you wanted. I’m sure they would be happy to have you play.”
“I’m okay.” Chloe promised, never looking up.
“I know you’re okay. I just think you might like trying something different. Books are wonderful, but it’s nice to have friends, too.” Meredith told her.
There was a long pause before Chloe opened her mouth to reply. When she did, she was cut off by Anya, the woman who ran the orphanage, calling the children in for lunch. She smiled when she saw Meredith and Josie. “You two are welcome to join us. There’s plenty for everyone.”
Meredith watched Chloe get up and head inside. “That sounds nice.”

“Down this hall are the servants’ quarters.” Gabriella explained as she led the twins past several doors. “All the palace staff sleep in these rooms.” She smiled and greeted a passing maid, then led them around a corner. “These are the rooms of the royal family.”
“So that means your bedroom is down this way?” Jake asked with a mischievous grin.
“And locked whenever I am in it.” The princess replied, undaunted. Her smile faded as they stepped in front of a door and she paused.
Henry looked at the door, noting that it had a stronger lock than the others and looked more solid. Runes were traced across the edges. “Whose room is that?”
Gabriella was silent for a moment. Taking a breath, she managed to smile again. “Nobody is staying in there, currently.” She looked back to the boys. “Are you hungry? It’s time for lunch, I think.” She resumed walking away from the door, expecting them to follow.
The twin took one more look at the door, but realized they weren’t going to get any more information about it for the time being. They hurried to catch up to the princess, suddenly realizing how hungry they were.
When they reached the dining hall, William was already there, making his way through some rolls and fruit, which had been laid out. He smiled at the twins as they entered. “I was wondering if you would show up.”
“We were just getting a tour from the king’s sister.” Jake informed him. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
William swallowed a large bite of bread and nodded to her. “It’s nice to meet you, your highness.”
She smiled at him. “You can just call me Gabriella.” She took a seat at the table and a servant laid out a plate of food in front of her. The twins followed suit. Henry made sure he was sitting next to Gabriella and Jake sat on his other side. William raised his eyebrows at Jake in an unspoken question. The younger boy grinned and shrugged in response. The silent conversation went unnoticed by Henry and Gabriella as she was focused on her food and he was focused on her.
“So I’m guessing you’re friends with the guardian, then.” William commented to Gabriella.
“We get along well, but it’s rather difficult to think of her as a friend.” Gabriella replied. “That’s not to say that I don’t like her. It’s just that she’s rather distant, being the guardian.”
William paused, thinking about that. “Well, isn’t your brother meant to be a guardian, soon? I’m sure you won’t see him as distant.”
Gabriella looked down at her plate. “Who knows?” She took a breath and smiled. “I don’t like talking about complicated things while eating.”
“An excellent policy.” Katherine commented as she entered, followed by Jeremiah. “Meals should be a pleasant time, after all.”
William stood, looking a little startled. “Hi. I wasn’t sure if you were going to join us.”
With amusement, Jake noted that he had a stronger reaction to her presence than that of the princess.
“I don’t like to eat alone.” Katherine replied, taking a seat across the table from them. “I heard you had a training session with Valda. Is she not here?”
William shook his head. “She ate quickly and took off. I’m to meet her in an hour to resume training.”
Katherine nodded her understanding. “I would tell you not to push yourself too hard, but I know that isn’t an option when training with Valda.”
William smiled and shrugged. “I’m sure I’ll be grateful for her tactics if I am ever in battle.”
“Which will likely be unavoidable.” Jeremiah commented. “You are wise to continue your training.”
“It’s not wisdom.” William admitted. “I’m pretty sure Valda would make me regret it if I tried to quit.”
“That is quite true.” Katherine agreed with an amused smile.
The group ate and chatted, all of them feeling cheerful with good food and a safe place to eat it. They were just finishing up when Gregory entered. He walked over to Katherine and Jeremiah. “I thought you would like to know that his highness, King Nicholas, has re-entered the city and should be at the palace shortly.”
Gabriella smiled, brightly. “I’ll greet him at the door.” She rushed out, excited to see her brother.
Katherine smiled, as well, and stood. “I should make sure I’m presentable, then.”
William thought she looked more than presentable, but refrained from saying anything as she walked out of the room.

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