Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


11. 11

~~They carried Nicholas to his room and laid him on the bed. Apart from some shallow breathing, there was no sign of life coming from him. Gabriella laid her hand on his and looked even more distressed. “He’s so cold.” She looked at Katherine. “Why is he so cold?”
The guardian took a breath, doing her best not to look worried. “We don’t know, yet, but it will be okay. He’s strong and we’ll have our best healers looking after him until he wakes up.”
“How did this happen?” Gabriella looked to one of the soldiers who had been travelling with her brother.
The soldier shook his head. “It all happened too quickly. We were attacked by shadow warriors, but we beat them back, somehow. When it was over, we found the king like this.” He indicated the sleeping form. “We couldn’t wake him, so we brought him back here. We couldn’t complete our quest with him in that condition, after all.”
Katherine nodded her understanding. “You did the right thing.”
“How is he?” Someone asked from the doorway. The group turned to find Angelus standing there, a concerned look on his face as he saw the sleeping king. He stepped into the room to get a closer look. “His highness…”
“Will be fine.” Katherine told him in a firm voice. “We will take excellent care of him.”
Angelus nodded. “Is there anything I can do? He’s done so much for me and I wish to help in any way I can.”
The guardian offered him a smile. “I’m sure your concern will be greatly appreciated when he wakes up.” She looked like she was about to say something else, but she suddenly stopped, standing completely still. Her gaze when distant and she started to glow, softly.
“What’s happening?” Henry asked Gabriella.
The princess had her gaze fixed on the guardian. “She’s having a vision.”
Henry’s eyes widened and he stared at the glowing form, hoping she would have good news for them.
The vision lasted less than a minute and she frowned as the glow receded.
“Was it about Nicholas?” Gabriella asked, hopefully.
Katherine shook her head. “It was about the stone and it might have been more useful a few days ago before the king tried to get it.” She sighed. “I have to talk to father.” She walked out of the room, not giving anyone a chance to ask questions.
Henry paused, trying to decide the best course of action. He wanted to stay and comfort Gabriella, but he knew he should tell William and the others what had happened.
“Go talk to your friends.” Angelus told him, seeming to read his thoughts. “I’ll look after the princess.”
The boy nodded, taking one more look at her distraught face. “I’ll be back later.”
She nodded, barely seeming to have heard him.
Henry sighed and headed to the hallway where their rooms were set. He found William just leaving the room and caught him, explaining the situation as well as he could.
“And you have no idea where Katherine went?” William asked.
Henry did his best not to judge the older boy for being so focused on the guardian while the king’s life was in danger and the princess was in distress. “She just took off, saying she needed to talk to her father.”
“Right.” William wasn’t eager to see Jeremiah after the way their last conversation had gone. “I’ll let the others know, if you want to sit with Gabriella for a while.”
Henry paused, wondering if it would be selfish to go back to her right then. “I can’t really do anything to help.”
“Just being there is something.” William told him. “She already lost one brother and she’s probably afraid of losing Nicholas. I expect she could use all the comfort she can get right now.”
Henry nodded his understanding. “If you need me…”
“I’ll know where to find you.” William assured him with a smile. He watched the younger boy go and sighed, not looking forward to sharing the bad news. His friends had thought they’d be safe in the palace, but that seemed less likely with each new attack. The protective barriers were fading and the king was out of commission. He didn’t know what Katherine’s vision had shown her, but he hoped it would grant them a solution quickly.

“This seems like a terrible idea.” Jeremiah commented when Katherine explained her vision and what needed to be done.
She sighed, hardly able to disagree. “We trust the lights, right? That’s what you always taught me.”
He frowned, but nodded. “Our king is unable to wake. We can’t afford to lose anyone else.”
“We lose people every day of this war.” Katherine pointed out. “If our barriers are not restored, the city will be unprotected and we will lose more people. You know there is no other option. We don’t have time to question the guidance of the lights.”
“I am aware of that.” He replied. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Do you have any idea why they didn’t warn you sooner that the king would fail in his mission?”
She shook her head. “There must be a reason, but I am unable to guess it. I trust you will look after him until we return.”
“Of course.” Jeremiah looked at her, still disliking her plan. “I just wish there was more I could do to help. The group you must take is not the one I would have selected. Those Dunyans are bad enough, but the others…”
“We trust the lights.” She reaffirmed. “We always do.”

That afternoon, Katherine found Gabriella and Henry in the king’s room, just as she knew she would. Watching the princess look over her brother made the guardian feel guilty about what she had to ask, but she knew it was unavoidable. “Gabriella, Henry, could you join me in the sitting room? There’s something we need to discuss.”
Gabriella looked up at her. “Is it about Nicholas?”
“It’s about the stone.” Katherine replied. “It would be best to explain when I have everyone together.”
“Who’s everyone?” Henry asked.
“The rest are in the sitting room, waiting.” Katherine told him. “Will you two come?”
Gabriella looked back at her brother, not really wanting to leave his side. Angelus laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Go on. I’ll look after him.”
She nodded and stood, following Katherine out the door. Henry wasn’t far behind. He didn’t like how tight-lipped the guardian was being. The last time she had made them wait for information like this, it had turned out to be that the world was in danger and they had to fight in a war against a crazy sorcerer. He wasn’t looking forward to hearing more bad news.
Katherine stopped outside the room, letting them enter first. He stared at the group in confusion. William, Meredith, Jake and Josie were there. That was no surprise. Tristan, Valda and Kaelen stood nearby, but that wasn’t so unusual. It seemed perfectly natural to see the group in one room after all they had been through together. What Henry couldn’t figure out was why Bard and Melody were there. They weren’t part of their group and it seemed strange to have them in any sort of gathering. He let Gabriella sit first and she chose one of the chairs. He elected to stand beside it, not wanting to leave her side for a moment.
Katherine stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, which didn’t help with the tension that had already built up. She turned to the others and took a breath. “When Nicholas returned, I had a vision of how to retrieve the stone. Apparently, his group never stood a chance of succeeding.” She sounded irritated about the fact, but her expression remained neutral. “It’s going to take a very specific group to collect the stone, so I have gathered you all here.” She paused, giving that a chance to sink in.
Melody frowned as she and Bard ran their fingers over each other’s palms. “Are you saying that you want us to help you get a new stone?”
Katherine looked at the pair, still uncertain about the wisdom of the plan, but unwilling to argue against her vision. “I’m saying that the lights told me you will be necessary to retrieve it.” She looked around the room. “I will not force any of you to come, but I’m not sure the quest will succeed if you do not.”
William looked at Josie, not liking the idea of allowing her to be in danger, again. “What’s to stop us from winding up like Nicholas?”
Katherine frowned, having feared that question. “Nothing, except that they only seemed interested in attacking him. After all, none of the other soldiers were seriously injured. I believe the attack had one purpose and they were successful.”
“You think they wanted to kill my brother?” Gabriella looked at her with distress.
The guardian shook her head. “He is not dead, merely unconscious. I can’t guess what their reason for that may be, but I suspect that is the reason they attacked the group. If I am right, they may have no reason to come after us. If they do, I should be able to protect you from at least one attack.”
“And you would then be in the same state as Nicholas.” Meredith pointed out. “Has it occurred to anyone else that they know we’re after the stone? What’s to stop them from lying in wait for us at the cave?”
“The location of the stones is known only to a select few.” Katherine replied. “Only the guardians and the king know where they are, so the shadow warriors can’t be there.”
“And if you’re wrong?” William asked. “What if they’ve found it?”
“They haven’t.” She spoke firmly. “Protection spells have been in place for years. You can only find the caves if you are among the three who are permitted to know their location. Anyone else would become lost and wind up miles away before they could sort themselves out.”
The group was silent as they considered the plan. It was risky, to say the least, but not retrieving the stone seemed like a bigger threat. Josie was the first to speak up. “I’m not scared. We can definitely do it.”
The others looked at each other, none wanting to show less courage than a child. Melody faced the general direction of the guardian. “Don’t you fear my brother and I would hinder, rather than help?”
“I’ve seen you fight.” William told her. “I’d want you by my side if it came to a battle.”
She smiled a little at the compliment. Katherine looked at William, trying to gauge the emotion behind those words. She didn’t know why she cared, but she wanted to know his feelings about the girl. Realizing that wasn’t important right then, she looked back at the group. “I won’t force you to decide right away. If you are coming, we leave at first light.” She looked to Gabriella. “I understand it will be difficult for you to leave your brother’s side, but the best thing you can do for him is help me retrieve the stone. Once the city is safe, we can focus all our efforts onto reviving him.”
Gabriella nodded her understanding and stood. “I will consider it. For now, I want to be by his side.”
“We will meet in the entryway tomorrow.” Katherine told her.
“Very well.” Gabriella headed for the door.
Henry looked at Katherine. “If it’s alright, I’d like to stay with her for now.”
The guardian nodded. “You will need time to think, as well, I suppose.”
He nodded and followed the princess out.
Katherine looked at the others. “I will leave you all to think about it. I hope to see everyone in the morning.” She headed out, hoping she had handled that properly.
William looked at Melody. “Any idea what you’re going to do?”
She continued to run her finger over Bard’s hand as she thought about it. “We don’t wish to let the city down after all the people here have done for us. Do you think you will go? You do not owe much to Mirra, after all.”
He shrugged, knowing he would follow wherever Katherine led. “I’m not going to put everyone else in danger because I’m scared or I don’t think I owe them anything.” He looked at Meredith. “What about you?”
She frowned and shrugged. “I agreed to stay and help. We knew it probably would involve some danger, so it would be unfair to go back, now.”
Jake nodded his agreement. “We promised to do what we could to save Mirra. We can’t refuse our first opportunity to help them.”
William smiled at his friends. “I guess you’re right.” He looked down at Josie, knowing there was no way she would stay behind. He forced himself to stay positive for her sake. “I’m sure everything will work out if Katherine’s vision told her to take us. Everything’s turned out well so far, after all.” The others nodded their agreement and he looked at Melody. “May I walk you out?”
She smiled and nodded, standing with her brother. William walked with them down the stairs to the entry hall, deep in thought. He looked over at Melody, considering just how beautiful and strong she was. He wondered how anyone could not fall for the girl and decided he would have to be crazy. He figured he probably would be interested in her if it were not for Katherine.
“Is something wrong?” Melody asked, startling him from his thoughts. “I can feel you staring at me.”
William blushed and looked away. “I was just thinking. Sorry.”
“Thinking isn’t something to apologize for.” She assured him with an amused smile.
William looked at her hand, which still ran over her brother’s, and became certain they were talking about him. He gave Bard a thoughtful look and lifted his hands, moving his fingers in circles towards himself, then pointing at the boy, using sign language to ask if Bard understood it.
Bard cocked his head and looked at the hand that held his sister’s. He looked back at William and nodded.
William smiled, not having believed that would work. He had figured that Bard would probably use completely different hand gestures, even if he did speak some form of sign language. He wondered if the ring that translated speech and writing also worked on sign language. He used gestures to ask if Bard were really okay with going on the quest, but the boy just shrugged.
“You have become rather quiet.” She tilted her head towards William. “Should I be concerned?”
“Just thinking again.” He replied with a smile as he led the pair towards the door.

“Is everything okay?” Angelus asked as the pair returned.
Gabriella took her place next to her brother. “Katherine wants our help to retrieve the stone. Apparently, her vision said she needs us.”
“Ah.” Angelus nodded his understanding. “I can see how that would be a difficult decision for you.”
“I must do what is best for Mirra, right? That is my duty as a member of the royal family.” She didn’t sound particularly happy about it.
“You must do what you feel is right.” Angelus told her. “However, if you decide to go, I will promise to stay by your brother’s side until he wakes up. I will not allow anything to happen to him.”
She managed a smile for the half-elf. “That would ease my concern a little.” She looked at Henry. “What do you think I should do?”
He paused, not really sure how to respond. “I think that’s a decision you have to make for yourself.”
Gabriella nodded. “Fair enough.” She looked back at her brother and sighed. “I suppose I don’t even have to ask what you would do.”

The next morning, Katherine stood in the entrance hall, looking towards the stairs, hopefully. She had gotten there while it was still dark and her nervousness grew with each passing moment. She didn’t know what she would do if no one showed up. Tristan was the first to come down the stairs and she smiled at him, grateful to have such a dependable ally. “I knew you’d come.”
“I would never wish to let Mirra down, my lady.” He replied. He wore simple clothes for travelling, along with his bag. His sword was sheathed at his hip and his bow was slung over his shoulder.
Valda came down, soon after, followed by Kaelen. She frowned when she saw that Tristan had beaten her there, but she said nothing.
“I hope we didn’t keep you waiting.” A voice from the doorway commented.
Katherine turned to smile at Melody and Bard. “Not at all.” She was beginning to feel a little better, especially when Meredith and William came down the steps with Josie. However, when Jake came down the steps alone, she felt a twinge of doubt. “Is Henry not with you?”
Jake shook his head. “He was already gone when I woke up.”
She frowned, but nodded, having feared that might happen. She knew he would be unlikely to come without Gabriella. “Perhaps, we should give them a few more minutes.”
“Sorry we’re late.” Gabriella came down the steps with a bag slung over her shoulders and a bow in her hand. “I’m not used to packing for these kinds of trips and I needed Henry’s help.”
He followed behind and smiled at the others.
Jake raised an eyebrow. “Because he has so much experience.”
Henry resisted the urge to make a rude hand gesture.
“It’s alright.” Katherine assured her with a relieved smile. “I’m just glad you decided to come.”
“It’s what’s best.” Gabriella replied. “Now, let’s get going before I change my mind.”

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