Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


17. 17

~~There was an awkward silence for several minutes after the others had fallen asleep as William and Tristan kept guard. William figured he should probably try to make conversation. He didn’t like the elf much, but the silence was deafening in the woods. He opened his mouth to speak, but the elf cut him off before he got a word out.
“Don’t.” Tristan told him, firmly.
William blinked in confusion. “Don’t what?”
“You were about to try and strike up a conversation, weren’t you?” The elf predicted. “I have no interest in talking to you and I would like to be able to hear if there is a threat approaching.”
William sighed. “It will be easier to stay awake if we talk to each other.”
“I have no trouble staying awake by myself when I kept watch before.” Tristan replied. “Are you saying you dozed off while keeping guard?”
“Of course not.” The boy frowned, realizing he didn’t really have a good reason to talk to the elf. “We don’t have to hate each other, you know.”
Tristan was silent for a moment as he considered the words. “I never said I hated you.”
“Do you not?” William looked at him. He didn’t expect them to be friends, but he was hoping they might be able to be cordial.
“No.” Tristan assured him. “I don’t hate you. I don’t particularly like you. I think you’re and idiot, a fool, and a useless child with whom I could never get along, but I don’t hate you.”
William frowned at the response. “Gee, thanks.” There was a long silence between them before he spoke again. “I don’t hate you, either. I think you’re surly, rude and ridiculously childish for someone your age, but I don’t hate you.”
“I’m not childish.” Tristan informed him.
“You really are.” William’s tone was firm.
“You’re the child.” The elf pointed out.
“If you say so.” William paused for a second. “Sometimes, I think you’re really amazing, though. It’s impressive how you stay loyal to Katherine and are able to stay by her side without telling her how you feel. A lot of people would become bitter over that.”
“You don’t have to talk about that so loudly.” Tristan looked towards the sleeping group, as if they might hear.
“They’re sound asleep. Calm down.” William sighed. “You put so much effort into keeping it a secret so that she doesn’t have to feel sad. That must take an amazing amount of strength on your part. I’m not sure I could handle it for as long as you have.”
“I’m sure you couldn’t.” Tristan agreed, leading to another silence. After a few minutes, he broke it, his voice soft. “You make her smile more than most people. It makes me jealous. You’ll say those feelings are childish and you won’t be wrong, but I wish she would smile like that for me.”
“Well, maybe if you would get the stick out of your butt, she would.” William told him.
Tristan stared at him, blankly. “There’s no stick-”
“It’s a figure of speech.” William rushed to explain, holding back laughter. “It means you’re uptight. You never relax, especially around Katherine. How can you expect to make her smile?”
Tristan was thoughtfully silent for a minute. “Dunyans have strange ways of speaking. You say something sucks when it is bad and you accuse people of having sticks in uncomfortable places when you think they are high-strung.”
“And finger on throat means death.” William added, deciding not to point out the obvious subject change. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it.”
“Why can’t you just speak plainly?” Tristan asked.
“In my world, that is plain.” William pointed out.
“I don’t think I would enjoy living in your world.” Tristan commented.
William shrugged. “Most people don’t, I think.” He considered his own experiences there and decided he preferred Mirra, despite the dangers. He had spent most of his childhood in fear and this wasn’t much worse for him. At least, he was able to stay with his makeshift family, now.
“Do you think you’ll go back there after this is all over?” Tristan asked.
William paused at the idea. “I don’t guess they’d want us hanging around afterwards, huh? Once the war is over, we won’t be much good here.”
“I’m sure you could find work somewhere. Besides, if you manage to save Mirra, you’ll be welcome anywhere.” Tristan replied. “Of course, that’s assuming you even survive.”
“Was that last part really necessary?” William demanded.
“I just want to make sure you’re being realistic.” The elf told him. “Those girls we met earlier might have just been messing with us, but, chances are, not all of us will survive this war and we need to be prepared for the possibility that any of us might not make it.”
William couldn’t see his friends in the dark, but he easily pictured their faces and frowned. “I will protect my family.”
“I truly hope you are able to do that.” Tristan replied. “I may not like you much, but I don’t wish harm on you or your friends.” The pair fell into silence for the rest of their shift. After an hour, Meredith and Valda took over the watch, allowing William and Tristan to lay down and rest as well as they could.
There was an awkward silence between Meredith and Valda. They hadn’t really spent much time alone together and neither knew what to say to the other. Meredith looked towards the she-elf, disliking the silence in the dark. “So what do you plan to do after the war?”
“What do you mean?” Valda asked.
“Well, are you going to return to the forest or keep travelling for a while?” Meredith got the feeling that the she-elf wasn’t ready to settle down just yet and couldn’t imagine her ruling over the wood elves.
Valda considered the question for a moment. “You’re assuming I even survive.”
“I’m optimistic like that.” Meredith replied.
“I suppose I should return home.” The she-elf answered. “It is my duty to stay by my father’s side and prepare to take his place.”
“It could be hundreds of years before you have to take over for him.” Meredith pointed out. “In the meantime, you should be able to live your life however you want.”
“You are, indeed, optimistic.” Valda informed her. “However, I can’t stray far from my people without a good reason. For now, I am assisting the guardian and there is no immediate threat to the Fire Woods, so it is fine for me to travel, but, if something were to happen to my father, I would need to return home as quickly as possible. It wouldn’t do for me to stay gone and leave the forest unguarded.”
“I’m sure your people could get by without you for a while if it came to that.” Meredith argued. “The elves are very wise, after all.”
Valda shook her head. “There are ancient spells on that forest tied to my bloodline. That’s why it’s difficult for dark creatures to enter. If my father passes and I am not there to take his place, the whole forest would be at risk.”
Meredith took a moment to process that information. “I guess you really don’t have much of a choice, then.” She frowned. “That kind of sucks.”
“It is how it must be.” Valda replied, calmly. “I am destined to rule from birth.”
Meredith shrugged, though it couldn’t be seen in the stifling darkness. “It still sucks.”
“There is no point in dwelling on such thoughts. I cannot rule while feeling sorry for myself. Besides, my lot is not so bad. I am destined to live among the wood elves and even rule over them. Most people in my position would be happy.” Valda pointed out.
Meredith considered the point. “Well, why aren’t you, then?”
“I do not wish to discuss my feelings with a human.” Valda told her.
“Fine.” Meredith sighed, realizing the conversation wasn’t going to go much farther.
“What is your favorite thing about Dunya?” Valda asked, thinking she may as well pick a new topic.
Meredith thought about it for a few minutes. “I guess the music. Don’t get me wrong. The music here is beautiful. It’s just that Dunyan music tends to speak more to the individual and we can be almost constantly surrounded by it. It seems that we only hear music at parties and such around here.”
“Music is not the easiest thing to produce.” Valda said. “Do your people carry around instruments all the time?”
“Not exactly, but we have…devices that can produce the music. Some of them are very small.” Meredith had trouble figuring out the best way to describe stereos and mp3 players.
Valda did her best to imagine what it would be like to carry music around with you. “That sounds interesting.”
Meredith nodded. “This world seems so quiet without it.”
“Would you sing me a song from your world?” Valda asked. “You’ve made me curious to hear one.”
“I’m not much of a singer.” Meredith told her, embarrassed by the thought of having someone hear her sing.
“That doesn’t matter much.” The she-elf assured her. “I’d just like to hear what your music sounds like. It would be something to pass the time. Even a verse would be interesting.”
Meredith hesitated, deciding she could probably handle one verse. She tried to think of a good song to sing, but only one came to mind. She took a breath and starting singing softly.
“If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in a river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song.”
Valda stared at her for a moment, although she couldn’t be seen. “Your people think of very sad things.”
Meredith shrugged. “Well, it’s always possible, especially in Mirra.”
The she-elf nodded to herself. “At any rate, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about your voice. It’s perfectly nice.”
“Thanks.” Meredith blushed a little. “I’ll have to make you repay the favor sometime.”
“I dislike singing. Music is all well and good, but I have no desire to make it.” Valda replied. “I never took much interest in creating any form of art, I suppose.”
“Your sword fighting is like a performance, though.” Meredith pointed out. “It’s a lot like dancing with the way you move.”
“When I am in a real battle, it seems less artistic.” Valda informed her. “When I am covered in the blood of my enemies and my blade is thrust into one, it will not seem like I am dancing.”
“You don’t have to be so morbid.” Meredith didn’t like the visions being produced by the words. She knew battle might be unavoidable, but that didn’t mean she wanted to talk about it.
“It is not morbidity, but truth.” Valda argued.
“Well, it’s not a truth I need to hear in the middle of the night in a haunted forest.” Meredith commented, gazing into the black night.
“Very well.” There was another long silence as neither girl could think of anything else to say. Eventually, Jake and Kaelen relieved them, solving the problem.
Jake realized this was a rare opportunity for him. He had been curious about the dark elf since they met, but there wasn’t much of a chance to ask him questions. They had never really been alone together and Kaelen wasn’t a big talker. Jake decided this was his best chance to satisfy his curiosity. The only problem was that he didn’t know how to start the conversation. Eventually, he cleared his throat nervously, deciding to attempt small talk. “So how about that weather?”
There was a brief pause before Kaelen spoke. “I’m sorry?”
“The weather.” Jake frowned, thinking that Mirran weather didn’t change much and was even less interesting than Dunyan weather. “It’s nice…all the time. It’s warm during the day, the nights aren’t too cold and there’s no rain…”
“Rain?” Kaelen asked.
“It’s when water falls from the sky.” Jake realized they probably didn’t have rain in Mirra and the conversation wasn’t going very well.
“Water falls from the sky in Dunya?” Kaelen’s tone was curious, which Jake decided was probably good.
“Sometimes.” Jake replied. “Occasionally, it even freezes and comes down as white powder called snow.”
“That seems unpleasant.” Kaelen told him.
Jake shrugged. “Not always. You can build snowmen and have snowball fights.”
“You build people out of the frozen water?” The dark elf had a little trouble understanding that.
“Not real people, obviously.” Jake assured him. “They don’t even look like people, really. It’s just what they’re called.”
“So what is a snowball fight?” Kaelen asked.
“You pack the snow into balls and throw them at people.” Jake answered. “It’s fun.”
“You attack people…for fun?” Kaelen wondered just how violent Dunya was.
 “It doesn’t hurt or anything.” Jake sighed, realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere with the conversation. He paused as it occurred to him that this was a good segue point. “What do dark elf children do for fun?”
“It depends on the child.” Kaelen told him. “Some enjoy art or sewing. Others practice magic. A select few are gifted with astrology and enjoy reading the stars.”
“Are you one of the select few?” It occurred to Jake that such a skill could be very useful to the group.
Kaelen put his hopes to rest, quickly. “All I ever saw were a bunch of lights in the sky. My mother tried to teach me since she has always been quite skilled in the subject, but I’m afraid I was a bit of a disappointment.”
“Nobody’s good at everything.” Jake assured him. “I’m sure you can do other things well, like magic.”
“I can handle basic magic like wards, but nothing more impressive.” Kaelen replied. “In case you are wondering, I’m no good at art or sewing, either. The only thing I’ve excelled at is fighting and dark elves don’t care for that, in general. Warriors are necessary, but not admired.”
“Tough break.” Jake wasn’t really sure what else to say. “I was never really good at the athletic stuff. That didn’t help my popularity at school. Fortunately, my brother and I were always good at making people laugh. It generally protected us from bullies. You have to use what you got, right? At least, being a warrior means you can assist the guardian. That’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose it does.” Kaelen agreed, quietly. “It is always an honor to be of service to the guardian of Mirra.”
“Of course it is.” Jake figured his sarcasm was probably lost on the elf and he shook his head. “You don’t have to be so formal all the time, talking about honor and what-not. How do you feel about following Katherine and helping us all out? I’m genuinely curious to hear your genuine thoughts on something.”
“Why would you care about my thoughts?” Kaelen asked. “They are not terribly interesting.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Jake told him. He fell silent, wondering if such a line would actually work.
Kaelen was quiet as he thought about the question. “I think that I need to help this group for the sake of Mirra.”
Jake gave an exasperated sigh. “And how do you feel about that?”
There was a longer pause before Kaelen was able to answer. “I don’t want anyone in this group to die. I want to travel with you and help as much as I can because I believe you’re all worth protecting. Is that good enough for you?”
Jake considered the answer. “You’re a decent guy. That’s good to know.”
“So what are your feelings on this quest?” Kaelen asked.
“I’m amazed we’re not already dead.” Jake did his best to keep his tone light as he said it. “But I don’t regret coming to Mirra and being on this quest. There was nothing for us back home. Here, I think we might be able to make a difference.” He considered that last statement. “At least, everybody else seems to believe we can. It’s a lot better than the way they looked at us in Dunya and I’ll go on as many life-threatening missions as I need to in order to keep them believing in us. I guess that probably sounds a little selfish, though.”
“Everybody’s a little selfish.” The dark elf commented. “I followed the guardian because I want to feel useful. As long as you don’t do anything to hurt anyone and you keep trying to help, it’s fine.”
Jake nodded in the dark. “I know I said it before, but you really are a decent guy. You should let people get to know you more.”
“I am a dark elf.” Kaelen reminded him. “That’s all most people need to know.”
“And all most people needed to know about me was that I was a foster kid.” Jake replied. “It doesn’t really matter what they think, but, if you don’t like it, you could always change their perspective.”
“Did you change the perspectives of those who saw you as a foster kid?” Kaelen asked.
Jake paused. “No, not really. I learned to keep my guard up and I guess you have, too. It’s hard to get people to understand you when you won’t let them get close, isn’t it?”
“It’s strange for an elf to be receiving wisdom from a human.” Kaelen told him.
Jake smiled and shrugged. “I become very wise when I’m half-asleep.”
“Well, as much as your wisdom is appreciated, I’d prefer you to be better rested.” Katherine’s voice broke through the darkness and she started to glow softly. “I believe it is my shift.”
Jake was startled by her sudden appearance, but he yawned and nodded, glad to lay down. “Good night.” He lay down beside his brother and fell asleep quickly.
“You two seemed to be having a nice conversation.” Katherine told the elf. “I was a little sorry to interrupt.”
“It was nothing special.” Kaelen assured her, finding a spot to lay down.
“If you say so.” Katherine smiled as she took a seat and watched over the group for the rest of the night.

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