Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


20. 20

~~“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Jake sang, having been making his way through every Disney song he knew. As it got darker, he sang louder, trying to keep his courage up.
“He has a good voice.” Gabriella commented from where she still sat with Henry. They’d been listening to his brother singing for well over and hour. “It’s impressive that he doesn’t get hoarse, singing for so long. I can’t sing for five minutes without losing my voice.” She wasn’t sure what else to say as the singing grew ever louder. “He must have excellent lungs.”
“I don’t think he’s capable of getting hoarse and he has a knack for memorizing songs, so he’s not likely to run out any time soon.” Henry shook his head and sighed. “I feel really sorry for your brother, but I’m impressed that he hasn’t attacked mine just to shut him up.”
“He made a promise.” The princess reminded him. “Whatever else he may be, he’s not a liar.”
Henry nodded his understanding. “I’m glad of that.” He paused for a moment, listening. “I just wonder how long his promise is going to be able to hold out.”

Jeremiah woke up in a chair in the king’s room. It took him a moment to remember how he had gotten there.
“Ah, you’re awake.” Angelus commented from nearby. “You’ve been sleeping for a while. It seems you’ve been overdoing it a bit, as I tried to say.”
Jeremiah frowned and pushed himself up, stretching a little. “You should have woken me. I can’t afford to be sleeping right now.”
“I refused to wake you for good reason.” The half-elf informed him. “You can’t afford to be working so hard. We have one guardian away. It wouldn’t do for the other to wear himself out.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I am fine.” Jeremiah assured him. He looked down at the sleeping form. “No change, I take it.”
Angelus shook his head, following the guardian’s gaze. “Surely, the other guardian will return soon and everything will be better.”
Jeremiah nodded, looking uncertain. “The barrier spells are already growing weak. They will fall soon, if she does not return.”
“Have faith.” Angelus replied. “I believe everything’s going to work out just fine. His highness will be awake before you know it.”
“I truly hope you are right.” Jeremiah told him, wishing Katherine would hurry home.

“There has to be a way to get past them.” William commented, looking at the mouth of the cave, outside of which, stood several dark creatures, ready to attack.
Katherine sighed as she looked at them. Within the tunnel, they were safe. One step outside could kill them, especially at night. “This tunnel has protection spells strong enough to keep them out. If we stay here for the night, we will be safe and easily leave in the morning.”
“But that would mean abandoning Jake in a pit with a dark prince for the whole night.” William pointed out.
Katherine nodded, having considered that and sought better plans since she’d realized they wouldn’t make it back before nightfall. “Believe me, I do not wish to leave Jake and the others for the night. However, they will be safe. Any dark creatures within ten miles of this place will be drawn here since we are trying to escape with a crystal. They will scatter again with morning comes and they are weakened, but it is too dangerous to leave tonight.”
William frowned at her in the dark. “Did you know this would happen when we started walking?”
She swallowed and looked down. “I was afraid it might. I had hoped we might be fast enough to escape, but I couldn’t be sure.”
“And you still let us leave Jake behind in that hole.” William’s tone was accusatory.
“He volunteered.” She insisted, unhappily. She knew it wasn’t much of an excuse. She’d promised to protect the group, but had put their mission ahead of Jake’s safety. The fact that she’d left Gabriella and Henry with him didn’t make her feel any better. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have let him make that decision.”
William looked away, having trouble getting onto the girl when she was clearly beating herself up already. “We really can’t leave tonight?”
She looked out at the dark creatures and swallowed. “It wouldn’t be wise to try. Jake and the others will be safe, though, I’m sure.”
“Right.” William was far from convinced, but he understood that there wasn’t much they could do about it that night. “Guess we may as well bed down.”
Meredith looked in the direction of his voice. “Are you really okay with that?”
He took a breath, trying to appear calm. “It doesn’t seem like we have much of a choice. I’m sure Jake and the others will be fine.”

Jake’s medley was interrupted by a yawn and he looked up at the sky, wondering when the others would return.
“They aren’t coming back tonight.” Azazel informed him. “If they were, they would be here, already. At this point, it would be much too dangerous to travel. They’ve probably holed up in that cave for the night, so you may as well go to sleep.”
Jake paused, feeling nervous. He knew the prince was probably right and he hadn’t planned on having to sleep there when he’d volunteered to stay behind. “Henry?” He called out for his brother, wanting to confirm that he was still nearby.
“Are you okay?” The silhouette of his head could just be seen against the starry sky.
“Yeah.” Jake did his best to sound confident, but he wasn’t very good at it. “You should probably get some sleep, little brother.”
“I’ll be nearby if you need me.” Henry assured him before drawing back.
“Right.” Jake mumbled, continuing to stare upwards.
“You could invite him to drop down, so he can sleep beside you.” Azazel suggested.
“Not a chance.” While it would have comforted Jake to have his brother at his side, he would never want to put him at risk.
“Are you capable of sleeping without him?” Azazel asked.
Jake paused, disliking the idea of being separated from his twin for the night. It had been a while since he’d had to sleep by himself. “Of course, I can.”
Azazel was silent for a few minutes. “You really don’t like to be separated from him, do you?” Jake was about to argue when the prince added, “I can hear it in your voice.”
Jake frowned, realizing there was little point in denying anything. “It’s always been the two of us. It just feels strange to be apart like this, but I’ll be fine.”
“It must be nice to be so close to your brother.” Azazel commented.
“Yeah, well, at least, neither of us would ever betray the other and join the dark side.” Jake felt uncomfortable and really wanted to turn the conversation around.
“Don’t be so certain.” The prince warned. “Every soul has its price.”
“He definitely wouldn’t ditch me to save his own skin.” Jake informed him. “And I would never do something like that to him.”
“I suppose it is very easy to say such things when you have never been put in such positions.” Azazel pointed out. “You know very little about me, so keep your judgements to yourself.”
Jake paused, realizing the prince wasn’t entirely wrong. “I guess it must have been really scary to know you were going to die young, huh?” He couldn’t imagine growing up with such a threat over his head. He still didn’t believe he would betray his brother, but he couldn’t really hate the prince for freaking out and making a bad decision.
“It was my duty.” Azazel replied, vaguely. “As long as I served the lights, I didn’t have any other options. I was almost prepared to go along with their sadistic plan.”
“What made you decide not to?” Jake was genuinely curious about what had pushed him over the edge.
Azazel was silent as he considered the question. “I realized that there was no point. The lights would protect the ones I loved no better that the darkness will. With my power, I can protect what I wish and I do not have to die to do it.”
“So you do still love your siblings.” Jake figured Gabriella would be glad to know that.
“I never claimed otherwise.” Azazel replied. “However, we fight on different sides. I have assurances that they will not be harmed, but I cannot fight beside them.”
“I hate to break it to you, but your brother’s already been harmed.” Jake pointed out.
There was a drawn out silence before Azazel spoke again. “My brother is safe and shall soon be restored to his people. If he had continued on this journey, he might not have survived at all. The dark lord has kept every promise he made to me. He has never deceived me, which is more than I can say for your precious lights.”
Jake frowned, not understanding. “Did the lights lie to you? How is that even possible?” He thought about it for a second. “Do you mean that Katherine or Jeremiah deceived you?”
“I was manipulated by the lights my whole life.” The prince answered. “There are things that even the guardians do not know and it is for the best. I am not the villain of this story, but it may be easier for everyone to think I am, at least, until this war is over.”
“Why would that be better?” Jake asked. “What could be so bad that you would rather have everyone hate you than tell what it is?”
“I grow tired of this conversation.” The prince announced. “Sleep, now, and trouble me no more.”
Jake squinted into the darkness, but couldn’t see him. Eventually, he sighed and lay on his back. “Good night, Azazel.”
No answer came from the darkness beside him.

“They’re not coming back, tonight, are they?” Henry looked over at Gabriella, staying close for fear of being separated.
“Apparently not.” She stared into the darkness, trying not to act as afraid as she felt. “Of course, I’m sure the guardian wouldn’t have left us here alone if she thought we would be in danger.”
“Right.” Henry rushed to agree. “I know Will and the others wouldn’t either. They must know we’ll be fine.” He decided not to mention that they might have been unable to come back. Unpleasant scenarios were running through his head at top speed. “I’ll take the first watch if you want to get some sleep.”
The princess swallowed and nodded. “Would it be alright if I stay close to you while I sleep? Not having the protective spells makes me nervous.”
“Sure. You could even lay your head in my lap if you wanted.” He used a light tone, intending the statement as a joke. He felt like it was something his more outgoing brother would say and he hoped it would make her laugh, at least.
Gabriella failed to realize the jest. “You’re sure you wouldn’t mind?”
Henry blinked several times, not sure if he could answer without his voice getting high-pitched. “Sure.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah, that would be fine if it would make you more comfortable.”
She paused for a second before lying down with her head on his thighs. He had his legs outstretched to make it more comfortable and he did his best not to move. “I can move if your legs feel like they’re going to fall asleep or anything.”
“I’ll be fine.” He assured her, resisting the urge to run his hand through her hair.
“Feel free to wake me up if you change your mind.” Her voice was soft, making it clear she wouldn’t be able to stay awake much longer. She’d been in constant distress for days and lying like that was the first time she’d felt secure since her brother had tried to get the crystal. It was all too much and she fell asleep quickly.

“You’re sure the creatures can’t get us down here?” Meredith asked as the group prepared to settle in for the night within the crystal-filled cave.
Katherine nodded in the glow of the crystals. “The protection spells here are too great. The crystals have great power and no darkness can come near them here. Once they are removed, they can be taken and corrupted, but, here, there is too much light magic surrounding us.”
Meredith frowned, realizing Katherine had just reminded them again why they couldn’t leave that night. “Understood.”
“I know it will be difficult, but everyone should try to rest.” The guardian told them. “We’re safe, so there’s no need to set up a guard. Just get as much sleep as you can and we will leave at first light.”
Nobody argued as they settled in, none of them feeling particularly peaceful. Josie lay down beside William and whispered, “Jake’s going to be okay, right?”
“Of course.” He kissed her forehead. “You heard Katherine. Nothing’s even going to go after him, tonight. He’ll be fine until we can get him.”
Josie moved closer, but didn’t argue. Instead, she closed her eyes and did her best to fall asleep. The others followed suit, despite them all feeling worried about the missing members of the group.

They skipped breakfast the following morning, eager to be travelling again, so they could collect the rest of their group members. As they reached the mouth of the cave, they drew their weapons, preparing to fight their way out. There were not nearly so many creatures as the night before since only the more resilient shadow creatures could walk in the daylight, but there were still enough to concern the group.
“Do not let your guard down for any reason.” Katherine warned. “We will have to remain vigilant until we reach the palace.” She led the way out of the cave with her own weapon drawn. The creatures surrounded them, but didn’t come close for fear of being struck down. Some of them were small and looked like rodents or snakes, but most were as big as raccoons and a select few were the size of lions. The group moved slowly through them, fearing a sudden attack. The guardian knew she could make them disappear, but it would leave her unconscious for days and she couldn’t risk that. Their best chance was to get to the palace as soon as possible, so they made their slow progress, striking down any creature that came within reach of the blades.

Henry rubbed his eyes as he woke up, needing a minute to realize where he was. At some point, he had lain down and fallen asleep. He was about to sit up when he realized there was a pressure on his chest. He looked down and caught his breath. Somehow, Gabriella had repositioned in her sleep, so her head was lying on his torso. He held perfectly still, not wanting to wake her.
He was successful for a few minutes before she blinked her eyes open and sat up, looking away from him. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He assured her, knowing he was blushing as he sat up.
“You didn’t stay awake all night, did you?” She asked.
He was tempted to lie, but he didn’t feel right about doing so. “No, sorry. I accidentally fell asleep at some point.”
“It’s alright.” She assured him. “You’re only human and there was no harm done, so it’s okay.”
He nodded and walked over to the hole to look down at his sleeping brother. “Jake, you alive down there?”
Jake groaned as he woke up, sore from the previous day’s fall, as well as the rough sleeping place. “More or less.”
“Works for me.” He barely glanced at Azazel before drawing back. “They seem to be fine.”
“That’s a relief.” Gabriella replied with a smile. She looked up at the bright sky. “The others should be here in a few hours. We may as well relax while we can.”
He nodded and pulled a piece of fruit from his bag. It was a few days old and over-ripe, but it was better than nothing and he bit into it, eagerly, glad to have something in his stomach.
Around midafternoon, the pair saw a dark cluster moving over the ground towards them. As it drew closer, they could see that it was their group, surrounded by shadow creatures. Gabriella nocked her bow and took down a few as they moved towards them, but it seemed to make little difference.
“What’s happening?” Jake called up, hearing the noise.
“Katherine’s back and she’s brought company.” Henry called in return.
“Pull us up.” Azazel demanded.
“I don’t have any rope.” Henry informed him, never looking away from the darkness.
Between the group fighting off the creatures and Gabriella shooting them down, they managed to clear a path and reunite. However, there were more creatures not far behind. Katherine pulled the rope from her bag and got the others to help hold it as she threw it down to the boys. Jake scrambled up with Azazel right behind him. The group turned to face the dark creatures, but the prince suddenly moved in front and held out his hands to the beasts.
“What are you doing?” Katherine demanded.
“Quiet!” He ordered, slowly extending his hands towards the darkness before them. The creatures suddenly stopped advancing and stared at him. Several of them pawed at the ground, but they didn’t move forward. His shadow extended around him and outward, making the creatures back up. The rest of the group stayed silent, not wanting to break his concentration since he seemed to be helping them. He drew his hands close to his body, then thrust them forward. As he did, his shadow shot out towards the creatures and they retreated as quickly as they could. Soon, they were completely out of sight.
The whole group was quiet for a few minutes, staring at Azazel. Gabriella was the first to speak. “That was incredible.”
He didn’t respond as he slowly dropped his hands to his sides and looked to the group. “Are we going to stand around here all day or are you going to get that crystal to the palace?”
Not sure what else to do, Katherine nodded. She didn’t know why Azazel had helped them, but she wasn’t going to waste the assistance. “Let’s get going. The sooner we get this crystal activated in the palace, the better.” She began walking, forcing the group to follow behind, most of them still in shock. Azazel stayed towards the back of the group, not offering any opportunity for questions.

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