Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


23. 23

~~William thought about finding out what was going on with the shadow warriors, but he couldn’t seem to make himself find Katherine. Deciding he probably needed some air, he stepped out of the palace, looking up at the darkening sky.
“Did the palace get too stuffy for you?” A voice nearby asked.
William looked over to where a man stood, leaning against the palace wall, barely visible in the shadow it cast. “I just needed some air.” He stepped closer to get a better look at the stranger. The man looked middle-aged and was giving him a friendly smile. He had neatly-combed brown hair and wore dark clothes.
“I know how that is.” The man told him. “I’m Alexander.”
“William.” He replied. “So what are you doing out here?”
“Just admiring the view.” Alexander looked towards the bustling city. “It’s always so busy here. I don’t know how people around here get used to it.”
“Do you not live in the city?” William asked, a little confused by the man’s words.
“Not yet.” Alexander smiled at him, again. “I plan to make my home here, though. It is a beautiful city.”
“But…I thought you said it was too busy.” William couldn’t figure out where the man’s head was. His own had already been swimming and the stranger wasn’t helping.
Alexander just continued to smile. “It was nice meeting you, William. I look forward to getting to know you.” He walked of, disappearing around a corner of the palace.
William shook his head, trying to clear it. He didn’t understand the people of Mirra. Everything was too different. Everything was so complicated. He loved the place and hated it. He wanted to go back to where things made sense, but he didn’t want to leave. He sighed and started walking without any real direction.

Katherine reached the roof of the palace, where Jeremiah was already waiting. He had used magic to allow them to get a closer look at the camp, which could just be seen over the wall. There were about a dozen shadow warriors. They weren’t close enough to be fight, but they were still too close for comfort. There was a single tent in the middle of the campsite with two warriors guarding it.
“Must be someone important in that tent.” Katherine commented.
Jeremiah nodded. “The question is: an important person who needs to be protected or an important prisoner?”
Katherine nodded her agreement. “We need to figure that out before we do anything. If it’s a prisoner, we’ll need to figure out a rescue plan.” She frowned. “Is it just me or do they seem to be waiting for something?”
“It’s not just you.” He assured her. “I don’t know what they are up to, but it can’t be anything good.”
Katherine looked at the camp, wishing she could hear them. “We’ll need to send out a scouting party to figure out their plans.”
“Unfortunately, we’ll need to do it, quickly.” Jeremiah looked up at the darkening sky. “I don’t like sending anyone out at night, but we can’t wait for them to execute whatever plan they have.”
Katherine sighed, seeing the point. “I will ask for volunteers.”

William found himself in front of Melody’s house with no idea of how he had gotten there. He had just been wandering and, before her knew it, he was standing in front of the building. Not knowing what else to do, he knocked on the door. Soon, Melody and Bard stood in front of him. She smiled. “William, I thought you weren’t visiting until tomorrow.”
“Sorry if it’s too late for visitors.” He felt a little awkward, having no real reason to be there.
“It’s fine.” Melody assured him. “You’re okay, right?”
“Yes. I’m fine.” He rushed to answer. “I was just out for a walk and I came here. Is that okay?”
“It’s fine.” She repeated, cocking her head. She ran her fingers over her brother’s palm and stepped outside. The door closed behind her. Before William could ask, she told him, “I asked Bard to stay inside. I thought it might be nice to go for a walk with just the two of us.”
“Okay.” William wasn’t really sure how to take that, but he wasn’t going to argue after he had shown up, unannounced.
“May I hold your arm, so I don’t get lost?” She asked.
“Yes, of course.” He held out his arm and she took it. Together, they walked down the street.

“I heard you were looking for people for a scouting mission.” Kaelen commented as he ran into Katherine in the hallway. News travelled fast in the palace.
She nodded and looked at him. “We need people who can travel unseen. We want to keep the group small.”
“You don’t need a group for a mission like that.” He told her. “If you just need someone to sneak into the camp and get information, I can do that on my own.”
She frowned, uncertainly. “And if you don’t make it back?”
“Then you have only lost one person.” He answered, calmly. “I am not speaking out of conceit, but we both know that less people means less risk, under the circumstances, and no one within these walls can travel through the night like a Svartálfar.”
Katherine paused, unable to argue against the wisdom of the plan. “Promise you’ll be careful?”
“I will do everything in my power to make sure I return with the information you need.” He promised.
“That’s not really what I’m concerned about.” She sighed. “Just be sure you return, okay?”
“I will do my best.”

 It took a moment for him to think of anything to say. “It’s getting dark. Does that not bother you?”
She giggled at the question. “It doesn’t make much difference to me whether it is day or night, but, if the darkness scares you, we can go back to my house and hide inside.”
“No, I’m fine.” He blushed as he realized how ridiculous the question had been. “So how are you doing? We haven’t talked that much since we visited the village.”
“Sorry about that.” She told him. “I suppose I just wanted to talk to Bard. It was hard on us, being back there, after all.”
“I understand.” He assured her. “There are places I would rather not return to.” He thought of the house he had shared with his mother and all the unhappy memories there. He didn’t know what he would do if someone told him he had to go back.
“Do you like the Domed City?” Melody suddenly asked.
William paused, surprised by the question. “It’s an incredible place.”
“After the war is over…do you think you would want to live here?” Her face was turned away from him, making her expression unreadable.
“I don’t know.” He admitted. “It’s hard to imagine staying here. Everything is so different from back home. It’s definitely not bad, but I don’t really know what kind of future I would have here.”
“Is your future set in Dunya?” She questioned.
William paused as he thought about it. He was a runaway foster kid who never finished school. Even if he got his GED, there was no guarantee of him getting into college or being able to pay for it. He knew he would likely wind up with a minimum wage job, at best. “Not really.”
“Then why not stay here?” She stopped walking and turned to him. “You could have a future here.” She paused, clearly working up her nerve for the next part. “You could have a future with me.”

Getting close to the camp was easy enough for the dark elf, but that didn’t do much good. All the people in the camp were shadow warriors and they didn’t talk much. He needed to know who was in the tent, so he made his way around the back of it. As he touched the fabric, he sensed an enchantment. It was designed to keep people from leaving the tent, but entering would not be an issue. Making sure he was not seen, Kaelen slipped under the fabric of the tent. What he found inside was the last thing he’d expected.

Angelus looked at the sleeping form on the bed and, gently, brushed some hair away from his face. “You look very peaceful when you sleep. I almost wish you would be permitted to keep sleeping forever, so that you might be free from the cares of the world. However, I know that would not be good. You are much too important to us.” He smiled down at him. “The crystal is here and it will soon be time for the ritual. You can’t sleep through all that excitement, no matter how much you may want to.”

William stared at Melody, blankly, unable to respond.
She gave him an awkward smile. “I really hope you didn’t run off when I said that.”
“I didn’t.” He rushed to assure her. “I’m just not really sure what to say.”
“I suppose I’m being foolish.” She told him. “I couldn’t expect you to want to be with someone like me.”
“Why not?” He asked. “You are incredible. You are strong and intelligent. You are brilliant with a sword. Not to mention the fact that you are really beautiful.”
Melody blushed a little at the compliments. “You say all those things, but you never said you wanted to be with me. Your feelings for me aren’t particularly romantic, are they?”
He paused, trying to sort himself out. Everything he had said about the girl was true. By all logic, there was no reason why he shouldn’t have fallen for her. He wished he had. Everything would be so much easier if he were in love with the amazing girl in front of him. “I’m sorry. I meant what I said and any guy would be lucky to have you, but…”
“You’re in love with someone else.” She guessed. “I could tell by the way you talk to her, but you know it’s not possible. She’s engaged to the king, so wouldn’t it be better to let those feelings go. You could learn to love me.”
“You shouldn’t settle for somebody who might one day love you.” He told her. “You are too good for that. Yes, I know I can never be with Katherine, but I can’t just let my feelings go. If my heart were that fickle, I wouldn’t be worthy of you, anyway.”
Melody nodded her understanding. “It’s too bad. I think I would have enjoyed being in love with you.”
“I’m sure I would have enjoyed being in love with you.” He replied with a smile. “Whoever you do end up with will be very lucky.”
She took a breath. “Would it be okay for us to walk together a little while longer?”
“Sure.” He held out his arm and she took it. In silence, they walked down the darkened street, together.

“Azazel?” Kaelen stared at the person in front of him, wondering why a shadow worker would be held prisoner. The tent was comfortable enough with a bedroll on the ground and fruit in a bowl, nearby. There was even a small lamp to provide some light. It occurred to Kaelen that the lamp was an odd thing for a shadow worker to want.
“Do not mistake me for that traitor.” The young man in front of him commanded. He spoke softly, making sure his guards wouldn’t hear. “I am Nicholas, king of Mirra.”
Kaelen paused, trying to figure out what that could mean. He thought of the sleeping form in the bed, which had to be Nicholas. It couldn’t be Azazel because he had been with them. “It’s not possible.”
“Have you come alone?” Azazel/Nicholas asked.
“If you are Nicholas, you shouldn’t have any trouble coming back to the palace with me and proving it.” Kaelen decided, not answering the question.
“Can you get me out of here?” The man glanced toward the tent entrance. “It’s enchanted to keep anyone from leaving by any path but the guarded one.”
“I can disable that, temporarily.” Kaelen assured him. He touched the fabric and whispered a charm. He lifted enough for the man to crawl under. “Hurry.” Azazel/Nicholas wasted no time in crawling under and Kaelen followed. The dark elf helped him get away from the camp unseen. Before they reached the city gate, he handed his cloak to the man. “Put this on and hide your face.”
“Why would I need to do that?” He demanded.
“Trust me and do it, quickly.” Kaelen didn’t know what was going on and he didn’t want too many other people asking questions before he figured it out.
Azazel/Nicholas slipped on the cloak, pulling the cowl low to hide his face.
“Keep quiet for now.” Kaelen told him. The guard at the gate had been expecting Kaelen and allowed him in. He was about to ask about the cloaked man when Katherine rushed over. She’d been worried about Kaelen and had waited near the gate. Before she could ask any questions, the dark elf told her, we need to get to the palace, quickly.”
She glanced at his unknown companion, but trusted the elf enough not to argue. Together, the trio made their way through the city to the palace and into a sitting room, where Kaelen rushed to close the door behind them. Katherine turned to him, then. “What happened? Who is this?” She indicated the cloaked man.
“That is an excellent question.” He looked at the man. “You can take off the cloak, now.”
“Then perhaps you can explain why I had to sneak into my own palace.” The man demanded as he lowered the cowl.

William and Melody walked for a while longer. As the stars came out, he brought her back to her house. They hadn’t spoken as they walked, but she turned back to him before opening the door. “I hope it works out for you and Katherine somehow.”
He smiled, even though she couldn’t see it. “We both know that isn’t likely, but thanks.”
Melody reached out and found his cheek. She kissed him on the other one. “You deserve her as much as anyone else. Good night, William.” She slipped into her house before he could respond.
William touched his cheek and sighed, wishing he had fallen for the girl. Knowing there was no reason to hang around, he turned and headed back to the palace, wondering what had happened with the shadow warrior camp.

Katherine stared at him. She had known the twins their whole lives. She could always tell which one she was talking to, but she knew it couldn’t possibly be Nicholas because he was sleeping in his room. “How is this possible?”
“Are there three of them, now?” Kaelen asked.
“Three of what?” Nicholas asked, growing irritated.
Katherine walked over and touched his cheek. “Not a trick. It’s him.” She stepped away, trying to figure out what was going on. “But that’s not possible because you’re been sleeping for weeks.”
“What do you mean?” Nicholas stared at her, realizing that something serious was going on. “I’ve been held prisoner since we got attacked.”
“Then who is upstairs?” Kaelen asked. “It can’t be the prince because he was with us.”
Katherine suddenly stopped as realization dawned on her. “Was he?”
“What do you mean?” Kaelen watched her, trying to understand. “We all saw him.”
“Did anyone touch him?” Katherine looked at the dark elf. “Did he touch anything?”
Kaelen stared at the guardian, beginning to realize what she meant. “You think he was an astral projection.”
She nodded. “I don’t know why, but that’s the only explanation. The person sleeping upstairs is Azazel and he astral projected to keep us from figuring it out.”
“But why?” Kaelen asked. “To what end?”

In the king’s bedroom, Angelus sat on the bed and leaned close to the sleeping form to whisper in his ear. “The crystal is in place, the dark lord is near and night has fallen. It’s time to wake up, my sweet prince.”
Azazel opened jet black eyes and smiled at the half-elf. “Finally.”

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