Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


24. 24

~~Nicholas started to rush out of the room, but Katherine stopped him. She looked at the king and lowered her voice. “He’s sleeping upstairs. We would have been notified if he’d woken up, so we have a moment to discuss this.”
“Discuss what?” Nicholas demanded. “How he has infiltrated my home by pretending to be me and nobody realized?”
“He was unconscious.” She pointed out. “His hair was cut like yours and he wore your clothes. Lacking any movement or speech, it is nearly impossible to tell you apart.”
“We should probably inform the other guardian.” Kaelen pointed out.
Katherine looked at him and nodded, her mind racing. “Find him and tell him in secret. Do not rush or let on that anything is wrong. We don’t want them to know we are suspicious.”
Kaelen nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Azazel hopped out of bed and wrapped his arms around Angelus’s neck. “Good morning.”
“Good evening.” Angelus hugged him for a moment before pulling away and looking into the black eyes. “I suppose it was too much to hope you might be yourself after such a long projection.”
“I am myself.” Azazel corrected. “I’m just the self I didn’t allow myself to be when projecting. It was all too controlled and not much fun. Do you know how exhausting that was?”
“I can’t imagine.” Angelus replied. “However, we have more pressing matters to attend to at the moment.”
“Can’t we have a moment to ourselves without all that work?” Azazel asked, wrapping a hand around his neck.
Angelus pulled the hand away. “There’s no time for that.”
“You never have time when I am like this. I sometimes think you only like me when I’m boring.” Azazel complained.
“If you two are quite done fooling around, we should really move.” A voice said from the doorway. “This is our strongest hour and we can’t afford to waste it.”
“Lord Hod.” Angelus turned and gave a slight bow. “We were just about to head out. I trust you had no problems getting it.”
“There was a guard and a couple of servants, but they were not difficult to sneak past.” He replied. “Without its crystal, this city is not very well protected.”
“Then we must see that the crystal is activated, again.” Azazel commented.
Angelus smiled at the statement. “Indeed. We would not wish for this city to be unsafe.”
“Then let us go before the hour has passed.” Hod told them, leading the way out. The other two followed behind, careful not to be seen. However, they didn’t make it far before they ran into William, who had been heading to his room.
He glanced at the group. “Alexander, what are you doing in here?” He caught sight of Azazel. “Nicholas? You’re awake.” It took a moment for him to register the black eyes, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out what they meant. He opened his mouth to call for a guard, but Hod knocked him out before he could.
“Alexander?” Azazel looked at Hod, who shrugged.
“A name from a past life. I thought it might slow down questions if he mentioned me to anyone.” He replied, dragging the unconscious boy into the nearest room. “We must hurry before he wakes up.” The trio resumed their path down the hall and towards their goal.

Nicholas looked at his fiancé, noticing her use of the plural. “Them?”
“We were told there were traitors in the palace.” She replied. “Indicating that there is more than one of them, I assume.”
“Do we have any idea who the other traitor is?” He asked.
Katherine shook her head. “I’ve known most of the palace staff for years, many since they were children. I can’t imagine any of them betraying us.”
“However, it would explain how the prince was able to destroy the crystal.” Nicholas pointed out. “We discussed the possibility even then.”
“I know, but I don’t like it.” She sighed, her mind working overtime. “We have several immortals on staff. I have not known them their whole lives, so they would be our best bet.” She paused as a thought occurred to her. “Nicholas, are you very close with Angelus?”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise at the odd question. “Not particularly, but he is the son of an elven lord and has served here for fifty years. I’ve known him my whole life, I suppose.” He tried to think about whether he had ever really spoken to the elf about anything other than palace duties.
“He stayed by your bedside while your brother slept.” She told him. “He showed such devotion, even though you never spoke much.” She looked at the king. “Did he ever spend time with Azazel?”
Nicholas frowned, realizing he had no idea. He didn’t know what his brother had done, even when he lived in the palace. They had been so distant, Nicholas didn’t even know who Azazel may have spoken to. “I don’t know, but you can’t be suggesting…”
“He cared for your brother while he slept. He hardly left his side. We all believed it was his devotion to his king that fueled him, but what if it was something else?” Katherine swallowed, terrified by the idea. She had known Angelus for fifty years. He had always been kind and seemed loyal, but nothing else made sense.
“Katherine, the traitor would have to be another shadow worker.” Nicholas pointed out. “It’s the only way they could have destroyed the crystal.”
“He could have hidden his power all these years.” Slowly, everything clicked into place. “He must have been biding his time, waiting for the sacrifice, knowing how important he was and what a blow it would be if he were corrupted.”
“You really think he’s capable of such a thing?” Nicholas frowned, knowing she wouldn’t have said anything if she wasn’t sure. “Where is Angelus, now?”
She looked at her fiancé in horror. “He’s guarding your brother.”

Kaelen found Jeremiah, heading to his room to rest. He stopped the guardian and spoke softly, making sure no one was around to hear. He quickly explained the situation as well as he could.
Jeremiah frowned as he heard the story. “I should check on Azazel. We’ll need to move him to his room, immediately.”
“With all sure respect, he escaped from that room before.” The dark elf pointed out. “What’s to stop him from doing it again?”
“It will buy us time.” Jeremiah answered, heading towards the royal chambers. He opened the door to the king’s room and his frown deepened when he found it empty.
Katherine and Nicholas came running up the steps and down the hall, nearly out of breath. She covered her mouth when she saw the room. “He’s awake.”
“He must be going for the crystal.” Nicholas commented. “He probably intends to destroy it before it can be activated.”
“We put spells on the room.” Jeremiah assured him. “It would take ten shadow workers to enter it, now.”
They heard a groan and saw William, coming down the hall and holding his head. Katherine rushed to his side, filled with concern. “What happened?”
“Angelus and Nicholas…but he wasn’t Nicholas.” He winced at the pain in his skull as he spotted the king. “Hi, Nicholas.” He leaned against a wall, feeling like he was going to throw up. “And there was this other guy…I met him earlier.” He winced, again, and nearly collapsed.
“You have a concussion.” Katherine touched his head and the pain decreased, allowing him to focus.
“Alexander.” William spat out. “He said his name was Alexander. He was with the other two.” He hadn’t finished the sentence before Jeremiah was sprinting down the hallway and up the steps to where the crystal was being kept. “What’s happening?” William asked as he and the others ran after him.
“Alexander was his name.” Jeremiah wasn’t in a state to make sense. He reached the room of the crystal, but the door was closed and seal. He tried to open it, but couldn’t.
“Who’s name?” William demanded, growing more afraid due to the guardian’s behavior.
“The shadow master!” Jeremiah looked at Katherine. “Together.” He pressed his hands against the door and she followed suit. Light radiated from their fingers and the door opened to reveal the trio standing around the crystal and chanting. Their hands were outstretched and darkest came from their palms, filling the stone which had been meant to repel it. “No!” Jeremiah tried to rush forward, but was thrown back by an invisible barrier.
“You’re too late.” The shadow master told him, lowering his hands. The once-clear crystal now looked like a black hole, prepared to suck the light out of any room. The other two turned to the intruders.
Katherine swallowed as she looked at the crystal, realizing there was nothing she could do, now. “Run!” She pushed the group out of the room and slammed the door shut, using magic to seal it. “That won’t hold them for long.” Jeremiah seemed to be in shock and she had to push him again to get him moving with the others as they rushed away from the room.
“Where are we going?” William asked.
“They will be weakened from the amount of power it took to activate the crystal.” She replied. “For now, they are locked in and so is that power, but they will recover within a few hours and break free.”
“Wouldn’t now be a good time to kill them, then?” He asked.
“We used too much power entering the room.” Jeremiah explained, barely keeping pace. “We can’t defeat them, even in their weakened state.”
“Then what are we going to do?” William asked.
“The gates of the city will be bound to the crystal by now, so no one will be able to leave that way.” Katherine slowed to a stop, needing a moment to think. “There is a tunnel that leads out of the city. Even the shadow master doesn’t know about it.”
“Are you suggesting we run?” William demanded, disliking the idea.
She turned to face him. “I am suggesting we get as many people out of the city as possible before they break free. Find your friends. Warn as many people as possible. Tell them to hurry to the ballroom and I will lead them out.”
“The ballroom?” He had trouble imagining tunnels there.
“Just trust me!” She told him, trying not to panic. “Go, now!” Some members of the palace staff were passing by and she gave them the message before rushing to the ballroom. Everyone she passed was told the same thing. The guards were sent to spread the word while everyone else was sent to the ballroom.
The first member of his group that William found was Josie. He forced a smile as he bent down to look her in the eye. “Hey, kiddo, I need you to do me a big favor. Katherine is taking some people into this really cool tunnel and I need you to go with them while I find the others.”
“Why can’t I help you?” She asked.
He swallowed, knowing he couldn’t put her at risk. “Well, then you wouldn’t get to be one of the first ones to see the tunnel.”
“I want to stay with you.” She sensed his fear and was ready to stay by his side.
“Josie, please…” He put a hand on her shoulder. “It is really important to me that you go to Katherine, now. Please, just do that for me and I will meet you there, soon.”
Josie swallowed, unable to argue with such a plea. She ran to the ballroom, hoping he would keep his promise.
It didn’t take long for him to find the other three and tell them what was going on. Jake didn’t want to believe it. “I know that Azazel’s done some bad things, but he couldn’t really do this.”
“He did it.” William promised him. “Now, you all need to get to the tunnels.”
“I’m not leaving without Gabriella.” Henry told him. “I’ll need to find her, first.”
“Fine.” William sighed. “Find the princess, then go straight to the tunnels.”
Henry nodded and ran off.
“I’m going to the orphanage.” Meredith announced, running off before anyone could argue.
William looked at Jake. “Aren’t you going to help your brother?”
“Spreading the word seems more important, right now.” Jake replied.
William shook his head. “Go to the tunnels.”
“Are you going straight to the tunnels?” Jake asked. When the older boy didn’t answer, he nodded. “It will be faster with two of us. I’ll get there before we run out of time.”
“Be sure you do.” William told him, knowing there was no point in arguing. They went in separate directions to continue warning people.

Azazel shot dark magic at the door and grunted in frustration. “I can’t get it open.”
“No one expects you to.” Hod calmly assured him. “There’s no need to worry. They can’t do much against us, now. The guardians are simply delaying the inevitable.”
Angelus walked over and laid a hand on Azazel’s arm. “Leave it be. We used too much magic on the stone and need time to regain our strength. We will get them when we get out.”
Azazel stepped away from the door and looked at him. “We’ve really done it, haven’t we? We’ve taken over the city.”
“Indeed, we have.” Angelus smiled and brushed some hair out of his face. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

As he ran outside, William felt dizzy and he had to stop for a second. Katherine had taken the pain, but he still had some of the symptoms of a concussion. The events of the evening weren’t helping. He leaned against a wall and threw up, taking a minute to catch his breath. As he stood there, he thought of Bard and Melody, knowing that he couldn’t let them be left behind. He rushed to their house, warning anybody he passed about the imminent danger. He knew he probably looked insane, but people still listened and hurried to the palace or to warn loved ones, so he kept going, wanting to save as many people as possible.

Katherine opened the tunnel and allowed people in. It would take them several miles out of the city and away from immediate danger. Very few people knew about it. The guardians never even told the royal family. To open it, you needed a little guardian magic. She had to press her hand against a specific stone and make it glow, so no one but she and Jeremiah could open it. Several people could fit through the entranceway and the people who came left quickly through it. Even so, she knew they weren’t getting most of the city. She couldn’t imagine getting half of them out in time. She was relieved when she saw Meredith leading the orphanage out. She had wanted to stay and wait for William, but Chloe wouldn’t let go of her hand, so she was forced to go through with the rest.
Henry showed up with Gabriella and looked at the guardian. “Have the others made it, yet?”
Katherine shook her head. “Hopefully, they will be here, soon.” An hour had passed and she didn’t know how long the seal would hold the trio.
He looked at Gabriella. “I’m going to wait for my brother. You go on.”
“I’m not leaving without Nicholas.” She informed him. “So, I guess we’re both waiting.”
Henry knew there was no point in arguing, so he just decided to stay by her side until her brother showed up.

William made sure Bard and Melody made it to the tunnels, then he ran around the city and warned as many people as he could get to in an hour. He sent several others to warn who they could, as well. He hoped it would be fast enough, but he had to get back to make sure his friends were okay.
When he reached the palace, it was full of people heading for the tunnels. He wove his way through, looking for his friends. He noticed that women and children were being moved to the front and couldn’t help but be glad that such courtesies existed in such a time. He shook the thought away, realizing his mind was going in too many directions. He found Henry and Gabriella, still waiting for their brothers. He made his way to Katherine. “Have the others come through.”
“Josie went in earlier and so did Meredith.” She replied. “I haven’t seen Jake.” They were well into the second hour and she was a little relieved by how many people they had gotten into the tunnels. Even so, there were plenty left to rescue and time was running out.
Nicholas made his way to the guardian and Gabriella rushed to hug him. He wrapped an arm around his sister and looked at Katherine. “We’ve done all we can do.”
Jeremiah soon joined them, looking dejected. He didn’t speak as he watched the people rushing into the tunnels.
Katherine suddenly looked up and swallowed. “The seal is breaking. I can sense it. We have to close the tunnel, soon.” She looked at all the people she wouldn’t be able to save. “We’re out of time.”

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