Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


25. 25

~~“There must be a way to buy time.” William commented.
“There is.” Jeremiah barely looked at anyone. “We lead a charge as they come down. Anyone with a weapon fights. However, anyone who fights will certainly be either captured or killed as there will be no way to escape once we seal the tunnels from the other side.”
“Well, now, that we’ve heard from Mr. Optimistic.” Henry did his best to lighten the mood.
“We’ll fight.” Someone nearby commented. It was Benjamin, the young guard they had met when first entering the city. He stood with several other guards and they all clutched their swords.
“We couldn’t ask you to do that.” Katherine told them.
“Nobody’s asking.” A woman said. She stepped forward, holding a sword. “I’m not a soldier, but my father taught me how to use this blade and I may as well put those skills to use.”
Several other people stepped forward, offering to fight. Anyone who could was prepared to protect the city in any way they could.
Katherine swallowed as she looked at them. “You’ll all be risking your lives and we can’t save the city, now.”
“If it will help to save more people, we will fight.” Benjamin told her.
She took a breath and nodded. “Anyone who isn’t going to fight needs to head towards the tunnels.” She looked at Jeremiah. “Make sure everyone gets in.”
“And what do you intend to do?” He asked.
“I’m going to help my people fight back the darkness, just as I always have.” She answered, calmly.
“We can’t risk losing you.” Nicholas told her.
Katherine turned on him. “If you think I’m going to let my people fight while I run, you are quite mistaken, my lord.”
He frowned, seeing the determination in her eyes. William stepped to Katherine’s side. “I will help you. I might not be as good as some people with a sword, but I’m not useless.”
She gave him a grateful smile. “We’ll need to make a plan of attack and quickly. There is no time to spare.” She started talking to people and talking about strategies. They were rather limited in their options, but she did the best she could with what she had and more people were coming in every minute. Those who couldn’t fight headed to the tunnels while anyone who was willing to hold a blade was given a battle position. Even if they were going to lose, the shadow master and his lieutenants would certainly be slowed down.
As Katherine move among the crowd, William made his way to the king. “I need to talk to you.”
“What about?” Nicholas asked, thinking it was hardly the time for a heart-to-heart.
William looked around to make sure no one was listening. “Strategy.”

“It’s time.” Hod walked over to the door and pressed his hand against it. Blackness exuded from his fingertips and the door was blasted open, leaving it in pieces on the floor. He looked back to his lieutenants. “Well, gentleman, shall we?” He gestured toward the hallway.
He didn’t have to ask twice. The pair eagerly stepped into the hallway and headed towards the stairs. Behind them, a long shadow began creeping out of the room as the darkened crystal drew the light into its endless void.

Katherine led a group up the steps to meet the trio as their first line of offense. Swords were drawn and, as shadows lashed out, the guardian blocked them with a burst of light. She knew they would kill her, so she just had to avoid being captured. Unfortunately, that meant she couldn’t get close. As fighters rushed towards them, she shielded them in light, knowing she wouldn’t be able to hold that for long. The trio switched tactics, creating their own swords out of shadows. They were as sharp as any blade and the fighters had trouble avoiding getting struck down. The offense was soon on defense.
Hod looked at Katherine and smiled as he casually jabbed at anyone who tried to get close. “I’m not at full power, but neither are you and you will have to use more strength to fight us. What do you hope to accomplish?” One unfortunate citizen did not dodge quickly enough and the dark blade went through his stomach. Blood poured out onto the steps and the group moved back, reflexively. The trio took the opportunity to move forward.
“Don’t underestimate me.” Katherine warned, but there was little conviction behind the words. She knew she couldn’t beat him and the first death hit her hard.
“My lady, the next line.” One of the fighters reminded her.
The guardian swallowed as she watched them fight, knowing she would have to abandon them. “Fight well and may the lights be with you.” She rushed down the steps to the second floor where the next line of defense was preparing. There were several wood elves, setting up a barrier, but she knew it wouldn’t last long. She reminded herself that it wasn’t about lasting. This fight was about time for saving those who could be saved. She helped to fortify the barrier, sacrificing more of her precious strength. “Stay strong.” She heard the fight moving toward them and rushed down the stairs to help fortify the next line of defense, knowing it was only a matter of time before the trio reached them. However, every minute counted in this battle and she gave a little bit of strength at each line, fortifying them as well as they could.

William and Nicholas stood in the entrance of the palace with about a dozen armed people as one of the last lines of defense. William stood next to the king, speaking softly. “Are you ready for what you have to do?”
“She’s not going to like it.” The king informed him.
“That’s why we’re not giving her a choice.” William replied, doing his best to sound calm. He heard fighting above, moving slowly closer to them, and could scarcely believe how much damage three people could do. It had been nearly an hour since the seal broke, so they were definitely being slowed down, but he knew they were still coming. Fortunately, most of the women and children had made it to the tunnels, already. The city was steadily clearing out.
“I don’t like it.” Nicholas informed him.
“But you know it needs to be done.” William’s tone was firm.
“Why can’t you do it?” The king asked.
William sighed. “I’m not as important as you. Your people need their king. What’s more, the people need their future guardian and that’s you.”
Nicholas paused, trying to think of a good argument. “The people need you, as well. You and your friends are supposed to save Mirra, after all.”
“How?” William demanded. “Do you know? Maybe, this is how I help to save Mirra. Maybe, saving Katherine is my role.”
The king frowned, but he didn’t know what to say in response to that. “I can’t believe that’s all there is to it.”
“Then let the lights send me a sign otherwise.” William told him. “If they want me to do something else, they should let me know. Barring that, will you help with my plan or not?”
Nicholas looked at him for a moment and nodded. “For the sake of the guardian and Mirra, I will do as you ask.”
“Thank you.” The fighting drew closer and William held his sword up, prepared to fight.
Katherine came running down the stairs and assisted a group of sorcerers with the barriers they had set up. She was moving more slowly than usual and looked about to collapse. She had spent most of her strength, helping to defend what they could.
Jake came rushing in past some citizens who were heading for the tunnel. At some point, he had gotten ahold of a sword and he held it awkwardly as he came to stand beside William. “Sorry I’m late.”
“And what sort of time do you call this?” William asked with a strained smile.
“You wouldn’t believe the traffic.” He looked back to the people still making their way into the palace. “We’ve nearly got the city cleared out. How are we doing on time?”
“With a little luck, we just might make it.” William answered. “Now, put the sword down before you hurt yourself and get into the tunnel. Henry’s waiting on you.”
“I’m going to help.” Jake told him, attempting to hold the sword, properly.
“You’re going to get in the way.” William didn’t want to be harsh, but he needed to know his friend was safe. “Also, Henry won’t leave without you, so you’d better go if you don’t want him getting hurt.”
Jake frowned at the thought. “Fine.” He rushed to his brother’s side.
Henry was so relieved, he hugged him, immediately. “I was afraid you wouldn’t make it.”
“Of course I made it, you dunce.” Jake smiled as he pulled away. “We’d better be getting in that tunnel, now, right?”
“I’m not leaving without Nicholas.” Gabriella told him.
“I promised to stay with her until he got here.” Henry added. “You can go ahead, though. We’ll catch up.”
“And miss all the fun?” Jake shook his head. “I’ll hang out here for a bit.” He watched the crowds descending into the tunnels and willed them to move faster so his friends could stop fighting and escape.

Katherine stood beside William, holding a sword, but she barely had the energy to lift it. Even so, she smiled. “It looks like this might work, after all.” The smile didn’t quite reach her eyes because she didn’t know how many had already been lost, but she could guess.
William returned the smile. As he heard fighting coming down the stairs he grabbed her arm. “Come with me. I need to show you something.”
“What is it?” She didn’t have the strength to fight him, so she allowed herself to be led into a nearby room. There were two entrances to the room, the one they had come through and one that led to a hallway near the ballroom. As he closed the door they came through, she looked around in confusion. “I don’t see anything.”
“I know.” He took a breath. “You’re going out the other door, now. It’s time for you to go into the tunnels.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She reached for the door handle, but he held it shut. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We all know that Mirra can’t afford to lose either guardian. Your capture would mean certain destruction for your people and I can’t allow that.” He told her. “So it’s time for you to go through those tunnels with the rest of the city and allow us to buy you time to escape.”
“You think I would do that?” She demanded.
“I don’t think I’m giving you a choice.” He replied, wondering what was taking Nicholas so long.
“Are you going to drag me to the tunnels?” She asked, raising her eyebrows. “I have trouble imagining that.”
He shook his head. “I’m going to stay and fight. My life isn’t as important as yours.”
“Says whom?” She looked at him. “Who says my life is any more important than yours?”
“Everybody!” He grabbed her shoulders and steered her away from the door. “All of Mirra loves you. You’re their future queen and current guardian. You’re going to leave this place and marry Nicholas, so that you will have the power to stop the darkness. I am not necessary for that plan.”
“That doesn’t make you unimportant.” She pulled his hands off of her. “You are just as important as anyone else in this city.”
“I’m not.” He argued. “If I die, it would make that big of a difference.”
“It will to me!” The words were out before she even realized she was crying. She didn’t want to leave the city while her people were fighting, but, more than that, she couldn’t leave William behind.
He stared at her for a moment. Before he knew what he was doing, his hands were on her cheeks and his lips were pressed against hers. When he pulled back, his voice was soft. “I can’t allow you to die. I will do anything to protect you, even if it means you hate me.” He stepped away as he heard the door open and he turned to face Nicholas. “What took you so long?”
“I was hesitant to come.” He replied, honestly. “But I am here, now, as promised.”
Katherine looked at William. “What is he talking about? What promise?”
“I’m here to see you get to the tunnel.” Nicholas took her hand. “Come along, my lady.” He tried to lead her away, but she pulled her hand back.
“No.” She looked at William, who was turned away from her. “I’m not leaving.”
Nicholas grabbed her arm, firmly and started pulling her away, despite her resistance.
“William, I’m not leaving you.” She called out, fighting to get to him. She struggled, but Nicholas picked her up. She tried to get away, growing hysterical when she saw William moving to the door. “I won’t go! William!” He said nothing as he opened the door and stepped back out into the fight. “William!”
Nicholas half-dragged, half carried her through the other door. She kicked and screamed, fighting to get away, but she had spent too much energy and lacked the strength. People stared as the king carried the guardian to the tunnel with her fighting him. Gabriella rushed to her brother’s side and followed him into the tunnel. Jake and Henry were close behind her.
“Will didn’t make it back here.” Jake commented, looking back towards the fight.
“I’m sure he’s on his way.” Henry tried to sound more confident than he felt.
Jake paused, then ran back out of the tunnel.
“Where are you going?” His brother demanded.
“Wait here.” Jake called over his shoulder. “I’ll get Will and be right back.” He rushed toward the fighting before he could be stopped.
“Jake!” Henry started to go after him, but Gabriella laid a hand on his arm to stop him. “I’m sure he’ll be back soon. There’s no point in both of you running off. If you didn’t find him, he might wind up looking for you and not make it back in time.”
Henry knew she had a point, but he didn’t like it. “Alright.”
The last of the civilians were in the tunnels or out on the other side. Jeremiah looked at the group, knowing that there were still people they were waiting for. “We can’t wait much longer.”
“Just a few more minutes.” Gabriella pleaded, knowing Henry would be distraught if Jake didn’t make it back in time. She looked at her own brother who was trying to calm Katherine, while barely managing to restrain her. The princess wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but she wasn’t going to ask right then. “Let us wait a few more minutes. A few of the fighters might make it in.”
Jeremiah nodded his understanding and looked out the entrance, wanting to know immediately if they were in danger.

William went back into the fray as soon as he was out of the room. He didn’t know how the trio were able to fight so many and have no injuries, but he was going to do what he could to stop them. He went after Azazel, feeling the most anger towards him for some reason. However, the prince parried his attack, easily and used shadow magic to block off some others.
“Nice try.” Azazel told him and he did the most frightening thing William had seen him do yet. He smiled.
The smile chilled William and he wanted to make it go away. The black eyes didn’t help matters any. He jabbed at Azazel, but a shadow shot out and knocked the sword from his hand.
“Oops.” Azazel gave William a thoughtful look before raising his sword and hitting him over the head with the hilt of it. After his earlier blow, William crumpled, easily and lay unconscious on the floor.
“Will!” Jake saw him and rushed forward.
Azazel frowned when he saw the boy. “I thought you were escaping.” He sounded disappointed, but Jake didn’t care to figure out the reason right then.
“Get away from him!” He held up his sword, as if he were going to protect William.
Azazel gave an unconcerned shrug. “As you wish.” He turned to face another opponent and quickly fought his way through the crowd.
“They’re trying to keep us from getting to the ballroom.” Hod observed as his lieutenants drew close to him. “Perhaps, we should find out why.” He waved his hand and a shadow knocked several people out of his way. Without the guardian’s magic, they were powerless against the shadow master. The trio made their way through the palace, using magic to knock aside or strike down anyone in their path. As they stepped into the ballroom, he stopped, surprised to see Jeremiah looking at him from the entrance to the tunnels. “Well, this is interesting.”
Seeing them enter the room, Jeremiah knew he couldn’t wait any longer. He pressed his hand against a stone within the tunnel and the entrance disappeared, separating them from the shadow master and his lieutenants.
“Jake!” Henry cried out as the door closed. He looked at Jeremiah. “You have to let me go get him.”
The guardian gave him a sad look and shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“Of course, it’s possible!” Henry told him. “Just open the door or whatever.”
“And risk everyone here?” Jeremiah demanded. “I’m sorry, but we can’t rescue him, right now. We need to get these people to safety.”
“I can’t leave my brother behind.” Henry looked back to where the entrance had been.
“We don’t have a choice.” Katherine had finally gotten herself under control. Closing the entrance had been final enough to bring her back to her senses. “Many of us had to leave people behind, but we will have to make a plan to rescue them, later.”
Henry glared at her. “You were supposed to protect us.”
She looked away in silence, unable to defend herself.
“There’s no time for anger.” Jeremiah told him. “The sooner we get everyone to safety, the sooner we can start making a plan to save the city. Understand?”
Henry frowned, but nodded, realizing he wasn’t getting back through the entrance. “What do we do, now?”
Katherine took a breath. “We move forward.” She turned and began walking down the tunnel. Many people had stopped to stare, but they started walking as she did.
Gabriella took Henry’s hand. “It’s okay. We’ll get your brother back.”
He swallowed and nodded, wanting to believe her. Together, they walked down the tunnels, not knowing what awaited them on the other side.

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