Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


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~~William awoke on a hard floor with a terrible headache; not a good combination. He groaned and placed a hand on his head, fearing he may throw up.
“Ah, so you’re alive. I suppose that would be considered a good thing.” An all-too familiar voice spoke to him.
William blinked his eyes open, but there wasn’t much light to see by. The only light they had, came through a window and it was apparently nighttime. “Hello, Tristan. It’s good to know you’re alive, too.” He wondered where they were and looked for Katherine. It took a moment for him to remember what had happened. When he did, he tried to sit up, which was a mistake. He collapsed again and his stomach lurched, but it had already been emptied before and he hadn’t eaten since, so the best he could manage was dry-heaving.
“If you throw up in this cramped space, you will soon regret it.” Tristan promised him.
“Could you stop being a jerk for two seconds?” Jake demanded, his voice coming from nearby. “He’s already hurt. There’s no need to make things worse.”
“Things are already worse.” Tristan pointed out.
“Well, stop talking, anyway.” Valda’s voice told him. “Nobody wants to hear complaining.”
“William, are you still awake?” Kaelen’s voice broke through the darkness, softly.
“Yeah.” William managed to choke out, wishing he could go back to sleep.
“You should try to stay awake.” Jake told him. “If you have a concussion, it would be bad for you to sleep, right now, and you probably have a concussion after how hard Azazel hit you.”
“Azazel…” William remembered the hilt of the sword being raised over his head, then he was a blank. “He knocked me out.”
“He’s gone full dark side, now.” Jake told him, unhappily.
“Where are we?” William did his best to focus on the surroundings, but everything was a little blurry.
“Turns out there’s a prison cell in one of the palace towers.” Jake did his best to make his tone sound light.
William focused on the window and realized it had bars on it. He shifted his position and heard chains moving as he realized there was something heavy attached to his ankle. He reached down and felt the metal cuff attaching him to the wall. “Great.” He lay down again. “Did Katherine make it out, at least?”
“She did.” Jake was glad to have some good news. “She wasn’t happy about leaving you behind, though.
William swallowed and touched his lips. “I’m glad she’s safe.” He paused as he remembered the other fighters. “What happened to everybody else? Are there other cells?”
“No.” Jake answered. “Once he had taken control of the city, the shadow master’s soldiers came in and made everyone leave. He gave a big speech about sparing their lives and showing them a new world. It was very moving. You should have heard it.”
William couldn’t help smiling at the comment. “I’ll try to contain my disappointment.”
“Of course, the new world he’s supposed to show them will have to be within the walls of the city. He controls the barriers, now, so no one gets in or out without his permission. He even has constant guards where the tunnel was, just in case.”
“This all happened very fast.” William commented. “I couldn’t have been out for more than a few hours, right?”
There was a long silence before Valda broke the news. “You’ve been out for over a day. It’s morning and the battle happened night before last.”
“Morning?” William looked out the window, wondering if she was messing with him, but Valda was never one for jokes. “There is no light, though.”
“We noticed.” Tristan told him, irritably.
“It seems the dark crystal has made the city dark.” Kaelen explained. “Very little light can pierce the dome, now.”
“This just keeps getting better and better.” William sighed. “So why are we locked up here if everyone else gets to go free?”
“We are considered to be friends of the guardian.” Kaelen replied. “They want to know where she is and they expect us to tell them.”
“Even if we knew anything, there’s no way any of us would tell.” Jake commented.
“Remember that.” Tristan told him. “No matter what happens, no one must tell them anything.”
“What do you expect to happen?” William asked, his head spinning. He really wanted to go to sleep, but was making a great effort to stay awake.
“I should think that was obvious.” Tristan commented. “We’re going to be tortured.”

Nicholas handed Katherine a cup of water. “Drink. You’ll feel better.”
“I’m fine.” Her voice was soft as she spoke. Her skin was pale and there were bags under her eyes, making it clear she was anything but fine.
“You haven’t had anything to eat or drink since we left the palace.” He told her. “Drink the water or I’ll pin you down and force it down your throat.”
“I don’t recall you being so violent.” She commented as she accepted the water and took a sip.
He sighed and sat beside her. “I’m just stressed.” He looked around at the people they were leading. There was well over a thousand of them, most women and children or the elderly. A few elves and wizards had made it out, allowing for protection spells, but there were too many to protect them for long out in the open and Katherine had no idea where they were going to go. Fortunately, most of them had managed to pack at least a small bag, so they’d had some food, but that wouldn’t last long.
“What are we going to do?” She asked of no one in particular. She looked over at Jeremiah, who had barely spoken since the attack. He seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders and couldn’t think any better than Katherine.
“For now, you are going to eat.” He held a piece of bread out to her. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Katherine didn’t really feel like eating, but she wanted him to stop worrying, so she accepted the food and nibbled at it. “Thank you.”
“Mind if I join you?” Meredith asked. She’d spent most of her time helping with the children and hadn’t had a chance to talk to Katherine.
“Feel free.” The guardian replied. She half-expected the girl to be angry with her for abandoning Jake and William. For his part, Henry hadn’t spoken to either guardian since they’d started walking.
Meredith took a seat and looked at the bread. “It’s good to see you eating.”
Katherine forced a smile. “Have to keep my strength up, right? We could be attacked at any moment. The main thing that’s kept us safe so far is that he doesn’t know which way we went and the protection spells hide us. That combine with his depleted strength from the ritual and the attack has bought us some time, but not much.” She was rambling, listing everything that came into her head. She didn’t know of anything really useful to say, after all.
“Right.” Meredith gave her a sympathetic look, wishing she could take her mind off of the situation. “So does he really call himself Hod?”
Katherine gave her a blank look and shrugged. “He took up the name after he started commanding shadows. Don’t use it too often or you might be heard by the wrong people.”
Meredith nodded her understanding. “But, I mean…he named himself after the god of all things dark and cold? That seems a tad dramatic, don’t you think?”
Katherine shook her head. “Have you seen what he can do?”
“Fair enough.” Meredith conceded. “To be honest, I’m surprised to hear the name in Mirra. I thought Norse myths were a Dunyan thing.”
“Norse myths?” Katherine stared at her. “Your people really have lost touch with reality. The original Hod was just from a different realm. He and his people used to travel through the worlds, frequently, but they don’t do that so much, anymore. They’re too busy drinking and fighting with each other.”
Meredith’s eyes grew wide as she heard that and she shook her head. “Why be surprised?” She managed a smile, hoping to comfort the guardian. “So how are you holding up?”
“Well, I am responsible for the loss of our greatest city and I have no idea where we’re going next. I have to figure out a way to keep over a thousand people from being killed and we’ll not be likely to scavenge enough food for everyone.” She let out a breath, trying to calm down. “Sorry. You don’t need to hear all that.”
“It’s fine.” Meredith cleared her throat. “What about that dwarven kingdom the crazy girls mentioned? Couldn’t we go there?”
Katherine shook her head. “We’d be found and attacked quickly there. We’d only be putting the dwarves in danger. They suggested that with the assumption that we would have a crystal to activate, but we don’t have time to get a new one.”
Meredith paused, clearly hesitant to tell her something, but she knew she had to do it. “Don’t hate me.”
The guardian cocked her head in confusion. “Why would I hate you?” She had been so worried that Meredith might be angry with her that Katherine couldn’t imagine it going the other way.
Meredith had managed to grab her bag from the palace before she left and she opened it, now. “You only wanted to get one crystal, but I kept worrying about it breaking or something.” She spoke quickly, not wanting to lose her nerve. “I always try to be cautious, so I waited until you were asleep and…” She pulled a crystal out of her bag. She was fairly certain she had committed a horrible crime, but she carried the slight hope that she had done the right thing. After all, they needed a crystal and she had one.
Katherine shoved it back down and looked around, making sure no one had noticed. “You got a back-up?”
“You’re not mad, are you?” Meredith asked. “I don’t even know if it will work since the other one is already activated and you said there can only be one at a time.”
“Only one can contain light magic.” Katherine corrected. “The one at the palace does not.” She looked at the bag and took a breath, feeling like some of the weight had been lifted. “This will work. We can go to the silver mountain and activate it. We’ll be able to keep everyone safe there until we can formulate a strategy to take back the city.” She kissed Meredith’s head. “You are incredible.”
Nicholas had remained silent through the conversation, but he smiled as he saw Katherine acting more like herself. “We might actually be okay.”
The guardian nodded. “We’ve taken a blow. We lost the battle.” She looked at the bag where the precious crystal rested. “But we’re not going to lose the war.”

Bread and water was brought to the imprisoned group and William scarfed it down, starting to feel better. His head still hurt, but he was able to focus better and he remembered that he hadn’t eaten in over a day. They were brought more of the same a few hours later and he felt almost fully recovered after that.
“It’s too bad they didn’t give us any spoons.” William commented to Jake, trying to keep the mood as light as possible, under the circumstances. He had decided not to show fear, no matter what happened, if only of the sake of his friend.
Jake smiled, even though it couldn’t be seen in the dark. “Hopefully, we won’t be here long enough to pull of such an escape.”
“What are you two talking about?” Valda asked.
William was about to attempt an explanation when they heard someone come in. Since they’d been fed less than an hour before, they didn’t really know who it could be. There were two guards, carrying torches. After hours in the dark, it took a minute for their eyes to adjust. When they did, William couldn’t help but stare. Before him was an incredibly beautiful redhead in a tight, black dress.
She smiled as she looked at the group. “My, what pretty toys Lord Hod has brought me.” One of the guards unlocked the gate, allowing her to enter the cage so she could get a better look. Her eyes were dark and piercing as they looked from one person to the next.
“And who might you be?” Jake asked, disliking the way she looked at them. It was almost as if she were shopping for something. The fact that she had referred to them as toys didn’t help his impression. Even so, he was determined not to show fear.
She fixed her gaze on him and he had to resist the urge to shudder. “I am called Hel.”
“Hel? Goddess of the dishonorable dead?” William wanted to draw her attention away from Jake, so he spoke up. Hearing Hod and Hel together, he remembered a book of Norse myths they’d had at their apartment. “God of all things dark and cold teaming up with a death goddess…that’s certainly interesting. Although, I think Hod was nicer in the stories.” When she looked at him, he almost lost his nerve, but he swallowed and kept going. “If you’re going to be Hel, can I be Odin?”
“Then I want to be Loki.” Jake commented, trying to keep her attention on him. Whatever was happening, he didn’t want William getting hurt again. “And those two blondies over there can be Freya and Frey, the god and goddess of fertility, right?” He remembered the book, as well. He always liked mythology.
“Goddess of what?” Valda demanded. She wasn’t as offended as her tone would have suggested. She figured they were just trying to avoid acting scared. She spoke up partially to try and divert the woman’s attention to her. She had heard of Hel and didn’t want the woman focusing on the boys.
“And the dark fellow is Bragi, the god of poetry, I think.” William added.
“I’m not sure that suits me.” Kaelen had picked up on the game. If the Dunyan boys were going to make jokes, then he would go along with it.
“What a lively bunch!” Hel announced, cheerfully. “We are sure to have fun.” She looked around the room. “Let’s see, which shall I play with, first?” She wasn’t really talking to them and no one answered as she considered the members of the group. “I’ve never had a chance to play with a Dunyan before.” She looked to one of the guards. “Bring the torches closer, so I can get a good look.” As he obeyed, she knelt in front of Jake and placed a hand on his cheek. “You’re quite a pretty doll, aren’t you?”
Sensing it would be a mistake to anger her, he held still.
“Get your hands off him.” William demanded. Jake was chained several feet away and William’s own chain kept him from reaching them, much to his frustration.
Hel giggled. “You’ve got some fire in you!” She stepped away from Jake and knelt in front of William, placing a hand on his cheek as he glared at her, defiantly. “You are a lovely little thing, as well. I’ll bet you’re sturdier than the other one, too.” She ran a hand down his arm. “You’re strong, aren’t you? I always like the strong ones. They’re much more interesting to break.” She reached down and started pulling up his tunic, but William put a hand on her wrist to stop her. She cocked her head and looked at him. “Guard, put a knife to that one’s throat.” She pointed at Jake, but kept her gaze fixed on William.
William looked to his friend and stiffened when he saw the blade. “Leave him alone.”
Hel grabbed his chin and roughly turned his face back to her. “You’d better behave, pretty doll, or that doll isn’t going to be pretty much longer.” William swallowed and released his hold on her wrist. She smiled, again, as she lifted his tunic just enough to see his lower torso. “Oh dear.” She commented as she looked at his scars. “Someone’s already played with this one.” She ran her fingers over one of them and he resisted the urge to push her away. The others looked away from him, knowing he didn’t want them to see. Hel seemed to consider the scars a moment longer before making a decision. She released the tunic and smiled at him. “I think you’ll be perfect.” She stood and turned to the guards. “I’ll have that one, first.” She pointed to William.
“Leave him be.” Tristan spoke up, surprising everyone. “He won’t be that much fun for you. He’s just a human child.”
She looked at the elf and smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll get your turn eventually.” She nodded to the guards and one tied a cord of rope around his wrists, effectively binding them. He left enough rope to allow him to pull William along. The other guard unlocked his chain. He was forced to stand up as the first guard pulled on the rope and led him out of the dungeon. The other guard locked the gate behind them and they disappeared with William in tow.
Jake swallowed, trying not to panic. He didn’t like that woman. He didn’t like the way she looked at them or the way she spoke and he definitely didn’t like the fact that she took William away from them. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness again, he looked towards the elves. “Where is she taking him?”
They were silent for a few minutes, none wanting to explain. They had all heard of the woman. They knew her reputation, which was why Tristan had not wanted her to take William. Whether or not he liked the boy, he wouldn’t want him subjected to her games.
“Where did they take him?” Jake demanded more forcefully, distressed by the silence.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Tristan asked, at last. “Hell.”

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