Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


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~~Katherine’s group had to scavenge for lunch, that afternoon. They were in a field with lots of berry bushes. It wasn’t the most filling meal, but it kept them going well enough. It always took a while to get the group moving again after the stopped, much to Katherine’s frustration, but she knew it couldn’t be helped. She thought about the group she had travelled with before. She found that she missed watching Valda and William train in the mornings. She missed Tristan and William’s petty arguments. She even missed hearing the twins make illogical insults about each other.
At the last thought, she looked around for Henry. She spotted him, sitting with Gabriella. The princess always stayed near her brother and Nicholas was never too far from Katherine, so they were easy enough to spot. Katherine wondered how he was doing, knowing it must be at least as hard for him as it was for her, knowing the people they’d left behind.
After a few minutes, she worked up the nerve to go over and talk to him. As she approached the group, she offered them a warm smile. “Alright if I sit with you?”
Henry didn’t look at her, but Gabriella nodded. “Of course.”
Katherine sat beside them and frowned as she looked at Henry. “I was wondering how you were doing.”
“I’m fine.” His reply was quick and he still refused to look at the guardian. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Of course, I’m going to worry about you.” She informed him. “Your brother was captured along with several of our friends. I think that’s plenty of reason to worry.”
“Worry about my brother, then.” He told her. “He’s the one in danger.”
“I can worry about both of you.” She gave him a considering look. “You have every right to be angry with me. I am angry with myself, but I can’t allow that to stop me from moving forward. We won’t save the people we care about with anger, after all.”
Henry frowned at the statement, knowing she was right, but unable to let go of his anger. It was the only thing that stopped him from completely breaking down. “Just promise that we’re going to save him.”
“I promise to do everything in my power to save him and the others.” She replied, but Henry shook his head.
“Don’t say it like that.” He looked at her and she could see how much he was hurting. “Don’t say you’ll do everything in your power. Promise we will save him. Promise that he will be okay. Lie, if you have to, but promise me. Otherwise, I will become paralyzed with fear for my twin.”
Katherine stared at him for a moment. She gently took his hands in hers, looking him in the eye as she did. “I promise that your brother will come to no harm.” She didn’t know if she could keep that promise. She knew there was a good chance that it was a lie, but he needed it. He needed to believe that it was true and she was willing to risk a broken promise to help him right then.
Henry took a breath and laid his head on her shoulder like a child wanting to be held by his mother. “Thank you.”
Katherine wrapped her arms around the boy, wishing she could do more for him. “You know I will always do anything I must to protect my dear friends.”

Jake was led down the hall with his heart pounding. To his surprise and confusion, they stopped in front of Azazel’s room. The runes around the doorway were cracked and Jake could easily guess what that meant. The guard knocked on the door and Azazel’s voice soon called out, “Come in.”
When they entered the room, the prince was looking out his window onto the darkened streets. A glow came through the window from various lights the townspeople had set up. As Jake had expected, the room itself no longer glowed. Azazel looked over at them with his black eyes and frowned. “Why is he tied up? I didn’t tell you to tie him up.”
“He’s a prisoner.” The guard tied to explain. “He might have made a run for it.”
“Untie him, you imbecile.” Azazel commanded. “He’s not going anywhere.”
The guard frowned, but obeyed, quickly unbinding Jake’s hands, much to the boy’s relief. Jake gratefully rubbed his wrists as the guard turned back to the prince.
“You may go, now.” Azazel told the guard in an irritated tone.
“I shouldn’t leave you alone with the prisoner.” The guard argued.
“Do you think I am unable to defend myself against such a boy?” A dark shadow stretched out towards the guard who backed away, quickly.
“I didn’t mean it that way.” The guard looked between the pair.
“Are you accusing me of treason, then?” Azazel asked, his tone threatening.
“Of course, not.” The guard replied, quickly.
“Then leave us.” Azazel indicated the door. With no better options, the guard left. The prince shut the door behind him and shook his head. “There’s a reason he’ll never be a shadow worker.”
Jake stared at him, blankly, having no idea what was going on. “Did you need me for something?”
Azazel looked at the boy, seeming to have almost forgotten about him. “Not really, I suppose. I’m just rather bored. I haven’t been given any tasks since we took over the city and Angelus is too busy for me, again. I figured you might be somewhat interesting to have around.” He sat on the bed and shrugged. “I also figured you might like to be out of that cell for a while. I imagine it’s rather unpleasant.”
Jake stared at the prince, scarcely believing what he saw or heard. The person in front of him was not the man he had travelled with. He was too relaxed and open. He almost seemed childish. “How would I be of interest to you?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Azazel thought for a moment. “Sing something for me.”
Jake raised his eyebrows, not sure how to react to that. “Why? I thought you hated my singing.”
Azazel waved the argument away. “I was just being stuffy. I think it would be fun to hear you sing, now.”
Jake considered his options. “I don’t really want to sing for you.” Jake didn’t want to anger the prince, especially since he was currently unpredictable, but he figured there wasn’t a whole lot Azazel could do to him that wasn’t already going to happen.
Azazel fixed his gaze on the boy, clearly surprised. “What was that?”
“I don’t feel like singing for you, so you may as well send me back to the cage.” Jake answered, doing his best to sound calm.
“You really think it’s a good idea to refuse me?” Azazel demanded. “I could send you to Hel or I could torture you myself.”
“You said that you disliked torture.” Jake reminded him, hoping it was still true.
“Ah, you remember that.” Azazel didn’t seem terribly concerned about having his bluff called. “Well, then, tell me why you don’t want to sing for me, at least. You had no trouble singing for hours when we were in that pit together.”
“But you’re not the same person I sang for, then.” Jake commented. “You’re different. Your whole demeanor has changed. I don’t like the person you currently are, so I won’t sing for you.”
Azazel seemed to consider him for a moment. “I suppose it’s not difficult to tell that I’ve changed, but how could you like the other me better? He’s boring.”
“I like the “other you”, as you say, because he’s real.” Jake replied. “He’s quiet and doesn’t like to show his emotions, but I feel like that’s just who he is. It makes him interesting. You’re just acting like a child who has to have his way. If you ask me, you’re much more boring, now, than when we were in the pit together and you barely spoke a word to me. I like that side of you much better.”
Azazel stared at him for a minute, seeming to be rather surprised by the response. He blinked several times and his black eyes change back to their normal blue. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft. “You’re rather blunt.” His whole demeanor seemed to change. He was less relaxed and his posture became more rigid. His face returned to the cool mask Jake had grown accustom to during their travels.
“And Hyde turns back into Jekyll.” Jake mumbled.
“What was that?” Azazel asked.
“Nothing.” Jake smiled. “It’s just nice to have you back to your old self.”
“You realize I’m still going to send you back to your cage, right?” The prince asked. “Nothing has changed.”
Jake shrugged. “I didn’t expect it to. I just found the other you kind of annoying. What’s up with that, anyway?”
“Curse of the shadow workers.” Azazel replied, looking away. “Why are you here?”
“You sent for me.” He wondered if the prince had forgotten. He didn’t really understand the alter ego situation. “I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Azazel stood and walked over to the window. “Why are you still in the city? I expected you to leave with the others.”
“I couldn’t leave Will behind.” Jake answered, honestly.
Azazel stood in a thoughtful silence as he considered the answer. “Your friend is very important to you, isn’t he?”
“He’s basically family.” Jake told him. “You don’t abandon family.” He paused as he thought about the statement. “Well, I don’t.”
Azazel looked like he was about to respond when the door opened and Angelus walked in. He raised his eyebrows when he saw Jake. “What are you doing in here?”
“I got bored and was planning to have him sing for me.” Azazel answered on his behalf. “However, I’ve lost interest in that, now.” He looked over to the half-elf.
Angelus smiled as he saw him. “You’ve gone back to normal. That’s good.” He walked past Jake and over to the prince. “I’m sorry I let you get bored. I promise to make it up to you.” He glanced back at Jake. “Does he have a good singing voice?” It was impossible to tell what he was thinking and Jake wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.
“Not as good as yours.” The prince assured him. “You just weren’t around, so I tried to find a substitute.”
“I think I’m offended.” Angelus commented as he looked back at Azazel.
Azazel looked down. “Well, to be honest, I think I partially just wanted to make you jealous. Sorry about that.”
“Jealous?” The half-elf smiled. “Well, it worked a little. Don’t apologize, though. You weren’t yourself.” He touched Azazel’s cheek, gently.
Jake wondered if he could run off while they were talking, but he knew that wasn’t likely to end very well for him. Even if he got away, he didn’t have anywhere to go and would likely soon be caught. He cleared his throat, uncomfortably. “Any chance I could go back to my cell, now?” He was beginning to understand the relationship between the pair and he wasn’t interested in watching them flirt.
“Of course.” Angelus stepped outside and brought a guard in to lead him back.
Jake was relieved that his hands weren’t tied up, this time. He was just forced to walk in front of the guard. When he got to the prison, William was sitting up. Jake smiled as he saw him. “Will, you’re alive.” Will looked at his friend with wide eyes, clearly surprised. The guard put Jake back in the cage and locked his chain on, again.
As the guard locked the door and left, William looked Jake over. “You’re not hurt.” His voice was a little hoarse, but Jake was relieved to note that his lunch had been eaten.
Jake shook his head, not really sure how to explain what had happened. “I’m fine. It was nothing.” He frowned as he looked at his friend. “Obviously, it was different for you.”
William looked down at the caked blood on his wrists and cleared his throat. “I’m alright. She barely even touched me.”
“You don’t have to act tough for us.” Jake told him.
“I’ll act however I want to act.” William told him. “I’m Odin, the king of gods.”
“Right.” Jake realized William wasn’t going to admit how much pain he was in, so he may as well follow his lead.
“So what happened?” William asked. “Why did they take you away?”
“Because Azazel’s insane.” Jake told him. “Nothing happened. Can we leave it out that?”
William shrugged, figuring it wasn’t important, as long as Jake was fine. “I’m really glad you weren’t hurt.”
Jake put on a strained smile, wishing he could say the same thing about William.

Katherine was relieved by the amount of progress they’d made that day. They were moving faster than she’d expected and she figured they would make it to the mountain by the following afternoon. Once there, they would just have to reach the tunnels that led down to the dwarven kingdom. She had been there before and knew the current king, so she felt confident they would be welcome there. After that, they could activated their crystal and work on a battle strategy. She had been trying to come up with something, but hadn’t had much luck. She figured it would be easier when her attention was not so divided.
“You look like you’re feeling better.” Jeremiah commented, sitting beside her.
She nodded, popping a berry into her mouth. “I’m doing my best to remain optimistic. We’re almost to our destination and I look forward to making a plan to take back the city.”
He gave her a thoughtful look. “You are really focused on getting back to the Domed City, aren’t you?”
“Of course.” She replied. “It is the capitol of Mirra and we need to save it, along with the people trapped under the shadow master’s rule.”
Jeremiah paused, hesitant to speak his mind. “People or person?”
She looked up at him. “What do you mean by that?”
Her father sighed. “I saw how you reacted when you had to leave William behind. I’ve never seen you like that before and it makes me wonder what your feelings are towards the boy.”
Katherine looked down at her lap. “He has been a good friend to me. I was distressed to leave him behind. That’s only natural.”
“Many others were left behind.” He pointed out. “But the one person you cried out for was William. What do you expect people to think about that?”
She paused as she considered it. “Nothing can happen between us. We both know that. A moment of weakness doesn’t change anything.”
“Which moment would that be?” Jeremiah asked, sensing that she was keeping something from him.
“It doesn’t matter.” She looked back to her father. “I am engaged to Nicholas. He is to be the next guardian and we will be stronger together. I cannot allow a Dunyan boy to turn my head and make me forget that. As the guardian of Mirra, I will do my duties.”
“I’m sure Nicholas would be touched to hear you speak of your impending marriage like that.” Jeremiah commented.
“Ours was never meant to be a romantic union.” She pointed out. “We are getting married to strengthen our bond. I will be a faithful wife and love him, even if it is not the way you loved mother. There is no need for you to worry about me.”
“You’re wrong.” He told her. “There is every need to worry about you and worry, I shall until the day I die.” He offered her a smile. “That’s a father’s job, after all.”
She returned the smile as well as she could. “I’m getting tired. I think it’s time for me to sleep.”
“I won’t keep you up, then.” He kissed her forehead. “Sleep well, Katherine. Tomorrow will be a better day.” He walked away to allow her to rest.
Katherine lay down and stared up at the stars. Her mind was racing and she didn’t know if she would actually be able to sleep, but she closed her eyes and did her best.

A little while after dinner, the group saw torchlight coming towards their prison and it wasn’t difficult to guess what that meant. Hel smiled at William as she reached the cage with her guards in tow. “I hope you got some rest because we have a long night ahead of us.” One of the guards opened the gate and William swallowed, resisting the urge to back away because he knew it wouldn’t do any good and he didn’t want to show fear, no matter how much he felt it.
“Haven’t you hurt him enough?” Jake demanded. “Take someone else.”
“Not yet.” She answered, watching the guards bind William’s hands and unlock his ankle. “I do not switch toys until I break the one I am playing with and I suspect we have a long way to go before I do that.”
The guard used the rope to yank William to his feet, but the weight on his burns caused him to grunt and fall to his knees. The fact that the rope was cutting into his hurt wrists didn’t help any.
“You can walk or be dragged by the rope.” Hel told him. “I’m guessing the latter would not be fun on the steps.”
William took a breath to steel himself as he stood up. He winced, but managed to remain standing, trying not to focus on the pain.
“There’s a good boy.” She smiled. “Let’s go have some fun.” She walked out of the room and the guards followed, slowly, due to William’s injuries.
“If I get a chance, I’m going to kill her.” Jake commented once they were out of earshot.
Valda glared at the spot where they had been. “You’ll have to get in line.”

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