Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


32. 32

~~“You need to take care of the ritual.” Jeremiah told his daughter. She didn’t want to go anywhere until she saw William, but he wasn’t sure he wanted her to be there when the boy showed up, especially if he was injured, as the girls had said. Jeremiah couldn’t predict how Katherine would react and he knew they needed to get the ritual done quickly, before they were attacked. They only needed one guardian, so he decided to stay behind and open the portal.
Katherine had been trying to argue, but it was no good because she knew she was wrong. She nodded, unhappily. “I will be back as soon as we are done. Make sure they are all taken care of when they get here.”
“I will.” He promised, looking over to the elves and dwarves waiting nearby. “You should go, now.”
Katherine continued to frown as she obediently walked out with the group to complete the ritual and protect the city.
“You are worried about her.” Echo noted.
“We can tell.” Mirage ensured he could not argue.
They had shown up out of nowhere, but he did his best not to act surprised. They had come by less than an hour before to let him know that Azazel had put on his band. Jeremiah nodded in response to their statements. “That’s only natural. She has been through a trying time, after all.”
“And she has more trials to come.” Mirage predicted.
“And difficult decisions to make.” Echo added.
Jeremiah looked at the pair and frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
They ignored the question as Echo spoke. “You should open the portal, soon.”
Mirage nodded her agreement. “You don’t want to keep them waiting.”
Before he could say anything, they ran out the door, closing it behind themselves. When Jeremiah opened it, they were nowhere to be seen. He sighed and closed the door again before laying on the floor. He knew he would need every ounce of energy he could muster to create an accurate portal for the group.

Jake blinked his eyes open, having fallen asleep by accident. He sat up, quickly, feeling guilty for falling asleep during his watch. It took him a moment to realize why he had woken up. He was no longer in a field or outside, at all. He was in a bedroom with a bed too small for any human to sleep in. The rest of his group was stirring beside him, except for Azazel, who hadn’t gone to sleep at all, and William, who was lying still, completely unaware of the sudden change.
“Welcome to Silver Mountain City.” Jeremiah told them from where he was sitting up. He took a breath to steady himself, having spent a lot of energy bringing them to him. His gaze fell to Azazel’s wrist as he confirmed, with his own eyes, that the band was there. He stood and looked over the rest of the group, frowning as his gaze fell on William. “How long has he been unconscious?” He knelt beside the boy and rolled him on his back and pressed his fingers to his neck. He found a faint pulse, not giving him much comfort.
“Since we stopped last night.” Valda replied. “He went to sleep almost immediately.”
Jeremiah nodded and walked over to the door. Two men stood outside, waiting for him, as he had requested beforehand. “Our guests have arrived. Please, take the injured one to the sanatorium quickly and have his wounds treated.”
They nodded and, between the two of them, gently lifted William and carried him out. Jake hopped up. “I’ll come with you. I have training as a healer.”
“He is in good hands.” Jeremiah promised.
“I’m not leaving him like this.” Jake replied as he rushed to catch up with the men.
The guardian watched him go and turned to the others. “You’ll all need rest. There are people outside the house, waiting to show you to rooms.” He looked at Azazel. “I will escort you to yours.”
The prince avoided looking at him, not surprised by the statement. He’d known he wouldn’t be treated as well as the others, but he was still safer than he would have been if he hadn’t come. He stood as the others walked out.
Jeremiah took a step closer to the boy, trying to decide what to make of him. He had known the prince since he was born. He had watched him grow and had been shocked by his betrayal. However, he had forced himself to accept it. Now, he was expected to believe that Azazel was seeking redemption. It was difficult to guess where the boy’s head was, but Jeremiah wanted to try. “Are you frightened?”
“Why would I be frightened?” Azazel asked, calmly.
“You are held responsible for the recent loss of Mirra’s capitol and have come to a place full of the exiled citizens from that city.” Jeremiah pointed out.
“I realize that.” Azazel told him. “However, my options were to come here or risk being captured by the shadow warriors and tortured by the dark lord’s favorite girl. By comparison, this seemed less frightening.”
“You realize we have no choice but to lock you up.” Jeremiah watched his face for any sign of deception, but, as ever, Azazel’s expression was unreadable.
“I suspected as much.” He admitted.
Jeremiah watched him for a moment longer before turning away. “Follow me.”

Jake frowned as the dwarven healer removed William’s shoes and reached for his shirt. Jake looked away, reflexively. He knew William would be unhappy about letting more people see his scars, but there was no way around it. When Jake looked back, he felt sick at the sight of the burns, which seemed to have gotten worse. Some of the healers set about cleaning the wounds and applying a salve. Despite his comment about his training, Jake felt rather useless there. He wasn’t needed with so many healers around.
One of the healers looked at him and offered a kind smile. “Your friend is going to be okay. You should rest and we will send someone to let you know when he wakes up.”
Jake’s first instinct was to refuse, but he glanced at William’s sleeping form and knew he would have to be patient. The important thing was that his friend was safe. He nodded and walked out, not really sure where he was going.
“Jake!” Someone came running at him from behind. As Jake turned to look, Henry pulled him into a tight hug. “You’re safe.”
Until that moment, Jake hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed his twin. It was like a pain you don’t even notice until it is gone. He hugged his brother and breathed a sigh of relief. “So are you.”
Henry pulled back and looked at him, wrinkling his nose. “You stink.”
“Pretty sure you’re smelling yourself.” Jake replied with a smile. However, he knew his brother was probably right. It had been days since he’d bathed or changed clothes.
“I’ll show you to the bathhouse.” Henry offered. “You can borrow some of my clothes once you’re clean. I didn’t bring many, but there are a bunch of seamstresses who have been altering some clothes the dwarves donated. They’ve been super nice.”
The pair walked as Henry went on about how everything had been set up quickly in the city. It was hard to believe how much they’d managed in just a day with everyone working together. Jake was happy to let his brother talk as there was nothing he wanted to say about what he’d been doing while they were separated. He stayed close to his brother, hoping they would never be so far apart again.

As she finished the ritual, Katherine smiled tiredly at the glowing crystal, glad to know that her people could rest easy, knowing they were safe for now. Even though activating it had left her drained, Katherine moved as fast as she could out of the room. Some elves and wizards sealed the room and she headed to the sanitarium, knowing William would be there. More than anything, she wanted to see him. She needed to know that he was alive and had returned to her. She wanted to see him smile again.
“My lady.” One of the healers offered her a smile as she entered. “I take it the ritual was a success.”
Katherine nodded and looked towards the figure laid out on the floor. “Is that him?” She scarcely dared to speak his name for fear he might disappear.
The healer nodded. She was a kind old dwarf and looked with sympathy upon William. “He has suffered a lot, but he will be okay, now.”
The guardian moved slowly towards him. Seeing his wounds, she could have cried for him, but she knew that wouldn’t be right. She was a guardian of Mirra and couldn’t be seen to break down so easily. She knelt beside her friend and looked to the healers. “Would it be alright if I sat with him for a while?”
“That would be fine.” One of them assured her. “I’m sure he will be happy to see a familiar face when he wakes up.”
Katherine nodded, trying not to think about the last time they’d spoken. It seemed so long ago. She looked down at William, not saying anything for fear of waking him up. In silence, she watched over him as he slept.

Jake breathed a sigh of relief as he put on the clean clothes his brother had given him. He’d had a bath and felt better than he had in days.
“You smell better, at least.” Henry commented as he looked his brother over. He was truly relieved to have him back, but he knew Jake wouldn’t want him to make a fuss, so he did his best to act normally. He knew better than to ask what had happened during their time apart, no matter how much he wanted to know. He didn’t want his brother to relive unpleasant experiences.
“You don’t.” Jake replied with a smile. He sat in the room he was to share with Henry and Nicholas. He hadn’t been thrilled about being roommates with the king, but he didn’t want to complain since they were, once again, being provided for without being able to do much in return. As he thought about their roommate, he remembered that he had left Azazel behind in his rush to stay near William. After that, his brother had shown up and he had barely thought of the prince. He felt a little guilty, knowing Azazel probably hadn’t received such kind accommodations. He looked at his brother. “Do you know where Azazel is, now?”
“Who cares about that traitor?” He was the easiest person for Henry to lay blame on and the younger boy did so with ease.
Jake sighed, knowing he would never be able to explain his thoughts about the prince to his twin. “I’d like to talk to him. He did help us escape, after all.”
“He probably has another agenda.” Henry commented, unhappily. “We should avoid him.”
Jake shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll be able to relax until I see him.”
Henry frowned at his brother, but he could tell that there was little point in arguing about it. “There’s a place where they keep prisoners. It was empty and they’re probably planning to lock him up there.”
“Can you take me to it?” Jake asked, hopefully.
Henry sighed, but nodded. “I can’t promise they’ll let you in.”
“I’d still like to try.” Jake stood, waiting for his twin to do the same.
Henry looked at him, trying to think of a reason that might delay them going. However, Jake’s expression told him that wasn’t happening, so he stood and led the way to a small building. It had no windows and there was a dwarven guard outside the thick door.
“Is Azazel in there?” Jake asked the guard.
The dwarf gave him a critical look. “The prince has been locked away inside as per the guardian’s instructions.”
“May I see him?” Jake wondered if he could take the minute guard, but decided that wasn’t likely.
“No one goes in or out.” The guard replied.
“Let him in.” A familiar voice said from behind the twins. They turned to face Jeremiah who was looking at the guard. “If he wishes to see the prisoner, that is fine. The building is secure enough to allow it.”
The dwarf looked like he wanted to argue, but he kept quiet as he unlocked the door with a key he wore on a chain around his neck.
Jake looked at his brother. “Wait out here for me?”
“You’re going in alone?” Henry didn’t want to let his brother out of his sight.
Jake nodded. “I just want to talk to him. I’ll be fine.”
Henry frowned. He figured it was probably a bad idea, but he didn’t want to get into an argument so soon after they had been reunited. “Be careful.”
“I will.” Jake promised with a smile. He entered the building and the door closed behind him. He was a little surprised as he looked around. A light fixture on the wall illuminated the room. There were bars separating him from Azazel, but the cage had bedding laid down and was not quite as bad as he had feared. Even so, he didn’t like seeing the prince locked up.
“Why are you here?” Azazel asked.
“I wanted to check on you. Sorry I ran off earlier.” He stepped closer and frowned as he noticed a cut on Azazel’s forehead. “You’re hurt.”
“I’m fine.” The prince replied, not looking at him. “You didn’t need to come here.”
“I wanted to.” Jake insisted, looking at the wound. In the light, he could see a bruise forming around it. “What happened?”
“It’s not important.” Azazel’s voice was cool and unreadable.
“Did somebody hurt you?” Jake demanded.
Azazel was silent for a few minutes. “They were angry at me. The guardian tried to get me here without incident, but some of the people from the city threw rocks at me. I’m lucky only one of them hit my head. It’s not a serious wound, so don’t worry.”
Jake wanted to scream at the people who had done such a thing. He knew Azazel couldn’t have fought back very well without his powers and it seemed wrong to attack someone like that. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“I will heal.” Azazel assured him, coolly.
“That’s not what I asked.” Jake sighed. “You didn’t really deserve that.”
“We both know that’s not true.” Azazel replied. “I deserve much worse than that.”
Jake paused, figuring Azazel wouldn’t be likely to believe him if he disagreed. “You’re safe, now, at least.”
“Safe and sound.” The prince agreed.
The door opened and the guard looked in. “Are you okay in there?”
“Yes.” Jake assured him. “He has not busted out of his cage and killed me, so stop worrying.”
“You should go.” Azazel told Jake. “I would like to rest.”
Jake frowned at him, but nodded. “I’ll come see you again later.”
“You don’t need to do that.” Azazel argued.
Jake smiled. “I know.” He walked out and the guard closed the door behind him.
Azazel stared at the closed door and shook his head before lying down. He really didn’t understand that boy at all.

Jeremiah frowned as he sat across from Tristan with his hand on the elf’s chest. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for it. This isn’t the kind of magic I can undo.” He had gone to see him after leaving the prison because Tristan had asked if he could fix what Hod had done to him.
Tristan did his best to maintain a stoic expression. “So I just have to fight it myself?”
“As long as you can.” Jeremiah looked at him, wondering how long that would be. “It might be best if you talk about anything that is bothering you. If some of the darkness is relieved, you may be able to control it longer.”
The elf considered the option, but shook his head. “I will be fine. I won’t be defeated by the darkness.” He stood and walked to the door. “Thank you for trying.” He walked out without giving Jeremiah a chance to argue.
The guardian continued to frown as he watched him go, wondering how long Tristan could really fight his own demons without help.

William awoke several hours later and stared at the ceiling, not sure where he was or how he had gotten there. He became aware of someone lying beside him and turned his head to find Josie sound asleep.
“She found out you were here and rushed over.” Meredith’s voice told him. “We couldn’t get her to leave and I didn’t have the heart to move her when she fell asleep.”
William turned his head towards the voice. “Am I dreaming?”
“Not at all.” She replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It’s sort of a long story, but you’re in a kind of dwarven hospital.”
“The important thing is that you are safe, now.”
William’s heart skipped a beat as he heard the voice and he turned to look at Katherine. “Hi.”
“Hello.” She offered him a smile. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m better, now.” He managed a weak smile in return, thinking she had never looked more beautiful. “Sorry to worry you.”
“You shouldn’t talk too much.” A three-foot-tall woman told him. “You need to rest after your ordeal.”
He breathed a sigh, never taking his eyes off the guardian. Despite the pain from his wounds, William felt better than he had since they’d been separated.
“I should probably go.” She commented, standing up.
“Stay.” He swallowed as he heard how weak his voice sounded. “Please.”
She hesitated, her thoughts impossible to read. “For a little while.” She sat back down beside him. “I can stay by your side for a little while longer, at least.”
William smiled at her. “That’s all I ask.”

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