Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


5. 5

~~William gathered the group in his room and explained the situation to them. He wasn’t able to recite the prophecy perfectly, but they got the gist. Everybody was silent for a few minutes after hearing the story.
Jake was the first to speak. “So the king is fighting against his own twin brother.” He was standing as close to Henry as possible, nearly looking like he was trying to meld with him. The twins were connected in a way the others couldn’t really understand. The idea of one turning against the other for any reason was unbearable.
“Unless somebody can find a way to help him.” Henry pointed out, remembering the look on Gabriella’s face when she’d heard them talking.
William paused, not wanting to dash his hopes. He avoided looking at the twins as he spoke. “Did he look like somebody who wanted to be saved?” That statement renewed the silence in the room.
Meredith took a breath, breaking through the uncomfortable quiet. “What was he like?”
William and the twins looked at each other, trying to figure out the best response. The older boy answered. “He was cold and disconnected. It was like the darkness was a part of him and he could control it like you control your hand.” He realized Josie was staring at him and offered her a smile. “Of course, he could never come near us inside the wall. We’re perfectly safe, here.”
The child nodded her understanding. “It’s sad, though. Nicholas and the princess must be very sad for their brother.”
“Yeah.” William agreed. “I’m sure they are.” He may have found it difficult to feel sorry for the king who was intending to marry the guardian and gain immortality, but he had no trouble feeling sympathy for the young princess who lost her brother and wished only for his safe return. “It might be best not to talk about him in front of them.”
The others nodded their agreement. Josie yawned, reminding them of what a long day it had been. Meredith smiled at her. “Should I walk you back to your room?”
Josie shook her head and grabbed William’s hand. “I don’t like sleeping by myself.”
“Alright.” Meredith wondered how long they could maintain their family unit as it was. Josie acted as the little sister, but that only worked for so long. Eventually, she was going to have to stop clinging to William, but no one had any impulse to rush that change. With everything happening around them, they all wanted to remain as they were for as long as they could. “Good night, then.” She headed out, followed by the twins. They went to their rooms, but could hardly sleep for thinking about the dark prince who turned against his family to save himself.

William headed back to the palace after his morning training session, the next day, feeling sore all over. Since he had missed the previous day’s afternoon session, Valda had insisted he needed to make it up. He groan as he rolled his shoulder, trying to loosen it.
“Rough morning?” A voice asked from nearby.
He turned to see Melody and Bard standing by the road. Once again, their fingers ran over each other’s palms in their secret language. William smiled at them and walked over. “Just some early training pains. It’ll wear off in a bit.”
“Training to fight the big battle, then?” Melody tilted her head. “You are rather young for that, aren’t you?”
William shrugged and winced. “I’m seventeen, almost eighteen. In my world, that is considered to be old enough to go to war.”
“Yes, I heard you were from another world.” She paused, as if paying attention to what her brother was saying. “Bard says you look normal enough.”
William couldn’t help smiling at that. “How does your relationship work, if you don’t mind me asking? He tells you what he sees and you tell him what you hear?”
“Basically.” She offered him a smile. “Together, we make up one complete person.”
“I’m sure you’re perfectly complete on your own.” He assured her. “By the way, how are you two? I never really got to ask after everything that happened.”
“We’re fine.” She tilted her head towards her brother. “He agrees.”
“Alright.” He looked between them, thoughtfully. “Do you two live around here?”
“We have a house nearby.” She told him. “We can do some magic, so we sell charms. We can’t do anything fancy, but it pays for what we need.”
“Where are your parents?” He mentally berated himself as soon as he said it, knowing he wouldn’t want people asking him that question. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“It’s fine.” She replied. “Our parents are from a town outside of the city. We didn’t really fit in there, so we left.”
“You must be very resilient.” William commented, once again impressed by the siblings. He was tempted to talk longer, but he remembered that he had a limited amount of time to grab something to eat. “I should be going, now. I hope I’ll see you around.”
“I’m sure you will.” Her brother ran his finger over her palm and she smiled. “Enjoy your lunch break.” She held Bard’s hand as they walked away.
William watched them go and had to shake himself back into his senses before he made his way back into the palace and towards the dining hall, where Katherine was already eating. She smiled as he entered. “Hello, William. I trust you had a good training session this morning.”
He nodded and grabbed a piece of bread. “I’m improving, I think. That’s something.”
She nodded her agreement. “Maybe we should spar sometime. I look forward to seeing for myself how much you’ve progressed.”
“Don’t expect me to be able to come anywhere close to defeating you.” He warned. “I haven’t progressed nearly that much.”
“Every little bit matters.” She assured him.
He offered her a smile, doing his best not to shove food into his mouth too quickly. He swallowed and looked around. “Is no one else coming to lunch?”
Katherine shook her head. “Meredith and Josie went to the orphanage again. Gabriella wasn’t feeling up to lunch here, so she took her food to her room and the twins are trying to convince her to come outside with them. Father is doing some research and Nicholas needed some time to himself.”
William nodded his understanding. “I’m not used to eating without them. It’s odd.”
She watched his expression. “Sorry. I guess I’ve disrupted your family more than I realized.”
“I’m sure things will go back to normal, soon…well, as normal as they can be for us in this world.” He grabbed a piece of fruit. “We just need some time to adjust.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Her expression didn’t agree with her words, but he was too focused on the food to notice.
His thoughts drifted to Melody and her brother. He remembered the way she had smiled as they ran through the fountain. He wondered if he and his makeshift family could be that content in the city. “Do you know a couple of siblings named Melody and Bard?”
“Yes. I saw you with them yesterday, right?” She looked at him, as if trying to read his thoughts. “Why do you ask?”
“They are an interesting pair, aren’t they?” He commented with a smile.
“Indeed, they are.” She looked down at her food, thoughtfully. “Melody is quite beautiful, too.”
“It seems like they must have had a rough time of it.” He barely paid attention to what Katherine had said. It was impossible not to notice how beautiful Melody was, but that wasn’t the most impressive thing about her by far.
“They really have.” She replied. “Because they were both born with disabilities, their family was believed to be cursed. Their parents didn’t want them and they had to leave the village they were born in to escape persecution. They survived on their own for a while before they came to the city.” She frowned. “People can be so small-minded, but we don’t allow such behaviors here, so they are safe, now.”
William nodded, thinking about how sad it would be to be rejected by your own parents. Even if his mother had treated him badly, he always believed that she loved him. “They really are amazing.”
“Perhaps, you could be friends.” Katherine suggested. “They tend to be a rather closed-off pair, but I’m sure they could use a friend. You should invite them to eat with us, sometime. I would like to get to know them, as well.”
“Maybe…” He finished off his lunch and stood. “Well, I had better head back before Valda gets impatient.”
Katherine smiled. “We certainly wouldn’t want that.”
“I’ll see you at dinner.” He promised before heading out.

Henry and Jake ate lunch with Gabriella in a small sitting room on the second floor. They had convinced her to get that far away from her room by refusing to leave. It hadn’t been an effective threat until they’d started singing show tunes. She had nearly smiled when she finally opened the door and agreed to eat with them, instead of in her bedroom.
“Beautiful girl like you shouldn’t lock herself away from the world.” Jake commented as they ate. “It’s practically a crime.”
“If you say so.” She was doing her best to act cheerful, but her mind was clearly elsewhere. She would occasionally look between the twins, as if trying to figure out why they were together when her brothers were not.
“I do say so.” Jake replied, determined to cheer her up and get her mind off her brother. It was clear that hearing about his latest behavior was taking a toll on the princess. “We should have a picnic later.”
“I’m not sure I’m up to leaving the palace.” She told him, barely touching her food.
“Well, you need to eat or you won’t be able to get your energy back up.” He pointed out.
“I suppose your right.” She didn’t make any move to eat.
Henry watched her and, finally, took a breath. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Knowing your brother is out there like that, I mean.”
Jake looked at him, wondering if he had lost his mind since they had agreed not to mention it.
The princess nodded. “He’s my older brother. When he left, it was really difficult, especially for Nicholas. He barely says Azazel’s name anymore.”
“I can only imagine what you two must be feeling.” Henry told her. “I don’t know how I could keep going, but I know I would have to. Maybe, your brother will see the error of his ways and return, eventually, but it’s not right to let him ruin your life, in the meantime. He’s made some bad decisions, so you need to learn to make the right ones.” He paused. “Of course, I may be completely overstepping here.”
Gabriella stared at him and a small smile graced her lips. “No, you’re fine. It’s nice having someone to talk to about it. Nobody around hear wants to say anything about him around me and I definitely can’t talk to Nicholas about it.”
“Well, I’m here if you ever want to talk.” Henry promised her.
“I appreciate that.” She grabbed a piece of fruit and finally started eating.
Jake smiled as he watched the pair, thinking his brother might not be completely hopeless, after all.

Valda put William through another grueling session of training, but he made it through, glad to note how much stronger he was becoming. He hoped that he would soon be able to defend his family against whatever was going to happen.
Once they were done, his teacher headed back to the palace, but William needed a minute to catch his breath before he started walking.
“That was quite impressive.” Melody’s voice came from behind him.
He turned to face her and found that she had braided her hair and was wearing some loose-fitting training clothes, as was her brother. Each had a sword attached to a belt. “Why are you here?” It wasn’t the smoothest line, but he had been caught off guard.
Melody giggled at him. “We’re here to train, of course. We haven’t practiced as much as we should, lately, so we figured we should come out here. Also, we wanted to know how you were at fighting.”
“I’m not really impressive.” He replied. “I’ve only been training for a few weeks.”
“But you are a natural and you have a great teacher.” She told him. “We have been training for years, but you are nearly as good as us, already.”
William, tactfully decided not to point out that it was probably because she couldn’t see her opponent. “I’m sure you’re quite good.”
“Would you like to see?” She asked.
He shrugged. “Alright.” He stepped back, thinking she was just going to go through some movements. However, she drew her sword and faced him. He stared at her. “You want to spar me?”
“Scared of being beaten by a blind girl?” She asked with a smile.
William paused, but drew his weapon, determined not to patronize her. “Alright, then.” He took in her stance and realized that she actually looked like she knew what she was doing. He was trying to decide on the best way to disarm her without hurting her when she came at him. Her movements were quick and he just barely managed to block her attack. She swung again and he dodged just in time. He jabbed, but she parried. The spar lasted several minutes, but he wound up with the point of her blade at his stomach, unsure how it had gotten there. “Impressive.”
She smiled and withdrew the blade. “Don’t be embarrassed. You lasted longer than most people and that was after a long training session. You were probably tired.”
“I appreciate you trying to save my pride, but you beat me fair and square.” He told her. “I’m not too proud to admit that.”
She tilted her head, holding out her hand to her brother, who took it and allowed her to trace her fingers over his palm. “You are an interesting person, William. I look forward to getting to know you, better.”
“Well, why don’t you join us for dinner?” He suggested, remembering the guardian’s offer. “Katherine is always saying that she likes having lots of people to eat with and there is always plenty of food.”
Melody and Bard ran their fingers over each other’s palms in a rapid conversation, then she nodded. “That sounds like fun. I doubt anyone would pass up the opportunity to dine with the guardian.”
“Well, I should go wash up, so I will meet you at the palace in an hour, alright?” William asked.
Melody and Bard ran their fingers around a bit more before she answered. “That sounds good. We’ll meet you in an hour.”
He nodded and headed back to the palace to clean up. After his bath, he looked in the mirror, trying to comb his hair out neatly. He was glad for the cut he’d gotten in the elven village. Even so, he had never been able to get his hair to do much. He made sure it was out of his face, at least, as he headed out.
“You combed your hair.” Henry commented, bluntly when he ran into the older boy in the hallway.
“Yeah, I did.” William replied. “You should try it sometime.”
“Combing it for a girl?” Jake asked with a grin.
“I just wanted it out of my face.” William turned away and started walking down the hall.
Henry and Jake gave each other knowing looks and followed him. Jake rushed to get beside the older boy. “Let’s see…you’re probably not combing it for Katherine since we’ve been around her for weeks and you haven’t done that.”
“You definitely didn’t comb it for Meredith since she’s always around.” Henry came up on his other side.
“Probably safe to assume you didn’t comb it for Josie for obvious reasons.” Jake added.
Henry looked at him. “I hope you’re not combing it for the princess.”
“I’m not.” William assured him.
“Are there any more girls around?” Jake asked his brother.
“Not that I’m aware of, unless he is pursuing a maid.” Henry thought for a moment. “Perhaps, it is not a girl, but a boy he is fixing himself up for.”
“It’s not.” William replied.
“We wouldn’t judge you, you know.” Jake assured him. “We wouldn’t think any less of you if you fell in love with a guy.”
William shoved him and shook his head. “You two are idiots.”
The twins laughed and continued speculating about his love life as they followed him down to the entrance hall where Melody and Bard were waiting. They had changed into slightly nicer clothes and her hair was down, save two little braids which kept it out of her face. Bard ran his fingers over her hand and she turned her face in their general direction with a smile. “It seems we are getting quite the welcoming party. It’s Jake and Henry, right?”
“That’s us.” Jake agreed with a grin.
“At your service.” Henry added.
She giggled. “And hello, William. Thank you for your invitation.”
“It’s my pleasure.” He assured her with a smile. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to the dining hall.”
“Lead the way.” She told him. They headed off together, not waiting for the twins.
Henry and Jake looked at each other with knowing smiles and followed the group, eager to see what would happen next.

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