Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


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~~“So last night was pretty crazy, huh?” Meredith commented as she found William at the breakfast table. Valda had allowed him the morning off so that Nicholas would be able to let them all know whatever he decided to do about his brother’s demand.
“That’s one word for it.” He replied. “Josie had trouble getting to sleep, so she’s still in bed. I left her a note so she wouldn’t worry if she wakes up before I get back.”
“Yeah, she seemed a little freaked out when I left her at her room.” Meredith said. “I guess it’s not much of a surprise she wound up sleeping in your room, again.”
“Right.” He nibbled on a piece of fruit, thoughtfully. “So what do you think the ever-so-wise king will decide to do about his evil twin?”
“That decision is yours.” Jeremiah replied as he entered the room with Katherine. “We discussed it and decided it is up to you and your friends whether or not you want to talk to him.”
“Of course, we will do everything in our power to protect you.” Katherine hurriedly assured them. “You will never enter the room without an armed escort.”
William and Meredith stared at them for a moment before he spoke. “When will we be able to talk to him?”
“Any time you like.” Katherine replied. “You just need to let us know so we can get the guard and unlock the door.”
“Also, we would like to talk to you about the kinds of questions you should try and ask.” Jeremiah added.
“How should we do it?” Meredith asked. “One or two at a time? We can’t have the whole group since I don’t want Josie in a room with him.”
“I agree that it is probably best to keep the child away from Azazel.” Jeremiah told her. “As for how many will go in at a time…well, it would be easiest to guard one or two at a time, but we will leave the final decision up to you.”
“Alright.” William said. “Tell us what we need to find out from him.”

Henry put up a hand to shield himself from the light coming through their window as he woke up. He had barely slept and felt the lack of rest through his whole body.
Jake smiled as he saw him. “So sleeping beauty finally decided to rejoin the land of the living, at last.”
Henry groaned and sat up. “It’s still early, isn’t it?”
“Well, I think everybody’s had breakfast, already.” Jake replied, tossing a piece of fruit on the bed. “I swiped you that, though.”
“Thanks.” Henry mumbled before biting into it.
Jake watched him for a moment. “Late night?” He had been vaguely aware of his brother getting in and out of bed the night before.
Henry shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep very well with everything going on. It’s all just a bit much, don’t you think?”
“You mean the whole crazy twin thing?” Jake offered him a smile. “Clearly, Azazel has some serious issues, but that’s not our problem. We’re here to save the world, so don’t let his bad juju get you down.”
“Bad juju?” Henry finished his fruit and looked at his brother. “Does anybody even say that?”
“I say it.” Jake replied, simply.
“Well, you’re an idiot.” Henry swung his legs over the side of the bed and stepped down, running a hand through his hair.
“And you’re ugly.” Jake added. “Should we head out and find something interesting to do?”
Henry nodded, pausing as he thought for a second. “Let’s just try to avoid that hallway.” He didn’t have to explain which one. Neither of them wanted to go near the door with the runes unless they knew they would be protected from the person inside.
“I’m sure we can find something else to get into.” Jake assured him, heading towards the door. He opened it to reveal a man with his hand poised to knock.
The man couldn’t have been more than twenty. He had silky blonde hair in perfectly-styled waves. He was tall and slender with fair skin. When he saw Jake, he smiled, revealing a set of perfectly-white teeth. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I thought you might be out and was about to check so that we could make sure the room was clean.”
“Oh…” Jake looked back at his brother who shrugged. “Alright.” He looked back to the man. “Are you one of the palace staff?”
“Oh, forgive me for not introducing myself, properly.” He told them. “I’m Angelus, head of the palace staff. I supervise everything around here.”
“That sounds like an interesting job.” Henry commented.
Angelus offered him a smile. “I’m certainly never bored.” He looked between the two. “It’s interesting to have another pair of twins around. To be honest, I’ve been rather curious about you. I’ve just been too busy to make your acquaintance until now.”
“You talk like you knew the king and his brother.” Jake noted. “How long have you worked here?”
“Fifty years.” He replied, casually.
The pair wondered for a moment if he was joking. Figuring that he seemed serious, Henry stared at him with wide eyes. “You look good for your age.”
Angelus gave a soft chuckle. “Thank you. I’m half elf, so I don’t age very quickly.”
“Ah, that makes sense.” Jake figured the guy was way too pretty to be a regular human male. Another thought occurred to him as he stood there. “If you’ve been here that long, you must have known Azazel back before he went dark, right?”
“He was a sweet boy.” Angelus frowned and nodded. “It was very sad when we lost him to the dark lord.” He gave them a slight smile. “Well, perhaps we can help him now that he’s back. It won’t be easy, but, maybe, we can convince him of the error of his ways and keep him here.”
“You seem like an optimistic person.” Jake commented.
Angelus just shrugged and continued to smile. “I just want the right side to win this war and for the prince to be on that side. I don’t think that’s too much to wish for, do you?”
“Who knows?” Jake looked back at his brother. “Well, we may as well head out.” He offered the half-elf a smile. “It was interesting meeting you.”
“I’m sure we’ll see each other around.” Angelus replied. “For now, I’ll let the cleaning staff know you’re out. Take care of yourselves.”
Jake watched him walk away and waited until he was out of earshot before he said anything. “He seemed like a nice fellow.”
“You say fellow, now, too?” Henry remarked, following his brother out of the room.

Later, that day, William and Melody went to see Azazel while the twins looked after Josie. The pair stood outside the door, nervously, with an armed guard standing by. Nicholas was the only one with a key, so he unlocked the door. “I’m sorry we won’t be able to leave it open, but we can’t risk him escaping. You’ll just have to let us know when you’re ready to come out. If we don’t hear anything after half an hour, we’ll check on you.”
“Got it.” William assured him, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
The door opened to reveal Azazel, standing and facing them, as if he had been waiting. “Welcome, guests.”
William and Meredith entered with their guard. William nearly jumped as the door closed behind them, locking them in with the dark prince.
“There’s no need to look so nervous.” Azazel assured him. “I won’t bite.” Despite his attempt at a pleasant tone, his expression remained grim.
“Right.” William stared at the person in front of him, wondering how someone could choose to live in such a state. He found it hard to believe that dying would be considered the worse alternative. He decided not to focus on him too much, choosing instead to look around the room. He’d half-expected a bare prison, but this looked comfortable, although the glowing was a little disorienting. It was uncomfortable not to see any shadows, but he remembered the way Azazel had made them creep towards him and decided no shadows was best.
“It’s an interesting charm, isn’t it?” Azazel commented, following his gaze. “It’s rather clever, really, but unnecessary. I didn’t come here to harm anyone.”
“Then why are you here?” Meredith asked.
The prince fixed his gaze on her. “I wanted to meet you, of course. I thought that we might be friends.”
“You came to the palace and allowed yourself to be imprisoned so that you could make some friends?” William’s tone was skeptical, at best. “I see a few flaws in your plan.”
Azazel shrugged. “We all have our methods.” He took a step closer and the guard raised his sword. The prince held up his hands in a peaceful gesture. “A bit fidgety, aren’t you?” He stepped back and sat on the edge of his bed, looking Meredith and William over. “So tell me about yourselves.”
“I’d rather not.” William replied, not wanting to tell his anything remotely personal.
“Well, that is your choice, of course.” Azazel assured him. “However, you’re not likely to get me talking to the point that I let something slip if you don’t give me something to talk about.”
Meredith frowned, not liking the fact that he seemed fully aware of what they wanted to do. “You could talk about yourself.”
“I’m rather dull, really.” He told her. “I’m sure you’re much more interesting, being from a different world and all.”
“We’re really not.” William assured him. “Mirra is way more exciting than our world. We don’t have magic or shadow creatures or any of that.” He looked at the prince with curiosity. “How do you even make a shadow creature, anyway? There’s some sort of process, right?”
Azazel stared at him in silence for a moment. “You’re going to have to do better than that if you really want information. Such a ploy is too obvious, don’t you think?” He looked at Meredith. “Would you like to give it a try?”
She frowned, wondering what it would take to get the information out of him. Just then, the door opened behind them and Nicholas looked in. “Is everything okay in there? It’s been half an hour.”
“Has it been so long, already?” Azazel asked. “My, how the time flies.”
Meredith sighed and looked at William. “This is a waste of time. Let’s go.”
He hesitated, but realized she was right and followed her out the door. Neither of them had any interest in playing Azazel’s games when he was clearly not going to talk to them. Once the door was closed, separating them from the prince, William turned to the king. “We need a better strategy. This isn’t working.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t like you.” Jake suggested. The twins had heard about William and Meredith’s plan, so they decided to see how it was going.
“Think you could do better?” The older boy asked. “I doubt he’s going to talk to anyone, really.”
Jake considered the challenge and looked at his brother. “I’m game if you are.”
Henry shrugged. “I didn’t have any plans for the day. Besides, he may relate better to twins.”
Nicholas frowned at the suggestion, but remained silent.
“Be careful.” William told them. “Don’t let him get into your head because I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s going for, here.”
“Don’t worry.” Jake knocked a fist against his temple. “I’m hard-headed.”
“Right.” William wasn’t really sure he wanted them going in, but he couldn’t tell them not to do something he just did. “Be careful, anyway.”
The twins nodded as Nicholas opened the door and they stepped inside with the guard, hearing it close behind them.
“The twins have come to see me, now.” Azazel commented. “How interesting.”
“Heard you wanted some company.” Jake replied. “We are here to oblige.”
“I appreciate it, I assure you.” The prince told them, looking between the two. “So which one of you is older?”
“Quid pro quo, Clarice.” Jake told him with a smile.
Azazel gave him a blank look. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s from a…never mind.” Jake shook his head, sad that no one in this world would get his references. “The point is that you can’t get anything for free. For every bit of information we give you, you have to tell us something we don’t know, as well.”
“An interesting proposition.” The prince told him. “Why would I agree to it?”
“Because you want to get us talking, right?” Henry pointed out. “You want us to tell you about ourselves, so it’s only fair that you give us something in return.”
Azazel looked between them and shrugged. “Very well. Quid pro quo, as you put it. Tell me which of you is older.”
“I am.” Jake replied. “So where is your base of operations?”
Azazel shook his head. “That information is much more valuable than what you gave me.”
Jake gave an unconcerned smile. “It was worth a try.”
“I suppose.” The prince agreed. “My older brother never had much to do with me as a child. That information should be about equal. What is it like in your world?”
Jake thought about that for a moment. “It’s much louder than it is here and less friendly, in general.” He paused, thinking about how odd that sounded. “We’re at war, too, with different people trying to rule the world. Of course, there’s no magic involved and the light of the day isn’t in danger of being blacked out, so it’s pretty different.”
“I suppose war exists in all worlds.” Azazel commented. “However, you shouldn’t worry so much about Mirra turning dark. People will adapt and be able to live out their lives just as well as they can, now. They might even be improved without the lights making all their demands and trying to keep the people under their control.”
“We’ve seen you black-eyed zombies, so don’t go pretending that the dark side isn’t controlling people.” Henry told him.
The prince looked at him. “He takes soldiers who have already fallen in battle and gives them a new purpose so that others living soldiers don’t have to risk their live as much. You consider that to be wrong?”
Jake paused as he thought about that. “He killed an elf in the forest to create one of those things. That was not a soldier fallen in battle.”
“That was a mistake.” Azazel looked back to him. “The dark lord thought your group was a threat and sought to eliminate you. At the time, he didn’t realize how valuable you would be and he sends his apologies for the attack.”
Jake stared at him, blankly. “What do you mean we’re valuable? We’re not valuable to him.”
“It seems I’ve given you more information.” Azazel replied, simply. “That would make it your turn.”
Jake frowned, wanting an explanation immediately, but realizing it wouldn’t be that easy. “Do you want to know something specific?”
“Tell me something that’s as valuable as the information I gave you.” The prince requested. “Of course, if you give me something more valuable, I may give you something better.”
Henry remained silent, not really sure what to say. He found it hard to believe that his brother was handling things so well. The dark prince gave him the creeps and he didn’t really want to be in the same room as the guy, but he wouldn’t leave Jake alone with him, either.
Jake took a moment to consider his options. He was trying to figure out the most information he might be willing to give the stranger. He looked at his brother and spoke softly to avoid letting the prince overhear. “Is there anything you don’t want me to tell him?” He didn’t want to share information about them if Henry wasn’t okay with it.
Henry shrugged, glancing over at Azazel and speaking in an equally soft tone. “Say whatever you want. You seem to know what you’re doing better than me.”
Jake nodded and turned back to the prince. “Our parents willingly gave us up. They abandoned us and we don’t know why.”
Azazel stared at him, his expression unchanging. “That seems to be rather valuable information. Plenty of people could use it to manipulate you.”
“Give us information we can use on you, then.” Jake told him. “Quid pro quo.”
Azazel nodded his understanding. “Fair enough. Let’s see…” He looked at the ceiling, thoughtfully. “You gave me personal family information, so I’ll return the favor.” He looked back at Jake. “My brother killed me by coming out of the womb first. After that, he became the heir to the throne and I became the lamb to the slaughter. I was treated kindly, but nobody really wanted to deal with me. I guess all anyone could think about was the fact that I was bound to die. I decided to defy their expectations and join the dark lord.”
“You turned against your family and put them in danger to save yourself.” Jake surmised. “You’re saying you did that because they just didn’t love you enough?”
“You’re giving me information I already have.” Azazel informed him in a carefully even tone. “That won’t get you very far.”
Jake stared at the prince, thinking that something had changed. He wondered if it was possible that Azazel was upset, but it was difficult to tell with his never-changing expression. “New information, then: your sister loves and misses you. She’s been waiting for you to come home, although she would never admit it because of how difficult the topic is around your brother, whom you betrayed. Gabriella would do just about anything to save you and I doubt Nicholas would turn you away if he thought he could help you find redemption.”
“I’m not seeking redemption.” Azazel informed him. “I don’t need it. I’m not the villain here.”
“It sure looks that way to me.” Jake replied, forcing himself to hold the prince’s cold gaze. There was a long silence, which was eventually interrupted by the door being opened and Nicholas looking in.
“Is everything okay in here?” The young king asked.
“I’m tired of talking to these two.” Azazel replied. “Take them away, for now.”
Henry looked to his brother for a cue of how to react. Jake shrugged and headed out the door, followed by the guard. Nicholas shut the door and looked at the pair with curiosity. “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing really special.” Jake told him, not wanting to repeat it. He looked to the guard, but he didn’t argue. Jake paused, thinking over the conversation. “I’ll tell you this: your brother isn’t as unmovable as he pretends to be. I think we’re ready to discuss the new strategy.”

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