Into the Light (Guardians of Mirra: Book 3)

With their city lost and the darkness growing ever stronger, the people of Mirra begin to fear that they may be fighting a losing battle. The guardians refuse to give up, but can they take back the city and restore the power to the lights? In the end, it may be up to the dark prince to decide the fate of Mirra, but they must first find out what he wants from the lights in return. In this final book, light will face off against darkness and the victor will be decided by some children who are out of their world and out of their depth.

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~~William lay in his bedroom, crying. He was seven years old and his mother had just lost her temper and left him with several new bruises, along with some cuts from her broken belt. As he lay on his bed, the door opened.
“Hey, Willie.” His mother stepped into the room, her voice soft. He didn’t turn to look at her, but she sat on the bed beside him and gently laid a hand on his head. “I’m sorry I got so mad. I know you didn’t mean to break the belt.” He sobbed and she sighed. “I was thinking we might get a pizza, tonight. Does that sound good?”
He paused as he considered it. “With pepperoni?”
“I wouldn’t dream of leaving that off.” She assured him.
There was another pause. “Could we get cinnamon sticks, too?”
She smiled. “Only if you forgive me.”
After a brief hesitation, William rolled over and nodded at her. “I’m sorry I broke your belt.”
“It’s okay.” She kissed his forehead and pulled him into a hug. “You know I can’t stay mad at you for long. You’re my precious little boy.”

William blinked his eyes open and needed a moment to remember where he was. It had been a while since he’d dreamed of his mother. He’d almost forgotten what she looked like, but the memory had been as clear as if it had just happened, rather than being a decade ago.
“You’re awake.” Henry was sitting beside William and he smiled as he saw the older boy’s eyes open.
“It’s about time.” Jake added from beside his brother. “They said you were awake earlier, but, by the time we got here, you’d gone back to sleep.”
“Sorry.” William mumbled as he rubbed his eyes. He was surprised to discover that they were wet, as if he had been crying. He did his best to cover it up, so he wouldn’t worry his friends. He looked around the room and frowned. “Where’s Katherine?”
“She was tired.” Jake explained. “She wanted to stay, but she was about to fall asleep, so Jeremiah came and convinced her to go to bed. Apparently, it’s night, not that you can tell underground like we are.”
“Meredith took Josie to her room to sleep.” Henry told him before he could ask. “Valda came by to check on you, but she was trying to pretend she wasn’t worried, so she didn’t stay long. You just have us for company, now.”
“So you can stop looking around for pretty girls.” Jake added with a smile. “You’ll just have to settle for a pretty boy.” He pointed to himself. “And that ugly one over there.” He pointed to his brother.
“You’re way uglier than me.” Henry argued.
William chuckled, but it hurt and he had to stop as he winced.
Jake frowned at him. “Are you in a lot of pain?”
“Not too much.” William tried to assure him. “I think they’ve put something on my wounds to keep them from hurting a lot. I’ll be fine.” He felt better when he noticed that he’d been covered with a blanket. While they were fussing over his wounds, they hadn’t been able to cover him up, but it was fine, now.
“You’re probably still tired, aren’t you?” Jake commented as he looked him over. “We shouldn’t keep you awake if you need to sleep.”
“I’ll probably fall asleep whether or not you’re here.” William admitted. “They gave me some sort of tea when I was awake earlier and it makes me sleepy, but they said it would help with the healing.” His eyes felt weak and he closed them. “I’m glad to see you two are alright.”
“Everybody’s fine.” Henry assured him.
Jake thought of Azazel in his cage with bruises and cuts from having rocks thrown at him. He was tempted to argue that not everybody was fine, but he knew William didn’t need to hear about that. He figured the older boy would think the prince deserved it, as most people did. It didn’t seem fair after Azazel had helped them escape, but nobody else seemed to appreciate that. “You seem to have gotten the worst of it.”
“I’ll be alright.” William spoke softly, knowing he wouldn’t be awake much longer.
“You’d better be.” Jake didn’t his best to smile as he watched the older boy drift off to sleep. He looked at his brother. “We should probably get some sleep, too.”
Henry nodded and led the way out of the room, checking to make sure his brother followed. “So are you ever going to tell me what you talked about with the prince?” He avoided saying his name, wanting to think of Azazel as some nameless entity that he could simply hate for what happened to his brother and their friends.
“Nothing interesting.” Jake assured him. “I just wanted to check that he was alright.”
“He’s better than Will.” Henry pointed out. “You realize what happened to him is that guy’s fault, right?”
Jake sighed, wishing he could make his twin understand better. “Azazel never hurt him. He doesn’t even like torture. That’s why he helped us escape. Is everybody just going to ignore that last bit?”
“He probably has an ulterior motive.” Henry commented, not understanding why his brother cared so much about a traitor. “We can’t trust him.”
“I’m not saying we have to trust him.” Jake told him. “I’m just saying that not everything he’s done is bad and, maybe, we should give him a chance to redeem himself.”
“Just be careful.” Henry warned. “You don’t want people to think you are assisting him or they might lock you up, too.”
“Right.” Jake looked around at the people walking through the city. He knew what they thought of the prince and there didn’t seem to be a way to change their minds. “I won’t do anything too stupid.”
“Somehow, I don’t find that particularly comforting.” Henry looked at his twin. “I don’t want you to get hurt anymore.”
“I didn’t get hurt, to begin with.” Jake reminded him. “Will was the one…” He paused, not wanting to talk about what had happened to their friend. Even using the word “torture” was painful. “I wasn’t hurt, at all.”
“If you say so.” Henry sighed and put on a smile. “Race you back to our room.” He took off running, giving himself a head start.
“Not fair!” Jake called as he rushed to catch up.

Katherine was exhausted from the ritual and slept almost the whole night. Even so, Meredith and Josie were still asleep when she woke up. Josie had slept with the orphans her first night, comforted by the presence of other children like her. However, it didn’t take long for her to reattach herself to Meredith once she knew William was safe. The guardian smiled as she looked at them and was careful not to wake them when she stood and walked out of the room.
“Did you get enough rest?” Jeremiah asked as she closed the door behind her.
Katherine nearly jumped, not having expected him to be waiting for her. She smiled and nodded. “I am feeling much better, thank you.”
Her father paused as he considered her. “Are you going back to watch over your friend? I heard he is still sleeping, so he wouldn’t be aware of your presence, even if you decided to stay by him the whole time.”
“Even so, I would like to be there for when he wakes up.” She told him. “I think he finds my presence comforting.”
“He may, but I’m not sure if it’s wise for you to spend so much time with him.” Jeremiah tried to pick his words carefully. “People may get the wrong idea about your feelings for him.”
“People tend to get the wrong ideas about many things.” Katherine pointed out, coolly. “It’s usually best to just ignore them.”
“As guardians of Mirra, we don’t have that luxury.” He took a step closer to the girl. “Your people need to see you as honest and dependable. You need to be a paragon for their sake or they may not be willing to fight for the lights.”
Katherine was silent as she considered that, knowing her was right. She couldn’t let her emotions rule her head or Mirra would be sure to fall. “I’m going to clear my head. You’re right. I can’t do anything to help William right now, so I’m just going to take a walk.”
“You may ask Nicholas to walk with you later.” Jeremiah suggested. “It would do both of you good.”
She managed a smile and nodded. “Once he wakes up. For now, I would like some time to myself.”
“That’s understandable.” He assured her. “I will be here if you need me.” He watched her go a breathed a sigh. He didn’t like to tell her to ignore her emotions, but he knew it was necessary. The guardians of Mirra could not afford to show weakness.

As Katherine was walking, she saw Tristan out, as well. She smiled and waved at him, realizing they hadn’t had a chance to talk since he’d returned. However, he quickly walked in the opposite direction, making it clear he didn’t want to see her. Katherine frowned, trying to figure out if he had done something to make him angry.
“Is all well, my lady?” Kaelen asked from behind her.
Katherine nearly jumped at his voice. She hadn’t even heard him walk up. “Well, I haven’t seen you since you came back.” She turned and offered Kaelen a smile. “How are you doing?”
“We are safe.” He replied “That is all that matters, now.”
She nodded her agreement. “Do you know if Tristan is upset about something?”
Kaelen looked to where the wood elf was disappearing behind a building. “I think he has many things on his mind. It may be best to let him work through them for now.”
Katherine frowned. “Did something happen to him while you were locked up?”
“They paid most of us little attention.” The dark elf carefully avoided giving a proper answer. If Tristan wasn’t going to tell the guardian what had happened, Kaelen didn’t think it was his place to do so.
“Except William.” She couldn’t seem to stop thinking about him, no matter how hard she tried.
“Unfortunately, Hel took a particular interest in him.” Kaelen watched her expression, knowing better than to comment on her obvious train of thought. “We are very fortunate to have received help from the prince.”
“He also helped us get the crystal to the palace, in case you forgot.” She pointed out. “We can’t forget what happened there.”
“I would never suggest you forget anything, my lady.” Kaelen chose each word carefully. He knew it was hard enough getting people to trust a dark elf without making them think he was sympathizing with the enemy. “However, he is currently powerless and imprisoned. I know you once cared for him, before he made his unfortunate decisions. Perhaps, it would be good for you to at least speak with him, now.”
“We tried talking to him.” Katherine reminded the elf. “It didn’t go so well.”
“That was before he decided to turn against the sorcerer.” Kaelen argued. “I suspect that a lot has changed for him and he might need some guidance, now. If we only treat him cruelly, we will have no one to blame but ourselves if he returns to the shadow master.”
Katherine frowned as she considered the argument. She hadn’t even asked about Azazel after they came back. She hadn’t wanted to hear about him. All she knew was that he had been locked away and was unable to use his powers. She’d told herself that was enough, but she couldn’t ignore Kaelen’s point. Nobody wanted to talk to the prince. She knew that was part of the reason he had betrayed them the first time. Then, nobody wanted to deal with him because they knew he was going to die. She realized the current situation would be much worse for him. “Do you think he would even want to speak to me?”
“I think it is worth a try.” Kaelen replied, glad that she hadn’t taken offense.
She nodded her understanding. “I will go and see if he is awake, at least. I can’t make any promises beyond that, but I will do my best to talk to him. Thank you for your advice.” She walked away towards the prison and Kaelen watched her go, thinking the guardian had been well-chosen for her position.

As Katherine approached the prison, her heart sped up. She had been confident when she walked away from Kaelen, but the few minutes it had taken her to find the prison had given her doubts. She wanted to get through to the prince, but she didn’t want to be fooled by him again. It made her hesitant to speak to him at all. She was considering walking away when the dwarven guard spotted her and smiled.
“Good morning, my lady.” He greeted her. “Can I help you with something?”
Katherine put on a smile, determined not to turn back, now. “I wish to speak to the prisoner.”
The guard’s smile wavered at that. “Are you certain, my lady? It might not be safe.”
“I will be fine.” She assured him. “Please, unlock the door.”
“As you wish.” He lifted the key from its chain and opened the door for her. “Would you like me to leave the door open?”
“That won’t be necessary.” She stepped inside and heard the door close behind her as she looked at the prince. He was lying on his bedding with his back to her, so she figured he was probably asleep. She turned around, figuring she might as well leave.
“Are you just going to leave without saying anything?” Azazel’s voice asked.
Katherine sighed and turned to face him. “I thought you were asleep.”
He was sitting up and facing her, now. “I don’t sleep much. I suppose we have that in common, if nothing else. Why have you come here?”
Katherine hesitated, not sure what to say now that she was there. She noted a wound above his eye. “You’re hurt.”
“It’s nothing.” He replied, simply, not wanting to explain what had happened.
The guardian frowned, but decided not to push the issue. “I came to thank you for helping my friends escape. I know that must have been very difficult for you.”
“You think I have another agenda and you want to know what it is.” He had no trouble guessing her thoughts. “I don’t suppose it would make much difference if I told you I have no plans at all, now.”
She couldn’t deny what he’d said. “I want to believe you have truly decided to help us. I want to think you have seen the error of your ways and wish to make amends. However, you have betrayed us more than once, so how can I trust you?”
“You can’t.” His answer was immediate. “I have proven myself to be untrustworthy and all the good intentions in the world won’t change that.”
“Good intentions?” She searched his face for any sign of deception. “Do you mean now or before?”
“Does it really matter?” He asked. “We are judged by our actions, not our intentions.” He was silent for a moment as he looked at her. “How is William?”
“He is recovering well.” She replied. “You may have saved his life.”
Azazel shook his head. “Hel wouldn’t have killed him. If he came close to death, they would have patched him up well enough to keep that from happening. She is an expert on keeping people from dying. His life was more at risk when I got him out of the city. However, death would have been better than being Hel’s plaything.”
“You seem to know a lot about her.” Katherine observed. “If you knew about the things she did, why didn’t you ever help other prisoners escape? What made William special?”
Azazel paused as he considered his answer. “William is special to many people, including you. Why would you ask me what it is that makes him so?”
“I simply want to understand your motivations.” She told him. “I want to believe you, but I need to know why you have suddenly decided to help when you seemed so certain of your alliances before.”
“Once you are trained and become a shadow worker, it is very difficult to betray the dark lord.” He looked away from her as he thought about it. “I believe I am the first one ever to do so. I am not sure why I did it, but I felt compelled to help your friends. Can’t you just be happy to have them back and leave me alone here?”
“You wish to be left alone?” She hadn’t really expected that. She’d thought he’d be trying to convince her to let him out.
“It is better than having you come here and knowing what you are inevitably going to ask of me since I cannot agree to do it.” He told her.
It took Katherine a moment to realize what he meant. “The sacrifice.”
Azazel nodded. “It may not have occurred to you to ask earlier, but you were bound to think of it before long. The prophecy indicates that my death is very important. However, I don’t believe I am even able to give myself to them anymore. I sacrificed my light to receive the power of the darkness. I am no longer a proper sacrifice.”
“The prophecy mentioned purification.” She pointed out.
“Even if I am capable of sacrificing myself, I’m not sure if I would be willing.” He stared at the wall I front of him. “The lights have been cruel and manipulative. Even if I know that Lord Hod is no better, he offered me what I truly wanted. If the lights will to do the same, how can you expect me to sacrifice myself to them?”
Katherine stared at him in confusion. “I thought what you wanted was to live. How can you achieve that and agree to be sacrificed?”
Azazel was silent for several moments. “I am tired. Please, see yourself out.” He lay down with his back to her, making it clear he had no intention of saying anything else.
Katherine frowned as she left the building, wishing she knew what was going on in his head.

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