They started climbing a hill and Runi seemed to move faster, perhaps even with urgency. They all hurried to follow, but then Runi stopped and looked around, and then gestured to a small dip in the hillside where they all moved and crouched down.
“Darya, can you cloak us?” Runi whispered.
Darya’s ability allowed her to cloak herself and others so they would be invisible, but it would take a lot of energy to cloak five people. Still, she closed her eyes and utilized her ability to make it difficult for anyone to notice them as they hid on the hillside and tried to see what Runi was worried about.
“What is it?” Cetas whispered.
“Just listen,” Runi whispered back.
They all stayed so quiet that even the rustling of the grass in the wind could be heard. But above that, they were sure they heard the sound of footsteps; running footsteps and heavy breathing.
Runi and Laguna exchanged a look, and Runi gave a nod. Cetas reached out and grabbed Laguna’s shoulder as he sensed she was about to get up, but Runi just shook his head. Cetas knew Runi had gotten more trustworthy, but also knew he was prone to reckless behavior which was especially clear after his blow up earlier. But for whatever reason, Laguna often indulged Runi’s behaviors.
Laguna jumped up just when the footsteps came so close they could see who was causing them. She held her scythes up in a threatening manner, and she stared down the person running.
A gasp could be heard, followed by, “Don’t hurt us!” but this voice was clearly female, and didn’t belong to Jeriah at all. Runi was shocked and looked at the others who were crouched around him. Was this girl the shadow that he had seen trying to take Jeriah away?
Darya removed their cloak of invisibility and the entire group stood up and approached the person Laguna had stopped. It was two people, actually. Two women. One of the women was limping, as if something had happened to her leg.
“Who are you?” Darya asked as she walked over to them. “Guardians?”
“Yes,” the taller girl said after a moment as she leaned on the shorter girl. “Who are you? Some humans?”
“They seem different than regular humans, don’t you think? There’s a different aura about them,” the shorter girl mumbled to her friend.
“Prudentius has sent us,” Royse spoke up, but then Laguna shook her head and made a motion for him to stay quiet. “What? I’m sure they’re here because they’re sent by someone, too. Why else would they be in the area where Jeriah is supposed to be?”
“We might be trying to complete the same task. Don’t give everything away,” Laguna whispered.
“Prudentius? Well, you don’t look like her usual servants,” the shorter girl said as she tilted her head. “You seem very alive.”
“Who sent you?” Cetas turned the question back on them. His arms were folded across his chest and he lifted his chin to give a more intimidating appearance. Guardians were strong and dangerous so he didn’t want to be underestimated just because he was human.
“We serve Nivalis,” the taller girl explained. “My name is Joy. Her name is Mirae. We don’t want any trouble with you, we just want to get out of here.”
“Where’s Jeriah?” Runi asked as he decided to get straight to the point.
Joy looked with surprise at him, and then she scowled. “He’s run off like the coward he is with the rest of the Wanderers,” she muttered. “I’d be careful about approaching him. He’s sneakier than he looks, and now he has my gun.”
“Is that why you’re running?” Royse asked. “He stole your gun?”
“We had captured the Wanderers to bring to Nivalis,” Mirae explained. “I have a feeling you’re being sent with the same purpose if you’re on his trail. I suppose we’re rivals.”
“Nonsense,” Laguna said confidently. “Because we’re going to take him. There won’t be any option for him to get away. And in your condition you won’t be able to take him from us. So, we’re not rivals.”
“There are more than just us. We could take you on,” Mirae said. “But Nivalis has been keeping all of her guardian servants busy with various duties.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “So, how did you end up serving Prudentius?”
“We have a contract with Prudentius,” Cetas corrected. “We don’t serve her regularly. We serve the people.”
Joy blinked and then laughed. “Well,” she said. “You better hope you catch the Wanderers, then. You won’t live long if you don’t. I’m sure you’re well aware of that. But, I’m also sure we’re not the only ones chasing him. Every Immortal has servants, and many have taken in poor guardians that have been rejected by the world. We are not the only guardians that are willingly following such whims of the Immortals.”
They all exchanged looks, and then Laguna lowered her scythes as the girls walked past them. Joy was leaning on Mirae to lessen the pain in her leg, and they almost felt guilty watching them leave like that. Jeriah must have been a fierce fighter to defeat two women with particularly strong energy.
“Wait,” Laguna called out to them and they stopped and turned around to look at her. “I’m sure there’s something we can do for your wounds. You told us the truth and gave us a warning, so it’s the least we can do.”
She walked over and removed her backpack from her shoulders. She removed some bandages and asked Joy to sit down. Mirae helped her sit and stayed right at her side even as Laguna treated her injury.
“It looks like it could be a fracture,” Laguna admitted. “I can’t do much for that, since I have no magical ability to heal, but this splint should ensure you don’t injure your leg further until you get to your destination.”
“Oh,” Joy nodded and looked at her. “Thank you.” She glanced at Mirae as if wondering if they should do something else for them. Mirae just shrugged in response. “Well, good luck.” Was all Joy said as she turned and continued down the hillside with Mirae at her side.
The Royals had a feeling this wasn’t going to be the last time they were going to encounter those powerful guardians, but at least their first interaction was left on a friendly note.
Now they all stood and looked back in the direction that the Wanderers would have run. A harsh cold wind blew through the hillside, ruffling their hair and making them squint from how painful it was.
“How ominous,” Royse mumbled as he glanced around.
Everyone else could agree. There was something wicked in the hills, and the wind was warning them.