“Jakob! Jakob, please…”
Jakob stopped walking and turned around to see Minhee lagging behind and breathing heavily. “What is it?” he asked.
“We haven’t stopped walking all day, and it’s like...it’s like midnight, or something,” Minhee said with a pout. “I’m exhausted. Please, can we stop?”
“We’re almost in the mountains. If we get to the mountains, we might find a clue,” Jakob said as he turned away from him and started walking again. “Or we might find the Royals.”
“What are you going to do to them?” Minhee asked with a small frown.
“I’m going to stop them,” Jakob said vaguely.
“What does that mean?” Minhee asked again as he finally caught up to him and walked alongside him. “I don’t want you to threaten them like you did to Levant.”
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep them from taking Jeriah,” Jakob said as he glanced at Minhee. “Don’t you understand that? I keep telling you that, but it’s almost as if you’re not listening.”
“Because you don’t seem like yourself, Jakob!” Minhee exclaimed. “You’re acting all anxious and crazy. I know you’re worried about him, but the Royals said they weren’t going to hurt him-”
“This has to do with Prudentius. You think she’s just going to let Jeriah off with a slap on the wrist after he stole from her? No. I can’t let them take him to the Underworld,” Jakob said firmly.
Minhee had to admit that made a little bit of sense. Prudentius likely would not be kind to Jeriah for what he did, but he didn’t think that it would end fatally. Well, he hoped not.
Ari had been extremely cruel to them during all of those years of being cursed and there had been many incidents where Minhee thought that he might die, or he might watch his friends die. He knew Jakob was still struggling because of all of his memories of their time running from and fighting back at Ari, but this was a different situation. And the Royals were not their enemies.
Prudentius just wanted something returned to her, so she might not even be their enemy, either.
Minhee just wished he could find a way to calm Jakob’s heart, but it seemed there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t even get him to slow down his pace.
Finally Minhee just flopped down on the ground and groaned. His feet hurt so badly, he wasn’t going to keep going. “Jakob!” he whined.
Jakob turned around and looked at him again, and then he sighed and slowly sat down where he was. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “But I don’t think we have time to waste. You know?”
“The Royals aren’t going to be able to move faster than us, Jakob-”
“But they have a head start!” Jakob snapped back, and then immediately looked down. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk to you like that.”
Minhee sighed softly. “Luca should have come here. You listen to him more than you listen to me,” he said in a playful tone. He reached back into his bag and pulled out some jerky, and he tossed a piece over to Jakob so he would eat something, too.
“Well, they’re all busy sorting things out at the castle,” Jakob said softly. “The Descendants keep coming after us, but they’re only humans. Don’t they understand that they can’t destroy us? They already tried so many times.”
“They could destroy us, they just haven’t been able to, yet,” Minhee pointed out as he chewed on the jerky. “Fate has kept us safe.”
“I guess,” Jakob said with a small shrug. “I’m sorry for giving you a hard time, Minhee, but I’d be giving Luca a hard time, too. I can assure you that.”
Minhee believed that, honestly. And if Jakob gave Luca a hard time...well, that probably wouldn’t have gone over well. It was probably lucky that Minhee had been the one to go with him, since he was a much more calming presence. He had even gotten Jakob to stop walking and eat something. Maybe he could keep him from doing anything too reckless if he tried hard enough.
“Come on,” Jakob said after a few minutes of sitting and eating. “We need to keep moving.”
“We need to sleep too, you know,” Minhee pointed out as he slowly stood back up and began following him. His feet still ached, but he knew he had kept Jakob in one place for as long as he could.
“When we reach the mountains we can sleep,” Jakob said as he pointed ahead.
Minhee looked up at the mountains and sighed heavily. It would be morning by the time they reached the mountains, and he was already exhausted. But he knew he couldn’t leave Jakob, he had to keep following at his side.
And so he walked on alongside his urgent companion to reach the mountains and find his wandering brother. Feet aching aside, he knew this was where he needed to be.
Jeriah wasn’t sure what to do now that they were on the run again. They had barely escaped Joy and Mirae, and honestly he was shocked he was still alive. It was only thanks to Emersyn that he was even running away with them right now.
“I think we can stop for a minute!” Kiyah said after a moment. “Come on, I need to clean up Jeriah’s injury.”
They finally all stopped, breathing heavily as they were now further into the mountains and further away from their destination to see the Monarchs again. Jeriah put a hand to his temple where he could feel hot blood still leaking down the side of his face. It had happened only moments before, but the violent interaction still played like a constant scene in his mind.
The sound of the gunfire echoed so loudly in the open space, and Jeriah squeezed his eyes shut. He felt himself on the ground, felt a strange pain on the side of his head, and he wondered if he was going to die now.
“No!” Emersyn screamed and Jeriah opened his eyes and realized he was lying flat on his back and staring up at Joy who was still pointing her gun at him and seemed ready to pull the trigger again. But Emersyn leapt at the opportunity to stop Joy from killing her friend.
Jeriah watched as Emersyn struck at Joy’s wrist, which caused her to drop her gun. Mirae grabbed the back of Emersyn’s shirt and attempted to yank her backwards, but Verity jumped in and shoved Mirae aside with a quick motion.
Emersyn and Joy got locked into hand to hand combat, until she swung her leg out and swept Joy’s feet out from under her and she crashed to the ground. Joy cried out and grabbed her leg as her face was scrunched in pain and Mirae quickly pulled Joy up and the two made a choice to run for it. Kiyah pursued them for a while to ensure they didn’t turn around and come back, but soon enough the entire group was back and pulling Jeriah to his feet and running back towards the mountains with their tails between their legs.
Kiyah gently dabbed at Jeriah’s spot where the bullet had grazed his temple until the blood stopped flowing so aggressively and he gently placed a bandage across that cut to ensure it would be protected and heal well.
“You took a big risk there, Jeriah,” Verity said as she adjusted her backpack on her small shoulders. They had only taken their backpacks and weapons from their camp. They felt too afraid to stick around too long. “She could have killed you, you know! You’re lucky that bullet only grazed you.”
“I know, but I didn’t want to be dragged off to some temple!” Jeriah exclaimed. “Those guardians would have taken our Life Stones as soon as we arrived, and I just couldn’t have that happen.”
They all looked at each other and gave quiet nods. Emersyn walked over to him and patted his shoulder. “At least you’re alive,” she said with a small smile. “But now what? We can’t really go back that way, can we?”
“We’ll take a different path,” Jeriah said. “I know that means descending the mountain path again, but we have to. Right? We can’t just wait up here until they come after us. They already know we’re here, so it’s only a matter of time. We need to move.”
“You really don’t stop for a second, do you?” Zhai said as he put a hand on his hip. “You almost got shot in the head and you’re still ready to go.”
“Our time is up, Zhai,” Jeriah said as he looked at him directly. “People are ready to take these Life Stones away from us. And if they take them away, I’m…” He sighed and looked down. “I’m sure we’re going to die. I’m just sure of it.” He looked back up at Zhai. “We have no choice but to move. We’ve outlived our life expectancy and everyone sees that and they want to take us down. They want to give these Life Stones to their patron Immortals, or keep them for themselves. We have to go. I don’t have much time left to see Jakob, and you don’t have much time left to...enjoy your lives.”
Everyone became quite solemn at this realization. Well, of course they knew this was true. They had been hunted for a long time, but the people out there hunting were stronger than ever before. They would stop at nothing to retrieve these Life Stones, and would even kill them for it. Their time was indeed up, as Jeriah said.
“We have to try and find Jakob, then,” Verity finally said. “You need to be able to say goodbye.”
Jeriah looked at Verity and smiled a little. He could feel tears welling up in his eyes, because he was just so grateful for his friends. They were always on his side. “He’ll find me,” he said. “I left him a note in our camp. I know he’s looking for me, I just have a feeling. I’m sure he’ll be able to find me.”
“Let’s begin moving towards the castle again, then,” Zhai said with a sigh as they finally faced back towards the South.
“You know, there is a chance that these Life Stones have given us their energy for so long that we won’t drop dead after they’re removed from us,” Kiyah pointed out. “We shouldn’t live like we’re about to die-”
“But I think being realistic is important, too,” Emersyn said. “I know it feels ominous, but we don’t know how much longer we have. We have waited for a long time to move, and maybe we waited too long, but now we have to make up for our lost time. We won’t get that back. So, let’s live like we only have the next few days, or the next week left. I don’t think these aggressive attacks are going to stop, so...let’s just be urgent and diligent for now.”
Kiyah watched her with a small frown. He sighed and nodded. “Alright,” he said softly. “But I’m not going to believe that losing these Life Stones is going to be the end for us. We have so much more to give this world and we haven’t even had a chance. Fate has something in store for us yet.”
Jeriah nodded in agreement. They did have a lot to give this world but they hadn’t had the opportunity to do it. They had been too busy hiding away, hiding with their stolen Life Stones and hoping no one would find them, and for so long they had not.
But times had changed. The world wasn’t safe for guardians, and it was especially not safe for guardians that had defied the laws of the world.
They began walking down that path that would lead them out of the mountains again. They couldn’t keep running up to this place to hide anymore. This was the last time. Jeriah looked down at the road as they walked, the cut on the side of his head throbbing as it stung even after it was cleaned and bandaged.
The throbbing of the cut reminded him that he didn’t have a safe place to go anymore. But that was okay, because he had his friends. Kiyah that had so tenderly bandaged his cut, Emersyn who protected him from an attack that could have killed him, Verity who was soft spoken but thoughtful with her words and often kept them on track, and Zhai who was serious and perhaps harsh at times but only did so out of his love and compassion for his companions.
He might not have a safe ‘place’, but his friends were his safe place for now. They would be together until the very end of this path, wherever it would lead them.
Jeriah just hoped he wouldn’t have any regrets, and that they wouldn’t have any regrets in following him in his crazy ideas. That was all he wanted, aside from seeing Jakob again.
No regrets. For any of them.