The Five Wanderers

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Chapter 13

Jeriah sat quietly at the edge of the mouth of a cave, watching as snow slowly drifted down from the sky and continued to cover the land in a blanket of peaceful, quiet white snow. Him and his friends had been living outdoors for so long, avoiding interactions with humans because it had proven to be rather dangerous lately, but now they had to find better shelter as the weather turned more hostile towards living things.

But they had nowhere to live except for this cave. He felt sort of sad, because he remembered past winters when they would travel to the Monarchs castle to live there through the winter before returning to their traveling ways, but now that wasn’t an option. It had been three years since the Monarchs had fallen into their cursed sleep, and Jeriah wasn’t any closer to figuring out a way to save them than he was three years ago. He had come up with ideas, but nothing was a good solution.

And now he was just cold and tired and afraid that he would never save Jakob.

“Jeriah? Come on, I can be on watch now,” Zhai’s groggy voice said behind him. He walked over and crouched down next to him, yawning and running his fingers through his hair. “I slept enough.”

“You still look tired to me,” Jeriah smiled a little and then looked out at the snow again. “It’s fine. I can’t sleep, anyway.”

Zhai nodded and held out his cloak, putting it around Jeriah’s shoulders and tucking his friend into his side to keep them both warm. Jeriah appreciated this and leaned against him since he was warm from having been asleep by the fire just moments ago.

“You can’t stop thinking about Jakob, huh?” Zhai asked.

“Of course I can’t,” Jeriah said softly. “I’m worried about all of them. There has to be something we can do, right?”

“I don’t know,” Zhai said with a small shrug. “I don’t know a lot about curses, honestly. I know the only one who can break curses is usually the person who casts them, unless the curse is attached to a charm, or something. But...that’s as far as my knowledge goes.”

“Yeah,” Jeriah muttered as he looked out at the landscape again. “What if he stays asleep forever?”

“I don’t know, but curses and spells often preserve the person it’s cast upon, so...even if they sleep for thousands of years and then wake up, they’ll probably be just fine. They might not even age,” he said with a small smile. “ day they’ll all wake up and go on to live their lives, I guess.”

That was a nice thought, if it was true, but Jeriah still felt sorry that he wouldn’t be there when Jakob woke up. He couldn’t live thousands of years. Guardians had the exact same lifespan as humans, and sometimes even less because they often got into battles against beings that were extremely dangerous and guardians could succumb to injuries just like any other living things.

Needless to say, he knew he wasn’t going to be around if Jakob woke up in a time long beyond their life expectancy.

Zhai hugged Jeriah gently. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I know you want to be there for him, but I’m not sure there’s anything we can do.”

Jeriah felt tears well up in his eyes and silently roll down his cheeks, dripping off the edge of his jaw and onto Zhai’s cloak that surrounded him. Those silent tears were followed by more, until his whole body was shaking and he was full on sobbing into the material of the cloak. Zhai kept hugging him, just patting his back and trying to be comforting as best he could. He might look like an intimidating person, but he was really just a kind big brother to Jeriah. He was very protective and more gentle than one might expect.

But even all that comfort couldn’t stop Jeriah’s tears.

“We can keep trying to find a solution, Jeriah,” Zhai said as he released him and just patted his back gently. “This isn’t the end. As long as we’re still living and breathing...we can find a way to save them, or a way to help us live longer.”

“How would we do that?” Jeriah muttered. His voice sounded more nasally because his nose was all stuffed up from crying.

“I really don’t know, but Emersyn or Kiyah might have some ideas. They’re pretty knowledgeable about magic and stuff like that,” Zhai said. “Just go lie down by the fire, Jeriah. You need some rest, even if you can’t sleep.”

Jeriah scooted out of Zhai’s cloak and slowly got to his feet. “Thank you,” he said softly as he sniffled and approached the fire. He sat down in front of it, pulling his own blanket around his shoulders as he stared into the flames. He glanced at the sleeping faces of Kiyah and Emersyn and he knew once they were awake he would indeed ask them what they knew about curses and how to break them, or how to live longer so he could see the day when Jakob woke. He knew it was crazy, but he had to do this. He had to come up with a solution.

Jeriah opened his eyes as the memory faded from his mind. So many days and nights he had spent crying out of fear for Jakob's life. He hoped he wouldn't have to feel that way anymore, but he knew he was finally on the right track.
They had moved off the main road leading out of the mountain because they wanted to avoid their old campsite, since they were certain that campsite could be used as a means to track them and they didn’t want to return to the scene, and so they were walking down a rocky slope with no real path. Luckily, they had lived in the mountains for so long that they were used to such terrain.

“No one’s going to be able to follow us down here,” Verity said as she moved easily around some slippery rocks. “We’re like mountain goats! No one can keep up with us.”

“There might be some people that could, but I doubt they’d be able to track us,” Zhai agreed. “The stones here are constantly shifting and the ground isn’t wet enough to leave tracks. We’ll definitely be safer going this route.”

Jeriah agreed with that sentiment. He felt good about going this way, even if it was more exhausting because of how vigilant they had to be around the slippery and sliding stones. If it got them off of the mountain and far away from the hills and back towards the ocean where the Monarchs castle rested...then he’d be satisfied. And it seemed like so far their idea was working.

They seemed to be a bit lighter now, they felt more hopeful since they had found their own way down the mountain, but they knew the other guardians would not be finished with them, for sure. Joy would probably want revenge for being beaten, and Mirae was very tough and obviously wanted to finish what she had been sent out to do. They couldn’t let their guard down, even if they did feel confident.

“Once we get to the bottom of the mountain and all these hills, I think we should stop and rest,” Kiyah suggested as he slid down a patch of slick stones with skill, looking rather cool after the action. “We haven’t slept all night, and the sun is starting to rise again. I think the light of day is safer to travel in than the dark of night, but...we need to rest, too.”

“It does seem like the guardians are chasing us at night,” Verity agreed. “But yeah, we should at least take enough time to have a nap and a snack.”

“I can’t wait until we can eat an actual meal,” Zhai sighed. “I miss nice hot meals in warm places. We haven’t experienced that in so long.”

“Apinya will cook us a nice meal,” Emersyn said with a wistful smile. “Maybe the rest of them will cook for us, too. Then we can cook something for them the next night.”

“Lots of meals being shared with our big family. I like the sound of that,” Jeriah smiled. It used to be like that, he wanted things to go back to how they were. He wasn’t sure that was a possibility, but he hoped so. At least for a little while.

They made it to the bottom of the mountain before the sun had fully risen into the sky again and they traveled across the plains for a time until they came to a patch of shady trees that they felt they could discreetly hide within and also watch out for any danger while they rested and ate. Zhai remained as their vigilant watcher for the first hour, and then Kiyah switched with him so he could get some sleep, too.

Jeriah kept having dreams of Jakob so his sleep was restless, but he hoped it was a sign that he would see him soon. The dreams consisted of Jakob calling to him from a distance, but they never managed to bridge the gap between them before he woke.

He finally got up and sat down next to Kiyah. Kiyah didn’t seem surprised to see him and he just patted his shoulder. “How’re you holding up? Want me to look at that cut on the side of your head?”

“I think it’s okay, but sure,” Jeriah agreed as he sat still so Kiyah could remove the old bandages and have a look at the cut.

“Ooh, it’s healing nicely,” Kiyah said with a smile as he gently dabbed at the cut with a fresh piece of gauze. “I think you should leave the bandage off for now to let the air heal it.”

“Thanks,” Jeriah said with a small nod.

Kiyah took a deep breath and then sighed. “I don’t know why I’m feeling so anxious right now. I felt fine when we were walking down the mountain, but now that we’re down here...I just feel exposed again,” he said. “I feel like we’re being hunted.”

“I’m sure we are,” Jeriah said. “We’ve always been hunted.”

“Yeah, but it feels more...intense,” Kiyah said. The snap of a twig made him turn his head quickly, but then a rabbit scurried away. He shuddered. “Everything has me on edge now.”

“Yeah, I understand,” Jeriah agreed. “I just want to live peacefully.”

Kiyah sighed softly. “Seeing you get shot at like that...I never want to see that again,” he said firmly. “We have to get faster and stronger. We have to..” he grabbed at the stone that rested under his shirt and pulled it out so he could hold it on the palm of his hand. He almost looked like he was ready to rip it off the ribbon that held it around his neck. “I want to get rid of these. They’re holding us back. They’re keeping us trapped in this cycle.”

Jeriah looked alarmed and he placed his hand on Kiyah’s arm to keep him from pulling it off. “Calm down,” he said. “I know it’s frustrating, but we don’t know what’s going to happen if we get rid of them. Please...we need to wait.”

Kiyah looked at Jeriah and dropped the stone against his chest lightly. “Wait for what, though? The only way we’re gonna find out what happens is if we finally take them off and cast them away,” he said. “I hope we get to do that soon.”

“After we find the Monarchs,” Jeriah suggested lightly. “Just hold on for a little longer, Kiyah. We’ll be free soon.”

Kiyah grew quiet after that and he just nodded and watched the landscape all around them. Jeriah could tell that his friends were growing weary of this life they were leading. Yes, they were all strong still and they wanted to finish this goal of finding the Monarchs, but they all knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. The end would come once these stones were given back to where they belonged.

Maybe going back to the Underworld was really their goal. The final goal. To get rid of this burden and free himself and his friends. Even if that meant they couldn’t live in this world anymore, perhaps this just wasn’t a world they were meant to live in. It hurt to even consider, but there was still a small chance that they might survive, right?

He held onto that. He wanted to continue to live in this world with his newly awakened brother. He wanted to live a peaceful life with his best friends. His goals were ones of peace because he’d seen too much war in the years that had passed. He was tired of it. Everyone was tired of it.

He had to find a real solution, not a selfish solution. As he looked at Kiyah he knew his solution would have to do with bringing all of them freedom they deserved, because he had tied them to this immortality. Even if they had agreed to it, he thought that perhaps they had only agreed to please him. Well, he wanted to please them now.

It was about time.

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