“Jeriah! Jeriah, hey!” Verity suddenly ran into the room, sliding in her stocking feet across the wooden floor. The Wanderers had managed to buy a cabin from an elderly couple that they helped move into a nearby city so they could be closer to their loved ones, and it was nice and secluded and a safe place to make their plans to rescue the Monarchs.
Jeriah looked up and smiled a bit at the sight of Verity. She had been anxiously reading over a bunch of books she had found at a library in the nearby city. The amount of traveling she had done in the past year back and forth between the cabin and the city was incredible. Jeriah had gone with her many times because he was desperate to find a way to save Jakob, but she was the one who really knew the ins and outs of the city library.
“What is it?” Jeriah asked as he looked back down at the shirt he was patching with needle and thread. Unlike the rest of the team, Jeriah had a great talent with sewing. It kept their shirts and pants from falling apart since they had no way to earn money and no humans to rely on for gifts. They had to find ways to take care of themselves.
Verity plopped down in a chair across from him and held out a book in front of what he was sewing so he couldn’t be distracted. He looked at the book, which had a strange title, and then he looked at her again.
“What does that mean? ‘Immortal Gifts’?” Jeriah asked.
“The author of the book has chronicled every gift that the Immortals have bestowed upon humanity,” Verity said as she opened the book to where an old worn bookmark rested. “Most of the gifts are boring and unimportant, but then I found a story about a Queen that Renatus, the Immortal of Rebirth, loved. Apparently he loved her so much that when he found out she was sick and dying, he created a special necklace for her with a piece of something called ‘the Life Stone’ inside a pendant.”
His brow furrowed. “A Life Stone? What’s that?” he asked. It sounded like something useful, but was it something accessible?
Verity tucked some dark blonde hair behind her ear as she looked intently at her book. Her eyes were wide and full of excitement as she read. “Queen Ameliana had a strange disorder in her body that made her life fade quickly. Renatus had met the Queen at the behest of her court and he fell in love with her. Of course love is forbidden between Immortals and humans, but he decided to do the only thing he could do; he wanted to give her life. He brought a piece of the Life Stone, a stone that mimics immortality in non-immortal creatures, but she apparently denied the jewel because she did not feel it was fair to her people that she might live forever.”
“Wow, a human said that? Most humans would jump at the chance of immortality,” Jeriah said as he leaned over to look at the page. “So, where is the necklace?”
“Well, Renatus was grieved by her choice but he respected it and went back to the Halls of the Dead to await her soul, and I guess he took the necklace with him,” Verity explained. “But the stone still exists! I guess it’s kept in the Halls of the Dead somewhere.”
Jeriah sat upright again and pondered on this for a moment. Was this their chance?
“Well,” he said softly. “The Life Stone will be useful, but it won’t save the Monarchs. Do you really think it’ll take more than our average life span to save them?”
Verity hesitated before speaking, but then she shrugged. “It’s been four years, Jeriah. We don’t have any solid plan. Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to at least be prepared for that outcome?” she asked.
“I guess so,” he agreed. “We’ll have to talk with the others.”
“Zhai and Kiyah are still in the city getting whatever supplies the humans will gift them, and Emersyn is on watch outside,” Verity said as she closed the book. “But when we all come together tonight, then we’ll talk.” she smiled and ruffled Jeriah’s hair and then hopped up and walked to her room. She seemed very proud of herself, and she should.
Jeriah was grateful that all her looking had finally come up with something. It wasn’t a way to save his brother and the Monarchs, but it was a solution to give them more time. He knew it’d be useful.
But convincing Zhai might be difficult.
The group sat around the table and ate a meager, but healthy, dinner. The humans weren’t too keen on giving gifts to guardians anymore, since most believed the Monarchs had caused the Eternal Night so Zhai and Kiyah only managed to gather some grains and greens for free. No meat in sight, but Zhai and Emersyn were incredible hunters and would likely do some hunting later.
“I don’t think we should mention that we’re guardians anymore,” Zhai said between bites of rice. “There are so few humans that show any respect for us, and I think some might even become violent if they knew what we are. They’re really angry at the Monarchs.”
“The Monarchs didn’t cause the Eternal Night! That was their old servants who worshiped the moon! They caused it...with some sort of spooky ritual. Not to mention Ari and Azi are just not doing their duty as the Immortals of the Sun,” Jeriah exclaimed. “We’re still doing our duty, even way out here! We’re protecting their city and they don’t even know it.”
“Although we are a bit distracted lately,” Emersyn pointed out. “We’re spending more time trying to find a solution for the Monarchs than our guardian duties. But, Zhai is right. We shouldn’t mention we’re guardians anymore. We can’t take handouts, we’ll just have to hunt and gather from now on.”
“Ugh,” Kiyah rolled his eyes dramatically, and then he smiled at his friends. “You mean you’re gonna hunt and I’m gonna have to do all the gathering. I know how the pecking order is around here!”
“Well, you are the youngest,” Verity chimed as she took a bite of her greens. “And you’re good at finding berry bushes!”
“Hey,” Jeriah suddenly spoke up. He figured now was better than later. “Verity found out about something called a Life Stone today. I think it might be something for us to look into.”
“Is it something to save the Monarchs?” Emersyn asked as she looked over at Verity.
“Well,” Verity tilted her head. “Not really, but it’s something that’ll give us more time to be able to find a solution for them.”
Zhai’s eyes narrowed as he rested his muscular forearms on the table. “What is that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Just listen before you get angry, Zhai,” Jeriah pleaded as he set his fork aside. “Just listen to Verity before you pass judgment on this idea.”
Zhai sighed and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “Go on,” he said.
Jeriah nodded and looked at Verity, and she just gave a smile as she continued. “Renatus has something called the Life Stone in the Halls of the Dead where he resides with Prudentius. He gave a piece of the Life Stone to a human queen once, but she didn’t want it. But the full Life Stone still exists down there! If we all took a piece, then we could achieve immortality and be able to stay around long enough to save the Monarchs.”
There was a long silence at the table, and then Kiyah leaned forward. “We’ll be immortal?” he whispered. He still had a child-like awe about everything since he was so young. He’d only been born into this world a month before all the chaos with the Monarchs began.
“As long as we have the stones,” Verity said with a nod.
“Well, that sounds...incredible, but it also sounds very dangerous,” Emersyn pointed out. “We can’t go into the Halls of the Dead. We don’t belong in places like that.”
“We only belong in this realm. The human realm,” Zhai agreed.
“And why is that?” Verity asked. “We’re like guests! We come because the humans need us to protect them, and we don’t really have a place while we’re here, and then once we die...well, it’s all over! We don’t exist anywhere anymore and we can’t be reborn.” she huffed. “I don’t understand why the One made us like this.”
“We cannot question the One,” Emersyn said in a warning tone. She was definitely the most reverent of the group, and had much respect for the hierarchy that existed in the world. Jeriah couldn’t fully understand it, since it seemed like the world was naturally cruel to guardians. How could she excuse that so easily?
“It doesn’t matter what you think, that won’t change reality,” Zhai said. His voice was raspy, as if he’d been yelling all day. But that’s just how his voice sounded all the time. Harsh and raspy. “We belong in this realm for a time and that’s it. I don’t know why we are brought into this world like this, but you should have accepted it by now.”
Verity sighed softly and then glanced away from the group. “I have accepted it, but I don’t have to agree with it,” she mumbled.
“So, what do you intend for us to do with these Life Stones?” Emersyn asked. “You want us to go and get them and live forever? Or until the Monarchs wake?”
“I mean, do you have any other plans?” Verity asked. She sounded nervous, as if she was afraid to speak up now. “This is my idea. I spent a lot of time reading books on solutions for this mess, and this is the best I could come up with.”
“I say we look into it,” Jeriah said. “We have to do something.”
“That’s just your Twin Soul nature speaking,” Zhai said as he pointed at him. “Because of your very nature, you’ll do anything to save Jakob. It doesn’t matter how risky it is for the rest of us.”
“That’s not true! I don’t want to risk any of you! But we need to do something! It’s been four years!” Jeriah argued. He knew Zhai was right, however. Twin Souls had one very obvious weakness; they had an almost feral nature that would come out when one twin was in danger. That’s why Jeriah had been desperately trying to find a solution to save Jakob. He couldn’t stop. His very nature wouldn’t let him.
“Why can’t we give it a try?” Kiyah asked as he pushed some peas around his plate. “It’d make all of us happy to save the Monarchs, right? I didn’t even get to spend much time with them, but I know they’re good people and deserve to live.”
“But we’ll have to go into the Halls of the Dead,” Zhai said. “That’s not a place that’s meant for the living!”
“Well, I’m going to go,” Jeriah said stubbornly. “Come with me if you want. Verity, will you help me find a way to get into the Halls of the Dead?”
Verity looked at him, but then she nodded. “I’ll help you. I’ll go with you.”
“You two can’t go alone,” Emersyn said with a sigh. “That’s too dangerous.”
“Well, we’re going to,” Jeriah said.
“I want to go, too!” Kiyah held up his hand. “I want to see what an Immortal Realm looks like.”
“No!” Zhai yelled as he slammed his hand on the table. All the plates jumped and food scattered across the table.
Everyone in the room froze and stared at him. Zhai was always firm, but he never rose to anger. This was rare, and they all knew it was a bad thing. Emersyn was the calmest, since she had known Zhai the longest, and she just reached over and touched his arm.
“That’s enough. You’re scaring them,” Emersyn said. Her tone was kind, but she was firm, too.
Zhai moved his arm from her reach and stood up. “This is dangerous! Do you want to end up like the Monarchs? Playing games with the Immortals is exactly how you end up like that!” he couldn’t lower his tone, but he was trying to keep it in control.
“That is not their fault! Ari is just cruel and the humans turned their backs on them!” Jeriah snapped back. “Don’t you dare blame the Monarchs for this!”
“They decided to take control and rule over the humans! You think that’s not a fool’s errand?” Zhai questioned. “They set themselves up for failure. Guardians protect humanity, we do not rule humanity. But the Monarchs became famous, their prowess beyond that of any guardians in the past or present, and their egos grew along with their fame. And now look at them. That will be us if you keep these foolish ideas in your head.”
“Then you can stay, Zhai,” Jeriah turned and walked to the door. He needed to get out of here, he needed to catch his breath. His chest was burning as the flame in his heart was raging. He was angry that Zhai reacted the way he did, and he felt like he had to defend Jakob and the Monarchs. They weren’t here to defend themselves, after all.
He wondered how many people thought the way Zhai did, though. Did everyone blame the Monarchs for their circumstances? It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right. They were the victims!
Even if they made mistakes, was that enough to condemn them to a cruel existence of curses and nightmares?
He sat outside on the grass in front of the cabin. There was a light breeze, but it was summer so it was a comforting feeling. He looked up at the moon that still rose and set, even if the sun didn’t anymore. The Immortal of the Moon was still hard at work, at least.
He put a hand to his chest where his flame was burning brightly. “I know,” he whispered. “I need to save Jakob to feel calm again. The others just don’t understand. I know they care about me, but they don’t understand.”
He heard the door open and looked over his shoulder to see Kiyah approaching him. His silver hair glowed in the moonlight and his young face looked so youthful and bright despite his concerned expression. His light skin caused his brown freckles to stand out even more on his cheeks and nose, which also made him seem so young. Jeriah just smiled at him, but looked back up at the moon without another word.
Kiyah sat down next to him quietly, mirroring the way he looked up at the moon. “Emersyn calmed Zhai down,” he informed. “They kind of act like a mom and dad, huh?”
“I guess even guardians take on these familial roles,” Jeriah responded. “Why are you out here, then?”
“To see if you’re okay,” Kiyah patted his shoulder. “You are, right?”
“I guess,” Jeriah said. “I’m going to go to find the Life Stone, though. That hasn’t changed.”
“I think we need to find some middle ground,” he suggested. “I bet Zhai would be willing to go with us to the Halls of the Dead if we decide to play by the rules, you know? We’ll have to do as the Immortal of Death and Immortal of Rebirth say. If they say we can’t have the Life Stone, then we move on and find a new solution. I think he’ll agree to that.”
“What new solution do we have?” Jeriah asked as he shrugged Kiyah’s hand off his shoulder. He didn’t feel like being touched right now. His flame was still burning too hot.
“I don’t know, but I think that’s all we have to work with, Jeriah,” Kiyah said as he looked back up at the sky.
Jeriah sighed softly and followed his gaze back up to the sky. He knew Kiyah was probably right, but it certainly didn’t make it an easy pill to swallow.
Jakob was still in a tomb with his Monarchs and unable to wake. He needed to be there for him, no matter how long the wait would be.