The Five Wanderers

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Chapter 24

Runi watched as the sad group left the castle. He wasn’t sure how well Minda, Darya, and Laguna were going to do on that trip, but he was glad they had decided to go. Everyone else had been too anxious to leave, and Runi refused to go back down into the Underworld. That place had nearly destroyed his mind last time.

But the games weren’t over just because the contract was being completed. They still had a lot of work to do here in this castle. Trust levels were at an all time low between the groups, and Runi certainly wasn’t immune to it.

But he figured he was the only one functioning enough to try to find a solution. He had promised Cetas and Elidi that he would find some way to mend things, because he knew that was their future. They had to keep their alliance with the Monarchs for now.

He started walking away from the window and down the dreary hallway when he saw Hector walking towards him. He tilted his head, raising his eyebrow a little.

“What’re you doing up here, oh Monarch?” Runi asked in his usual taunting tones. He usually sounded like he was trying to rile someone up, and most of the time he actually was.

Hector slowed to a stop and put his hands on his hips. “I live here,” he said. “I can walk these halls whenever I want.”

Runi nodded and then leaned down a little since Hector was a bit shorter than him. He thought it was funny that this legendary Monarch couldn’t even reach the six foot mark. Most heroes were written in stories as tall and majestic, not short and angry. Reality never matched up to fiction, even for supernatural ancient creatures.

“I have a question for you, Hector,” Runi said. “I know you must have a library of ancient texts somewhere in this lovely, depressing castle. Could you show me where it is?”

Hector didn’t look amused at his comment, but he just nodded and turned to begin walking back down the hallway. “Follow me,” he said. “What are you looking for?”

“A solution,” Runi replied cryptically.

“To what?” Hector asked as he looked back at Runi. “Isn’t Oriana doing well?”

“Oh, I’m not looking for healing spells,” Runi waved his hand. “Levant has that handled.”

“Then what?” Hector stopped walking now and he turned to look at Runi fully.

“To our rift,” he explained. “I’m sure you can feel it. We don’t trust each other anymore, and I can only imagine bad things will come from that.”

“Do you see something?” Hector asked softly.

Runi glanced to the side, and then back at Hector. He wasn’t sure what he should tell him. “Nothing in particular. It’s just a bad feeling I have. I usually follow my feelings,” he said. “If they’re strong enough.”

Hector sighed softly and started to walk again. Runi followed and couldn’t help but smirk to himself. He liked that the Monarchs seemed to revere him to a degree for his clairvoyance. They came from an era where Oracles lived and gave advice often to leaders, and they saw him as a modern day Oracle.

Well, he wasn’t about to object to being put on a pedestal.

Hector opened an ancient wooden door that creaked on its hinges and then walked inside. Runi followed easily and was immediately struck by the scent of old books, and perhaps dust. This place had clearly been used and cleaned by the Monarchs recently, but it was so old that the smell of dust would probably never leave.

It was beautiful, though. It was a two story library with a small staircase that led to the loft where more books were kept. The shelves were so tall and had countless books within them. The Monarchs had been avid collectors of books, or perhaps these books had been brought by humans who worshiped them.

Runi couldn’t help but reach out and touch the spine of one book that was so worn he couldn’t read the title. He’d never seen anything quite like this, and he had to admit that he was actually in awe. This much knowledge in one place? Untouched? How was it possible?

“Haven’t you seen a book before?” Hector teased.

Runi looked away from the shelves and back at Hector. “Of course, but this is still stunning,” he said. “Even our own castle library didn’t compare.”

“Ah,” Hector nodded. “Well, read as much as you like. I’m not sure there’s anything here to tell you how to settle a dispute between alliances, but I don’t know.”

“How long has this castle existed? I mean, have these books been here the whole time? Even after your slumber and everything they weren’t damaged?” Runi asked curiously.

“By some miracle,” Hector said with a nod. “The humans built us this castle during very early days. I’d say probably in the year one thousand four hundred and eighty five in the Age of Truth. You know, they used to label years with whatever the Oracles had visions about. I guess you modern people don’t do that anymore.”

“We don’t have Oracles anymore,” Runi said with a shrug. “The Oracles disappeared after the sun did. Or, that’s what I learned in school, anyway.”

“Really? How mysterious,” Hector stroked his chin, but then he looked at Runi. “But you’re something like an Oracle.”

“I guess, but my power was a gift from Azi, so I don’t think it counts,” Runi smirked. “I was nothing before I became a Royal.”

“Nothing? You were a human. That’s something,” Hector said as he waved his hand. “Humans rule the world.”

“Only the ones with money and influence,” Runi said as he turned around to look at the shelf again.

“I suppose you didn’t have that,” Hector mused as he walked over to stand alongside Runi. He reached out and pulled a book from the shelf and began to flip through the pages casually.

“No, I did not. Well, prior to becoming a Royal,” Runi said with a sigh as he turned to walk away from Hector and approach another shelf.

“What was it like for you before that?” Hector continued, although he didn’t follow Runi to the other shelf. He seemed to recognize that Runi needed a little space, but he was obviously not going to stop asking questions.

Runi hesitated, because he didn’t like talking about his past. The only ones who needed to know about him were the other Royals, and even they didn’t all know what he’d been through as a child.

“I guess it must have been hard. I’m sorry,” Hector said in a softer tone when Runi didn’t respond. “I remember visiting a city once where there was a large population of poor people. We had to protect that population from monsters, because the rich people could hide inside of their sturdy homes. They wouldn’t do anything to protect the poor, so we built a wall around their district to keep them safe.”

“How kind of you. I didn’t know the Monarchs did hard labor,” Runi said as he picked a book out of the shelf and began to browse the pages.

“We served the people in any capacity they needed us,” Hector explained. “There were many children in that poor population. It was funny, though. Some were so bright and hadn’t lost their childlike innocence, but others had grown cold to the world already.” He turned around to look at Runi. “I’d guess you were one of the ones that grew cold at an early age.”

Runi looked over his shoulder at Hector. “Are you judging me for that?”

“No, just observing,” Hector replied.

Runi glanced down, and then back at the book. He couldn’t look at Hector while he talked about this sort of thing. He didn’t want to see the sympathy in his eyes, or perhaps that pitiful look people got. He hated that look.

“I never knew my father growing up,” Runi said. “In my country that is seen as a very awful thing. Our country is very patriarchal in nature, and children gain their name and legacy from their father. But, my mother was a poor woman who often did things that people like to turn their nose up at. She had to survive, you know? I’m probably lucky she even gave birth to me. I know there were others that she chose not to carry.”

Hector just hummed. “I don’t fully understand.”

Runi rolled his eyes. Did he have to spell it out for him? “My mother was a prostitute, okay? That’s why I didn’t know my father, and my sister doesn’t know hers,” he said. “We were ostracized because we didn’t have fathers, though. We didn’t belong. Hara is my mother’s family name, and it holds no legacy.”

“How can you say that? Look at you. You have created your own legacy,” Hector said with a raised eyebrow. “I’m sure your sister has seen your example and has grown to create her own legacy, too.”

“I bought my mother and sister a house before our exile, so they were living in a safe place before I left,” Runi said softly. “But I don’t know what’s happening to them now. They...did not want to see me after everything that happened. They were scared of me.”

Hector sighed softly. “It’s sad when people you love look at you with fear,” he agreed. “I saw that look in the faces of humans I had protected so many times during our fight with Ari. I was used to seeing admiration, but they were afraid. They looked at me like I was a monster.”

Runi flinched at that phrase and he slammed the book shut. He couldn’t read right now, anyway. “There is a difference between seeing your mother and sister look at you with fear than some strangers that you protected but have no biological connection to,” he said as he shoved the book back into the bookcase.

“But we don’t have those connections,” Hector said as he finally turned around to just look at him. “So, how would we know what that feels like? Why would my feelings be any less than yours?” He paused and then nodded slowly. “I’m sorry your upbringing was difficult, and I’m sorry your family became afraid of you, but you have time to mend those things. As it stands, you have become a strong individual on your own. Well, perhaps you’ve become this way with the help of your other companions.”

Runi saw a book with the word ‘Oath’ on the spine. He pulled the book out and then turned on his heel and began walking towards the door. “I’m going to go do some reading,” he said. He was quite finished with this conversation. He could feel himself getting too angry about it.

Hector grabbed Runi’s arm as he walked past him, and Runi’s eyes flashed at him and he yanked his arm away aggressively. He’d lost his cool demeanor.

“Runi, I’m sorry,” he said. “You are strong and resilient, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide your pain.”

Runi couldn’t understand why Hector was being so nice to him. What did he want? There was always an ulterior motive with people, but Hector wasn’t a human. But surely guardians even had their own agendas.

“We don’t have time for a therapy session right now,” Runi said with a frown. “My friend was almost murdered by your friend. Our alliance is on shaky ground, and you want to talk about my feelings?”

Hector paused and then he nodded. “I was taking an opportunity to get to know you. I’m sorry it upset you,” he said. “Especially during this difficult time. I hope you found a book that will help you.”

Runi huffed and then walked out of the library without another word. He began searching the halls for any room that was completely unoccupied and wouldn’t likely be occupied any time soon. He needed to be alone.

He wanted to hide away.

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