The Five Wanderers

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Chapter 26

Their arrival to the gateway of the Underworld had not been nearly as traumatizing as the first time the Royals had come here. Everything seemed eerily calm, and the forest around them was so still. There weren’t even any animal noises.

“What is going on?” Kiyah whispered as he looked around.

“Nothing good,” Minda muttered as she walked towards the entrance to the cave. “Come on, let’s hurry.”

They all began to approach, but then a loud shout stopped them in their tracks and they turned back to see a figure in the forest rushing towards them. It was a familiar figure that made the Royals’ blood run cold.

“Jakob!” Jeriah exclaimed. “I knew it! I thought...I thought I was going crazy…”

“Impossible,” Zhai whispered.

“Stay back!” Laguna shouted as she stood in front and held her scythes out defensively. “Don’t approach, you mad guardian!”

Jakob slowed his steps, but his gaze was focused on Jeriah. “I was freed,” he said and then he looked at the Royals. “Your own companions freed me. Let me join you! Please, I need to be with my brother.”

“What? One of our group freed you? Which one?’ Laguna asked as her eyes narrowed.

“Royse,” Jakob said with a nod. “He said that Runi saw a fate where I needed to be here. If he says so, then shouldn’t you accept it?”

“We don’t have to accept what Runi says every time!” Minda exclaimed. “But...Royse...he’s not the type to break rules.”

“Maybe Runi convinced him. You know how convincing he is!” Darya said with a nod. “And I think we should let him come with us. If Runi saw something, then...I know we don’t always have to listen, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”

“I think it is,” Laguna said as her eyes narrowed.

“Please,” Jakob whispered. “I’m begging you. You don’t need to forgive me-”

“Oh, I won’t,” Laguna said harshly.

Jakob bowed his head. “Please. Let me walk alongside my brother. If it is to be the last time, won’t you give me that?”

“Laguna, let’s just...let’s allow it,” Darya nudged her with her elbow lightly.

“We’ll watch him,” Emersyn insisted. “You won’t have to watch him alone.”

“You’re our prisoners right now! We need to be watching you!” Minda exclaimed.

“We are coming with you willingly to end all of this madness,” Verity said. “I don’t think we’re prisoners at all. We’re willing hostages, maybe.”

Laguna lowered her scythes. “Fine,” she muttered. “But if he does anything dangerous, I’ll kill him on sight.”

“Works for me,” Minda nodded.

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Darya smiled awkwardly.

Jakob smiled and ran over and hugged Jeriah tightly. Jeriah felt relieved to hold him again. It was almost like he could breathe deeply now and just feel calm. He knew this might be his last journey, so he was glad it was with Jakob.

“Let’s move,” Minda said firmly as they began making their way into the entrance of the Underworld.

With this new addition to their team, they truly hoped it wouldn’t be complicated coming down here. Oddly enough, there was no attack from Angra, because their arrival had been expected, and the pathway was straightforward although just as eerie and frightening as before.

And these three Royals had not been the ones to go down here the first time.

“Well, I hate this,” Minda said as she looked around at the strange wisps of spirits that seemed to moan and cry and haunt the very halls they walked in. “Let’s get this over with.”

“It’s going to get worse the further we go,” Emersyn said with a small smile. “You haven’t even seen the Tombs, yet.”

Jakob looked up at the mention of the Tombs and he shuddered. Jeriah noticed this and looked over at his brother. “You’ve been to the Tombs?”

“We had to,” Jakob said. “That was the reason why we came down here the first time. We...had a burden to be rid of, and it belonged in the Tombs.”

Jeriah nodded but he didn’t want to force Jakob to elaborate on what he had that needed to be in the Tombs. He felt sorry that he couldn’t ask though, because he was so sure that very soon he wouldn’t be able to ask him anything ever again. Soon this was all going to be over, and he wasn’t even going to know of the depth of the burdens Jakob carried in his heart.

“No wonder Runi had such an awful headache when he was down here,” Laguna whispered as her gaze kept darting around. Her usually calm demeanor was clearly shaken by this environment as well. She was keeping a close eye on both Darya and Minda, and any time one of them seemed to stray away she would reach out and pull them back. She was protective, a strong force in their friend group.

Then the river of mist was before them. The eerie cries of the dead were intensified as they were now standing before it, and it seemed that none of them could quite comprehend a place so full of death.

“Wow,” Darya said as she leaned over a little to look at the river closely. “Living people are really not supposed to be here. Look how creepy this river is! There’s not even water in it, it’s just mist.”

“Obviously not,” Kiyah smiled a little. “And yet we’ve been here twice now.”

“Stand back, Darya,” Laguna said firmly as she tugged on the back of her shirt until Darya finally took a step back.

Darya turned around and looked at the group. “Where do we go from here? Which way is Prudentius’ home?”

“I don’t know,” Jakob admitted. “When we came here last time we got attacked by Servants of Prudentius and fell unconscious. When we woke up, we were all in cages and before her.”

“We know the way,” Zhai said as he gestured to a thin looking path to the left that wound its way next to the river and clearly led into even darker shadows. “Come on. It’s this way.”

“Let’s not walk too quickly,” Verity said softly as she looked at Zhai. Zhai gave her a solemn nod as they began making their way down the path.

“There must be another way…” Jakob muttered as he glanced at Jeriah.

Jeriah didn’t even know what to think, because his life just seemed too strange. He had lived for so long...what would be beyond this life? The stars? The dark sky above them during the night? Was that where they were going to go? Or would it really be nothing like all the stories said? Yes, guardians didn’t have an afterlife, but surely they occupied some sort of space in the universe even if they weren’t aware of it.

“There’s no other way,” Laguna said firmly, but then her expression softened. “We don’t want to hurt you. None of us want that. But...we have to finish this task. I’m sure you all understand.”

“I’m sure you’re tired of being hunted, too,” Darya said sympathetically. “Once you’re rid of these Life’ll be free!”

“In every sense of the word, I guess,” Jeriah said ominously.

“No,” Jakob grabbed Jeriah’s arm. “Stop saying that, okay? You don’t know what the end is going to be like, so-”

“I’d rather be prepared for the worst,” Emersyn said. “We’ve been running from our problems for so long. It’s time to face them, and obviously there’s going to be some punishment because of what we did. will likely be the ultimate punishment.”

“I’m with Jakob on this,” Kiyah said simply. “I’m staying optimistic until the end.”

Then the appearance of two skeletal figures in the middle of their path stopped them from walking. The skeletons had dangerous looking spears and they didn’t look particularly happy to see the strange humans.

One skeleton pointed at the group ominously. “You...why have you come?”

Darya stepped forward and gave a small bow. “I’m one of the Royals, and we have come here to complete our task for Prudentius,” she said. Then she gestured to the group they had brought to the Underworld. “We have brought the ones who stole the Life Stones.”

The skeletons seemed oddly pleased, if skeletons could look happy, and they quickly gestured for them to follow and began marching up the path. Darya looked back at Minda, and she just shrugged, and Laguna waved her onwards. They all began making their way up the path that was now being lit by the skeletons who were holding torches for them to see by.

Jakob was dragging his feet as he walked next to Jeriah. His mind was rushing with plots and plans, all which would be useless since they were in the Underworld already and surrounded by Prudentius’ servants that would surely never let them go free. Not until the contract was completed.

“Please,” Jakob thought desperately. “If anything can save my brother...please save him. Save him and his friends from an awful fate. They don’t deserve it...they’ve barely gotten to live their lives.” All he could do was plead to something beyond them to rescue the people that were important to him.

He wasn’t strong enough to save Jeriah. He needed help.

Jakob felt a hand on his shoulder and he jumped a little and looked over to see Kiyah walking on his other side. He offered a small smile. “I can see you’re stressed,” he said softly. “Just hold on, okay? I think things are going to be okay.”

“I’m not so sure,” Jakob admitted. “I’m...I’m scared. I know I’m a Monarch and I’m supposed to be strong and confident, but I’ve been in these awful situations before and I know they never end well.”

Kiyah smiled a little. “I’m scared, too, but we need to hold onto hope. It’s all we have,” he said.

Jakob nodded a little, and then he glanced at Jeriah. His brother offered him a gentle smile and that was encouraging to him. Even if he knew they were going into the belly of the beast, there was still hope. Maybe he didn’t feel hopeful, but Kiyah and Jeriah were just going to be his strength right now.

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