Jeriah had been staring out at the snow laden landscape for a while. He had a feeling this was going to be their last calm winter since they were almost constantly being hunted by assassins these days. Prudentius must have been getting tired of waiting for the Life Stones to be returned.
He felt hands grab his shoulders and he turned quickly, and let out a chuckle to see Kiyah there with a smile on his face.
“Did I scare you?” he asked playfully.
“Is this really the right time to be scaring me or the others? We might attack you by accident,” Jeriah pointed out, but he also had a playful smile on his face.
“Nah, you’d never really hurt me,” Kiyah smiled and looked out at the snow as he stood beside Jeriah now. “It’s pretty out there, but it sure is cold.”
“Yes, but I think the cold is the only thing keeping us from being discovered right now,” Jeriah pointed out. “We’ll be safe as long as the snow stays. No one wants to travel through such heavy snow and cold weather, not even the minions of Prudentius.”
“True,” Kiyah said with a nod. Then he crouched down and took a handful of snow and made it into a ball. “If the snow protects us, then I want to be the snow.”
“What?” Jeriah looked confused.
“I know I’m young and maybe I’m not the strongest, but sometimes I think about how much I want to keep you all safe,” Kiyah said as he stood upright again. “I’d do anything to make sure all of my friends get to live somewhere warm and don’t have to run away from shadows.”
“Yeah? Well, I’d do anything for that, too,” Jeriah said with a small nod. “I know I’ve been distracted by my determination to see the Monarchs again, but-”
“Don’t feel bad about it. I know you still love all of us,” Kiyah said with a nod. “I want to make sure you get to be happy and live alongside Jakob again, too.” Then he turned around quickly and threw the snowball he had created at something behind them.
Zhai let out a yelp and then wiped the snow off the front of his coat. “Excuse me?”
“You gotta walk softer! I heard you coming a mile away!” Kiyah taunted. Jeriah couldn’t help but laugh.
“The snow is gonna make a crunching sound no matter how softly I walk!” Zhai scooped up a handful of snow and threw it right back. “Better run for cover now!”
An all out snowball war began in that moment. Jeriah and Kiyah worked together to attack Zhai, but he was very steady and battled them well on his own. Soon enough Emersyn and Verity joined him and the area was full of laughter. The tense still winter air had broken because of the joy that filled each of them in this moment, and it felt like they weren’t in danger at all.
The snow was keeping them safe and bringing them joy.
Just like Kiyah.
The group had walked away from the scene, but it felt as though they were walking in slow motion. Jakob walked alongside Jeriah, trying to give him some support, but Jeriah couldn’t think about anything except that Kiyah had given his own life so that he could live.
Minda, Laguna, and Darya looked very sympathetic as they walked. Darya had teary eyes, but the other two just looked down at the ground. Darya reached out and took hold of Emersyn’s arm lightly. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “We never wanted this to happen.”
“You couldn’t have predicted what Prudentius would do,” Emersyn said with a small nod as she kept walking. She didn’t want to stop, she wanted to move. She might break down again if she stopped. She kept wiping tears off her cheeks, but they didn’t stop coming. “We knew that we wouldn’t get away with this so easily.”
“But it should have been me,” Jeriah muttered as he stared at the ground.
“Does it matter? If it was you, they’d still be sad right now. Except Kiyah would be crying instead of you,” Laguna said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, or right, but I’m saying that you shouldn’t question his willing sacrifice. You should mourn him, but...be grateful to him, as well. He gave you this opportunity to live.”
Jeriah looked at Laguna and felt like if the tables were turned that she wouldn’t be so calm about all of this and she probably wouldn’t even take her own advice, but he just nodded and continued to walk onwards.
They didn’t stop moving until they were finally out of the Underworld, but then they all had to stop and make camp. Jeriah, Emersyn, Verity, and Zhai couldn’t go on any further without rest. Their bodies were too worn from the grief and sudden loss of their youngest friend.
“Tell us about Kiyah,” Minda suggested as they sat around the fire that had just been built. “Maybe remembering good times with him will ease your suffering.”
“Minda, I don’t know-” Laguna started.
“No, that’s a fine idea,” Emersyn said with a small nod. “We should share our memories of Kiyah...it’ll keep him alive to us, you know? We hold our memories of him...we need to share his memory so that he never disappears.”
Jeriah wiped his eyes. He couldn’t stop crying no matter how hard he tried. He rested his head on Jakob’s shoulder. “I have so many good memories of Kiyah. Where do I even begin…”
“Kiyah was a bright, warm person,” Zhai said between sniffles. “He supported us all with his bold personality, you know? He…” Zhai hesitated and cleared his throat as his sadness threatened to overwhelm him again. “He’s going to be the brightest star in the sky. I’m sure of that.” He looked up, but the branches from the trees obscured any view of the night sky.
“He was brave,” Emersyn agreed. “He was bold, too, yes, but he had a gentleness about him. When he sang or played music...his talent was unparalleled. He had a gentle soul, and his optimism and innocence often kept us going during difficult times.”
Verity had stopped crying, but her grief was evident on her face even still. She looked so hollow as she stared into the fire. “He always tried to lift our spirits when we were down, or if we were tired from all the traveling we had to do. He always reminded us that one day we would get to live safely somewhere,” she said in a quiet voice. “But I never imagined he wouldn’t be there with us.”
Jeriah lifted his head from Jakob’s shoulder. “He told me once, not that long ago, that he wanted to be like snow that protects us. You know, because during the winter we were never chased by assassins when the snow fell. They didn’t like to traverse the mountains when it had snowed because it was difficult to do. He...he’s like the snow that falls in the mountains...he protected us,” he rubbed his eyes again because it hurt to even remember that. “Snow is gentle but it’s also resolute. It knows it must fall in order to...cover the world in peaceful quiet.”
They all became solemn after that, each of them contemplating what Jeriah said.
“But snow brings joy to people, too,” Darya spoke up after a moment. “When I see snow, I get excited because it’s fun to play in the snow, right? I’m sure Kiyah would want you to be joyful when you think about him, too. Right now it might just be grief, but soon...soon you’ll get to remember all the fun you used to have.”
“He sounds like an amazing person,” Minda said with a small nod. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to know him better.”
Verity hugged her knees into her chest and rested her head on her knees. “What do we do now?”
“We have to go back to the Monarch’s castle,” Laguna said. “We need to reunite with the others and see how Oriana is doing. I’m sure you all will be given rest there, seeing as you are old friends of the Monarchs. Ah, and related to them.” She glanced at Jakob.
“I will still have to face judgment for what I did, as well,” Jakob spoke up after a moment. “We still have some things to sort out before we can live peacefully, I guess.”
“Live peacefully…” Emersyn muttered. “I don’t even know what that’s like.”
None of them could imagine a peaceful life, especially now that Kiyah wasn’t with them, but they had to believe that peace was waiting out there for them somewhere. Somewhere beyond all these nightmares.