All he could hear was the sound of his breath, which he was trying to keep quiet, as he pressed his back against the wall of the cavern. He knew he shouldn’t be here, especially alone, but he didn’t want to turn back. Tomorrow they were going to leave these wicked depths and they weren’t going to have anything to show for it, and he just couldn’t let that happen.
This was his only chance at immortality.
He peeked around the corner and saw servants of Renatus gathering items around what appeared to be an altar. The altar was Jeriah’s goal, since resting upon it was a large pale stone that glowed with an ethereal light.
He waited quietly until the servants of Renatus had finally left the altar room, and he quietly crept inside. His heart was pounding and he knew he shouldn’t be here. This was a special place, and this stone was something created by Renatus, according to the ancient texts that Verity had found. Zhai warned against coming here, but Jeriah couldn’t risk leaving it.
“Please understand,” he whispered as he finally stood before the altar. “I have to see my brother again.”
He took a hammer and chisel out of a satchel he had brought with him. Verity had told him that the stone was massive and couldn’t be carried out for them to use, which was why Renatus had taken only a piece of it to that Queen he had loved, so Jeriah decided to follow his example. Hopefully it would be enough to keep them alive until the Monarchs woke again.
He placed the chisel against the stone. He could feel the power here, but he wasn’t afraid of it. He carefully chiseled off five pieces that were all the size of a pendant. He tucked the pieces of the stone into his satchel and then crept off to return to where his friends rested in the caverns. They were going to have to leave tonight, they weren’t going to be welcomed here once Prudentius and Renatus discovered what he had done.
He knelt down next to Emersyn once he had arrived back at the camp. “Emersyn, we have to go,” Jeriah said as he shook her shoulder. “We have to go right now.”
“Why?” Emersyn asked as she opened one green eye to look at him. Then she sat up as she seemed to sense the trouble that Jeriah had brought with him. “Jeriah…”
“I’ve done something that I can’t undo,” Jeriah said. “And we have to go.”
Emersyn quickly reached over and smacked Zhai’s arm to wake him, and then she got up and grabbed Kiyah and Verity and pulled them to their feet.
“What’s going on!?” Zhai almost growled. He wasn’t happy at being woken up like this, but he was even less happy when he looked at Jeriah and knew what he had done. “Jeriah?”
“Yes,” Jeriah nodded. “You’re right about my Twin Soul nature. It’s selfish. Come on, we have to go.” And without another word he began running out of the room that had been graciously given to them by Prudentius and Renatus and into the massive tunnels that would eventually lead them out of this place.
“What’s happening!?” Kiyah shouted as he tried to keep up with them despite how tired he was.
“Jeriah has turned into a thief,” Zhai said as he ran easily alongside him. He glared at Jeriah, but Jeriah just met his gaze. He knew he was in the wrong, he knew stealing from an Immortal was definitely a death sentence, but he also knew he couldn’t help it. He was compelled to do whatever he could to save Jakob. This was a tool for him to do that.
“We’ll talk once we’re safe!” Emersyn said between breaths as they continued to run.
They had to run, they had to find safety. Jeriah had risked all their lives in order to save Jakob. He knew the guilt would set in once the adrenaline drained away, but for now he was just thrilled that he had done something that would hopefully open a path to rescuing the Monarchs.
They didn’t stop running until they were far from the mouth of the cave that led into the Underworld. Kiyah collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily from all the running. Verity knelt down next to him and gulped down air as she too seemed exhausted. Emersyn put her hands on her hips as she took a moment to calm down but then she looked over at Jeriah.
“What have you done to us?” she asked. Her tone was accusatory, but Jeriah knew he couldn’t blame her.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out five small Life Stone pieces and held them in the palm of his hand. Kiyah and Verity were both on their feet again and staring in awe. Kiyah reached out to take one, but Zhai slapped his hand away.
“Don’t touch it! We all heard what Renatus said! The Life Stone doesn’t belong in this world,” Zhai said with a frown. “Jeriah, I went along with this scheme because you promised me that you would not do anything reckless.”
“I know,” Jeriah said with a small nod. “But I am the only one responsible for stealing. If Prudentius or Renatus come after us, then I am the only one responsible.”
“But we all stand together,” Emersyn said as she watched him with a quiet gaze that he couldn’t read. “If we allow you to keep those stones, then we are all responsible.”
“Emersyn is right,” Zhai said firmly. “Prudentius is an Immortal that judges the souls of the dead for their sins day in and day out. You think she wouldn’t be quick to judge all of us for this action?”
“Wait, stop,” Verity said as she held out her hands to stop Zhai and Emersyn. “I know this isn’t a great situation, but it’s already happened. We possess the Life Stones and we should use them to save the Monarchs. We don’t have to worry about time now, so we can really focus on a proper plan. It may take many years to find a way to free them and destroy Ari’s curse! I really think that Jeriah did what had to be done. I support him.”
“He’s risking all of our lives,” Zhai said. “And you’re fine with that?”
Verity nodded and took one of the stones and looked at it closely. “I want to live to see a day where I can talk with Minhee again,” she said. “He was always a good friend to me, and he deserves to wake.”
Jeriah smiled a little. He was so grateful for Verity’s support. He had a feeling without her he wouldn’t be able to complete this task of saving the Monarchs.
“This isn’t just about Jakob,” Kiyah agreed with a small nod. “What about Luca, Darya, Apinya, and Minhee? It’s a risk for us to do this, of course, but maybe it’s a risk we can survive.”
“We’ve survived some bad situations in the past,” Jeriah agreed.
“None of those situations had to do with Immortals,” Zhai said with a heavy sigh. “But it seems I am outnumbered. What about you, Emersyn? What do you say?”
Emersyn looked at the stones, and then she reached out and took one gently. “I think right now I have to do this to protect them,” she said as she looked at Zhai. “I don’t think it’d be wise for them to live long lives without a voice of reason at their side. I need to stay with them. I do want to save the Monarchs, too.”
Zhai looked frustrated, but defeated. He finally nodded and took one of the stones. “Fine,” he said. “I knew your Twin Soul nature would take us down a dangerous road, but I didn’t realize it would be like this.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeriah said softly. “I promise that I’ll make it up to all of you one day.”
“Make it up to us? How so?” Zhai asked as he rolled the stone over in his palm.
“I don’t know,” Jeriah said softly. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out once my mind is less distracted by…”
“By Jakob?” Verity offered.
Jeriah nodded and looked at Zhai. “I take full responsibility for what I’ve done tonight, at least. That’s all I can do.”
“That doesn’t comfort me,” Zhai said. “But hopefully we can resolve this problem before needing these Life Stones to keep us alive forever. I’d like to return these sooner rather than later.”
Jeriah smiled. “I’m sure we can! I feel like their rescue is finally within our grasp,” he said as he looked down at the softly glowing stone.
Immortality didn’t matter to him, but saving Jakob did. That was his only focus in life, and he just hoped it wouldn’t harm the others.
But life was unpredictable these days.