“Jeriah! Jeriah, where are we going?” Zhai called out to him as he held his claymore with both hands, prepared to cut down any wicked creatures that roamed this forest.
“Watch out!” Kiyah shouted as he fired an arrow. It whizzed past Jeriah’s ear, but it struck the face of an evil creature; one of many that stalked these haunted woods. “Do you really think we can find the Monarchs out here?”
“This is where they were exiled,” Jeriah said firmly. “That’s what the servants of Ari said. We just have to find them-” Then he turned around in time to see another ghoulish creature running towards them. The woods were full of these humans that had been corrupted by something in this forest and became these ghouls that tried to destroy any living thing they saw.
This meant the Monarchs were in grave danger.
“I don’t think we’re going to find them,” Verity called out as she struck down another creature with her sword. It let out a devilish screech before it collapsed to the ground, and that strange cry seemed to draw more of the creatures.
“This is bad. We need to retreat!” Emersyn shouted as enough creatures arrived to surround them. She ran over to Jeriah and grabbed his arm to prevent him from moving any deeper into the forest. Jeriah looked at Emersyn with desperation. “I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous.”
Jeriah looked away from her and into the forest and he was almost positive he could hear battle cries that sounded familiar, and the sound of metal clashing against metal and flesh. He just knew the Monarchs couldn’t be far away; Jakob couldn’t be far away! And yet he couldn’t endanger his friends anymore. It was too much.
“I’ll go alone,” Jeriah insisted. “Just let me go.”
“No,” Emersyn said firmly. “I will not send you to your death. You need to trust me. We’ll try and find them again, but it can’t be today.”
Jeriah was devastated, but he knew Emersyn was right. If he walked alone through these woods, he would definitely be overwhelmed.
“We have to go now!” Zhai exclaimed after swinging his claymore and throwing back a good number of creatures with his strength. But surely their strength would give out if they didn’t retreat.
“But how are the Monarchs supposed to survive if we can’t even make our way through these dark woods?” Jeriah asked as his voice became choked with tears. They were retreating now, only cutting down the creatures that dared to pursue them.
“This is their Fate, Jeriah,” Zhai answered. “There’s nothing we can do here anymore.”
“That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it!? Because you’re not related to one of them!” Jeriah exclaimed.
“Calm down, we can’t fight each other or we won’t get out of here alive,” Kiyah said as he turned around to fire his bow and killed yet another creature pursuing them. “Jeriah, we’ll try to get to the Monarchs again, but we need to prepare ourselves better for this fight. That’s all. Zhai is right, this is their Fate, but our Fate has always moved alongside theirs, right? We’ll find a way to them again, I promise.”
Jeriah was not comforted by Kiyah’s words, but he followed them easily for now. He knew their armor wasn’t enough to protect themselves from such an onslaught of battle. They had always been more like nomads than warriors, so they didn’t even own the heavy armor that the Monarchs often wore.
They weren’t prepared to fight this time, but Jeriah was going to make sure they were prepared for anything the next time they came to these woods looking for the Monarchs. He would make sure of it.
“Jeriah? Earth to Jeriah, are you okay?” Kiyah’s voice broke through Jeriah’s memories.
He focused back into reality and saw Kiyah waving his hand in front of his face and he just smiled awkwardly. “Sorry, I’m just...I’m thinking about...things,” he said.
“What things?” Emersyn asked with a small smile. They had packed up their few belongings and were now traveling down the hillside they had been sleeping on for some time. They were making their pilgrimage to the Monarchs castle.
“I guess I was thinking about how many times I’ve almost seen Jakob, or almost saved Jakob,” Jeriah said with a small shrug. “How many times I’ve failed him, but I still made the promise that I’d be the good twin brother and would rescue him.” He shook his head and looked down. “And I didn’t even do that.”
A firm hand patted Jeriah’s shoulder. He looked up and saw Zhai walking beside him. “Your intentions are what matter, Jeriah. We tried so hard to reach the Monarchs, but it was Fate that kept us apart,” he said with a small nod. “Sometimes we have to embrace things as they are and try not to have so many regrets. The point I’m trying to make is, we never stopped trying to find them, right? We never stopped. Even when we had to remain in hiding or were running away from Prudentius’ servants we still tried to save them. So...I think Jakob will be really grateful to you.”
“Well, thank you, I think,” Jeriah said with a crooked smile. “I’m not sure all my plans were very effective, but I guess I can make it up to him eventually.”
“I don’t think he’s going to want you to make anything up to him, Jer,” Kiyah put an arm around his shoulders again as they walked side by side. “I think he’ll just want to see you. Not everything has to be so pitiful, you know? We all make mistakes in this life and have to do crazy things to survive this cruel world. I don’t think Jakob will hold it against you, so just get excited about the future. We’re going to see the Monarchs again! And the sun is rising!”
“Mmm! Feel that sunshine!” Verity stretched out her arms as she walked, smiling up at the blue sky. “My skin finally looks tan again. We’ve gotten too pale in all this moonlight.”
“It does feel like things are going right for once, huh?” Emersyn agreed as she smiled at Verity. With the sun in the sky it did feel like perhaps things were going to make a positive turn.
But things were not always as they seem. Even in the brightest dawn, there were still shadows lurking.