"They came," Mitchell whispered to the white raven that perched precariously on his shoulder. He was getting into a nasty habit of talking to the bird. As he looked to the camp above, he was sure he had found them. Aside from the strong gut feeling he had about it, they were the only ones brave enough…or foolish enough…to build a fire. This section of woods woods, especially at night, was extremely dangerous, and he was surprised nothing had eaten them yet. Or at least brutally attacked them.
See, apart from the typical wolf or bear-which would probably avoid fire and the smell of people on most occasions-and the chance meeting with a particularly brave thief, there were more dangerous and vile creatures in this part of the forest. The most dangerous and feared of all of these were the Night Hunters.
The Night Hunters is a group of men and women who train themselves to be expert assassins. Most often, the folks with money hire them to kill, but sometimes they will also take a life in frustration or revenge. It is rumored that some men were even hunted in sport…but they never lived to tell the tale, so none but the Hunters knew for sure. They survived by killing anything they found in the forest, so they never had to go into the towns for food. In fact, the only time you'd see a Hunter in town was on the job or looking for a job, and that was not a good sign either way.
So anybody who lived in this entire world would know enough to keep their fires low or out if possible, or it would be like calling the Hunters and asking them for a free murder. Which would be a horrible idea since the Hunters would gladly oblige. But, in the case of this little group, they weren't exactly from this world.
Mitchell touched his toes on a few rocks as he leapt the river, light on his feet. When he touched the opposite bank of the flooding stream, he started the trek up the hill. His feet were silent, not even the crunch of pine needles reached his own ears.
That silence didn't last long, because his foot caught on a root in the dark, sending him toppling to the ground. Mitchell brushed his long, dark brown hair out of his eyes, sighed loudly, and got to his feet once again. It was not easy to see. The bird on his shoulder cawed loudly, and he made a move to shove her off his arm in order to quiet her. She fluttered about and then landed again to peck at his ear. He grumbled and moved on, defeated, ignoring the bird's teasing. There was no time for playing right now.
"You're no help. Do you know that? I should have bought myself a bird that can see in the dark. Thanks a lot." The raven pecked his ear hard, cawing again. "Shh. I'll leave you here in the dark if I have to. Now be silent!" Then he paused. "Mitchell old boy, you're talking to a bird," he said softly to himself. "And now you're talking to yourself. Excellent."
When they came into the light of the fire, his foot snapped a twig. A thin boy who had been leaning against a tree sat straight up, looking wide eyed and alert. A girl across from him was also staring. Mitchell looked around and noticed a startling fact. They were all teenagers.
"Who are you?" One girl asked. She had curly brown hair that would normally flow down her back, but was now becoming a mess. And those intelligent brown eyes seemed strangely familiar.
He answered. "My name is Mitchell. Mitchell Ryder." They all seemed to cock their heads a little, like they had heard of him before, but it was that girl…A look of recognition sprang into her eyes, and then he knew. "Ellie Townsend," he breathed.
Her grandmother lived right next to his parents. She used to be there every day. Little Ellie May from next door, he thought, and suddenly he couldn't look at her anymore. She held too many memories. He closed his eyes, but pictures and words from the past still washed over him like an ocean wave. Memories.
"Who's that?" Five-year-old Marcella May Townsend wondered, pointing to the big sheet of drawing paper in Mitchell's lap. On it was sketched a portrait of a woman.
"It's a picture of my wife, Ellie. Her name is Jenny." he replied, though he was a little disappointed with his own work.
"Oh. Mitch, what's a wife?"
"What's a wife? Well, she's a…special person. Sometimes, when boys grow up, they meet a girl who they love very much. Kind of like a best friend, but better, you know. Your mommy's a wife, and she's best friends with your daddy like that. And I'm best friends with Jenny."
"Well I think your wife is pretty."
"Yeah, she is," he replied.
"Guess what, Mitch?"
"I think I'm gonna be a wife, so then I get a best friend like you."
Mitchell laughed a little, scooped her up onto his lap, and brushed her little reddish brown curls out of her eyes. "You know what I think? I think you'll be just as pretty too."
"Mitchell Ryder. You're not dead," the curly haired girl, Ellie, said. Her curious voice brought him back to the present.
"Unfortunately," he replied, shaking off the memories. Then he started thinking. They were kids, nothing more than kids. "No, no, I can't. It's over now."
"I-I wasn't expecting…I was expecting someone older, more experienced."
"For what?" Another asked.
"I needed help. When I sent the rings, I thought-oh this isn't right at all! And now you, a bunch of teenagers, are my only hope."
"How are we your only hope?" The thin boy asked, gesturing at the group of young faces.
"Well-what's your name?"
"It's Joey," he said, his voice turning hard.
"Joey. Well, Joey, I wasn't exactly expecting a bunch of moody teenagers to show up, but I was grasping at straws and I put all my faith into objects that are little more than myths." The boy laughed a bit in that same steely tone, but Mitchell continued. "The paper and the rings allow a person to call out to other worlds, but it does not tell anything specific about who it will call or when they will arrive. When I called you, I had no name, face, age, or description. I only had one vague title. The Heroes."
"We're not heroes. I've never done anything important in my whole life," Ellie said. She was studying Mitchell with those calculating eyes, but Joey was angry.
"You won't be able to say that much longer," Mitchell countered.
"You called the wrong people," Joey told him.
"Yeah? Do you think so? If I had seen you earlier, I would have thought the same thing. The only problem is, I'm one-hundred-percent sure that it is you. And it is a problem, because you sir couldn't be farther from a hero!"
"Send us back then, if you're so disappointed."
"It's too late for that."
"Oh. I appreciate that. Whatever, I'll just disappear and leave my family wondering what happened to me. No problem, I'm sure they won't mind. Look, I don't know what you expect us to do, but we all have lives, people we care about, families."
"Guess what? You chose to come," Mitchell said. He didn't even have to say it in a nasty tone. Finally, the boy was silent. "Now you have another choice to make. The first choice is to follow the river left, where you will find my house. There, I will explain everything. Your other option is to stay here where a terrible creature will definitely have sampled you by morning."
"I'll take my chances," Joey said in a low tone, and most of the others agreed.
"Just as well..." Mitchell started back down to the river. Before he was out of earshot, he added his final words. "It's your funeral."
That should do it, he thought.
A/N: The readers whom I promised I had the chapter all ready for you, I'm sorry for keeping you waiting. It's homecoming week and I've been sooooo busy. Thanks for being patient and I hope you're liking my story. :D Thanks for putting up with me!