Heroes Journey || Chapter 1: A New Leaf

Heroes Journey || Chapter 1: A New Leaf

Reading Time: 9 minutes read

Leigh fell from the portal, down onto the world below. There was a loud splash. It was him, and he found himself in the middle of a body of water, sinking fast. His ears filled with water and he felt dizzy. Quickly, he stopped breathing, shut his mouth tight, and stretched his arms out. He oriented himself and kicked his legs up towards the surface. 

As soon as he emerged from the water, he took a deep breath and coughed so hard it hurt. Once he regained himself, he spun in place to get his bearings. All around him were trees so tall they blocked out the sun except for just over the lake he’d fallen into. He slowly kicked his legs as he peered out in the distance. He’d fallen right in the middle of the lake. 

On the shore he saw one of his friends: Sylqen. He spotted Leigh and waved. “Hey!” he called out.

Leigh turned around one more time to get an idea of where he was. The sun beat high above and sent rainbows of light all around him. It was a stark contrast to the darkness of the forest just beyond the lake. 

A black spot appeared on the water beside Leigh. It grew and grew, stealing his curiosity. He watched it until it began to move towards him. His heart beat hard and something in him told him this wasn’t something he wanted to mess with; he wanted to get away from that black spot. 

He threw himself forward and stroked against the lake. With his eyes closed, he kicked and moved his arms to propel himself towards land where Sylqen waited for him. He didn’t look up to see the black spot, but he knew it was close.

Something grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him out of the water. He fought it before he opened his eyes and realized it was Sylqen trying to help him. He crawled out of the water, his chest heaving from his big breaths. “Did you see that?” he asked as he got to his feet and squeezed water out of the bottom of his shirt. He was soaked, drenched entirely from head to toe.

“It disappeared when you got out,” Sylqen said. He nodded towards the water and Leigh chanced a glance.

Sylqen was right: the black spot was nowhere to be found. “Huh,” Leigh said. He stood, dripping, and watched the expansive lake. Nothing surfaced, and now that he was out of the water it was calm. Fish swam beneath the surface and birds swooped in overhead. The forest thrived, and the black spot was once again absent. 

“Did you arrive in the lake?” Sylqen asked, calling Leigh’s attention back to him.

Leigh nodded. “I think so. What about you?”

“I landed over there”—he pointed a little ways off, just inside where the trees began—“I fell to the ground and then I saw you in the water.” He looked around for a moment, then turned back to Leigh. “I don’t see any of the others.”

“No, me neither,” Leigh said. He pulled his shirt off and squeezed it free of water. It formed a puddle at his feet. Once he’d put it back on, he said, “Let’s go look for them. I’m sure they’re close by.”

The ground came up at Lance faster than he would have liked. He grunted as he landed, sprawled out. It was a soft landing, though it left leaves in his hair which he picked out. As he got to his feet, he noticed the forest around him. Tall trees high above, and debris down below. The forest floor covered his feet, the grass reaching up to his knees. 

He had hoped to land in a city, or at least near one. But a strange forest would have to do. 

Lance wiped the dirt off his pants, then he walked over to one of the nearby trees. He grabbed a branch and tested its strength by holding himself up on it. When it didn’t snap, he pulled himself up and stood on the branch.

From above he could see further, though mostly he just saw trees. He walked from branch to branch, slowly and quietly so as not to disturb anything down below. 

After a while of traversing the trees, having put a bit of distance between himself and where he started, he spotted a figure below him. Crouching, he stabilized himself then got a better look.

It was Anahel, and she seemed lost. She looked around herself and walked slowly through the forest.

Lance grabbed the branch he stood on and lowered himself down. Dropping to the ground, he heard Anahel let out a surprised gasp. Her hand went to her heart. “You scared me,” she said as she caught her breath.

“Sorry about that,” Lance said. He hadn’t meant to scare her. She’d been so focused on checking her surroundings that she hadn’t noticed him until he was right in front of her.

Anahel nodded in the direction she’d come. “I fell over there, out of the portal,” she said. “Did you come in nearby, too?”

Lance shook his head. “A ways off,” he said. “We should look for the others now that I’ve found you.”

Anahel nodded. “Good idea.”

Leigh led the way for him and Sylqen, through the forest and away from the lake. His thoughts kept going back to the black spot on the water. He wondered what it was and what it had planned for him if it caught him. The fish in the water and the birds above had seemed undisturbed by the black spot. As if they coexisted with it. 

Eventually, they came to a clearing where the trees opened up. Inside the clearing, Lance and Anahel stood talking. 

“Oh hey, we found you,” Leigh said. He clapped Lance on the shoulder.

“So you did,” Lance said.

“I hope you didn’t travel far,” Anahel said. “We just came from a little ways back that way.” She gestured behind her.

Lance turned to look at Leigh, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why are you wet?” he said.

Leigh shrugged. “I landed in a lake,” he said.

“I pulled him out,” Sylqen said.

Rustling in the trees caught everyone’s attention. They all turned to look just in time to see Gagzar come out of the forest.

“Ah, there you are,” Gagzar said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“It seems we all had the right idea,” Leigh said.

“Now that we’re together,” Lance said, looking to Leigh, “What’s next?”

Leigh thought for a moment. Then he gestured towards the woods, in the direction Gagzar had been traveling. “We look for a way out,” he said. “A road leading to the next town.”

Lance nodded. “Sounds good to me. Let’s go.”

Together, the teens traveled towards the edge of the forest. At least Leigh hoped that’s where they were headed. 

Finally, after what seemed hours, they came to the edge. The problem was, there was a giant magical barrier erected over the trees. Leigh touched it and a vibration shot up and over the forest. Leigh’s fingers tingled as he pulled his hand away.

“Now what?” Lance asked as he crossed his arms.

Leigh turned back to the rest of the party. “Well, we’re not getting out this way.” He pointed down the forest on his left. “Maybe if we follow the barrier that way, it’ll eventually open up?”

Lance shrugged. “Not like we’ve got a choice.”

So they all did as Leigh suggested: followed the barrier down to the left and stayed on the edge of the forest. The barrier let out a soft humming sound, something akin to white noise—just barely there. Leigh focused on it until it hurt his ears to do so, then he tuned it out. 

“Hey, what’s that?” Sylqen said. He was the first to notice a crack in the barrier. It splintered up towards the ceiling of it, though it wasn’t large enough for any of them to step through.

Leigh touched it and hissed in pain as he pulled his hand back. Blood trickled from his finger as he cradled it against his chest. It was as if the crack was made of sharp glass. Anahel took his hand in hers. She pulled a bottle from her first aid kit and sprayed his finger. The wound closed quickly, as if it’d never been there. Leigh smiled at her and took his hand back. 

“I don’t like the look of that,” Sylqen said and gestured toward the crack in the barrier.

From the crack, Leigh saw a shadowy creature approach the other side: a squirrel in all black, wavering wherever the sun hit it like it wasn’t really there. It squeezed through the hole and fell to the ground. A squeak emitted from it as it dove for Leigh. Leigh unsheathed his sword, but not fast enough. He swung it at the squirrel, but the squirrel hit him in the chest. It bounced off, righted itself, and ran into the trees. 

“What the hell was that?” Lance said.

Leigh put his hand to his chest where the squirrel had hit him. He was unscathed—for the moment. “I don’t know, but look there’s more.”

Another squirrel came through the hole. Then a shadowy rabbit. And finally, the crack splintered and grew larger as a wolf followed the other creatures. Lance nocked one of his new arrows and aimed for the wolf. “Get out of the way!” he yelled.

Leigh and Anahel moved just in time for an arrow to fly by them and embed itself in the ground between the wolf’s feet. The wolf looked at him and growled, taking an offensive stance. “Shit,” Lance said, nocking another arrow.

Anahel raised her hand at the wolf and light exploded from her palm. It swirled in the air and then landed on the wolf, hitting it in the side. The wolf errupted into shadowy particles which rained down on the party. The second squirrel and rabbit were nowhere to be found. 

Behind the exploded wolf, a leopard crawled through the hole. Anahel exploded light at it and it dissipated like the wolf. She breathed deep, her chest heaving. 

“Let’s get back,” Leigh said.

The rest of the party did as he said, stepping back away from the hole as another wolf crawled from it, followed by other smaller forest critters. Anahel threw one more bolt of light at the wolf as the little critters scattered.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Anahel said. Leigh could see the toll it took on her. She spit yet another bout of blinding light at the next thing to crawl through the hole, a gasp escaping her as she exerted her magic on the beasts. Every bit of magic was dimmer than the last as she breathed heavy and struggled to keep herself upright. 

Her knees buckled and Lance helped her to her feet.

“We need to get out of here,” Lance said.

Leigh nodded. “Back the way we came?”

More creatures crawled through the hole, but Anahel had expended her energy. She couldn’t do more than splash them with tiny bits of light.

As the party turned back towards the forest, something sinister stepped forward: A giant wolf beast, antlers atop its head. It was solid black with a wavering aura around it. At the center of its chest was a red, beating heart. It opened its mouth and smoke poured forth. It bent its front legs, ready to pounce.

But then, overhead, came a brilliant white streak. A white stag arrived in a white light of magic. The creatures dispersed into nothing. The giant wolf bowed its head and ducked back into the forest before the stag came to stand in front of the party.