The tutoring had surprisingly started on time. Mrs. Barrett, Mrs. Brendan, and Mr. Watson had continued the ideals of the five kids who had started it up. Students had flocked in, leaving behind any dirty dealings they may have made in the past with Pitch. Most of them had, and more than a few had seemed awkward at the beginning. The teachers had helped it evolve into a way for the students to get away from past problems and current troubles, which had allowed many of them to disregard misgivings and move on. A few students, including the ones who had stood up with Ana, had needed little help to fit in right away.
Emma had left before winter break had ended, shortly after the arrests had begun. Child services had deemed it wise to get her out of there before she was affected anymore by this. She and Jamie still talked, using the wonders of the internet. Emma mentioned several times that her aunt and uncle didn't want her talking to someone back at Burgess, but she didn't see any reason to tell them she hadn't stopped communicating with anyone. She seemed to be doing fine, but Jamie could tell she missed her old town a lot. Her brother was still a sore topic, made harder by what she didn't know.
Before Christmas Day had been over, police cars had scoured the entire town looking for anyone connected to Pitch. They had rounded up as many as they could, coming down hard on them in court. Many had been arrested and some had been tried in court. Others were able to make a deal, using information they knew to get out of a jail sentence. Unfortunately, Pitch was not one of those kids. Hardly a day after he had been arrested, the teenager had vanished from his cell and hadn't been seen since. It was a mystery as to how he had escaped.
As soon as that had been over, however, they had turned their sights on Jack and his friends. All their searches proved fruitless. The ice on the pond had a trail of bloody foot prints on it from someone who had been injured, but even that had disappeared. The police had multiple charges against them, including but not limited to breaking and entering, assault, resisting arrest, fleeing from the law, disturbing the peace, and possession of controlled substances (although Jack was the only one guilty of that).
They seemed to be mostly irritated about the vigilante efforts that had been performed. The police pulled out all the stops, from search dogs to expanding the search to the surrounding towns, but the search was called off when, not even a week after the event, a snow storm of Ice Age proportions hit the state. Jack and the others were presumed dead from exposure.
That was the driving reason for a lot of the kids to stop affiliation with Pitch. The story about what had happened to Jack and his friends and the lengths they had gone to so they could stop Pitch had spread around school fast (suspiciously fast if one listened to school conspiracy theorists). The five of them had given up their entire futures to end his rule, and had, in the end, given their lives. Even if they had ever tried to return, they would all have been arrested on the spot and could serve for years. The police had seemed pretty angry about their vigilante efforts and it didn't help that they had indeed broken multiple laws, but the storm had made them more sympathetic to the cause of the teenagers and made them even more relentless in court .Their parents – the responsible ones, anyway – were bent out of shape over this, having never expected something like this to ever happen.
In two of the neighboring towns, there had been multiple cases of kids being attacked. All of them had had older siblings and had been attacked after dark, and said older siblings were being suspiciously close-mouthed. They obviously knew more than they let on, but the police couldn't get anything out of them. The officers had no clue what was going on, or why, although one possible pattern was that several of the older siblings were known to be former runners for Pitch.
It was surprising none of the kids had been hurt too badly, but all of them had reported in the newspapers he had read that they had gotten away somehow. It seemed odd that they had been able to outrun much older and faster teenagers, but he was still grateful they had been able to. The one thing all the unharmed victims had in common was that they had all fled into the forest rather than break for home.
Jamie sighed, realizing he had stopped paying attention to his surroundings for the last half hour. He was at a park, the one near the schools. His parents were supposed to pick him up in about an hour. Some of his friends had been with him while they had been searching the park for the Easter eggs, but either because of homework or chores they had all had to leave. There had been many more eggs this year than there had ever been before, to the excitement of all of them. It had taken them over an hour to find the last egg, but it had been so much fun and had let them set aside their fears for the day.
He stood up, stretching his arms above his head. He noticed that he had stopped paying attention a lot recently, ever since Jack had stirred the 'revolution' among the teenagers to disregard Pitch's business. It had been a brave thing the five of them had done, considering they must have known that they would have never been able to return home again after doing so.
Jamie started walking in the direction of home. He could save his parents the trouble of having to come pick him up, since there was no real point in him staying around here any longer.
He stopped suddenly, seeing someone leaning against a tree across the park from him. The shadows covered the figure and he couldn't tell who it was. Instead of worrying about it, he continued, taking a longer route to skirt around.
The figure didn't move until he was on the street, walking calmly towards his house. Then it started to move, trailing him by about twenty meters. Jamie picked up his pace and so did the figure. By the time he was at the next corner, he was running.
He shot a few glances over his shoulder a few times, trying to see who the pursuer was. On the fourth look, he finally was able to see who it was as they passed under a streetlamp. It was Pitch.
Jamie kept running, although the distance between them was rapidly decreasing. How had he managed to stay in town without being caught? What was Pitch after him for anyway? They had never even spoken to each other before now. If Pitch would be after anyone, it would be Jack, but he and his friends were dead.
He came to a stop a few feet before he reached the forest, turning back and facing Pitch. He held out both palms, trying to tell Pitch to stop. To his relief, the man slowed down and came to a stop, cocky as ever if his posture was anything to go by. "Okay, what's this about?" he called, trying to keep the fear out of his voice.
Pitch shrugged. "What do you think it's about?" he asked, as if he actually cared.
Jamie tilted his head, trying to see Pitch better. "I don't know."
"You know where Emma Frost is."
Jamie stiffened, shaking his head. "I'm not telling you where she is."
"She has nothing to do with what happened to you. She didn't have a clue Jack was planning on ruining your business. You have to leave her alone!" Jamie yelled, hands clenching into fists by his side.
"I have to?" Pitch snarled, stepping forward. Jamie moved backwards, stumbling slightly. "You will tell me where she is if you value the prospect of going back home in one piece."
"It's over! Jack's gone! Can't you just leave it to rest?" Jamie asked, stepping back again. Pitch advanced further. Jamie groaned, turned, and ran. He heard Pitch start after him but didn't slow down. The forest was dangerous in general because of the rough terrain, which was why he had been hesitant to come in. He knew, however, that he would be able to hide in here the easiest if he wanted to escape Pitch.
He jumped over a log and ran down a hill. It could have been his imagination, but he could have sworn he saw a binder lying in the underbrush. The branches scratched at his face and the harsh features of the land were not kind on his muscles as he ran. It was better than getting caught by the guy behind him, though. He could hear Pitch having a bit more trouble than he was, but that was probably because Jamie was specifically choosing the hardest route he could find. Most of these areas were just overgrown with bushes and branches, making it nigh impossible to get through…unless one was a child.
Jamie slid through a small hole in a clump branches that had fallen to the ground. Pitch had to stop and find a way around the pile, delaying him for a few more seconds while Jamie was able to pick up the pace and sprint ahead. He wasn't far enough ahead to even think about considering himself safe, though. Pitch began to catch up once more soon enough.
His breath came in short gasps and he began to slow, not able to keep up the pace much longer. He spied some boulders by the riverbank and headed towards them. Pitch was right behind him now, fingers grasping at the edge of his jacket. Jamie put on a final burst of speed, getting to the boulders and jumping on top. Pitch grabbed his leg, knocking him off balance. He fell into the space between two of the boulders, leg sticking awkwardly out. Pitch let go, surprised at his sudden drop, and Jamie pulled his leg in. The man climbed onto the boulders so he could look down into the gap. He snarled when he realized he could neither get into the gap nor pull Jamie out if the kid didn't want to go. He slammed his fist down on the rock.
"You have to come out at some point," Pitch said angrily.
Jamie shook his head. "They'll come looking for me before then," he said.
"I'll find a way to get you out before that can happen," Pitch snapped. He glanced around, starting to smirk. "Dropping a snake in there with you might do the trick."
Jamie grimaced but didn't reply. He tucked his knees in and rested his chin against them. Pitch disappeared, presumably to go find a snake or something else he could use to his advantage. Something rustled nearby as Pitch began his search. It was worth it for him to wait Pitch out to save Emma. He just wasn't sure he'd be able to do it. Pitch was right. There were ways to get him out of there whether he wanted to leave or not.
A head appeared above him and Jamie glanced away, not wanting to listen to anymore of Pitch's goading. He barely reacted as an arm reached into the gap, reaching for Jamie. It was long enough to grab onto the back of his jacket and started to pull him up. Jamie shook his head, spreading out his arms and legs to stop Pitch from dragging him out. "I am not-" He broke off as the arm released his jacket and a hand clapped over his mouth, silencing him.
"C'mon, ankle-biter, work wi' me a little, would ya?"
Jamie looked up in surprise. His eyes widened for a second as he saw Aster's familiar face, but he found himself grinning a second later. The Australian smirked back and reached in with both arms. Jamie allowed himself to be hoisted up and out of the rock. In a hushed tone, he said, "You're not dead! You guys have been here the entire time?! You never left?! Wait, were you the ones who saved the other kids?! And…and…and you're not dead! "
"I'm gonna be dead 'a old age before we get outta here. Is it really the time for Twenty Questions?" Aster muttered.
"You're going to leave as soon as I'm safe, so yes! Are you alright? Isn't it cold out here? They thought you guys died of exposure!"
"Jamie, let's just get ya outta here, okay?"
"Why didn't you leave?"
" 'Cause we wanted ta make sure Pitch didn't harm anyone if he got out. He's got a lotta power in the area an' we were afraid he might be released. Turns out it was a good idea ta stick around. Now come on, let's get ya home."
"Aster, what if he goes after more kids? I mean, the high school kids have stopped working for him and buying from him. What if he goes after their siblings to make them afraid again and make them think he's in charge? He's already done it to a few of them."
"We'll figure somethin' out." Aster paused, and then dropped down on one knee next to Jamie. "Hey, I've got an idea. Listen carefully, alright?"
Jamie nodded and listened.
He got home safely that night. A day or so later, he caught a glimpse of Pitch again. He looked like he had gotten into a fight with a wild cat and lost. He suspected Jack or North were responsible for it, but he didn't go up to ask. Pitch didn't try to approach him again for a while.
Pippa came up to Jamie at the end of the school day, nervous. Jamie frowned, noticing her posture and the expression on her face. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She looked around to see if anyone was listening and then ducked her head down. "I think Pitch is starting things up again," she said in a quiet voice. Jamie nodded. "I mean, for real. It's going to be just as bad as it was before."
"Pippa, that's not going to happen."
"But it is! And…and I'm scared. I think he's going after the siblings of kids who used to do business with him. My older sister worked for him, remember? And I saw him outside my bus stop this morning!"
"You said he came after you two days ago, right? What if he comes after me?"
Jamie waved his arms, getting her attention. She quieted down. "Pippa, it's going to be alright. I didn't tell you how I got out of there, but I'm going to now. I think we should tell all the kids about it. They could be in danger too. I know how we can protect ourselves against Pitch."
She looked at him warily. "How?"
"Promise you'll help me tell others?"
"Yes, if it'll keep us safe. Now what is it?"
"If you're a child and you're in danger, you'll always be safe in the forest. It doesn't matter what you're running from, whether it's from bullies or-"
"Especially Pitch. The Guardians of the Forest will always protect the children."
"How can the forest protect us?"
"Not the forest, the Guardians."
"Who- Jamie, there's no one in the forest, not since…"
"You don't have to see them. Just know that they're there."
a/n: Tada! 'Tis done! …Rivers is complete, anyway. The tale of the Guardians, however, has just had its prologue. The story of the Guardians and Pitch Black shall be continued in Crosscurrent,of which the first chapter was just posted. So you can go read that one now too! You may have noticed that I didn't explain some things (like Nightlight's store), but that's because they were things leading up to events in Crosscurrent and not Rivers.
If you're wondering why the search dogs couldn't find them, it's because they were able to cut through rivers to hide their scent and the police were looking for them in other towns. They didn't expect that they would stay so close by.