Saturday October 9th
“What the heck?” said Andrew, staring at the fallen beast. He took a step closer, with Shane at his side, but Moon Dove stopped them.
“Stay back!” she shouted, then slowly walked over to the monster. She knelt down next to it, to see if it was still breathing, but there was no sign of life. She gazed at the arrow sticking out of its back, then looked around to see where it might’ve come from.
Andrew could tell she was just as baffled as he was, and his curiosity got the best of him. “Is he dead?” he asked, trying to move closer.
“I said stay back!” Moon Dove glared at him. “These things don’t die so easily. It could wake up any second now and kill—”
“That won’t happen,” interrupted a man who suddenly emerged from behind the trees. “He’s dead."
Moon Dove flinched and rose to her feet. She pointed her staff at the sudden invader, and the light from the orb shone all over him.
He was a tall fellow, wearing a brown, hooded cloak, and a black mask that covered his eyes. In his left hand he held a bow, and strapped to his back was a quiver, filled with silver arrows.
“Reverent Ranger?” she said.
“The one and only.”
“I should’ve known it was you!” She lowered her staff, then glanced over at the boys who both had puzzled looks on their faces. “It’s okay,” she assured them, “he’s a friend.”
Ranger walked over to the dead beast, and pulled the arrow from its back. He wiped the blood off with his glove, then placed it back inside the quiver.
“Good thing I got here in time,” he said, glancing over at Moon Dove. “This thing could've killed all of you.”
“How’d you know we were here?” she asked.
“Summon one of us, you summon us all. At least that’s how it used to be.” He glanced at Andrew and Shane. “Are you boys okay?”
“Umm...yes sir,” said Andrew. “Just a little startled is all...we didn’t hear you coming.”
“Boys, this is Reverent Ranger,” said Moon Dove. “He’s the best hunter and tracker of all the Guardians in our group, and a master of stealth.”
“Oh cool!” said Andrew, excited. “Nice to meet you Mr. Reverent Ranger.”
“Just call me Ranger, kid.” He patted Andrew’s shoulder. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
“How’d you kill that thing so easily?”
“My arrows, kid...they’re sacred. Nothing evil can survive them.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” said Moon Dove, in a grim tone. “We can’t rely on our powers in here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It seems the warlock has summoned a dark entity in here that’s too powerful for us. I should’ve easily killed that monster with one blast from the orb...but it had little effect.” She glanced over at the dead beast, then turned back to Ranger. “Your arrows might not do so well after a while.”
Suddenly, Andrew noticed something peculiar about the monster. “Look!” he said, raising his voice, and pointing at it. The creature’s flesh and fur began to melt away, leaving nothing but a skeleton. And after a few more seconds, it completely disintegrated into a pile of dust.
“Well,” said Ranger, in a cocky tone, “looks like my powers are still at work.” He cracked a smile.
“Yeah, maybe for now,” said Moon Dove. “But don’t forget what I told you: there’s something very sinister going on here.”
Ranger didn’t seem too concerned at what she was saying, and quickly changed the subject. “Where’s Brightborn?” he asked her. “And the others?”
“Lord Brightborn’s looking for one of the other boys that the warlock captured. As for the others—there are no others. It’s just Brightborn and myself—and now you.”
“What about Sky-Lord? He’s the captain in command. He should’ve been here first!”
“I have no idea,” said Moon Dove. “He’s been acting strange lately, and rarely comes to the meetings anymore.”
“Then we need to bring this up to the others; no sense in having a leader who doesn’t show up when needed.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Ranger,” said Andrew, “I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation... but my friend Steven’s still out there all alone! Can you please help us look for him?”
Ranger glanced at Moon Dove, then turned back to the boys. “What are you boys doing out at this hour?” he asked, in a stern stone. “And why did you come to this forest? It's dangerous here.”
Before Andrew answered, he glanced over at Shane, and from the look in Shane’s eyes, a look that said, “Don’t tell them anything Harper,” he declined to tell the truth.
“Well...sir, it’s Columbus Day weekend, and we thought it would be nice to come out here and do some camping.” He forced a smile. “I’m a Youth Trooper...kind of like a Ranger.”
From the look on Ranger’s face, whatever part of it Andrew could see under the hood and mask, it seemed as though he wasn’t buying Andrew’s story.
“I hope you’re telling the truth,” he said, glaring down at the two boys. “Because a real Ranger always tells the truth.”
It was partially the truth, or at least Andrew tried to convince himself of that. He was not fond of lying at all, and he felt like he was doing a bit too much of it in the past few days.
“It's the truth...sir.” Andrew crossed his fingers behind his back. “Now can we please search for my friend?”
“Absolutely,” said Ranger, “but not until we get the both of you out of here.” He spun around, and started to walk down the trail, his cloak billowing from a sudden breeze. “Follow me!”
Andrew didn’t budge, and he looked up at Moon Dove. “Why do we have to leave?” he asked, in a somber tone. “Steven’s my buddy...I don’t want to leave without him.”
“Just do what Ranger says,” Moon Dove replied. “He’s a very intelligent man, and he can see things no one else can.”
“Come on, Harper,” Shane butted in, “this might be our only chance to get out of here.”
But Andrew continued to protest, stalling the group, until Ranger, who was now a good distance ahead, came to a sudden halt and turned around.
“You waiting for a personal invitation?” he asked, sarcastically. “Let’s move!”
“But I want to help you find Steven!” Andrew shouted, before realizing he shouldn’t raise his voice to an adult. “He’s my buddy.”
“I know you’re worried about your friend,” said Ranger, in a compassionate manner, before quickly changing his tone. “But we have a better chance of finding him without having to worry about you two! Am I clear?”
Andrew pouted, then nodded his head. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Let’s get moving.”
“He’s right,” Moon Dove said, gently placing her hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “If we’re constantly worrying about you and Shane, it’ll distract us from trying to find your other buddy.” She gave him a warm smile, then sped up to speak with Ranger.
As they started their trek to the parking lot, with Ranger and Moon Dove leading the way, Andrew noticed the two guardians were starting to have a deep conversation. Curious as to what they were saying, he picked up the pace so he could eavesdrop on them...
“Your friend, KnightCharge caused quite an uproar,” said Ranger. “He needs to follow orders, and stop doing things without checking with us. What’s his problem?”
“How should I know?” asked Moon Dove, defensively. “He’s not talking to me.”
“Very funny.” She shook her head and moved a little faster, getting ahead of him. “Anyway, we have more important things to worry about now.”
“You don’t think this is important?” Ranger asked, surprised at her comment. “He had no business being there. None of the regs should ever get involved when it comes to these types of things.”
“He’s a lot more than just a “reg” as you so love to label him,” insisted Moon Dove.
Andrew could tell Moon Dove was getting annoyed by the way she kept walking ahead of Ranger, but the cloaked guardian didn’t seem to care. He kept taunting her about the man known as KnightCharge, one of the most controversial heroes from Valor Rock City.
“Look,” said Ranger, “I like KnightCharge, we’re buddies—but he thinks he’s the new Righteous Raider, and someone needs to wake him up. He's just another reg no matter how much you want to glorify it.”
“And so was The Righteous Raider.” Moon Dove spun around to face Ranger. “And look at the legacy he left behind. You’re foolish to underestimate them.” She let out a deep sigh. “Now can we please focus on getting the boys to the parking lot? That warlock could show up at any time.”
Ranger shrugged and they pressed on, dealing with some occasional gusty winds here and there, but for the most part, the trail was not difficult to walk on.
The Guardians conversation dwindled off a bit as they got closer to their destination—until Ranger decided to bring up KnightCharge once again.
“As I was saying,” said Ranger, “we can’t allow these regs like KnightCharge to do whatever they want. Their job is to assist us when needed—not to take matters into their own hands, especially when dealing with the supernatural.”
Moon Dove sighed as she kept walking ahead of him, constantly looking over her shoulders. “Reg, reg, reg!”she said, mocking him. “That’s all you keep talking about.” Her tone became serious. “It’s getting old, Ranger. It’s time you accept them for what they are, because I have a feeling we’re going to need them now more than ever.”
The “regs” were the lower-ranked members of the guardians—brave men and women who rely on natural skills and ability rather than superhuman powers. And KnightCharge, one of the newest members, was a skilled martial artist who kept criminals on their toes.
“I have no problem with the regs.” Ranger frowned and shook his head. “But they need to stay out of certain things and let us handle it. Your boyfriend had no business interfering with something supernatural like this.”
Moon Dove halted, striking the ground with her staff. “First of all, my personal life is nobody’s business. Secondly, he’s NOT my boyfriend!” She raised the staff and stomped away.
“Relax,” Ranger grinned, hurrying to catch up. “I’m just kidding around, but you need to tell him that WE deal with these types of things—not him—or any other reg.”
“But it wasn’t a supernatural thing!” she snapped. “It was a robbery, and he was just trying to help!”
“A robbery yes, but a robbery linked to something supernatural, aka, the daggers. He should’ve known better. He could’ve really screwed things up.”
When Andrew heard Ranger mention the word "daggers," his eyes lit up and he glanced at Shane. “Did he just say something about daggers?” he whispered. “I wonder if he’s talking about the daggers in my backpack—”
“Shhh!” said Shane, giving Andrew a dirty look. “Don’t mention anything about them.”
“Why?” Andrew was confused.
“Because they belong to Butch.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Butch is a jerk, and those daggers don’t belong to him—and neither does the money, wherever it is.”
Shane gave him another dirty look, and Andrew realized that he was still dealing with a bully, even though he wanted to believe otherwise.
“Why are you so loyal to him?” Andrew continued. He wanted to tell Shane that Butch was ready to leave him for dead, but he held back.
“Because he’s my only true friend.” Shane's tone became serious. “The rest of you dorks used to mock me for being an orphan.”
Andrew squinted his eyes in confusion. “Mock you? When did I ever mock you? I’ve been afraid of you since third grade—when you first moved to town and took my lunch box!”
“Oh...sorry about that,” Shane chuckled a bit. “ I’ll get you a new one.”
“Look Harper, all I’m saying is that when kids used to mock me, Butch was the only one to step in and tell me to deck them if I wanted respect. And ever since then, he’s been—”
“Using you like a fool!” Andrew interrupted this time. “Believe what you want Shane, but he’s not a true friend.” He shook his head, annoyed with Shane’s attitude. “Anyway, I won’t say anything about the money or the stupid daggers!”
Unfortunately, Andrew’s loud tone caught the attention of Ranger, who was a few feet ahead. The cloaked guardian stopped in his tracks and spun around, giving Andrew a curious look.
“Hey, kid,” he said, in a stern tone. “Did you just say something about daggers?”
Shane glared at Andrew—the look of death, and Andrew had to think quick to come up with a believable answer.
“Ummm...no sir,” said Andrew, slightly trembling. “I was just telling Shane here that we’re lagging behind, like a couple of laggers—not daggers...and we need to pick up the pace.”
The skeptical look on Ranger’s face made Andrew nervous, but to his surprise, and relief, the Guardian seemed to believe his story.
“Alright then,” said Ranger. He turned back around and continued along the trail.
“Good going Harper,” whispered Shane. “Now just relax and let’s keep listening to their conversation. I want to hear more about The Righteous Raider.”
“Cuz he’s my favorite Guardian.”
As they walked, Shane asked the guardians many questions about the legendary hero known as The Righteous Raider, questions such as:
“Did he really ride a motorcycle? Is it true he could take down ten guys at a time? How come we don’t hear about him anymore?”
“That’s a lot of questions,” said Moon Dove. “But yes, he loved riding his motorcycle; it was one of his favorite things to do when chasing criminals. And you’re correct, he could easily take down a bunch of crooks at one time.”
“Cool!” said Shane. Andrew had never seen him so excited to talk about someone.
“Yes, he was really cool,” chimed in Ranger, glancing at Moon Dove.
“What ever happened to him?” asked Andrew, butting in the conversation.
Moon Dove shook her head. “No one really knows. He just disappeared one day and we haven’t heard from him since. It’s a shame though, because he was one of a kind.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Ranger agreed. “Of all the regs that ever decided to work with us, he’s the only one that became a legend. In fact, the higher ups were so impressed with him they asked him to form his own organized group of street heroes.”
“Like KnightCharge?” asked Andrew. “He’s one of a kind too—from the stories I’ve heard.”
“I suppose he is,” said Ranger, “but he’s no Righteous Raider.”
The conversation continued for a little while longer, and the winds picked up, blowing leaves all over the place, and causing the trees to sway back and forth. The light of the moon was creeping through the forest canopy, and before Andrew knew it...they reached the campsite.
“This is it,” said Andrew, pointing toward the campsite. “I just want to get my pull cart and roll up the tents if that’s okay.” He looked at the Guardians, hoping they’d say yes.
“Make it quick,” Ranger grunted.
Andrew ran to the tents, with Shane following behind, and as they started to gather everything, they heard an all too familiar noise nearby—something growling at them.
Andrew, now panicking, looked all around, and almost fainted when he looked up and saw two red eyes glaring at him. The monster quickly emerged from the bushes, his hideous form illuminated by moonlight. But this one was much larger than the man-beast that Ranger killed earlier, with claws so long they looked like swords projecting from his fingers.
The monster lunged at them, but Moon Dove managed to fire a bolt at its head, stunning it before it made any contact with the boys. “Run!” she shouted to them, and they ran behind Ranger who was preparing to strike an arrow.
“Stay back!” he shouted to them. “This is why I wanted you both out of here!”
Moon Dove kept firing bolts from her orb, but the monster just stood there, mocking her every attempt. She looked over at Ranger and shouted, “I told you it’s useless! Elymas has the forest under total control!”
“Just keep firing!” Ranger shouted back. “Keep blasting the damn thing!”
“Well, well, well,” said the demon, as he looked over at the cloaked Guardian. “If it isn’t my old friend Reverent Ranger! How’s the world’s “greatest hunter” doing these days?”
“I’m doing good,” Ranger responded, “thanks for asking.” He raised his bow, getting ready to strike. “In fact, I just killed one of your friends back there. Now you can join him!”
With lighting speed, he reached behind his shoulder, and pulled an arrow from the quiver, then quickly nocked it, before pulling the bowstring back to full draw, and releasing the arrow into the demon’s chest. He did it again, even quicker this time, and Andrew watched in awe. But nothing happened. The demon just stood there as though he had a few splinters sticking out of his chest!
Moon Dove also continued to attack, firing blasts of energy from the orb, but nothing seemed to phaze the monster as he stood there taunting them.
“I don’t understand!” said Ranger. “These are sacred arrows!”
“For the last time,” said MoonDove, agitated, “there’s something in here that’s tampering with our powers!”
“So...now what?” asked Andrew in a state of panic.
“We run!” shouted Ranger. “Get in front of us, the both of you, and make for the parking lot!”
Andrew followed suit, and him and Shane stayed in front of the Guardians, running as fast as they could, so the guardians could keep the demon from hurting them. Ranger kept pausing every now and then, firing his arrows to ward off the monster, and Moon Dove did the same with her energy blasts. But the beast was getting too close for comfort as it chased them down the trail.
“Don’t worry boys,” said Moon Dove, “we’re almost at the barrier!”
“Okay,” said Andrew, huffing and puffing, “whatever that means…”
“Keep moving!” shouted Ranger. “We’re almost there.”
They continued to run, and the man-beast was still close behind. When they finally reached the barrier, an unseen wall that prevented any evil creature from crossing, Moon Dove slowed down and turned around.
“I hope he can’t cross the barrier,” she said to Ranger.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, breathing heavily. “None of these things can cross it.”
“I know—but I forgot to tell you something…”
“What? Spit it out.”
“The boys told me that Elmyas was seen walking around town by some of the locals.”
Ranger sighed, angrily. “Are you kidding me? Now you tell me this?”
“I haven’t seen him personally,” Andrew reminded her. “But he fits the description from everyone's story. And it’s always at night when they see him.”
Their interaction was quickly interrupted when the man-beast was only a few feet away from the barrier, charging at full speed, accompanied now by a pack of demon-wolves.
“Oh great!” said Andrew. “How many of these things are in this forest!”
“Stay behind me, boys,” said Ranger. “If these things break through the barrier, I want you to run with Moon Dove to the parking lot. We clear?”
“You’re going to fight them alone?” Moon Dove raised her staff and pointed it toward the barrier. “That’s foolish.”
“You need to get these kids out of here. I’ll do my best to distract these beasts.” Ranger prepared his bow again, getting ready to release as many arrows as he could to hold them off. But when the man-beast and the hellhounds got close enough to attack, they slowed down and came to an abrupt halt, growling and hissing in anger. The barrier was still in effect…
“It’s still working!” shouted Moon Dove, in the happiest tone Andrew heard from her all night.
“Oh thank God,” said Andrew as he watched the angry creatures backing off.
Ranger walked to the very tip of the barrier to taunt the demon. He fired another arrow at it just for fun.
“Very well, Ranger,” said the monster, snarling and showing his fangs. “Have your fun for now, but trust me, our king will soon release us from this place, and I will personally hunt you down and tear you to pieces.”
“Whatever you say fur-ball.” Ranger smirked and fired one last arrow, before turning around and sighing in relief.
“Alright, we’re safe for now,” said Moon Dove. “Let’s head to the parking lot.”
“What about Steven?” asked Andrew. “Are you still going back there to look for him? That man-beast is awfully angry!”
“Of course we’re going back,” said Ranger. “But let’s get you to the parking lot first, and Moon Dove will see to it that you boys get home safe.”
And so it was. They continued to head down the trail toward the parking lot, safe and sound for the time being, but Andrew wouldn't relax until Steven was found…