Saturday October 9th 1982
The ground under his feet changed from mushy to solid as Steven approached an area of rocky terrain. A bit of a relief, he thought, compared to the muddy ground he’d been dealing with all night. And he wanted so badly to take a break; his legs were cramped from all the walking and running he'd done, and he could barely keep his breath. But resting wasn’t an option. He continued to walk at a fast pace, carrying the briefcase in one hand, flashlight in the other, and his backpack felt heavier and heavier with each step.
The rocky terrain quickly merged into an area of tall weeds and thick bushes, along the edge of a stream; the same stream they’d crossed earlier on their way to Grimdamun Cave—or so he thought. But the bridge they’d crossed was nowhere in sight. He decided to try his luck on a fallen tree that stretched from one side of the stream to the other.
He placed one foot on the tree trunk and bounced to make sure it was secure. He was soaking wet and shivering; the last thing he wanted to do was fall in the water! So after nudging the tree trunk a few times with his foot, seeing that it didn’t budge, he felt confident enough to walk across.
Carefully and slowly, he took one step at a time, balancing himself, making sure not to drop the briefcase. When he reached the other side of the stream, he paused for a moment, sighing in relief. And all seemed well, until he heard those dreaded noises again...the hideous howls of demon- wolves.
“Oh no!” he gasped, as the howling of cruel beasts rang through his ears. “I can’t run anymore.” But running he did, leg cramps and all. He wouldn’t give in just yet, and the howling increased tenfold as the creatures splashed through the water in his direction. They were so close now he could hear them breathing.
Trembling in fear, he looked around for a safe place to hide, but there wasn’t enough time to find one. In a last ditch effort, he plopped to the ground, belly first, hoping to camouflage himself in the thick undergrowth. But the ruthless creatures were too smart and sniffed him out right away…
In a matter of seconds, they surrounded him, and he crunched up into a ball. “So this is how it ends?” he whispered to himself, before rolling over, and slowly peeking up at the beasts. In desperation, he slunk backwards, holding up his flashlight to protect his face, but he knew it was useless.
Glowing red eyes glared down at him and the beasts exposed their fangs, sending shivers up and down his spine. And just as the biggest one was about to take the first bite, another wolf sprang onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, landing between Steven and the rest of the pack.
The sudden invader was a lot smaller than the other wolves, its fur much lighter, and from what Steven could tell, it was a female. The leader of the pack growled and snarled at her, and within seconds, the two beasts were in a vicious battle, clawing and biting at each other.
The rest of the pack, about four of them, quickly joined in, ganging up on the she-wolf, but she fought bravely, holding her own, giving Steven a chance to escape while the wolves were preoccupied.
Taking advantage of the moment, he grabbed the briefcase and started to run, but something inside his heart troubled him. Did this wolf just rescue me? How can I leave her alone to die?
He tried to block the crazy thoughts in his mind, but the she-wolf’s cries were hard to ignore.
After gaining some distance, the crying sounds slowly died off, and the forest, at least where he stood, became quiet again. He came to a halt and turned around. She must be dead, he thought, then sighed.
Panting heavily, he started to move again, but at a much slower pace, trying to catch his breath. The forest remained silent, with the exception of sporadic wind gusts here and there, and he felt a small sense of security for the time being—until he heard heavy breathing nearby, along with the crackling of twigs and dry leaves.
He ran behind a tall pine tree to hide, then peeked his head out and saw the wounded she-wolf, limping and sniffing the ground. And as luck would have it, it was only a matter of seconds before she spotted him.
Slowly, she approached him, keeping her eyes fixed on his. Steven tried to remain calm, but he couldn’t stop shaking.
“Nice...wolfy?” he said, trembling and breathing heavily. He inched his way backwards, into a cluster of trees, as she kept pressing towards him. He shined his flashlight on her, hoping to frighten her away, but it had no effect. He noticed the wounds and gashes on her body, blood dripping down her fur.
“Ummm...I’m sorry you got hurt so much,” he said, panicking as she moved closer. “Maybe next time bring some of your friends to help?”
She tilted her head to the side, still ambling in his direction. He retreated back some more, until his back was pressed against a tree and he could no longer move.
“I have no friends,” she said, in a doleful tone that sounded completely human. “Unless, of course, you’ll be my friend.” She backed off a little, and Steven gaped in fear. “Don’t be afraid child...I won’t hurt you.”
“You...you can talk?” Steven’s jaw practically hit the ground.
“Of course I can talk,” she said, “and thank God for that! I’ve been trapped in this body and these woods for over three years now, yet for some reason, I haven’t lost all of my humanity.”
“Oh…?” Steven was as stiff as a board, afraid to move a muscle.
“I know it sounds strange,” she continued, “but there’s no time for explaining. I have to get you out of here fast! The pack will keep hunting you.”
Steven relaxed and loosened up a bit. “Do you have a name?”
“Yes,” she said, "I’m Tara...Tara Gordonson. Are you a local boy?”
“Yes ma'am...I’m from the other side of town,” he responded, still in disbelief that he was talking to a wolf. “My name’s Steven Jacobs.”
“Well, Steven Jacobs, perhaps you might’ve heard about me—assuming there was a story about me on the news.”
Her name didn’t register at first, until Steven remembered the story about the woman who went missing a few years ago in Woody Hills Park—the same story he and Andrew talked about just a few days ago:
“Tara Gordonson, a widower from the small hamlet of Pleasant Vale, New York, was last seen on Friday evening, April 9th, around 7 P.M., entering Woody Hills Park. Police have placed her on the missing persons list, and search crews have been assigned to the case.”
“So you’re the missing lady?” Steven asked, wide-eyed. “And now you’re a demon-wolf?”
“I am no demon!” snapped Tara, curling her lips and pointing her ears upward. “That was rude of you to say.”
“I’m sorry...miss,” said Steven in a sheepish tone, “but this is all so weird to me. So many things have happened tonight, and now I’m standing here...talking to a werewolf--or a wolf lady...or whatever you are.”
“Stop your whining,” Tara said, relaxing and lowering her tail. “I’m NOT a werewolf! I’m a victim of an ancient curse. Anyway, enough fussing. We need to get you out of here, so follow me.”
“You’re going to help me get out of here?” Steven asked, amazed. “Why?’
“Because I don’t want you to die...or become one of his servants.”
“Whose servant? What are you talking about?”
“The Warlock,” she said. “He sent his hounds to hunt you and your friends down. But there’s no time to explain, Steven. I’m tired and wounded, so please just follow me. I'll lead you back to the parking lot.”
“But I have friends in here that are in danger!” he shouted. Tara ignored him and started to trot ahead, leaving him with no choice but to follow her. “Did you hear what I said!” he shouted again, panting and losing his breath as he tried to keep up with her. “My friends are still here, and I don’t want to leave without them!”
Tara paused for a second, and turned around. “Stop your yelling!” she growled. “Your friends are in good hands now.”
Steven’s eyes lit up. “How do you know? You’ve seen them?”
“Nevermind!” She snarled at him. “It’s not important, Steven, I’ll explain everything when we get near the parking lot. Trust me...the other two boys are safe.”
“But there’s THREE of them, not two!” Steven shouted, even louder this time, then quickly lowered his voice. “One of them, a kid named Butch, got carried off inito the sky by some winged monster.”
Tara’s eyes widened as if she’d seen a ghost. “Then I’m afraid there’s little hope for your friend Butch right now. Sounds like he was taken captive by The Winged Tyrant.” She lowered her tail, and brushed up against him to comfort him. “There are many things that I need to tell you, Steven, so please, let’s keep moving till we reach a safer place.”
“Okay,” he said, sighing and nodding his head.
They continued to move quickly through the woods, dealing with a few obstacles here and there, before finally reaching the stream at the bottom of the trail leading to the parking lot.
Tara paused and crouched down to take a few sips of water. “This is far as I can go,” she said, water dripping from the sides of her mouth as she raised her head. “The barrier won’t let me go any further.”
“Barrier?” Steven asked, catching his breath. “What barrier?”
“The unseen barrier that I can’t cross. Only The Warlock and The Winged Tyrant have the power to cross it now, though The Warlock’s ability to do this is very limited at the moment. But soon enough, other creatures will be able to cross it as well, and this whole town will be in grave danger.” She lowered her head for a moment, then raised it back to look him in the eyes. “That’s why I need you to help me, Steven. I need you to get my message to the right people; the people that are protecting your friends at the moment.”
“The Guardians,” she said. “A few of them are here already, thank God. One of them was responsible for the sudden brightness that entered the forest.”
“So that’s where all that light came from?" asked Steven.“I was wondering where it came from.”
“Yes,” said Tara, “but I’m not sure what brought him here, or the others, and unfortunately, I can’t speak to any of them. If they see me talking to you, they’ll assume I’m one of the Warlock’s hounds...and kill me. Which is odd of course, since none of The Warlock hounds can speak our language.”
Steven had no clue what she was talking about, but he felt bad for her, realizing she was indeed a victim of something unnatural.
“Did this warlock person turn you into a wolf?”
“Yes and no,” she said. “He woke something up inside of me that should’ve been left alone, something I had no idea was a part of me.” She sighed and lowered her head. “It’s a long story, Steven, and I don’t know all the details. All I remember was being lured into this forest one night by a strange group of people, and then...well, I can’t quite remember how it happened, but the next thing I knew I was turned into a wolf!”
Steven stood there slack-jawed and frightened, lost for words as he listened to her story.
“And,” continued Tara, “the other wolves in here were also human at one time, but they’re too far gone now. I almost pity them in a way, because I’m sure most of them didn’t choose to become what they are.”
“What about the werewolf looking guy?” asked Steven. “The one that walks on its hind legs?”
“He’s one of the ancient ones who’ve recently come to the surface.”
“Huh? The surface?” Steven scratched his head, baffled by all of this.
“Yes,” Tara said, “he’s from deep below the earth, in a place they call The Darkest Nether. There’s a portal that leads there hidden inside of Grimdamun Cave, and the man-beast that chased you boys is just one of many deadly creatures that’ll come through the portal.
“Like I said, Steven,” she continued, “it’s a long story, much too complicated to explain right now. But in a nutshell, these man-beasts, well, they lead the packs, and they’re much more intelligent than the demon -wolves.”
“They?” Steven gulped, his eyes wider than ever. “You mean there’s more than one of those man-beasts roaming the forest right now?”
“Yes,” said Tara. “The one you saw is actually a minor menace compared to some of the others, but he’s still very dangerous.”
“Oh great!” Steven shook his head and started to panic. “This is so creepy.”
“I know it is. How do you think I feel, being trapped in this body for so long? That’s why I need you to help me.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Tell the Guardians they’ve been betrayed. The Winged Tyrant that took your friend is actually Sky-Lord himself!”
“Yes,” she continued, “he’s a prominent leader of their team, and he’s been in cahoots with the Warlock for a long time now.”
“Why would he betray them?” Steven asked, a curious look on his face.
“Because The Warlock promised him immortality and lordship in his new kingdom, just like he promises everyone that’ll serve him. And now Sky-Lord is also cursed. In the daytime, he still poses as a hero, flying with his golden wings and his false majesty...but at night, he becomes a new being--a deadly servant of The Warlock. What you saw was his new transformation, his true nature now. He looks nothing like that in the daytime, and because of that, he’s been able to fool The Guardians for a long time.”
“Oh…” Steven was lost for words again.
“And even worse,” Tara continued, “he’s not bound by any barrier because he’s still a Guardian, albeit a crooked one. He’s a dangerous servant of The Warlock now, and The Warlock must be stopped before he recruits the rest of them.”
“The rest of them?”
“Yes. The Winged Tyrant’s just one of many Guardians that he’s recruiting. There’ll be more of them in the near future.”
All of this information was a lot for Steven to soak in at once, but his curiosity was piqued, and he couldn’t stop asking questions.
“What did you mean by The Warlock's new kingdom?” Steven scratched his head.
“The new kingdom that he’s trying to create here,” said Tara. “Once he can fully open the curtain, the doorway that separates our world from theirs, he’ll unleash great evil everywhere!”
“Well that wouldn’t be good,” said Steven, still in awe that he was talking to a wolf.
“Ummm...did he promise you lordship too in his new kingdom?”
“No, not at first,” she responded. “I was tricked into coming here, Steven. I didn’t willfully become one of his hounds. Yet for reasons too complicated to explain to you right now, he’s kept me safe from harm. But he doesn’t know I can still talk, or that I’ve kept most of my humanity. As far as I know, he thinks I’m slowly becoming a mindless beast like the rest of them.” She looked up at him and Steven noticed sadness in her eyes. “I pray to God everyday that I don’t end up like one of those beasts.”
“I want to help you, Tara.” Steven knelt down and looked her in the eyes. “I feel bad leaving you here alone, now that I know your story. Plus the fact that you saved my life!”
“You’re a nice boy, Steven. Now before you go, I have to tell you something else that's very important. The daggers that you boys took from the Warlock’s cave are very important to him. He wants them more than anything else, though I’m not sure why. But something tells me it’s a blessing that you boys found them.”
Steven quickly rose to his feet, wide-eyed and baffled. “How did you know we found them?”
“Because he wouldn’t have bothered having his hounds chase you all night unless it was something important to him. You boys really aggravated him tonight, and took something he deems extremely valuable.”
“Well I hope he gets over it soon,” said Steven, trying to smile. “I mean...who needs an angry Warlock in their life...right?”
“This isn’t a joke, Steven!” Tara’s tone was stern. “And I see you took something else of his.” She nudged the briefcase with her nose. “I know what’s in there. A ton of money. You should bring it to the police as soon as possible.”
“Yes...I plan on doing that,” he said, although the idea of a new fishing pole and archery set still lurked in the back of his mind. “It doesn’t belong to me.”
“Good. Now hurry up and cross the stream and run to the parking lot.”
“Why don’t we just wait here together?” asked Steven. "You can tell your story to the Guardians when they get here—assuming they’re going to be coming this way.”
“I told you that’s not possible right now.”
Steven looked at her with sad eyes. “I really feel bad leaving you here, Tara. I wish there was something I could do for you." He knelt down to give her a big hug, and rubbed his cheeks against hers. It was the only nice moment he had all night, but the moment was suddenly interrupted when they heard voices in the distance--accompanied by a silvery, glowing light…
Tara narrowed her eyes, pinning her ears flat against her head. Her wagging tail became stiff as a board, raised parallel to the ground. Steven could tell she was frightened by the way she started to growl.
The voices became louder as the group moved closer. Steven peered into the distance, spotting two adults under the moonlight, heading in their direction. One of them, a tall man, wearing a brown-hooded cloak,was carrying a silver bow in one hand. The other, a woman, with jet-black hair and wearing a mask, was carrying a long, wooden staff, with a glowing orb attached to the end of it. And trailing behind them, from what he could tell, were two boys about his age…
He decided to hide the briefcase just to be safe, placing it under some nearby bushes.
“What are you doing?” asked Tara, with a slight snarl. “I told you to take that money to the police!”
“I will, I promise. Troopers honor! But I have to hide it for now. I’ll come back to get it when I come back for you.”
Tara tilted her head, apparently surprised at his comment, but there was no time to explain, and Steven knew the she-wolf had to leave quickly. As the light became brighter, and the group moved closer, Steven suddenly recognized his buddy.
“Andrew!” he shouted, waving his hands in the air. “I’m over here!”
“Steven!” Andrew shouted back, running toward his fellow trooper and brushing past the Guardians.
Steven glanced over at Tara for a second, knowing they had to part. It was a bittersweet moment for him, and he tried one last time to convince her to stay.
“No!” she said, hackles rising on her back. “Your friends are safe now, and so are you. I must leave now!” She started to run away, then paused for a moment, turning around to face Steven one last time. “Please don’t forget me, Steven. Tell them everything I told you!”
“I promise I won’t forget you!” Steven shouted, and after that, Tara ran off into the darkness...