Butch Johnson, the most feared bully at school, didn't feel so tough as he sat alone in the dark, curled into a ball, shivering and crying. He tried to recollect what had happened earlier, before he fainted, but it was all a blur. The only thing he remembered was fighting with Steven, then being lifted off the ground by a big monster with wings.
The air around him was cold and damp, and a musky scent filled his nostrils. He couldn’t see a thing, and had no idea where he was...until he heard the growling of demon-wolves lurking nearby, and realized he was back in that dreaded cave again...
His heart rapidly pounded, and he started to wonder if he’d ever make it out of there alive, and he regretted the whole idea of coming here in the first place. But none of that was relevant anymore. The only thing that mattered now was the likelihood that he was a prisoner.
As he sat there feeling helpless, doubting any possibility of escape, he was quickly distracted by voices and clackity footsteps, echoing through the tunnels. His heart began to race again, and he couldn't control his shaking hands.
Soon enough, the voices and footsteps grew louder, and he closed his eyes, hoping it was all a bad dream. But any hope of that vanished when he opened his eyes again, and saw the light of a burning torch in the distance, and two large shadows moving along the stone wall.
When the figures got close enough, Butch saw one was an old man wearing a black cloak and a top-hat, holding the torch in one hand and a cane in the other. Behind the old man was a much taller fellow, with black folded wings attached to his back, and a dark mask over his face.
“Here he is, Elymas.” The winged man’s voice was deep and creepy. “I brought him here just for you.”
“Good work,” said Elymas. The Warlock placed the torch in a dragon shaped sconce fastened to the wall, then glared down at Butch who was still trembling—a far cry from the “tough guyr” he thought he was!
“Hello there, young man,” said The Warlock. His raspy voice and evil grin made Butch’s skin crawl. “Seems you’ve been a busy little bee tonight.”
“Please...don’t hurt me,” pleaded Butch in a whimpering tone. “I...I...just want to go home.”
The Warlock laughed at him. “Is that so?” He stepped closer. “Well young man, this IS your home for now...unless I send you to another place.” He smiled coldly. “Would you like that?”
“What other place?” Butch asked, quivering in fear. He could barely look the old man in his eyes.
“The Darkest Nether,” Elymas responded, “the world inside the Earth.” He smiled coldly again. “Perhaps I’ll give you a quick tour.”
The Warlock leaned down towards Butch, and placed his hand over his eyes, then snapped his fingers. The frightened bully quickly fell into a deep trance, and when he snapped out of it, he had no idea what had just happened—but somehow he was gliding on air, next to The Warlock, in a strange and dark world filled with horrid creatures, more terrifying than anything else he witnessed that night.
The world beneath the Earth was dark and barren, with old towers and a host of winged creatures, similar in appearance to The Winged Tyrant, but much larger, and more dragon-like than human.
They glided through dark valleys and forests, observing hellhounds much larger and more fierce looking than any of the demon-wolves back in Woody Hills Park.
“So...what do you think, boy?” The Warlock smirked. “I can leave you here if you’d like. These creatures are awfully hungry you know.” He grabbed Butch’s arm, and they descended downward, coming very close to a legion of wicked monsters.
“No!” Butch shouted. “Please... get me out of here!!”
“Quit your whining you little vermin!” Elmyas grabbed Butch’s arm again, and they ascended upward. “I have something else in mind for you. I just wanted to show you where you’ll end up if you don’t obey my every command.” He placed his hand over Butch’s face again. “Now close your eyes.”
Moments later, Butch found himself back inside of Grimdamun Cave, in the exact same spot he was before. The Winged Tyrant glared down at him, and The Warlock stood over him, leaning on his cane.
“What is your name, boy?” Elymas asked, but Butch remained silent, still in a state of panic.
“Answer him!” snapped The Winged Tyrant, revealing his sharp claws.
“Butch...Butch Johnson.” He lowered his head between his legs.
“Look at me, boy.” Elymas placed his hand under Butch’s chin, and pulled his head up. His gray and lifeless eyes sent chills up the bully’s spine. “I’m going to ask you a few questions...and if I feel that you’re lying to me, I’ll make you regret the day you were born. Do you understand?”
Butch nodded. “Yes..sir.” He was creeped out at the sight of the old man. His skin was pale like a ghost, and he had long thin strands of hair, white as snow, that looked like they could fall off his head at any moment. Black pointy fingernails protruded from his fingertips, and he had a set of fangs, like a vampire, resting on his bottom lip. But it was his eyes—those hauntingly gray eyes— that frightened Butch the most.
“What brings you to my forest?” was his first question.
“Just camping out...sir.” Butch’s tone was far from believable.
“He’s lying,” The Winged Tyrant snapped, and Elymas agreed.
“I warned you, boy, if you don’t tell me the truth, you’ll be sorry. Let me ask again: what were you and those other boys doing in my forest?” Elymas leaned on his cane, tapping his foot against the floor.
“We were looking for money…”
“I see,” said Elymas, raising his eyebrows. “And how did you know there was money here?”
“My...my uncle...he said...or I heard him say—something about money, hidden inside of Grimdamun Cave, and—”
“Who’s your uncle?” The Wing Tyrant interrupted. “Speak!”
“His name’s Robert...Robert Collins—but his friends call him Rusty.” Butch started to cry again, lowering his head between his legs as he sat there regretting everything.
“I should’ve known,” said Elymas, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. He looked over at The Winged Tyrant. “Those bloody fools sent this dumb kid here to do their dirty work.”
“No,” said Butch, lifting his head up again. “My uncle didn't send me. He had no idea that I was planning to come here. I overheard him talking about it with someone else, one of his partners...and I snuck into his room and found the map in his dresser drawer.”
“Devious little brat,” said Elymas, followed by another chilling grin. “Spying on your worthless uncle, then stealing from him...and stealing from me!” He glanced over at The Winged Tyrant again. “I think I might actually like this kid after all. I might have a use for a sneaky and dishonest punk like him.”
“Can I please go now?” asked Butch, knowing it was a stupid question, but worth a try anyway.
The Warlock laughed again. “Of course not—I have some more questions.” His tone became more serious. “There was a small wooden box, filled with daggers. Where is it?”
“I don’t know.” Butch started to shake again. “I don’t have it...I don’t even have the briefcase.”
The Warlock leaned forward and growled, exposing his fangs even more, and Butch slunk backwards, hitting his head against the stone wall behind him.
“Alright young man,” The Warlock continued, raising an eyebrow. “I believe you’re telling me the truth. Now tell me where you think the daggers might be. Perhaps one of your sneaky little friends has them?”
“Yes,” said Butch, not hesitating to betray the little trooper—the innocent boy he forced to into this whole mess. “Harper’s his name...Andrew Harper. He found the daggers and stuffed them in his backpack. That's all I remember.”
“What about the money?” asked The Winged Tyrant, stepping closer to Butch and Elymas.“What did you do with it?”
“I...umm...had it with me when we were trying to escape. But I changed my mind and tried to bring it back, because I know stealing is wrong...but the other kid, Steven, attacked me and tried to stop me.” He was lying through his teeth!
“Interesting story,” said Elymas, in a doubtful tone. “So after all the trouble you went through to find the money, you had a sudden change of heart?”
“Yes, sir,” said Butch, hoping The Warlock believed him. He glanced over at The Winged Tyrant. “That’s why we were fighting...before you came and carried me off. Steven was being greedy, and demanded we keep the money and run! But I wouldn’t stand for that kind of behavior, sir...so I had to defend myself from his attack. I swear, I was planning on bringing the briefcase back.”
“So his name’s Steven?” Elymas asked, squinting his eyes. “Steven what?”
“Do you know where these boys live?”
“Yes sir,” answered Butch, as he continued to betray the troopers. “The small skinny one, Andrew, lives on the top of Lake Road—but I don’t know the exact address. And I’m pretty sure that Steven, the chubby one who attacked me, lives on Ridge Road."
“Very good,” said Elymas. “But there’s one more boy unaccounted for. Care to tell me about him?”
Butch hesitated to answer at first, and if there was any sign of loyalty in his heart, it would’ve showed at that moment. In his mind, betraying the two “nerds” was irrelevant—they weren’t important to him. And his uncle Rusty, the criminal, was never nice to him anyway, so no love lost there. But Shane was a different matter altogether. He was his buddy after all, his partner in crime since grammar school...even though he was willing to leave him for dead just a few hours ago!
“Well?” said The Warlock, glaring down at the frightened bully, “I’m waiting for your answer, boy. Or perhaps one of my pooches will convince you to speak up.” He tapped his cane on the ground, then spoke in that strange language again, and in a matter of seconds, a large demon-wolf appeared, inching its way towards Butch, snarling and growling ferociously. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Butch to sell his only “friend” down the river!
“Shane!” he shouted, trembling and placing his hands over his face. “His name’s Shane Reilly... and he lives on Commerce Avenue!”
“Very good,” said the warlock. He sent his hound away, and Butch leaned back for a moment, breathing heavily, sweat dripping down his nose.
“Can I go now?” Butch pleaded again. “I told you everything.”
“Not just yet,” said Elymas. “Wait here. I'll be back in a moment.” Another frightful grin came across his face, as he placed his cold hand on Butch's shoulder. “I have other plans for you…”
Moments later, Elymas held a brief meeting with The Winged Tyrant in his secret chamber, a large haunt deep within the cave.
“Okay winged one, you know what to do-so do it!” Elymas sat down on a large boulder connected to the wall. “You’re the only one that can break through the barrier, besides me. But it’s not safe for me to go out there again...not with all those annoying Guardians around.”
“I already took care of Lord Brightborn,” said The Winged Tyrant. “He’s no threat anymore.”
“Like hell you did!” The Warlock snapped. “He’ll be back soon enough, and so will the others. You should’ve killed him like I told you to.”
“I tried to, master, but he’s too—”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Elymas snapped. "You're always making excuses."
"Then why didn't you help me fight him!” The Wing Tyrant glared at him, baring his teeth in anger. “And come to think of it, why didn’t you hunt down those bratty kids yourself?”
“You dare question me?” Elymas narrowed his eyes. “Never question my methods, fool. I didn’t think one Guardian was too much for you to handle on your own. Not to mention the fact that I was able to weaken his powers. Should have been an easy fight for you. ” He shook his head. “And as for chasing those pesky kids, that’s what my hounds are for. I’m too busy for such nonsense. I only made an appearance to frighten The Guardians away, and to let them know who’s in charge.”
“Apparently they weren’t frightened enough to leave,” said The Winged Tyrant, sarcastically. “And your stupid hounds failed to catch the little punks. Heck, at least I caught one of them.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, fool. And don’t you dare insult my hounds. I gave them specific orders not to harm the boys—at least not until I had one or two of them trapped, and—”
“They failed you, just like I said.” The Winged Tyrant snorted. “But I didn’t fail you. You should be thankful for me...Master.”
The Warlock barked out a laugh. “Thankful for what? Some bratty punk who doesn’t have my daggers?”
“He may not have the daggers, but at least he gave us names and addresses.”
The Warlock nodded. “Yes, yes, that much he did. But we need to hurry.” He gave The Winged Tyrant a cold stare. "We need those daggers back soon, and we don’t have much time left. The great day is upon us. So gather up anyone you can to help you. I don’t care what it takes, but we need to locate these boys...especially the one named Andrew Harper.”