Saturday October 9th
Andrew looked up to the sky, his eyes practically blinded by the light. Frightened, he clung to the tree as hard as he could, until the branch he stood on finally broke.
“Awwwrrr!” He squeezed his eyes shut as he slid down the tree, scraping his palms against the rough bark, knowing he was about to be killed by demon-wolves. When he hit the ground, he curled up into a ball and covered his head, awaiting his fate. But nothing happened. He opened his eyes and all he could see was a bright light. There was no more growling or howling. The beasts must've fled.
Relieved, but still frightened, the trooper wasted no time. He looked over his shoulder to make sure the wolves were really gone, then ran over to Shane. The bully was still lying on the ground, quivering in fear.
“Are you okay?" he asked. “Did they bite you?”
“One of them nipped my leg,” said Shane, “but that was the worst of it, thank God.” He took a deep breath, fear etched all over his face. “They were just about to kill me ...until you showed up.”
"Weird," said Andrew, in a low whisper. "I think if they wanted to kill you, they would've already."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, they've been chasing us around for a while now, and they already had you trapped before I came back. They could have easily killed you by now if they wanted to."
"So you think they're toying with us, Harper?"
"Toying with us, or maybe trying to trap us for some reason." Andrew looked over his shoulder again, his vision still blurred from the blinding light. "Anyway, can you stand?” He reached down and offered Shane a hand.
“I don’t know,” said Shane, wincing in pain. “I think I sprained my ankle.” He tried to sit up, his body aching with each movement.
“You're bleeding!” Andrew pointed at Shane’s left leg, right above his ankle. “You sure the wolf just nipped you?”
“Pretty sure.” Shane squinted his eyes, also distracted from the brightness surrounding them. “Where’s all this light coming from?”
“I have no idea.” Andrew didn’t mention anything about the charm. “But you need medical attention. Let’s go find the others before the wolves come back. Steven has a first-aid kit in his backpack.”
But the frightened bully couldn't stand on his own, so Andrew used all his might to help him up. He placed Shane's arm around his shoulder, and became his crutch.
“So, what happened to the others?” asked Shane, as they began to venture out. “Where are they?”
“Ummm...we all split up...running in different directions.” Andrew didn’t want to tell Shane that Butch abandoned him. “I lost track of them... and couldn’t find them. Anyway, we better get moving."
The winds picked up as they hobbled along, peering through the brightness, trying to locate the others. But after passing by the same places over and over, such as the tree that Andrew fell off, and the bloody spot on the ground where Shane was laying, Andrew realized they were walking in circles.
“I need to sit down,” said Shane, after they walked for a few more minutes. “My ankle—it's killing me. And we can barely see anything.”
“We don’t have time! ” Andrew did his best to hold Shane up. “Those things might return any second now, and you’re bleeding. We have to keep moving.”
They trudged along some more, moving in various directions, until they stumbled upon a clearing with areas of outcrop. The bright light seemed to diminish somewhat, and Shane sat down on one of the boulders to take a break. But Andrew insisted they keep moving.
“I know you’re hurt, Shane, but we can’t rest here for long.” He plopped himself down next to the wounded bully. “Five minutes, then we need to go. Understand?”
Shane glanced at him, then started to laugh. “Now isn't this funny?” he said.
“What?” Andrew was confused.
“The fact that I'm injured and feeling weak, and little Andrew Harper’s carrying me—even giving me orders now.” He started to laugh again, almost cracking up, ignoring his pain for the moment. “What’s this world coming to?”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “Look, Shane, I know you think I’m a nerd, and that’s fine, but right now, all I care about is your well being. We need to find the others and get you to a hospital!”
Shane's smile quickly turned into a frown. “Hey...Harper?”
“I said you’re alright—for a nerd.” He smiled again, nudging at Andrew’s shoulder. “You’re a brave little dude.”
Andrew thought he was hearing things. Shane Reilly had never said a kind word to him before, or any of the other kids at school.
After a few more minutes of rest, they pressed on, Shane still using Andrew as a crutch. And as fate would have it, they stumbled into another trap, crossing paths with the man-beast again! The boys froze and nearly fainted, and Andrew’s heart began to pound.
The monster was standing on a large boulder in the center of the clearing, chewing on a dead deer. It quickly noticed the boys and tossed the carcass to the side.
“Oh great!” said Andrew, trembling like a leaf as the beast glared down at them with its blood-red eyes. But lucky for the boys, something suddenly distracted it—something from behind them.
They spun around to see what it was. The bright light had returned, blurring their vision again.
At first they saw nothing but brightness—until the image of a man began to appear within the glowing spectacle. When he became more visible, the boys couldn’t believe what they saw: a tall man, clad in white glowing armor. He wore a long, white cape and his entire form was encompassed by the light.
They darted to the side of the clearing, Andrew still holding up Shane, and hid themselves within a tight grove of trees. Andrew didn’t know who this celestial visitor was, but there was something about him that made him feel safe.
The monster slowly inched its way toward the edge of the boulder, glaring down at the luminous invader, and to the boys amazement, the creature began to speak!
“Well, well, well...if it isn’t my old friend Lord Brightborn,” it said, in a guttural tone. “Been a long time since a Guardian set foot in our forest.”
“It won’t be your forest for long,” Lord Brightborn responded. “You’ll be banished again soon enough.”
The monster smirked, and let out a crude laugh. “Is that a threat, guardian?” He took a slow step closer. “Is that what brings you here?” He pointed his ears upward and wrinkled his snout, exposing sharp fangs. “You think the war will be any different this time?”
“Guardian? Lord brightborn?” Andrew whispered to Shane. “Is that who this guy is?”
Growing up, and even in recent times, Andrew had heard many tales about the so- called Guardians—the superheroes of Chester County. But he’d never seen one in person before, and considered it all a myth—until now.
Shane shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he whispered back, “I’ve heard of guys like KnightCharge and The Patron, and of course my favorite, The Righteous Raider. But this guy’s different. Maybe he’s from another world!”
They looked back to the monster and the glowing invader.
“I’ve been summoned here,” Lord Brightborn responded. He looked around for a brief moment, and the boys ducked lower. “And I’m answering the call.”
Andrew’s mouth dropped open. It was the charm, he thought. The charm must’ve summoned him. But why would Miss Bonsworth give something like that to Berta? And why would Berta give it to him? They probably had no idea of its power, he thought.
“Summoned, you say?” The beast moved even closer, leaning forward, but keeping a safe distance. “You’re a foolish man to come here, bright one.” He started to growl, but it didn’t scare the glowing warrior.
“No, demon, you’re the foolish one...and your days on this world are numbered.”
Andrew, still amazed at what he was seeing, stuck his head out from behind the trees to get a better look at the glowing man. He had sparkling white hair, and wore a white helm covering his forehead, chin, and both sides of his face. Beams of light radiated from his eyes and armor. On his chest was an emblem of a golden star, outlined in silver, and his long white cape, edged with gold and silver pinstripes, was whipping in the wind.
“Don’t be a fool, bright one,” the beast continued. “We aren’t going anywhere.” He let out another crude laugh that echoed through the woods.
“Be silent, demon!” Lord Brightborn raised his right arm and made a fist, amining it at the monster. He spread his fingers open, and a powerful beam of light projected from his palm, piercing the demon’s chest. It barked out a shrill cry, then fell off the boulder.
Wounded and furious, the beast stood up and lunged at him, but the celestial warrior stepped to the right, and the monster crashed its head into a tree, then fell back to the ground. In a rage, it quickly sprang to its feet, howling, a hideous howl that sent shivers up and down Andrew's spine. And soon enough, the pack of demon-wolves returned, answering their master’s call.
“Oh joy,” whispered Andrew, watching the pack gather around their master. “They’re back!”
“You’re alone and outnumbered,” the beast mocked, sneering at the glowing warrior. “Now we’re going to tear you to pieces!”
The monster lunged at Lord Brighborn, but once again, the glowing-warrior parried his attack. He shot in the air, his cape billowing as he stared down at the demon.
The boys looked up in wonder as Lord Brightborn hovered above them—until something else caught their attention...
A woman appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and stood face to face with the man-beast and his demon pack.
“He’s not alone!” the woman shouted. “Be gone, demon spawn.” She held a long, wooden staff, with a glowing orb on the end. She began to twirl it around, spinning it back and forth from one hand to another, as the pack tried to attack her. But one by one, they all fell back, injured, frustrated and furious.
"Wow! Who the heck is that?” Andrew whispered. “Where’d she come from?”
“I have no idea,” said Shane, wide-eyed, “but it looks like she’s on our side..I hope.”
“I’m going to get a better look at her.” Andrew peeked his head out from behind the trees again.
It was hard to see from where he stood, so he shuffled around a little to get a better view. The woman had jet-black hair with streaks of silver flowing through it, and she wore a light silver mask, shaped like two crescent moons, covering her eyes and cheeks. She was dressed in a tight, black leather suit, with silver stripes running down the sides. An emblem of a silver moon with white wings adorned her chest, and her white gauntlets and boots were tasseled with feathers.
Lord Brightborn descended back to the ground to greet her. “Moon Dove,” he said, “How’d you know I was here?"
“My staff...it alarmed me,” she responded. “I guess we've both been summoned.” She gazed into the glowing ball on her staff, squinting her eyes under her mask. “There are others here in danger. I can sense it. We have to rescue them.”
The wolves moved closer, forming a circle around them, with the man-beast in front. The two Guardians stood back to back, ready to fight...until another person suddenly appeared on the scene, an elderly man, emerging from the center of the circle, on a cloud of smoke, gliding on the air.
Andrew watched in horror as the strange old man levitated toward the sky, then slowly descended to the ground. He held a cane in one hand, with a sterling silver handle, shaped like a dragon’s head. A black top hat, brimmed around the edges, concealed most of his lifeless gray eyes, and his long black cloak, connected by a brooch on the front of his neck, reached just below his knees. His pale, wrinkly skin, and thin white hair, contrasted his entire ensemble.
The wolves showed their respect and bowed their heads to the strange old man, then backed away. He walked towards the Guardians, then halted next to the man-beast.
“That’s him!” said Andrew, his tone a bit too loud.
Shane placed his hand over the trooper’s mouth. “Shhh! You want to get us killed? Be quiet.”
“I’m sorry.” Andrew lowered his tone. “But I think that’s the weird old guy that everyone's been talking about.”
“Whatever,” said Shane. “This place is freaking me out. Let’s make a run for it, while they’re all distracted. Might be our only chance to escape!”
“Bad idea." Andrew narrowed his eyes. “You can barely walk, let alone run!” He peeked his head out again, trying to hear what was going on, and the strange old man began to speak.
“Nice to see the both of you,” he said, in a raspy voice; the same voice the boys heard earlier when they ran out of Grimdamun Cave. “Always nice to have guests in my forest.” His evil and sarcastic grin made Andrew’s skin crawl. “Do you know anything about these boys who robbed me tonight?”
“What boys?” said Lord Brightborn. “What are you talking about, Elymas?”
“The boys that came into my cave, uninvited. We caught one of them already, but the other one, the chubby kid...well, he managed to get away.”
“Oh, thank you God,” Andrew whispered to himself. “Please help Steven make it out of here alive!” He did feel bad for Butch though, even though he was being a jerk all night. “And please keep Butch safe from any harm...wherever he is.”
The old man glanced around, sniffing the air like a dog. “There are two other boys
still lingering about.” He leaned on his cane, his gray eyes moving back and forth.
“He's talking about us!” said Andrew. Then he and Shane heard the old man speaking in a strange language to the demon-wolves; a dark and evil sounding language. And even though he couldn’t understand the words, it appeared as if the old man was giving them an order.
When he was done talking to them, the wolves bowed again, then quickly ran off into the darkness. The man-beast, however, remained where he was, glowering at the two guardians.
“You better leave those boys alone, warlock!” Moon Dove pointed her staff at the creepy old man, but Lord Lightborn intervened.
“Wait a minute,” he said, placing his hand on her staff and pushing it down. “Don’t let this sorcerer provoke us. His power is too strong in here, much stronger than I anticipated.”
The old man smiled. “You’re a wise man, bright one.” His name was Elymas Kane, a sorcerer from earlier times. “We’re finally on the same page.” He fixed his eyes on Moon Dove for a second, then back to Lord Brightborn. “Why not join us and end this foolishness? You both know you can’t win.”
“I’d rather die,” said Moon Dove, raising her staff again, pointing it at the warlock. And before Lord Brighborn could intervene again, she fired a blast of silvery-white light at him from the orb...but the sorcerer disappeared, dodging the attack, then reappeared in another spot, floating on the air again, mocking her attempt.
“I told you his power is too strong here!” Lord Brightborn stepped in front of her. “This is exactly what he wants from us.”
“Good, then that’s exactly what he’ll get!” She stepped in front of Lord Brightborn and fired another blast at The Warlock, but he vanished again, this time remaining invisible.
The two heroes stood still for a few moments, waiting for The Warlock to reappear, keeping a sharp eye on the werewolf who looked as though he was about to attack. But the strange old man was nowhere to be seen, and darkness returned to the forest, dimming the bright light of Lord Brightborn. Then they heard his raspy voice echoing in the air…
“Too bad you fools won’t make it out of here alive,” he said, “nor will the boys.” He started to laugh, and the two Guardians looked all around for him, but he was still nowhere in sight.
“Come out and fight us like a man you coward!” Moon Dove pointed her staff in different directions, but it was useless—The Warlock was physically out of sight.
In a rage, she pointed the orb at the man-beast. “Okay, sorcerer...I’ll just kill your pet instead.” She fired a blast of energy at the beast, striking him down. The creature, more furious than ever, quickly rose up and darted at her with his mouth wide open, eager to devour her. But she didn’t have enough time to dodge his attack, and found herself lying on her back, with the wolf-man drooling on top of her, trying to sink his claws into her skin.
In an instant, Lord Brighborn jumped on the creature's back and managed to pull him off of her. He slammed the beast’s head against a tree, and it fell to the ground again.
Before the monster had a chance to recoup, Lord Brightborn placed a forcefield of light around it, trapping it for the time being.
“We need to get out of here,” he said, helping her up. “The forcefield won’t last long; something in this forest is weakening my power. I can feel it.”
“How much time do you think we have?” she asked, breathing heavy and rubbing the dirt off her outfit.
“An hour...if that. We really need to go.”
“Not without the boys.” Moon Dove’s tone was stern. “One of them summoned us. You know the rules, Brightborn.”
The celestial warrior nodded his head. “Of course. That’s why we’re here. Let’s hurry up and find them.”
“Here we are!” shouted Andrew, waving his hands, jumping out from behind the trees. He realized The Guardians were no threat to him at all. “I’m Andrew Harper. Please help me and my friends!”
The two heroes, caught off guard, glanced over at Andrew, then gave each other a puzzled look.
“The boys were right here this whole time.” Lord Brightborn frowned and shook his head. “And neither of us sensed it?”
Moon Dove narrowed her eyes. “I guess you’re right. Something in here's weakening our powers.” She glanced around for a moment. “I should’ve detected them by now.”
"Yeah," said Lord Brightborn, "and it's a good thing The Warlock didn't detect them either!"
Andrew, still in awe at the sight of them, stood motionless as they walked over to him.
“Greetings, Andrew Harper,” said Lord Brightborn, his eyes glowing. “So you’re the one who summoned me? ” He crouched down a bit, and pointed to the charm around Andrew’s neck. “Where’d you get that?”
“Ummm...a girl I know loaned it to me, sir.” He didn't mention Berta’s name just in case. “But you can have it…if it’s yours.” He pulled the necklace off and tried to hand it to him, but Lord Brightborn refused.
“No,” he said, in a stern tone. “Keep it for now. You might need it again, and there’s only a handful of them left in this world.”
“Uhh...okay.” Andrew cracked an uneasy smile, and slowly placed the necklace back on. “So...whenever I’m in danger, I just shake this little charm and you’ll come?”
“It all depends,” Moon Dove chimed in. “Consider yourself lucky this one time. There’s an evil energy plaguing this forest, but it wasn’t strong enough to stop the charm from working...at least not yet.”
Andrew was confused, but decided not to ask too many questions. He was more concerned about Steven, who was lost somewhere in the woods, and Shane, who needed help quickly.
“My friend Steven is out there all alone, and my other friend, Shane, is hidden behind those trees.” Andrew pointed to the grove in back of him. “He was bitten by one of those demon-wolf things...and he sprained his ankle. He can’t run anymore. Please help us!”
“It’s okay,” said Moon Dove, “calm down.” She smiled and patted his shoulder. “Take me to your friend.”
Andrew led her to Shane, who was sitting with his back against a tree, groaning.
Shane looked up in wonder at the mystical woman. It was obvious he’d never seen anyone quite like her before. She glowed like the moon, and radiated strength and beauty.
“Hello there,” Moon Dove said, in a soft voice. She pointed at his leg. “Let’s have a look.”
“He- hello,” Shane stammered as he rolled his pants up to his knee. His ankle was swollen and the bite marks were raw and beginning to ooze yellow pus.
“You’ve been bitten by a hellhound,” she said, sighing. “I hope I can fix it.”
“A hellhound?” Andrew was confused. “I thought they were like, demon–wolves, or
werewolves...or something like that.”
“Same difference to me,” she said. “Call them whatever you want, but their bites are infectious. If I can’t fix this, your friend might become one of them before morning.”
“Uhhh...that’s not good!” Shane’s heart started to race. “Is there anything you can do?”
“Let’s see.” She placed the orb of her staff on his ankle, but nothing happened. She tried it again, still nothing. “I don’t understand.” She looked up at Lord Brightborn.
“I told you, it’s the dark energy in here that I can’t seem to grasp. A dark magical force, more powerful than anything I’ve ever dealt with.”
“Is it coming from the old man?” Andrew butted in. “He’s been seen roaming around town lately, usually at night, but no one knows much about him.”
Moon Dove snapped her head toward Andrew. “You’ve seen him around town?”
“Well...I haven’t, but others have. He fits the description from their stories. Why?”
“He must've weakened the barrier.” Lord Brighborn knelt down next to Moon Dove to look at Shane’s leg. “That would explain why he’s able to roam freely outside of the forest now.”
“Barrier?” Andrew asked, puzzled and curious.
“I can’t explain it now,” said Moon Dove. “We don’t have enough time. I have to save your friend.”
She closed her eyes and began to speak in a foreign language, nothing like Andrew had ever heard before. It was heavenly and peaceful, contrary to the creepy language of the warlock.
After a couple of minutes, still in deep concentration, she placed the orb on Shane’s leg again. It began to glow the silvery light, brighter than before. Suddenly, as though her request had been answered, the swelling on Shane's ankle disappeared, and the bite marks closed and his skin regenerated as they watched.
Andrew stepped back, baffled and frightened at all of this, but he was happy to see Shane healed so quickly.
Shane stood up as though nothing happened. Moon Dove opened her eyes and smiled at him. After that, she suddenly fell backwards, almost landing on the ground, but Lord Brightborn caught her just in time.
“Are you okay?” he asked, holding her up.
“Yes...I’m fine,” she responded, and quickly snapped back to normal. “But I’m afraid I’ve used almost all my resources to save this boy. The power here is just too much.” She glanced at Shane, smiling at him again. “You’re safe now, kiddo. Be thankful.”
“Thank you!” said Shane, smiling at her. “I don’t feel any more pain in my ankle.”
“Be more thankful that she got rid of the demon infection that was in your system,” said Lord Brightborn. “You were on your way to becoming one of The Warlock’s hounds.”
“Speaking of them,” said Moon Dove, “those wretched beasts are still on the hunt, and there’s two more boys out there!”
“You mean one more boy,” said Lord Brightborn, reminding her that Elymas had already found Butch.
“Yes,” she nodded. “And we better move fast. No telling how much longer our powers will work here.”
“Then let’s get moving,” said Lord Brightborn. He glanced down at Andrew and Shane. “You two boys stick close to us while we search for your friend.”
“What about Butch?” asked Shane, concerned. “We can’t just forget about him!”
“Of course not,” said Lord Brightborn. “He’s apparently trapped somewhere and I hope nothing bad has happened to him. I’ll go and look for him right now. You two stay with Moon Dove.”
They all agreed on the plan. Lord Brightborn said goodbye, then quickly flew away, rays of light trailing behind him.
Andrew, Shane and Moon Dove departed into the darkness. There was an eerie silence throughout the forest, accompanied by chilling winds, and the three of them moved quickly. But the silence didn’t last for long; they began to hear those hideous howls again and all Andrew could think about was poor Steven, alone and helpless, in the midst of this nightmare...