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Author's note: This was the first real written work I ever attempted, and near its completion I pigeon holed it because I thought it wasn't worth the time. Then, one day i pulled out the old file and realized I liked this one a lot more than the one I was currently working on. In fact, seeing this again brought a bit of a spiritual realization to me (plus the fear that my writing was actually getting WORSE!). I decided it was long past time to finish it, and the story was just kinda there.
Jack Galerunner moaned as his opponent’s knight overtook his queen. The man in front of him, an older man with pure white hair and a slightly bowed back, just shook his head and sighed.
“Come now Jacky boy, you can not be so aggressive in your opening game.” He said as Jack attempted to regain his position on the board.
“I know, I know, keep calm and try to see your opponent’s moves before he does,” sighed the defeated youth. The man gave a slight smile and slid his bishop over.
“Check and mate my young friend.” Jack just stared at the board in frustration replaying the last three games over in his head.
“All right Al, I give.” he mumbled, seeing that he was no match for the kind elder that was Al Calpon, with no relation at all to the infamous criminal Al Capone. At least that was what he said, but Jack had some suspicions about the old man whose heritage was unknown, though he seemed to be of Greek decent. Al smiled at him and took a sip of his coffee as a slight breeze played through the old church courtyard. He put a hand in the center of his back and stretched then gave a contented sigh. Jack was still staring defeated at the chess board with a look of sour concentration upon his face.
“Don’t look so sour Jacky, you’re getting better,” he assured his curly haired friend. Jack gave a lopsided grin and started resetting the chess board.
“Shall we play again Mr.Calpon?” Al stretched again then shook his head and picked up his ancient, twisted cane.
“I think my times up for the day Jacky, I have some business to attend today,” said Mr. Calpon.
Jack nodded, and then stood shaking his friend’s hand as the wise elderly man set off for the front door of the church. Jack sat down again in the shade of the crumbling overhang. His fingers toyed with the cross hanging around his neck on a sturdy chain of a metal he could not identify. It had been a gift from his grandfather on the day he was born and was made of two crossed swords. On the back of the still polished metal were the words “Psalm 62:2 The Lord Alone is my strength and my salvation. He is my fortress and I will not be shaken.” And next to this were the words “You are never alone.” These words were written in a tiny swirling script. The cross fascinated him for as long as he could remember and was the only thing he had to know that he even had a grandfather. He had never met him and his parents would never talk about him. Their silence was not of disgust or fear towards him but it was a silence of respect. Jack gave a small sigh and was just about to pack up the set when he heard a wispy, far off voice behind him.
“Hello Jack. Shall we play a game?” said the voice.
Without even looking up Jack said, “If you want to, Lisa, I was just about to pack up.”
From behind him came a dark skinned young girl about 15 years old, nearly as old as Jack. She had shoulder length black hair and always wore a far off expression as if she were forever day dreaming, which of course, she was. She wore a simple yet practical deep green dress with an ankle length skirt. She sat down with a strange dignity and seemed to randomly move a pawn. Jack looked at her curiously, wandering what she was doing here.
“I thought you were off to your dad’s for the rest of the year Lisa.” Asked jack after a few moves.
Lisa sniffed indignantly and all but dented the board as she set down a knight.
“I refused to leave until after Sunday. I need to hear Pastor Reams at least once more before I leave. Plus I wanted to say goodbye to all my friends.”
A few more moves and Jack moved his bishop over. “Check and Mate Lisa.”
She looked at the board then looked at Jack in the eye and gave a wispy smile. “Well I suppose this is goodbye until Sunday. You will be at church on Sunday, wont you?”
She asked wanly. Jack answered “Wouldn’t miss it for the world Lisa. See ya then.”
She gave him another smile then got up and walked down Truth Avenue which was at the corner where the church stood. Jack watched her leave feeling a pang of loss at the fact that she was about to flee town. He was glad she was going to stay for another couple of days but that just seemed a prolonged waiting before the blow was fully struck. Lisa was one of his closest friends and hated the thought of going a full year without her company. Jack raised his gaze to the clouds and fell deep into his own thoughts. His face becoming distant in what his parents joked was his “searching for the secrets of the universe” face. A muffled grunt as somebody sat down in front of Jack startled him from his thoughts. Jack’s head snapped around as his springy legs prepared to run. He settled down when he recognized the heavy set boy in front of him.
Radley Smith was a resident at the small block of apartments near the local park. He was a large boy that hated to miss a meal but was more than willing to give it to someone who needed it. He and Jack had only recently become friends since they walked different paths in social life. Where Jack was smart and withdrawn Radley was strong and outgoing, always saying what was on his mind. They had met only because they were in the same youth group.
Jack said “Rad, if you ever scare me like that again I’ll kick your sorry behind from here to Spain and back again.” Rad just smiled and reset the chess board.
He said “Ready for your daily butt whooping Jacky boy.”
Jack sighed and replied “I told you only Al can call me that. And I have already played more games than I care.”
Radley looked disappointed and began packing up the pieces for him. After a few more seconds Jack could tell Rad was just dying to tell him something.
He let him agonize for a few more seconds then finally broke down and asked “All right boy what is it? Did Timmy fall down the well again?” Rad narrowed his eyes and gave Jack a hurt, reproachful look. It was hard to not mess with him just a little considering he looked alarmingly similar to bulldog.
Rad harrumphed for a little longer and finally said what was on his mind, not really caring that his friend poked fun at him.
“The Sculptor says today will be the day he finishes his families master piece. And he wants us to be the first to see it.” Jack coughs and sputters the water he was just drinking from the sports bottle he always carried with him.
He gave his friend a look of utter disbelief and waited just to be sure Rad wasn’t fooling around. “Us? He wants us to be the first to see his families’ lives completed work?”
This was completely unexpected, though if they thought about it, they and Lisa were the only ones that were on a friendly basis with the Sculptor. He was an old man with long, crazy white hair and often wild eyes. He lived in a small cabin on Wind Walkers point, the highest peak of the small patch of glorified hills (they were to small for mountains and to big for hills) and spends his days trying to finish the master piece that his grandfather began many, many years ago. His family officially owns the peak but when he dies the land will be released to the town.
Jack and Rad looked at each other for a few seconds before they simultaneously exploded into motion. Jack gathered his pack and sprinted through the ruins of the courtyard towards the hills in the far distance with Rad hot on his heels.
As they reached the path to Wind Walkers point Rad called up to Jack “Shouldn’t we tell Lisa?”
Jack shouted at Rad over his shoulder saying “She’ll know by now, like usual.”
And as if by magic Lisa appeared from a side path and matched pace with them, though they quickly began to slow to accommodate Rad. Neither of them questions her, because Lisa was simply wherever something interesting happened. They often joked that she had “The Sense”. They come to a pair of tall wrought iron gates with an eerie guard of stone angles surrounding them. They waited to catch their breath and just try to calm there excitement. The Sculptor did not put up well with excitement. Jack took a few more deep breaths before finally rapping their signal on the imposing gates. In no time at all a man appeared before them wearing a strange dull brown cloak with the hood pulled up.
He looked at them and said “Right on time my young companions. The second unveiling shall begin.”
He must have seen them passing each other confused glances for he declares “You will understand in time,”
They just nodded their heads and took comfort in the Sculptor’s great faith. No matter what he always seemed to have a great wealth of faith. Jack followed the others up the hill past the various sentries of stone angels. These had been here for generations, carved by the Sculptors great grandfather. They walked for a few more minutes in silence not wishing to disturb the strange peace that hovered over the grounds. They stopped at a path of sculpted steps that spiraled up and around the highest spire of the glorified hill. The Sculptor turned to them and said “No mortals but I and my ancestors have walked this path. You will be the first.” Jack just shook his head knowing that the Sculptor had always talked like there were other things out there. Perhaps there were. There was a small movement inside the hood and Jack thought that the strange old man might be grinning. The Sculptor started up the steps motioning for them to follow. As they climbed the steps more and more sculptures showed themselves. There were too many of them to describe. Small, cherubic angels, huge battle scenes of heroes battling monstrous demons and other sculptures that seemed out of place. Every ten feet or so there was a sculpture of a man or woman each in the clothing of different era. There was a man in full sixth century armor, a woman wearing flowing robes of an origin that Jack couldn’t place. There were at least two dozen of these odd statues. And they all had one thing in common. Each of the sculptures had a cross and chain laying plain on their chest. The cross on the knight was made of two crossed broad swords while the woman’s was made of a bow and staff.
Jack had stopped to look at the statue at the end of the path. It depicted an older man wearing World War two style clothes. There was something familiar about the man but Jack just couldn’t place it. The Sculptor appeared at Jacks shoulder. He said “One day I will tell you this ones story. But not now, come along young Galerunner we are nearly there.” Jack turned and saw that they were at the top. Here stood a wall of intermingling trees. Winding through the mass was a small dirt road. They walked down the path and through the trees and what lay beyond it tore the breath from Jack’s lungs. In the center of a smooth plain made of intricately carved stone stood a towering Cross made of a strange shimmering red and brown rock. The Cross seemed to grow out of the earth, spiraling upward. As he stepped closer jack noticed that there was etching all over the massive monument. He leaned closer to the base of the Cross and saw the words of psalm spiraling up the base. The Sculptor stood back and muttered to himself.
Jack only caught the first few words. “It is done at last. Four generations it took but it is done. Yet I fear that it is all for naught. If only……” The wind snatched away the last of the words. The Sculptor shook himself and said “Etched into this final work are several different books of the bible including psalms and the Story of Christ. This masterpiece was conceived back when Judge Town was known was the Wanderers Haven. My ancestor pledged to make something that would make people wonder and think. This was what he decided. But now this town is nothing more than a speck on the map and my family’s promise may never spread the ideas it was meant to.”
All this he rasped in a single breath. He shakily inhaled and pulled the cowl further over his head, hiding what little they could see in shadow. They stood in wonder at the Cross and at the ground it stood on in which there were spiraling images and story’s.
Jack raised his head just as the sun set casting an orange swath of light over the Cross setting the writings alight.
They stared at the spectacle for endless moments before the Sculptor finally moved and rasped “You have been here to long, your parents will worry soon if you do not get home. Come, I will escort you to the edge of the forest.”
They all regrettably tore their eyes from the Cross and followed him.
Lisa asked “May I come here next Sunday evening. I want to see this again before I go.”
The Sculptor gave a rare chuckle and replied “You may come anytime you wish, all of you. And don’t withhold this sight but spread it.”
Jack was walking on auto pilot thinking about the statue of the old man when the Sculptor suddenly stopped. He motioned with his hand to be quiet as he peered into the forest. Rad shuffled nervously and Lisa’s eyes moved furiously as she scanned their surroundings. Jack moved next to the Sculptor, knees slightly bent with the rest of his body forcefully relaxed. The Sculptor’s head whipped around and from within his robe he drew a small stone cross dangling on a silver chain. The shadows themselves seemed to shift and form into something about the size of a Great Dane. It had four legs the back pair far longer then they should have been for a dog. Darkness curled and oozed off of it in swirling waves. The things eight eyes were blood red and it had two mouths, one on top of the other. Extending from its mouth was shifting poison yellow teeth.
The Sculptor stood his ground directly in front of it and growled “Be gone fowl shadow stalker. This is not your domain.”
The thing cackled, a sound like a mixture of a buzzard’s screech and a wolf like scream. It advanced on them and the Sculptor began to chant. As Jack listened he realized that the Sculptor was praying. Jack looked behind him and saw Rad and Lisa huddled together in fear. Why am I so freaking calm, wondered Jack? He whispered to them “We’ll be okay. Just stay calm and pray.” They nodded there heads and began shakily muttering prayers. The shadow stalker cackled again and spoke “Prayers will not save you now boy.”
The Sculptor replied “Says you hell mutt.”
And so saying the cross he was holding glowed a brilliant white and flared out a blast of light at the beast. It screeched in rage and pain, the shadows that made it turning solid and brittle. It then gave one last scream and shattered. Jack stared at where the thing stood then at the Sculptor. “We need to talk” said the Sculptor.
Jack nodded then sank to his knees, wondering why he felt so weak. The Sculptor kneeled down next to him and yelled something Jack couldn’t comprehend. His eyes fluttered closed and knew only the blackness that pressed on his mind.
Blackness, nothing but blackness pressing all around him was making him feel lost and terrified. How long have I been here? He thought. The last thing he remembered was the Cross and…..and that thing. He shuddered at the thought of the fowl beast that had confronted them. Then he remembered the sculpture standing there without a trace of fear, the glowing cross held in his hand. Jack pondered this image wondering what had happened. It made him scared, very scared. He finally decided that the only explanation there was had to be a miracle of God. Yes that has to be it he thought. He felt comforted only slightly by this thought since he still hovered in nothing but blackness. And then it was not so dark. He looked and saw a pinpoint of light, growing faster and faster. Then all around him was the sound of warm laughter. It shook the very fabric and molecules of space penetrating into Jack’s soul and heart.
“You have done well my child. You have done very well indeed.” A voice from all around him boomed. Jack couldn’t breath, he could barely think.
“God?” he asked. “Is this heaven? I’m dead aren’t I?”
More laughing, this time even more friendly than before if that is possible.
“No this is not Heaven Jack. And you are not dead, you are just unconscious. First encounters with shadow demons tend to have that affect on people.
“Shadow demons?” Jack asked “you mean that creature that the Sculpture vaporized. Err…I mean you vaporized.”
Yet more laughter.
“Yes that was a Shadow Demon all right. And yes the Sculptor was only able to destroy it because of me. He is one of the few whom I have gifted with the position of Guardian. Though there are times it is more a curse than a gift.
“The position of Guardian?” asked Jack.
You will know soon enough my young friend. It is happening again and we will need every warrior on the mortal front. But enough of that for now, it is time for you to wake up Jack. And jack? Always remember that you are never alone. I am always watching.
Jack’s eyes flickered open with those last words echoing around in his head. He blinked his eyes and groaned aloud. His head was pounding and his whole body felt weak. He heard a shuffling beside him and felt a strong hand support him as he tried to sit up. When he finally rose he saw the person that had helped him up. The man in front of him was an intimidating figure of tall stature with wide shoulders and work scared hands. He looked to be of Native American descent, Navajo perhaps. He wore an odd cloak very similar to the one worn by the Sculptor, except that this mans garb was made from tanned hides of various animals. The man gave him a small cup of water and Jack drank gratefully.
“Thanks” he managed to croak.
The stranger nodded and gave him a friendly almost wolfish grin. Jack now took stock of his surroundings. He seemed to be just inside the entrance to a cave and he could see the bright light of the full moon streaming in from several small crevices. There were several shelves hewn from the rock of the cave. On most of these there were leaves, roots, barks, and other such things. There was also a small collection of books including a tattered Bible resting on a short deep shelf. As he looked Jack also noticed what looked like an antique scimitar resting upon a small table made from piled stones.
Finally the stranger spoke to him. “So my friend it seems that you have survived the first trial. Well done”. The man had a surprisingly calm, quiet voice that made jack think of the wind. The man shifted to a more comfortable position. Jack’s breath caught in the back of his throat. On this man’s neck hung a cross fashioned from two lengths of hardened chain. This was the same kind of cross that the Sculptor had. That Jack himself had. Unconsciously he began to finger the familiar shape hanging from his neck. The man noticed this and gave another of those wolfish grins.
“So” he said “you realize what it is you have in your possession. That you are one of us.”
Jack remembered what the voice in his dreams had told him. “The Guardians.” whispered Jack.
The man nodded with an air of approval. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped in mid sentence. He froze and closed his eyes, a look of concentration overtaking his features.
The stranger visibly relaxed and whispered to the shadows “Hello Sculptor. What is the weather like my friend?”
A few feet to Jack’s left the Sculptor seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
The man said “I was just about to explain the situation to Jack.”
“No time I am afraid. Help him to his feet Henry, we have to go.”
The man, Henry, nodded and lifted Jack to his feet as if he weighed nothing.
Jack looked up at him and said “so your name is Henry huh? I’m Jack.” The man gave a crisp nod and replied “My full name is Henry Grayson. My friends call me Gray.”
Jack nodded and asked “Am I a friend?”
Gray gave a laugh that rumbled like thunder and said “Yes Jack you are a friend of mine. Now come along pup its time to run.”
Jack nodded again and with that they fled the cave into the waiting moonlight.
The wind howled eerily around them as if telling them to move faster. Jack Stumbled and tripped in the ceaseless shadows of the thick forest. The Sculptor seemed to meld into the shadows around them appearing where he was least expected to to. Gray stayed by Jacks shoulder giving him a hand whenever he fell and constantly growling encouragement into his ear. Jack just kept running in a stupor still not recovered from his ordeal. Finally they stopped at the crest of a heavily wooded hill. On their left there was a wide plain with weather worn rocks thrusting up from the earth. On their right the woods continued north. Jack saw the distant twinkling lights of Judge Town and realized they were in Hunters Wood, the forest that encroached on the southern side of the town. The Sculptor looked both ways and gave a sigh of frustration.
“Gray” he said “we have to take a stand in the plain. We can’t risk leading them to the town.”
Gray made a sound resembling a whimper. Jack looked at the plain and wondered what could scare him so.
“Must we Sculptor?” Gray asked “is there no other option?”
“No my friend I’m afraid that there are few options and they-.” He stopped suddenly and listened. “Too late, their here.”
He grabbed Jack by the shoulder urged him towards the plain.
“Jack” he said urgently “You must get to the plain as quickly as you can, you must get there before they do. Once you’re there climb onto the first high rock you find and stand in the moon light, and then pray with all your might. Go now Jack. Run. RUN!”
Jack stumbled forward and set his sights on the plain. God help us he thought. He had a feeling they would need it.
The Sculptor called after him “And whatever you hear or see don’t stop praying!
Jack ran down the hill with all the strength his fright fueled legs could manage. “When I get home” he thought “I’m never going to skip P.E again.” He had just made it to the edge of the plain when he heard a defiant shout. He looked over his shoulder and saw a flash of pure white light close to the last place he had seen the Sculptor. He almost stopped but then he remembered the Sculptors shouted warning. He sprinted across the grassy dirt and scrambled upon the first large rock he found. Now he was scared. As if he wasn’t scared before. Looking up he realized that the clouds were covering the moon. That couldn’t be good.
“God” He wheezed “Please oh please help us. I think were in trouble.”
Jack had barely finished the rushed cry for help when the clouds cleared, whipped away by a strong northern wind. And with the coming of the pure moonlight came a sensation of comfort for Jack. He didn’t know why but he felt a need to fight. After this realization he felt an odd warmth against his chest and saw that his cross was glowing. Softly at first but soon it grew to a fierce light. Jack stood up defiantly looking into the forest with an air of fierce rebellion.
“Let them come” he thought “I may be scared out of my sanity but we’re not alone and they have us cornered. And that is never a wise thing to do.” And so Jack stood there looking into the woods with this new found strength and spirit. Let them come he had thought. And come they did.
“What have I gotten myself into?” He said to himself “Please Lord help us.
The wind seemed to silence at once and the sky above the plain remained clear, allowing the moonlight to flood downwards. Jack still stood atop his rocky perch, the light of his cross still flowing freely around him. After seemingly endless moments, when Jack was beginning to wander if the fight was over before it ever began, he sensed something around the edge of the trees. There, between the ancient oaks and weeping willows the darkness seemed to be deepening, becoming ever darker until there was a tangible blackness hovering around the edges of the plain. It continued to build becoming a seething mass of black ooze. And then Jack realized what this stuff must be. A shadow demon. And not just one but what must have been a whole army. The mass began to roil and bubble separating into smaller creatures, all of them with blood red eyes. They were to various to even begin to describe them all. There were winged shadow demons with teeth and talons like birds. There were shadow demons that crawled around on to many legs to count and some that were nothing more than small clouds of darkness hovering in the air with a large orb like eye at the center of them.
Jack heard a sound behind him and swung around in fear. It was the Sculptor and he didn’t look happy at all.
“They are all abominations” he growled to Jack “they threaten all the faith that humanity has managed to gather. The only reason for their existence is to unsettle our faith in God. And all that is standing between them and innocents are us.”
Jack looked at him, his mouth gaping. “Us? He asked “we’re to stand between that?”
The Sculptor nodded and said “That is our job and our test. I promise I will tell you more after this but not now.”
Jack just nodded and asked “Sculptor, do you know where Gray is?”
The Sculptor nodded again and said “He is coming from the east. Jack I must warn that what you are about to see, what Henry is about to become… Please do not scorn him. Be patient and wait. And pray, don’t stop praying no matter what.”
Jack did not know how to respond to this so he began a talkative prayer “Father God I know that you are with us and that we need not fear. We’re in a whole heap of trouble and could really use some help and…..” And on and on he went never stopping or faltering while the demons continued to form and shift around them. And the more he spoke to God the more strength he felt flowing into him. Then he heard a voice in his mind, the same laughing, warm voice he had heard in his dreams.
“Jack” the voice whispered “Jack look to the east and prepare yourself. You will have to join this fight sooner than the Sculptor had thought.”
Jack nodded in warmed contentment as strength and calm flowed into him. He knew he wasn’t alone. The Creator was with them, giving them all the strength and resolve they would need. And with this came a new found confidence.
Jack looked at the amassment of shadow demons and almost laughed.
“Three against a hundred thousand, their odds look pretty poor don’t they Sculptor? Perhaps you should sit this one out and give them a chance?” Bantered Jack
The Sculptor looked at him quizzically before a dark grin spread across his face.
“You certainly look less green around the face.” Began the Sculptor “but if I sat this one out how would you fight? You obviously have a lot of Faith about you but you don’t know how to use it. You would be slaughtered in seconds, no, less than seconds.”
Jack looked at him blankly than asked “What do you mean? How could you use faith to fight?”
The Sculptor gave him a look and replied “Not faith, Faith, with a capital F. It’s the power God has granted the Guardians. It’s what we use to battle shadow demons and the like. You remember that white energy that poured out of my Focus, my cross? That’s Faith.”
Jack looked at him before replying “So I can blast demons like you did?”
The Sculptor shook his head and said “I doubt it. Each Guardian has his or her own type of ability, some had more than one. And the shape of the Focus often symbolizes the kind of ability you have.” He rummaged around in his cloak and removed his cross. “This is my Focus. It allows me to center my Faith and use it more accurately.”
Jack took a closer look at the cross and realized it was made of a type of rock he had never seen before. And on the center of it Jack could just make out a small sprawling text but it looked jumbled to him. The Sculptor noticed him trying to decipher it and said
“You won’t be able to read that. It’s my personal Scripture, the core of the Focus if you will. Every Guardian has one.”
He looked sternly at jack and said “Now listen carefully, this is very important. You must never share you’re personal Scripture with anyone. You can say it but never, and I mean never, let them know what it is to you.”
Jack looked at him with a mix of awe and worry and asked “s-so what is it to me?”
The Sculptor turned his head back to the east for awhile before replying. But when he did answer it was with such ferocity that Jack flinched.
“It is part of our life, of our soul! It is what makes us protectors and without it we lose a part who we are!”
He took some calming breaths than said “Enough of this Galerunner. It is time you learned to fight. Show me your focus, I need to check to see if it-.”
He stopped abruptly and looked back to the east. Jack had just fished his cross out of his shirt and had turned to look when the masses of shadow demons (Jack couldn’t believe that he had forgotten about them) began to surge towards the eastern edge of the woods. Jack and the Sculptor stood there side by side looking at the moving mass of corrupted shadow. Soon the wind died and the clouds seemed to flee to the vast edges of the forest. And for what could have been either an hour or a few seconds nothing but silence and moonlight.
Jack heard the Sculptor mutter beneath his breath “The calm before the storm. God help us all, it’s going to be worse than I thought.”
Then they heard a noise that set jack on edge. It was a long guttural howl that was way to low to be a coyote or even a wolf. And then he heard the singing. It started out soft and low but began to build to a tremble. It was a war chant in an odd language Jack had never heard before, a series of rumbles and growls that most certainly did not sound human. Then came another howl, this time accompanied by a blazing white chain that tore through the ranks of the demons.
The Sculptor wrapped the band of his Focus around his hand and said “Stay here; we’ll do what we can. But if we fail run for town as fast as you can and shout for Al, he’ll protect you.” And with that the Sculptor turned and stalked into the center of the trees seeming to meld into the darkness.
Jack felt alone and began to say more prayers, mostly on how to defend himself. He looked back at the mass of shadows and saw now not one but two chains flailing away at the demons tearing the army to shreds. And now Jack could see who was commanding the chains. It was Henry Grayson. But not the same Henry who had so quickly and easily acknowledged him as a friend but a savage looking half human half dog creature. He stood well over seven feet tall and had fur covering most of his visible body (he was still wearing the large animal skin cloak) and had a head the size of a pumpkin. He had the basic body structure of a human but that’s where the resemblance ended. This new Henry Grayson had a face like a squashed wolf’s and each finger had a long sharp claw (and was that a tail Jack saw dipping around Henry’s feet).
“A werewolf’ said Jack to himself “a blasted werewolf. Why am I not surprised. I must be going mad, I mean, come on, I’m even talking to myself.”
Behind him he heard a laugh that sounded like that of a screeching buzzard and a screaming wolf. “Oh but I’m listening, do tell little Guardian.”
Jack froze in fear. He knew that voice.
Time slowed, seconds turning to minuets and a moment feeling like an eternity. Jack turned slowly knowing what he would find but hoping desperately that he was wrong. His hopes came to nothing as he completed his turn and found the Shadow Stalker from the woods. Jack swallowed down a knot of fear as he looked at the creature realizing that this thing was truly created from nightmares.
It stood slightly taller than him and its eyes glared with a fierce blood lusting hunger. Jack was rooted to the ground as an icy fear took him over.
Jack shook himself saying “No, I won’t fear you, I…I…..” The protest died in his throat as those blood red cores of hatred drilled into him.
“Oh, but why fight the fear” The shadow stalker purred “Embrace it, let it flow into you. Now drink deeply of it Guardian”
Jack crumpled to his knees as countless images burst into the sanctity of his mind. There was a woman screaming in fear as she fell from the window of a burning building, a man clutching a hole in his chest as his lifeblood fled him, a look of confusion upon his face. These and more images flashed by, each causing a jolt of pain that cut into jack like a shard of glass.
“Can you feel their suffering, their pain Guardian” hissed the shadow stalker as it slowly prowled closer to him. Jack felt it coming closer but he could do nothing, his body was frozen. Jack’s body began to shake as more images flooded his mind. Each was different yet much the same. There was always pain and fear and loss of hope. Shadows and blood and death, always death. The images flew by faster and faster until he saw nothing more than blurs but he felt it all in every fiber of his being. He screamed as the jolts of pain became one long searing slash into his essence.
The shadow stalker was only a few feet away as it began taunting him “you cannot win boy. You will never win.”
Jack heard this and felt the last fibers of his resistance wane to nothing. “It’s right he thought I can’t fight this, I just….can’t.”
He felt the images fade away and actually saw his life as it began to flash before him. He saw summer evenings with his grandparents and winter days as he was curled up on his bed reading a book. And then he saw his father as he read Jack his favorite story from the bible, the story of the disciple walking on the water and being saved. And then he knew and he gave all he had for three last words.
“Lord, save me.” He whispered these words with the last tendrils of air in his lungs. Then he felt the pain began to subside as it was drawn away from him and he felt a hand grip his own and pull him out of the stormy waters of the pain and suffering.
“Ye of little faith.”
Jack’s eyes shot open as he drew in a huge lung full of air. The shadow stalker balked away from him with a shriek. Jack panted and grunted as he came back from the torture of his mind. Slowly, painfully Jack began to rise from the weather worn rock and he locked his eyes upon the shadow stalker. And now he saw a little more clearly, he could actually see the intertwined weave of pain and suffering from hundreds that made up the creature and his gaze burned into the creature. Literally, his eyes went from deep brown to swirling silver and white, the pupils like star points.
He could feel the natural flow of things around him, the good and the bad, the black, the white and the ever shifting gray between them. And the beast in front of him was now midnight black. Jack raised his right hand in front of him and felt a strange warmth as tendrils of light began to flow from his cross into his hand. And then the tendrils wrapped tighter and tighter together to finally create a gleaming white sword. The shadow stalker shrieked at him as it thrashed at the ground. Jack never even noticed its mad tantrum as his mind was only for the blade in his hand, this extension of his Faith, a weapon against the shadows and he could feel the good flowing in it.
It was not a long sword; the blade was no longer than the span of his arm, straight with a sharp tip. But while it was not particularly long it was indeed wide, perhaps three fingers width almost all of its length, only narrowing to create the point. The handle of the sword was simple with a white wrapped grip and a small cross guard that resembled spreading wings. The pommel was a small upside down teardrop shaped crystal of intertwining shades of red, green and blue that moved throughout it. And finally, the whole length of the sword was covered in swirling scripture that seemed to flow and change with the pulse of Jack’s heart.
Jack gazed at the blade in wonder knowing that it was a blade that would only harm the shadows, the darkness that crowded around, the darkness that stood in front of him that very instant. He lowered the sword, his sword, and looked directly at the beast.
“You were right you know” he said as he raised the sword again gripping it firmly in both hands “I can’t win, not alone at least. The thing is” he widened his stance “I’m never alone.”
And then he dove forward with the blade arching above his head in a power house swing. The shadow stalker lashed forward only to meet the blade of Jack’s sword. It screamed as the blade sunk into the weave of its being. Jack continued to drive downward with all of his strength until the final weave was cut and the beast began to fade into nothing but dust.
Jack stared at the black dust and then at his sword, watching as a spark of energy, Faith he thought, ran down the edge. He felt the handle and stared at the crystal that made up the pommel at the way the different elements made a single harmonious weapon. He opened his hand and the weapon streamed once again into light then began to flow into his cross, his focus. It flared briefly then dimmed again to a now white metal version of his cross, only now, the horizontal blade was the exact figure of his sword with the only difference being that the wings of the cross guard were now folded.
“Wow” croaked Jack “The Sculptor wasn’t kidding.”
Jack now realized where the Sculptor and Gray where. He looked at the still writhing mass of shadow and was stunned. It was still growing, the darkness beginning to envelope the edges of the rocky plain.
“This is worse than I thought”. Jack spun around at the sound of the voice and found Al leaning casually on one of his many canes, this one a simple affair just a short staff made of black wood with a small brass circle near the top. He had been staring at the writhing mound but now he grinned at jack with a twinkle in his eye.
“That was a fine stand you made Jack” Al shook his head laughing softly “he would be proud”.
Jack shook himself and set a glare on the old man “Have you been standing there the whole time? I could have used your help!”
“Easy Jacky boy, easy. Now think about that, would you have learned to use that” he pointed at Jack’s focus “if I had stepped in? No, this was better for all of us.
Jack took a deep breath and tried to sort out his thoughts “So are you one of them then, a Guardian?”
Al gave a slight nod of his head “That I am, and so are you. You have so much to learn and in so little time.”
Al shook his head sadly. When he looked up however there was fire in his eyes “Never mind that now. We aren’t doing any good standing here. Come on Jacky boy, looks like we have to go bail out those two numb skulls.” And with that Al began a brisk walk toward the demons nest with Jack on his heels.
“I was just curious, um, what can you do against those things?”
Al laughed and rummaged inside the fine gray coat he always wore, finally withdrew a long silver bullet with a fine cross engraved in it and below that the sprawling lines of his scripture “this, Jack, is what I can do.” He closed his hand around the bullet and there was a flash of light so bright Jack had to shade his eyes. When he looked back at Al his friend now held the strangest gun Jack had ever seen. It was made of the same silver material as his sword and seemed to have been grown more than made. The grip fit easily in Al’s hand and led into three barrels of different sizes. And growing over the entire weapon were silver white vines that pulsed gently.
Jack gazed at the strange weapon. He looked again to the demon nest and felt both fear and exhilaration. This was what he was made for. He closed his eyes and said a small instinctual prayer “Father make me ready for battle and may we vanquish your enemies as you command. Amen.” He slowly opened his eyes, focusing within himself, and raised his hand. His focus flashed and began to burn with the light, smoothly flowing into his blade. He tested his grip on the handle and watched as the lines of scripture began to pulse in the same fevered rhythm as his heart.
“Alright Al, let’s end this.”
Al looked at him with a small smile and said “Jack, I like your spirit but this war may never end. That does not mean we should sit back and accept defeat however. Come on then let’s clean up this mess.” Al led on and they walked into the ordeal.
Faith danced around Jack as he rushed into the mass of shadow demons, his weapon a blur before him. Monster after monster fell before him, each turning to dust before it hit the ground. A screaming demon launched itself at Jack, but it was turned to dust in an instant. Al stood a few paces a away, his weapon smoking from all three barrels. A smile was on his face. More and more of the monstrosities continued to flood around them, two more taking the place of everyone they managed to destroy.
“They just keep coming!” Jack called out to Al as he spun to behead a bat winged nightmare the size of a large dog.
“There must be a breech, that’s the only way they could be coming in such a mass,”
They continued to press on, shoulder to shoulder, through the chaos. Suddenly a silver chain whipped through the shadows and Gray stumbled from the darkness. He was covered in scratches and claw marks, and one eye was swollen shut. He growled an acknowledgement to them and they nodded in return. The three of them cut through the demons like a scythe to the wheat field, and Jack was beginning to hope they might be able to stem the tides after all.
“There!” Gray shouted, a claw like finger extended towards a heat haze like curtain hanging in the distance.
Hundreds of the shadow demons poured from it, and even as they watched, it began to expand. Al looked at it in horror and Gray snarled in frustration.
“How can we close it?” Jack asked in desperation
Al shook his head “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
With a surge of defiance Jack charged forward, his sword carving through the demons like a hot knife through butter. The closer he got to the tear the hotter the air became, and it was not long before he was drenched in sweat. The air seemed sapped of oxygen and his chest heaved in exhaustion. The darkness began to become overwhelming, and he fell to one knee, his legs too weak to support him. Al was soon surrounded by more demons than he could handle and Gray was being mobbed by shadow after shadow.
“Is this it?” Jack asked, tears and sweat mingling on his face “Is this all we can do?”
A sudden breeze whipped through the stagnant air, and the scent of warm honey filled Jacks nose
“On your own yes, it is. This is your time to choose Jack, and you know the cost for both paths”
The shadows continued to shift around him, his friends struggles becoming weaker. He looked towards the sky and saw on the ever shifting blackness. Yes, he knew the price. With a growl Jack heaved himself to his feet and raised his sword before his eyes. He stared at the blade in wonder, scared beyond understanding but sure in what he had to do.
His voice ragged, Jack whispered “For you, I will fight Father. I will do as you ask,”
His sword flared blue and white, weaves of light spilling from it. The fear fled from him in an instant, and he charged toward the rift. Each step he took seemed to shake the world, every swing of his sword defying the darkness. With a cry he leapt into the rift, cloth’s smoking from the heat of it. Light burst forth from his body, and Jack felt the strange sensation of weightlessness. In the next instant, it was gone.’
Al and Gray lay on green grass, the full moon casting its light upon them. It was as if the shadows had never been, as if it had never happened. Al raised his head and looked to the sky. A gentle breeze cut softly
Through the trees, and he heard the sound of warm laughter, intermingled with the husky chatter of a teenagers chuckle. A smile on his face, Al lay down to sleep, and the night air watched over them.
The Sculptor stood next to the cross he had spent so many years of his life crafting. Copper summer twilight played over the inscriptions, giving them life. His hands where covered in stone dust and a chisel and hammer rested on a rock not far from him. Al and Gray, now back to his human form, wondered over to stand by him. He remained lost in thought for several more minutes before stirring himself. The Sculptor led them down the row of statues. Next to the old man in military uniform stood a new figure, a young man with a mischievous grin. A sword was gripped in his hand and a cross lay on his neck.
Al said a small prayer as Gray and the Sculptor stood by watching. As he finished, a warm breeze curled through the statues. And upon it they heard laughter, warm and comforting.