“Gather round children.” The chair creaked as the old man sat down. “It is time for your history lesson.”School in this region of the world consisted of one classroom with usually a dozen or so children. These students did not learn math or spelling, but rather hunting and gathering skills. On this day though, the lesson was a break from the normal schedule. The old man, village elder to be exact, was going to tell the children the story of the beast. This was the single most important lesson the school kids would be taught in their young lives. Abiding by the rules of the village meant the difference between life and death.“I will now tell you about a great beast that roams the forest.” The man began. “This beast is the most terrible and ferocious creature known to us. It has taken many of our children and several of our bravest warriors.”Some of the older children had heard stories of the beast from their parents or other storytellers in the past, but few actually believed them. Hearing the village elder speak of it, however, made all in earshot believe. Each child sat, entranced with his telling of this great beast, as the fire light reflected off his face. They learned that the forest was home to the creature and anyone foolish enough to wander into his realm never returned. Hours passed as the old man spun his tales of warriors doing battle and entire herds of cattle disappearing form the edge of the woods.“So… I want each of you to promise me that you will never attempt such foolishness as these unfortunate souls I have spoken of.” The elder concluded. “Can you all do that for me?”A uniform ‘yes’ crackled from the crowd.Satisfied, the man rose, gathered his ancient texts and hobbled out of the classroom. The children dispersed as this lesson was the last for the day. Two preteen boys loitered in the classroom until everyone else was gone. Rela and Ugune were of the age when stories did not scare them, but rather stirring their lust for adventure. They were just two months from completing the sacred rights of adulthood. Both were already accomplished hunters and were poised to take their respective places among the hunting parties of the tribe.“I don’t believe those silly stories for a minute.” Rela remarked. “They are just made up to keep us from going into the forest.”“But the elder has the ancient texts.” Ugune protested to his friend.Rela just gave his friend a sarcastic look and marched outside. To his surprise, the elder was waiting for them just outside the door.“You do not believe in the beast?” He chided the youths. “Why do you mock my teachings? They may someday save your life.”“Your stories don’t scare me.” Rela responded. “I am the bravest warrior in the whole village.”“Such misplaced courage.” The elder shook his head. “I hope you do not intend to test that bravery by going against the laws.”Before Rela could respond, the elder turned and walked away. Ugune urged his friend to heed the warnings, but Rela was convinced there was no danger. A crooked smile played across his face and he grabbed his friend by the arm. “Where are we going?” Ugune asked. “You’ll see.” The two ran through the village to a small hut on the outskirts. It was the home of the mighty hunter, Anoe, and his son, Enan. Enan was two years older than his friends, and had already completed his schooling. He was now in the process of becoming a hunter, as his father was. The three were usually inseparable and caused most of the hijinks within the village. Rela and Ugune greeted their friend and without delay, Rela explained his plans to his friends. They were going to go into the forest that very night and prove these fairy tales to be false, once and for all. Shortly after midnight, Anoe called for his son. He saw in the moonlight, the boys two friends standing near the forest. A great wash of uneasiness came over him. He left his doorway and ran to them. “Where is Enan?” He demanded. The boys exchanged a worried look. Ugune tried to explain but Rela elbowed him in the gut.Anol knew immediately what the boys were hiding. He turned and raced up to the forest boundary frantically searching for his son. He ran blindly back and forth at the edge of the forest screaming for his beloved child. “Son… Son, come back!” He yelled. “I beg of you, come to me, come out of that dreadful place!” The man heard no answer. He paced at the threshold of the darkness, torn between his love for his son, and his fear of the beast. Finally, his love prevailed and the protective instinct took over. He ran several paces into the forest, but was stopped cold by a blood-chilling howl. It was a good distance off he could tell, but still too near for his liking. He stood stone still for several minutes, all of his senses heightened by the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Again, the dreadful howl broke the stillness of the air, this time, much closer, and followed by the small voice of his young child. “Papa, where are you?” Enan cried. “I’m scared, help me papa!” “Son, come to me!” The man shouted. “Come towards my voice!” “Papa, I can hear you!” The small voice screamed. “Come help me!” Anoe was seconds away from rushing further into the forest, his heart pounded and sweat dripped into his eyes, blurring his sight. He could hear voices from the crowd that had gathered outside the trees. Shouts that called to him like, “run, get out of there”, and ‘It’s too late, save yourself!” echoed in his ears. He began to take his first step towards certain death when he heard that vicious deafening howl again, this time, much closer. He could hear branches breaking and leaves crackling under the massive paws as the beast lumbered closer. “Run! Run as fast as you can!” He shouted at his son, disregarding his own safety. A panicked scream came from the darkness, then a low growl. All fell silent. No sound pierced the stifling dark for several minutes. The man stood, petrified, listening for some sign that the child still lived. Then, a short growl, and the crack of bones between massive jaws, filled with razor sharp teeth. He tried to yell, but no sound came from his mouth. With no other options, he turned and bolted back out of the forest. Once within the safety of the village borders, he collapsed to his knees. In front of the crowd of fellow villagers, he unsheathed his knife and threw himself upon it. The pain of losing his only son and hearing that foul beast consume him was too much for the proud warrior. He fell to the ground, removed from this earth forever. Near the center of the forest, a tall man stood, listening. He too had heard the howls that shattered the night and was concerned. This man was Nathaniel, guardian of the forest. Ageless and wise, he ruled his domain and all the creatures within. This nights killings were a surprise to him, for the beast responsible had been in hiding for several months. Nathaniel called to his own beast, Garwun. “What is your purpose for calling me tonight?” Garwun asked as he approached his master. “I have heard the howls of Gnarlfang on the wind.” Nathaniel responded. “I have heard them too. I was preparing to track the old wolf and see what his problem is. Your call interrupted me.” “My apologies, old friend.” Nathaniel said. “Please, return to your task and I shall not interrupt you again. Report to me when you know what he is up too.” With a nod, Garwun bolted into the trees in the direction of the sounds. He stole through the branches and undergrowth as silent as a field mouse, sniffing for his prey. Gnarlfang was an extremely dangerous and wily old wolf, and Garwun knew he would have a hard time finding him. After several hours, Garwun came upon the scene of carnage. The corpse of a young boy lay sprawled where the wolf had left it. The body was mangled beyond recognition, but he knew it was human. Garwun had plenty of experience with dead bodies, especially when Gnarlfang was concerned. The old wolf loved to terrorize the local villages, knowing Garwun would take the blame. The stories from the village elders were about Garwun, for he was the guardian of the forest. No human would ever cross the borders into his domain. He did not kill for pleasure, the way Gnarlfang did. The two beasts hated one another and would clash any time they came in contact. “This time will be his last.” Garwun growled. “I will put an end to his terror, once and for all.” Garwun took a few minutes to track his prey and bounded off after him. Gnarlfang meandered through the forest, content with the trouble he stirred up. He knew Garwun would come after him and relished the thought of another battle. “Forest guardian indeed!” The wolf hissed as he walked. “Should have been us that guarded here! We was happy forever till that stupid Nathaniel and his mutt came!” Gnarlfang was old. Older than any other natural creature in the forest. Before Nathaniel and Garwun came along, he was the top predator in the forest. Now, however, after many defeats at the hand of Garwun, time was taking its toll on not only his body, but his mind too. “Where does they come from.” He muttered. “Why did them come here and bothers uss. Puny things need to go back where them comes from!” Gnarlfang stopped. A wicked grin crossed his face as he formed an idea. He gnashed his teeth, drool dripping form the corners of his mouth. He spun and darted through the trees. “We knows what will make them go away!” He sneered. “We know just what to do!” Instead of leaving a trail for Garwun to follow, the old wolf moved through undergrowth and thickets, disturbing the ground surprisingly little. His original plan was to let Garwun catch him for yet another fight. He made his way back to the village in a wide arc away from his nemesis. Back in the village, Rela and Ugune were waiting their punishments. The two had dared their friend to enter the forest after dark. They openly scoffed at the legends of the beast and were all too eager to prove their bravery. “You are foolish!” The old man screamed. “Have you learned nothing from my teachings?” The boys just sat, dumbfounded at the rage in their elder. They had never seen such anger in his face before and were now terrified of his wrath. Ugune tried to open his mouth to defend himself. “Silence!” He yelled. “I will not hear any excuses!” The elder paced the room, trying to quell his disgust. To mock his teachings was one thing, but this went well beyond anything tolerable. “Your friend is gone!” He continued. “And the best hunter in our village is dead! Because of you!” The old man moved to sit in a large chair just opposite to where the boys were placed. He lowered his body with many grunts into the seat and stared at the children for a long while. His silent gaze on the boys made them extremely uncomfortable, which was the plan. No one within the village could withstand the elders gaze for long. Soon, the two boys were on the verge of cracking. It was Ugune who gave in first, bursting into tears. “It was Rela!” He wailed. “He dared Enan to go into the forest! I tried to talk him out of it, but he just told me to ‘be a man’!” The tears rolled down his cheeks, mixing with the dirt on his face. The combination made a muddy mess of the childs normally aquiline features. The elder turned his attention to Rela, who had yet to break down the way his companion did. He sat rigid and proud in his seat, awaiting his judgment. The loss of his dear friend affected him terribly, yet he knew it was not the warriors way to show such weakness. A commotion outside broke the old mans concentration on the boy. A man burst through the door with a panicked look on his face. “What is the reason for this interruption?” The elder demanded. “There is something stalking around outside the village borders.” The man stuttered. “We think it is the beast, come to attack!” The elder rose quickly and ran to follow the villager. As he passed the boys, he shot them a look and without words, the two knew to stay where they were. As the two men made their way through the village, low howls became audible from the western edge of the village. A group of eight or more warriors was gathered there, spears and knives at the ready. A large shadow could be seen, pacing just out of the light. The warriors parted as the old man moved to the front of the human wall. “What do you want from us?” He shouted. “You have killed our warriors and animals. You have terrified our women and children for decades! Leave us alone!” A low growl emanated from the darkness as the massive claws dug in to pounce on the defenseless old man. Suddenly, as if on cue, a deafening roar came from the opposite side of the village. The men covered their ears and shrank back at the sound. Fear filled their hearts as they realized that they were beset from two different directions. The old man whirled around to peer in the direction of the new danger. The beast he was facing turned his attention to the new noise too. He lunged at his ancient foe, knocking the old man to the ground. Gnarlfang tore through the village, bowling over anything, and anyone who got in his way. A few warriors tried to spear the beast as he passed, but the weapons had no effect. The beast was focused solely on attacking his nemesis. At the other end of the path, Garwun stood, waiting for the onslaught. He saw the old wolf charging and leapt to meet his opponent. The two monsters met with a mighty collision in the center of the village. Fangs flashed and claws ripped at flesh and fur. Garwun drew first blood with a slash of his huge paw to the old wolfs neck. Gnarlfang responded with a bite to Garwuns haunches. The old wolf moved to flank Garwun and jumped on his back. Razor sharp teeth dug into his neck like a vise. Garwun shook violently, trying to dislodge his attacker. He staggered several paces and the two crashed through a large hut. Bamboo and palm fronds scattered in an explosion as the beasts came apart. Garwun was quicker to his feet and attacked. He slashed at Gnarlfang, tearing open great wounds to his neck and back. Blood dripped from both combatants and mingled with the dirt, making a reddish mud all around. The old wolf charged, knocking Garwun back. Garwun tried to stave off the attack, snapping at the beast. Gnarlfang drove his foe back several yards until he smashed him into the brick of a well. Garwun yelped in pain as his back gave way to cement and wood. The old wolf capitalized, slashing at Garwuns exposed underside, tearing the flesh away. Garwun rolled away from him, avoiding a killing blow to his heart. He leaped to his feet and evaded another bull rush. Gnarlfang couldn’t stop his momentum from the missed attack and went sprawling through another building. Garwun was allowed a few seconds while Gnarlfang unburied himself. He glanced around, making sure every person was far away from the battle. His eyes locked on a small child huddled under a canopy several yards away. At that same instant, Gnarlfang poked his head out from the destroyed hut and noticed the child too. The two launched at the girl, both seemingly focused on killing her. The beasts raced across the open ground through the night. Terrified onlookers gasped at the horror they were witnessing. At the last second, Garwun planted his foot and pivoted into Gnarlfangs ribs, driving him off course. The old wolf went spinning into the dirt as Garwun skidded to a stop mere inches from the frightened child. He stood still for several seconds, staring at her. “MOVE!” He shouted. The girl just looked at him, amazed she understood what he said. The terror in her soul didn’t allow her to register what he was saying, just that he spoke. He lowered his massive head and not too gently, shoved her in the opposite direction of Gnarlfang. She regained her senses and hurried away from the battle. Garwun turned his attention back to the fight. “This ends now!” He screamed as he charged at the wolf. Gnarlfang was still gathering himself as his enemy collided with him. Garwun slashed and bit at him with a renewed vigor. The old wolf couldn’t parry this new attack and was driven back. Garwun continued his onslaught, pushing Gnarlfang back beyond the village limits. A scouring blow to the wolfs head sent him reeling and he shook to regain his balance. Garwun coiled and lunged, knocking the dazed wolf crashing through the trees. Branches cracked and trunks snapped as Gnarlfang tumbled into the forest. The old beast came to a stop, sprawled out, unmoving. Garwun turned his attention back to the village. Its inhabitants were keeping a safe distance, not sure about his intentions. Several warriors moved to the front, mere yards from him, lowering their spears. They didn’t mean to attack, the gesture was more a defensive one. Garwun took that as his cue to disappear into the forest. He turned and bounded into the darkness, never to be seen in the village again.
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