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Master-Key Book 1: The Journey Begins

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Strange Happenings

About 200 years later
“Run!” Farmer Mason had told him. “Don't look back whatever you do!” Then he had given Wilkan a weird stone and sent him through a tunnel. Now Wilkan was sleeping with an eight year old boy and a giant lizard (who said he was a cave troll). There was no other way to say it. Wilkan's life had been messed up.
Wilkan went over the events of that morning. It had happened so quickly that Wilkan had had little time to react. They came in the darkness of the night, or rather early morning. It had all started with a dream..........................

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Wilkan was not having a good dream. He was dying a slow painful death and he knew it was a dream. But he wouldn't wake up. Needles and small red hot irons poked, stabbed, and burned. His stomach twisted in agony. Then finally he awoke. His heart pounded hard as if it were trying to get out.
Letting out a long, deep breath he decided that he needed some fresh air. Quickly and quietly, so as not to wake up Farmer Mason, his uncle, Wilkan slipped into a linen tunic and his leather surcoat. It was summer, so it wasn't too cold. He sneaked down the wooden stairs and headed towards the door.
He pulled it open and headed outside. The sun hadn't risen yet; it was still fairly dark.
Wilkan took the main road past the stables and the barn. It would be time to milk the cows soon.
“I was wrong,” thought Wilkan, “it is pretty cold out here.” Soon he had walked in a huge circle and he was back at the house. The sun was rising. When Wilkan got inside, Farmer Mason was getting his overly large work boots on to go milk the cows.
“I've been lookin' all over for you,” he said “Where were you?”
“I was taking a walk.” Wilkan explained. Farmer Mason stood and clapped his hands together enthusiastically. And with a smile he said. “Well, let's get milking.”
After the milking was done and the animals taken care of they went out to harvest. There in Erk harvesting time was in late spring. Off in the distance, dark, turbulent clouds rolled and tumbled like a bunch of mad, battling smoke demons.
“Looks like a storm's coming in!” yelled Wilkan. The thunder was very loud and the wind had picked up swiftly.
“We'd better get inside!” the old farmer shouted back.
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Large ominous clouds had rolled in as fast as lightning. The sky was a field of activity. Lightning shot around the sky in a frenzy. Thunder cracked and the sun shrank in fear. Below sat the simple, yet good sized cottage, plopped in the middle of a field of wheat and corn. Every gust of wind threatened to smash the small shelter to rubble. Nearby, inside the barn, the animals panicked and ran around in fear (except for a small pig lounging in the mud).
Dirt and wheat flew through the air. Any person caught outside would have been lucky to be able to see more than three feet in front of him.
Inside Wilkan sat awake in bed. It had been a hard day on the farm. With all the wind, the harvesting didn't go so well. It was obvious that fall was coming closer. Then came a knock on Wilkan's bedroom door.
“Come in,” he said. The door opened and Farmer Mason walked in.
“How have you fared on this dreadful evening?” he asked Wilkan.
“Good I guess,” answered the boy, “ I was just thinking.” The old man leaned down and looked into Wilkan's eyes.
“What's troubling you, Wilkan?” he asked.
“It's just, I feel like I'm no one. I mean, all my friends have gone off to join the army and I'm sitting here farming.” Farmer Mason began nodding. “I'm not saying that you're boring or anything,” Wilkan clarified “I just feel like I'm being left out of something big and that I'm not very important.” The old farmer kept on nodding like he understood. He was just about to say something when there was a knock at the front door. Farmer Mason stood and straightened his aged linen tunic.
“ Well, I had better go see who that is,” he declared. With that, the old man rushed out of the dusty room.
Wilkan sighed and collapsed onto his soft pillow. There was nothing to do. The whole day he had stayed inside and read. Wilkan took pride in the fact that he was the only of all his friends who could read. He read books of adventure and mystery, and even a history book. Although reading usually appeased him, he had read all of Farmer Mason's books literally hundreds of times. There was little to do now but doze.
Just as Wilkan was drifting off into sleep, raised voices awoke him from his semi- consciousness. He very silently stood and made his way across the wooden floor to the tall oak door. The voices were louder when he stood by the door, but he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. Wilkan decided that he would have to creep to the stairs.
He eased open the door, crawled to the stairs, and positioned himself so that he could make a quick getaway.
“I'll ask you one more time, why have you come?” Farmer Mason was asking. “It's too dangerous to have the two of us in the same place.”
“I know,” said another voice “but I had to see you. I've just come from Nickleslope-”
“What were you doing there!?” interrupted Farmer Mason.
“I um.....” the newcomer cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I happened to be passing through and did a little reconnaissance.....”
“Oh?”
“I found out that they’re sending soldiers to get your stone! You have to leave now!” the man lowered his voice and Wilkan strained to hear what they were saying.
“You have to pass on the fire key,” whispered the stranger.
“He is too young!” Farmer Mason exclaimed “he needs more time!”
“Oh, come on!” a new voice said. It was deep and filled with kindness, yet at the same time, Wilkan could tell that whoever he was, he was mad. Silence.
“I only left at least a couple of hours ahead of the soldiers.”
“I know, I just need more time to think.”
“You don't have any time! War will soon be upon us, you have to flee before it's too late!” the stranger yelled in exasperation.
“I will..... but I have to prepare.”
“Ricter, please tell Wilkan,” said the man in a barely audible voice. Wilkan gasped in shock. Farmer Mason’s first name is Ricter? Only direct descendants of the royal household were named Ricter. That meant....farmer Mason should be king? Farmer Mason was a kindly old man; Wilkan just couldn't imagine him as a king.
“Ricter, please tell Wilkan,” the stranger repeated.
“I can't. Not yet.” Farmer Mason answered.
“It's not your decision!” yelled the stranger “Wilkan is my son!” Once again Wilkan was left in shocked silence. The stranger continued arguing with farmer Mason but Wilkan didn't hear them. That man, whoever he is, is my dad! Wilkan thought, so farmer Mason has been lying to me this whole time! My dad didn't die in the war! He's alive. Why does Farmer Mason have so many secrets?
The slamming of the door caused Wilkan to jerk out of his thoughts. Apparently the conversation was over. The floorboards creaked as farmer Mason moved toward the stairs. His heart pounding, Wilkan lightly sprinted down the hall, into his room and leaped onto his bed. Wilkan was still struggling to pull the covers over his legs when the old farmer walked in.
“ I know you were listening in,” farmer Mason said, glancing in Wilkan's direction. Wilkan bowed his head. He felt guilt and embarrassment wash over him.
“It's okay, Wilkan,” farmer Mason said in a shaky voice “is there anything you want to ask me?” Wilkan looked up and fixed his eyes on the old farmer. He took a deep breath and found tears welling up in his eyes.
“ Why did you lie to me? This whole time! You never even said my father was alive! How could you do that!? Why?.....” Wilkan trailed off and stared angrily at farmer Mason.
“ It breaks my heart to see you in such pain, and I decided that it would be easier to think that the man you never knew was dead. Than to know he was alive but you couldn't see him.”
“ But, why can't I see him?” said Wilkan as his voice cracked. He wanted to ask more, he had so many questions.
I have to tell him! Thought the old farmer.
“Well there's this thing, um, I never wanted to tell you because you weren't ready, but now it is imperative. I-” he was cut short by a loud crash downstairs. Farmer Mason glanced at the door then back at Wilkan.
“Stay there,” he warned, and he was gone. Gone for a long time. Wilkan couldn't bear it. He grabbed his sword, unsheathed it, and headed downstairs. Wilkan jumped at the sound of shattering glass. It had come from the kitchen. He stepped carefully over the threshold and discovered what had made the noise. Wilkan immediately sheathed his sword.
Just inside the kitchen farmer Mason was sweeping up remnants of a plate.
“ Holy serpent spit! You trying to kill me or something Wilkan?!” Exclaimed the farmer when he looked up.
“Oh, sorry,” Wilkan sheathed his sword “I just thought...never mind.”
“It's getting late, go get some rest.” Wilkan nodded and headed back up the stairs. As Wilkan entered his room he noticed that the window had somehow been thrown open. Wind rushed here and there, causing Wilkan to squint. He fought with the window until it finally remained sealed.
Wilkan collapsed on his bed, overwhelmed with thoughts. Outside, the storm raged on. Despite the loud noises and constant rocking of timbers Wilkan finally fell into a deep and troubled sleep.
Wilkan awoke early in the morning. This was not a new thing for him. Every day Wilkan had to wake early to begin work on the farm. But this time, something was different--he could sense that something was wrong. A twisting pain in his gut confirmed his suspicion. Immediately, Wilkan jumped out of bed, careful to tread lightly. He slipped into his tunic and surcoat and pulled on his boots. Wilkan cautiously crept into the hallway and toward the stairs. When he arrived at the bottom, he ran into the living room. Nothing seemed amiss. Then the sound of muffled hoofbeats reached Wilkan's ears.
He quickly sprinted to the adjacent room and peered through the window. A large company of soldiers was emerging from around the bend. Wilkan recognized their uniforms--they were from the eastern province. Wilkan was very confused.
First my dad visits but I’m forbidden to see him? Then a group of eastern soldiers arrive? Wilkan shook his head, trying to rid his brain of the many questions that were flowing through his mind.
Suddenly, a hand grasped Wilkan's shoulder. He cried out and whirled around. It was farmer Mason. Wilkan quickly regained his composure.
“What are the eastern soldiers doing here?” Wilkan asked. He had a million more questions but Farmer Mason didn't answer. Instead he proceeded to shove Wilkan into a food pantry.
“Stay here,” the old farmer said, and he shut the door. Wilkan heard Farmer Mason's retreating footsteps and waited in the darkness. Okay this is getting really weird. His heart beat so loud that Wilkan was afraid that someone would hear it. Then, he began to hear voices and the clatter of various dishwares being thrown on the floor. He gasped as the pantry door was abruptly thrown open. A tall, muscular soldier stood in front of Wilkan. The man’s face was a mask of ugly jagged scars. A wicked grin slowly spread across his face.
“Well lookie here,” the soldier said as he hoisted Wilkan up by the collar. Out of the corner of his eye, Wilkan saw Farmer Mason drawing nearer. The ugly battle-worn man must have noticed too because he dropped Wilkan, pulled out his sword, and turned in one fluid motion. Ugly-face paused, taken aback at the sight of a hunched over old man. But Wilkan knew it was a ploy. Farmer Mason was the best swordsman in the area, even though he was seventy years old. By the time the soldier realized that Farmer Mason was a threat he already had a knife in his shoulder. Ugly-face slumped to the wooden floor. “There's not much time. We need to hurry!”
“Wha-?” but before Wilkan could protest the back door crashed open and five more soldiers came through. Farmer Mason quickly pulled Wilkan into the hallway to a tall coat rack. Off of it he pulled an emergency pack. Farmer Mason always kept at least three backpacks stocked full of supplies in case of an emergency. Just before shoving it into Wilkan's arms he put some sort of stone into the pack.
“Do you trust me, Wilkan?” asked the Farmer as Wilkan shouldered the large backpack.
“But I--”
“Then follow me.” He led Wilkan down to the cellar. All was dark until Farmer Mason struck a match and lit a torch.
“You must go to Artonwane. Find the blacksmith there. I trust him above all others.” The old man leaned down and opened a previously hidden trapdoor.
“This leads to the barn,” said Farmer Mason. Wilkan peered into the blackness. “It's an enchanted tunnel--once you’re inside, the entrance will collapse so no one can follow you.” Wilkan's heart thudded at the thought of being alone in a dark tunnel, but he didn't protest. Wilkan trusted the old farmer with all his heart. Then something dawned on him and he looked up at Farmer Mason.
“Wait, so you're not coming with me?” Wilkan choked back a sob when the farmer shook his head.
“Be brave, Wilkan.” They embraced. Tears flowed freely.
“Awwwwwwwww,” said a mocking voice from the top of the stairs. The five soldiers had found them. One had a spear.
“Run!” Farmer Mason yelled at him urgently, “Don't look back whatever you do!”
The soldier with the spear charged down the stone steps and thrust the sharp tip of his weapon at the old man. Farmer Mason dove forward under the spear and slashed the man across the chest. He let out a weak groan as he toppled off the stone steps. A sickening snap accompanied his impact with the floor. The four other soldiers looked at farmer Mason, drew their swords, and with a mighty battle cry charged down towards him. One of the soldiers decided to go after Wilkan.
As Farmer Mason grappled with the three soldiers, Wilkan quickly descended into the dark passage. A fourth soldier had leaped off of the stairs and was now reaching for Wilkan. With all his might, Wilkan brought the trapdoor down upon the poor man's hand. The effect was instantaneous. The soldier screamed and and attempted to wrench his hand free, which caused more pain. Wilkan reached the bottom of the ladder and felt for the walls. Once he knew which direction to go he began jogging, leaving the sound of Farmer Mason's struggle far behind.
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Farmer Mason knew Wilkan had succeeded in escaping when he heard the trap door slam shut and the screams. The old man had already defeated another warrior. Two more to go. One of them lunged at Farmer Mason's legs, the other aimed a backhand uppercut slash at his chest. The old man jumped and landed on top of the sword. With his arms he slugged the other man in the gut. Farmer Mason then swung a mighty fist that rendered the soldier unconscious. Then the farmer kicked the other man in the face, knocking him off of the stairs. Blood was pounding in Farmer Mason’s ears. He needed to get supplies.
Quick as a mousetrap Wilkan’s uncle fled up the stairs. Once he had gathered sufficient amounts of supplies to for the journey he was about to undertake, Farmer Mason shuffled back towards the stairs. It was then that he noticed a large group of soldiers were rushing up the stairs at him. Farmer Mason waited for them to get to the top. The men had to proceed single-file because the stairs were quite narrow. The short soldier in the front of the company arrived in front of the farmer. Farmer Mason plunged his sword deep into the unprepared soldier. Time seemed to hold its breath. Then the old man ripped his sword free and shoved the shocked man down the stairs. As the nearly dead man tumbled down, so did all the other soldiers that had previously been climbing the staircase. Soon, there was a pile of groaning bodies at the foot of the stairs.The old farmer nodded and picked up his things.
Just as Farmer Mason started moving down the stairs two men stepped calmly into view. Each were holding polished crossbows aimed right at Farmer Mason. The old man paused. Then one of them pulled the trigger. The loud click echoed throughout the entire house. A brief whistle was followed by a dull thud and Farmer Mason fell back onto the stairs. He quietly stared in shock at the arrow shaft protruding from his lower right stomach. Farmer Mason stepped backwards up the steps. Suddenly the other man let his arrow fly. It hit the left pectoral but didn't get through the ribs. Farmer Mason keeled over backwards onto the carpet. Blackness slowly crept over his mind until it had totally engulfed him.
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Wilkan proceeded at quick pace, delving deeper into the dark, cylindrical passage. His breathing came in short, ragged gasps. How long had he been running? Ten minutes, maybe more? However long it had been, Wilkan decided to take a break and evaluate his choices. He slowed his pace to a fast walk. He could barely see enough to locate a suitable resting spot. Finally, Wilkan was able to find himself a nice flat rock to sit on. He collapsed upon it and rested his throbbing head against the wall of the tunnel. A small stream of water slowly dripped off of a stalactite.
Wilkan’s mind was racing faster than his heart. He couldn’t think straight, all of his thought seemed as if they had been mixed together in a soup. As he caught his breath Wilkan rummaged through the pack. The morning had been so much to take in. Wilkan felt as though he would burst from stress. His life was falling apart around him. Farmer Mason was gone and Wilkan had no one left and nowhere to go. The only thing he had was a stone. A stupid rock! Wilkan took out the stone and threw it against the cave wall. It ricocheted and landed on the dirt-covered ground near Wilkan’s feet. He glanced at it then felt tears appearing in his eyes once more. Wilkan bowed his head and broke into sobs. It’s all messed up, everything is messed up! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!
On the floor next to Wilkan’s feet the stone began to glow. Opened his eyes and witnessed a brilliant flash of light. Wilkan stood and picked up the glowing rock. It was warm to the touch. He felt the warmth spread into his body and and the sadness in his heart diminished slightly. The stone dimmed and the light was soon extinguished. Wilkan felt like he had been woken from a very long slumber. Energy flowed through his body and rejuvenated him. Wilkan felt that he could run for hours. He wiped his tears away and looked into the blackness.
Wilkan began at a full sprint but decided to walk more carefully after a few falls. Eventually a small pinprick of light appeared far in front of him. With newfound determination, he began running faster and faster, until he finally arrived at the bottom of a rickety ladder. Wilkan reached up and tugged on it. The old, termite-filled wooden contraption tumbled down in front of Wilkan. No more ladder, Wilkan thought. Wilkan gazed upward. There was a small trapdoor above. It appeared to be about twenty feet above him. He slumped to the ground. Great, now I’ll die in a tunnel. Definitely not number one on my list of ways to die.
Time dragged onward as Wilkan attempted to devise a strategy that would allow him to scale the vertical tunnel. After a few minutes Wilkan had come up with a few things that he could try. Just as he was about to commence his first idea, a rope dropped down to his feet. He was shocked at the sudden opportunity to exit the dreary passage. If it was a trap, Wilkan didn’t care. He took hold of the rope and allowed himself to be lifted up through the trapdoor.
As the young boy emerged from the opening he was surprised to see a large lizard-like creature pulling on the rope with its mouth. Wilkan instinctively backed away in fright. The monstrous being just smiled, if you could call it a smile.
“Hi!” it said cheerfully. Wilkan stood frozen in fear and surprise. The thing scratched the ground in an awkward manner. Finally Wilkan managed to speak.
“Who....What are you?” he asked. The creature brightened up.
“Oh! You can talk! My name is Kitlack and I’m a cave troll,” Kitlack stated. Wilkan remained silent.
“So, um I probably startled you, I mean you wouldn’t expect a cave troll to save you but it’s not like I can help my species’ reputation!” Kitlack continued to ramble on, jumping from topic to topic.
“Yeah I get it!” Wilkan yelled before Kitlack could say anything else about how hard it was to digest an ape. The cave troll snapped its mouth shut.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” Wilkan wondered.
“Sure,” Kitlack answered. Wilkan took a deep breath.
“First of all, I’m a little freaked out right now. My life is already messed up so if you pulled me up to eat me that’s fine. But I’m pretty sure I won’t taste that good.” Kitlack just stared and then broke out in a deep hearty laugh.
“You think I want to eat you!? Gross! Humans taste disgusting!”
“Why did you help me?” Wilkan inquired. The cave troll shuffled its four feet.
“Well, you see, that’s kind a subject for another time. For now, all I’ll say is that I owed someone a favor.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” Wilkan asked accusingly. Kitlack thought for a moment.
“I don’t know. But for now, Just remember that I saved your life pulling you out of that tunnel. That should be reason enough. Do you know how hard it is to sneak past an entire encampment of soldiers!? Phew! Let me tell you, not the easiest thing to do!” Wilkan nodded, still slightly in shock, and observed his surroundings. They were in the barn. Pitchforks and other various tools adorned the wooden walls. A ladder stretched above Wilkan’s head to the hayloft above. The soft light of the sunset flooded through the windows.
“Shhh!” Kitlack said in a sharp whisper. Wilkan shrugged his shoulders at Kitlack. Using elaborate claw gestures, Kitlack signaled that there were five soldiers outside of the door. WIlkan reacted in an quickly, scaling the ladder to the loft. Kitlack made it up in one leap. All thoughts of being eaten by a cave froll were replaced by the cold fear of the eastern soldiers. Wilkan had heard stories of their brutality.
After Wilkan had covered them both in hay, the door creaked open and he heard the soldiers step in. They glanced quickly throughout the barn then left. Wilkan let out a sigh of relief. As Wilkan began to stand Kitlack shook his head. Wilkan lowered himself back into the hay. Suddenly a soldier’s face peered around the corner. The man’s eyes darted about the room, then his head swiftly retreated out of the doorway. Wilkan and Kitlack laid motionless for what seemed like hours. Finally Kitlack decided it was safe.
“What I want to know is what this commotion and stuff is all about,” Kitlack remarked “I came all this way to repay a debt to save your mindless hide. And all these soldiers show up. What in Drakke’s name is going on?” Wilkan was a good judge of character and decided that Kitlack was somewhat trustworthy.
“I think it might have something to do with this.” Wilkan pulled out the small stone that Farmer Mason had given him. A soft light emanated from the center of the translucent sphere. The glowing white center was about one centimeter in diameter. Symbols had been carved in an unreadable pattern all over. Wilkan could almost feel a slight vibration as he held it.
“My uncle gave it to me before I left,” explained Wilkan. Kitlack gasped.
“Do you know what it is?” Wilkan asked.
“No.....but I sense a very powerful charm, that is no doubt what the soldiers came for.” Kitlack said in amazement. They both stared transfixed at the extraordinary stone for a moment. Then Wilkan pocketed it.
“I want to find out what those markings mean. I know an old friend of my uncle that might be able to decipher them. Or at the least, tell us how. Are you gonna come along?”
“Of course I am what sort of question is that?” Kitlack said “We'll wait until morning to depart.”
“Hey, I'm sort of the leader here, plus I just met you. I give the orders,” Wilkan told Kitlack
“I know,” Kitlack declared “We'll leave in the morning.” And with that he jumped up into a bed of hay. Wilkan sighed in exasperation even though a smile formed on his lips. He began busying himself with setting up his sleeping mat, which had been in his pack.
Wilkan lay down and pulled his blanket over him. It was night-time now and the crickets were out. Soon Wilkan was entranced by their sweet melody. In a way, to him, it seemed almost sad. Their small voices continued on, lulling Wilkan to sleep. And sleep welcomed him with open arms.
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