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Master-Key Book 1: The Journey Begins

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Chapters:   « Previous 1 2 3

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Wilkan woke up choking on smoke. The barn was on fire! He shoved his stuff back into his pack. Where was Kitlack? Did he start this fire? Coughing spasms wracked his whole body and smoke stung his watering eyes. He had to get out. The wooden planks beneath began to burn his hands. Wilkan squinted in front of him. There was a window about four feet away. Wilkan was two stories up, but he decided to chance it. Sprinting to the window he stuck his hands out in front of him and bowed his head.
Wilkan collided with the glass, the impact jarring his entire body as the material shattered. Suddenly, the ground was rushing up towards him. When Wilkan hit the ground he executed a somersault roll to lose momentum. He lay winded and bleeding on the ground for a few seconds with his eyes closed. After what seemed like hours he finally stood up. In the distance Wilkan could hear shouting. A thin screen of trees blocked his view of the adjoining fields. Where was Kitlack?
Wilkan began to head towards the noises. From afar he could tell that it was some form of encampment. A large ring of tents were encircling a vast bonfire. Closer to the fire, there was an abundant amount of armorless soldiers. The soldiers! Wilkan drew his sword. He had to get a closer look. As Wilkan drew nearer, he noticed that the enormous fire was made of burning furniture and various other objects from the house. Near the fire were logs, impaled vertically into the ground. Tied to these poles were a few different people. Wilkan recognized the rancher from the adjacent farm. Also tied to one of the poles was a young boy, who looked about eight years old. Chained to both of the last two beams was Kitlack. They were all unconscious and it looked as if they had been beaten and whipped constantly. Wilkan ducked down as one of the posted sentries glanced toward his hiding spot.
Then, a pair of rough hands grasped the back of his shirt and hoisted him up. A sharp pain ensued when one of the hands struck him in the back of the head. Another smack and everything went black.
Wilkan awoke to find himself lying face-down in the dirt. The back of his head throbbed and ached. Wilkan found that, for some reason, he wasn’t tied up. Quickly, he glanced about at his surroundings. Soldiers bustled around the campfire.
“Why didn’t you tie him up?!” the man with the captain’s helm yelled to the others.
“Well, we used the chains on the cave troll,” said a soldier.
“That’s Mr. cave troll to you.” Kitlack said groggily. Wilkan looked around desperately. A soldier not far off was holding Wilkan’s pack loosely at his side. As the main part of the company searched for rope, Wilkan’s mind raced. He had a plan. It was risky, but it was his only chance. In a split second Wilkan stood and sprinted toward the unsuspecting soldier and caught him in a flying tackle. He grabbed the guard’s sword from the ground and turned to face his opponents.
Three men were rushing at him, with their weapons drawn, after discarding their half-eaten food to the side. Wilkan stood his ground, staring at the oncoming soldiers. Wilkan didn’t wait for them. He recklessly charged into the group parrying slashing and stabbing until a large heap of unconscious or mortally wounded soldiers were lying on the grass. Wilkan was panting. The other soldiers were shocked began to look uneasily at Wilkan as if he were Drakke the great adventurer. Wilkan was shocked as well. He had never seen such skill with a sword that he himself had performed. Wilkan flashed them a smug grin while swinging his sword casually back and forth. Although on the inside Wilkan was still startled at his sudden skill. There was a loud snapping noise behind him. Wilkan turned and saw that Kitlack had freed himself from the chains that had previously held him captive. A group of ten men swarmed Kitlack but the cave troll bucked and twisted, flinging soldiers in every direction.
“Well.....that was fun!” he exclaimed cheerily. Wilkan just stared at him.
“What?!” Kitlack trotted off to look for their stuff. Wilkan jogged over and snatched his pack from one of the half-conscious soldiers. After rummaging around he found what he was looking for. The stone was still there. Wilkan breathed a sigh of relief. Then his gaze fell upon a small child near the fire. Wilkan ran over to the whimpering boy.
“Hey, are you okay?” Wilkan whispered gently. The boy shook his head slowly. He was very pale. It was then the Wilkan noticed the torn flesh on the boy’s back. Whoever had whipped the child was very brutal. Blood soaked the young boy’s back and what was left of his shirt. Wilkan tore apart one of the soldier’s extra shirts into strips and quickly bandaged the boy’s back. He needed medicine, fast. Kitlack came crashing out of a tent.
“We better hurry, they’re coming!”
“Who?” Wilkan inquired.
“Your grandparents!” Kitlack yelled sarcastically“All of the other soldiers! Who’s that!?” Wilkan shrugged.
“I normally wouldn’t let anyone do this but....jump on my back.” Wilkan heaved the boy up first then proceeded to the other man. The farmer was dead, a large bloody hole in his chest. The noise of approaching soldiers increased and Wilkan leaped up onto Kitlack’s back. As soon as Wilkan had a firm grip, Kitlack took off. They raced down the road. The shrubbery and fields on either side were a blur and the wind lashed at Wilkan’s face.
In no time, Wilkan and Kitlack were in the corn fields. Kitlack slowed down and Wilkan glanced back at the house. It was miniscule in the distance but a thick column of thick, acrid, jet black smoke told Wilkan that, along with the barn, his home had been burned. He struggled to hold back tears. The rain began to fall from the clouds far above, chilling the trio to the bone. Then Kitlack resumed his gallop and they entered the treeline, leaving the farm behind them.
A few hours later all three companions were soaked, cold and tired. Wilkan was attempting to make a fire while Kitlack was setting up a shelter. Wilkan’s spark rocks did nothing to light the wet wood. It was no use. Wilkan glanced toward the pack.
“Hmm, I wonder.” Wilkan reached in and drew out the glowing stone. Kitlack looked up from the half-built wood hut.
“What are you doing?” Kitlack inquired. Wilkan stopped studying the stone.
“Well, if this stone is magic then maybe we can use the magic to start a fire,” Wilkan stated. Kitlack nodded.
“But, the thing is, certain charms are usually meant for certain spells,” Kitlack pointed out.
“But, you said yourself that this stone had very powerful magic. Some powerful charms can do multiple spells.” Wilkan concentrated and directed the stone towards the fire. Nothing happened. Kitlack walked over.
“Try an incantation. Sometimes those can help direct the magical flow.” Wilkan looked over at Kitlack.
“Since when do you know so much about magic?” he asked. Kitlack shrugged and Wilkan turned back and face the pile of damp firewood. Farmer Mason had taught Wilkan a few small, useful incantations. Wilkan tried to remember. He racked his brain trying to figure it out.
“Ignode!” Nothing happened.
“Pyros!” There was a big whoosh and the pile of logs burst into flame. The sudden abundance of extreme heat caused both Wilkan and Kitlack to leap back. They looked at each other and began to laugh. Wilkan then moved the unconscious boy nearer to the fire. Kitlack went back to making the shelter.
“I think I know an herb that could help the boy,” Wilkan said.
“ thas’ goo’” Kitlack said around the stick that was in his mouth. Wilkan nodded.
“You’ll have to stay with the kid though.” Wilkan glanced around the clearing, pulled up the hood of his cloak, walked off into the woods, and began strategically combing the now mushy ground for the sefraime plant. Sefraime was a very well known plant throughout all of Sworoam. It’s healing properties and magical origin gave it the ability to heal an open wound at an uncanny rate. “Sefraime...”, Wilkan remembered Farmer Mason saying, “..was originally created by the wizards during the great wars.” Wilkan only wished that he had listened better to the old man. Wilkan didn’t pay much attention when Farmer Mason was teaching about plants.
At long last, Wilkan came upon a small patch of this magical herb. Sefraime resembled yarrow, except, instead of the skinny green stalks there was a prickly, thick, thorny, tall purple stem. The only problem was that in order for the healing properties of a sefraime plant to work, it needed to be harvested and prepared in a certain way. Now Wilkan really wished that he had payed more attention when learning about plants. He had a vague idea of what to do but wasn’t certain. Pulling out a square of velvet cloth from his cloak, Wilkan wrapped one of the prickly purple stalks up. Then, using his knife he severed it just above the roots. Afterwards, he stored it safely in a leather pouch that he had carried with him. Wilkan repeated the process over and over until the leather pouch was bulging.
Back at the clearing Kitlack had succeeded in creating a makeshift shelter out of vines, sticks and other various items. Wilkan came strolling into the clearing, obviously pleased with himself.
“So you got some?” Kitlack glanced at Wilkan then continued staring at the fire.
“Yup,” Wilkan answered “ Now let’s see if I can remember how to do the rest.”
“The rest of what?” Kitlack asked, never taking his eyes off of the flames.
“Well..” Wilkan explained “..the Sefraime plant has to be picked and prepared in a certain way, otherwise it won’t heal. I’m pretty sure I picked them right, but now it has to undergo something called the purge. I think you have to squeeze out the sap, into a pot of water, then strip off the leaves. After that you boil the stalk in the sappy water. Then crush the leaves into a poultice. Next, I’m pretty sure you apply the poultice to the wound, take the stalks out of the water broth stuff and have them drink the Sefraime broth. At least, that’s the best I can remember.” Kitlack was stunned.
“You remembered all that?” Kitlack asked, amazed. Wilkan nodded and prepared everything.
“Well, let’s get started,” he said. Wilkan worked on the medicine while Kitlack went in search of some sort of food. After a while the poultice and broth were ready. Kitlack had not yet returned. Wilkan took the bowl of purplish glop over to the boy. Kitlack burst into the clearing, causing Wilkan to jump. Dangling from Kitlack’s jaws was a large turkey. Wilkan turned back to the boy, who was lying face-up on a sleeping mat. Wilkan rolled the child over onto his stomach and gasped. He hadn’t realised that the wound was this bad. There was barely any skin left on the kid’s back. The bloody, torn flesh was infected and the boy was running a high fever. Wilkan applied the poultice and the boy didn’t even stir. After pouring some of the sap broth into the kid’s mouth, Wilkan bandaged his back.
After Wilkan finished making the boy comfortable he turned around and found that Kitlack had plucked the turkey and was roasting it over the fire. Wilkan smiled and sat on his spare mat. The night was getting colder. Soon, the bird was done. Wilkan grabbed a piece of the bird and took a bite. The succulent meat flooded Wilkan’s mouth with flavor. Wilkan wiped some grease from his chin.
“You are a good cook, Kitlack,” Wilkan said “This is the best turkey I’ve ever tasted.” The cave troll smiled. The evening wore on and it became increasingly colder. Wilkan carried the boy into the shelter Kitlack had made. The shelter was too small for everyone to fit so Wilkan’s head was sticking out of the entrance.
“I’ll take the first watch,” Wilkan stated. Kitlack nodded drowsily. Wilkan sat up in his blankets and laid his sword on his lap. It was quite warm in the shelter because of all the body heat. The fire was dying and soon the only light came from the crescent moon high above. Crickets and owls were heard throughout the forest. Every now and then Wilkan heard a rustling in the bushes. Eventually Kitlack woke up and relieved Wilkan of his watch. Gratefully, he burrowed into his blankets and dozed off. The night passed uneventfully and the morning soon came.
A faint dawn light crept over the treetops. The first birds were beginning to sing. Wilkan awoke and found that he was alone in the shelter. Even the boy’s slepping mat was vacated. Wilkan poked his head outside of the shelter and saw Kitlack trying to make a fire while the boy sat nearby and watched. Color filled the child’s cheeks. He was looking much healthier. Wilkan smiled and crawled out.
“Good morning everyone!” he said cheerfully. Wilkan felt happier knowing that the medicine had worked. Kitlack was having a hard time with all of the wet wood. Wilkan went to his backpack and found the stone. He cupped it between his hands and pointed it at the fire. Pyros! he thought. The sticks and logs ignited just as they had the night before. The boy yelped. Wilkan pocketed the stone and plopped himself down next to the kid.
“So what’s your name?” he inquired.
“Rawley.”
“Well, Rawley. Welcome to the group!” Rawley smiled.
“Who are you?” Rawley asked. Wilkan turned to the boy.
“Wilkan.” Rawley turned and stared into the flames. Kitlack was heating up leftover turkey from the night before. There was an awkward silence between everyone.
“Thanks,” Rawley said.
“For what?”
“Saving me.” Wilkan nodded.
“No problem............” more silence “.............what were you doing there?” Rawley shifted uncomfortably.
“I used to muck out the stables in Nickleslope. Then the soldiers came. Just, without warning,” Rawley’s voice shook as he continued “they burned everything. They killed almost everyone. They were like monsters. I was in the stables so I didn’t get hurt. They were gonna’ use the horses so they didn’t burn the stables. Then they figured that since I could take care of horses they should have me come with them. When I refused they grabbed me and planned to sell me as a slave later. Then when they got to the farm place, they whipped me and tied me to a pole. Then I woke up here.” Wilkan let out a long breath.
“Wow.” Kitlack distributed pieces of the turkey. Rawley scarfed it down hungrily and Wilkan gave Rawley his piece. Rawley laid back with a contented sigh.
“I haven’t eaten so good since, well, never!” Wilkan laughed.
“Well don’t get too used to it.”
“How did you do that?” Rawley asked.
“Do what?” Wilkan asked. Rawley gestured towards the fire.
“How did you start the fire?”
“Oh.” Wilkan paused. “magic.” Rawley sat up.
“Magic?” he said excitedly “Are you a wizard?” Wilkan chuckled
“No I’m not a wizard, I just have this.” Wilkan pulled out the mystical stone. Rawley stared in amazement. Wilkan stowed the magical item in his pocket and stood up.
“We better pack up and head out,” Wilkan stated. Rawley stood. The color drained from his face and he toppled. Wilkan caught him.
“Let’s have a look at your wounds.” Rawley nodded and laid down on his stomach. Wilkan unwrapped the bandages. Rawley’s back was a mass of scabs and raw skin, but it had healed a lot since the last night. Wilkan rewrapped Rawley’s wound.
“It’s healed up quite a lot,” Wilkan said. “That medicine sure worked wonders!”
“Could you teach me?” Rawley inquired.
“Huh?” Wilkan was slightly confused.
“Magic, could you teach me how to do magic?” Rawley clarified. Wilkan stopped rolling up his sleeping mat.
“Uh......sure.” After a little bit they were all packed up. Wilkan assisted Rawley in climbing onto Kitlack.
“I’ll walk,” Wilkan declared. The company continued their journey through the forest. Wilkan unsheathed his sword and went ahead, slicing and cutting a path through the dense foliage.
“So where are we headed again?” Kitlack asked.
“We’re going to Teran. There’s this guy there, an old friend, he might be able to tell us what this stone is,” Wilkan explained. Kitlack slowed down slightly to allow Wilkan to hack through a wall of thorns.
“After that-” Wilkan grunted with exertion as he swung the sword “-we’ll head over to Artonwane.” Kitlack cocked his head.
“Why Artonwane?” Rawley asked.
“My uncle told me to go there. He said the blacksmith would know what to do. Apparently he’ll help us.” The group continued onward, heading deeper into the forest. Eventually, they came upon a dirt road.
“Do you guys think we should stay off of the road?” Wilkan turned around.
“Nah,” Kitlack answered “I think it’s fine for now.” Soon, Wilkan could see the stone walls of Teran.
“We’re nearly there!” Wilkan declared. Rawley sat up and stared at the walls that loomed ahead.
“Stop,” Wilkan ordered “I have to go in alone.”
“Why?” Rawley wondered.
“Well, for starters, Kitlack is a cave troll, and second, you’re too weak to walk on your own.” Rawley put his head down, disappointed. Wilkan gestured to bushes on the side of the road.
“You guys stay hidden until I get back,” Wilkan ordered. Kitlack headed toward the shrubbery. Wilkan turned back toward the city and continued walking. It took Wilkan longer than he expected to reach the walls of Teran, but eventually, he did make it. There were guards at the gate.
“Uh oh,” Wilkan muttered to himself. The sentries spotted Wilkan approaching.
“Oy! You there! State your name and business,” One said. Wilkan cleared his throat.
“I, uh, I’m Wilkan and I’m meeting an old friend that lives here in Teran,” he told them. The two soldiers nodded in unison and let him pass. Wilkan had never been to such an enormous city. He never even dreamed of such a quantity of people in one place. Vendors yelled about their cheaply priced goods, and large amounts of carts and people crowded the street. Wilkan was overwhelmed by the amount of noise that filled the air. Pickpockets roamed the streets of almost every big city. Wilkan reached in his pocket and grasped his coin bag tightly. But, this city was different than Ritim. Soldiers were on every street corner and the whole place felt less dirty and unorganized.
How am I ever going to find Gren in this place? Wilkan thought to himself. Gren had visited a few times and Wilkan knew he was a stonemason. Wilkan saw a soldier moving through the crowd and headed towards him.
“Excuse me?” The man turned around. “can you tell me where the artisan residential area is?”
“Oh, yeah! Uh, you take this road all the way until you get to the inner wall the go through the south gate and keep following the road until you get to the square, then you, uh. I think, then you turn right onto Kingston road and follow that and that should lead you right to it. Do you got all that?” Wilkan nodded hesitantly.
“Feel free to ask any of the other guards if if you have questions.”
“Thanks!” Wilkan yelled as he headed up the road. The journey from the outer ring to the inner wall was almost a mile. Wilkan weaved his way through the crowds until finally he arrived at the south entrance of the inner wall. The gates were closed and Wilkan couldn’t see any soldiers on the battlements. After a long wait a guard, wearing the captain’s crest, spotted Wilkan.
“Yo! Fellas’! Open the gates there’s a kid here that wants to get through!” The captain yelled. There was some more yelling followed by a grating noise and the gates swung open. Wilkan stepped through. On the other side of the inner wall there were guards everywhere talking, eating or just sitting around. The guard captain was exiting a wooden door at the base of the wall.
“Hey there!” he yelled. Wilkan waved in reply. The soldier jogged over and held out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Jakal. Captain of the guard here in Teran.” Wilkan shook his hand.
“I’m Wilkan,” he stated “you seem a little young to be a captain.” Jakal smiled and nodded.
“Well I’m a captain nevertheless,” he said cheerily “so......where are you off to?”
“I’m here to see an old friend of my uncle,” Wilkan told him.
“What’s his name? Perhaps I know him,” Jakal said.
“Gren,” Wilkan answered. Jakal lit up.
“Hey! I do know him! He happens to be my friend’s grandfather. What a coincidence huh!?” Wilkan smiled. Jakal was very talkative.
“How old are you?” Wilkan inquired.
“Nineteen!” Jakal yelled happily. Wilkan sighed. Time seemed to whiz by as Jakal and Wilkan conversed, or rather as Jakal blabbed. Soon they had arrived at Gren’s house. Jakal banged on the door. Wilkan winced.
“I’m comin’! I’m comin’!” yelled a gruff voice from the other side of the door. Locks clicked and the door swung open. Gren wasn’t very large in stature, but he made up for his small size in toughness.
“What do you?-” Gren’s eyes widened “-Wilkan! Come in, come in! you too Jakal.” Wilkan entered the apartment. Dusty old manuscripts were stacked precariously on tables that were strewn with various tools. No decorations or pictures adorned the walls of the living room.
“Oh, that’s my stuff. Here follow me,” Gren said. He led Wilkan and Jakal down a short hallway to the kitchen.
“Can I get you something to eat?”
“I’m fine,” Wilkan answered.
“Me too,” Jakal said. Gren shooed a few chickens from the table and pulled up some chairs.
“Here, sit down,” he said. Jakal and Wilkan collapsed into the chairs, weary from the long walk.
“So, Wilkan, what brings you here?” Gren asked. Wilkan glanced at Jakal then reached into his pocket.
“I was hoping that you could help me decipher something,” he said while pulling out the stone. Jakal’s eyes widened but Gren looked rather unsurprised by the magical stone.
“I’ve been able to do a few basic spells with it,” Wilkan explained.
“Yes, well, Ricter said that this time would come soon. I guess I just didn’t know he meant this soon,” Gren told Wilkan. Jakal stood and began closing the shutters on all of the windows.
“I was hoping you could tell me what these markings mean,” Wilkan stated. Gren nodded and took the stone.
“Didn’t your uncle tell you anything?” Gren wondered. Wilkan was puzzled.
“A long time ago, in the golden age of the wizards, a new creature was discovered: a Newt. These beings had powerful magic, they were able to see the future and they were commonly killed and their body parts used for potions. But the real treasure were their eyes. You could look into them and they could show you the future. But, some wizards got greedy. They captured newts and tortured them in horrible ways. That.....was when the war began. Wizards were fighting over the land. So a few of them enchanted five Newt’s yes with powerful magic. that was when the five kingdoms were organized: Ocn, Erk, Yaanin, Excelsior and Darkteel. A stone was given to each of the leaders of the kingdoms to help them rule. But one became corrupted. He and his minions were trapped somewhere in Darkteel. Later, another was corrupted. King Sskarre of Yaanin. He destroyed much, including his own kingdom. Now Yaanin is nothing but a barren wasteland. Then, Drakke the adventurer came along. He stole Sskarre’s stone and gave it to his assistant, Ricter. The fire stone was then passed on down the family line. It has now come to you,” Gren finished. Wilkan was overwhelmed.
“But I’m not my uncle’s direct descendant,” Wilkan stated.
“Your uncle didn’t have an heir,” Gren explained.
“Well, then why couldn’t I have just grown up with my real dad!” Wilkan yelled in growing frustration.
“Your father is the keeper of water. It is very dangerous to keep two stones in the same place at once,” Gren clarified. Jakal stood to get some water. He returned with three tall glasses of water. Jakal slurped at his water loudly. Gren and Wilkan kept pausing due to the noise.
“Would you be quiet!” Wilkan yelled at Jakal. Jakal stopped slurping. Wilkan and Gren resumed their conversation.
“My uncle said to go to Artonwane. And find the blacksmith there,” Wilkan told Gren, who nodded.
“Yes, so you’re finally going to meet your father,” Gren said and began stroking his goatee. Wilkan was silent. When he spoke, his voice cracked.
“My.........father?” Gren nodded. “Why didn’t anybody tell me this before!” Wilkan stood and began paced, muttering to himself. Then, somebody knocked on the door. Well, more like pounded on the door. Gren left the room. Wilkan and Jakal were left in awkward silence. They heard a squeak in the other room as Gren answered the door. The stone in Wilkan’s pocket began to vibrate.
“What the-?” Wilkan was cut short by a vulgar exclamation from Gren in the other room. Gren walked back into the living room.
“The city is under attack!” Gren said. Wilkan and Jakal stared at Gren in disbelief.
“You have to go.” Wilkan nodded. The trio of friends walked outside. In the distance they could see fireballs raining down on the lower part of the city. The gates to the inner section of the city were open and hundreds of coughing, soot covered people were streaming through.
“I have to go,” Jakal said as he lowered his helmet on to his head “wish me luck.” Wilkan smiled as Jakal ran off to the wall then turned to Gren.
“My friends are out there, outside of the northern gate waiting for me.” Gren stroked his goatee once more.
“That poses a problem,” he said. Then his eyes brightened.
“I have an idea,” Gren glanced at the lower wall “wait here.” Wilkan sighed. Gren returned with Jakal, and a large group of soldiers.
“Here’s the plan,” Jakal declared while laying a map on the road “we’re going to go out of the eastern gate then make our way north. Simple.” One of the guards looked puzzled.
“But, this part of the city is overrun with enemies, sir,” said the man, pointing. Jakal smiled.
“Ah, yes, well that’s where the fun part comes in! We’ll fight our way through to the eastern gate. That is, if we run into any soldiers. We’re going to be taking back-roads and alleys to avoid combat as much as possible. Deron will lead us through, he knows that part of town like the back of his hand,” Jakal smiled like it was going to be a piece of cake (which was a big sign that it wasn’t going to be).
“Let’s go!” Jakal said, jogging towards the inner gate.
“Just a minute,” Wilkan told him before turning to Gren “Thank you for everything.” Gren smiled kindly.
“Be safe.” Wilkan smiled.
“Are you two old ladies done?!” Jakal yelled. Wilkan gave a crooked smile and ran off to join Jakal.
“Open the gate!” Jakal yelled to the soldiers on the wall. The massive wooden doors swung open and Wilkan, Jakal, and the soldiers spilled through onto the road. The majority of buildings on the main road were engulfed in flames. Thick Black smoke poured into the evening sky obscuring the view of the stars.
“Follow me!” yelled Deron, who was in front of the group, and they all sprinted off into the fiery frenzy.
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