All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Master-Key Book 1: The Journey Begins
A young man, about fourteen years of age, stood at the front of a small cart, staring into the thick fog. His eyes darted back and forth, searching for any unnatural movement. All he saw was swirling mist in all directions. Ricter hopped down from the prow and sat on a small wooden crate.
The cart was like a small boat on wheels with a sail hoisted up on the mast. It was pushed along by the wind. The only thing that kept it on course and from falling into the blackness below were skinny train-tracks that extended as far as the eye could see, which unfortunately was only two feet.
About five feet under the suspended tracks was a thick black tar-like substance. Garbage and boat wreckage floated on the boiling sticky surface, though most of it was covered in sludge and unrecognizable. Any unlucky object or person to fall in was immediately consumed by the dark gunk. Then about ten years later, after being burned and ripped apart, it would resurface, covered in sludge. If you fell in.....you're doomed.
This was the dreaded Sludge. No one knew where the ooze came from, only that it appeared a long time ago. It started in the north, but then flowed southward toward the middle of Saxton. It burned a canyon about 8,000 feet deep when it moved. There was only one way across the slime, and that was the Tracks.
“You were smart to sit down, Ricter,” said another figure in the cart. He was tall and had a cloak with numerous pockets. Ricter glanced at the man through a mop of messy dark brown hair.
“What aren't you telling me?” He met the man's gaze. “I know we’re running from someone. But I want to know from whom and why.” The tall figure opened one of his pockets. He lowered his hand, groped around a little, then found it. Uncurling his fist, he revealed the small object to Ricter. The young boy gasped.
“An eye of the newt!” Ricter weighed it in his hand, “I didn't think the newt existed.”
“It doesn't. Well, it does, but Sskarre has mutated it into a creature of darkness.”
Suddenly there was a sloshing noise from behind them. The man turned quickly, but there was nothing to see. Only mist and darkness. Then, a large dark and deformed silhouette approached from the mist.
“Faster! Ricter! Faster!”
“We're going as fast as this thing will allow!” Ricter yelled back. The tall man pulled something out of one of his pockets. The white, powdery substance crackled with electricity. Ricter's teacher rubbed his hands together and muttered an unintelligible incantation. The man’s hands began to glow. He raised his hands to his mouth and blew the glowing powder off of his hands. Electricity harmlessly crackled around the creature.
The man desperately threw spell after spell at the monstrosity but nothing seemed to affect it. Finally Ricter's friend and master collapsed of exhaustion. It was the end for the two friends.
The man with Ricter had much experience. He could see that he was dealing with an opponent to powerful to beat. He had fought with faeries, contended with elves, escaped the leaf-eaters, fought alongside legendary warriors, collected numerous magical items, befriended kings, fought against hundreds of differing magical beings, and even ridden a drakove. With luck, he had survived for decades. But not this time. Even before the fight had begun, he knew it was a fight that they could never win.
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..........................
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.
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.....”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.