They met Megan at Mark and Jackie’s uncle’s place. Casey had decided not to come. That bothered Jackie a little, since she didn’t really get along with Megan.
Their uncle lived on the outskirts of Seattle, and had several acres, where he kept horses and sheep. He had told them they could ride his horses any time they wanted. Luke and Mark hadn’t been out there since the last time Jackie had been in Seattle. That had been almost a year ago.
Daniel Wood came out to them with a big grin on his face. "Hi! If you’re ready, let’s go saddle up!" He gave Jackie a hug, then led them over to the horses.
Jackie went straight to a large, black bay mare, and started saddling her. "I’m glad you still have Summer. I was afraid you might have sold her, since I didn’t get out here as much as I wanted to." She stroked the mare lovingly.
Her uncle smiled. "I kept her around mainly for you, sweetie. I have a few people who ride her to keep her from getting too rotten, but she’s mainly yours."
Jackie smiled. "Thanks." She turned back to the mare.
Daniel watched Luke saddling his own grey gelding. He had chosen him because he was large and strong enough to support Luke’s tall, muscular frame. Touching Luke on the shoulder, Daniel spoke softly. "May I speak to you for a moment? After you finish, of course."
Luke glanced back at him. "Sure."
A few minutes later, Luke turned to Daniel. "Okay, what did you need?"
Daniel smiled grimly. "Come over here," he said, leading him away from the others. He pulled out a black key with silver inscriptions on it. After staring at it for a moment, Daniel pressed it firmly into Luke’s hand.
"This key will open the gate you‘ll come to when you ride into the woods. That should be about a half mile in," he paused. "Keep this key with you at all times. Don’t lose it. You’ll need it again."
Luke was confused. He found it strange that he was stressing the point of the key. "Don’t worry. I’ll keep it with me."
"Good. Now, I think everyone else is ready to leave. You have jackets and food, right?" Daniel walked over and smiled at them all.
"Yes, we do," Mark grinned, mounting his brown and white mare.
Jackie checked Megan’s saddle, which did not seem to be very appreciated by the blonde girl. Megan wasn’t the type of girl that would be seen around horses, and didn’t want any help, thinking she knew more that she actually did. That was why Jackie was checking the saddle now, knowing it probably wasn’t tight enough. Megan had always been rude to Jackie, and if it had been up to her, she wouldn’t have come.
They started out toward the woods at a brisk trot. When they were almost there, Megan pulled her horse up. "I thought we were going on the road. We‘ll get lost."
Mark grinned at her. "Come on, Megan. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the woods. There’s no reason to be."
Jackie smiled at Mark, then turned to Megan from the front. "First of all, Megan, we never said anything about riding on a road. Second, I think I know where I’m going. I’ve ridden here just a few times," she said with sarcasm. She was losing patience with Megan very quickly.
Jackie felt Luke’s hand on her arm. She shivered at his touch. She was surprised at how much she was still affected by him. Telling herself it was just nerves, Jackie urged her horse forward.
Luke watched her go, shaking his head. He hadn't realized how difficult it would be to see her again, and he wanted to push the feelings he had for her away. If he didn't, he could lose her, along with Mark. Loosening the reins, he let his horse trot.
They rode on for a while, talking about work, and other things. Even Jackie had decided she would make an effort to get along with Megan. It was turning into a nice ride.
The leaves were just starting to turn a golden color and they were starting to scatter on the ground. The sky was overcast, holding the promise of rain in a few hours. The darkened sky and dry tree branches made the whole wood appear a bit sinister. It was a little creepy if you paid close enough to the surroundings.
Luke was starting to wonder why Daniel had recommended they go this way. He fingered the key in his pocket. Riding up alongside Mark, he spoke quietly. "Hey, you’re uncle mentioned a gate about a half mile in here. Do you have any idea where it is? I was just hoping we were going in the right direction. I don’t remember it being here."
Mark shook his head. "You wouldn’t. It’s new. It should be right about... " he glanced around. "Well, it’s a little further up. It’s not too far. Just out of the woods."
Luke nodded. "Okay, cool."
Mark glanced back at Megan. "Well, I’ll bet she’ll be happy once we’re out of these woods," he glanced back at the girl, who was looking around nervously.
Luke looked at Megan. "She not used to this sort of stuff, is she?"
Mark grinned. "I guess not. If I’d known...oh, well. It won‘t kill her."
Luke glanced at her. "Yeah, I know what you mean."
They finally came to a clearing and rode on quietly until they reached the gate. It was large and wooden, with a metal bolted lock. Strangely, it was the same color as the key in Luke’s pocket.
Luke got off his horse and put the key in the lock. Turning the key, he felt a strange tingling sensation. As soon as he removed the key, there was a flash of light, which blinded them all, knocking them all unconscious.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Three cloaked figures approached the gate to the Crimson Temple. The tall one who was obviously the leader spoke to the guard.
"I have urgent news for Lord Bordekai," he stared at the guard. "I’m assuming I do not even need to ask you to open the gate." His manner implied that he was important enough for them to obey him without question.
The guards open the gates immediately, and stepped back.
The tall wizard glanced at the guards and walked past. They didn’t need someone to degrade them by leading them like blind men. They could find their own way to Bordekai. He led the other wizards down a long hall to Bordekai’s quarters.
Before he knocked, Bordekai knew he was there, telling to come in. He entered, closing the door behind him.
Bordekai was watching him the entire time, and looked at him expectantly. "Well, is it true?"
The wizard looked excited. "Yes, my lord. The gateway has been opened. It should not be long now."
Bordekai sat back in his chair, smiling. "Finally."