The young man treaded softly through the halls of his father's house, careful to avoid the floorboards that creaked. His father did not rise this early. And so the house belonged to him.
He hopped on up the staircase, skipping the fifth step, and keeping his eyes on the great old grandfather clock on the top landing. When he reached the thick rugs of the top floor, he grabbed an antique chair from the wall and walked with it to the center of the hall beyond. Placing it carefully on the rug, he climbed atop and reached for the cord that dangled from the ceiling.
Letting down the trap door, he grabbed the end of the ladder above and pulled it free. Taking the utmost care, he returned the chair and then climbed up into the attic.
As soon as he had reached this haven, several simple shadows jumped to life. A few odd characters sat about in a tight circle on trunks and chests of old keepsakes, and as Tom joined them, they each gave him a greeting in their own way.
A map was thrown out on an old suitcase, and the characters were in the midst of a grim meeting. They had to come up with a plan. And currently, as Tom could see, there were still a million possibilities. Not a single word had been written yet.
"This region here," growled one of the characters, stabbing the center of the old parchment with a chipped and rusted blade. "This is where they hide."
"But what is that place?" asked Tom in a thoughtful voice.
The character gave him a scowl. "It's jungle," he spat. "Dense, thick, uncharted territory. Secret valleys, hidden caves, and...traps. Deadly traps. Land that gives way when you walk on it! Nets that spring from trees! Poisonous darts that fire from cave walls...it's too dangerous."
Another character who had been standing back in the shadows stepped forward. The slivers of light that came through the shuttered window played across his face where a tremendous scar ran across his cheek. His eyes were hawk-like and gray.
"I will go," he said.
Everyone in the room went silent; some of them were impressed, some afraid, others were contemplating whether they should oppose such madness. And then another man stood--an eager young man with an agile form and shifty eyes.
"I'm with you," he announced.
Tom watched the scene with growing excitement. Then he began to write furiously in his notebook.
The two adventurers made an odd team--Sculken with his dark and frightening history of war, fighting alongside the Taskernavians in the deserts of Galtrus, the Plani in the swamps of Bilgur, and the Pitaelin in the rocky ruins of Lossaway...and then there was Tuck Milloe with his young heroics and beaming smile.
And now, here they were: partners. Prepared to trek into the great and dangerous unknown, to risk their lives for one another, to track the Children of the Prophecy to the depths of the deepest jungle before Jacob and Luna discovered the entrance to the King's Cavern...