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My Little Red Dragon - Excerpt from The Baron's Heart

The first draft of the Baron's Heart is finally finished! Current page total stands at 417, a fitting amount to cram in all the adventure for the last novel in the Heroes series. The book will go to our illustrious editor, Sandy, by the end of the month. All in all, things are looking good for an end of summer release.

A lot happens in this last installment. The young heroes are up to their necks in danger after a great tragedy befalls the first family of Ravenford. The clock is ticking as they search for something which is vital to rectifying the horrific situation. Yet things are never that easy. There are monsters and evil beings standing in their way at every turn.

One such encounter nearly ends things for Aksel and Seth. The duo tracked some disturbing clues to the shady town of Vermoorden. From there, things go from bad to worse when an unexpected visitor shows up at their door. It will take some quick thinking and a lot of luck for the diminutive duo to survive this one.

Let's end this month's blog with that hair-raising excerpt. Enjoy! See you all again next month.

Aksel was worried. Night had fallen and there was still no sign of Seth.

The little cleric had returned to the deserted farmhouse a couple of hours ago. Martan had shown up shortly thereafter. The pair had compared notes, their findings confirming Aksel’s suspicions about the mayor.

Aksel now sat alone, Martan having gone to gather some firewood. A few red dragon scales laid spread out on the table before him. The little cleric tried to keep occupied by working on Lloyd’s new armor, but thoughts of all that had happened kept creeping into his mind.

Aksel had not shared with anyone his suspicions about the ghoulish ritual that had been performed on the Baron. If he were right, Gryswold’s spirit had been bound to the missing heart by magics dark and foul. If so, they had to recover the heart or the Baron’s very soul might be lost forever.

Finally giving up on the armor, Aksel sat back, his eyes wandering around the vacant home. The place was small, but comfortable, consisting of one large room that made up both the kitchen and the living area. Most of the furniture was gone, except for the table Aksel sat at and an old beaten up couch with a rickety end table beside it. A hallway led off to one side adjoining three small bedrooms to the main house.

Aksel’s lamp sat on the table in front him and Martan’s over on the end table, together illuminating the large room. The hearth behind him lay dark, waiting for the wood Martan had gone to fetch.

Aksel nearly jumped out of his seat when the front door flew open. He swung around to see Seth standing there, the halfling huffing as if he had run clear across town.

“Well it’s about time you showed up,” Aksel admonished him.

Instead of the typical snarky comeback, Seth merely slammed the door shut.

Aksel’s brow creased as he stood up. “What happened?”

“Stuff… with the… Assassins Guild…” Seth panted, taking a quick peek out the window.

Aksel strode across the room, narrowing an eye at his edgy friend. “That bad?”

“That bad,” Seth nodded without looking at him.

Seth’s strange behavior magnified Aksel’s own anxiousness. He had never seen the halfling in such a rattled state. Aksel placed a hand on Seth’s shoulder. It felt tense beneath his touch. “Come have a drink and you can tell me about it.”

Seth took one last look through the window, then followed Aksel back to the kitchen table. The pair sat down and Aksel handed him a canteen. The halfling took a long swig, then placed it down and let out a deep breath.

“So?” Aksel said impatiently.

There was a strange look in the halfling’s eyes. “Balmaroh’s been assassinated.”

Aksel felt a sudden sinking in the pit of his stomach. “But… I was just… with him…”

Seth’s eyes glowed with an odd intensity. “It only happened a short while ago.”

Aksel narrowed an eye at the halfling. Something was not right. “What aren’t you telling me? Did you see it happen?”

Seth’s expression grew pained. “Sort of…”

The look in his friend’s eyes sent a shiver down Aksel’s spine. “Seth… you didn’t...”

“Well…” Seth began, his eyes drifting away from Aksel’s.

A sudden knock on the door made both of them jump out of their seats. The pair exchanged a nervous glance.

“You expecting company?” Aksel asked.

“No,” Seth responded, sweeping his eyes around the room. “Where’s Martan?”

“Out gathering firewood,” Aksel told him.

There was another knock at the door, this one sounding more urgent. Aksel shrugged. “Guess we should see who it is.”

Seth ushered him forward. “You first.”

Aksel raised an eyebrow, then strode over to the front door. Seth followed, positioning himself so he couldn’t be seen through the doorway.

Aksel gave him a curious look, then opened the door. The light from inside fell on a tall figure garbed in dark red. Aksel’s eyes drifted upward to the face of a striking woman with flaming red hair.

The woman’s eyes drifted downward, regarding him with a cool stare. There was something vaguely familiar about her. When she spoke, there was an icy edge to her voice. "I'm looking for my son. Have you seen him?"

The hairs on the back of Aksel’s neck stood up. “I’m… not sure. Who is your son?”

“Oh, you’d know him if you saw him,” the woman said with confidence as she took a step forward through the open doorway.

Aksel unconsciously stepped backward. “Th—there’s no one else here but me and my friend.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” the woman replied, her tone assured as she continued to walk forward.

Aksel moved out of the way as she strode past him to the center of the room. Seth came out from behind the door and stood beside him, knife in hand.

Yet the woman paid them no heed as her eyes settled on the kitchen table. She strode purposely over to it and picked up one of the red scales lying there. The woman stood there a moment as if transfixed, then spun around, her face contorted with rage.

“Where’s the rest of him? Where is my son?” she screamed.

Aksel’s body began to shake with fear. The scales? Her son?

The blood drained from Aksel’s face as the realization set it. Yet before he could say a word, a knife flew across the room straight at the raging woman. At the same moment Aksel felt a hand on his arm dragging him backward.

“Run!” Seth cried as the woman abruptly began to glow.

Aksel felt numb as he watched the knife bounce harmlessly off the brightening form. Seth continued to pull on him, but Aksel’s feet were firmly rooted in place.

The glowing figure swelled in size, the neck elongating as two huge bat-like wings sprouted from its back, and a serpent-like tail extended out behind it. It grew so large that it burst through the roof, the entire house collapsing around them.

Everything went black till a roaring voice brought Aksel to his senses. “Give me the rest of my son!”

Aksel’s eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded him, a heavy weight pinning him to the ground. The little cleric twisted his body around—there was an opening in the rubble ahead of him.

Seth’s voice reached his ears. “I don’t have him.”

Aksel swiftly crawled out on his belly, then stood. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as they fixed on a frightening sight.

A huge dragon stood in the midst of what once was the small farmhouse. Easily fifty feet long, the creature was covered from the top of its serpentine neck to the tip of its long, sinuous tail in thick leathery scales that shown vaguely crimson in the pale moonlight. Long, tapered, bat-like wings extended from the dragon’s back, also pale crimson in color, though darker along the bottom edge.

Two massive horns swept back atop the skull, flanked by a pair of crimson-fringed ears. The head was capped by a backswept crest that ran down the neck and along the spine, all the way to the tip of its long, twitching tail.

Small flames danced across the beast’s nostrils and eyes. A forked tongue flickering in and out of its beaked snout between wicked dagger-like teeth.

The huge dragon held a tiny figure clutched in its giant claw.

The dragon lowered its head, its deadly teeth drawing within a few feet of the halfling. “Then who does?”

Aksel gulped at the horrifying sight, fear nearly overwhelming him once more. Yet Seth would be a goner if he didn’t do something quick.

Swallowing his fear, the young gnome pulled a bag from his belt and stepped out from behind the rubble. “He’s in here!”

The dragon swiveled its great head around, a pair of molten-colored glowing eyes fixing on the little cleric. Aksel felt his knees nearly buckle.

“Show me,” the dragon rumbled in a menacing voice that shook his very bones.

Aksel steadied his arm a few times before opening the drawstrings of the portal bag. Beads of sweat broke out across his brow as he rummaged around inside. He glanced up at the dragon and was sorry he did. The creature stared at him with such malevolence that Aksel nearly dropped the bag.

“Any day now!” Seth cried, still pinned in the dragon’s huge claw.

Abruptly, his hand brushed against something scaly. Aksel grabbed onto it and pulled with all his might. Whatever it was, the thing was heavy.

Aksel laid the bag down and stuck his other hand into it. With a mighty heave, he managed to pull out the tip of what he had found before losing his footing and falling to the ground. Before him lay the tip of a pale crimson tail.

The huge dragon roared. “Scortch! What have they done to you?”

The earth shook repeatedly as the huge dragon lumbered forward. Aksel swiftly scurried back as two giant claws reached down to claim the bag.

Seth tumbled to the ground a few feet from where Aksel lay. The halfling motioned for Aksel to move, then disappeared from sight.

Above him the huge dragon pulled the rest of her son’s body from the bag. She took the inert form and cradled it in her arms, crooning to it, “Scortch… Oh, Scortch…”

Ripping his eyes away, Aksel cast a quick spell to make himself invisible, then took off toward the nearby woods. He had barely reached the trees when a terrible roar erupted behind him.

Aksel turned to see a torrent of flame engulf what was left of the fallen farmhouse. It was so hot, he could feel the heat even from where he stood. Aksel fled further into the woods as sparks of flame flew in all directions. Behind him, the trees began to catch on fire.

There was another loud roar, and then a scarlet streak shot overhead, flames trailing behind it as it went.

Aksel ran head long into the forest, dodging and weaving through the trees. He finally stopped when he could no longer smell the burning woods behind him.

The little cleric laid his back against a tree and huffed as he tried to catch his breath. Abruptly something touched his shoulder. Aksel nearly jumped out of his skin.

“You alright?”

A familiar figure stood next to the little cleric—it was Seth. Aksel breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m fine. What about you?”

The halfling grinned, then winced and grabbed his side. “A broken rib or two, but otherwise fine.”

Seth suddenly spun around and crouched low, a knife appearing in his hand. Aksel froze in place as a dark figure emerged from the nearby brush.

“Easy, it’s me.”

It was Martan. Aksel let out another sigh as the tracker rejoined them.

Martan nodded toward the still burning forest half a mile or so behind them. “What in Thac happened back there?”

“A dragon happened,” Seth responded blithely.

“A dragon?” Martan parroted with more than a tinge of fear in his voice.

“It’s gone now,” Aksel reassured him. “Still, it wasn’t exactly happy with us. Probably best we put as much distance between us and Vermoorden as possible.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Seth said, still wincing a bit.

Aksel gazed at the halfling with concern. “Want me to fix that?”

Seth shook his head. “Later. Right now, less talking and more walking.”

As luck would have it, their mounts had bolted into the woods, escaping the dragon’s wrath. The dogs soon sniffed them out and led them to Martan’s horse.

Mounted again, the trio took off across the fields away from Vermoorden, their eyes constantly scanning the skies above.

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