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Bring Out Your Undead - Excerpt from The Baron's Heart

With Heroes of Ravenford Book 5 now done, I have mixed feelings as we hand it off to our editor. These last five years have been a true labor of love. These characters, based on friends and family, are near and dear to my heart. Thus, it makes it truly hard to say goodbye, even though I do intend to revisit them in a second series.

The original reason I started chronicling these adventures was to share the zany antics of the "Heroes" with other folks. A lot of truly funny and amazing things happened in our gaming over the years. Some of the more creative and outlandish events are directly taken from things that occurred in our sessions.

Still, the novelizations necessarily differ from the game in many respects. For example, the original name of the Heroes was "Knights of the Couch." Seth developed a proclivity to collect couches, of all things (we had just watched the first Family Guy Star Wars episode so I think that had something to do with it.) Anyway, whenever he saw one, he just had to have it. It truly became an obsession, one that eventually led to the name of the group.

When I started writing the novels, I nearly went with that title, but at some point I decided it was just a bit too over the top. While the characters are colorful and love to banter, this is not "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Anyway, Book 5 is now with Sandy and Shannon is working on the final cover. I know Sandy will have numerous edits for us, so we are planning on an August/September release of this last entry in the Heroes Series.

Still, for those of you who read this blog, you need not wait to read all of it. Once again, let's delve into another scene from the book. Last time we found out what happened when Seth and Aksel came face-to-face with an irate red dragon-mom searching for her lost child (see last month's blog entry.) It was a rather intense situation, one which they only survived through their wits and sheer luck.

This month, we'll jump ahead to what happens after their return to Ravenford. An old friend from Bendenwood shows up unexpectedly - the young druid, Raina. Raina relates a chilling tale of an undead outbreak that occurred in the nearby town of Twin Oaks. Though the outbreak was quelled, many folks died, and a few vampires escaped. The ever vigilant Raina tracked one of them to Ravenford.

Thus Seth and Aksel take up a new profession - vampire hunting! Not to be outdone, Andrella leads a second group with Kalyn and Raina also in search of their dangerous quarry. Let's end this month's blog with the excerpt that follows that second group. Enjoy and next month look forward to Seth and Aksel, Vampire Hunters!

Andrella and Kalyn walked silently side-by-side down the street, Gelpas and two guards keeping pace behind them while Raina took the lead.

Since Aksel and Raina both knew a similar spell that allowed them to track undead, they decided to split into two groups to cover more territory. Aksel, Seth, and company took the north side of the river, while Andrella, Raina, and Kalyn crossed the west bridge and took the south side of town.

Raina suddenly paused and lifted her hands, rolling her wrists in circles. White light filled her palms, encircling her weaving fingers. She closed her eyes in concentration, tilting her head as if she were listening to something.

Andrella took the opportunity to assess Raina’s attire. At first glance she thought it was worse than Kalyn’s. Yet, as she studied it, she noticed how well thought out each piece was. Every bead and leaf was strategically placed on the strange forest-like dress.

It was certainly not to Andrella’s tastes, but it was cute, and it fit Raina’s petite figure perfectly. Those red dreadlocks, though, would have to go.

“This way,” Raina pointed toward the river, looking back at them with a feeble smile. She paused when she met Andrella’s eye. She glanced down at her dress, then back up at Andrella, a puzzled expression in her green eyes.

“Is something the matter?” Raina asked.

Andrella quickly shook her head. “Oh no. Please, lead the way.”

Kalyn snorted as they started walking again. “Somebody is thinking about fixin’ something that ain’t broke.”

“I am not as predictable as you and Shalla think I am.” Andrella huffed.

Kalyn crossed her arms. “Sure yer not.”

Andrella crossed her arms as well and looked away.

The three of them walked down to the river, finally stopping in front of a riverside tavern.

“The presence leads inside here.” Raina pointed at the building, looking back at Andrella.

“This is Falcon Breem’s place,” Andrella frowned, “What would undead be doing here?” Falcon Breem and his wife were good folk, both dwarves, two of a few living in Ravenford.

Kalyn giggled. “I reckon even vampires need a good drink once in a while.”

Andrella smirked, then led the way up the steps and into the building. They were immediately met by a young dwarf wiping down tables. He paused and looked toward them.

“Hi there,” the words rolled from his tongue in a thick brogue, “What can I do fer ya?”

“Are you the manager of this fine establishment?” Raina asked.

The dwarf smiled at her and crossed his arms, puffing his chest out. “Aye! That I am, lassie. I must say, it ain’t often I see another reasonable sized person around these parts. All these humans are too tall! Are ya lookin’ for a job? I’ll set ya up with one in a heartbeat!”

Raina’s cheeks brightened. “No. I have a job already. I’m working for the baroness and Lady Andrella today.” At that, she motioned to the young lady behind her.

Andrella crossed her arms as the dwarf lowered his, her face forming a frown. “Alright, Keegan. The fun is over. We need to see the real manager, if you don’t mind.”

The dwarf sighed, “I try to make a good impression on a pretty girl, and it gets ruined every time.” He turned to leave, then paused, looking back at Raina. “Eh, ya wouldn’t happen to be single, would ya missy?”

Raina’s cheeks flushed brighter.

Andrella huffed, “Enough, Keegan! Bring Falcon to us right away!”

Keegan walked away, grumbling under his breath. “Can’t find a decent girl around this wee town to save my life. If they ain’t too tall, they’re working for someone who is…”

Kalyn chuckled. “I need to spend more time with short people like you, Raina! They’re funny!”

“I’m not that short.” Raina waved her hand dismissively.

“Not as short as Seth, you mean?” Kalyn’s lips curved to one side.

Andrella looked at the young druid, a thought occurring to her, “Raina, forgive my asking, but are you single?”

Raina looked sidelong at Andrella, a half smile on her lips. “Yes. But not for a dwarf like him!”

They all giggled.

“So, dwarves like Keegan are out of the question. What kind of man are you looking for?”

Raina shrugged, pulling at one of her dreadlocks. “Well, I guess I want what every other girl wants: someone kind, thoughtful, and hardworking. Being handsome is a bonus.”

Andrella’s smile grew. “Do you have a height limit?”

Raina giggled. “No, not really. Just an intelligence limit.”

“Doesn’t that disqualify all men then?” Kalyn scoffed.

Raina laughed, but Andrella nudged Kalyn in the arm, her eyes widening. “Not all men! Aksel is very intelligent.”

Kalyn shrugged. “You’re right. I guess Glo is pretty bright too.”

Andrella grit her teeth with a roll of her eyes, nudging Kalyn again, “But Aksel is very intelligent, and kind, and thoughtful, and hardworking.”

Kalyn stared at Andrella, clearly confused. After a moment, her face lit up and her eyes grew wide.

“Oh! Well… yes. Of course Aksel is super smart and... and… you can’t get much nicer than Aksel. He’s a real sweety, that one. I can’t figure why he’s still single.”

Andrella closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

What am I going to do with her?

Raina tilted her head just the slightest and raised an eyebrow at Kalyn. “I see.”

Presently, an older, balding dwarf came from the back room. He greeted Andrella with a wide, warm smile. “Lady Andrella! Glad ta see ya! What can I do fer ya? Anything at all, just name it.”

Andrella curtsied. “We are here on important business, Falcon. I don’t mean to cause any alarm, but this good druid has been sent by the Bendenwood council to investigate a delicate matter.”

The dwarf lost his smile and raised an eyebrow, but it was Kalyn who spoke up next. “Delicate? How is undead delicate?”

Andrella whirled around, clamping her hand over Kalyn’s big mouth. Thankfully, it was dinner time, and most people were home. Only a few patrons were in the tavern at this time, and most seemed content to mind their own business.

Kalyn’s eyes went wide as she mumbled into Andrella’s hand.

“Wub I shay?”

Falcon looked between Andrella and Kalyn, his eyes widening. “Undead?”

Andrella sighed, then responded in a hushed tone. “We don’t want to cause a panic, but there is a possibility that an undead creature has infiltrated our town. We intend to rout it before it can cause any trouble.”

Falcon stroked his long graying beard. He answered in a soft voice. “Might explain a few of the disappearances ‘round here, eh? Of course I’ll help you in whatever way I can. What do you need?”

Raina shifted on her feet, dropping her voice as well. “I’ve followed a faint undead presence here and can sense traces of it beneath us. Do you have a cellar?”

Falcon nodded, his face darkening. “Aye, that I do. I store the wine down there. KEEGAN!”

All the girls jumped when the dwarf bellowed the name.

There was a crash from the back room, followed by the younger dwarf stumbling out the door and rushing up to Falcon.

Falcon faced Keegan, placing his fists on his sides. “Just what have ya been storing in my cellar?”

Keegan shrank a couple of inches, his eyes widening. “Just the elf wine, Falcon. I swear I haven’t let the pig down there again. I learned my lesson the last time!”

Andrella bit the inside of her cheek, trying not to laugh.

Falcon’s shoulders tensed. “I’m not talking about that blasted pig! Have you completed the manifest of what’s down there, or did ya just store it and leave it, like always?”

Keegan’s cheeks brightened. “I-I… no sir, I haven’t finished the manifest yet.”

Falcon audibly growled, then stormed behind the bar. “Here! Take this!” He lifted a crowbar and tossed it at Keegan, who barely caught it. “We’re taking these young ladies down to the cellar to check it out. I want you to crack those crates open yourself, and if something jumps out all angry-like, I’m feeding you to it! Get goin’ lad!”

Keegan stumbled over his feet as he turned and hurried to the cellar door. He threw it open and hastily lit a lantern. Falcon followed him up to the door, a club in hand. He took the lantern from Keegan and turned to the girls.

“Follow us, if ya will. But keep a safe distance. Dwarves swing wide.” He wagged his club from side to side, then turned and marched down the stairs after the younger dwarf.

Raina hurried after him. Andrella followed her while Kalyn took the rear, drawing her bow.

The cellar was small compared to the rest of the tavern, only being half the size of the common room, if that. The walls were lined with shelves for wine and cheese, and two long crates sat near the door, stacked atop one another.

“I thought there were three crates?” Falcon’s tone was low and gruff.

Keegan nodded, raising his crowbar. “The third one is sitting behind those two.”

Falcon motioned for the girls to stay near the stairs, then the two dwarves crept forward. They split off and crept around the crates on opposite sides, disappearing behind them.

Raina raised her hands, her fingers glowing with a prepared spell. Andrella followed her example, reaching into a pouch next to her side and touching a powder, the incantation ready to fall from her lips at a moment’s notice. Kalyn moved past Andrella and raised her bow, arrow knocked. Andrella’s eye was momentarily drawn to a faint purple glow wrapping itself around Kalyn’s arrow like a snake. She briefly wondered what kind of magic Kalyn had hidden in her quiver, but she quickly refocused herself on the task at hand.

After a few breathless moments, Falcon’s booming voice startled all the girls again. “It’s empty! Too bad. I was lookin’ forward ta feeding ya to something vicious.” He reappeared from around the crates and waved the girls over, “Ain’t nothin’ dangerous here, but ya might not like what ya see.”

Andrella followed Raina around the crates, stopping short when her eyes fell on a broken one, a giant hole in the lid, the splinters jutting outward and lying around it on the floor.

Keegan tapped it with his crowbar, “Burst from the inside, I’d say.”

Falcon grunted. “Aye. Weren’t no wine in there, that’s fer sure.”

Raina knelt next to the crate and carefully inspected the edges of the opening. She reached inside the box and pulled out a handful of dirt. She frowned and waved her hand over the dirt, her fingers glowing. “Yes, the presence is strongest here.” Her brows formed into a line of concern as she looked at Falcon. “When did this shipment arrive?”

“Much to me chagrin, my wife has insisted I leave the inventorying to her nephew.” The older dwarf turned a stern frown in Keegan’s direction.

Keegan shrank back a few inches. “It, um, arrived two weeks ago… I was going to take care of it today, though!”

Andrella watched as Raina caught her breath, stiffening.

“Two weeks ago?” Falcon bellowed, “If ya weren’t me wife’s nephew, I’d call ya a lazy piece of slag for lettin’ this sit here that long!”

“What is the matter, Raina?” Andrella asked, drawing everyone’s attention to the druid.

Raina cast a worried glance at Andrella. “The undead I was following was only a few days old. If this arrived two weeks ago, then I’m afraid we have a much worse problem on our hands.”

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