More books by Paul Maguire: Professor Atlas and the Summoning Dagger, Kid in Chief, Professor Atlas and the Jewel of Enlightenment, The Genie Loophole

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$14.95 / Perfectbound
ISBN: 9781457505096
220 pages

$3.99 / e-Book
ISBN: 9781457505973

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Excerpt from the Book
Prologue: 1342

THE OLD MAN stands silently atop a pile of rubble. As he stares into the empty horizon, he thinks about the incredible contrast between what this land once was and what it has become.

Just over six short years ago, it was a bustling village. Every day, the air was filled with the sounds of a thriving community. Children laughed, horses brayed, men argued… something interesting was always happening. The paths leading through the marketplace were lined with dozens of vendors’ stalls. In these stalls, one could find all he ever needed: bread, meats, vegetables, blankets, toys, clothing, tools… all of the comforts of civilized life.

The old man looks down and examines his worn and sooty robes. What was once a luxurious midnight blue garment is now fading, and in need of mending. It is barely enough to protect him from the chill of a relentless wind that rolls across the plain, a harsh reminder that there are no longer any walls to provide shelter.

The sadness in the old man’s heart swells as he surveys the ruins scattered around him. As far as his eyes can see, there is nothing but rocks and weeds, enveloped by a swirling morning mist. The sky, as if to reflect the old man’s mood, is a washedout expanse of dull grayness. Stroking the snowy white beard that reaches the middle of his chest, he tries to remember the village he once called home.

Here once stood a cathedral, with its towering spires and beautifully detailed stonework. Behind him is the area where a cluster of peasant homes, simple yet secure and warm, stood. And at the far end of the village was the castle: a fortress, a symbol of power and majesty. It was a massive structure that boldly proclaimed authority, poised to defend its inhabitants from anybody foolish enough to question its might.

The castle was once a home, too. It was the residence of Alistair, Duke of Hallswich, and his family. It also housed the duke’s many servants, including the old man himself. Now the entire marketplace, the cathedral, the modest homes, and the castle are gone, wiped from the face of the Earth, due to the foolishness of a few stubborn men.

In the days immediately following the great conflict that had destroyed everything, looters scoured the land. Hundreds of men and women dug through the wreckage, searching for anything that might be of value. During that time, the old man was busy tending to the needs of the lost and the wounded. One day, upon returning to his makeshift tent, he made a horrific discovery. The looters had been there, and they had taken everything. Enraged, he shouted, “No-o-o-o-o-o!” at the top of his lungs. He raised his fists in the air and cursed himself for being so careless. Almost all of his possessions were gone, but only one item truly mattered to him. It was the source of all of his power: the Dragon’s Teardrop.

Not long after that, everybody left, seeking a new life elsewhere. The wasteland had been picked clean, and there was no longer any reason to stay. The old man remained, though, hoping desperately that the Dragon’s Teardrop was still buried in the rubble. Perhaps the thief might have accidentally dropped it. For six years, he spent all of his waking hours searching for the Teardrop, as it had supplied all of his wisdom and all of his remarkable abilities for many decades prior. Without it, he started to feel like an ordinary man.

A lone falcon’s cry pulls the old man from his daydream about better times. He looks up at the bird and sighs with a scratchy voice, “You won’t be finding any mice here, my friend. Best be moving on now.” As if it understands the old man’s words, the falcon obediently tilts its wings and veers off, setting a course for more promising terrain. “Moving on…” the old man repeats quietly, a faint smile beginning to play across his lips. “Time to take your own advice, Mercastus.”

Reaching behind himself, Mercastus grasps a cold, black metal handle protruding from the back of his soft, faded leather belt. Carefully, he withdraws the blade and holds it up so he can admire its perfect condition. He was carrying the dagger when his tent was robbed, fortunately, so the looters were unable to claim it. Over the years he spent alone, the old man took very good care of this, his last earthly possession. The weapon, never once used to inflict harm on a living being, is a shining work of art. It is the only bright point in a land otherwise stripped of beauty.

Directly addressing the blade, Mercastus whispers hoarsely, “My years of searching now come to a close. I must face the truth: the Dragon’s Teardrop is lost. Along with it, what was left of my power is gone. Time is finally catching up with me. I am growing weaker by the day. You have served me well, my companion, and I now bestow upon you what is left of my strength. I hope with all of my heart that my efforts are well placed in you, and that you will rescue our land from its present state of destruction.”

The old man crouches into a squatting position, lowering the dagger almost to the ground. He closes his eyes and gently kisses the blade. He tightens his grip on the handle and tenses every muscle in his body.

With a sudden burst of strength, he springs into the air while heaving the weapon above his head, and releases it. The clouds break at that very moment, and the sun glistens brilliantly off of the spectacular steel blade. Light is thrown in every direction as the knife slices through the air, spinning end over end.

Boulders grind against each other, making a brash scraping sound. The ground directly beneath the twirling, sparkling wonder opens up. By the time the blade begins to fall, there is a large hole among the rubble. Finally, with a blinding flash, a sharp crackling sound, and a blast of moist heat that travels toward Mercastus and soothes his raw skin, the dagger plummets heavily and is swallowed up in the pit.

The old man pauses for a moment with his hands on his hips. He feels more relaxed than he’s been since before the great conflict. Once again, he lowers himself to the ground, but this time he lies down all the way and falls into a deep sleep.