All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.
But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.
Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.
Arnold swung off Rich and drew his sword, instinctively wrapping the reins around the horn of his saddle so they wouldn’t tangle Rich’s legs. Rich trotted to the back of the cave, the most shadowed part, as far away from the harpies as he could get.
Arnold noticed out of the corner of his eye that Chris had also dismounted, and Marc was following Rich. Down the hill, Terrin and Nora were hurrying to the top. Arnold shouted, “Let your horses loose. You’ll do better separate from them.”
Harpies were among the most common magical creatures — and one of the most dangerous. They had bat-like wings that spanned at least eight feet and humanoid upper bodies. They wore dark purple robes, which swirled around their torsos like smoke. Their eyes and hair were the same purple color, and the latter fell in thick waves and curls around their childlike faces. Their legs were covered in feathers and ended with talons big enough to latch onto an ox. As large as harpies were, the talons often seemed too big for the rest of their bodies.
Arnold pulled his shield off his back. It had once held an emblem of two spears crossed behind a sword, the symbol of North Raec. Now it had a plain, silver-gray cotton cloth over it. It made him sad to hide the fine glint of metal that had always made him feel fierce in battles.
Squinting into the bright noonday sun, he could see the harpies descending. In this clan there were five adults, full-sized and deadly, and three children, who were a bit smaller and less lethal, but still dangerous. Plus the adults would be more aggressive to protect their young.
He took a firm grip on his sword and shouted, “Niarrg!” It was pure nonsense, but he made it sound fierce as he waved his sword and slipped into a loose battle stance.
The harpies swooped towards him, and he leaped back, drawing them away from where the path joined the hollow, just as the girls appeared.
Chris shouted, too, and moved to the other side. Four of the creatures, three adults and one child, went after Chris, and the rest followed Arnold.
A harpy screeched. The sound was hawk-like, but much more terrifying, perhaps because that innocent-looking face turned out to have a mouth full of shark-like teeth. The shriek sounded like a mocking battle call that made the beasts seem more intelligent than they probably were. Arnold did his best to ignore the screech, but it somehow burned, like being stabbed with an icicle. Only this was all around, enveloping you.
He slashed at a diving harpy, and danced to the side at the same time. The beast swerved and spun away, but recovered quickly, still undamaged except for a barely-noticeable tear in the gauzy material of its robe.
Two of the children grabbed his shield and pulled, which surprised him a bit. He heard a ripping sound as their talons broke through the cloth, and a horrible high-pitched sound of their claws against the metal. Their wings flapped wildly, tangling with each other and hitting Arnold’s face.
He swung his sword in front of him and saw blood spill from a cut in one’s stomach, and the other was flying lopsided as they retreated.
A large talon sunk painfully into his back. Arnold jerked forward, and then stabbed over his head. The harpy let go, but only to shift its grip. Another was closing in fast, and the first pulling upward as if to fly off with him. Arnold turned on the ball of his foot, leaning heavily to the side, before the incoming one reached him. The creatures collided, and he was released. He fell to the ground with a clattering thud, his shield pressing painfully against his rib.
Gasping for breath, he rolled over so that his shield was on top. As he did, he saw Terrin with a bow and arrow, standing slightly in the cave, with Nora pressed against the wall behind her and next to the horses.
Chris, he noticed, was missing.
His two attackers circled above him, screeching, their wings causing shadows to dance over him. Between the blinding sunlight and the loss of blood from his back wound, he decided this fight didn’t look promising. And, he noted with disgust, this blasted noise is giving me a headache.
The two harpies dived, and he rolled away. He clambered to his feet and took another fighting stance. His head may hurt, but he could still swing his sword.
The creatures had expected the move and were skimming the ground towards him. A couple yards away, one flew up and circled around, and the other let its back claws touch the rock. The scraping sound was horrible, adding to the continual screech.
Arnold charged, fighting the urge to put his hands to his ears. He wasn’t sure what happened next, but he heard Nora shout, which turned into a scream.
He felt a blazing pain as talons sunk into his shoulders. He was pulled into the sky, still trying to slash at his opponent, and the harpy released him. As he fell, something went by, buffeting him, and his sword was torn from his hand. Then the claws grabbed him again, pulling his fall up short with a slight jerk.
He heard a sickening silence. Nora had stopped screaming.
Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover art copyright © Anton Tokarev / DepositPhoto.com, and Christian Joudrey / Unsplash.com
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.