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.
Chris turned towards the girl. She looked familiar, but if he took time to remember why, it might be too late. She was going to kill the two men behind him, and it was his responsibility to protect them. He strode towards her across the courtyard. She backed away to the gates, but they were closed. In a moment he was next to her, wrapping his hands around her neck and squeezing.
He wouldn’t kill her — he didn’t have time for that — but he had to put her out of action. She gasped and kicked at him, trying to say something. Behind him someone started screaming, but he ignored the sound. He knew the girl’s two partners were also a threat, but she was the greatest danger. He had to take her out first.
Water splashed over the back of his head, and he kicked backwards. Someone gasped in pain, and the screaming stopped. He moved farther away, dragging the girl with him. Her eyes went wide, and she kicked at him, trying to twist away. Someone grabbed at him, but he tightened his grip. She was going limp now, her strength almost spent.
Then a blade cut at his shoulder. He dropped the girl and turned around, ready to fight, but there was nothing there, just whiteness. It seemed as if the girl had been his anchor, for now he was weightless, detached from the world. Even the hands that had grabbed him were gone. He kicked, as if trying to swim, but he was losing control, falling through a white mist.
Then he landed, and pain lurched through his arm. He gasped and blinked. Nora was scrambling away from him. Terrin dropped a bloody dagger and grabbed Nora’s arm, helping her up. Arnold was running towards them from the lake, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
He looked around to see what the problem was, but saw nothing that indicated danger. What he did see was that there was a knife wound in his shoulder, and he felt it, too.
Arnold crouched beside him. “It’s all right, now,” he said. “He’s awake.” Then he helped Chris up, careful not to touch his wounded arm.
Chris asked, “What happened?”
Terrin was the one who answered. “You tried to strangle Nora, that’s what. You nearly killed her!”
He stared forward without seeing more than a blur. He realized that he must have been acting out the dream, and Nora had gotten in the way. In fact, everything happening in the dream had been semi-real. Near his feet, he saw a deflated water skin on the ground. Terrin must have dumped it on him when she saw what was happening. And the invisible arms, the cut, the bloodied dagger — it had all been Terrin trying to get him to let go of Nora.
And he had nearly strangled her.
The world spun around him, and he lurched free of Arnold.
Terrin was talking again. “What has gotten into you, Chris? Ever since the harpies, you’ve been off in your own world. You need to let go, and we need to go back to our original plans. You’re on a goose chase. This whole thing smells of magic, and that’s never good.”
He looked at the ground, his thoughts reeling through his head. Terrin was right, even if he continued following this thing, which he somehow knew he had to, they shouldn’t be here. Why had he let them come in the first place? Why hadn’t he fought them harder?
“Go home, now, all of you,” he said. “Nora, go get in that college of yours, Arnold, go slay some dragon. Terrin, we all know you belong in a forest. Go home. Terrin’s right, this is my quest. You should have never come.”
Nora ran into him with a force that made him stumble backwards. He looked down and was surprise to see she had her head buried deep in his chest and her arms tightly around his waist. Her shoulders shook, showing that she was crying.
Terrin stood frozen in place. Arnold’s mouth was slightly opened, and his eyes more so.
Chris looked down at Nora, and his mind felt like a muddled mess, and he didn’t know what to do. He had never seen Nora cry before, none of them had that he knew of.
A half minute of stillness passed, and then Nora’s arms loosened and she moved away, her face tear-stained. She rubbed at it with her sleeve, then said, louder and clearer than he would have suspected, “I’m okay now. It’s Chris we should be worrying about.” She gestured to his reddened sleeve.
Terrin nodded slowly, and picked up the water skin, going to the lake to refill it, grabbing her dropped blade as she went, seeming a bit in a trance. Arnold hovered for a second, while Nora dug in her pack for bandages, then he drifted away, to watch from a distance.
Chris tried to take care of the wound himself, brushing Nora away. But after it became evident that using his left hand to awkwardly bandage his shoulder wouldn’t work, he gave up and let her tend to it.
Deep in thought, he argued with himself. It was too dangerous, dragging his friends along on this quest. Had he really been so desperate not to be alone that he had only made a show of protesting?
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.