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.
Terrin flinched away from the cold, stony wall of the passage. This whole place was filled with magic, and the farther they went, the stronger it got. The others walked ahead of her, though the horses seemed a bit uneasy.
She stopped. There was a tremor in the magic, rushing towards them quickly. The green mist responded to it, all seeming to gather into a giant wave.
Nora and Arnold stopped, too. Though they couldn’t sense the magic very well, they could see the mist. The horses pulled back a bit, and Minty whinnied loudly.
Terrin moved closer to Leaf, running her hand along her neck as the mist engulfed them. The ground shook, and a few loose pebbles fell from the wall, and the sound drowned out everything else, but it was gone quickly. Nora coughed a bit. Other than that it did no harm except that when it passed, it left them with only the one torch that Arnold held. The green light was gone.
Terrin shuddered. She hated magic. Often as not, stand-alone magic meant spirits. She had encountered a spirit once, its cold clammy fingers wrapping around her arms — just a wisp, and yet solid. And that wail, a bone-chilling wail that no doubt was calling other spirits. She was sure it would have killed her, had her father not showed up and chased it away. Since then, she had been afraid of the airy beings and anything related to them, including magic.
Nora shrugged. “Let’s keep going. Who knows what that was caused by? It could be perfectly normal. And if it isn’t, and if Chris is in here, then he could be in trouble.”
Arnold led them deeper into the mountain. They crowded close to the glow of the torch, which seemed even dimmer now that the mist was gone.
Soon the tunnel opened out into a large cavern mostly filled by a huge, bowl-like depression. Occasional trickles of water ran down its sides towards a large pillar in its center, topped by a statue of two dolphins. A bit of the green mist clung to the ceiling, and the magic felt thicker than mud, yet somehow fragile.
Rich snorted and pulled back, then shook his head and tried to plunge forward into the bowl. Arnold held him steady and said, “Shhh, Rich, shhh. It’s okay. Quiet, boy.”
However, the other horses now started to prance to and fro, mostly trying to go into the bowl. Nora gave the slope a cursory glance and started carefully down, leading Minty.
“Hey, Nora. Are you sure that’s safe?” called Arnold.
She glanced back and shook her head, then continued on.
Terrin hesitated a second, then started after her.
“Come on, slowpoke,” she called back, grinning.
But she kept a careful eye on her footing, as the side was pretty steep. She let Leaf go on ahead, and the horse easily found the safest path, which she cautiously followed.
At the bottom, the horses went to the pillar and snorted, pawing the ground. When she caught up, Terrin saw a staircase going further down. It was dark down there, but at least there wasn’t any magic on the stairs.
“Why not?” she said, and started down, knowing that Nora would have done it if she hadn’t.
She was comforted by the clop-clop of the horses behind her. Their horses might be well-trained and trusting, but they wouldn’t endanger themselves. And this had all been their idea in the first place. Right?
The stair wound down, but the turns were gradual enough that the horses could make them. Terrin’s biggest worry was that the tunnel would get too tight. If they reached an impasse, it wouldn’t be easy getting the horses back out.
Still, she thought, we made it over that horrid ledge. How much worse could this be?
Then a breeze blew through, and she flinched.
That couldn’t be natural, she thought. We’re too far beneath the surface of the mountain for any wind to reach.
She swallowed, her throat tightening. But there was no sense in stopping here and letting the magic pin them in. She plunged down the last few steps. A small but swift-flowing stream blocked her path, coming from somewhere in the darkness to her left and disappearing again to the right.
As the others caught up, Arnold’s torch lit the area beyond the stream, and Terrin gasped. The passage opened up into a chamber the exact same size and shape as the one in the harpies’ valley. Even the stone in the middle was the same, carved and looking mysterious.
But there was no sign of Chris. Her shoulders slumped a bit with disappointment.
She waded into the stream. The current was stronger than she expected, but she held steady. They crossed without trouble and gathered around the carved stone.
Surely they were on the right track — the stone was obvious proof of that. This had to be the place Chris had been trying to find. But had he come here? And if so, where was he now?
She looked at the words carved on the stone but could make no sense of them.
She glanced at the others. “Can either of you…?”
“No,” they both answered, looking at the text.
Then she lightened up a bit, pointing to a rounded tunnel on the far side of the room. It, too, looked exactly like the passage in the harpies’ valley.
“Come on,” she said. “There’s not much point to staying here. He probably went through that tunnel.”
She could see a hint of light farther down the passage — and not the greenish magic light of the cavern above, but a dim yet cheerful reddish glow, like the reflection of a sunset.
The tunnel led them to a cluster of bushes, with several rocks scattered around. Squeezing through, they stepped out into a clearing with soft, green grass and trees. They were about midway up the mountain, and they could see the sun setting behind the mountains to their left. Below them, the valley they had been camping in was deep in shadow.
To their right, a path weaved down the eastern side of the mountain. Terrin walked toward the path and saw hoof prints in the dirt.
“I’d say we’re on the right track,” she called to her friends. “It’s strange, though. There’s a pair of horses.”
Nora cocked her head. “Does that mean he picked up another traveling companion? Where?”
Arnold smiled. “Well, when we catch up, we can scold him for being over-protective of his friends and then picking up random strangers. How recent are these tracks?”
“Earlier today, I think.”
“Then we’ll catch up in no time.”
“But I suppose,” said Nora, “that we ought to make camp here and wait till morning to get started.”
The others reluctantly nodded.
To be continued….
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.