She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.
As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.
So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.
What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?
Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.
Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.
Terrin crashed through the bushes, thorns scratching at her arms and legs. She stumbled forward as her foot dropped farther than she expected.
She caught herself against the ground with her hands, pulling herself forward. Though she was only eight years old, growing up in the forest had made her agile. She was up and running again in a second, barely breaking her stride.
Underfoot, twigs and leaves crackled. Behind her she could hear a thump, thump, thump and the snapping and scratching of twigs against scales as something large leaped through the underbrush.
Wraiths were normally shy creatures. Why was this one so aggressive?
She ignored the cramp that stabbed at her, the sweat stinging her eyes, and the pain in her chest as she gasped for air, struggling to pick her feet up higher and clear the plants that reached to tangle her ankles.
She burst into an unfamiliar clearing and paused, looking around. The ground dropped away in front of her, how far down she couldn’t see. She was surrounded by woods except for a gap between the trees and the cliff. A river to her right fell off into a waterfall, but Terrin could barely hear it over her own pounding heart.
She turned away from the stream, forcing her weary legs to move. But she was too slow, and before she had taken a step, a great weight slammed into her. She let out a cry as she fell forward to the ground.
Something warm touched the back of her neck.
“Help, help, someone help me,” she yelled.
But the forest people never wandered this close to the Dark Forest. Here the woods were cold and unwelcoming.
There would be no one to help her.
The pressure on her back eased enough for her to roll and face the beast. All she could see was its flat, black head and those huge golden eyes with slit pupils, watching her. Its mouth lolled open, pink against the dark skin, and the white teeth dripped with dark gray saliva.
She heard its scaly skin ripple as it crouched closer to her. Its tongue ran over its teeth, and its nostrils flared so wide that Terrin could have almost fit her hand in them.
Then the beast turned its gaze to the left and growled, its nostrils narrowing to slits.
It spun and leaped away, its long, thick tail swinging only inches above her head. The tail disappeared from above her, and she sat up enough to watch as it cleared several bushes. Despite the scales and the lizard-like head and tail, the creature moved more like a huge cat. She supposed its ability to blend with the shadows had earned it the name wraith.
She hoped her father was okay. He had been teaching her to track when they sighted the wraith and stopped to watch it for a while. Even though they lived in the forest, wraiths were rare and usually avoided people.
Then the beast had spotted them and attacked.
Her father had ordered her to run, and she’d obeyed too quickly to see what he had done. But surely he was all right, surely he’d come and find her, and perhaps he would know why the wraith had acted strangely.
Exhausted by the breakneck run and fear, Terrin felt herself fading into darkness. She struggled weakly to stay awake.
Through the fog of weariness, she noticed the silence.
That was odd.
The forest glimmered with a reddish shade that meant the sun was setting, but where were the cheerful chirps of birds and the rustle of grass as creatures ran to and from their dens? There was nothing, as if some sort of void had sucked away all the life of the forest.
Not even the buzz of bugs stirring about.
And she could barely feel the breeze against her skin.
A tingle ran up her spine, but at the same time it was as if the tingle was floating off to her left.
It was … magic?
Groaning, Terrin pushed herself to a sitting position. She froze as she met the eyes of a pale, rose-colored ethereal being, floating an inch off the ground at the edge of the clearing. As she stared into its blank eyes, a strange humming started.
The thing approached with gliding strides, just short of the grace of floating, and the tingling sensation grew stronger, like hundreds of pinpricks in her back.
Terrin fought back tears of fear. She was a forest girl, and she refused to cry.
The being stretched out a hand toward her, and the humming rose in pitch as the thing’s fingers brushed against her cheek. The tingling turned into a chill. Her body locked up. Her instincts told her to run, or defend herself, but she could only tremble.
She realized that this must be a spirit. Raw magic, without need of a magician to uphold it.
Some said that spirits were the souls of strong magicians who had been especially close to nature. But Terrin knew now they couldn’t be — there was nothing human about this creature. Those empty eyes confirmed what the freezing sensation already told her.
Spirits were evil.
Terrin cried out for help again, positive that the ethereal monster would devour her soul.
An answering call came from the forest, “Terrin, Terrin?”
She recognized her father’s voice and screamed her reply. “Father! Father, quickly.”
The spirit withdrew its hand and turned its shimmering head towards the sound of twigs and leaves snapping under foot. Her father crashed into the clearing, panting. The spirit took a step back, then turned and rushed into the woods. Terrin was sure that the thing really was floating this time.
She scrambled to her feet and grabbed her father’s hand. He pulled her close, his hug chasing away the chill.
“F-Father, did you see it? It tried to eat me.”
“I saw the wraith. It’s gone now. You don’t need to worry about it anymore.”
“No, Father, the spirit. Did you see the spirit?”
Tears pounded at the back of her eyes, but she held them back with slow, trembling breaths.
“No, honey, I didn’t see the spirit.” He frowned and knelt to her level. “Was there one?”
“Yes. It was horrid.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ll be fine now, my girl. Come on, let’s go home. We’re late and your mother will be worried,” he said. But he was still frowning as he hugged her again, his hand running through her tangled hair.
She leaned against her father as they walked, still sore from her run earlier. But she was of the forest tribe of Xell, and she would not show weakness. Not until she was home, anyway.
Terrin glanced at her hands. They still had dried blood on them, from her fall, but there was no sting. Frowning, she gave them a closer examination.
The scrapes had already healed.
Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via 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.