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.
Standing at the edge of a cliff, Terrin stared down on green trees that faded into the distance, so thick that you could hardly tell they were leaves and not grass. From up here, it didn’t look too spooky, but she knew this was the very edge of the Dark Forest.
To her right, a river rushed over the cliff and crashed down into a small clearing, but the sound seemed dull, muffled by a steady, buzzing hum. Below, a stream from the waterfall’s base flowed away into the trees.
Beside it lay a black body, cruelly twisted.
She was locked to the spot not by fascination with the body, but by the strange prickling sensation along her back. She had felt that cold tingle before.
Four spirits moved out from the trees, pale figures gliding towards the carcass. They formed a half circle around it. Then they looked up at her.
Even from this distance, she could tell they were smiling.
Terrin put her arm out, trying to reach something to steady herself against, but found nothing.
She couldn’t tear her eyes away, and though there were no words in the strange humming, she knew they were calling to her. They were pulling her forward, closer to the edge.
She felt her body sway forward.
Her mind screamed.
* * *
An insistent voice pulled her away from the cliffs and out of the dream. She woke to a headache and sore neck.
“It’s morning,” said Nora. She moved past Terrin, set a shallow wooden bowl on the small table, and then turned to Arnold’s side. Slowly she started to pull back the bandages, her every move filled with intent. “Good to see you both got some sleep.”
Terrin blinked, pushing away the dream — ineffectively — and rubbing at her temples.
“Not sure that was really sleep.”
Using her hands she popped her neck, and then moved to rolling her shoulders. The dream was still vivid behind her eyelids, but the movement seemed to help.
Nora pulled the last of the bandages away, dropped them across Arnold, and turned to the bowl. Terrin watched with minor interest as Nora pulled a half-submerged cloth from the thick liquid.
Sighing, Terrin stood and walked across the room, swinging her arm up as high as she could into the air. She paused in front of the door and concentrated on stretching. As she finished getting out her kinks, she turned back towards Nora.
The Yorc girl was holding Arnold’s arm in one hand, and the washcloth in another, but she stood stiffly, her eyes locked on the wound.
“Nora?” Terrin asked, quickly stepping back to Nora’s side. “What’s wrong?”
Nora shook her head with quick short jerks, then turned her head to look at Terrin.
“I think it’s infected.”
Terrin arched her neck to see the wound clearly over Nora’s shoulder, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Though the light was dim, she could see the heavy bruising around torn skin that opened to red, live flesh. Bile rose in her throat.
The cloth at the door rustled as Healer Koresh stepped into the medicine hut. Terrin backed away from the hammock to give him room. She felt the wall behind her and leaned against it, glad for the support.
Arnold flinched as the healer took his hand and ran a finger over the skin. Koresh lifted Arnold’s other hand off the bed and held it next to the wounded one, turning them to examine all sides.
Nora put a hand on Arnold’s forehead. “You have a bit of fever,” she said. “Your body is trying to fight the infection.”
“There is definite swelling here,” Koresh said. “We are fortunate, however, in that the redness has not spread far above the wrist.”
He bent over, holding Arnold’s hand near his nose.
Nora watched him, frowning.
He straightened up, met her gaze, and nodded.
“We have two options,” he said. “We could remove his hand now, and lose the minimal amount.”
Terrin squeezed her eyes shut.
“Or we could try to clean out the infection,” Koresh continued, “but risk losing more of the arm. In my own opin—”
“Do it now,” said Arnold, and even without seeing him, Terrin could tell there was fire in his eyes.
She turned and stumbled outside, but she couldn’t bear to go far. Clutching the doorway with one hand, she pressed her head against the wall of the medicine hut. The rough wood scraped her cheek.
“As I was saying,” continued the healer, obviously annoyed, “it is my opinion that, since our medicines have failed to stop the infection from setting in, we can hardly expect them to remove it. I understand that this might be hard to acce—”
This time, Nora interrupted him. “Okay, let’s get it over with. I’ll tie off his arm. Where is your bone saw?”
Terrin almost smiled as she imagined the healer’s frozen face. After all, it was one thing for an eighteen-year-old girl to have healing knowledge, quite another for her to be willing without hesitation to cut off her friend’s hand.
Then her stomach flipped.
What would happen now?
What if the operation went badly?
No, she thought. Just assume it will go well, and concentrate on the practicalities.
But those thoughts were no more encouraging: Once Arnold lost his hand, who knew when he’d be able to travel? How much could he do without a left hand? He was trained as a warrior, but how would he hold a shield?
Dyani came around the hut and took in the situation at a glance. She took Terrin’s arm and pulled her away.
“Come on, you should eat breakfast,” she said softly. “They will be busy, and you would be in their way.”
Terrin walked in a daze to Dyani’s cottage. She stared out the window while the forest woman fixed her a plate of steaming eggs and sliced venison and poured them both a cup of cool water. Her thoughts kept turning to what was happening to Arnold. Every time, her imagination pictured something worse.
“Arnold is obviously important to you,” Dyani said.
“He was my first friend among the plainsmen.”
Terrin met Dyani’s eyes and saw her concern.
The older woman reached across to pat Terrin’s hand. “Koresh knows his craft. He will take care of the boy.”
They sat in silence. Dyani sipped her drink while Terrin picked at the food.
“Koresh’s sleeping draught is strong,” Dyani said. “Arnold will sleep for several hours after they are done. You need to distract yourself. Maybe you should hunt, or—”
Terrin’s dream popped to mind, and she straightened up.
“I’m going to the cliff — the one by the Dark Forest.”
Dyani cocked her head. “I thought you hated it up there?”
“I’ve been having dreams about it, that’s all. I just … I have to go see. And it’s not like I’m needed here.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of visiting your parents. But if you feel this is important—”
“Will you tell the others where I’ve gone?” Terrin asked.
Dyani’s eyebrows rose, but she gave a slow nod. “Very well.”
Terrin shoveled the last bite of eggs down her throat and took a long drink of water. The thought of going near the Dark Forest, and the spirits who lived within, sent shivers down her spine. But the idea of investigating her dream gave her a sense of purpose, and she clung to that.
As she reached the door, she paused and turned to look back at Dyani. “Don’t mention the part about the dreams. Please.”
“Worried that they’ll think you’re insane?” Dyani smiled. “I will merely say that you felt inclined.”
Terrin returned the smile, but didn’t voice the thought that immediately crossed her mind: No, I’m not worried about what they will think. I’m worried because I think I’m insane.
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.