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.
Great. How had he forgotten that there was a waterfall here? Was there even supposed to be a waterfall here? Chris shut his eyes trying to remember back to geography lessons. But all he could see, or rather hear, was a little voice saying, Terrin would know.
He glared inwardly at himself. Terrin was exactly where she should be — on her way home, away from danger.
Besides, of course the waterfall was supposed to be here. It wasn’t like someone could magically move a river this big, just to block his way. Still, he was beginning to wonder if Nora had been right when she said all four of them would be needed for this quest. He had not had another dream since just after finding the second riddle, and the riddle itself made no sense to either him or Thomas.
It’s too late now, he thought. I’ll just make the best of it.
“We’ll rest here for a while,” he said. “Then we can head upstream to find a ford.”
“Very well,” Thomas said, and they both dismounted. “I’d say it’s about lunch time, wouldn’t you?” he added as he bent to hobble his horse.
Chris glanced at the sun. “A bit past, by the time it’s prepared. And this is as good a place to stop as any.”
“Best we hurry then. I’ll fetch the firewood.”
Chris stared across the river. The water shone as it rushed along towards the drop, and he imagined the fall must look beautiful from down below. Fetching their water skins, he knelt to fill them while Thomas gathered wood for a fire.
“I’ll make a stew,” Chris called over his shoulder.
Cooking wasn’t a talent of his, but the old man had decided he should learn. He cleared a spot for the fire and set up the pot holder Thomas had brought with him. He pulled some jerky from his saddlebag and began to cut it into bite-size chunks.
Thomas dropped an armful of wood and came to look over his shoulder.
“Looks tasty,” Thomas said. “I saw a bit of a pool upstream. Should be able to get some cattail roots. Not quite potatoes, but they’ll do.”
Chris nodded without looking up.
Ha, he thought. Here he was: banished, traveling off-road, avoiding towns, knowing that anyone he met could hand him over to be locked away or worse. Yet he had time to be schooled in the ways of cooking. That would have made Arnold laugh.
He turned his attention to starting the fire.
The stew had just started to simmer when he heard a low growl and looked around. Thomas stood at the edge of the clearing, his feet covered in mud and his arms filled with roots. He was staring west, the way they’d come, where something moved in the undergrowth just inside the forest.
Chris gasped as the beasts crept into the light, crouching low in the long grass, the tips of their thick tails twitching back and forth. Yellow, cat-like eyes caught the light, almost glowing against the black skin.
“Wraiths,” he said, remembering the name from his time at school.
The middle one paused, drawing in a long breath. Then it let out a growl.
Slowly reaching down to grab the sword at his waist, Chris stared back at the creatures and swallowed. He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of stabbing through those scales.
The middle wraith seemed to be the leader. It glanced at Thomas for a moment, and then turned back to Chris, once again pulling in a long breath.
Then it leaped.
As the beast sailed through the air, front legs stretched out to show long, curving claws, Chris dived away from the fire. The wraith landed where he had been. It snarled and turned towards him, showing its sharp white teeth.
Chris’s sword had landed beneath him when he fell. Before he could free it, the wraith lunged at him, claws lashing towards his face.
Thomas charged into the wraith with his shoulder, knocking it off balance, buying Chris enough time to get to his feet. But little more, for a second wraith was racing towards them.
Chris tugged his sword from where it had stuck in the ground and spun to face this new attack. The creature was almost on him, and as he turned, his sword hit it across the nose. It barely made a scratch, but the wraith pulled up short, shaking its head.
He struck again, this time aiming for the eye, but the beast ducked surprisingly flat to the ground and then lunged forward. Chris dodged left and swung his sword at its neck. The sword bounced off the hard scales, and in return the beast’s tail whipped around and struck him in the side, knocking him back to the ground.
His side throbbed as he scrambled to a crouch, turning towards the wraith. The wraith was standing over him, its paw posed to strike. The claws were clearly visible, as was a thin webbing between the toes. Chris struck quickly, cutting at the webbing.
The wraith pulled back and hissed, and Chris rose to his feet, striking again across the nose with all the force he could muster. It backed away, stumbling and shaking its head, spraying drops of blood.
Scanning the clearing quickly, Chris spotted Thomas in battle with both of the other wraiths, showing amazing nimbleness. But he was being pushed back toward the river, and Chris could see a bad scratch on his cheek.
Then one of the wraiths stumbled into the fire, and as it flailed in pain, its tail struck the stew pot, sending it flying towards Chris.
He dodged away from the scalding liquid and found himself once again face to face with the wounded wraith. It snapped at him, and he stepped backward. It swung its claws and again he moved back. When the beast lunged again, he jumped to the right, but he had forgotten the flailing tail, which caught his legs and knocked him sprawling to the ground.
Momentarily stunned, he lay gasping on the ground, unable to lift his head more than a few inches. A clawed paw pressed against his right shoulder, pinning him down. Pain shot through his arm, and he was sure his old cut had reopened. He could feel the wraith’s breath as it sniffed at his left ear. He jerked his left arm back and felt his elbow connect with the beast’s great head. The weight of the wraith’s paw lightened just enough for Chris to drag himself free.
As he slid, he twisted back and struck his fist against the beast’s jaw. It reared its head, hissing. Chris scrabbled backward. The beast shook its head, but the dazed look passed quickly. Its muscles tensed to lunge again.
And then an arrow struck the soft, loose skin that Chris supposed was part of its ear.
The wraith made a loud sound, something between a hiss and a howl. Its head whipped around to face the new attacker, and Chris couldn’t help following its gaze.
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.