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.
Terrin, 5 years earlier
“That’s enough for now,” Terrin murmured, pulling the shallow bowl of milk away, careful not to spill. The fox kit pressed its cold nose against Terrin’s other hand. She smiled and ran her fingers along its soft fur, stopping short of the blanket that covered its lower body.
“Well, with an appetite like that, you must be feeling just fine,” she said.
She had found the fox nearly starved to death, the rest of its litter already dead, a bit over a week ago. Either from luck or sheer stubbornness, it had recovered.
There was a slight rustle of cloth as someone entered. She could half guess who it was by the shadow he cast and the feeling of his presence.
“Can I pet it?” he said.
Sure enough, she recognized the warm voice. She glanced back and smiled, resisting the urge to jump up and hug the swamp man behind her.
“Zuen!” she said softly. This was the first time he’d stopped at her village since she’d returned from school.
The merchant knelt beside her and held out his hand towards the fox. Like all swamp-people, his skin had a gray complexion, but his hair was thicker than most. Laugh lines creased his face.
“I hear your brother has been helping you with this?”
“I’ve been doing most of the work, though.” Terrin raised her chin and grinned. “And she likes me best.”
“I’m sure,” said Zuen, laughing softly. “So, what have you learned since I last saw you?” He asked.
“Mostly math, and history.” Terrin wrinkled her nose.
“I thought you liked history.”
“Not the way they tell it,” she said. “It’s so dry. And we don’t get to languages till high school.”
She caught her hair and pulled it back from her face.
“I wish you taught there, Zuen. You would like Arnold and Chris.”
“I’m afraid that I would not fit in very well, though. And swamp tongue isn’t the most popular of languages. You’re rather unique in wanting to learn that.”
“I still wish you were there.” As far as she was concerned, he was a beehive of interesting knowledge.
She ran her hand along the fox’s fur.
Then she stood. “Can you teach me more words before you leave? Or tell me some stories?”
“Of course.” Zuen stood after her. “In fact, I was thinking I might even start you on some of the ancient dialect.”
In her excitement, she neglected to keep her voice low. The fox yipped, darting under its blankets. She quickly dropped back to her knees.
“I’m sorry, baby.” She reached a single finger gently under the covers. “I forgot myself. It’s okay.”
The fox’s nose peaked out, sniffing the air. Terrin slid her eyes shut and started singing softly. There were no real words to her song, just soft cooing sounds. She half-sensed, half-heard Zuen slip out of the room. She continued to sing, softly, focusing out all other sounds. The nonsense syllables came to her mind instinctively, forming a rhythm that reminded her of something, but she didn’t know what. Time ceased to exist as she shifted to that almost-unconscious state where one feels detached from the world.
Then something soft and wet bumped against her hands.
Her eyes slid open, and a smile spread over her face. The fox was pressed low, and its ears swiveled this way and that, but it was creeping into her lap. Slowly, she brushed her hand against its head. She continued to sing until it straightened its legs and bumped its head against her chest.
She laughed quietly, scratching the fox behind its ears.
“It’s your naptime,” she said after a minute. She reached to move the fox to its bed, but it turned and went on its own, tunneling under the blanket till just its nose peaked out.
As she stood, a tingle of pleasure ran up her spine.
Or was it pleasure?
Terrin’s head snapped up, but the tingling sensation was gone. She stood there for a moment, trying to remember exactly what she had felt.
Then she whispered to the fox, “I probably imagined that.”
Everything remained quiet in the dark house. She shrugged and turned to slip out the door. Zuen was waiting for her outside.
“You know,” he said, “if you were half as gentle with people as you are with that fox, you’d have a lot more friends.”
“Hmmph.” Terrin tossed her head. “And what would be the fun of that?”
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.