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 pushed open the cloth doorway, stepping through first and holding it open for Chris and Thomas to follow. As the door fell shut behind him, Chris blinked rapidly to adjust to the barely lit room. Before he could make out more than dark shapes, he heard a cry of, “You found him!” and boots hitting the floor. Then someone was lifting him in a massive hug.
“Stop, Arnold! You’ll hurt yourself.” That was Nora’s voice.
Chris dropped back to the floor. Now he could make out Arnold backing away, his face split ear to ear with a giant smile. Nora sat in a chair next to a swaying hammock, where he supposed Arnold had been sitting. Her eyes were round with amazement, but she had tilted her head so that her long hair hid most of her face.
“Arnold. Nora.” Chris spoke slowly, rubbing the palm of his hand against his pant-leg.
At least no one else had punched him. Yet.
“How did you find him, Terrin?” asked Arnold.
“In mortal danger.”
“And I missed it? Pity.” If possible, he grinned more. But then the smile faded a bit. “Who’s the friend?”
“This is Thomas,” Chris said. “Thomas, this is Arnold and Nora.”
As the three exchanged greetings, Chris stammered his apology to Nora and Arnold. His eyes dropped a bit, and he froze.
“Arnold, your hand.”
Arnold glanced at his stump.
“This? It’s nothing. Ran into some wolves coming down the mountain. Bit of a bite. Got infected, that’s all.”
“That’s all? You lost your hand?”
“Bites fester quickly,” said Thomas. “He could have lost his whole forearm.”
Nora and Arnold both looked at Thomas, and Chris quickly explained. “Thomas is a healer.”
“Was,” Thomas amended for him.
Arnold opened his mouth, but Terrin cut in.
“So, Chris, could you read the stone?”
“You found it?” Chris said, somewhat surprised. He would have thought the cave nigh impossible to find. Then again, how else would they have known he was headed into the forest? They must have followed his trail.
“It looked like complete and utter gibberish,” said Arnold. He was settling back down to the hammock with his stump across his lap.
“Thomas couldn’t read it either.”
“So what did it say?” Arnold leaned forward.
Chris took a deep breath, and then spoke. He had no trouble drawing the words from his memory. Besides reciting them ten times a day, they seemed stuck in his head like glue.
“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Twiddle your thumbs and dance.
Winter winds freeze away.
And sun doth rain its golden heat.
And I will laugh all day with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho,
And I will laugh all day!”
Arnold had to blink twice when he heard the riddle. He started to lean back against the wall, but the ridiculous hammock swayed beneath him, and he quickly leaned forward again.
Terrin had moved to the side of the room and was staring forward, frowning. Now she gave a slight nod.
“It’s part of a song,” she said.
Arnold raised his eyebrows. It wasn’t part of any song he knew. He would remember a song with a verse like that. It sounded like whoever wrote it was drunk or delusional.
“What song?” Chris asked.
“One by the swamp people.”
Oh, he thought. Yep, delusional.
“Do you think … Do you think we have to go to the swamp?” Nora’s voice was quiet and hesitant.
Arnold agreed with her unspoken sentiment. The swamp was one of the most mysterious places in North Raec. It was almost impossible to navigate — take one wrong step, down you go, and nobody will ever find your body. And the swamp people were not known to appreciate trespassers.
Chris looked around at the group, meeting each of their eyes in turn. Then he slowly nodded.
“I suppose so. Do any of us know the way?”
Everyone looked at Terrin. She had always been the best at geography, and she had grown up in this forest, which shared a border with the swamp.
“Getting there is easy,” she said. “Just go south. But I don’t think anyone really knows their way around the swamp besides the swamp people.”
But she didn’t look as confident as she sounded. She leaned back against the wall, her chin dropping to her chest as her brow wrinkled with doubt.
“The only thing is,” said Nora quietly, “Arnold probably shouldn’t travel for a couple more weeks. Just to be safe.”
“Right, then,” he said. “We’ll stay here until we’re sure Arnold is up for the journey.”
Arnold couldn’t help harrumphing a little.
To be continued…
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.