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.
Even with one hand gone, Arnold easily avoided or blocked Nora’s attacks, their wooden practice swords making a rhythmic thwack-thwacking sound, dancing around the clearing. Terrin sat up a hill from them, back against a tree, only half watching as she soaked in the warm sun. She heard a slight rustle behind her tree, and she turned to look, expecting Chris or Dyani. Instead a man, only a few years older than her, came around and plopped down beside her.
Trunnen looked the same as ever.
“Terrin,” he said, giving her a warm smile.
“Brother,” she replied, returning the smile. “Why are you here?”
“Couple reasons. I see your friends are going at it.”
She glanced down at where Nora and Arnold were still dueling.
“How do you know they’re my friends?”
“Why else would they be here? Plainsmen aren’t exactly common sight in the forest.”
She leaned back against the tree, enjoying the feeling of rough bark.
“He’s teaching her to fight,” she said. “The world’s a dangerous place, after all.”
Trunnen did not reply for a moment, his head slightly bent as he watched the combat. Terrin also didn’t feel the need to speak and tilted her own head back, allowing herself to almost doze.
“She must not be a very good student.”
Terrin sat back up.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s leaving plenty of openings, but she’s only taken some of the most obvious.”
She turned her full attention to the fight. Sure enough, Nora was not taking any sort of serious offensive. For a moment, Terrin was confused. Nora had shown herself to be quite competent with a sword.
Then she laughed.
Trunnen glanced at her, both eyebrows raised.
“Nora’s more of a healer than a fighter. She’s probably worried about over-extending him.” She chuckled again. “When Arnold realizes, he’s going to have a fit.”
Trunnen gave a half smile but didn’t laugh.
“Plains people are strange.”
Shrugging, she changed the subject. “I’m assuming you didn’t travel all day just to criticize my friends’ sword lessons.”
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small loop of string. At the end of it was a wood carving. He held it out to her.
“To remember us by, while you’re gone.”
“It won’t be that long,” she said. “I won’t forget you.”
“A lot can happen in a year,” he said.
Then he took her right hand and set the carving in her palm. She closed her fingers around it and glanced up at him.
After Chris and Nora decided to stay in the village for a while, Dyani had pestered Terrin into going to see her family in the neighboring village. They weren’t expecting her home until summer, after graduation. She explained that she was traveling with some friends from the city, that they wanted to explore the world a little before settling down. She’d also told them she’d be back, hopefully within a year.
She hadn’t mentioned that the moment anyone found out who Chris was, she’d be banished, too. Or else locked up for life, or worse.
She didn’t tell them she was going to the swamp on the basis of a nonsense riddle.
Or that she hadn’t actually graduated from school.
“What’s wrong?” Trunnen leaned towards her, brow creased.
“It’s just that you’re right.” She forced a smile. “A lot can change in a year.”
He smiled and wrapped his arm around her. She leaned against his side, enjoying the warmth of his company.
She opened her palm and examined the carving. It was a fox, curled up. Its long, fluffy tail covered half its face, the tip flicking up just enough for its nose and one eye to peek out. Its ears were pressed flat. She gently lifted the string, sliding her wrist through the loop.
“Not half bad,” she said, catching it in her fingers and rubbing her thumb against its back.
“You know I’m the best carver in Xell.”
“Of course you are. But you know that’s only because I didn’t take the time to learn.”
Trunnen shifted his arm enough to bat at the side of her head, but she blocked it with her own free arm. As she turned her head, she realized the thwack-thwacking had stopped. Nora had paused to get a drink.
Then Terrin caught Arnold’s curious face looking up at her. Instinctively, she pulled away from Trunnen, escaping his hold as easily as a snake.
“Terrin?” he asked, following her to a standing position. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes,” she said quickly. Then she paused to take a breath before repeating slowly, “Yes, I’m fine.”
She could tell that Trunnen was worried about her, but she couldn’t explain everything that was going on.
Luckily, he didn’t pursue the subject. He nodded briefly at the plainsmen.
“Come on then,” he said. “I haven’t given my greetings to Dyani yet.”
With long strides, he disappeared down the trail to the village.
Terrin waved to her friends and turned to jog after him.
As soon as she came under the shadow of the trees, Terrin once again caught a glimpse of movement — someone’s eyes in the underbrush. Only these eyes were a dark, muddy gray, surrounded by wrinkled gray skin and mud-coated hair.
Her stride faltered. But as quickly as before, the swamp-woman’s face was gone.
“Keep up, Terrin!” Trunnen called.
“I must be going crazy,” she muttered to herself before breaking into a flat-out run to catch her brother.
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.