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.
The long wooden raft skimmed along the water, then bumped gently to a stop against a dirt bar. Terrin waited for the swamp girl to tie off, and then the four of them trooped out: a tall man with sandy hair, a stocky youth, the swamp girl, and Terrin.
“That is a big tree,” said the stocky boy. Before them was a tree so wide that the four of them together wouldn’t be able to reach halfway around. Its huge trunk rose to the canopy above, where it disappeared from sight. In the front was a large, ornately carved door.
But Terrin’s gaze had slipped to the side, just beyond the tree. On another, larger isle she saw a great black head, sticking out of the small bushes that grew there.
She stifled a squeak, then a giggle. It was just a wraith, and it did not look anything more than curious.
Strange, she thought. I always considered wraiths forest animals.
“It has never opened,” said the swamp girl, calling Terrin’s attention back to the door in the tree.
The tall man approached it. He rubbed his hands along the carvings.
Terrin glanced beyond the tree once again, back to the wraith. This time she nearly choked on her subdued yell. Beside the wraith stood an old woman, eyes trained on the swamp girl, with a frown that creased her entire face. The wraith bumped its head against the woman’s hand, and the woman patted it. Then they retreated into the brush.
“You okay, Roz?”
Terrin jerked her attention back to the others. The tall man was looking the direction she had been. He turned back to her and half frowned, half smiled.
Behind him the door had split down the middle and was standing open. The stocky young man leaned against it, grinning smugly, while the swamp girl gaped.
“There’s nothing there,” the tall man said, still watching her. “Were you dreaming again?”
* * *
Terrin gasped and sat up. She took several deep breaths, blinking sleepiness from her eyes. A film of water covered her face, and she thought for a moment she was sweating. Then she realized that a blanket of mist covered the whole camp, rising from the swamp water all around.
A few feet away, Nora was trying to coax a small fire back to life.
Terrin rose and stretched. She wished she could walk around to work the kinks out of her muscles, but the dirt bar was cramped, barely supporting the five people and their gear.
A flame flickered to life, and Nora whooped.
The other three sleepers jerked upright.
“Where’s the dragon?” said Arnold.
Terrin laughed. Then she shook out her hair, brushing back the strands that fell in front of her face. She crouched and straightened her blankets to roll them up.
Something prickled at the base of her neck. She froze, afraid for a second that it was magic. But no, this was a different tingle, the type she got when she was missing something — or was being watched. She turned her head, searching the surrounding isles. Her eyes moved quickly from bush to bush, but she saw nothing.
She sighed, rubbing the grit from the corners of her eyes. She was getting paranoid.
Or whoever was watching them was well hidden.
She returned to packing. The smell of cooking meat made her mouth water.
“I’m going to feel out our path from here,” said Chris.
He splashed away into the swamp before the others could acknowledge his words.
Terrin watched him go. Her thoughts returned to her dream. Should she tell him?
She glanced up, as if expecting the giant tree to appear. But while they were surrounded by many large trees, none were that big. Then again, it wasn’t really the tree that bothered her, it was the people. The dream had been from someone else’s perspective, which was strange. It had been so vivid — she hadn’t realized she wasn’t in control till the man called her ‘Roz.’
Terrin watched Chris plunge a stick into the water, maybe a hundred feet away.
No, she couldn’t. She hated the idea of trusting magical dreams to lead them. She would wait for proof of the tree’s existence — and maybe its importance — before encouraging Chris on his wild goose chase.
Or maybe you’re just afraid, said a tiny voice in her head.
I’m not! Terrin snapped back, almost speaking the words out loud.
She licked her lips and took a breath.
Of course I don’t like the idea of magic worming its way into my head and taking over my dreams, she told herself. But I’m not afraid of a stupid tree.
Then there was the other obvious question: the old woman Roz had seen — would see? She bore a striking resemblance to Terrin’s own mysterious old lady. The dream woman was perhaps a bit younger, and her hair more silver than gray, but Terrin couldn’t help wondering if the magic had been working in her mind all along, causing her to imagine things in the real world.
“Breakfast is done,” Nora called.
“’Bout time,” said Arnold. “I was going to starve between boredom and hunger.”
He plopped himself down beside Terrin.
“You can’t starve of boredom,” she said.
“That’s what you say.”
Nora began to place the long strips of meat onto slices of bread.
“This will have to do for plates,” she said, handing the first one to Thomas. “I’m not going to wash any di — Chris! You’ll get muck all over your clothes.”
Terrin turned and saw that Chris had returned, his boots coated in mud.
“I’ll just have to be careful,” he said, sitting down. A streak of mud smeared his pant leg.
Nora, however, did not notice as she turned to hand Terrin her breakfast. Terrin nodded thanks and then took a bite, scanning the swamp.
There, less than fifty feet away, was a pale girl with long brown hair, covered in gray mud.
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.