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 wooden planks of the bridge creaked and swayed as the companions made their way across. Arnold was starting to look a bit green in the face, and Terrin wondered if his stump made balance more difficult. She dropped back to walk by him.
“Remember to breathe,” she said.
He gave her a sour look, but then he took several deeper breaths.
“It’s easier if you don’t think about it,” she added.
“How exactly does one do that? It’s kinda hard not to think about the ground when it keeps bucking beneath your feet. This is worse than a hammock.”
“She’s right,” said Thomas, dropping back to walk beside them. “Sometimes our bodies do things better without the aid of our minds. The trick is to distract yourself. You might try focusing more on the scenery.”
Terrin looked around. Shylak was a marvel of engineering. It sat near the center of the swamp, where the trees were largest. The city was built entirely above the water. The bulk of it consisted of wooden platforms, supported by branches and connected by broad, rope bridges like the one they were walking on. Many of the platforms also had rope ladders leading up higher, to buildings that nestled behind more branches. These were mostly connected in groups of two or three, sometimes reaching up to a third level that nearly disappeared into the canopy of leaves.
Though Shylak was not as active as Fredricburg, the presence of the locals was more pronounced. The ‘streets’ were just as crowded, if not more, and Terrin could feel the people’s stares prickling her skin from every direction.
As they moved from the bridge to one of the platforms, she glanced over the edge. Below them, an occasional fish jumped from the water, snapping at insects. A few rafts coasted between the trees, carting various things like fish or brush.
“We’re almost there. Two more platforms,” said Ceianna.
Terrin glanced up, and for a moment she met the swamp girl’s eyes.
Immediately Terrin jerked her eyes away. She strode to the tree at the center of the platform and rubbed her hands against the bark. The roughness under her fingers helped her focus.
Though the swamp people had always looked very similar to Terrin, there was something about Ceianna that was strikingly like the girl from her dream, the one who had guided Roz and her friends to the tree. When she had first spotted her, Terrin had thought they were one and the same. But on closer inspection, she could see that Ceianna had higher cheek bones, and her eyes were more gold than brown.
Nevertheless, it was unsettling.
Terrin pushed herself away from the tree and glanced back at Arnold. He seemed more comfortable on the platforms, but he was still taking his time. He also kept clear of the edges, for which she didn’t blame him — the wooden rail around the edge looked far too flimsy to support his weight.
However, he managed to cross the next bridge with more ease.
As they crossed the last bridge, Terrin examined their goal. The tree was the biggest they had seen so far. Though it was obviously dead, few of the thick branches had broken off. It had only a small platform, but an ornate door was set into the trunk. A man leaned casually to the side of the door, watching as they approached.
They filed out onto the platform, and Ceianna nodded to the man. “Elder, these are Chris, Thomas, Arnold, Terrin, and Nora. They have come to us seeking assistance in return for friendship.”
The man looked them over. Only at the word ‘elder’ did Terrin look close enough to realize that the man was quite old. The mud that the swamp people wore like a badge had disguised his gray hair and wrinkled skin, but what had fooled her even more was his straight back and easy stance. He seemed full of strength and energy.
He examined them each carefully before speaking.
“Welcome, friends. I hope your journey has not been too hard.”
“And yours, elder,” answered Chris, bowing a bit deeper than Ceianna had done.
The elder smiled. “You have studied our ways? Welcome, indeed. Not many take the time to learn about us swamp folk.”
Terrin smiled, remembering how Chris had always enjoyed studying other cultures.
The elder continued, “But I can see you have journeyed long. It is not good to discuss business when tired. Go, explore our city, eat our food, and sleep here tonight. Tomorrow we shall talk.
“For now Ceianna, as second sentry, will be your guide.”
He nodded briskly to them, then disappeared through the door before Terrin’s thoughts could gather.
Ceianna turned to them.
“Very well, this way,” she said, and gestured towards another bridge.
Terrin turned to follow Ceianna, and something that had been bugging her finally clicked. Ceianna was the second sentry of Shylak. But if she was second, where was the first?
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.