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.
Shylak’s marketplace was set up where several trees grew so close that the platforms merged into one large plaza. It seemed to also double as a meeting place, for most of the swamp people were more interested in talking than in wares.
Of course, they could just be gossiping about the visitors, Terrin thought.
She had noticed many people staring. Arnold seemed to be getting the most attention. Swamp people were short and lithe, and he was anything but. Also, the way he kept glancing warily towards the platform’s edge no doubt seemed humorous to them.
Nora and Chris had come to explore the shops. Nora was haggling with the herbalist, while Chris admired the selection of fruit.
But Terrin’s interest lay with Ceianna, who had planted herself near the edge of the platform, standing guard over her charges with arms crossed. Terrin had been considering trying a tactical approach, but she decided that tactical was not her specialty. Not when it came to people. She strode to Ceianna, brushing her hair back over her shoulders as she went.
Ceianna glanced up, her lips tightening and her eyebrows drawing together.
Terrin crossed her own arms and took a long breath before starting.
“You are the second sentry of Shylak.”
“Where’s the first sentry?”
“What is that to you?” Ceianna said. Her words were clipped and sharp.
“I was wondering who else is in the swamp.”
Terrin let her lips quirk into a taut smile.
“Well, let’s see,” said Ceianna slowly. “Who else? Oh, yeah, me and everyone else who lives in Shylak. If you must know, though, the first sentry is out on patrol.”
“Which is exactly why neither you, nor the elder, followed the rules and called him in to keep watch over us. I see.”
“Rules?” Ceianna said, a frown creasing her face.
“The charge of any visitors to the swamp shall fall upon the first sentry, unless he is otherwise detained,” quoted Terrin. “Do you want me to continue? It’s rather long, as laws generally are.”
Ceianna’s frown deepened for a moment, and then she tilted her head back a bit and smiled. “If that was swamp law, not only would you have no business knowing it, but you would also have no business knowing who else was in the swamp. Any other, less invasive, questions?”
“Well, I was wondering whe—”
“Terrin?” cried a familiar voice.
Terrin spun just in time to be pulled into a crushing hug by Zuen. He released her and took a step back, looking her over.
“You get older every time I see you,” he said.
Terrin pursed her lips, and planted her fists against her hips. “That is how it works, Zuen. Time passes and people age. And I thought you were the wise one.”
Zuen laughed, and Terrin couldn’t stop the smile that split her face.
“You two know each other?” said Ceianna. Her frown had returned.
“Yes,” said Zuen. “I often visit her village. Side effect of being a merchant.”
“I see. That does explain some things.”
Terrin smirked. “Like how I know swamp laws? Oh, wait, I don’t because they don’t exist.”
Zuen put an arm tightly around Terrin’s shoulders — with some difficulty, since he was shorter than her.
“I see you two are hitting it off about as well as should be expected.” He started to pull Terrin away. “I think I shall steal Terrin, if you don’t mind. My wife has always wanted to meet her.”
“Fine,” said Ceianna.
She turned sharply and walked off towards the others.
* * *
“It’s unfortunate that you were paired with Ceianna,” Zuen said. “I would recommend avoiding conversation with her in the future.”
“Why?” asked Terrin.
They were sitting in the small kitchen of Zuen’s house. His wife, Melana, was heating water for tea.
“Well, you know how our two peoples used to be constantly warring, right?”
“Until the plainsmen came from across the sea and earned our loyalty, and we made one of them the first ruler of North Raec, and promised to make peace between our two races,” Terrin recited with a smile.
“Well, that was ages ago,” he said, “and most of both peoples have forgotten, or don’t care. However there are a couple families who — well, they still remember. One family in particular has more or less made it their job to continue loathing the forest people.”
“Doesn’t that destroy the purpose of the peace?” asked Terrin.
Melana laughed, and both Terrin and Zuen looked at her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I’ve tried telling them that. But Zalisha seems to think that giving up past enmity would destroy part of what we are.”
“Who?” asked Terrin.
This time Zuen answered. “Ceianna’s grandmother. She has a crazy hatred of your people that she’s trying to pass on to her granddaughter. Unfortunately, Ceianna’s mother and father are both dead.”
“It’s a pity,” said Melana, setting out their teacups and beginning to pour. The scent of herbs flooded Terrin’s nose. “Ceianna’s a good girl, really, and her mother was a lovely woman who would have taught her not to fall for that silly prejudice. But she’s grown up too serious. She forgets what it is to be of the swamp, what should define us. And with her grandmother, well…”
Melana’s voice trailed off, and they sipped their tea in silence.
Something nagged at the corner of Terrin’s mind, a detail or connection she ought to notice. But she couldn’t grasp it, so instead she asked the question that had been on the tip of her tongue since before Zuen had dragged her here.
“Zuen, you’ve studied the lore of the swamp, right? I was wondering, what is the biggest tree in the area? Circumference-wise, I mean. And that might be of some significance to your people.”
Zuen leaned back, his eyes looking her over. Then he glanced at Melana. She took a sip of her tea, then gave a short nod.
He began to speak, and from the tone of his voice, Terrin anticipated a long story.
“Well I have never seen it. No one has — or at least no one will admit they have. But there are legends of one tree…”
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.