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 raft cruised through the water with Ceianna’s determined strokes. The girl’s face had been stony since the elder announced that she would guide them to the tree.
The tree was amazingly well hidden, despite its size. The other trees clustered around, making it impossible to see its true width until you were within a few yards. Terrin knew at once it was the tree from her dream. Besides the enormity of the trunk and the large, carved door, she could sense the sameness of the tree — or maybe that was just the magic flowing from it.
The group trooped off the boat solemnly, staring up at the large tree. Even Terrin, though she had seen it before, couldn’t help but be awed by it.
“Well,” said Arnold, “either this is it, or I’m a great big baboon … oh, wait — Well, guess this isn’t it.”
Everyone shifted their stares to him, and Terrin rolled her eyes.
“Congrats,” she said, “you get the Worst Joke Ever award.”
Chris shook his head, and stepped towards the door.
“Let’s go in. Like Arnold said, this is it. It feels just like before.”
He placed one hand on the wood and pushed for a second, with no results. He threw his weight against it. The door did not budge.
“I should have mentioned,” said Ceianna. “That door, it has never been opened.”
“It’s a door. Of course it’s been opened,” snapped Terrin.
Chris frowned at her slightly as he stepped away from the tree.
Thomas quickly said, “That is a good point. Why make a door, if not to open it? And for another thing, if this is the location for the next riddle, then King Miles must have got in somehow.”
“The question is,” said Chris, “how do we open it now?”
Terrin started to examine the door when a thought struck her. Slowly she stepped away from the tree and looked across the waters to the other isle in the dream, where the wraith and the old woman had been.
Where the wraith and the old woman were now.
Terrin’s heart caught in her throat, thinking for a moment it was the same woman from the dream who now glowered at them. Then she realized that the truth was even more frightening — this woman was the same as had watched her back in Xell.
“Chris, can you read the inscription?” said Nora, distracting Terrin. “It looks a bit like swamp script, but it’s not familiar.”
Terrin glanced up at the swirls above the door and realized that they were indeed words.
“No, can’t read it,” said Chris, frowning.
“I can,” said Terrin, as she realized that they were not only words, but words she recognized.
Ceianna arched her eyebrows.
“It’s ancient swamp script,” Terrin continued. “For Laughter will this door open, Laughter with ho ho he he ha ha ho ho always in hand.”
“Maybe it means you need the entity to open it,” said Ceianna. “And since Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho’s not here, we should really all just go home.” Her brow was furrowed.
“Or maybe someone should tell a joke,” said Arnold. “If I was an ancient entity of protection, what would be my favorite joke?”
While everyone’s attention was averted from her, Terrin glanced back to the bushes. The woman and the wraith were gone.
They’re probably just my imagination, Terrin told herself. No one else had seen them.
Unless Ceianna had, and that was why she was nervous. Terrin glanced back at the swamp girl. Once again she felt something nagging at the back of her mind, a connection that she ought to make.
“Ceianna, you’re the expert here,” said Chris. “Do you have any ideas?”
“Well,” she said, rubbing her hands together as if they were cold, “I would not say I’m an expert. However, in the inscription, Laughter is used as a name, not as an action. Also…” She paused here, chewing her lip.
“Also?” said Chris softly.
“I don’t think ho ho he he ha ha ho ho does refer to the entity,” she said quickly, and flushed slightly.
Terrin glanced back at the inscription. “She’s right.”
“What does that mean?” said Nora.
There was a long silence, and Terrin gave up on the nagging feeling, and turned her attention to the problem at hand. In the dream, no one else had showed up, certainly not any ancient entities. No, one of the companions had opened the door.
Reluctantly she recalled the dream’s details, searching for clues. She was sure the stocky young man had opened it, but how? Some particular way of touching the carvings? And why was Laughter used as a na—
“Oh! I see,” said Terrin.
The others all stared at her.
“Names and titles are basically the same thing in the ancient swamp tongue. And titles are just descriptions of what you are or do. So it would mean someone who is known for causing laughter. And I think,” she couldn’t help smiling as she finished, “that we all know who that is.”
“Huh,” said Arnold, cracking a grin. “Nope, still don’t get it.”
Terrin glared at him, but he was already moving towards the door. He didn’t even touch the wood before the door swung open, just like in the dream. Magic seemed to exhale from the room beyond, sending tingles up and down her spine.
They filed through the door into a round room. It was not as big as the size of the tree might have led her to expect, most of the space being taken up with a broad spiral stair case similar to that in the council tree. The walls and floor were all smooth, but instead of the gray of the council tree, they were a sandy brown color, as if this tree were somehow still alive.
Terrin thought she felt the floor pulse under her feet, though she couldn’t be sure.
When they reached the middle of the room, the door swung shut, silent until the clunk as it fell into place. They looked back, and Terrin was unsettled to see that the inside of the door was exactly like the rest of the wall. It was impossible to tell where it had been.
Though there was no obvious source of light, the room was still bright. Magic seemed to emanate from the wood itself, sending shivers up and down Terrin’s spine in a way that she thought only spirits could.
“Of course,” said Arnold, looking up the stairs. “It would be too easy to put the riddle on the first floor.”
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.