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.
Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.
Arnold shrugged and started up the stairs. The others stood in a sort of shock for a moment, and then Chris followed him. Thomas went next, and then Terrin. The forest girl’s pace was forced, and her face looked pale.
Nora advanced cautiously. Though she did not share her friend’s fear of magic, this place set her skin crawling. There had been powerful magic surrounding the riddles before, but it hadn’t seemed active, just there. But this magic shifted around them, and Nora thought she could feel it brush against her skin. And then there was the light — at the last cave, there had also been unnatural light, but at least it had seemed to have a source.
Something moved in the corner of her eye, and she glanced around.
It was only Ceianna.
The swamp girl seemed as reluctant as Terrin to climb the stairs. She kept glancing back to where the door had been, and the strands of her long hair swirled in disarray.
The others slowed as the stairs passed a side room, but a quick glance convinced them that the riddle was not there. They pressed on.
Nora hung slightly back.
“Ceianna?” she said, softly.
“Yes?” the girl replied sharply.
Nora flinched. The other swamp people had been easy to talk to, welcoming. But Ceianna’s tone seemed ever sharp and defensive.
“I was just wondering, if you’re scared of this place, why did you come with us?”
Ceianna tossed her head, swinging the hair back away from her face. “I’m not afraid of the tree. Was it not the home of the swamp people’s protector?”
Nora walked a couple more steps, before her curiosity again outweighed her shyness. “Then why are you nervous?”
Ceianna scowled at her. “You people sure ask a lot of questions. But if you must know, I’m not afraid of the tree, but of the consequences of letting your group enter it. But I’m here because while you’re in the swamp you are my charges, and I must do my best to protect you. And to keep you out of trouble.”
“Oh,” said Nora. “But aren’t your people loyal to the crown? And Chris…”
“Would you prefer that we locked your friend in chains and handed him over?”
“No, of course not!” Nora said.
She blushed and glanced forward, but the others had climbed out of sight. She looked back at Ceianna.
“Chris is our people’s friend now,” the swamp girl said. “And, like you, the elder believes his innocence. Unless the king himself gives us a direct order, we will keep our word to help him find the riddle. And I must do my part.”
A smile spread across the girl’s face. “If the elder had not believed Chris’s innocence … Well, it would have been a different story.”
“Come, we are falling behind,” said Ceianna.
Nora’s legs were starting to get tired, but she forced herself to pick up the pace. Ceianna seemed barely touched by the climb. They passed another empty room.
A few steps later there was a cry from above. All weariness vanished from Nora as she stormed up the stairs. Pulling out her dagger, she took the steps two at a time, with Ceianna right behind her.
A wall rose from the next platform’s floor to its roof, blocking their view until they rounded the corner. The stairs ended in an alcove of sorts, which opened into a room the full width of the tree, with smooth, polished walls all around. On the far wall, Nora saw Arnold standing at the base of another set of stairs that spiraled up into darkness. A jagged fence of branches seemed to be growing from the floor, blocking him off from the rest of the friends. He was sawing at it with his knife.
He looked up at Nora and shouted, “Move!”
At the same moment, Nora saw the edges of the alcove warping. She grabbed Ceianna’s arm and rushed into the room as a branch sprang across the doorway.
To her left, Thomas had been wrapped in root-like tentacles, which were pulling him towards the wall. Chris had his sword out and was hacking at them, trying to free him. On her right, more of the tentacles were sprouting out of the floor and waving toward her, but she danced nimbly, swinging her long dagger at any that came too close.
Nora switched her dagger to the other hand and drew her sword. Ceianna was already rushing towards Thomas and Chris, so she turned to help Terrin, who was surrounded by waving tentacles that seemed to be herding her towards the side wall. When their blades struck at a root, it would pull back but immediately lunge forward again. The metal barely scratched the living wood. The one time Nora’s blade did cut in an inch, she nearly didn’t get it back before the root pulled away.
A tentacle lunged for her, and she beat it away, and then stepped back for a second to get her bearings.
“Terrin, the wall!” she cried.
The wall itself was writhing as more tentacles sprouted and reached for the girl. Terrin glanced round and jumped away, slashing at the new foes. Another tentacle sprang up from the front to grab her, and Nora leaped forward, slashing at it.
The root pulled back and turned towards her. When it lunged for her, she jumped sideways to avoid it. But another one swept from behind, knocking her to the floor, and a third snatched the sword from her loosened grip and tossed it away.
Nora caught herself with her hands, and then bunched her muscles to surge back to her feet.
But she couldn’t move.
The floor had grown around her hands and lower legs, holding her in place.
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.