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.
Arnold’s sword did nothing against the wood that blocked his way. Its crisscrossing pattern made it hard to strike, and the limbs had hardened into place. He had tried hacking and stabbing, but nothing helped. He’d even sawed at the thing with his knife. That had gotten nearly half way through one of the limbs, but then the wood had grown up and engulfed the blade.
So he watched helplessly as his friends battled the tree.
Only Ceianna seemed to be having any success. She had charged into freeing Thomas, and her knife flashed white as she struck the tentacles left and right. Her hair swung around but never seemed to get in the way.
But what was strange was that when she struck a tentacle, it actually withdrew. Several roots curled near the floor and wall, withered from her blows, though they seemed to be slowly recovering.
Chris was doing his best to watch her back, but his blade was as useless as Arnold’s.
Terrin was having a bit more success. She nimbly avoided the tentacles that reached for her, even causing a few of them to get confused and tangle with each other. And her knife was striking deeper than the swords while still sliding free easily. But the tentacles didn’t wither, just flinched away for a moment.
Nora was still struggling against the floor. Only her hands and lower legs were covered, but it was enough that she could not pull free.
“Chris, Thomas,” said Ceianna, “Try now.”
She spun and thrust her knife into one of the tentacles holding Thomas. He fell forward, and Chris caught him and pulled. It was enough. They surged free of the wood, and Ceianna pulled her knife back as the roots retreated.
The three paused to catch their breath, and for a second Arnold thought the tree was doing the same.
Then the floor seemed to ripple.
“Keep moving,” he shouted.
Chris glanced down. The floor was starting to melt around his feet. He jerked free, and the others danced away.
The tree shook a bit, and then more tentacles lunged for them.
“Ceianna, free Nora,” said Chris, beating one off. “Then try and get through to Arnold.
Ceianna nodded and practically leaped to Nora’s side. She knelt and began to stab at the floor, carefully avoiding Nora’s hand. The wood grew up around her calves, but she ignored it. The floor did not retreat from the knife as the tentacles had, but the knife sliced it well enough, and it did not grow back.
Arnold scanned the room.
“Chris, Thomas, watch it!” he called as a tentacle lunged from behind them.
Chris turned and beat it off. At the same time Thomas leaped sideways, avoiding another tentacle but narrowly missing Chris.
And moving himself closer to Terrin.
“Chris,” Arnold called. “They’re trying to group you together.”
Chris glanced around and nodded. “Spread out! We’ll only get in each other’s way.” Then he lunged through a tight group of tentacles and away from Thomas. One caught around his chest, but he struck it with his sword and pulled free.
Ceianna had managed to release Nora’s hands and was working at her legs.
They were running out of time. The roots were multiplying. Every few moments, more would surge from the walls, floor, or even the ceiling. And the ones Ceianna had decommissioned were moving again.
Then Nora was free. She jumped to her feet, the layer of wood that had surrounded her legs cracking into splinters that seemed to melt back into the floor.
Ceianna spun the knife and handed it to Nora hilt first.
“Go to Arnold,” she said. “Get that door open.”
Nora frowned. “But you’re—”
“It won’t matter, if that door isn’t open soon. Remember what I said before.”
Nora still frowned, but she turned and dashed across the room to the stairway and began to stab at it. The limbs of wood reluctantly shriveled away from it, but it would obviously take time.
Arnold moved to the side so he could see around her. Still, he couldn’t see much. Terrin was completely out of sight, Chris and Thomas in and out of it. He could tell they were both slowing down. Thomas was old, and neither was trained for this type of combat — or much of any combat.
Ceianna, at the other edge of his vision, was trying to pull herself free, but she had no weapon to cut away the wood. Then a simple-handled knife thudded into the floor, an inch from her leg, and splintered the wood. Ceianna glanced up to where Arnold knew Terrin must be. Then she snatched up the knife and began cutting her way free.
“Through!” Nora shouted as she clambered into the stairway.
She had only cut away a couple of the middle limbs, but it was enough. She stood panting for a second, then shifted her feet experimentally.
“Give me the knife and keep going,” said Arnold.
“What?” said Nora, though she handed over the knife obediently.
“The stairway isn’t wide enough for us all to go up at once, and there’s only one knife. Just keep going.”
Nora hesitated for a moment, then nodded and ran up the stairs.
Already the doorway was resealing itself. Arnold braced his left forearm against the wall, then thrust at the regrowing limbs angrily.
“You are going to let us go if it’s the last thing you do,” he said, striking it with each word.
Ceianna leaped to her feet, the wood shattering as it had done with Nora. She ran across the room but stopped outside of the door, joining Arnold in his efforts to keep back the blockade. Once again the floor began to reseal around her feet.
“Come through before you get stuck again,” said Arnold.
“No. The two of us on the other side would block the stairway.”
“Then come through and keep going up,” he insisted.
Thomas reached the door and jumped through the opening. Chris was right behind him, but he glanced back to where Terrin was still avoiding the tentacles.
“Terrin—” he said and moved towards her, but Thomas reached back, snatched his shirt, and pulled him to the door.
“Can’t be helped right now,” said the older man. Chris reluctantly clambered through, and Arnold moved aside to let them both run up the stairs.
“Terrin, come on!” he called.
Terrin glanced up at him. She had been nimbly avoiding the tentacles, but they would soon cut off her escape route. She turned and loped across the room, dodging under and around and even just pushing past the tentacles that reached for her. Without even pausing, she jumped feet first through the hole, catching the upper limb with her arm so that when her feet touched the floor she did not fall.
“What about Ceianna?” she asked.
“Just run,” hissed the girl, tossing her head back. “I am the second sentry of Shylak. I will be fine.”
Terrin gave her a short look, then nodded. She turned to start up the stairs.
Arnold extended the knife towards Ceianna, but she shook her head.
“Keep it. You’ll need it,” she said, looking over his shoulder. “Go help your friends.”
Arnold followed her gaze and saw the stairway walls were rippling. He glanced at Ceianna one last time.
“RUN!” she shouted, and her voice carried the authority of command that no person with military training could ignore.
He turned and fled up the stairs, taking them three at a time.
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.