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.
Chris glanced back over his shoulder and was pleased to see Terrin coming up the stairs. Then his pleasure vanished as Ceianna’s cry rang out. He exploded forward, but his breathing was ragged and his legs screamed in rebellion.
Thomas’s toe caught the edge of a stair, and he stumbled. Chris grabbed his arm to pull him up. The old man’s face was red, and he was breathing heavily, but recovered his balance and kept running.
The wall rippled, and root tentacles began to sprout all around them.
“Faster!” Chris shouted. Even as he spoke, Terrin pressed past him.
A root struck him from behind, knocking his breath out of his lungs and pinning him against the edge of a stair.
Terrin turned back.
He tried to shoo her forward, but he couldn’t get enough breath to speak.
Arnold supplied the words: “Keep going, Terrin!”
Chris looked back to see his friend charging up the stairs, a white knife flashing in his hand. The tentacles shriveled back before him. As Arnold approached, the root that pinned him pulled back, and Chris quickly scrambled to his feet.
Arnold kept going, zigging past him and Terrin to the front, where more roots were leaping out to block Thomas’s way, then dropping back to fend off a tentacle reaching for Terrin.
“Not far, now,” said Arnold.
As they climbed on, Arnold waltzed up and down, keeping the way clear with more nimbleness than Chris would ever have expected. Then they rounded the final curve, and he could see a room up ahead. Nora waited at the top of the stairway.
As Chris cleared the doorway he turned back, expecting the tentacles to pursue them, but the roots had stopped just outside the doorway. They waved angrily but did not enter the room.
He collapsed to his knees, fighting to catch his breath.
“The magic … it’s different here,” Terrin said. She was leaning against the wall, her breath coming in ragged gasps. “More like at the other riddles.”
Chris tilted his head, trying to feel a difference. Maybe the magic was thicker here. Or maybe it was his imagination.
“I’ll take your word for it,” he said.
“Where’s Ceianna?” said Nora.
“We couldn’t get her free in time,” Terrin said. “She knew we couldn’t free her and survive ourselves. She did her job.”
Nora slumped to the ground, her face pale. Terrin sat down beside her and hugged her shoulders.
Arnold sat, his back to the wall, glaring at Terrin.
This room was like the ones before, with smooth walls and a floor stretching the full width of the tree. But in the center of the room, the floor swelled up, making a hump the size of a boulder. Runes were carved across its face, but Chris refused to look at them. The other riddles had stuck in the forefront of his mind, forcing him to think about them. He wasn’t ready for that.
Thomas went to the riddle, and knelt. He pulled out a notepad and began to scribble.
Chris walked over to sit by Arnold.
“Terrin’s right. If we had died trying to save Ceianna, she would be shamed.”
“But I’m a knight,” said Arnold. “It’s my job to save people, too. I could have at least left her the knife.”
Chris dropped his gaze to examine the knife. Ceianna’s knife. Its blade was white and triangular, and the hilt simple wood. Then he shook his head.
“No. Without that knife, we would never have made it up the stairs. We’ll rescue her on our way back down.”
“Chris,” said Terrin. “I don’t think we’re going back down.”
Chris spun around to look at the stairs. The walls seemed to be melting inward, oozing between the tentacles. In seconds, the way back was just a solid wall. Arnold jumped up and stabbed at it with the knife, but it bounced right off.
“Great, now we’re stuck in here,” he said.
“Not necessarily,” said Nora.
Arnold, Thomas, and Chris turned to look at her.
Nora blushed, but pressed on. “I was just thinking of how well hidden the entry door looked from the inside. And before, at the mountain … It’s worth looking for another door.”
“I think,” said Terrin, “that we’d better look fast. Something is happening.”
Nora leaped to her feet and started running her hands over the wall.
“Chris, the riddle,” said Arnold.
Chris turned to look at the carved hump. As before, the text looked like plain Raecan to him. He read it aloud:
“Air rushing, rushing by.
Faster, faster than the eye.
Far above the deep, deep blue.
Where water splashes at the rocks.
And higher still the great one flies.
Guarding hope as watchmen pose.”
There was a long silence. Chris could feel three pairs of eyes watching him. Everyone but Nora was still.
Then Nora spoke. “I found it!” she called, throwing herself against the wall.
There was a screech of the wood rubbing against the floor. Then a door swung open before her, showing a dark, narrow passage, leading down.
“Looks like fun,” said Arnold.
“But it’s just in time. We need to clear out now,” said Terrin.
Then Chris felt it — a surge in the magic, as if it was all gathering at one spot, collecting into itself.
“Go!” he called, jumping over the hump and to the stairs. Nora stepped aside to let him pass. He grabbed her hand and dragged her after him. He heard the thudding boots of the others following.
Then the magic released. It was rushing out around him, as if something had breathed in deeply, and let it out all at once. The same thing had happened at the lake, and it had caused the whole lake to drain. He didn’t really want to know what would happen this time. He wasn’t sure he had a choice, though.
Then there was a sucking sound.
“Go faster,” Arnold called. “It’s closing.”
A second later, the light coming through from the riddle room was blocked, leaving them in pitch black.
Chris plunged forward as quickly as he could, glad for the evenness of the slope and the close walls to brace himself against — and the lack of tentacles trying to block their way.
Then he collided with a wall.
“Wait!” cried Nora, as she nearly ran into him.
Chris braced himself and pushed. There was another screech, and then they poured out of the stairway and paused, blinded by the brightness of the entry room.
“Feel for the door,” Chris said, running to the wall and rubbing his hands over it.
“And quickly,” said Terrin, looking up.
Chris glanced back to see that the passage behind them was thoroughly sealed. The ceiling and the main stairway were melting. The walls pulsed out and rolled down the stairs like a great wave of molten wood.
“Here!” Arnold shouted, as the door swung open before him.
They ran out onto the grass, and then stopped to look back. The wave had reached the bottom of the stairs, and now the floor was pulsing up to meet it.
Then the door slammed shut.
They stood, staring at the tree and panting.
Arnold was still holding Ceianna’s knife, his knuckles white.
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.