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…” murmured Terrin. She hesitantly touched his shoulder. “You did your best.”
“My best? What did I do that was my ‘best’?” Arnold said, shrugging off her hand.
“You saved us,” said Chris, coming up to his other side.
“I said we’d come back for her. If I hadn’t taken her knife…”
Arnold ran his fingers along the side of the knife. It was an odd blade, and Terrin couldn’t help shivering whenever she looked at it.
“I already said, if you hadn’t taken the knife we’d be dead,” Chris said.
“Yes. But I didn’t know that when I took it. If she had had the knife—”
“It would have been one more thing to carry,” said a familiar voice from behind them.
Terrin spun to face the sound. Ceianna. The swamp girl was standing where they had left the raft. She had thrust the paddle into the mud and now leaned into it casually. For the first time Terrin could see the hint of a smile in her eyes that Zuen, and many of the other swamp people, seemed always to possess.
“Bu-wha- how?” spluttered Arnold.
Ceianna shrugged. “After you were gone, the tree let me go. The upper stairway was already sealing shut, so I came down to wait for you. Here, I grabbed these,” she turned and knelt, then stood and held out two knives and a sword.
“My knife,” said Arnold, stepping forward and carefully taking and sheathing it.
“And Nora’s sword,” said Ceianna, turning it so Nora could take it hilt first.
“Thank you,” murmured Nora, sheathing it.
“And,” Ceianna said, turning towards Terrin, “I believe this is yours.”
Their eyes met, and for a second she felt like Ceianna was measuring her.
“Thank you,” said Terrin.
“No,” said Ceianna. “You lost this knife in order to help me. Thank you.”
She turned the knife’s hilt towards Terrin and smiled.
Terrin took the knife, sliding it into it sheath with a satisfying hiss, and then returned the smile.
“So, what exactly happened?” said Chris.
“As soon as Arnold left, the staircase started sealing up. By the time he was out of sight around the bend, there was no chance of my getting through. The root tendrils just melted back off of me, and they also spit out Arnold’s knife. So I collected the weapons and came down to wait. Guess once there wasn’t a chance I’d be getting up, the tree didn’t care about me.”
“No, the magic never cared about you,” said Terrin. “I shouldn’t have gone in.”
“What?” said Arnold.
Ceianna gave a short nod. “Maybe. But then it also attacked Thomas and Chris.”
“Because they were too close to me. The magic couldn’t seal them off like it did with Arnold, or like it tried with you and Nora.”
“What?” said Arnold.
“Oh,” said Chris.
Arnold frowned. “Would someone please explain what Terrin’s blaming herself for, so I can tell her off?”
“I think,” said Thomas, “they’re referring to the old war between the swamp and forest peoples, from before the plains people came to Raec. If this is an ancient swamp deity, it is safe to assume that it, or rather any magic it left behind, would remember those days.”
“Oh,” said Arnold, his eyebrows knitting together. “Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I mean, we all made it, and we got the riddle.”
“So you found it?” said Ceianna.
“Yes,” said Chris.
“Then we should be on our way.” She stepped back onto the boat and pulled up the paddle in one smooth movement. “I’ll be taking you straight out of the swamp, since you found what you needed.”
“We won’t be returning to Shylak?”
“No. Some soldiers entered the swamp just before you did, and from what you’ve said, I’m assuming you would like to stay far away from them. Which way are you headed?”
“North,” said Chris. “We need to get our horses before we do anything else.”
“Right. If we leave now and travel through the night, you should be out of the swamp before lunch tomorrow.”
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.