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.
Minty swerved, but she was a bit too slow. The soldier’s shining blade sliced across Nora’s leg. She yelped, then gritted her teeth. Around the edges of her eyes a blue-gray fog began to spread, blocking her vision. She blinked rapidly, and it cleared. She mentally shook herself as she turned Minty to strike back at the soldier.
Chris’s voice rose over the clanging and howling and hissing.
“Retreat, fall back. Run. Flee.”
Nora turned Minty and pushed her into a fast trot. She bent and grasped Leaf’s lead-rope as she went by, wincing as pain jabbed through her leg. They made for Terrin’s tree. Fortunately the swamp woman had fled on her wraith, and the way to Terrin was clear.
As they approached, Terrin dropped from the branches and bent to grab something from the ground. Then she took Leaf’s lead and mounted. Leaf burst into a canter.
Nora clucked at Minty to follow. The horse bunched beneath her, but then the soldier and his horse jumped in front of them. Minty skittered, turning sharply to avoid a collision. Nora clutched at the saddle with one hand to keep from being thrown. In the other hand, she held her sword away from her horse. The soldier raised his sword to strike while she still struggled not to fall.
Then a wraith at full height burst between them, snapping at the man. Ceianna was perched on its back. The swamp girl shouted for Nora to go.
Nora didn’t have much choice. Minty had jumped away from the wraith and was all too glad to run like crazy.
Minty raced past blurred trees and bushes, bounding over anything in her way. Air whipped through Nora’s hair and tore her breath away. Hanging tightly to her horse’s mane, Nora forgot about the sword, still gripped in her hand, until it nearly ran into an oak.
“Whoa!” she cried, catching the reins and sitting deeply in the saddle.
“Whoa!” Nora said again, and this time Minty came to a full stop.
Nora sighed with relief. Then she bent over to examine both herself and her horse. Minty panted heavily, her sides foamed with sweat. Nora’s right leg was bleeding badly, and both of them had several nicks and cuts of varying sizes.
Nora steadied her breathing. She wiped off her blade on her clean pant leg before sheathing it. Then she looked around cautiously, listening hard.
She was alone.
She dismounted, staggering as her legs once again took her weight. She leaned against Minty, gathering her strength.
After a minute, she searched through her saddle bag and pulled out her roll of bandages. It took some effort to bind her leg, her hands trembling.
Next she found her water bag and took a small sip.
It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. Even if neither the soldiers nor the swamp woman was searching the woods for her and the others, Minty needed to be cooled off by a long walk before either of them could rest.
So, instead of collapsing into a small ball and sleeping, Nora took Minty’s reins and started east at a limping walk.
Chris had given them instructions. If they were separated, head for River’s Cross, a small village, barely a village at all, really. Just an inn and a couple of farm houses that sprouted up around a bridge. It was northeast from where they were now, which meant they had to go out of their way, but it was out of the way of everyone else, too. With only open country and a few farms to pass through, it was as safe a place as any for fugitives to meet up.
So, to River’s Cross they would go.
“Ow!” Arnold yelped.
Thomas shook his head and continued to apply the weird gray mush to Arnold’s many cuts.
Ceianna paced the clearing.
“There, done,” Thomas said, standing. “And if you would have stopped complaining, it wouldn’t have hurt so much. Now, for your horse.”
“You should have tended Rich first.”
Thomas tutted. “I’m not the type to consider an animal, of any quality, more important than a human being.”
Arnold ignored the healer and walked over to Ceianna.
“Why are you still here?”
Ceianna glanced at him. She snapped her fingers and a wraith appeared from the shadows of some bushes. Her hand settled against its neck and rubbed the scales there. Though pleased by the attention, the wraith watched Arnold with narrowed eyes.
“I’m watching out for you,” Ceianna said.
“We’re out of the swamp’s protection. And the longer you stay with us, the more danger you’ll be in.”
“I knew what my grandmother was going to do. I should have acted sooner, should have protected Terrin. I should have known that my grandmother was wrong about her.” Ceianna sighed. “I knew it, but I didn’t act on it. The elders will punish me.”
“Hey, you did what was right in the end. And you probably saved Nora’s life.”
Arnold bit his lip at that thought. He was worried for the Yorc girl, for all his friends. He hadn’t seen which way she or Chris or Terrin had gone, but he hoped the three of them were together.
“So,” said Arnold, tentatively reaching out one hand towards the wraith. “Is this the friend you were talking about, the one that was going to find Terrin?”
“Yes. I have cared for him since I was very young. In some ways, he is my closest friend. His name is Fish.”
“Fish?” said Arnold, choking on a laugh.
The wraith, who had nearly let him touch it, jerked back his head.
“Terrin’s horse is named Leaf,” said Ceianna.
“True,” said Arnold, and quickly changed the topic. “So, wraiths are good trackers?”
“Not really. Their natural prey is fish, which cannot be tracked. But Terrin is tinged with spirit magic, which they sense easily.”
“Spirit magic? Because she was attacked by a spirit once?”
Ceianna looked up from the wraith and met Arnold’s eyes.
“Attacked by a spirit?” she said, a smile tugging at the edge of her lips. “No spirit would ever attack any forest person, most certainly not Terrin.”
“But—” Arnold paused. “What do you mean?”
“Terrin is a spirit-friend. That is why my grandmother fears her.”
“Spirit-friend? I don’t understand. Terrin hates spirits.”
“That is what Christopher said. But—”
This time Ceianna paused, thinking.
“Long ago,” Ceianna finally said, “the swamp people and the forest people were at war. Each had their own allies. The swamp people had the wraiths, which we rode into battle, and the forest people had spirits. Working together, a forest person and a spirit were very powerful, for spirits are a part of the forest, and through them the forest people could shape the forest. It was a potent bond, as strong as mine to Fish. Perhaps stronger in its own way.
“But when the plains people came and we chose one of them to lead both our people, they insisted that we put aside our differences. But the only peace we could come to, was if both our peoples would break our bonds. So the spirits isolated themselves in the Dark Forest, and no longer do the swamp people each select a wraith for their own. It was left to my family — my ancestor’s family — to watch the wraiths and keep them from going wild.”
Arnold’s mouth was gaping long before she finished. And it took him some time to put any words together.
“That is some history,” he finally managed.
She laughed. “I suppose so. The point is, though, that Terrin is a spirit-friend, the first for hundreds of years. For whatever reason, a spirit broke the treaty and bonded with her. Whatever her feelings towards the spirits are, that is the truth. My grandmother fears her for it, fears that she will attempt to destroy what remains of the swamp people.”
“She would never!”
“I know. But the fact remains that the spirits have broken the treaty.”
Arnold’s hand curled to a fist as he tried to take it all in.
“You’re right, though,” said Ceianna. “I should go. My grandmother will be angry, and I’d like to be back in the city by the time she recovers.”
“Won’t she go there?”
“No. She knows that they won’t support her actions. The wraiths are tending her now. She won’t return until she’s healed.”
She hesitated, concern in her eyes.
“Will you be able to find your friends?”
“Yes. We’ll head to River’s Cross as planned. We’ll find each other there.”
“I hope you do. I wish you luck. Here.” She pulled from her travel bag a leather pouch and handed it to him.
He opened it as neatly as he could with one hand. Inside were many leaves, each with one yellow side and one vibrant green, their edges sawed.
“I wish I could give you a better gift. But this is all I have time for. Swamp people use it to purify and sweeten our water. However—” Here she paused and her eyes met Arnold’s, and he saw a glint of amusement there. “Some people say it helps with ghost itches as well, but,” she shrugged, “who can tell?”
“I’m sorry Terrin. I shouldn’t have let you get captured like that.”
He rode side by side with his forest friend at a trot, making for the rendezvous as planned. He was scratched up pretty bad, and a long cut over his forehead hurt like crazy, but none of the cuts seemed deep, and Terrin wasn’t hurt at all.
She shook her head.
“No, we both knew it would happen. Just like the dream said.”
Chris glanced at her and his brow furrowed. Knowing how she felt about magic, and how she liked to be in control, he was sure that having her life predicted by magical dreams must irk her to no end.
“But,” she said with a smile, “you kept your promise. You came for me, just as fast as you could.”
Chris shrugged. “Not fast enough. I should have been right on your tail.”
Terrin sighed and looked up through the tree tops.
“There you go, acting like we’re your charges or something. I ran distraction, knowing what might happen. I knew that you might not be there. There was a point when I really thought you wouldn’t. But you came.”
“And I always will.”
“No, you won’t,” she snapped. “And you know it.”
He bowed his head.
She was right. He was very much afraid of the day when he wouldn’t be there to help his friends. That was why he had left them, a little over a month ago. Tried to leave them behind.
But leaving them behind wasn’t an option. He needed their help to finish this quest.
“And we know it, too,” Terrin added. “But it doesn’t matter, because you need us just as much, if not more, than we need you.”
“You’re right,” said Chris, smiling. “Where would I be without you to keep my head on straight?”
“Very, very much turned around and lost,” said Terrin matter-of-factly. Then she grinned.
“So,” he said, “which way to River’s Cross?”
“Now that you mention it, we are angled a bit south. Your fault, to be sure.”
“Ah,” said Chris, turning Marc northward. “There we go. On to River’s Cross then.”
As Chris turned his back to her, Terrin’s smile faded. Her hand fell to the fox figurine on her belt. Her fingers closed around it, rubbing the smooth wood.
If the soldiers knew they were there, so would the king. Soon her family would know that it might be far more than a year before she returned. Her people would never go against the king. Her home was shut to her now.
She closed her eyes for a moment, holding back the pain. She was Terrin of Xell. She was on a mission to keep her friends safe. She didn’t have time to be sad. She had to keep moving forward.
Terrin’s eyes opened, and a smile spread across her face as she echoed Chris’s words.
“On to River’s Cross, then.”
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.