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.
Terrin, 8 years earlier
The oak was beautiful, the tallest tree Terrin had ever seen, and her brother’s fingers barely brushed the lowest branch.
“Trunnen, if you fall, I will not be held accountable,” Terrin said, her hands planted on her hips.
“Good thing I won’t fall,” Trunnen said, gazing from his perch on a large rock.
“You’re right, you won’t. Because you’re not going to climb it. Because you’re a good child who does what his parents say. Oh wait, that’s me.”
She waved a handful of the water-wort they’d been sent to fetch. “We should go back to the village. Mother will wonder why we are taking so long. Or did you forget we’re on an errand?”
They had had to go several miles out to find the herb, and the sun was already well on its downward track.
“This won’t take long. I won’t go all the way up,” Trunnen said. “And Mother wonders why we can’t get along. You’re no fun.”
Terrin crossed her arms. “Father will find out, somehow. He always does.”
“Well, it won’t be from my mouth. So unless it’s from yours, how could he?”
He crouched, and sprang straight up, his hands reaching for the branch.
His fingers closed around the limb’s bark, and a victorious grin split his face — for a second. The expression contorted as his feet scrambled for purchase against the tree trunk. Then his fingers slipped from the limb and he fell to the ground, tumbling over.
Terrin laughed. “I told you you’d fall.”
Trunnen slowly picked himself up, scowling slightly.
“I can climb it. That rock just wasn’t big enough.”
“Well, we definitely do not have time to find another one, so let’s go.”
She turned away.
“Wait, I want to try one more thing first. I saw someone in another village do it. I’ve wanted to try it for a while now.”
“Then can we go?” Terrin ask, glancing back at him.
“Yes,” he said.
He bent down and rolled the boulder slightly to the side.
She turned back to watch. He moved as far back from the oak as he could, dancing on his toes slightly. A glint shone in his eye.
“What are you doing?” Terrin asked.
Instead of answering, he just grinned and started to run. His feet churned over the ground as he narrowed in on the tree. Then, a few feet away, he leaned back and without slowing down he set one foot against the tree trunk. Using his momentum he pressed his foot into the trunk and pulled his other foot up after it. He started to take a third step. His hand reached to wrap around the branch.
Her breath caught in her throat. How could he run up the tree?
Then the smooth leather sole of his shoe slipped.
“That was never going to—”
He hit the ground with a sharp thud.
“Trunnen!” she cried, dropping the water-wort.
Though he’d moved the rock to clear his path, he had not moved it far. When he fell, he clipped his head against its edge.
She dashed to his side, dropping to her knees as she reached him. She touched his shoulder. His eyes were shut, and he made no response.
“Trunnen, get up. I told you it was a bad idea, you idiot.”
Then she noticed a red puddle growing around his head, and she felt her own blood drain from her face. Her throat tightened.
“I have to stop the bleeding,” she said weakly.
She lifted his head and pressed her hand against the wound. She cringed at the warm, sticky feeling as the blood oozed through her fingers. She couldn’t stop the flow. For a minute, she struggled against throwing up.
“I’m not afraid of blood,” she said, staring at the puddle.
How many times had she killed and cleaned animals? How was their blood any different from this?
But it was different, and she couldn’t stand it anymore. She pulled away, franticly wiping her hand against her leggings. She turned her eyes away from the blood, fighting to hold back both her stomach and her tears.
“Trunnen, please wake up. I don’t know what to do.”
How could she stop the blood when she couldn’t stand to look at it? But if she didn’t do something, he would probably bleed out before she could get help.
The only thing she could think of was to scream, and hope someone was near enough to hear.
She lifted her head. Her jaw dropped open.
A slight, gray man sat on a pony, with a second pony tied behind, covered in baggage. His gaze swept between her and Trunnen. The man was covered in mud. A swamp man.
“Who are you?” Terrin asked, standing and crossing her arms.
He swung off the horse, and bowed slightly.
“My name is Zuen. I am a merchant. I offer my assistance.”
Terrin’s throat tightened as she fought for a second with her instinct to distrust strangers. But what choice did she have? She glanced once at Trunnen, and quickly looked away.
“Please,” she said softly.
“Hold my horse,” Zuen said.
She took the reins, and he went to his saddle bag. Though she generally disliked the large creatures, Terrin found herself burying her face in the warm neck of the horse she held.
“Get on the pony,” said Zuen, after a minute.
Terrin looked up. Zuen held Trunnen, whose head was now bandaged.
“Because he needs to be kept upright, to minimize the blood loss. I don’t want him in the saddle alone, and I will not ride while you walk.”
With a short nod, Terrin clambered into the saddle. Zuen lifted Trunnen up in front of her and took the reins.
“You know the forest well, do you not?” Zuen asked.
“We need to get your friend to a healer quickly. Will you guide me?”
“Yes.” Terrin thought for a second, then pointed. “That way. And he’s not my friend, he’s my brother.”
“I see. Thank you.”
He clucked the horses into a brisk walk, then added, “Luck is on your brother’s side, since he chose the very week I started my merchant life to be injured. And besides that, you both strike me as strong-willed young people. He will be fine.”
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.