Hunted Chapter Thirty-Two

Hunted-600

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.


PART THREE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 32

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.

“Fine.”

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.

She blinked.

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.

“Why?”

“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.

“Y-yes.”

“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.”

Terrin nodded.


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.

Hunted Chapter Thirty-One

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 31

Terrin

The raft cruised through the water with Ceianna’s determined strokes. The girl’s face had been stony since the elder announced that she would guide them to the tree.

The tree was amazingly well hidden, despite its size. The other trees clustered around, making it impossible to see its true width until you were within a few yards. Terrin knew at once it was the tree from her dream. Besides the enormity of the trunk and the large, carved door, she could sense the sameness of the tree — or maybe that was just the magic flowing from it.

The group trooped off the boat solemnly, staring up at the large tree. Even Terrin, though she had seen it before, couldn’t help but be awed by it.

“Well,” said Arnold, “either this is it, or I’m a great big baboon … oh, wait — Well, guess this isn’t it.”

Everyone shifted their stares to him, and Terrin rolled her eyes.

“Congrats,” she said, “you get the Worst Joke Ever award.”

Chris shook his head, and stepped towards the door.

“Let’s go in. Like Arnold said, this is it. It feels just like before.”

He placed one hand on the wood and pushed for a second, with no results. He threw his weight against it. The door did not budge.

“I should have mentioned,” said Ceianna. “That door, it has never been opened.”

“It’s a door. Of course it’s been opened,” snapped Terrin.

Chris frowned at her slightly as he stepped away from the tree.

Thomas quickly said, “That is a good point. Why make a door, if not to open it? And for another thing, if this is the location for the next riddle, then King Miles must have got in somehow.”

“The question is,” said Chris, “how do we open it now?”

Terrin started to examine the door when a thought struck her. Slowly she stepped away from the tree and looked across the waters to the other isle in the dream, where the wraith and the old woman had been.

Where the wraith and the old woman were now.

Terrin’s heart caught in her throat, thinking for a moment it was the same woman from the dream who now glowered at them. Then she realized that the truth was even more frightening — this woman was the same as had watched her back in Xell.

“Chris, can you read the inscription?” said Nora, distracting Terrin. “It looks a bit like swamp script, but it’s not familiar.”

Terrin glanced up at the swirls above the door and realized that they were indeed words.

“No, can’t read it,” said Chris, frowning.

“I can,” said Terrin, as she realized that they were not only words, but words she recognized.

Ceianna arched her eyebrows.

“It’s ancient swamp script,” Terrin continued. “For Laughter will this door open, Laughter with ho ho he he ha ha ho ho always in hand.”

“Maybe it means you need the entity to open it,” said Ceianna. “And since Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho’s not here, we should really all just go home.” Her brow was furrowed.

“Or maybe someone should tell a joke,” said Arnold. “If I was an ancient entity of protection, what would be my favorite joke?”

While everyone’s attention was averted from her, Terrin glanced back to the bushes. The woman and the wraith were gone.

They’re probably just my imagination, Terrin told herself. No one else had seen them.

Unless Ceianna had, and that was why she was nervous. Terrin glanced back at the swamp girl. Once again she felt something nagging at the back of her mind, a connection that she ought to make.

“Ceianna, you’re the expert here,” said Chris. “Do you have any ideas?”

“Well,” she said, rubbing her hands together as if they were cold, “I would not say I’m an expert. However, in the inscription, Laughter is used as a name, not as an action. Also…” She paused here, chewing her lip.

“Also?” said Chris softly.

“I don’t think ho ho he he ha ha ho ho does refer to the entity,” she said quickly, and flushed slightly.

Terrin glanced back at the inscription. “She’s right.”

“What does that mean?” said Nora.

There was a long silence, and Terrin gave up on the nagging feeling, and turned her attention to the problem at hand. In the dream, no one else had showed up, certainly not any ancient entities. No, one of the companions had opened the door.

Reluctantly she recalled the dream’s details, searching for clues. She was sure the stocky young man had opened it, but how? Some particular way of touching the carvings? And why was Laughter used as a na—

“Oh! I see,” said Terrin.

The others all stared at her.

“Names and titles are basically the same thing in the ancient swamp tongue. And titles are just descriptions of what you are or do. So it would mean someone who is known for causing laughter. And I think,” she couldn’t help smiling as she finished, “that we all know who that is.”

“Huh,” said Arnold, cracking a grin. “Nope, still don’t get it.”

Terrin glared at him, but he was already moving towards the door. He didn’t even touch the wood before the door swung open, just like in the dream. Magic seemed to exhale from the room beyond, sending tingles up and down her spine.

They filed through the door into a round room. It was not as big as the size of the tree might have led her to expect, most of the space being taken up with a broad spiral stair case similar to that in the council tree. The walls and floor were all smooth, but instead of the gray of the council tree, they were a sandy brown color, as if this tree were somehow still alive.

Terrin thought she felt the floor pulse under her feet, though she couldn’t be sure.

When they reached the middle of the room, the door swung shut, silent until the clunk as it fell into place. They looked back, and Terrin was unsettled to see that the inside of the door was exactly like the rest of the wall. It was impossible to tell where it had been.

Though there was no obvious source of light, the room was still bright. Magic seemed to emanate from the wood itself, sending shivers up and down Terrin’s spine in a way that she thought only spirits could.

“Of course,” said Arnold, looking up the stairs. “It would be too easy to put the riddle on the first floor.”


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.

Hunted Chapter Thirty

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 30

Christopher

The inside of the council tree was hollowed out evenly, its walls and floor polished smooth. Beneath Chris’s feet, the tree rings showed exactly how ancient the tree was. A staircase wound around the wall.

It had been more than two months since he had last climbed stairs, and, by the time he reached the meeting room, he was winded. A stitch poked his side.

Instead of chairs, there were cushions arranged on the floor. It had always been a custom of the swamp people to leave themselves fully visible at official meetings, as a sign of trust. The elder they’d met before and two slightly younger men had already taken their seats.

Chris lowered himself and mirrored their cross-legged posture. The others sat as well — except for Ceianna, who stood by the stairs.

The elder gestured to the cups of tea in front of their seats.

“Please, drink. The climb can be quite tiring.”

Chris obediently took a long sip. It was soothing, and the stitch faded within seconds of the liquid hitting his stomach.

“So, what has brought you to the swamp?”

“My friends and I are on a quest,” he began.

In the corner of his eye, he could see Terrin spinning her cup in her hand. She had been fidgety since she returned the evening before but had brushed off his attempts to question her. He continued slowly, not taking his eyes off the elder’s face. This part sounded strange no matter how many times he said it.

“We believe that we have found the riddles that King Miles followed, that led him to the Stone. We decided to follow these riddles ourselves, and they have brought us here.”

A light sparked in the elder’s eyes, and he leaned forward a bit.

“A riddle? May we hear it?”

Chris let his eyes slide shut as he began to recite.

“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Twiddle your thumbs and dance.
Winter winds freeze away.
And sun doth rain its golden heat.
And I will laugh all day with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho,
And I will laugh all day!”

Chris opened his eyes. He was surprised to see the elder’s own eyes had fallen shut. The three swamp men began to chant.

“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
There be work to do, but nay.
Spring doth already fade,
And so many things need doing,
But I shall laugh all day, with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho,
And I will laugh all day!

“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Fish do beg to be caught,
Summer be a going,
And they be hop, hop, hoppin’.
Though I do laugh all day, with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho,
And I will laugh all day!

“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Now time be runnin’ out,
Fall is going by,
And winter may freeze hope.
Yet still I laugh all day, with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Aye, I will laugh all day!”

As the song ended, the elder’s head began to nod. He opened his eyes, and leaned back, his head bumping against the smooth interior of the tree.

“Yes, indeed, your logic seems sound. And I believe we can help you. Though—”

The man straightened and folded his hands across his lap. His eyes seemed to bore into Chris.

In the thick silence that fell, Chris’s mind raced through everything he had learned of the swamp people, wondering if there was some custom he was forgetting.

The seconds ticked by until the elder spoke again.

“You and, excepting Thomas, your friends are very young,” he said, and his eyes went from one of them to the next. “Yet you are on a quest first taken by King Miles many generations ago. Tell me, for I can’t help but be curious, why did you start on this quest? How did you find this riddle? So many have searched for it, yet failed, but you…”

“It was sheer luck. No, not luck, some sort of magic. No—” Chris paused. In reality he had been kidnapped by harpies, but that was a story all its own.

A smile tugged the men’s features at his hesitation.

Gathering his wits, he began again.

“We have found two riddles. We were led to the first one by magic — and some help. And when we found it, only I could read it. To my friends, it was in a strange tongue. We interpreted it, and then followed the clues to the second riddle. Again, only I could read it, and it was as you heard.

“In both cases, the riddles were surrounded by powerful magic. And I believe this, or some other magic, has been guiding us along the way—”

He stopped again.

He had not actually had a dream since just after the second riddle, and that had been of little use.

Was the magic still guiding them?

“And?” the elder said. He had once again leaned forward.

Chris mentally shook himself.

“And those facts have led me to believe that I — with the aid of my friends—” he added forcefully, and in the corner of his eyes he saw Nora smile, “—am meant to be following the riddles.”

The elder’s gaze continued to bore into him for what felt like hours.

Finally, the man spoke.

“I feel like there is a very interesting story to be told here, and I would one day like to hear it in full. Of course, no doubt, if these truly are King Miles’s ancient riddles, it will be written down in a book. If so, I hope someone of the swamp will write it. You plainsmen make history sound so dull and dry.”

The other men nodded.

“But for now,” the elder continued, “I have heard enough. I will accept your friendship and give you aid.

“In swamp lore there is an … archaic entity. It is said that this creature acted as guardian of the swamp people in their early days. The entity is called Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho. The same Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho in the song.

“Deep in the swamp, there is a place where no one goes, where the being is said to have lived. If you wish, Ceianna will take you there. I cannot, of course, promise you success in your quest. But if you fail, it shall not be my fault. You may go.”

Chris and the others stood, and Ceianna started down the stairs. But as he stepped away, he paused, his conscience stabbing his heart.

He turned back to the elder.

“I have offered you friendship,” he said, “but it cannot be true friendship if I do not tell you the consequences that come with it.”

The elder’s eyebrows arched.

Chris straightened his back and took a deep breath before finishing.

“My full name was Honorable Christopher Fredrico, son of Earl Fredrico. However, more than two months ago, I was suspected for the theft of the Shard that rested in my city. I was banished by Prince Tyler — given only one month to leave the country.

“I assure you that I did not commit this crime, and it is part of why this quest is important to me. But if knowing this means you must take back your offer of aid, then … I would ask that you at least allow me to continue my search on my own.”


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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 29

Terrin

Shylak’s marketplace was set up where several trees grew so close that the platforms merged into one large plaza. It seemed to also double as a meeting place, for most of the swamp people were more interested in talking than in wares.

Of course, they could just be gossiping about the visitors, Terrin thought.

She had noticed many people staring. Arnold seemed to be getting the most attention. Swamp people were short and lithe, and he was anything but. Also, the way he kept glancing warily towards the platform’s edge no doubt seemed humorous to them.

Nora and Chris had come to explore the shops. Nora was haggling with the herbalist, while Chris admired the selection of fruit.

But Terrin’s interest lay with Ceianna, who had planted herself near the edge of the platform, standing guard over her charges with arms crossed. Terrin had been considering trying a tactical approach, but she decided that tactical was not her specialty. Not when it came to people. She strode to Ceianna, brushing her hair back over her shoulders as she went.

Ceianna glanced up, her lips tightening and her eyebrows drawing together.

Terrin crossed her own arms and took a long breath before starting.

“You are the second sentry of Shylak.”

“Yes.”

“Where’s the first sentry?”

“What is that to you?” Ceianna said. Her words were clipped and sharp.

“I was wondering who else is in the swamp.”

Terrin let her lips quirk into a taut smile.

“Well, let’s see,” said Ceianna slowly. “Who else? Oh, yeah, me and everyone else who lives in Shylak. If you must know, though, the first sentry is out on patrol.”

“Which is exactly why neither you, nor the elder, followed the rules and called him in to keep watch over us. I see.”

“Rules?” Ceianna said, a frown creasing her face.

“The charge of any visitors to the swamp shall fall upon the first sentry, unless he is otherwise detained,” quoted Terrin. “Do you want me to continue? It’s rather long, as laws generally are.”

Ceianna’s frown deepened for a moment, and then she tilted her head back a bit and smiled. “If that was swamp law, not only would you have no business knowing it, but you would also have no business knowing who else was in the swamp. Any other, less invasive, questions?”

“Well, I was wondering whe—”

“Terrin?” cried a familiar voice.

Terrin spun just in time to be pulled into a crushing hug by Zuen. He released her and took a step back, looking her over.

“You get older every time I see you,” he said.

Terrin pursed her lips, and planted her fists against her hips. “That is how it works, Zuen. Time passes and people age. And I thought you were the wise one.”

Zuen laughed, and Terrin couldn’t stop the smile that split her face.

“You two know each other?” said Ceianna. Her frown had returned.

“Yes,” said Zuen. “I often visit her village. Side effect of being a merchant.”

“I see. That does explain some things.”

Terrin smirked. “Like how I know swamp laws? Oh, wait, I don’t because they don’t exist.”

Zuen put an arm tightly around Terrin’s shoulders — with some difficulty, since he was shorter than her.

“I see you two are hitting it off about as well as should be expected.” He started to pull Terrin away. “I think I shall steal Terrin, if you don’t mind. My wife has always wanted to meet her.”

“Fine,” said Ceianna.

She turned sharply and walked off towards the others.

* * *

“It’s unfortunate that you were paired with Ceianna,” Zuen said. “I would recommend avoiding conversation with her in the future.”

“Why?” asked Terrin.

They were sitting in the small kitchen of Zuen’s house. His wife, Melana, was heating water for tea.

“Well, you know how our two peoples used to be constantly warring, right?”

“Until the plainsmen came from across the sea and earned our loyalty, and we made one of them the first ruler of North Raec, and promised to make peace between our two races,” Terrin recited with a smile.

“Well, that was ages ago,” he said, “and most of both peoples have forgotten, or don’t care. However there are a couple families who — well, they still remember. One family in particular has more or less made it their job to continue loathing the forest people.”

“Doesn’t that destroy the purpose of the peace?” asked Terrin.

Melana laughed, and both Terrin and Zuen looked at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I’ve tried telling them that. But Zalisha seems to think that giving up past enmity would destroy part of what we are.”

“Who?” asked Terrin.

This time Zuen answered. “Ceianna’s grandmother. She has a crazy hatred of your people that she’s trying to pass on to her granddaughter. Unfortunately, Ceianna’s mother and father are both dead.”

“It’s a pity,” said Melana, setting out their teacups and beginning to pour. The scent of herbs flooded Terrin’s nose. “Ceianna’s a good girl, really, and her mother was a lovely woman who would have taught her not to fall for that silly prejudice. But she’s grown up too serious. She forgets what it is to be of the swamp, what should define us. And with her grandmother, well…”

Melana’s voice trailed off, and they sipped their tea in silence.

Something nagged at the corner of Terrin’s mind, a detail or connection she ought to notice. But she couldn’t grasp it, so instead she asked the question that had been on the tip of her tongue since before Zuen had dragged her here.

“Zuen, you’ve studied the lore of the swamp, right? I was wondering, what is the biggest tree in the area? Circumference-wise, I mean. And that might be of some significance to your people.”

Zuen leaned back, his eyes looking her over. Then he glanced at Melana. She took a sip of her tea, then gave a short nod.

He began to speak, and from the tone of his voice, Terrin anticipated a long story.

“Well I have never seen it. No one has — or at least no one will admit they have. But there are legends of one tree…”


Read chapter thirty…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Eight

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 28

Terrin

The wooden planks of the bridge creaked and swayed as the companions made their way across. Arnold was starting to look a bit green in the face, and Terrin wondered if his stump made balance more difficult. She dropped back to walk by him.

“Remember to breathe,” she said.

He gave her a sour look, but then he took several deeper breaths.

“It’s easier if you don’t think about it,” she added.

“How exactly does one do that? It’s kinda hard not to think about the ground when it keeps bucking beneath your feet. This is worse than a hammock.”

“Just relax.”

“She’s right,” said Thomas, dropping back to walk beside them. “Sometimes our bodies do things better without the aid of our minds. The trick is to distract yourself. You might try focusing more on the scenery.”

Terrin looked around. Shylak was a marvel of engineering. It sat near the center of the swamp, where the trees were largest. The city was built entirely above the water. The bulk of it consisted of wooden platforms, supported by branches and connected by broad, rope bridges like the one they were walking on. Many of the platforms also had rope ladders leading up higher, to buildings that nestled behind more branches. These were mostly connected in groups of two or three, sometimes reaching up to a third level that nearly disappeared into the canopy of leaves.

Though Shylak was not as active as Fredricburg, the presence of the locals was more pronounced. The ‘streets’ were just as crowded, if not more, and Terrin could feel the people’s stares prickling her skin from every direction.

As they moved from the bridge to one of the platforms, she glanced over the edge. Below them, an occasional fish jumped from the water, snapping at insects. A few rafts coasted between the trees, carting various things like fish or brush.

“We’re almost there. Two more platforms,” said Ceianna.

Terrin glanced up, and for a moment she met the swamp girl’s eyes.

Immediately Terrin jerked her eyes away. She strode to the tree at the center of the platform and rubbed her hands against the bark. The roughness under her fingers helped her focus.

Though the swamp people had always looked very similar to Terrin, there was something about Ceianna that was strikingly like the girl from her dream, the one who had guided Roz and her friends to the tree. When she had first spotted her, Terrin had thought they were one and the same. But on closer inspection, she could see that Ceianna had higher cheek bones, and her eyes were more gold than brown.

Nevertheless, it was unsettling.

Terrin pushed herself away from the tree and glanced back at Arnold. He seemed more comfortable on the platforms, but he was still taking his time. He also kept clear of the edges, for which she didn’t blame him — the wooden rail around the edge looked far too flimsy to support his weight.

However, he managed to cross the next bridge with more ease.

As they crossed the last bridge, Terrin examined their goal. The tree was the biggest they had seen so far. Though it was obviously dead, few of the thick branches had broken off. It had only a small platform, but an ornate door was set into the trunk. A man leaned casually to the side of the door, watching as they approached.

They filed out onto the platform, and Ceianna nodded to the man. “Elder, these are Chris, Thomas, Arnold, Terrin, and Nora. They have come to us seeking assistance in return for friendship.”

The man looked them over. Only at the word ‘elder’ did Terrin look close enough to realize that the man was quite old. The mud that the swamp people wore like a badge had disguised his gray hair and wrinkled skin, but what had fooled her even more was his straight back and easy stance. He seemed full of strength and energy.

He examined them each carefully before speaking.

“Welcome, friends. I hope your journey has not been too hard.”

“And yours, elder,” answered Chris, bowing a bit deeper than Ceianna had done.

The elder smiled. “You have studied our ways? Welcome, indeed. Not many take the time to learn about us swamp folk.”

Terrin smiled, remembering how Chris had always enjoyed studying other cultures.

The elder continued, “But I can see you have journeyed long. It is not good to discuss business when tired. Go, explore our city, eat our food, and sleep here tonight. Tomorrow we shall talk.

“For now Ceianna, as second sentry, will be your guide.”

He nodded briskly to them, then disappeared through the door before Terrin’s thoughts could gather.

Ceianna turned to them.

“Very well, this way,” she said, and gestured towards another bridge.

Arnold groaned.

Terrin turned to follow Ceianna, and something that had been bugging her finally clicked. Ceianna was the second sentry of Shylak. But if she was second, where was the first?


Read chapter twenty-nine…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Seven

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 27

Arnold

They were now walking almost constantly in ankle-deep water. It felt like for every step they took towards the center of the swamp, they took three in the opposite direction to avoid a section of too-soft ground. Absentmindedly, Arnold tried to rub his sleep-blurred eyes — Chris had gotten them moving first thing — but only a stump bumped his head. He winced at his forgetfulness and dropped the arm back to his side.

The stump wasn’t sore anymore, but every time he had drawn his sword to practice, it had made him feel oddly off balance. And every once in a while, he would find himself trying to do something, like scratch his forehead, or brush back his bangs, or brush something off his clothes. And sometimes, like now, he would feel the intense need to scratch the palm of his now non-existent hand. He clenched his right hand into a fist, and pressed his left arm against his side.

He had told everyone that it was just a hand, that he was still fine. But even when he didn’t need two hands — it only took one to hold a sword — he still felt completely useless.

“Here.” Thomas said, startling Arnold. He was holding out a yellow leaf with sawed edges.

“What is it?” said Arnold, taking it gingerly. He wasn’t sure if he trusted anything of that color — though on closer examination, the other side was a vibrant green.

“Put it in your mouth and suck on it for a while. It’ll help with ghost itches. I had nearly forgotten it existed — not needed very often, outside of wars — but it grows thickly here in the swamp. Pick it, let it wilt a couple days, and then suck on it. I’ve been picking a few leaves here and there, and by the time we leave, I should have enough to last you a while.”

When Arnold still hesitated, Thomas laughed. “It doesn’t even taste too bad.”

Arnold rubbed the leaf between his fingers. “I’m not sure I can trust a medicine that doesn’t taste bad.”

“Yes, most of us healers are of the same opinion. But I’m afraid that in this case, there’s not much choice.”

“I knew you healers did it on purpose.”

He placed the herb on his tongue, and a mild sweetness flooded his mouth. A few seconds later the itching began to fade.

“I’ve heard that the swamp people use it to sweeten their water,” the old man continued. “Some people say it purifies as well as sweetening, but who can tell?”

“Thank you, Thomas.”

“Ah, don’t thank me. I can’t help it. And besides, imagine how dull things would be without your jokes.”

They both smiled.

“Now, we’d better get back to walking,” Thomas added.

Arnold looked up and realized that the others had pulled ahead by several yards, though they had paused to wait on an isle.

As the morning passed, Arnold noticed odd sounds — splashes that didn’t sound quite like fish, an odd creak or snap. Occasionally he felt like eyes were staring into him. Whenever he searched for the source, he would see nothing. Sometimes he thought he saw a branch flip back into place, or ripples in the water. There was even once or twice when he thought he saw a flash of hair, or the features of a face, out of the corners of his eyes.

It was a bit past mid-morning when Chris called back, “Dead end.”

They had reached a larger island, and the ground was surprisingly dry. As usual, it was crowded with bushes.

Arnold moved forward past Terrin, to see what Chris was looking at. This was not the first time the swamp had forced them to try another way, but this time the blockade was more extreme. The island ended in a two foot drop to an area of fast-flowing current nearly two yards across. On the other side, the bank of the next island rose even steeper.

“Well,” said Arnold, as Nora and Thomas came up beside him, “it’s not really a dead end. It’s actually quite lively.”

No one laughed, though Thomas and Nora smiled slightly, and he sighed. The swamp was a dreary, bug-infested place. Between the mugginess, the difficult footing, and being watched, they were all starting to wear out.

“Fine,” said Chris, stepping away from the edge. Then he called, “If you’re going to help us, then help us. We know you’re there.”

There was dead silence.

Then an eerie voice responded, “I am the second sentry of Shylak, and I hear your cry. But tell me, why did you enter our land?”

Arnold had always thought the swamp people a bit crazy — why else would they live in a swamp? — but the voice sent shivers up his spine.

“We wish to go to Shylak,” responded Chris. “There is something we need your help with.”

“What?”

“Our business is — hard to explain. I would speak to your elders about it.”

“And what would you give us in return?”

The voice seemed to have dropped deeper, and Arnold wondered if it really belonged to the girl they had seen. And what would Chris do now? They didn’t really have anything to give. Thomas had brought some gold, but—

“We bring the gift of friendship,” declared Chris.

A second later, a wooden raft appeared to their left, from beyond an isle thick with vegetation, maybe twenty yards away. The same girl from earlier stood on it, guiding the craft with a long paddle as she pushed off the isle. She stood, holding her paddle still and letting the boat glide towards them. A slight smile was on her face as she spoke in a voice that was not eerie, but rather soft and sweet.

“The greatest gift that one can give.”


Read chapter twenty-eight…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Six

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 26

Brayden

There was a soft bump as the boat settled herself into the dock. A minute later she was tied off and the plank had been lowered. Travelers hurried down first, some going to the side so that they were nearby to oversee the unloading of their belongings. Brayden walked down the plank, trying to control his bounce. He’d waited till the first crowd had thinned, so as to lessen his risks of a clumsy accident.

There were so many reasons that North Raec should be proud of their sister country, not angry. Looking around, he was impressed by the buzz of merchants from all over the world. Colyth was a remarkable city, one of the top five trading centers of the world — though that report was from last year. It was also the capital of South Raec.

Which was good, because Brayden didn’t want to travel much longer on his own. He had hardly trusted himself to keep track of his father’s letter this long.

Someone roughly pushed into him from behind. He tumbled forward, and then quickly moved himself towards the side of the street, as the sailor who’d bumped him cursed and moved on. Brayden tightened his grip on the satchel he carried, and continued onward, towards the back of town.

At first he made himself hurry, but soon he was taken in by his surroundings. He had never traveled far from home, besides the short hunting trips, and though Coricstead had a fine market, it was nothing compared to the sweet smells that now tickled his nostrils and the bright colors that attracted his eyes.

“Finest clothes from Diamond Isles!” called a loud voice, obviously accented.

“Sweeter fruits here than anywhere,” cried another.

So many people, all wanting to be heard over everyone else. It reminded him a bit of court life, all the nobles trying to draw the king’s attention. He chuckled.

It took him an hour to slowly make his way through the crowds. He couldn’t help but stop to listen to the street musicians or look at the exotic goods. He was constantly bumped, and eventually he moved his satchel forward where he could keep a better eye on it, and he was careful not to knock anyone over himself.

When he did reach the castle, he had to say it didn’t match the rest of Colyth’s bright colors. It was smaller than his father’s castle, though the courtyard looked bigger. The gray walls rose high above the murky moat.

Taking a deep breath, he started across the drawbridge. He was met by a short servant, who looked to be only twelve. His small, round face was topped with a bowl of brown hair, and he was dressed in a red tunic and red leggings. He had a big grin as he met Brayden.

“Greetin’s, sir. What be yer business?”

Brayden couldn’t help but grin back at the boy’s clipped speech, wondering if the servant always spoke like this or was doing it because he thought him a simpleton. No one could blame the boy for it. In his rugged traveling clothes, Brayden didn’t look much like a diplomat.

“I have a message for the North Raecan ambassador, from King Nylan Coric.”

The boy flushed a bit.

“Oh. I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to be rude. ’Cour — Of course, I’ll take you right to him.”

“’Tis fine,” Brayden said, ’laxing his own grammar in an attempt to make the boy more comfortable.

With a quick bow, the boy led him across the courtyard. Brayden couldn’t help wondering how the lad would have reacted if he knew he was talking to a prince.

“I’ll take you to one of the lounges, and then go straight to fetch the ambassador, sir.”

“Thank you.”


Read chapter twenty-seven…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Five

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 25

Trillory

“Fire, come, and light. Surge, burn, turn my foes to ash,” muttered Eric.

Between his palms, Trill could see a small spark of flame. It showed no interest in his words.

She sensed the tendrils of magic that spilled from his fingers and reached towards the flame. A few strands had twisted themselves into a ball around it, but the rest either scattered before they reach the ball, or surged past without attaching.

Eric said the words were supposed to help guide the magic, but they didn’t seem to be helping him much.

She turned back to her reading. Manipulative spells. She had thought she might find the confusion spell here, but the book had no index. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem — she didn’t really want to learn magic — but she was curious about the bear. For one thing, the form of the magic had felt familiar. It had reminded her of the night of the ball.

The night Chris had been framed.

Every spell seemed to have its own set of rules. She noticed one that would cause a person to ‘decide’ to hold still, but the spell would break if the person’s life was threatened. There also seemed to be dozens of variations on the same spell. For instance, one spell took such complete control that the person wouldn’t do anything without orders, while another left them relatively free but allowed you to influence their actions.

One thing was consistent, though. All the spells limited what other magic the caster could use.

But despite the restrictions, Trill couldn’t help worrying what would happen if someone like Anthony got a hold of these spells. If he had magic, his cruel streak could do serious damage.

She also understood now why her father made his family wear charms to protect against such spells. But it made her wonder why more courtiers didn’t use them. The only other person she’d sensed that sort of charm magic around was Crown Prince Tyler. Even though magicians were rare, why would anyone take the chance?

Trill poured herself a fresh cup of water and glanced at Eric. He had succeeded in guiding more magic to the ball, and his spark had grown to the size of a teacup. She smiled.

She’d spent most of her time the last few weeks in this room. She found Eric was easygoing and friendly, a nice change from Joline. At first she’d also used the room to avoid Anthony, but a couple weeks ago he had mysteriously left on ‘business.’ It irked her — if their father had known Anthony would be gone, perhaps he would have let her come home — but she did not mind so much as she would have before Eric befriended her.

The dry pages of the book rustled as she flipped to the next page. This spell made someone agree with everything you say, and answer yes to all your questions. Her eyes went past the incantation to the notes.

This spell will not work if the subject has eaten pancakes for breakfast, Trill began to read. Also, in the event of—

Trill stopped and reread the first sentence.

Pancakes?

She couldn’t stop the laughter that surged from her chest.

She dropped the book and tried to smother the sound, but already she sensed Eric’s magic faltering. She looked up in time to see the fire fall from its place between his hands. The magic tendrils that had held it in place had snapped. The fire hit the floor and flattened.

Then it flickered and vanished.

Trill let out a long breath, and looked up to meet Eric’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he said, smiling a bit. “I was about to lose it anyway. What’s so funny?”

He stepped toward her to examine the book.

“Well, it’s just that I never realized that what someone ate for breakfast could affect magic,” said Trill, showing him the spell.

He chuckled.

“Well, I knew there were certain herbs that affected magic, but that is strangely specific.”

There was a scream from the doorway. Trill looked up to see a maid, her fingers white around a shaking tray of tea and cakes. The girl’s eyes were locked on the floor.

Trill followed her gaze to where the fire had been.

To where the fire was.

Though the original flames had died out, a spark must have caught one of the many loose pages that littered the floor. Now the fire was surging back to life with more energy than ever.

Trill jumped to her feet as Eric turned towards the flame. She reached for the pitcher on the table, but her instincts were already taking over. The water surged from the pitcher, brushing across her extended hand.

Her other hand shifted, grasping the magic that had wrapped itself around the water, flinging it across the room without the slow grace that normally accompanied her magic. As the water touched the fire she opened her fingers so that it spread, covering the flames. Then she closed her hand into a fist so that the water closed around the flame, dousing it.

She stood there a second, then released the water and swayed into the table, grasping the edge with one hand. It wasn’t that she was in any way exhausted by the magic — in fact, she felt slightly exhilarated — but that she was shocked at how automatically it had come.

So much for her secret.

“Here, Kelly, let me take that,” she heard Eric say, “and you take this. And it would be best if you didn’t mention this to anyone.”

“Y-yes, m’lord.”

Trill glanced up to see the maid clutch the now-empty pitcher to her chest. She dropped a quick curtsy and backed out of the room.

Eric set down the tray and picked up a towel that lay by the window. He dropped it across the pool of water. Without giving it more attention, he turned back to the table and poured two cups of tea. He handed one to her. After a careful drink from his cup, he sat down across from where Trill still stood.

Trill met his eyes, waiting for him to comment on her magic.

Instead he said, “Well, that could have gone worse.”

Trill sat and took a shaky sip of her own tea.

“Maybe you shouldn’t leave paper lying around when you’re playing with fire,” she said.

“Yes, well. I’ve never been great at the whole safety thing.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Trill’s eyes dropped to the table. Eric’s fingers drummed against the wood, and she noticed that the table seemed to be rapidly changing colors, at first only slightly, and then becoming brighter and brighter.

Then the drumming stopped, and the table remained a florescent pink.

Trill glanced up at Eric and raised her eyebrows.

He grinned, and the table went back to normal.

“So, how long have you known about your powers?” he asked.

Trill blinked. “Er, what?”

“Well, at first I assumed you didn’t know,” he said. “But considering you’re not in shock—”

“Wait, you knew?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

Trill set down her cup and leaned back. She crossed her arms, glaring at him.

“Well, you did make it kind of obvious,” he said. “Aside from the forest people, I don’t think anyone can sense magic unless it’s very strong, or unless they themselves are magicians.”

He waved toward the window. “What I cast at that bear was a very minor confusion spell — there was hardly any power in it. Since you could sense it, the obvious conclusion was that you were a magician. Now, my question.”

Trill dropped her eyes.

She should have been more careful. After all, Chris had never sensed her magic, but she never thought about that.

Well, it was too late now.

“So? How long have you known?” Eric repeated.

“As long as I can remember.”

“Really?” he said.

Trill looked up at the surprise in his voice.

“I could barely do anything before I was twelve,” he said, “and what I managed was only because my father taught me. You must be powerful. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

Trill shrugged.

“At first, I didn’t want to,” she said. “It was fun to have a secret. And then later, I figured my father wouldn’t approve. He … distrusts magic, to say the least. And besides, had he let me learn, I would have had to take lessons from the Shard’s caretaker, and he is a stodgy old man.”

“Well, how would you like to learn now?”


Read chapter twenty-six…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Four

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 24

Nora

Terrin exhaled sharply, creating a hissing sound. Nora looked up. Terrin jerked at Chris’s sleeve and nodded to a clump of bushes several islands away.

And to the skinny girl that was crouched there.

The girl didn’t seem to mind being seen. She stared back. A frown was etched in her face, and — though Nora couldn’t be sure — she thought that the girl’s eyes were focused on Terrin.

“Hello, there,” Chris called.

The girl glanced at him, then disappeared with a swish of her hair.

They sat in silence for a while. Nora, at least, felt slightly in shock.

“Good to know we’re not being watched, or anything,” said Arnold.

Terrin and Chris shook their heads.

“No, this is good,” he said. “It’s swamp custom for visitors to be watched. Unless they decide we’re a threat, they shouldn’t harm us. And if they decide to trust us, they might even guide us to where we need to go.”

And where’s that? Nora wondered.

“Oh. Then what could go wrong?” Arnold said lightly, though his smile was weak. “There’s obviously nothing threatening about us.”

* * *

The tuft of brown grass squished under Nora’s feet. She winced as one foot slid forward several inches beyond where she intended to step. The ground had been getting steadily wetter since they entered the swamp. The trees around them had, at first, been mostly on dry ground, but now each trunk sank a few feet under water.

Why would someone want to live here? The trees looked stunning in the half-light created by their canopies, but every step made her feel like she might sink into the murky waters.

“I’m never going to get these boots cleaned,” muttered Arnold behind her. Then louder, “Chris, if we don’t find this next riddle or whatever here, you’re buying me new boots—”

Chris chuckled.

“—In fact, I think you should buy me new boots anyway.”

“Nonsense.” Terrin shook her head. “Cleaning them will build character. After all, a knight should always clean his own boots, no matter how hard it is. Unless he has a squire, of course.”

“Drat. I knew I should have accepted that crazy kid’s offer.”

“Maybe you should have,” she responded. “He would have at least matched you in brain power.”

Nora laughed, nearly losing her balance as her foot splashed into cold water instead of mud. Knights were not permitted to have a squire in their first year, or until they had earned their own coat of arms. Arnold had been made a knight barely two weeks before Chris was banished, and he certainly didn’t have arms. For someone to have asked to be his squire — Nora had to hold still for a bit to let the laughter pass.

They trudged up a hill that rose out of the water like a small isle. Nora paused to enjoy the firmer ground. Arnold and Terrin slogged past, but Thomas stopped to talk with her.

“You know, swamps might be muddy, but there are many herbs that don’t grow anywhere else in North Raec. Like moon’s-honey.”

“What’s that?” Nora asked, smiling.

Thomas enjoyed sharing information in a way that would have made him a great teacher, and she had an equal interest in learning.

“For one thing, it does wonders for burns, but mostly it cures magical wounds.”

“Magical wounds?”

“Yes, it increases one’s resistance to magic. Of course, it can’t undo what the magic has already done, but it keeps it from worsening. I’ve never actually had need of it, magicians being so rare any more. But one can never be too prepared — especially healers.

“The flower’s easy enough to recognize. Its petals are white. Normally it’s closed up in a bulb, but under moonlight they spread out.” He illustrated with his hands. “Thus the name.”

“How do you use it?”

“That depends on the type of magic. For a physical injury or burn, you use the leaves to make a paste, which you then apply to the wound. It sucks the magic right out. Normally one coat will do the job, but if it doesn’t, then you apply a new coat once an hour.”

Nora nodded.

“However, there are spells that affect one’s mind. For those, you have to find the flower in moonlight and collect its pollen. Fix it as tea, and it’ll cure most any magical ailment. It’s a rare herb, though, quite hard to gather, and there’s also the danger that if overused it will cause sickness, even resulting in death. And if a magician were to drink it … well, it’s quite possible they’d lose use of their magic.”

“Permanently?” asked Nora, frowning.

“I don’t know for sure,” he said, thoughtfully tapping his chin. “The pollen absorbs magic, so I think once the pollen had moved through the system, the magic could return in time. There are a couple of herbs that might speed the process. However, I’m afraid it’s quite untested.”

“Then how do you tell for sure if your patient needs the pollen? And what if they don’t know whether they are magicians?” pressed Nora.

“That is the interesting, and hard to answer, question. Since, outside of magicians, people can only sense magic that is either very powerful, or used on themselves, it is largely left to the patient’s discretion. But there are a few signs, such as…”

The conversation continued for several minutes. Then the ground thinned out, and they had to walk single file.

It wasn’t till Nora nearly slipped again that she realized how effectively the lesson had distracted her from her displeasure with the swamp. Too bad it couldn’t have continued.

* * *

Arnold

As the light began to fade, they set up camp on the biggest isle they could find. Even so, there was not much room to lay out their bedding. Bushes were rampant on any isle that could support them. This also meant that Arnold couldn’t practice swordplay. He’d been working with Nora daily for a month, and though marching through the swamp was definitely exercise, it was not nearly as satisfying.

Just as well he had the first watch. He felt wide awake. Knowing that someone was spying on them didn’t help, either.

Then Nora settled beside him, lowering herself carefully to the ground.

“Not tired?” he asked.

“Something like that,” she said. She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, and stifled a yawn. “But more like so tired I can’t sleep. Never thought I’d experience that.”

“I know that feeling,” he said.

“As I recall, you and Chris used to get into quite a bit of trouble when you had that feeling,” said Nora.

When they were children, Chris had requested that he and Arnold stay in the school dormitories. While there, Arnold had taken him, and occasionally Terrin, on many night escapades, often to the kitchen. Eventually, the earl grew fed up with their behavior and had them return to his manor.

This was surely what Nora was referring to, but he faked a hurt expression — though in the dusky light he wasn’t sure it had any effect — and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“Besides, most of that happened before you got to school, so how would you even know?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that counts as a confession. But Terrin told me all sorts of stories of your ‘adventures.’”

She yawned.

They sat in silence for a while, and Arnold wondered if she’d fallen asleep.

Then there was a loud creak.

They both jumped, and their eyes searched the swamp. But the sound did not repeat.

Nora drew her legs tighter, her face looking nearly as pale as the swamp girl’s in the poor light. For the next hour or so that she sat with him, she did not yawn again.


Read chapter twenty-five…

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.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Three

Hunted-600

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 23

Terrin

The long wooden raft skimmed along the water, then bumped gently to a stop against a dirt bar. Terrin waited for the swamp girl to tie off, and then the four of them trooped out: a tall man with sandy hair, a stocky youth, the swamp girl, and Terrin.

“That is a big tree,” said the stocky boy. Before them was a tree so wide that the four of them together wouldn’t be able to reach halfway around. Its huge trunk rose to the canopy above, where it disappeared from sight. In the front was a large, ornately carved door.

But Terrin’s gaze had slipped to the side, just beyond the tree. On another, larger isle she saw a great black head, sticking out of the small bushes that grew there.

She stifled a squeak, then a giggle. It was just a wraith, and it did not look anything more than curious.

Strange, she thought. I always considered wraiths forest animals.

“It has never opened,” said the swamp girl, calling Terrin’s attention back to the door in the tree.

The tall man approached it. He rubbed his hands along the carvings.

Terrin glanced beyond the tree once again, back to the wraith. This time she nearly choked on her subdued yell. Beside the wraith stood an old woman, eyes trained on the swamp girl, with a frown that creased her entire face. The wraith bumped its head against the woman’s hand, and the woman patted it. Then they retreated into the brush.

“You okay, Roz?”

Terrin jerked her attention back to the others. The tall man was looking the direction she had been. He turned back to her and half frowned, half smiled.

Behind him the door had split down the middle and was standing open. The stocky young man leaned against it, grinning smugly, while the swamp girl gaped.

“There’s nothing there,” the tall man said, still watching her. “Were you dreaming again?”

* * *

Terrin gasped and sat up. She took several deep breaths, blinking sleepiness from her eyes. A film of water covered her face, and she thought for a moment she was sweating. Then she realized that a blanket of mist covered the whole camp, rising from the swamp water all around.

A few feet away, Nora was trying to coax a small fire back to life.

Terrin rose and stretched. She wished she could walk around to work the kinks out of her muscles, but the dirt bar was cramped, barely supporting the five people and their gear.

A flame flickered to life, and Nora whooped.

The other three sleepers jerked upright.

“Where’s the dragon?” said Arnold.

Terrin laughed. Then she shook out her hair, brushing back the strands that fell in front of her face. She crouched and straightened her blankets to roll them up.

Something prickled at the base of her neck. She froze, afraid for a second that it was magic. But no, this was a different tingle, the type she got when she was missing something — or was being watched. She turned her head, searching the surrounding isles. Her eyes moved quickly from bush to bush, but she saw nothing.

She sighed, rubbing the grit from the corners of her eyes. She was getting paranoid.

Or whoever was watching them was well hidden.

She returned to packing. The smell of cooking meat made her mouth water.

“I’m going to feel out our path from here,” said Chris.

He splashed away into the swamp before the others could acknowledge his words.

Terrin watched him go. Her thoughts returned to her dream. Should she tell him?

She glanced up, as if expecting the giant tree to appear. But while they were surrounded by many large trees, none were that big. Then again, it wasn’t really the tree that bothered her, it was the people. The dream had been from someone else’s perspective, which was strange. It had been so vivid — she hadn’t realized she wasn’t in control till the man called her ‘Roz.’

Terrin watched Chris plunge a stick into the water, maybe a hundred feet away.

No, she couldn’t. She hated the idea of trusting magical dreams to lead them. She would wait for proof of the tree’s existence — and maybe its importance — before encouraging Chris on his wild goose chase.

Or maybe you’re just afraid, said a tiny voice in her head.

I’m not! Terrin snapped back, almost speaking the words out loud.

She licked her lips and took a breath.

Of course I don’t like the idea of magic worming its way into my head and taking over my dreams, she told herself. But I’m not afraid of a stupid tree.

Then there was the other obvious question: the old woman Roz had seen — would see? She bore a striking resemblance to Terrin’s own mysterious old lady. The dream woman was perhaps a bit younger, and her hair more silver than gray, but Terrin couldn’t help wondering if the magic had been working in her mind all along, causing her to imagine things in the real world.

“Breakfast is done,” Nora called.

“’Bout time,” said Arnold. “I was going to starve between boredom and hunger.”

He plopped himself down beside Terrin.

“You can’t starve of boredom,” she said.

“That’s what you say.”

Nora began to place the long strips of meat onto slices of bread.

“This will have to do for plates,” she said, handing the first one to Thomas. “I’m not going to wash any di — Chris! You’ll get muck all over your clothes.”

Terrin turned and saw that Chris had returned, his boots coated in mud.

“I’ll just have to be careful,” he said, sitting down. A streak of mud smeared his pant leg.

Nora, however, did not notice as she turned to hand Terrin her breakfast. Terrin nodded thanks and then took a bite, scanning the swamp.

There, less than fifty feet away, was a pale girl with long brown hair, covered in gray mud.


Read chapter twenty-four…

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.