Hunted Chapter Forty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 45

Arnold

Arnold’s joy at seeing Terrin quickly vanished.

The woman glowered at them and hissed. “I haven’t time for you.”

“Let Terrin go with us in peace. We don’t want a fight,” Chris said.

The woman shook her head, and her wraith pawed the ground. The other three beasts glanced at their leader, but quickly returned to watching Terrin.

“I’m afraid I can’t let her go yet. She’s helping me with a project.”

“We aren’t exactly in the mood for waiting. We are under the protection of the swamp. All of us — including Terrin. Therefore, you are bound to leave us be, for you are of the swamp.”

She laughed, a high loud laugh that made Arnold’s spine crawl. He tightened his grip on his sword and raised it.

“You,” said the woman, her nose wrinkled with disdain, “are not in the swamp. Besides, she is of the forest, and the swamp holds no protection for the likes of her.”

Arnold’s patience snapped. Gripping the horse between his knees, he heeled Rich, and they leaped forward. The wraith twisted away as he charged past, forcing the woman to clutch at its scaly back.

Rich pivoted easily, tossing his head, ready for another dash.

The woman waved a hand, and two of the other three wraiths turned away from Terrin to face Chris and Arnold.

Chris drew his sword, and Marc charged their wraith.

Then Arnold’s wraith sprung. Rich danced out of the way so that Arnold could take a glancing blow at the wraith’s legs. As the creature landed, it spun to face them. Again it dashed by Rich, clawing at the horse as it passed. Rich squealed, lowering his head as he narrowly avoided the wraith’s attack. Arnold signaled Rich with just the touch of his heel, and the horse pivoted to face the wraith.

Arnold’s mouth was a grim line. He was a bit worried at what these wraiths were capable of, but he knew Rich could handle it.

The wraith straightened its legs, arching its back as it raised to almost Rich’s height. It snapped at Arnold, showing its white teeth and pink tongue. Then it lunged. Rich sidestepped away, turned to face the wraith and reared. Arnold’s knees tightened on the horse and he leaned forward, wrapping his left arm around the pommel. Beneath him, Rich’s hooves thrashed against the wraith.

The wraith screeched and fell back. As Rich came back to four legs, Arnold straightened and followed up his advantage. Steering Rich to the wraith’s side, he struck down at it repeatedly. The monster dropped back low to the ground, but Arnold leaned down to jab at it a few more times.

A horn blew loudly.

Arnold lifted his head for a second to see what had happened, letting the wraith escape from his attack.

Three men rode into the clearing — the ones from before, the Diamond Isles captain and two soldiers. All three had swords drawn, but they looked more concerned about the wraiths than the fugitives they’d no doubt come here after.

With a quick glance, Arnold took in the rest of the clearing. Nora was still at the edge of the woods, holding Leaf and looking for a way to reach Terrin, who was still guarded by the third wraith. Thomas was in battle with the old woman, who used a knife much like Ceianna’s.

Arnold turned his head back too late. The wraith had only fled for a second, then spun with lightning speed, lunging and bowling Rich over. Arnold managed to kick his feet free from the stirrups and push himself just clear of the falling horse.

Rich surged back to his feet, knocking the wraith aside and then chasing after it, kicking as fiercely as he could.

Arnold knew he should move, get clear of Rich’s flashing hooves. But he was stunned, partly by the fall, but also by the similarity to the scene a month earlier. He shut his eyes and could see the ginger wolf snarling at him. His left hand, or at least its ghost, throbbed.

Then he set his jaw, imagined his left hand clenching into a fist, and rolled to the side, slowly sitting up as he took several deep breaths. He scanned the clearing, forcing himself to focus.

Terrin was still in the tree, her whole body rigid as she watched the conflict. Nora was fighting one of the soldiers and having some trouble. Leaf had escaped her hold and now wandered on the edge of the battle, tossing her head and snorting, but not fleeing.

Chris seemed to be in a three-way dual with a wraith and the captain. Thomas was still in combat with the woman, while the third soldier was pitted against the remaining wraith — and losing.

Arnold got back to his feet, sheathed his sword, and whistled. Then he sprinted forward. Rich kicked the wraith one last time, good and hard, then cantered a few strides, slowing just as he reached Arnold. Arnold caught the pommel, set his toe in the front of the stirrup and pushed himself up, swinging over the horse. As he settled, he slid his toe from the stirrup and put it back in the right way. He turned Rich to face the wraith once more, and drew his sword again.

The beast gathered itself to its feet. One eye was tightly closed, and it had several cuts along its side. Still it attacked, lunging forward at Arnold and Rich. Arnold slashed upward, catching the inside of its leg with his sword. The wraith howled and fell, its tail lashing back. Rich reared again, striking at the fast-approaching tail, and Arnold held tight as his horse danced. When they came down again, he swung at the wraith’s already wounded eye. It screamed again. After a last swipe with its claws, it bounded away, yowling.

Arnold looked around. The soldier who had been fighting a wraith alone was on the ground, his horse nowhere to be seen. The wraith towered over him. Arnold pushed Rich into a run. His sword struck uselessly at the wraith’s neck as he went by, but it distracted the beast. It turned, and hissing loudly it launched itself at Arnold.

Arnold yelled for the man to escape, but instead he scrambled up and ran to Arnold’s side. Together, they battled the wraith.


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 Forty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 44

Arnold

“That way. We’re almost there,” whispered Ceianna, pointing off slightly to the left. “Just through those trees.”

Arnold gave a short nod and held up his ha — stump to signal the others to stop as he reigned in Rich.

“Get off now,” he said. “If there’s a fight, I don’t want you to fall off Rich.”

“Of course,” she said, relief obvious in her voice.

She quickly slipped off and put nearly two yards between her and the horse. Rich exhaled loudly, his muscles relaxing. Arnold couldn’t help agreeing with the sentiment. Ceianna had been as tense as a scrunched spring — Arnold was pretty sure he’d have bruises in the morning from her crushing grip around his waist.

“If Terrin’s not here,” he said, meeting Ceianna’s eyes.

All signs of her recent anxiety were gone, and once again her eyes were like stone.

“As I told Chris, this is where my grandmother would have brought her,” she said.

Arnold nodded, wrapped his reins loosely about his saddle’s pommel, and drew his sword. As he did so, Chris passed him, and urged Marc into a fast trot towards the trees Ceianna had indicated. Arnold signaled with his legs for Rich to follow. Behind him rode Thomas on his horse, and then Nora on Minty, leading Terrin’s horse Leaf.

Arnold was enveloped with the warmth of the afternoon sunlight as he rode into the clearing and stopped beside Chris, sword raised, ready for anything.

The clearing was empty.

Arnold looked expectantly to Chris, but his friend was silent, his back rigid.

Christopher

“Ceian—” Arnold began to say, but Chris cut him off.

“No, this isn’t her fault,” he said. “Terrin was here, but she left, trying to escape. We’re too late.”

Chris shut his eyes. How would they find her now? What if they couldn’t? Terrin had only told him the gist of her dream, but now he needed details.

Which way had she run?

“Terrin!” shouted Arnold.

Chris’s eyes jerked open, and his attention turned to Arnold. The knight had let his sword droop, but his face was livid as he opened his mouth to shout again.

“Wait,” said Chris.

“Do you have a better plan?” Arnold snapped.

Chris thought for a moment, then nodded. He turned Marc to face Ceianna, who stood just outside the clearing. Her head was bowed and her hands curled into fists.

“Ceianna, how good are you at tracking?”

She raised her head, and smiled slightly. “Poor, but I have a friend who will be able to find Terrin in a jiffy. He should be near here.”

Chris raised an eyebrow, but instead of questioning her, said, “Go find him, then.”

She turned and disappeared into the forest.

“Chris, can’t you track?” asked Arnold. Beneath him, Rich pawed the ground.

“Barely,” said Chris. “The forest here is thick, and I’d lose the trail pretty fast. I know you’re impatient to find Terrin, but trust me. This will be quick—”

“Look!” gasped Nora, dropping Minty’s reins to point up into the trees. Her other hand held Leaf’s lead rope, and at the end of it, Leaf was nodding her head and whickering.

Chris turned to look, and his jaw dropped, then he smiled. Moving through the tree branches, as if she’d been born there, was Terrin. She reached the edge of the clearing and stopped, beaming down at them.

“You came!” she said.

Then, beneath her, a wraith burst into the clearing, followed by two more. The beasts glanced at Chris, and while one of them snarled, they stayed under Terrin’s tree.

Then another wraith entered the clearing at full height, and on its back rode an old swamp woman.


Read chapter forty-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 Forty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 43

Terrin

Terrin bent over a leather bag, which was spread flat across her lap. One hand held the bag steady, and in the other, she held a fine-tipped brush. She nibbled the inside of her left cheek as she lowered the brush, adding smooth, grayish-brown strokes to the other colors on the bag.

Another dream. The thought faded as soon as she had it. She tried to grasp it, but quickly found she couldn’t focus on anything except her painting.

“Watcha workin’ on, Roz?”

Someone plopped down beside her. Terrin looked — no, Roz looked around and saw the stocky youth craning his neck to see the bag.

Roz’s cheeks grew warm.

“Oh, ah, nothing. Well, I mean, ah, you weren’t—”

She glanced back down at the bag.

“Spit it out, Roz,” said the tall, blond man. He sat down on Roz’s other side.

“Well, I thought the bag Peter gave me looked a bit bland — I mean it’s wonderful, but … so I decided to document our journey on it. Leaving out the harpies’ cave, of course.”

Roz held up the bag, careful not to smudge the paint.

Terrin examined her work. So far, there were three blocks of color, each about a hand-width square, and the beginning of a fourth, with small gaps between them. In the first picture, three riders drew near some mountains, above which harpies circled. In the second, they stood in a great cavern with green mist, and below them was another room with a stream running through it. A hump of stone with little black scratches on it sat beside the stream. Around the edges of the third picture, Roz had painted the letters N, W, E, and S in a swirling script. Between them stood a forest, shaped like an arrow and pointing downward to the S. From the gray brown color, Terrin knew that the swamp came next.

“Looks nice,” said the blond man.

“Nice?” said the other. “It’s her best work! I’m honored my bag has received such favor.”

“Though,” started the man, “shouldn’t you wait till after the journey to paint it? I mean, besides being able to work on it at a proper table with proper light, there’s also spacing. What if you end up with too much left over, or not enough room to finish?”

“Oh, uh…” once again Roz’s gaze dropped. Then she smiled and said, “I wanted to work while the details were still fresh in my mind.”

The man frowned. His eyes searched her face.

“Roselyn?” he said softly.

“Honestly, Miles, you shouldn’t look at your sister like that,” said Peter. “Though, you should take note, Roz, that you are far more beautiful than you portray yourself there.”

Roz giggled.

“Yeah,” said Miles, “and Peter should be fatter.”

“Hey!” said Peter, jumping to his feet.

“That’s what you get for flirting with my sister,” said Miles.

“How about you two go duke it out somewhere else, and let me finish up here,” said Roz, smiling. “Or better yet, you could start fixing supper.”

“Alright, alright,” said Peter, walking off. “Supper it is.”

Miles also stood and started away. Then he paused and glanced back at Roz for a moment.

“We are going to make it, you know. All of us.”

Then he turned and left.

* * *

Terrin’s eyes flickered open. Her cheek was pressed against soft blades of green grass. The world before her was slightly blurry. She sat up, blinking the daze away, and the world sharpened. She was in a clearing.

Familiarity washed over her. She leaped to her feet and spun to face the wraith that crouched behind her, just like it had in her dream. Which meant…

“So, you’re finally awake,” said a drawling voice.

Terrin turned, already knowing what she would see. An old woman — the one who’d been watching her for the past month — leaned against a tree.

“You were a fool, gallivanting around the swamp like that. That, more than anything, made me sure it was time to dispose of you, spirit-friend.”

The woman spat at Terrin’s feet, but Terrin jumped away.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Terrin said.

She wondered vaguely if she could change the dream. She opened her mouth to say something else, but the woman cut her off.

“Lies!”

The woman’s shout startled Terrin, and she burst into a run. Once she started, she didn’t stop, leaping over a bush and out of the clearing. She heard the roar of the wraith behind her, and the woman shouted, “I know what you are, and you cannot hide it. Nor can you escape me!”

Terrin cut a sharp right to avoid a tree, and then she was past where the dream had ended. But this time, she wasn’t pulled away from the world. This time she kept running.

This time it was real.

The underbrush caught at her legs, but she pushed through, swerving through the trees. She could hear the steady thumps of the wraith following her. She rounded another tree. Two wraiths stood in front of her, their teeth bared. She dove to the right, rolling and springing back to her feet, and ran again. She glanced over her shoulder to see the first wraith jump over one of the two, and then they all turned to follow her.

She looked forward again, putting all her energy into a burst of speed. She curved around another tree, but had to pull up short as a fourth wraith blocked her way. She turned left, but another one was already cutting her off that direction.

She spun, searching for an escape, but the wraiths had surrounded her and were circling closer and closer. They stopped a couple yards away, their eyes pinned on her.

The woman arrived a few minutes later.

“I see my pets have rounded you up,” she said, her eyes glittering.

The four wraiths backed up, making room for the woman.

“Let me go,” said Terrin. “I’ve done no harm to you or your people, and I certainly don’t intend to.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I am not a cold-blooded murderer. But I cannot allow a threat against my people to stand. So, I will give you a choice. If you call your spirit here, we will kill it and spare you. Otherwise…”

The woman’s voice trailed off and her eyes locked with Terrin’s.

“You know the truce as well as I do,” Terrin snapped. “You can’t kill me, nor would I ever harm your people.”

The woman laughed.

“Ah, but the wraiths have been acting up lately, haven’t they? There would be no proof of my involvement. Besides, even if I convinced my darlings to let you go today, the forest would never again be safe for you. So, call your spirit.”

“I don’t have a spirit, and I certainly can’t call it. And even if I could, you can’t kill a spirit. Your weapon would go right through.”

“Ah, there you are mistaken,” said the woman.

She drew out a dagger, nearly identical to Ceianna’s.

“See, wraith teeth have the ability to tear apart spirit magic.” She slid her hand along the white blade. “How else do you think we managed to fight you?”

“Okay, now I really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” said Terrin, backing away. “If you wanna kill spirits go ahead, I won’t stop you. But I can’t call a spirit here. So let me go.”

Her spine prickled.

She was alone.

Chris had said he’d be here, but even if he were, what could he do?

She was going to die.

The madwoman cursed. “You can’t trick me, spirit friend. But if that is what you wish, no one can say that I didn’t give you a chance.”

The wraith nearest Terrin lunged. The prickling in her spine vanished, replaced by a feeling of absolute calm. The world seemed to have slowed down, particularly the wraith. It almost floated through the air.

Run.

The one, simple word flashed through her mind. She didn’t need more prompting. She dove forward, under the wraith, then jumped back to her feet. The other three beasts charged, as the first landed with a howl. She sprinted forward, straight to the nearest tree, her eyes slid half shut. She didn’t bother to even try jumping for the branch above her or looking for hand holds. She just ran, placing one foot then the next against the bark, pushing herself up. Running up the tree.

She felt her feet start to slip and forced herself to take one more step, then flung out her hand, catching the branch. She swung her body sideways, arcing her legs up and around. Her foot caught the branch. She hauled herself up, almost slipped, and pulled herself to her feet.

For a second, as she stood, pride fill her chest, and she wished that her brother could have seen.

Then a wraith lunged upward towards her, banishing the feeling. She turned and fled further up the tree. She didn’t even pause to think about finding handholds, just climbed on instinct. She got up several feet, then leaped to the next tree.

“Follow her!”

Terrin glanced back and saw that the woman now rode one of the wraiths, which stood at its full height. The others were below the tree, golden eyes locked on Terrin.

Terrin ran.


Read chapter forty-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.

Hunted Chapter Forty-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 42

Christopher

“You get the horses ready. I’ll let the stable-master know we’re back,” said Chris, strolling into the clearing, struggling to keep his voice even.

“Okay,” said Terrin, jogging past him to the stable. The horses looked up at their voices and greeted them with a chorus of whinnies.

“Hey, guys,” Terrin said, pausing to pat Leaf before she turned towards the tack shed.

Chris’s breath caught in his throat, but he forced himself to continue walking across the yard. If the soldiers were going to attack, they would do it soon, probably once Terrin picked up the saddle.

Then there was a loud yelp from one of the guards, and Terrin sprinted out of the stable yelling, “Run, run! Everyone run!”

One of the guards ran out of the stable right behind her.

Chris took up her shouts, waving his arms around. A second man emerged from the stable, glancing around. For a second, his and Chris’s eyes met. It was the third guard — the captain.

Chris took off running.

He resisted the urge to look back and see if the man was following either him or Terrin. If he didn’t, it would be Ceianna’s job to try and draw him away.

And if that didn’t work…

Well, Chris really hoped it would.

At first, Chris ran slowly, almost jogging. Then he heard someone crashing through the woods behind him and one glance over his shoulder gave him an extra burst of speed. The third guard was following behind him by only a couple yards.

As he ran, he searched the forest for signs of Terrin. There she was, ten yards or so off to his left. She wasn’t running full out, for fear of leaving her guard behind. Chris glanced back and forth between the path ahead of him and Terrin. He didn’t want to get too close to her. Whenever she made a turn, he responded to keep the distance. Several times, his pursuer almost caught him, and he would have to throw on a special burst of speed to add distance. At some point, he lost track of Terrin and her pursuer. After what felt like an hour, though he was sure it couldn’t have been much more than five minutes, the guard began to lag behind.

Suddenly Ceianna was beside him, pushing him to his right.

“Wraith pack … headed … this way,” she said between breaths.

“Does Terrin know?” Chris said, stretching his legs to full speed.

Ceianna didn’t answer, and Chris was running too hard to ask again.

Behind them, he heard a short scream. Chris glanced back in time to see a wraith standing over Chris’s pursuer, glaring at one of the other guards. The men hadn’t noticed a second wraith in the shadows. Chris slowed down to shout a warning, but Ceianna jerked him into a sharp turn that made him focus on where they were going. Ten minutes later, they stopped in a clearing.

“What about Terrin?” gasped out Chris, staring at Ceianna.

“I don’t know,” she spat out through her teeth. “I couldn’t find her.”

She was doubled up a bit, hands against her knees.

“How did you know they were coming?”

She hesitated. “I saw them.”

“Saw them? I didn’t notice anything.”

“You weren’t looking for them.”

“And you were? Why?”

“Because … because…”

Chris strode across and grabbed her shoulders.

“Tell me,” he hissed. “My friend is out there, and I need to find her. And if you know anything about it—”

“My grandmother kidnapped her,” Ceianna said it with a huff, glaring at him with a force that made him step back.

“Why?”

She squeezed her head between her hands, as if she was resisting the urge to tear out her hair.

“Because she thinks that Terrin’s going to raise an army and lead the forest people to war on the swamp people. And the swamp people couldn’t withstand that. So she’s decided to stop it.”

Chris frowned.

“Why would she think that?”

“Because Terrin’s a spirit-friend.”

She said it as if it explained everything, but it confused Chris more.

“But Terrin hates spirits!” he said. “They scare her to death. She’d never be friends with them.”

“Well, she is. Or at least she has the capability to be. And that makes her as dangerous as a wild dragon, as far as my gran’s concerned.”

Chris thought this over for a moment.

“And you agree with this?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped.

There was a short silence. Then she continued. “I think that it’s wrong to kill her. Especially like this.”

“Then will you help me rescue her?”

Ceianna nodded. “It was given to me to protect you. All of you, including her. And I’ll do it.”

“Good. Then find her and your grandmother. I’m going back to get the others. We’ll meet back here.”

Chris glanced up at the sky. Terrin had said that it had been around midafternoon in her dream. They didn’t have much time.


Read chapter forty-three…

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 Forty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 41

Christopher

Two armed guards stood by the paddock where Marc and the other horses were grazing. Chris and his friends watched them from the shelter of the trees.

“Okay, so our welcome here might be gone,” he whispered.

He fought the urge to curse. When he had heard there were soldiers in the swamp, Chris had hoped that their mission was related to the possible war Arnold had mentioned. But regardless of their original intent, this made it almost certain that his presence in North Raec was known.

“Ceianna, you should go back,” he added. “You’ve done your job and more. And who knows how long we’ll be waiting here for an opportunity.”

Ceianna had insisted on accompanying them until they retrieved their horses. Despite not having slept in over twenty-four hours, she did not seem tired.

“I—” started Ceianna, but she was cut off by a sharp “shh” from Terrin.

Chris turned his attention back to the guards.

“How much longer you figure we have to wait?” said the first one, stroking Minty. “Nice horses they got.”

“What is it with you and horses?” snapped the second. He leaned against the stable wall, his arms crossed. “And they could be back any time.”

“Nah,” said the first one. “The captain hasn’t come back yet, so we should have a while.”

“The captain was supposed ta be back yesterday. What if he got held up? What if one of them crazy swampers killed him?”

Chris glanced over to Ceianna. Her muscles had tightened, and her brow was creased. While the swamp people were generally considered crazy by the plainsmen, to call them so to their face was bordering on suicidal — depending on the people involved.

“You worry too much,” said the first one. He gave Minty a final pat and turned to Marc. “They’re just a bunch of kids, and it’s not like—”

“What are you bedlams doing outside?” shouted a third man, bursting from the forest several yards to Chris’s right. “Inside now. Go, go! What type of ambush is this? Bah!”

“Watch it, Cap,” said the first guard. “Your accent is showing. And if they’re close enough to see us standing about, they’re more than close enough to hear you yelling your head off.”

“And also,” said the second one, bouncing off the wall, “if you’d come on time like you were supposed ta, we would be exactly where we were supposed ta be, exactly when we were supposed ta be.”

“What’s important right now is that I lost track of them, and they could be here any minute. So if you’re not in position in three seconds, you’ll be cleaning dishes and peeling potatoes for the rest of your army life!”

This time, Chris noticed the Diamond Isles accent the man was struggling to conceal. He filed that information away for further consideration.

Scowling, the two soldiers scurried to their hiding places, followed by their captain.

Chris turned to the others. “Okay, we need to make a plan. Preferably one that doesn’t involve anyone getting hurt.”

“I say go for the old distract-and-grab tactic,” said Arnold.

“My thoughts exactly,” said Chris, nodding. “Terrin and I are the best runners, so we’ll distract the soldiers and draw them away. Arnold will stand guard, in case any of them return, while Nora and Thomas saddle the horses. When the two of us get back, we’ll mount up and clear out as fast as we can.”

“I’ll help distract them,” said Ceianna. “I’ll be able to lose them just by looping back to the swamp.”

“You needn’t,” said Chris. “Guiding us out of the swamp was plenty of help, and if you do this you could get in trouble. Your people could get in trouble.”

“You have promised our people your friendship, and so we return it. I, even more so, since you would have risked your lives to save mine. I will help you retrieve your horses, to repay the debt, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Her eyes met his, and they flashed with determination.

“Fine,” said Chris. He didn’t have time to argue. “We’ll fall back and eat lunch. Give them an hour or so to get bored, and then—”

“And then finalize our plans on a full stomach,” cut in Thomas.

Chris smiled slightly and nodded.


Read chapter forty-two…

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 Forty

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 40

Nora

“Nora, we’re nearly there,” said Terrin.

Nora drowsily opened her eyes. A pale hint of dawn glowed along the horizon — not a rosy dawn but gray, as though even the sky was covered in mud. She could barely see Chris at the head of the raft, talking with Ceianna. She rose, pushing back her blankets, while Terrin moved on to wake the others. Nora popped her neck, watching Terrin prod Arnold, who seemed to be clinging to sleep with all his strength.

Terrin acted like she’d forgotten her near soaking. Before, she had seemed shaken, but now she moved with her normal smooth and controlled motions. There were also no hints of tiredness on her face, which made Nora feel a bit jealous. She herself had struggled to get to sleep, even more so after the incident.

Nora turned and rolled up her blanket, and then rechecked her pack. By the time she was done, Chris had turned to face them.

“Ceianna says we have half an hour to an hour before we’ll have to leave the boat. I’m hoping we can reach the horses by two, maybe three, this afternoon. But we need to know where we’re going after that. So now, it’s time to think about the riddle.”

He sat down and ran his fingers through his hair, but they didn’t get far before they were stopped by a knot. The others stopped working on their packs, and the five of them created a cross-legged circle.

“May I hear the riddle?” asked Ceianna, glancing back from where she remained at the front of the boat.

“Yeah, I should probably repeat it anyway,” said Chris.

“Air rushing, rushing by,
Faster, faster than the eye.
Far above the deep, deep blue,
Where water dashes at the rocks.
And higher still the great one flies,
Guarding hope as watchmen pose.”

When he finished, he looked around the circle, meeting everyone’s eyes for a moment.

“Ideas?”

“Well,” said Arnold. “This may be a stretch, but I think it might be a windy place.”

“Wow, Arnold,” Terrin said. “That was so insightful. I don’t know where these flashes of inspiration come from.”

“My mother’s side,” he said, grinning.

“I think,” said Thomas, “that it is also safe to assume it is next to the ocean…”

His voice trailed off as he grabbed his bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. He selected one and spread it out on the boat, facing Chris.

“North Raec,” Nora said, recognizing the map upside down.

“Yes, this is my map of North Raec. One of the finest, if I say so myself,” said Thomas, smiling. “And here are the oceanside cliffs,” he added, tapping a few spots on the map.

Nora attempted to read the names of the cliffs, but they were written in a swirly but cramped text that she couldn’t read upside down in the scant light.

“Well, it sounds like there are a lot of rocks. But then, that’s true for most cliffs, isn’t it?” said Chris.

“Leastways, far as I know,” said Thomas. “Which leaves the great one and the watchmen.”

“Maybe the great one is a dragon,” said Arnold, grinning. “They’re pretty great.”

“They’re also pretty mythical,” said Terrin, rolling her eyes.

“You know,” Arnold said, “if you roll your eyes too much, they’ll stay that way.”

“That’s when you cross your eyes.”

“Oh,” said Arnold, stretching the word out for a few seconds.

“If we could take this seriously for a moment,” snapped Chris.

Nora looked up at him. There wasn’t even a hint of smile in his face. She noticed, now, the shadows under his eyes. The beard that had been growing since they entered the swamp added to his exhausted look. And she had thought she wasn’t getting much sleep.

“Well, the great one seems fairly obvious,” said Ceianna. “Eagles are commonly considered the grandest of birds.”

“Right. That makes sense,” said Terrin. “Are any of the cliffs known for eagles?”

Thomas shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Which leaves the watchmen,” said Chris, rubbing his eyes.

“I think I actually can help with that,” said Arnold, looking up. He pointed to some cliffs on the east side of North Raec, towards the south. “Here, Dawncliff. I don’t know much about eagles, but Dawncliff is known for the many boulders there which, at least in some people’s eyes, look like men gazing out across the ocean. I suppose they could be considered watchmen.”

“Well then,” said Chris, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “to Dawncliff it is.”


Read chapter forty-one…

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-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 THREE

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

Chapter 39

Christopher

Chris shifted and pulled his blanket tighter around him. Warmth wasn’t an issue in the muggy swamp, but it felt strange to sleep without the blanket. The small raft was crowded, with all five of them spread out to sleep, but he wanted to reserve their strength for when they landed. He wanted to get as far as possible as quickly as possible. With soldiers around…

He shut his eyes, willing himself to relax, for the sound of Ceianna’s steering pole to lull him to sleep. And maybe, just maybe, for one of the dreams to come and tell him he was on the right track.

You found the riddle, he told himself. You must be on the right track. That’s probably why the dreams are absent.

He clenched his hand into a fist, pulling the blanket tighter around him.

Eventually he began to drift off. The sounds of Ceianna guiding the boat, even the sense of her moving about the sleepers faded to a blur.

Then there was a rapid series of soft thuds, a splash, and something landed just an inch from his head. Another something flew over him, landing with a thump.

Chris threw back his blanket and rolled away enough to jump to his feet.

Ceianna stood, arms wrapped around Terrin’s waist, attempting to pull the taller girl away from the edge of the raft. Terrin strained forward, her eyes wide and her face pale.

He stepped forward, blocking her way with his arm.

“Terrin, wake up. It’s just a dream.”

Her face turned slightly towards his. Her eyes were blank except for the panic. Her mouth was open, and her breath came in ragged gasps. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of her face.

“Terrin?” he said.

She blinked, and her straining lessened. Across the raft, Nora threw back her blanket and sat up, watching.

“It’s just a dream, Terrin. Wake up. Please.”

“Chris?” Terrin said softly.

Ceianna released her, and she slumped forward onto Chris’s arm. Ceianna stepped back, and Chris lowered himself and Terrin to a sitting position.

“What happened?” said Terrin.

Chris glanced up at Ceianna. She shrugged and turned away.

“You got up a couple minutes ago,” she said, “and wandered around for a bit. Next thing I know, you’re running across the boat. We nearly didn’t catch you.”

“Shouldn’t someone be steering the boat?” Terrin asked, glancing ahead.

“Looking for my — ah!” Ceianna’s hand flashed out and grasped a long rod sticking up from the water. Chris hadn’t even noticed it in the poor light. With a sucking sound, Ceianna pulled her steering paddle free from the water and mud.

She threaded her way back to the head of the boat, and as she passed Terrin, she said, “I’m more interested in WHY you tried to take a swim.”

Chris locked his gaze with Terrin’s.

“You’ve been having the dreams, haven’t you?”

“Of course, I’ve been having dreams. Everyone has dreams,” she said, standing up and turning away.

“You know what I mean, Terrin. The type of dreams … like the one that made me ne—”

Terrin turned back towards him sharply, cutting him off with a wave of her hand.

“Terrin?” said Nora softly.

Terrin glanced at Nora, then collected her hair, pulling it back over her shoulders.

“Alright, maybe I have.”

“That’s how you found me and Thomas, isn’t it?” Chris smiled as he made the connection.

Shrugging, Terrin sat back down. Nora came over and joined them.

Chris glanced at Ceianna. Her focus seemed locked on steering the boat, but she stood unnaturally still at the same time.

“So,” he said, turning his attention back to Terrin, “you’ve been having the dreams.”

The feeling of relief made him almost giddy.

“But what were you dreaming about, just now?” said Nora. Her eyebrows were knitting together.

“It’s not important,” Terrin said, tilting her head back.

“Of course it is,” said Chris. “These dreams have already proved important.”

“Well…” said Terrin, but she paused. Her gaze fell to her hands, folded in her lap.

“Terrin, why wouldn’t you tell us?” asked Nora.

“Fine,” snapped Terrin. “In my dream, I woke up in a clearing. And there was some crazy old lady and a wraith. The woman kept going on about me being a fool to come into the swamp, and that I was a threat, and — she wanted me to do something. Then I ran away, which is when you woke me up.”

They fell into silence. Arnold let out a loud snore, then rolled over.

“Well, at least someone is getting sleep,” said Terrin.

Chris refused to be distracted.

“Terrin, what was it the woman wanted you to do? And where were you in the dream, exactly?”

She held his gaze for a minute, then dropped her eyes back to her hands. Her fingers tugged at the edge of her left sleeve.

“We were in a clearing in a forest. I think Xell, but I couldn’t be sure. I don’t know. She just wanted me to do something.”

Chris considered pressing the issue, but discarded that idea.

“We should go back to sleep,” he said. “Tomorrow will be a long day, no doubt.”

As Chris knelt back down by his blanket, a thought crossed his mind. He looked over his shoulder to where the two girls were settling into their own beds.

“If you have any more dreams — if either of you have any more dreams — please, tell me. And also, Terrin, don’t worry too much about the dream. I promise that we’ll be there. We might not be able to stop the dream from happening but I promise we won’t let that woman hurt you.”

Terrin looked over to him and opened her mouth, but snapped it shut again and turned back to her blanket.

Chris did not sleep much more that night.


Read chapter forty…

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-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 THREE

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

Chapter 38

Terrin

“Arnold…” murmured Terrin. She hesitantly touched his shoulder. “You did your best.”

“My best? What did I do that was my ‘best’?” Arnold said, shrugging off her hand.

“You saved us,” said Chris, coming up to his other side.

“I said we’d come back for her. If I hadn’t taken her knife…”

Arnold ran his fingers along the side of the knife. It was an odd blade, and Terrin couldn’t help shivering whenever she looked at it.

“I already said, if you hadn’t taken the knife we’d be dead,” Chris said.

“Yes. But I didn’t know that when I took it. If she had had the knife—”

“It would have been one more thing to carry,” said a familiar voice from behind them.

Terrin spun to face the sound. Ceianna. The swamp girl was standing where they had left the raft. She had thrust the paddle into the mud and now leaned into it casually. For the first time Terrin could see the hint of a smile in her eyes that Zuen, and many of the other swamp people, seemed always to possess.

“Bu-wha- how?” spluttered Arnold.

Ceianna shrugged. “After you were gone, the tree let me go. The upper stairway was already sealing shut, so I came down to wait for you. Here, I grabbed these,” she turned and knelt, then stood and held out two knives and a sword.

“My knife,” said Arnold, stepping forward and carefully taking and sheathing it.

“And Nora’s sword,” said Ceianna, turning it so Nora could take it hilt first.

“Thank you,” murmured Nora, sheathing it.

“And,” Ceianna said, turning towards Terrin, “I believe this is yours.”

Their eyes met, and for a second she felt like Ceianna was measuring her.

“Thank you,” said Terrin.

“No,” said Ceianna. “You lost this knife in order to help me. Thank you.”

She turned the knife’s hilt towards Terrin and smiled.

Terrin took the knife, sliding it into it sheath with a satisfying hiss, and then returned the smile.

“So, what exactly happened?” said Chris.

“As soon as Arnold left, the staircase started sealing up. By the time he was out of sight around the bend, there was no chance of my getting through. The root tendrils just melted back off of me, and they also spit out Arnold’s knife. So I collected the weapons and came down to wait. Guess once there wasn’t a chance I’d be getting up, the tree didn’t care about me.”

“No, the magic never cared about you,” said Terrin. “I shouldn’t have gone in.”

“What?” said Arnold.

Ceianna gave a short nod. “Maybe. But then it also attacked Thomas and Chris.”

“Because they were too close to me. The magic couldn’t seal them off like it did with Arnold, or like it tried with you and Nora.”

“What?” said Arnold.

“Oh,” said Chris.

Arnold frowned. “Would someone please explain what Terrin’s blaming herself for, so I can tell her off?”

“I think,” said Thomas, “they’re referring to the old war between the swamp and forest peoples, from before the plains people came to Raec. If this is an ancient swamp deity, it is safe to assume that it, or rather any magic it left behind, would remember those days.”

“Oh,” said Arnold, his eyebrows knitting together. “Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I mean, we all made it, and we got the riddle.”

“So you found it?” said Ceianna.

“Yes,” said Chris.

“Then we should be on our way.” She stepped back onto the boat and pulled up the paddle in one smooth movement. “I’ll be taking you straight out of the swamp, since you found what you needed.”

“We won’t be returning to Shylak?”

“No. Some soldiers entered the swamp just before you did, and from what you’ve said, I’m assuming you would like to stay far away from them. Which way are you headed?”

“North,” said Chris. “We need to get our horses before we do anything else.”

“Right. If we leave now and travel through the night, you should be out of the swamp before lunch tomorrow.”


Read chapter thirty-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 Thirty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 37

Christopher

Chris glanced back over his shoulder and was pleased to see Terrin coming up the stairs. Then his pleasure vanished as Ceianna’s cry rang out. He exploded forward, but his breathing was ragged and his legs screamed in rebellion.

Thomas’s toe caught the edge of a stair, and he stumbled. Chris grabbed his arm to pull him up. The old man’s face was red, and he was breathing heavily, but recovered his balance and kept running.

The wall rippled, and root tentacles began to sprout all around them.

“Faster!” Chris shouted. Even as he spoke, Terrin pressed past him.

A root struck him from behind, knocking his breath out of his lungs and pinning him against the edge of a stair.

Terrin turned back.

He tried to shoo her forward, but he couldn’t get enough breath to speak.

Arnold supplied the words: “Keep going, Terrin!”

Chris looked back to see his friend charging up the stairs, a white knife flashing in his hand. The tentacles shriveled back before him. As Arnold approached, the root that pinned him pulled back, and Chris quickly scrambled to his feet.

Arnold kept going, zigging past him and Terrin to the front, where more roots were leaping out to block Thomas’s way, then dropping back to fend off a tentacle reaching for Terrin.

“Not far, now,” said Arnold.

Chris nodded.

As they climbed on, Arnold waltzed up and down, keeping the way clear with more nimbleness than Chris would ever have expected. Then they rounded the final curve, and he could see a room up ahead. Nora waited at the top of the stairway.

As Chris cleared the doorway he turned back, expecting the tentacles to pursue them, but the roots had stopped just outside the doorway. They waved angrily but did not enter the room.

He collapsed to his knees, fighting to catch his breath.

“The magic … it’s different here,” Terrin said. She was leaning against the wall, her breath coming in ragged gasps. “More like at the other riddles.”

Chris tilted his head, trying to feel a difference. Maybe the magic was thicker here. Or maybe it was his imagination.

“I’ll take your word for it,” he said.

“Where’s Ceianna?” said Nora.

“We couldn’t get her free in time,” Terrin said. “She knew we couldn’t free her and survive ourselves. She did her job.”

Nora slumped to the ground, her face pale. Terrin sat down beside her and hugged her shoulders.

Arnold sat, his back to the wall, glaring at Terrin.

This room was like the ones before, with smooth walls and a floor stretching the full width of the tree. But in the center of the room, the floor swelled up, making a hump the size of a boulder. Runes were carved across its face, but Chris refused to look at them. The other riddles had stuck in the forefront of his mind, forcing him to think about them. He wasn’t ready for that.

Thomas went to the riddle, and knelt. He pulled out a notepad and began to scribble.

Chris walked over to sit by Arnold.

“Terrin’s right. If we had died trying to save Ceianna, she would be shamed.”

“But I’m a knight,” said Arnold. “It’s my job to save people, too. I could have at least left her the knife.”

Chris dropped his gaze to examine the knife. Ceianna’s knife. Its blade was white and triangular, and the hilt simple wood. Then he shook his head.

“No. Without that knife, we would never have made it up the stairs. We’ll rescue her on our way back down.”

“Chris,” said Terrin. “I don’t think we’re going back down.”

Chris spun around to look at the stairs. The walls seemed to be melting inward, oozing between the tentacles. In seconds, the way back was just a solid wall. Arnold jumped up and stabbed at it with the knife, but it bounced right off.

“Great, now we’re stuck in here,” he said.

“Not necessarily,” said Nora.

Arnold, Thomas, and Chris turned to look at her.

Nora blushed, but pressed on. “I was just thinking of how well hidden the entry door looked from the inside. And before, at the mountain … It’s worth looking for another door.”

“I think,” said Terrin, “that we’d better look fast. Something is happening.”

Nora leaped to her feet and started running her hands over the wall.

“Chris, the riddle,” said Arnold.

Chris turned to look at the carved hump. As before, the text looked like plain Raecan to him. He read it aloud:

“Air rushing, rushing by.
Faster, faster than the eye.
Far above the deep, deep blue.
Where water splashes at the rocks.
And higher still the great one flies.
Guarding hope as watchmen pose.”

There was a long silence. Chris could feel three pairs of eyes watching him. Everyone but Nora was still.

Then Nora spoke. “I found it!” she called, throwing herself against the wall.

There was a screech of the wood rubbing against the floor. Then a door swung open before her, showing a dark, narrow passage, leading down.

“Looks like fun,” said Arnold.

“But it’s just in time. We need to clear out now,” said Terrin.

Then Chris felt it — a surge in the magic, as if it was all gathering at one spot, collecting into itself.

“Go!” he called, jumping over the hump and to the stairs. Nora stepped aside to let him pass. He grabbed her hand and dragged her after him. He heard the thudding boots of the others following.

Then the magic released. It was rushing out around him, as if something had breathed in deeply, and let it out all at once. The same thing had happened at the lake, and it had caused the whole lake to drain. He didn’t really want to know what would happen this time. He wasn’t sure he had a choice, though.

Then there was a sucking sound.

“Go faster,” Arnold called. “It’s closing.”

A second later, the light coming through from the riddle room was blocked, leaving them in pitch black.

Chris plunged forward as quickly as he could, glad for the evenness of the slope and the close walls to brace himself against — and the lack of tentacles trying to block their way.

Then he collided with a wall.

“Wait!” cried Nora, as she nearly ran into him.

Chris braced himself and pushed. There was another screech, and then they poured out of the stairway and paused, blinded by the brightness of the entry room.

“Feel for the door,” Chris said, running to the wall and rubbing his hands over it.

“And quickly,” said Terrin, looking up.

Chris glanced back to see that the passage behind them was thoroughly sealed. The ceiling and the main stairway were melting. The walls pulsed out and rolled down the stairs like a great wave of molten wood.

“Here!” Arnold shouted, as the door swung open before him.

They ran out onto the grass, and then stopped to look back. The wave had reached the bottom of the stairs, and now the floor was pulsing up to meet it.

Then the door slammed shut.

They stood, staring at the tree and panting.

Arnold was still holding Ceianna’s knife, his knuckles white.


Read chapter thirty-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 Thirty-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 THREE

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

Chapter 36

Arnold

Arnold’s sword did nothing against the wood that blocked his way. Its crisscrossing pattern made it hard to strike, and the limbs had hardened into place. He had tried hacking and stabbing, but nothing helped. He’d even sawed at the thing with his knife. That had gotten nearly half way through one of the limbs, but then the wood had grown up and engulfed the blade.

So he watched helplessly as his friends battled the tree.

Only Ceianna seemed to be having any success. She had charged into freeing Thomas, and her knife flashed white as she struck the tentacles left and right. Her hair swung around but never seemed to get in the way.

But what was strange was that when she struck a tentacle, it actually withdrew. Several roots curled near the floor and wall, withered from her blows, though they seemed to be slowly recovering.

Chris was doing his best to watch her back, but his blade was as useless as Arnold’s.

Terrin was having a bit more success. She nimbly avoided the tentacles that reached for her, even causing a few of them to get confused and tangle with each other. And her knife was striking deeper than the swords while still sliding free easily. But the tentacles didn’t wither, just flinched away for a moment.

Nora was still struggling against the floor. Only her hands and lower legs were covered, but it was enough that she could not pull free.

“Chris, Thomas,” said Ceianna, “Try now.”

She spun and thrust her knife into one of the tentacles holding Thomas. He fell forward, and Chris caught him and pulled. It was enough. They surged free of the wood, and Ceianna pulled her knife back as the roots retreated.

The three paused to catch their breath, and for a second Arnold thought the tree was doing the same.

Then the floor seemed to ripple.

“Keep moving,” he shouted.

Chris glanced down. The floor was starting to melt around his feet. He jerked free, and the others danced away.

The tree shook a bit, and then more tentacles lunged for them.

“Ceianna, free Nora,” said Chris, beating one off. “Then try and get through to Arnold.

Ceianna nodded and practically leaped to Nora’s side. She knelt and began to stab at the floor, carefully avoiding Nora’s hand. The wood grew up around her calves, but she ignored it. The floor did not retreat from the knife as the tentacles had, but the knife sliced it well enough, and it did not grow back.

Arnold scanned the room.

“Chris, Thomas, watch it!” he called as a tentacle lunged from behind them.

Chris turned and beat it off. At the same time Thomas leaped sideways, avoiding another tentacle but narrowly missing Chris.

And moving himself closer to Terrin.

“Chris,” Arnold called. “They’re trying to group you together.”

Chris glanced around and nodded. “Spread out! We’ll only get in each other’s way.” Then he lunged through a tight group of tentacles and away from Thomas. One caught around his chest, but he struck it with his sword and pulled free.

Ceianna had managed to release Nora’s hands and was working at her legs.

They were running out of time. The roots were multiplying. Every few moments, more would surge from the walls, floor, or even the ceiling. And the ones Ceianna had decommissioned were moving again.

Then Nora was free. She jumped to her feet, the layer of wood that had surrounded her legs cracking into splinters that seemed to melt back into the floor.

Ceianna spun the knife and handed it to Nora hilt first.

“Go to Arnold,” she said. “Get that door open.”

Nora frowned. “But you’re—”

“It won’t matter, if that door isn’t open soon. Remember what I said before.”

Nora still frowned, but she turned and dashed across the room to the stairway and began to stab at it. The limbs of wood reluctantly shriveled away from it, but it would obviously take time.

Arnold moved to the side so he could see around her. Still, he couldn’t see much. Terrin was completely out of sight, Chris and Thomas in and out of it. He could tell they were both slowing down. Thomas was old, and neither was trained for this type of combat — or much of any combat.

Ceianna, at the other edge of his vision, was trying to pull herself free, but she had no weapon to cut away the wood. Then a simple-handled knife thudded into the floor, an inch from her leg, and splintered the wood. Ceianna glanced up to where Arnold knew Terrin must be. Then she snatched up the knife and began cutting her way free.

“Through!” Nora shouted as she clambered into the stairway.

She had only cut away a couple of the middle limbs, but it was enough. She stood panting for a second, then shifted her feet experimentally.

“Give me the knife and keep going,” said Arnold.

“What?” said Nora, though she handed over the knife obediently.

“The stairway isn’t wide enough for us all to go up at once, and there’s only one knife. Just keep going.”

Nora hesitated for a moment, then nodded and ran up the stairs.

Already the doorway was resealing itself. Arnold braced his left forearm against the wall, then thrust at the regrowing limbs angrily.

“You are going to let us go if it’s the last thing you do,” he said, striking it with each word.

Ceianna leaped to her feet, the wood shattering as it had done with Nora. She ran across the room but stopped outside of the door, joining Arnold in his efforts to keep back the blockade. Once again the floor began to reseal around her feet.

“Come through before you get stuck again,” said Arnold.

“No. The two of us on the other side would block the stairway.”

“Then come through and keep going up,” he insisted.

“No.”

Thomas reached the door and jumped through the opening. Chris was right behind him, but he glanced back to where Terrin was still avoiding the tentacles.

“Terrin—” he said and moved towards her, but Thomas reached back, snatched his shirt, and pulled him to the door.

“Can’t be helped right now,” said the older man. Chris reluctantly clambered through, and Arnold moved aside to let them both run up the stairs.

“Terrin, come on!” he called.

Terrin glanced up at him. She had been nimbly avoiding the tentacles, but they would soon cut off her escape route. She turned and loped across the room, dodging under and around and even just pushing past the tentacles that reached for her. Without even pausing, she jumped feet first through the hole, catching the upper limb with her arm so that when her feet touched the floor she did not fall.

“What about Ceianna?” she asked.

“Just run,” hissed the girl, tossing her head back. “I am the second sentry of Shylak. I will be fine.”

Terrin gave her a short look, then nodded. She turned to start up the stairs.

Arnold extended the knife towards Ceianna, but she shook her head.

“Keep it. You’ll need it,” she said, looking over his shoulder. “Go help your friends.”

Arnold followed her gaze and saw the stairway walls were rippling. He glanced at Ceianna one last time.

“RUN!” she shouted, and her voice carried the authority of command that no person with military training could ignore.

He turned and fled up the stairs, taking them three at a time.


Read chapter thirty-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.