Hunted Chapter Ten

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 ONE

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

Chapter 10

Brayden

“This is the chance to prove you are not a total klutz. Don’t waste it.” The words of his tutor rang through Brayden’s head.

He had realized about four years ago that Mason really did want the best for him, but sometimes that fact was hard to remember. And, of course, what Mason thought was best, and what Brayden thought was best, were often two very different things. Now, though, they were agreed. Brayden had a chance not only to prove himself, but also to prevent a war. This trip could save lives and keep the peace his father and grandfather had worked so hard for.

When the king had announced that he would not be sending his eldest, but instead his youngest, to speak with the South Raecan king, Brayden had been ecstatic. He wasn’t sure what had led his father to that decision, though Duke Grith had been the only noble who’d seemed at all pleased by the situation.

Outside a carriage awaited to carry him to the river where a ship would take him post-haste to South Raec.

Where the ambassador would no doubt order — unofficially, of course — that Brayden remain unobtrusive for the entirety of his stay.

Not that I care, Brayden told himself, tossing a simple white shirt into his bag.

He grinned. Had Mason been present he’d have scolded Brayden for not calling a servant to do ‘such a menial task.’ That was definitely a place where they disagreed — how much he should do for himself, and how much he should have servants do.

He quickly scanned his room for anything else he might need. Then he hoisted the bag onto his shoulders and walked out into the hall.

Where he nearly collided with Tyler.

Both the princes quickly moved back — Tyler with a single long step, whereas Brayden hopped back quickly, banging his elbow against the door frame. He gripped his elbow, grinding his teeth.

Tyler took a short breath and started talking as if nothing had happened. “Are you sure this is wise? If the South Raecans are planning to attack us—”

“Then they will not want to be rushed into it by killing me or the ambassador. It would be nigh impossible to keep news of that sort from getting back here.”

“But they will want to be pushed into a treaty even less. If they were to break a newly-signed treaty, then even their closest allies would be reluctant to offer friendship.”

“Neither will they dare to kill me in cold blood. If they are trying to start a war, they will either declare it openly or send me back without agreeing to anything.”

“Brayden—”

“Tyler, please. I want to do this. It’s what is best.”

“It’s what you think is best, but if you die…”

“Which I won’t. Unless, of course, I catch some sort of exotic disease.” Brayden tilted his head, letting his eyes glaze over, and considered this for a moment before continuing. “I suppose that is possible, since Colyth does quite a bit of trading. Do you think I’ll have much time to—”

“It’s not funny.” Tyler’s brow creased, and his hands gripped the edge of his shirt, rumpling the cloth.

“Tyler, please. If war breaks out, many will die. At most, I’m risking my freedom. And if I have a chance to stop a war, I don’t mind risking that. If my trip turns out for naught, if the Raecs fight anyway, and … and Father dies—”

Brayden swallowed and started down the hall.

“I’m done arguing,” he said. “Everyone is probably thinking I’ve fallen down the stairs and am out cold. I know you care, but this is good for me.”

Tyler shook his head and followed.

“I want peace as much as you,” Tyler said, “but this isn’t the only way. Probably not even the best way — You’re only sixteen, Brayden. Don’t act like you know what’s best.” His voice was rising.

Brayden ignored him.

Tyler followed behind, but before he could come up with another argument, they were interrupted. Earl Diard Fredrico rose from one of the small benches placed sporadically around the castle. As soon as he was up, he bowed deeply, and Brayden nearly missed seeing the paper he held.

The two princes bowed their heads in return. Then Tyler spoke. “Earl Fredrico, how nice to see you.”

Brayden repeated a similar greeting.

“I had not expected the honor of meeting both of you, my lords,” said Diard. “I, uh…” He glanced at the elder prince, then carried on. “I merely wished to wish you good luck on your journey, Prince Brayden.”

“Thank you,” Brayden said, smiling at the Earl.

“I know I shouldn’t ask, but the current ambassador is one of my sons. And I was wondering if you could pass along my greetings?”

Brayden realized the Earl had intended to ask this favor privately, not in front of the crown prince. And the boy couldn’t help but notice him fidget with the paper.

“Of course. I’d be glad to deliver that and any other message you might have for him.”

“I do happen to have a letter. I had meant to send it on the next mail carrier, but if you’d be willing … I happen to have it right here.”

Beside Brayden, Tyler gave a slight twitch. Brayden sent a quick glance at his older brother out of the corner of his eye, and was not surprised to find him smiling.

“Of course, Earl Diard,” Brayden said. He accepted the letter with a formal nod. “Would you honor us with your company down to the courtyard?”

Of course the Earl could not refuse, and the three set off again. Now there was silence except for the tap, tap of Brayden’s boots against the stone floor. The others wore soft leather shoes that made barely any noise.


Read chapter eleven…

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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 9

Trillory

Trill silently slipped out of the dining hall into the garden and away from the music of the party. She’d never been one for dancing, and this had become her usual retreat. She had thought the near-nightly socializing would end when the duke left last week, but Eric seemed determined to continue the tradition. Many of the remaining courtiers, including Joline, were to depart the next morning, for home or for the capital. But tonight they were all enjoying the party.

The last hints of sunset lingered over the town, evidence of the approaching summer. But the lamps in the garden were already lit, and some of the flames sparkled on the small pond. Trill had always enjoyed water, the smooth way it flowed, the crystal sounds, the way a rainstorm could change from calm to vicious and then fade away. Even the air seemed fresher around water.

Someone tapped her shoulder, and Trill spun to face the intruder. She was surprised to see Eric.

She dropped a curtsy.

He bowed his head. “Would you join me in the next dance?”

“Will it make you stop sneaking up on me?” She grinned.

Eric laughed. “Maybe you should pay more attention to your surroundings. But I suppose that I could make an extra effort.”

He extended his arm, and she took it.

As they entered the room and waited for the music to start, she realized how short she was next to him. She was tall for a woman, matching Chris in height, but Eric was nearly a head taller.

“I feel like I know everyone here but you,” he said. “We’ve talked, what, twice? The first day that you joined us, and then this afternoon.”

“I suppose I’m used to the country life. There have been so many people to meet since I arrived, sometimes it seems overwhelming.”

“It’s hard to believe you didn’t get through meeting everyone in the first week, with Joline as your guide. Though I do hear that you are a bit of a loner.”

The music started, and she let him lead her into the dance. “I’m just not used to all the people and their gossiping. At my father’s court, there was rarely anyone but family, servants, and a few soldiers.”

“I hear your mother has been very ill.”

Trill raised an eyebrow. “Surely Anthony has kept the duke informed of our mother’s health.”

“Sorry,” he said.

Trill immediately regretted her tartness, and they danced in silence for several minutes.

She nibbled the edge of her lip, then spoke. “Mother has been ill for a while, now. We have one of the best healers constantly at her side, and Father hopes that one day she might recover. But she has little strength. I’m afraid I don’t expect much change.”

“And how did she react to the news of her youngest’s actions?”

“We thought it best not to tell her.” Trill tried to control the sudden chill in her voice and hoped he would not pursue the subject of Chris.

“Surely she’ll notice his absence?”

Of course not, she thought sadly. “She sometimes goes for several weeks without seeing us, even if we visit daily.”

“I see. I’m sorry.”

Trill took the short pause to change the subject. “Do you remember your mother?”

“No. Though my father often tells me that I take after her.”

“In looks or in personality?”

“I’m not sure. I do have her eyes, but beyond that it is hard to tell.”

Trill glanced up into his hazel eyes. She didn’t know what his mother’s eyes were like, but Eric’s were most certainly not like his father’s dark ones.

“And as to her personality,” he continued, “I’ve been told very little. You have seen the picture of her?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t had much chance to look at the artwork, though what I have seen has been very well done, like the rest of the manor.”

He chuckled. “With Joline as a guide, I’m not surprised. She does her job well and knows everyone, but she never has time for art. But that’s beside the point: the best portrait of my mother is in the private section of the west wing, in the middle of the gallery between my father’s chamber and mine. But there is also a very good tapestry to the immediate right of the grand entrance.”

“Then your mother was indeed very beautiful.”

“Hmm. Do you weave tapestries?”

“I must admit I never took much to needlework of any sort. I’m more of a gardener.”

He nodded. “Of course, I cannot say I would enjoy needlework. But I have always found the use of colors interesting in all kinds of art. The way minute changes in the shading can make a scene look so realistic. Unfortunately, I have little talent with a brush.”

“Yes, art can be fascinating to study. But I suppose I have always preferred natural things.”

“Well, I hope you have enjoyed our gardens.”

“Your fountain is very nice, and the arrangements are fine enough. Your men have certainly put a lot of work into the topiaries.”

Eric narrowed his eyes at her. “You sound like you have seen better.”

Trill blushed. “Well, I am probably biased, but I can’t help but compare them to the gardens back home.”

“Well then, hopefully one day I will see them and decide for myself.”

He spoke the last part in a rush as the music ended and he guided her to the edge of the room.

“We should talk again soon, Lady Trillory.”

“Please, call me Trill,” she said impulsively.

They exchanged a bow and curtsy, and she watched as he walked away. She found herself pleasantly surprised. She had expected Eric to be haughty, like her brother Anthony, but now she wished she’d befriended him sooner.


Read chapter ten…

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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 8

Christopher

The Dark Forest loomed before them, the trees crowding close to each other, surrounded by deep shadows. Marc snorted as Chris urged him closer and pawed the ground when they stopped a few feet away.

Thomas gazed into the woods. Chris watched him out of the corner of his eye, wishing he could read the man’s expression.

Finally Thomas spoke. “Certainly a cheery looking place. We aren’t going through there, are we?”

Chris shook his head. “Of course not. We need to go farther south, to the boundary of Xell. We can cut east there.”

Thomas half smiled. “Good. The stories are probably far-fetched, but who knows what’s in there.”

Chris shrugged.

“I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the stories,” he said. “The tales of King Miles are true. Why not these ones?”

“King Miles is a historical figure. Dark Forest stories are myths. Who ever heard of trees that can read minds or drive people insane?”

“Maybe. Who ever heard of riddles that can only be read by certain people, or dreams that offer guidance?”

“Actually, there are many versions of the King Miles story that say he was the only one who could read the riddles. Most dismiss this, since the idea of magic that can ‘choose’ people seems … unlikely. Also, since he supposedly traveled alone, how could he test it? But there are never any mentions of dreams.” Thomas paused. “I suppose we know the truth now.”

“Perhaps when this is over, you can go correct the stories,” said Chris, turning Marc southward.

“I would like that,” murmured Thomas.

Chris glanced over his shoulder, and saw Thomas smiling and absentmindedly rubbing his horse’s neck.

“We should get going,” Chris said, nudging Marc into a trot.

Chris had considered going through the Dark Forest, simply to avoid the risk of being seen. His month of grace was running out, probably already gone — he had lost track of days in the mountains. But no one would find him in there. After all, even the forest people refused to enter those woods.

The legends varied from telling to telling. Some said giant monsters roamed in the darkness, others warned of trees that came alive, and still others told of an aura that drove men crazy. What the tales did agree about was that people who entered that forest never came out again — except for the occasional “brave and pure knight.”

Whatever was beyond the shadows, Chris didn’t feel like testing those stories right now.

They rode in silence. As the ground rose, they slowed the horses to a walk. The trees sank below them. They found a narrow path headed east through the forest of Xell, following the edge of a cliff that towered over the Dark Forest.

When the path widened into a grassy clearing, Thomas nudged his horse forward to walk beside Marc.

“Did you know that King Miles didn’t originally live in Coricstead? During the war, his parents died, and after the war his sister married someone from a small town — nobody even remembers what it was called. Since she was the only family he had left, he moved there with her. But then, because he was a hero and their new king, they changed the town’s name, and it became the new capital.”

“I didn’t know Miles had a sister,” said Chris.

“She never got involved in court life. It’s quite possible, though, that there are still some of his sister’s descendants living there.”

For a few minutes, the air was quiet except for the thumping of the horse’s hooves against the ground.

Finally Chris twisted to look at Thomas and said, “Why did you tell me that?”

“Well, if I was following Miles’s footsteps, I’d like to know more about him. And I always thought that knowing he had a family he loved made him more human.”

“Oh.”

“Also, I admit I was trying to distract you, and perhaps coax you out of your shell. The only words you’ve said since we left my house are things like, ‘We’ll camp here,’ and ‘We’ll go that way.’ You have a lot on your mind. You just met me, and I doubt you want to share your problems with an old man, but mulling on your own thoughts for too long is never good. You should talk more, or at least listen.”

Chris reined his horse to a stop.

Thomas did the same beside him and caught his gaze.

They stood there for a moment, then Chris’s shoulders slumped, and he said, “It’ll be dark soon. We can talk over supper.”

A smile spread across Thomas’s face. He said, “You know, being a healer isn’t all herbs and physical sickness — that’s just the easy part.”


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 7

Nora

“Pleasure to meet you, Dyani Xell,” said Nora, studying the willowy woman before her.

“And you, Nora of Yorc.” Dyani returned a quick appraisal, and then turned to Arnold, who was leaning back against a tree trunk. They exchanged greetings.

Then Dyani’s eyes fell to his wrist, which was covered in blood-stained cloth. “We should take him to my village. Is it safe to move him?”

Nora nodded. “It sh—”

“It’s not my legs that are hurt!” Arnold said, pushing himself to his feet with his good hand. He stood tall, broad-shouldered, with his eyes flashing a challenge.

Nora could tell exactly why he made such a good knight. She couldn’t help smiling as she said, “As I was saying, it should be fine.”

Dyani also seemed pleased — and amused — at his reaction.

“Good. I’ll help pack up your camp.”

Arnold

As Nora and a forest man carefully cleaned the wound, applied a fine paste, and bandaged his wrist, Arnold couldn’t help feeling like a child being fussed over by his mother for a skinned knee. Then the two healers made him drink a thick, bitter tea, admonished him to rest, and left him alone in the dim hut.

It was dry and comfortable, and a breeze moved in through the hanging cloth that sufficed for a door. The building was small and looked old, but as far as he could tell it was sturdy. The air smelled strongly of the herbs that lined the shelves.

He shifted slightly on the hanging cot, which bounced up and down, making him stiffen. He most definitely preferred sleeping on solid ground to this swaying monstrosity.

He considered slipping out of the hut to explore the village. But the town was small, and he had a feeling the sharp-faced healer would not approve. He turned his thoughts instead to Terrin.

Best he could tell, this was one of the nearest villages to Terrin’s own, and Terrin had visited it often as a child. The woman, Dyani, appeared to be an old family friend. He smiled. Terrin must be happy to see familiar faces, he thought. She had been the least keen of them to travel with Chris. Arnold wondered vaguely where she was, as he shut his eyes. Probably catching up with her friends.

“I expected you to be pacing like a caged lion.”

Arnold opened his eyes to see Terrin standing over him. He stared up at her for a moment.

Then he said, “Have you ever seen a caged lion?”

“Well, no.”

“Then you can’t know that it would pace.”

“Maybe,” she said dryly. “But the point is, I expected you to be pacing.”

“And face the wrath of your healer friend? No thanks,” he said with a small chuckle.

“I thought you were the one who was going to go off and face dragons without so much as a blink. This wound must be serious.”

“Yes, well, dragons are mythical. You forest folk are just as fierce and quite real.”

“Well, then, perhaps you had better obey orders and rest.”

She pulled the room’s only chair over next to the cot and settled herself in it.

“And of course, it falls to me to make sure you behave. You never can trust a caged lion.”


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 6

Brayden

Brayden jumped to his feet as the library door opened. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the book on dragon myths he’d been reading to the table. The book flew, spinning once, and struck the stack of unread books, sending them to the floor. He glanced at the scattered books, then looked back up into the surprised, though quickly turning to frustrated, face of Mason. Mason was the king’s chamberlain, Brayden’s tutor in all but the art of war, and far too easily annoyed by the young prince’s clumsiness.

Brayden dropped to his knees and started to pick up the books, keeping his head down to hide his strawberry cheeks.

Mason was a second cousin three times removed, or something of that sort. But he’d been selected for his post not for his blood, but for his authoritativeness and orderliness. His eclectic knowledge helped, too.

“My lord. Stand yourself up properly this moment. The servants can take care of that mess — bah, how you manage it, I do not know. Nearly a man grown, you should be dignified, self-confident, displaying poise suited to your position. Regardless, you are wanted in the council chamber this moment. I’ll take care of this, you must hurry. Straighten your shirt before you go in. Pity you haven’t time to change it.”

Brayden stood and smoothed out his shirt. He bowed deeply, and Mason opened his mouth to start again, thought better of it, and merely said, “Go.”

Brayden had avoided the council room since he was eight, when he had somehow — even he wasn’t sure what he’d done — torn down one of the tapestries of King Miles, burying himself and several nobles in its heavy folds. Now he kept far away, except for special occasions.

He ran down the hall, managing to avoid any real mishaps, though he did nearly knock over a suit of armor rounding a corner in haste. Upon arriving at the door he straightened his shirt once more, brushed his moppy brown bangs out of his face, rubbed his hands together, and stepped into the room.

All of the major landholders were either there or had sent a representative. Currently they stood in small groups, talking quietly to one another. At the head of the room, his older brother Tyler stood on Father’s right, tall and proud — the type of proud that demands respect, not the haughty kind — though a furious scowl covered his face. The queen sat in her smaller throne to the king’s left, and her gaze latched onto Brayden as soon as he entered. A warm smile spread over her face.

Taking a deep breath, Brayden marched forward to the half-moon of clear space in front of his father, and bowed deeply. He raised his head just enough to see his father, but held the bow.

The king nodded.

“Come here, Brayden,” he said, gesturing to his direct right.

Brayden frowned. It felt awkward to step between his father and Tyler, but he obeyed.

“Brayden, tell me what you think of the incident with South Raec.”

A hand seemed to tighten around Brayden’s throat.

He forced himself to breathe, running everything he knew of the incident over in his head, painfully aware that all attention had turned to him.

Why would his father ask a question like this, here?

“I think,” he started slowly, but quickly sped up, “that though the evidence seems to show that it was an attack by South Raecans, we should not be too hasty to assume that the government of South Raec means to pick up hostilities.”

One of the nobles started to protest, but Brayden ignored him and continued, his eyes squeezing shut against the watching faces.

“It would be best to send an envoy of peace to the king of South Raec, someone who would show your trust in his good nature. To ask what they know of the attack.”

Brayden opened his eyes again and stared back into his father’s stern eyes.

The king turned to look over the nobles.

Brayden followed his gaze. Duke Grith was the only noble who stood out — the only one ignoring the whispers that ran around the court. His face was smooth, expressionless, watching the king.

“And,” the king continued, turning his gaze back to Brayden. “Who would you send on this important, but rather risky, mission?”

Brayden’s head swung back to face his father quickly. Perhaps too quickly, as dizziness set in. Please don’t stutter. He swallowed.

“My lord, I would send—”

Tyler’s voice exploded from nowhere as he stepped forward to address the king. “Father, you — It’s far too dangerous to send anyone of importance. A normal courier would be more than adequate. Let the current ambassador make inquiries. We dare not risk such a loss if anything should go awry!”

Brayden almost jumped at his brother’s outburst, which set his skin to crawling. A sudden silence settled over the room, leaving Brayden feeling more claustrophobic than before, though he knew their eyes were no longer on him.

The king, however, seemed slightly amused. “And do you see no good in your brother’s thoughts?”

“I see that any envoy important enough to show our trust would make a great hostage, should that trust be ill-founded. And South Raec’s reaction might go the other way. They may take our action as a threat.”

Brayden saw concern on his brother’s face and realized that Tyler was pleading with their father.

The queen reached out and gripped her husband’s arm.

The king nodded at her, then stood and needlessly raised his hand for the attention of the nobles.

“I thank you all for joining us today. I value all your opinions and advice,” he started.

Only Brayden heard Tyler say one last pleading, “Father,” under his breath.

“I have made my decision,” the king continued, “and I trust that all of you will respect it.”

Brayden scanned the nobles. Though they kept their faces straight, Brayden could sense anticipation. The duke smiled grimly.

“Prince Brayden shall be sent as emissary to South Raec, to assess the situation and to serve alongside Ambassador Gillian Fredrico in negotiating for peace.”

Brayden almost fainted.


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 5

Terrin

Terrin sighted a squirrel. In one smooth movement she raised her bow, aimed, and fired. The squirrel, who had been busily snacking on a nut, came alert at the twang of her bow, but she had expected the reaction. A millisecond later, the arrow slammed into its left eye.

She started forward to collect her kill. She hadn’t hunted since the previous fall, so she should have felt some sort of joy. But instead she could only chide herself for not shooting that well earlier. If she had been faster, if she had just taken down the wolf before it reached Arnold…

She removed the arrow, wiped it on the grass, and then started to clean the squirrel.

Behind her, she heard a twig snap. A twig more akin to a small branch, by the sound of it. Terrin froze, then slowly turned her head towards the sound. Seeing nothing through the underbrush, she stood, knife in hand.

There! She caught a glimpse of a face — an old woman with angry eyes, dried mud on her face and in her hair. A swamp woman?

But even as Terrin registered her appearance, the woman was gone.

Terrin took two steps forward and stared at the now-vacant space for several minutes. Her mind told her she must be crazy — they were in northwest Xell, and the swamp was far to the south. Her instinct told her to get away, head back to camp. And her curiosity bade her to investigate.

There was another snap, and she spun, looking for the woman. This time she saw a wraith slinking out from under a thicket. Its flat, disk-shaped head with its yellow-green eyes stared at her from barely a yard away, and its elbows jutting up above its body gave it an awkward look.

“Hello there,” she said slowly, tightening her grip on the knife.

She’d been attacked by a wraith once, and though every schoolbook claimed they were peaceful creatures, she didn’t trust them.

The wraith lunged forward. She moved into a fighting stance, but the wraith was already backing away. Its mouth seemed to be pulled back into a wide grin — and in its teeth was her freshly caught squirrel.

“Drop that!” Terrin said, stepping forward.

The wraith hissed as it straightened its legs. In a few seconds it went from being inches from the ground to being the size of a large pony. Terrin stared at the beast. She had never seen any animal do such a thing before, and she couldn’t help taking a step back.

The wraith’s grin seemed to grow even larger as it shrank back to its normal, flat position. It turned and scuttled away through the underbrush.

“Stinking thief,” Terrin called after it, then sighed.

Glancing reluctantly back at where she had seen the woman disappear, she turned and headed away from both the wraith and the woman. She would have to settle her curiosity another day. She didn’t want to go back to camp empty-handed, but any nearby prey would have been scared off by the noise.

She had been stalking quietly through the woods for only a few minutes when the smell of blood and rotting meat touched her nose. Dropping even lower into a crouch, she moved upwind towards the scent.

She didn’t travel far before she found the scene of a battle. Six wolves lay around the trampled clearing, some torn almost beyond recognition. At first she thought two wolf packs had been fighting for territory. But she noticed a few unfamiliar tracks, too big for wolves or a wildcat, but not the right shape for a bear.

Then it struck her: the wraith.

With new interest, she stepped out of the shadows to examine the fight scene closer. There were more of the strange tracks. Two wraiths, at least, maybe more? She had never heard of wraiths traveling in a pack. The battle appeared to have been one-sided, since no wraiths had fallen. The tracks were so jumbled that it would take some time to work out exactly what had happened.

“The wraiths entered over here. They fought for a while, and then the last of the wolves fled.”

Terrin spun to face the voice, sliding her knife free.

A forest woman was leaning against a tree, her arms crossed.

“The wraiths have grown more aggressive recently,” she continued. “I can’t pretend to understand their habits, but many of the territorial creatures are being driven away. Guess this wolf pack decided to fight.”

A smile spread across Terrin’s face, and she sheathed her knife as fast as she had drawn it.

“Dyani!”


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 4

Trillory

Stretching out her arms, Trillory whirled herself in a circle. She loved the freedom of being alone in the north wing’s small common room. The bustling manor of Duke Grith seemed almost empty, now that the king had summoned the duke to a council in Coricstead. Many of the nobles and noble-wannabe courtiers had already scattered, returning to their own homes to prepare for the expected war.

She stopped spinning and let her arms drop. Her father, Earl Fredrico, had always said the rivalry with South Raec was long past, that they were friends now. Others strongly disagreed.

Would there really be a war?

If only Chris was here. Trillory disliked chatting with strangers, but she could talk to her twin for hours. He had studied more about history and politics than she could ever learn, so he would know how to explain what was happening.

With a sigh, she wandered towards the balcony and looked out at the pouring rain. Chris was gone. There had been nothing she could do to save him.

She pushed through the doors and onto the balcony.

Lady Joline — the graceful socialite who tried to mentor Trill in courtly manners — was distracted with official business as ambassador from the Diamond Isles. She’d gotten a message from her government this morning and had locked herself in her room to write a response. She would be leaving soon to follow the duke to the capital.

For once Trillory had the afternoon to herself, and she planned to enjoy it.

Striding across the balcony, she leaned against the stone balustrade, inches from the rain. She would have preferred to be outside, exploring the grounds, but Joline had insisted on her staying out of the rain.

Of course she saw the wisdom in this. Even besides escaping the threat of a cold, none of the maids would have appreciated the puddle she would make coming in from this downpour.

The rain made it impossible to see anything more than a few yards away, much less the city of Charlon that rested below. But she still couldn’t resist reaching out her hand to feel the cool spray of water on her fingers. She smiled. Quickly she glanced behind her and then pulled back her hand. Tilting it forward, she watched as the water on it collected into a large drop and rolled off, launching itself straight out and back into the rain.

She ran her now-dry hand through her hair, and turned to continue exploring. The manor was quite big, and Trill had barely seen half of it.

She wandered down one of the branching halls. The architecture of the duke’s manor was marvelous — especially the north wing, which seemed to be the oldest part of the building. Trill wondered if even the king’s palace could match it. Of course, there was a rumor that Charlon had once been the capital, so this would have belonged to the king.

Not that she minded the oversizing. It was nice to be alone. Even the servants weren’t here today.

She pushed open the first door. The room only held one simple bed tucked in the corner, with a chest at its end, and a small table and seat by the window. A smaller door led to a closet. Had it not been raining, she would have opened the window and tried to get some air circulating. She had always disliked rooms — whether in use or not — without proper air flow.

But it was raining, and she left shortly. She found nothing in the next three rooms and was just opening a fifth door when someone spoke.

“They’re all the same. And if there was anything special, I would know.”

Trill spun to face the voice, and the door clacked loudly shut behind her. She found herself facing Eric, the duke’s son.

She couldn’t help blushing a bit, which was rare for her. How long had he been watching? Though she had seen him several times in the weeks since she’d arrived, she had not actually talked to Eric. He must think she was daft. No normal person would be so absorbed with checking empty, stuffy rooms as not to notice someone walking up behind her.

She dropped a quick curtsy, and murmured under her breath, “Sir Eric.”

He bowed slightly. “Lady Trillory. Tell me, how have you been enjoying your stay here?”

“Very well. I’m honored that your father welcomes me so warmly.”

“He’s always had a fondness for your family.” He smiled down at her. “Would you like me to escort you anywhere?”

“It is not necessary.”

“I insist. I would not leave you to wander alone on such a dreary day as this.”

Eric extended his arm, practically sealing the deal with the motion.

Trill’s shoulders slumped a bit. She would rather have kept exploring.

“Very well, then. I’d been planning to return to my quarters soon, anyway.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer the warmer atmosphere of the hall?” His eyebrows pulled into a puzzled frown, but his smile remained.

“I — I’m sure. I want to rest before tonight’s party.”

He nodded. “Of course.”

She took his arm, and they started back to the main wing. They didn’t talk much. She was relieved when the walk was over.


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 3

Arnold

The sun glimmered down, reflecting off the smooth mountain stone and blinding anyone who looked the wrong way. The three companions rode slowly down the switchback road, Arnold’s eyes pinned on the back of Terrin’s head to avoid the shining mountain peaks. Nora followed behind.

Terrin had insisted they leave the inn just after breakfast — she’d almost refused them that — to cross the ridge and head out of the mountains. They would easily reach the forest of Xell before evening.

But in Xell, finding Chris would be like finding a toothpick in a wood pile. If he was even there.

They had tracked him as far as that last riddle cave. Arnold wondered, had Chris been able to read the ancient markings on the stone? It had looked like a jumbled mess — but the first stone had been covered with strange marks, too, and somehow he had understood them.

That first message had warned of danger and death, and the harpy seer Andrea had hinted at something terrible about to happen. Then this morning they heard rumors of war brewing in the south. Was that what the riddles were about?

How would they ever figure it out, if they couldn’t find Chris?

Outside the riddle cave, they had found clear tracks headed down the mountain to the east. He couldn’t have been too far ahead of them. But the sun set before they could catch him, and then the rain had come and nearly washed the whole trail away. Without Nora’s mountaineering skills they would have been stuck until the path dried out.

But the tracks were gone. Arnold had no idea how they would find Chris now, and the longer they rode the less hope he had.

Terrin had decided that Chris was headed out of the mountains into the forest, and this was the quickest path down — practically the only path that wasn’t washed out. Arnold suspected she was being influenced by the desire to go home.

Few of the forest folk traveled as far as Fredricburg, where the four of them had met and become friends, even though the school was known as the best in North Raec. Terrin had never been at home in the city or in the surrounding plains. She had seemed more comfortable in the small woods north of town, where they had explored as children in their free time, but even then she’d been wary. So Arnold couldn’t help but wonder how different she would be in the forest of Xell, where she had been raised.

He supposed her outward stubborn streak would remain, but he wondered if she might lose some of the angry cheek she had given even the headmaster. After all, she had repeatedly boasted that forest children were taught to respect their elders.

But Arnold knew that her outward confidence and ferocity were just shields. She was as vulnerable to doubt and fear as himself — sometimes more so. He knew her mind was constantly replaying her behaver towards Chris, wishing she hadn’t been so harsh.

He would never forget that time when he had seen her—

“Wolves!”

Terrin’s voice startled Arnold out of his reverie. Instinctively he started to pull back on Rich’s reins as Terrin pulled to a stop in front of him, but when he realized what she’d said, he nudged the horse forward to stand beside Terrin. Before them on the path stood three large wolves. Behind him, Nora pulled her own horse to a halt.

The wolves were obviously tired. One had its left eye swollen tightly shut, with fresh claw marks over it. All bore several such claw marks in various places and were missing clumps of fur. Some of the scratches still bled.

Arnold hissed through his teeth. “We need to back away slowly.”

“I know,” said Terrin, a bit too sharply.

The largest of the wolves growled.

Arnold glanced back to Nora. She was slowly moving Minty back. The horse’s nostrils flared, and her ears flickered. Nora leaned forward, patting her neck and shushing her.

Terrin was examining their surroundings. A couple yards to their right a rocky wall stood head-high beside the path, while on their left the steep slope of stones and scraggy mountain grasses offered no place to hide. As she slowly turned forward again Arnold caught her eyes for a second. He saw the flashes of anger behind her glowering eyes. She gathered her reins and signaled Leaf to back. The horse took two quick steps and tossed its head, snorting.

The third wolf moved past the leader and then crouched low, snarling. Its fur was tinged ginger-red, but Arnold couldn’t tell if the color was natural or if it was blood.

Taking his reins in his left hand, he signaled Rich to move in front of Terrin. His right hand moved almost unbearably slow to loosen his sword.

The three wolves began to spread out. One-eye’s flattened ears almost blended with his head. And his eye seemed to flicker from Arnold to the lead wolf. On the other hand, the ginger’s eyes were locked on Arnold, and its snarl sent a shiver down his back.

“I don’t think this is working,” whispered Arnold.

He glanced back at Terrin, who was slowly reaching for her bow. If there was a fight, it would start before she had a chance to string it.

And as the lead wolf began to move forward, adding his own snarls to the ginger’s, it was looking more and more like a fight. He signaled Rich to back with short steps, keeping him between the wolves and the girls. But the leader moved forward with matching steps. Arnold loosely wrapped his reins around his saddle’s pommel and slowly reached back for his shield.

Too slowly. The ginger lunged.

Arnold signaled and Rich pulled into a rear, then pivoted. The wolf landed to their right, and as Rich fell back to all fours Arnold swung his sword down.

The blade caught the red wolf’s shoulder and it sprang back with a yelp. The other two quickly charged in. Arnold turned his horse again and his sword flashed in the air between him and the closest wolf — the leader — which pulled back as if stung. Arnold pivoted Rich, and the horse pranced toward One-eye.

One-eye retreated with bared fangs, a growl rumbled in its chest. Then it lunged forward, forcing Rich back to avoid its angry jaws. Both the lead wolf and the ginger joined in, pushing the horse back with their snapping teeth.

“Arnold, the edge!” Nora called.

Arnold instinctively glanced at them. Terrin had dismounted and strung her bow.

Rich slipped. For a second Arnold felt the horse begin to slide down the stony slope, then Rich lunged forward onto the path.

The wolves scattered.

Arnold didn’t wait for Rich to fully steady himself before turning the horse to rush One-eye, the nearest wolf. It started to pull away, now wary of the horse, but Arnold’s sword caught it behind the ears.

The wolf collapsed, and he pulled his sword free. He turned to face the leader, just as an arrow struck it down.

He swung his head, searching for the ginger wolf, but it came to him. The reddish-gray blur registered in Arnold’s peripheral vision, and he started to pull Rich around to face it. Then pain shot up his left arm as the lunging wolf’s teeth sank into his wrist. The unexpected power of the wolf’s momentum carried him off his horse, giving him barely time to kick his feet free.

He landed on his sword arm, the impact knocking his breath away and causing him to release his sword. He rolled and slid for several feet, ending face down in a patch of dew-soaked grass. The wolf was carried over him, nearly pulling his arm out of joint, but it released his wrist as it passed. It hit the ground and tumbled over, sliding into the mountain wall.

The beast lay still, stunned and maybe even dead. Arnold shut his eyes for a second, pulling a deep breath. Then he opened them, and the ginger was dragging itself to its feet. Snarling more than ever, it staggered towards him.

Nora

Before the wolf could reach Arnold, Rich spun with stunning speed. His back hooves kicked out, striking the ginger straight on, and sending it flying back into the wall with a crack that made Nora’s stomach twist. At the same time, she heard a sharp twang. An arrow smacked into the wolf’s chest, no doubt killing it — if it wasn’t dead before.

For a moment Nora could only stare at the scene before her. The air seemed eerily silent after the bow shot. Then something clicked in her mind, and she swung off Minty and ripped her bag free from her horse’s back. With a quick movement she twisted the reins around the saddle horn before she turned toward Arnold.

She forced herself to walk and to take several deep breaths. Rich turned to face her, his eyes and nostrils wide.

“Whoa, good boy,” she said, gently patting the horse’s forehead before she crouched next to Arnold. The horse was well trained, and now that the danger was gone, he held perfectly still.

“Is he okay?” asked Terrin, kneeling beside Nora.

“I’m fine, and I’m right here,” said Arnold as he rolled to his back and started to prop himself up. But when he put weight on his left hand, he collapsed again with a yelp.

“Stop getting dirt all over it,” Nora said.

She grabbed his forearm and turned the wrist over. Thin, gray mud smeared over the wound, mixed with the red of fresh blood. As she held his hand, he pushed himself into a sitting position.

“Of course it had to catch you on your wrist,” Nora muttered. Then, louder: “Terrin, get me my water skin. I need to see the wound.”

Terrin leaped into action, but instead of turning to Minty, she quickly detached Arnold’s skin from where it hung over his saddle-horn.

As she handed it to Nora, she asked, “Is it bad?”

Nora splashed the water across his wrist, causing Arnold to groan through clenched teeth. The dirt washed away, exposing the torn flesh for a second. Then blood welled up, hiding it again.

Flowing blood was good — it would cleanse the wound.

But not enough.

“We need to move,” she said. “We have to find a stream.”

She stepped back to let Arnold scramble to his feet. Then turning to Terrin, she added, “An animal bite is always bad.”


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

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

Chapter 2

Terrin, 10 years later

“So, lad, I reckon yer headed to the capital to volunteer for th’ army?”

The villager’s deep voice carried up the hall from the inn’s common room. Terrin paused by the doorway, listening.

“And how do you reckon that?”

Terrin recognized Arnold’s voice and almost laughed when she realized who the farmer was talking to. Despite his boyish looks, Arnold was already a knight.

Though his knighthood would surely be revoked, if they were ever caught. The terms of Chris’s banishment would apply to anyone who dared to help him. And they had been traveling with Chris, until the idiot decided to run off on his own in a misguided attempt to keep them safe.

Now they had to hunt him down, and the rain that had been falling on and off — mostly on — for the past two days didn’t help.

The villager spoke again. “Bah. If yer not headed there now, ya will be soon enough. Soon as the war starts, and we all know that won’t be long. Personally I think the king’s doing a botched job of it. We all knew another war would be coming any time now, but did he start preparing? No! He waits to th’ last minute.”

“My poor Nessa,” moaned another voice. “She won’t be able t’ handle it. All alone like. She’s been doing alright since her mother died, but I don’t think she could take it if I was called away now.”

“Stop yer groaning, Clark. Nessa’s stronger ’an a pair of ox. She’s as likely t’ be called as ya.”

“Now that’s cruel!”

Arnold broke in. “Tell me, what exactly have you heard about this upcoming war?”

The second farmer, Clark, answered. “Some caravan got burnt up real good. Heard the Crown Prince found it ’imself. They say there’s proof a South Raecan lot were the ones attacked it.”

The first farmer gave a snort. “We coulda attacked years ago, got ahead of ’em. Now we’ve let them have the first move! It’ll take months t’ amass a frightful force t’ oppose ’em. As I say, the king shoulda been preparing!”

“Wait,” Arnold said. “Are you saying the king shouldn’t have had hope for a lasting peace? Building up an army would have brought war for sure.”

“War’s coming, boy. Been doin’ so fer a long time. Peace’ll ne’er last,” said the first farmer.

“Aye. Not till the king’s got ’em under his belt,” added Clark. “And th’ longer he takes, th’ more we simple farmers suffer for it.”

“You forget,” said Arnold, “the nobles always have knights in training. And the king has allies he can call upon, if there is a war.”

“Sure, the knights’ll come. But th’ allies won’t. Only ones close ’nough are the Yorcs.” A couple farmers gave low laughs at this. “And th’ Isles. No help from either o’ them.”

Terrin’s sharp ears picked up someone muttering, “Th’ Yorcs need t’ be taught a lesson much as th’ South’ners,” under his breath.

Her mouth pulled back into a deep frown.

“Well, as ya can see, we don’ have no allies close ’nough to help. ’At leaves th’ lords and their knights.”

“And,” finished Clark, “th’ lords and knights can’t fight no war on their own. So they’ll be sendin’ fer us farmer folk. You’ll see.”

Terrin almost smiled as she imagined Arnold’s flustered face — being lectured about the ways of war when he’d been taught by real knights. But she was too annoyed by the comment about the Yorcs.

At least Nora was still in their room and had not heard.

Christopher

Chris pulled his cloak tighter and shivered, poking his pitiful attempt at a fire with his foot.

The heavy drizzle plastered his hair flat. He tried to tuck one loose strand behind his ear, but it stuck to his forehead. The black mess was growing long enough to get in his eyes, and he feared the day he would have to comb it.

Beyond the fire, he could see Thomas curled in his blanket. The older man had fallen asleep quicker than Chris would have thought possible in this constant rain.

He himself could not sleep, but it was more than just the rain. How was he supposed to make plans when he had no idea where they were headed? His last dream had shown him five people riding into the early morning sun. So he and Thomas were traveling east — though the sun had yet to show its face.

He had told Thomas of the dream, but he hadn’t mentioned the extra three people. No reason to worry him. Still, Arnold, Terrin, and Nora had been constantly on Chris’s mind since then. He was sure he’d done the right thing when he left them. His presence had brought them nothing but danger.

He sneezed.

Of course, he was also endangering Thomas, but the older man knew what he was doing. The others had followed him on blind faith. They’d expected him to head to Diamond Isles and live a peaceful life in exile. Instead he had dragged them into a quest to follow magic riddles that sounded like nonsense.

A quest to what?

The cave where King Miles found the Riddled Stone and its five Shards, long ages ago? If he got that far.

And if he did, what good would that do him?

The harpies had shown him the first riddle — the same one that launched King Miles on his quest during the Great Raecan War — carved in ancient runes deep in their secret cave. The message had warned that “until the hidden are retrieved, you cannot be free.”

Was he being foolish to hope that he could find the missing Shard, which he was accused of stealing, the reason he had been banished? But whoever had taken the Shard had disappeared without leaving a clue — not one that didn’t point to Chris, anyway.

How could an old cave, even a mysterious, magical cave, have any proof of his innocence?

No, now wasn’t the time to worry about that. He would deal with that when he got there. If that was where the magic was leading him.

For now, he just had to worry about what to do next. He let his mind wander over the maps he’d studied in school. The challenge would be not to get lost in the forest. Probably their best bet was to swing north and find the cliff that marked the southern edge of the Dark Forest. That would make it easier to keep from getting turned around, and they should be able to pass quickly and unnoticed.

Yes, this was best. He would deal with things as he got to them. Thinking too far into the future or past would only dishearten him.

At this point, he couldn’t give up, or he’d have nothing.


Read chapter 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 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 ONE

Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 1

Terrin

Terrin crashed through the bushes, thorns scratching at her arms and legs. She stumbled forward as her foot dropped farther than she expected.

She caught herself against the ground with her hands, pulling herself forward. Though she was only eight years old, growing up in the forest had made her agile. She was up and running again in a second, barely breaking her stride.

Underfoot, twigs and leaves crackled. Behind her she could hear a thump, thump, thump and the snapping and scratching of twigs against scales as something large leaped through the underbrush.

Wraiths were normally shy creatures. Why was this one so aggressive?

She ignored the cramp that stabbed at her, the sweat stinging her eyes, and the pain in her chest as she gasped for air, struggling to pick her feet up higher and clear the plants that reached to tangle her ankles.

She burst into an unfamiliar clearing and paused, looking around. The ground dropped away in front of her, how far down she couldn’t see. She was surrounded by woods except for a gap between the trees and the cliff. A river to her right fell off into a waterfall, but Terrin could barely hear it over her own pounding heart.

She turned away from the stream, forcing her weary legs to move. But she was too slow, and before she had taken a step, a great weight slammed into her. She let out a cry as she fell forward to the ground.

Something warm touched the back of her neck.

“Help, help, someone help me,” she yelled.

But the forest people never wandered this close to the Dark Forest. Here the woods were cold and unwelcoming.

There would be no one to help her.

The pressure on her back eased enough for her to roll and face the beast. All she could see was its flat, black head and those huge golden eyes with slit pupils, watching her. Its mouth lolled open, pink against the dark skin, and the white teeth dripped with dark gray saliva.

She heard its scaly skin ripple as it crouched closer to her. Its tongue ran over its teeth, and its nostrils flared so wide that Terrin could have almost fit her hand in them.

Then the beast turned its gaze to the left and growled, its nostrils narrowing to slits.

It spun and leaped away, its long, thick tail swinging only inches above her head. The tail disappeared from above her, and she sat up enough to watch as it cleared several bushes. Despite the scales and the lizard-like head and tail, the creature moved more like a huge cat. She supposed its ability to blend with the shadows had earned it the name wraith.

She hoped her father was okay. He had been teaching her to track when they sighted the wraith and stopped to watch it for a while. Even though they lived in the forest, wraiths were rare and usually avoided people.

Then the beast had spotted them and attacked.

Her father had ordered her to run, and she’d obeyed too quickly to see what he had done. But surely he was all right, surely he’d come and find her, and perhaps he would know why the wraith had acted strangely.

Exhausted by the breakneck run and fear, Terrin felt herself fading into darkness. She struggled weakly to stay awake.

Through the fog of weariness, she noticed the silence.

That was odd.

The forest glimmered with a reddish shade that meant the sun was setting, but where were the cheerful chirps of birds and the rustle of grass as creatures ran to and from their dens? There was nothing, as if some sort of void had sucked away all the life of the forest.

Not even the buzz of bugs stirring about.

And she could barely feel the breeze against her skin.

A tingle ran up her spine, but at the same time it was as if the tingle was floating off to her left.

It was … magic?

Groaning, Terrin pushed herself to a sitting position. She froze as she met the eyes of a pale, rose-colored ethereal being, floating an inch off the ground at the edge of the clearing. As she stared into its blank eyes, a strange humming started.

The thing approached with gliding strides, just short of the grace of floating, and the tingling sensation grew stronger, like hundreds of pinpricks in her back.

Terrin fought back tears of fear. She was a forest girl, and she refused to cry.

The being stretched out a hand toward her, and the humming rose in pitch as the thing’s fingers brushed against her cheek. The tingling turned into a chill. Her body locked up. Her instincts told her to run, or defend herself, but she could only tremble.

She realized that this must be a spirit. Raw magic, without need of a magician to uphold it.

Some said that spirits were the souls of strong magicians who had been especially close to nature. But Terrin knew now they couldn’t be — there was nothing human about this creature. Those empty eyes confirmed what the freezing sensation already told her.

Spirits were evil.

Terrin cried out for help again, positive that the ethereal monster would devour her soul.

An answering call came from the forest, “Terrin, Terrin?”

She recognized her father’s voice and screamed her reply. “Father! Father, quickly.”

The spirit withdrew its hand and turned its shimmering head towards the sound of twigs and leaves snapping under foot. Her father crashed into the clearing, panting. The spirit took a step back, then turned and rushed into the woods. Terrin was sure that the thing really was floating this time.

She scrambled to her feet and grabbed her father’s hand. He pulled her close, his hug chasing away the chill.

“F-Father, did you see it? It tried to eat me.”

“I saw the wraith. It’s gone now. You don’t need to worry about it anymore.”

“No, Father, the spirit. Did you see the spirit?”

Tears pounded at the back of her eyes, but she held them back with slow, trembling breaths.

“No, honey, I didn’t see the spirit.” He frowned and knelt to her level. “Was there one?”

“Yes. It was horrid.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’ll be fine now, my girl. Come on, let’s go home. We’re late and your mother will be worried,” he said. But he was still frowning as he hugged her again, his hand running through her tangled hair.

She leaned against her father as they walked, still sore from her run earlier. But she was of the forest tribe of Xell, and she would not show weakness. Not until she was home, anyway.

Terrin glanced at her hands. They still had dried blood on them, from her fall, but there was no sting. Frowning, she gave them a closer examination.

The scrapes had already healed.


Read chapter 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.