Hunted Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 29

Terrin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are the second sentry of Shylak.”

“Yes.”

“Where’s the first sentry?”

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

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

Terrin let her lips quirk into a taut smile.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I was wondering whe—”

“Terrin?” cried a familiar voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see. That does explain some things.”

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

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

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

“Fine,” said Ceianna.

She turned sharply and walked off towards the others.

* * *

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

“Why?” asked Terrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?” asked Terrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read chapter thirty…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Eight

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 28

Terrin

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

“Remember to breathe,” she said.

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

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

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

“Just relax.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, it was unsettling.

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

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

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

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

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

He examined them each carefully before speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceianna turned to them.

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

Arnold groaned.

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


Read chapter twenty-nine…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Seven

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 27

Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I knew you healers did it on purpose.”

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

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

“Thank you, Thomas.”

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

They both smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was dead silence.

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“And what would you give us in return?”

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

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

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

“The greatest gift that one can give.”


Read chapter twenty-eight…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Six

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 26

Brayden

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sweeter fruits here than anywhere,” cried another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boy flushed a bit.

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.”


Read chapter twenty-seven…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Five

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 25

Trillory

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

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

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

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

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

The night Chris had been framed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trill stopped and reread the first sentence.

Pancakes?

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

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

Then it flickered and vanished.

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

“I’m sorry,” she said.

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

He stepped toward her to examine the book.

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

He chuckled.

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

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

Trill followed her gaze to where the fire had been.

To where the fire was.

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

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

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

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

So much for her secret.

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

“Y-yes, m’lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trill glanced up at Eric and raised her eyebrows.

He grinned, and the table went back to normal.

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

Trill blinked. “Er, what?”

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

“Wait, you knew?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

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

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

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

Trill dropped her eyes.

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

Well, it was too late now.

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

“As long as I can remember.”

“Really?” he said.

Trill looked up at the surprise in his voice.

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

Trill shrugged.

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

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


Read chapter twenty-six…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Four

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 24

Nora

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

And to the skinny girl that was crouched there.

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

“Hello, there,” Chris called.

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

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

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

Terrin and Chris shook their heads.

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

And where’s that? Nora wondered.

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

* * *

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

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

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

Chris chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” Nora asked, smiling.

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

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

“Magical wounds?”

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

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

“How do you use it?”

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

Nora nodded.

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

“Permanently?” asked Nora, frowning.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Arnold

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

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

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

“Not tired?” he asked.

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

“I know that feeling,” he said.

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

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

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

“I’m sure you don’t.”

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

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

She yawned.

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

Then there was a loud creak.

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

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


Read chapter twenty-five…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-Three

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 23

Terrin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Roz?”

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

A flame flickered to life, and Nora whooped.

The other three sleepers jerked upright.

“Where’s the dragon?” said Arnold.

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

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

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

Or whoever was watching them was well hidden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She licked her lips and took a breath.

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

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

“Breakfast is done,” Nora called.

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

He plopped himself down beside Terrin.

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

“That’s what you say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read chapter twenty-four…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twenty-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 TWO

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

Chapter 22

Nora

The cold water felt good as it ran down Nora’s throat. Sword lessons were tiring, but fun. Not to mention, they made everything taste better. She savored the last drops, then set down the now-empty clay cup.

“Thank you,” she said to the forest man.

He nodded back.

This was one of four stopping posts for anyone coming and going from the swamp. Horses could not traverse the muck, so about a hundred years ago the king set up stables for the sake of travelers like themselves. Not that there were many. Chris had been reluctant to show his face here, but as Thomas pointed out, if no one recognized him in their month at the village, one day here would not matter.

Nora climbed up to the loft and started to lay out her bedding for the night. Terrin was already asleep. As was Arnold, who had gone straight to bed after the day’s lesson. Her eyes settled on Chris’s empty spot. Her hand paused against her bag.

The entire month since he had returned, she had barely spoken to him. Only earlier that day, Terrin had chided her for it.

“He’s not going to leave again,” she had said. “And it’s not your fault he left the first time.”

Nora turned and opened her bag, pulling out a much smaller, older bag. It was made of supple leather that felt cool to the touch. Out of habit she ran her fingers along the cracking paint. The bag had been passed down through her mother’s family for who knew how long. Her aunt had given it to her before she’d left for school the first time. Since then she had stored her most precious possessions in it.

There weren’t many, and she quickly found the wooden flute she was searching for. It wasn’t really a flute, too short and simple. But there was no better name for it.

Now, to find Chris.

Christopher

Chris ran the cloth over Marc one last time, and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The horse still looked more grayish-brown than white. Marc looked at him and nickered, the other horses echoed the sound.

“What?” Chris said, just as a sharp tweet sounded in his ear. He jumped and turned, but it was only Nora, holding a wooden tube.

She extended it to him, and he took it. She went to visit her own horse.

He examined the tube.

It’s some sort of flute, he thought as he ran his fingers over the few holes, and around the mouthpiece. There was a small crack on either side, finer than a strand of hair, which told him it had once been two pieces.

“It looks well made,” he said.

“Good. I made it myself,” Nora said.

She turned to face him, and Minty head-butted her. She laughed and turned halfway back to continue patting the horse.

“I didn’t know you carved,” Chris said.

She shrugged and leaned into the horse, gazing out of the stables and into the shadows beyond.

Chris looked at her. She had so many skills he had never expected from her.

“Play it,” Nora said suddenly, glancing at him. Her eyes shone.

Chris obediently lifted it to his mouth and tested each note. Then he tried a short song. He’d once thought about becoming a minstrel, but had quickly given up that dream — his father would have been horrified.

“You play it almost as well as me,” she said.

“Nonsense. I’m sure I can play better than you. That tune was just a test.”

“You might be skilled with stringed instruments, but we mountain folk are natural pipers.”

“Well, then, you play it,” he said, offering it back.

“No, it’s yours. Think of it as a welcome-back gift.”

“Oh,” he said, and he dropped his hand, his fingers folding around the instrument.

“You should join me and Arnold at swordplay,” she said. “It was your idea in the first place.”

Chris faked a groan. “If I do that, Arnold will make me duel him.”

“You two used to duel all the time, and you loved it.”

“Back when I could beat him, yeah. Now he’s a real knight.”

“Terrin still wins almost every time.”

“He lets her.”

Nora smirked, and cocked her head.

“How do you know that he didn’t let you win, before?” she asked.

“Nonsense,” Chris said, though he’d wondered the same thing. “It’s one thing to let a girl beat you when you’re grown, quite another to let a man beat you when you’re young.”

“Are you calling Terrin a girl?” Nora asked, raising her eyebrows. A barely contained smile quirked the edge of her mouth.

“Irrelevant,” Chris huffed.

“Well, I remember once, when you were fifteen, and he dropped his guard wide open for you, right when you were ready to strike.”

“How would you remember something like that?” Chris laughed. “In fact, I’m positive you’re making it up.”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Because he certainly wouldn’t remember.”

“Uh, huuuh,” she said. “Keep telling yourself that.”

They both laughed longer than the joke deserved, enjoying the release of a month’s worth of tension.

When they recovered, Nora spoke first. “But seriously, I’m tired of losing all the time. I have to take Arnold’s word for it that I’m actually improving.”

“Are you saying you could beat me?”

“Oh, don’t start that,” Nora said.

The horses nickered, as if in agreement.

“All right, I won’t. But I am curious,” he said as he put away his grooming equipment.

It wasn’t till he was done that Nora finally said, “No. No, I can’t even beat Thomas, without some luck. I couldn’t beat you now.”

For a second he thought about teasing her on the last word, but he decided against it. It was getting late, he was tired, and tomorrow they would enter the swamp.


Read chapter twenty-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 Twenty-One

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 21

Arnold

Arnold checked his bag one last time. Nora had offered to help him pack, but he’d refused. Satisfied that everything was in place, he grabbed the strap and slung it over his shoulder.

Boots, jacket? All set.

Sword? Belts had been a struggle at first, when even bumping his stump caused it pain. But he’d figured out how to hold the strap so he could get the loose end through the buckle, and then it was mostly a matter of finagling until it was tight enough. He tugged again to make sure the belt and sword were secure. His weapons teacher had pounded in a certain measure of paranoia.

He swept the room with his eyes.

After the healer was satisfied they had gotten all the infection, he had moved from the medicine hut to a back room at Dyani’s house. As wife of the village chief, she had one of the few homes large enough to host visitors. Unfortunately, there had been more hanging cots — he was glad to finally be leaving those behind.

He exited the room and started around the back of the house.

“Took you long enough,” Terrin said, meeting him halfway around. “You should have at least let Chris help you.”

“I got it,” Arnold said.

Chris and Thomas had shared the room with him, but the packing that took him ten minutes, they finished in two.

As he and Terrin came around the back of the house to the small lean-to stable, he was annoyed — though not surprised — to see Rich was already saddled. He had not yet had a chance to attempt saddling.

He fastened his bag behind his saddle, then mounted. He had to go around to the other side, so he could grab the pommel in his right hand. It was something he’d practiced many times before, but it felt different now that he was doing it from necessity.

The others also mounted.

“Farewell, Dyani of Xell. We thank you, and your village, for your hospitality,” Chris said, inclining his head towards Dyani. “May we one day return the favor.”

She smiled and nodded in return.

“Farewell, Christopher, Thomas, and Arnold of plains, Nora of Yorc, and Terrin of Xell. May your travels be profitable. I will remember your offer.”

She paused, then continued in a less formal tone. “Take care of yourselves.”

“Thank you,” said Chris.

He nudged Marc forward.

“Don’t worry,” Arnold said, suddenly grinning. “We obviously do a great job of that.” He waved with his left arm.

He could sense Terrin rolling her eyes, but Dyani smiled.

“Don’t lose that attitude, Arnold,” she said, waving back. “It suits you well.”

It felt good to finally be on the road again. The month they had spent in the village since Chris’s return had felt more akin to forever. Arnold had vented some of his energy by teaching Nora, but still he’d been restless.

Chris, though he tried to hide it, had been even more so. The forest people’s loyalty to the crown was famous. Very few would have hesitated to turn him in if they’d known he was banished. Still, he had seemed to enjoy talking with Dyani and her husband. They couldn’t tell him much about King Miles, since the forest people cared little for history, but they were wise in other lore.

Of course Nora hadn’t minded the wait. She’d spent most of her time with healer Koresh, learning of forest herbs. Arnold and Nora quickly discovered that a simple question could keep him talking for what felt like hours, and Nora had the patience to listen.

While Arnold had not the fortitude for Koresh, in Thomas he’d found a mixture of humor and wisdom. The old man had disappeared for about a week, collecting herbs in the forest. Once he returned, though, Thomas had shown Arnold several exercises for regaining strength and cheered him with anecdotes of his past patients. He even proved to have some skill with a sword and assisted with Nora’s lessons.

Then there was Terrin.

He glanced across at the tall girl. Her straight, brown hair fell over her shoulders, her sharp features pointed up towards the sky. She, unlike Chris, had long ago mastered the art of hiding her emotions. But he’d seen her the other day with her brother. Even before that, he’d seen how relaxed she was in her forest. Relaxed in a way he’d never seen her before.

Regardless, they were leaving now. Within a few days, they expected to reach a small stable where they could leave the horses. Then sometime the following day, they would reach the swamp.

From there, they would have to improvise.


Read chapter twenty-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 Twenty

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART TWO

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

Chapter 20

Trillory

Good, he’s alone, Trill thought as Eric stepped out of the hedge garden. Overhead, clouds were gathering, and the garden seemed almost gloomy in the gray, late-afternoon light. She left her seat on the wooden bench and hurried after him.

“Eric,” she called, waving as he turned.

She had not been alone with him for more than a minute since the hunt. And even when she could have talked to him, she’d been afraid to mention the magic. She fell into step beside him. They walked in silence, and she swallowed hard.

Steeling herself, she spoke. “I … I haven’t thanked you for the other day.”

“What for?”

“You confused the bear. You used magic.”

She glanced at him. It was possible she was wrong, perhaps he had a charm that he’d used. But it hadn’t felt that way.

“Oh. You could sense that?” His fists clenched.

“Yes, I’m — Yes.”

A small voice said in the back of her head, If you’re going to make him tell you, you should tell him. But she hushed it. If their friendship ended here, if he was angry because she had found out about him, she couldn’t let him know about her. He might tell his father, who would undoubtedly tell her own.

He sighed, and stared thoughtfully down the path. They had stopped by a bush of three-petaled orange flowers. Eric plucked one and rolled its stem in his hand for a bit, then shrugged.

“Come on. It’d be easiest to show you,” he said.

He led her back to the castle. Trill couldn’t say she regretted leaving the gardens. The air felt thick, and she guessed they were in for one last rain before summer. They went up through the castle, but she was surprised when they turned off into the north wing.

As he passed a servant, he paused and whispered something. The maid nodded and left.

They walked through the area she had explored, turned a corner, and stopped in front of a door. Eric pulled out a key.

“Is this why you chased me away the other day, when I was exploring?” Trill asked.

“Yeah. But it’s not much, really.”

The door clicked open, and they entered.

This room was different from all the others in the wing. There was no bed. Instead a table stood near the window, strewn with books. In one corner, a stone statue reminded her of the wooden practice dummies her brothers had used for swordplay. But mostly there were books. The wall beyond the table was entirely taken up by a bookshelf, crammed full. More books were stacked on the floor, with papers scattered about.

Eric looked around and grimaced.

“The servants can’t get in except when I’m here,” he said, “so the cleaning is mostly left to me, and ah…”

Trill suppressed a chuckle. What would a duke’s son know about cleaning?

“But, why all the books?” she asked. “Surely they’d be better off in the library?”

Actually, she thought, these books might almost double the size of Duke Grith’s library — and that was larger than most private collections she had seen.

“No, these are all mine. Well, they’re my father’s, but he gives them to me to study. Here, let me clear some space.”

He set his flower on the table, then grabbed a broom and started pushing the books off to the side.

Trill picked up a volume, then gasped. It was no wonder these weren’t in the library. The slightly cracked golden title made her almost want to drop the book.

The Magic Defense: Beginner Spells was not exactly standard reading.

Eric began to snatch it, then stopped.

“Sorry, I’m not used to letting people see them. Another reason the servants don’t do the cleaning. We don’t want too many to know. They might gossip and all.”

“We. So your father’s a magician, too?”

Eric nodded slowly.

“He’s been teaching me, but I’m not very good. Father’s touchy about it. He insists that I don’t tell anyone. But since you found out anyway, I thought I could trust you.”

He paused, his brow creased.

“I can, right?”

“I won’t tell anyone,” she said. “The people I spend most of my time with would probably laugh at me.”

“You won’t even tell Father, will you? He’d be mad that I slipped up.”

Trill nodded, and Eric smiled again.

“I’m glad someone else knows,” he said. “I can’t talk about it properly with Father. He always quizzes me. And even though you probably wouldn’t find most of the theory and stuff that interesting, I do enjoy talking to you.”

You should tell him, whispered the voice again.

But they were interrupted by a short knock on the door. The servant had brought a tray with a pitcher of water and several tiny sandwiches.

“I’ve always been curious about magic,” Trill said, after the girl had gone. “My father never wanted anyone in his family to study it. Chris got in trouble once for bringing home a book on magic history from the school library.”

She stopped, and clenched her jaw.

Eric didn’t comment, but she had a feeling that he understood.

“Here,” he said. “Let me show you something.”

He shut the door, then gestured for her to sit down. Then, taking one more look at the flower, he touched her dress.

It was a plain dress, the most comfortable one she owned — a pale, gray cotton, no ruffles, with a white undershirt that showed at the neck. She had often worn it for casual garden work, and the gray had faded over the years.

She could feel the magic going out from his hand in a wave. She stared as, beginning at the sleeve where he’d touched it, a pale orange that matched the flower spread to cover the entire dress.

The tingly feeling faded, and then she felt it starting again. This time, the magic added a pattern of deeper orange leaves and flowers. He creased his brow, and a third wave of magic turned the undershirt to a warm cream.

He pulled away, but a nearly unnoticeable shell of magic remained, slowly soaking into the fabric. He handed her the flower, which now matched her dress perfectly.

As Trill accepted the flower, she struggled to keep her voice calm.

“I see you have an eye for color,” she said.

She tucked the flower gently into her hair.

He grinned.

“Orange suits you.”


Read chapter twenty-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.