Stories

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.”


To be continued…

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

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

Hunted Chapter Nineteen

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 19

Terrin

Even with one hand gone, Arnold easily avoided or blocked Nora’s attacks, their wooden practice swords making a rhythmic thwack-thwacking sound, dancing around the clearing. Terrin sat up a hill from them, back against a tree, only half watching as she soaked in the warm sun. She heard a slight rustle behind her tree, and she turned to look, expecting Chris or Dyani. Instead a man, only a few years older than her, came around and plopped down beside her.

Trunnen looked the same as ever.

“Terrin,” he said, giving her a warm smile.

“Brother,” she replied, returning the smile. “Why are you here?”

“Couple reasons. I see your friends are going at it.”

She glanced down at where Nora and Arnold were still dueling.

“How do you know they’re my friends?”

“Why else would they be here? Plainsmen aren’t exactly common sight in the forest.”

“True.”

She leaned back against the tree, enjoying the feeling of rough bark.

“He’s teaching her to fight,” she said. “The world’s a dangerous place, after all.”

Trunnen did not reply for a moment, his head slightly bent as he watched the combat. Terrin also didn’t feel the need to speak and tilted her own head back, allowing herself to almost doze.

“She must not be a very good student.”

Terrin sat back up.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s leaving plenty of openings, but she’s only taken some of the most obvious.”

She turned her full attention to the fight. Sure enough, Nora was not taking any sort of serious offensive. For a moment, Terrin was confused. Nora had shown herself to be quite competent with a sword.

Then she laughed.

Trunnen glanced at her, both eyebrows raised.

“Nora’s more of a healer than a fighter. She’s probably worried about over-extending him.” She chuckled again. “When Arnold realizes, he’s going to have a fit.”

Trunnen gave a half smile but didn’t laugh.

“Plains people are strange.”

Shrugging, she changed the subject. “I’m assuming you didn’t travel all day just to criticize my friends’ sword lessons.”

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small loop of string. At the end of it was a wood carving. He held it out to her.

“To remember us by, while you’re gone.”

She swallowed.

“It won’t be that long,” she said. “I won’t forget you.”

“A lot can happen in a year,” he said.

Then he took her right hand and set the carving in her palm. She closed her fingers around it and glanced up at him.

After Chris and Nora decided to stay in the village for a while, Dyani had pestered Terrin into going to see her family in the neighboring village. They weren’t expecting her home until summer, after graduation. She explained that she was traveling with some friends from the city, that they wanted to explore the world a little before settling down. She’d also told them she’d be back, hopefully within a year.

She hadn’t mentioned that the moment anyone found out who Chris was, she’d be banished, too. Or else locked up for life, or worse.

She didn’t tell them she was going to the swamp on the basis of a nonsense riddle.

Or that she hadn’t actually graduated from school.

“What’s wrong?” Trunnen leaned towards her, brow creased.

“It’s just that you’re right.” She forced a smile. “A lot can change in a year.”

He smiled and wrapped his arm around her. She leaned against his side, enjoying the warmth of his company.

She opened her palm and examined the carving. It was a fox, curled up. Its long, fluffy tail covered half its face, the tip flicking up just enough for its nose and one eye to peek out. Its ears were pressed flat. She gently lifted the string, sliding her wrist through the loop.

“Not half bad,” she said, catching it in her fingers and rubbing her thumb against its back.

“You know I’m the best carver in Xell.”

“Of course you are. But you know that’s only because I didn’t take the time to learn.”

Trunnen shifted his arm enough to bat at the side of her head, but she blocked it with her own free arm. As she turned her head, she realized the thwack-thwacking had stopped. Nora had paused to get a drink.

Then Terrin caught Arnold’s curious face looking up at her. Instinctively, she pulled away from Trunnen, escaping his hold as easily as a snake.

“Terrin?” he asked, following her to a standing position. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes,” she said quickly. Then she paused to take a breath before repeating slowly, “Yes, I’m fine.”

She could tell that Trunnen was worried about her, but she couldn’t explain everything that was going on.

Luckily, he didn’t pursue the subject. He nodded briefly at the plainsmen.

“Come on then,” he said. “I haven’t given my greetings to Dyani yet.”

With long strides, he disappeared down the trail to the village.

Terrin waved to her friends and turned to jog after him.

As soon as she came under the shadow of the trees, Terrin once again caught a glimpse of movement — someone’s eyes in the underbrush. Only these eyes were a dark, muddy gray, surrounded by wrinkled gray skin and mud-coated hair.

Her stride faltered. But as quickly as before, the swamp-woman’s face was gone.

“Keep up, Terrin!” Trunnen called.

“I must be going crazy,” she muttered to herself before breaking into a flat-out run to catch her brother.


To be continued…

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

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

Hunted Chapter Eighteen

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 18

Christopher

Terrin pushed open the cloth doorway, stepping through first and holding it open for Chris and Thomas to follow. As the door fell shut behind him, Chris blinked rapidly to adjust to the barely lit room. Before he could make out more than dark shapes, he heard a cry of, “You found him!” and boots hitting the floor. Then someone was lifting him in a massive hug.

“Stop, Arnold! You’ll hurt yourself.” That was Nora’s voice.

Chris dropped back to the floor. Now he could make out Arnold backing away, his face split ear to ear with a giant smile. Nora sat in a chair next to a swaying hammock, where he supposed Arnold had been sitting. Her eyes were round with amazement, but she had tilted her head so that her long hair hid most of her face.

“Arnold. Nora.” Chris spoke slowly, rubbing the palm of his hand against his pant-leg.

At least no one else had punched him. Yet.

“How did you find him, Terrin?” asked Arnold.

“In mortal danger.”

“And I missed it? Pity.” If possible, he grinned more. But then the smile faded a bit. “Who’s the friend?”

“This is Thomas,” Chris said. “Thomas, this is Arnold and Nora.”

As the three exchanged greetings, Chris stammered his apology to Nora and Arnold. His eyes dropped a bit, and he froze.

“Arnold, your hand.”

Arnold glanced at his stump.

“This? It’s nothing. Ran into some wolves coming down the mountain. Bit of a bite. Got infected, that’s all.”

“That’s all? You lost your hand?”

“Bites fester quickly,” said Thomas. “He could have lost his whole forearm.”

Nora and Arnold both looked at Thomas, and Chris quickly explained. “Thomas is a healer.”

“Was,” Thomas amended for him.

Arnold opened his mouth, but Terrin cut in.

“So, Chris, could you read the stone?”

“You found it?” Chris said, somewhat surprised. He would have thought the cave nigh impossible to find. Then again, how else would they have known he was headed into the forest? They must have followed his trail.

“It looked like complete and utter gibberish,” said Arnold. He was settling back down to the hammock with his stump across his lap.

“Thomas couldn’t read it either.”

“So what did it say?” Arnold leaned forward.

Chris took a deep breath, and then spoke. He had no trouble drawing the words from his memory. Besides reciting them ten times a day, they seemed stuck in his head like glue.

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

Arnold

Arnold had to blink twice when he heard the riddle. He started to lean back against the wall, but the ridiculous hammock swayed beneath him, and he quickly leaned forward again.

Terrin had moved to the side of the room and was staring forward, frowning. Now she gave a slight nod.

“It’s part of a song,” she said.

Arnold raised his eyebrows. It wasn’t part of any song he knew. He would remember a song with a verse like that. It sounded like whoever wrote it was drunk or delusional.

“What song?” Chris asked.

“One by the swamp people.”

Oh, he thought. Yep, delusional.

“Do you think … Do you think we have to go to the swamp?” Nora’s voice was quiet and hesitant.

Arnold agreed with her unspoken sentiment. The swamp was one of the most mysterious places in North Raec. It was almost impossible to navigate — take one wrong step, down you go, and nobody will ever find your body. And the swamp people were not known to appreciate trespassers.

Chris looked around at the group, meeting each of their eyes in turn. Then he slowly nodded.

“I suppose so. Do any of us know the way?”

Everyone looked at Terrin. She had always been the best at geography, and she had grown up in this forest, which shared a border with the swamp.

She nodded.

“Getting there is easy,” she said. “Just go south. But I don’t think anyone really knows their way around the swamp besides the swamp people.”

But she didn’t look as confident as she sounded. She leaned back against the wall, her chin dropping to her chest as her brow wrinkled with doubt.

“The only thing is,” said Nora quietly, “Arnold probably shouldn’t travel for a couple more weeks. Just to be safe.”

Chris nodded.

“Right, then,” he said. “We’ll stay here until we’re sure Arnold is up for the journey.”

Arnold couldn’t help harrumphing a little.


To be continued…

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

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

Hunted Chapter Seventeen

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 17

Trillory

“I suppose we should be heading back,” said Magnolia, peering through the trees. “Pity. I had so hoped for some berries.”

Trill gave a half-shrug in answer, but kept her gaze to the south. Absentmindedly she smoothed her divided skirt over her leggings.

“Wait! I think I see something,” cried Magnolia.

This time Trill turned to look where the other lady was scrambling through the brush. Sighing, she followed. But still she felt that slight tingling sensation that had pulled her attention south.

The only thing she could describe it as, was magic.

Trill made herself ignore the feeling and attend to Magnolia’s discovery.

“Ooh, the others will like these,” Trill said.

She unslung a bag from her shoulder and started to open it, but stopped as she heard something snort. Magnolia opened her mouth, but Trill held up a hand to silence her.

A few seconds later, they saw a great, shaggy head break through the bushes.

A bear’s head.

Then the rest of the bear, as it rose and sniffed at the air. Its head tilted sideways, and it stared down at them.

Trill glanced at Magnolia, who was shaking like a leaf.

“Run,” Trill said.

Magnolia sprinted off into the woods, her split skirt twisting around her legs, snagging at the branches but being torn free quickly. Trill ran close behind her, glad they were in riding habits and not the long, courtly skirts.

The bear gave a roar, and soon the thumping of its great paws was nearly as loud as the sound of twigs snapping beneath her and Magnolia’s feet.

She shouted to warn the others: “Bear! Bear!” The two words were all she could manage.

A thorny bush caught at her skirt, pulling her back. She dove to the side, just as the bear crashed into it. She heard the rip of fabric as she wrenched herself away from the thorns and started running again.

The bear made a great swipe, and she felt the whoosh of its paw right behind her as she narrowly avoided another bush.

She swerved around a tree and found a log blocking her path.

Too high to jump.

She spun around. The bear had caught up and stood towering above her. Staring up at the beast, Trill caught her breath. It was huge.

Its mouth wrinkled as it snarled loudly at her.

Shutting her eyes tight, she pressed herself back against the rough bark.

Then she felt a surge of magic sweep past her, wrapping itself around the bear’s head.

She hadn’t done that.

She opened her eyes. The bear was slashing wildly at the air directly in front of its face.

She dodged around the distracted bear and ran a few steps, then pulled up short.

Eric sat on horseback in the middle of the bushes, with two of the knights who had come on the hunt. Magnolia sat behind one of the knights, hiding her face in his back. The three men were looking at the bear with shocked expressions.

Then Eric’s eyes met hers, and he quickly turned his horse.

“Trill, get on.”

She obliged, rushing forward to grab his hand. She almost pulled back, though, as their hands met and she felt a sharp zing of magic run through her.

It was him. He’d cast the spell.

He pulled her up behind him and lifted the reins. The horse turned sharply, and they burst into a gallop away from the bear, which seemed to be recovering from its confusion.

One of the knights blew a horn, and other horns responded in the distance. A few minutes later they passed the clearing where the hunting party had planned to meet for a mid-afternoon meal.

An uncontrollable light-headedness came over Trill, and she giggled.

“Bother,” she said. “Now we’ve missed lunch.”

Eric’s shoulders gave a twitch, but he remained silent.


To be continued…

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

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

Hunted Chapter Sixteen

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 16

Terrin, 5 years earlier

“That’s enough for now,” Terrin murmured, pulling the shallow bowl of milk away, careful not to spill. The fox kit pressed its cold nose against Terrin’s other hand. She smiled and ran her fingers along its soft fur, stopping short of the blanket that covered its lower body.

“Well, with an appetite like that, you must be feeling just fine,” she said.

She had found the fox nearly starved to death, the rest of its litter already dead, a bit over a week ago. Either from luck or sheer stubbornness, it had recovered.

There was a slight rustle of cloth as someone entered. She could half guess who it was by the shadow he cast and the feeling of his presence.

“Can I pet it?” he said.

Sure enough, she recognized the warm voice. She glanced back and smiled, resisting the urge to jump up and hug the swamp man behind her.

“Zuen!” she said softly. This was the first time he’d stopped at her village since she’d returned from school.

The merchant knelt beside her and held out his hand towards the fox. Like all swamp-people, his skin had a gray complexion, but his hair was thicker than most. Laugh lines creased his face.

“I hear your brother has been helping you with this?”

“I’ve been doing most of the work, though.” Terrin raised her chin and grinned. “And she likes me best.”

“I’m sure,” said Zuen, laughing softly. “So, what have you learned since I last saw you?” He asked.

“Mostly math, and history.” Terrin wrinkled her nose.

“I thought you liked history.”

“Not the way they tell it,” she said. “It’s so dry. And we don’t get to languages till high school.”

She caught her hair and pulled it back from her face.

“I wish you taught there, Zuen. You would like Arnold and Chris.”

“I’m afraid that I would not fit in very well, though. And swamp tongue isn’t the most popular of languages. You’re rather unique in wanting to learn that.”

“I still wish you were there.” As far as she was concerned, he was a beehive of interesting knowledge.

She ran her hand along the fox’s fur.

Then she stood. “Can you teach me more words before you leave? Or tell me some stories?”

“Of course.” Zuen stood after her. “In fact, I was thinking I might even start you on some of the ancient dialect.”

“Really?”

In her excitement, she neglected to keep her voice low. The fox yipped, darting under its blankets. She quickly dropped back to her knees.

“I’m sorry, baby.” She reached a single finger gently under the covers. “I forgot myself. It’s okay.”

The fox’s nose peaked out, sniffing the air. Terrin slid her eyes shut and started singing softly. There were no real words to her song, just soft cooing sounds. She half-sensed, half-heard Zuen slip out of the room. She continued to sing, softly, focusing out all other sounds. The nonsense syllables came to her mind instinctively, forming a rhythm that reminded her of something, but she didn’t know what. Time ceased to exist as she shifted to that almost-unconscious state where one feels detached from the world.

Then something soft and wet bumped against her hands.

Her eyes slid open, and a smile spread over her face. The fox was pressed low, and its ears swiveled this way and that, but it was creeping into her lap. Slowly, she brushed her hand against its head. She continued to sing until it straightened its legs and bumped its head against her chest.

She laughed quietly, scratching the fox behind its ears.

“It’s your naptime,” she said after a minute. She reached to move the fox to its bed, but it turned and went on its own, tunneling under the blanket till just its nose peaked out.

As she stood, a tingle of pleasure ran up her spine.

Or was it pleasure?

Terrin’s head snapped up, but the tingling sensation was gone. She stood there for a moment, trying to remember exactly what she had felt.

Then she whispered to the fox, “I probably imagined that.”

Everything remained quiet in the dark house. She shrugged and turned to slip out the door. Zuen was waiting for her outside.

“You know,” he said, “if you were half as gentle with people as you are with that fox, you’d have a lot more friends.”

“Hmmph.” Terrin tossed her head. “And what would be the fun of that?”


Read chapter seventeen…

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 Fifteen

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 15

Terrin

The wraith turned away from Chris, and Terrin pulled back another arrow. Even as the beast charged, she forced herself to take a second to breathe. Focus. Release. The arrow struck just above the wraith’s right eye.

The creature pulled up short, throwing its head back. Rising on its hind legs, it howled.

Terrin quickly nocked another arrow. This time, she struck just where the beast’s leg met its body.

The wraith quickly flattened itself, then hissed as the movement drove the arrow in deeper. She heard the shaft snap and began to nock a fourth arrow. Yellow eyes glared at her for a moment, then the beast turned and ran, staggering each time it landed on the wounded leg.

Smiling, Terrin turned her bow to where two more wraiths were circling an older man.

“Hey!” she shouted.

Both wraiths spun toward the sound, and she released her arrow. The point only nipped her target’s ear, but the beast stepped away from the man, hissing.

And bounded towards Terrin, stretching up to full height as it did so.

Christopher

Chris watched as Terrin released another arrow, which struck the hard scales and deflected. Then he heard Thomas give a small cry. He turned and saw the older man still in battle with one of the monsters. Bright red scratches streaked his arm.

Chris jumped up and ran towards him, looping out of reach of the beast’s tail. He came in from the side and struck its flank. The blow was too weak to break the armored skin, but the wraith turned to face this new attacker.

Thomas darted forward, slashing at the side of its head. The creature pulled back, hissing, tilting its head from one man to the other. Then, as Chris stepped forward to strike again, it turned and fled.

Chris couldn’t help giving a long sigh of relief.

What about Terrin? He turned, raising his sword for one more fight.

She had circled around the third wraith and crouched only a couple feet from the cliff’s edge. She slipped her bow around her quiver without looking away from the charging beast.

Chris froze. He would never get there in time.

Then Terrin moved. Just as the wraith took its final leap, she dove sideways, rolling smoothly and bouncing back to her feet. The wraith landed and slid, scrambling for purchase. Then it went over the edge. Its scream fell away into silence. Terrin stood and stepped back to the cliff, looking down after it.

Chris let out another sigh, and moistened his lips. Then he knelt to clean his sword before sheathing it.

When he stood, he saw Terrin still standing at the cliff’s edge. She was swaying slightly, as if in a trance. She shivered, and then she put out one arm as if to catch something.

“Uhm,” said Thomas softly from behind him. “That doesn’t look like a good idea.”

“Terrin?” Chris called.

As soon as he spoke, it was as if something snapped. She spun around to face him, all traces of the trance gone.

Terrin

Chris was staring at her, and Terrin couldn’t help glaring back. She hated the tingly chill of magic, and she was slightly in shock — not from the fight, but that she’d just reenacted her dream. She could still feel prickles from the four spirits below.

She glanced around the clearing. The old man was also staring at her. A dented pot lay several yards from the dying fire.

“Where’s the other wraith?” she asked, throwing off the last effects of the spirits’ magic.

“Gone.” Chris waved his hand vaguely toward the forest. “Are you okay? Why are you here?”

Terrin’s lips quirked into an almost-smile.

“Apparently I’m here to save your life. But don’t suppose I expect any thanks.”

“Er, thank you, Miss, uh, Terrin?” said the older man, glancing between Terrin and Chris.

Terrin almost laughed at his confusion.

Almost.

“But why were you here in the first place?” Chris said, frowning. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“You are so…” Terrin pulled in a deep breath.

Then she crossed the clearing in a few long steps. As she took the final step she pivoted on the ball of her left foot, tightened her right hand into a fist, and struck Chris hard across the jaw.

He stumbled back automatically, raising his hand to rub the spot, and winced.

Terrin stood there breathing heavily for a second, until Chris met her gaze.

Then she finished her sentence.

“…frustrating! Entirely and completely frustrating. And irrational, and stupid and—”

He dropped his gaze.

“—bratty and childish and, and, and—”

“I’m sorry, Terrin,” he said.

Terrin glared at him for a moment longer, but her mind had suddenly gone blank on insults. So instead, she hugged him as tightly as she could.


Read chapter sixteen…

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 Fourteen

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 14

Nora

“How are you feeling today?” Nora asked as she entered the healer’s hut.

Arnold had shifted himself to be sitting up in the hammock, leaning into the wall. His left forearm lay across his lap, the stump wrapped in white linen.

“Fine,” he said. “Am I allowed to get up yet?”

“Patience, sir knight! Let’s take a look.”

She set down her bowl of water and reached for his arm. Gently she unwrapped the outer cloth and pulled at the dressing, sponging it with water where it stuck. Arnold watched her, clearly trying to look nonchalant. He had slept through the last time she checked his wound, so this would be the first time he saw his stump.

“We need to soften the dressing, so it won’t pull at your skin,” she explained.

The more he knows, she thought, the less helpless he will feel.

“You might as well pay attention, so you can tend to this yourself. I don’t plan on being your servant.”

Arnold gave a short laugh, but his jaw clenched.

Nora tugged again at the dressing, and this time it came off cleanly. The skin looked bruised but not inflamed. Good. She picked up a new cloth and dipped it in the water.

“Don’t scrub hard when you wash. Rub gently, to clean and stimulate the skin. And check for drainage, redness, or new swelling.”

She put a clean dressing on and wrapped the outer cloth around, pulling it snug to reduce swelling.

“You need to tuck in the ends to hold it in place, like so.” She pulled the cloth back off and held it out. “Would you like to try?”

He reached over and fumbled with the cloth, then dropped his hand in frustration.

“My fingers are too thick for such work.”

“No, but it does take practice.” She fastened the wrap again. “You’ll learn. How is the pain?”

“I can handle it.”

She smelled the sticky-sweet tang of a healing brew. Koresh came into the room, tea mug in hand.

“Of course you can handle it,” he said. “But do not be stupid. Untreated pain will only lengthen the healing process. Here, drink.”

Arnold scowled at the cup.

“Will it make me sleep? I’d rather have the pain.”

“He wants to walk around,” Nora explained.

The healer nodded.

“Surgery strains the entire body system,” he said. “But no one ever listens until they feel it for themselves. One-half hour only, and stay with him.”

He handed her the tea and left.

Nora turned back to Arnold and placed her free hand on her hip.

“So,” she said, “if I let you get up, do you promise not to run off and search for Terrin?”

The day before, when he had woken up after the operation and heard that Terrin was gone, Arnold had been worried she was pulling a Chris and abandoning them.

He snorted. “As if I would even know how. I never had to take tracking classes. Besides, Terrin can take care of herself.”

“Then, sure. Drink this first, and you can walk. Just don’t put any pressure on your wound.”

“Finally!” he said, swinging his legs to the side of the hammock. He stumbled a bit, but Nora grabbed his right arm and helped him get his balance.

“That hanging cot will be the death of me,” he said, “with all its bouncing about. Do you know how hard it was just to sit up in it?”

He reached for the cup and drained it, grimacing at the taste.

Nora pulled back the doorway to let him escape into the sunshine.


Read chapter fifteen…

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 Thirteen

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 13

Christopher

Great. How had he forgotten that there was a waterfall here? Was there even supposed to be a waterfall here? Chris shut his eyes trying to remember back to geography lessons. But all he could see, or rather hear, was a little voice saying, Terrin would know.

He glared inwardly at himself. Terrin was exactly where she should be — on her way home, away from danger.

Besides, of course the waterfall was supposed to be here. It wasn’t like someone could magically move a river this big, just to block his way. Still, he was beginning to wonder if Nora had been right when she said all four of them would be needed for this quest. He had not had another dream since just after finding the second riddle, and the riddle itself made no sense to either him or Thomas.

It’s too late now, he thought. I’ll just make the best of it.

“We’ll rest here for a while,” he said. “Then we can head upstream to find a ford.”

“Very well,” Thomas said, and they both dismounted. “I’d say it’s about lunch time, wouldn’t you?” he added as he bent to hobble his horse.

Chris glanced at the sun. “A bit past, by the time it’s prepared. And this is as good a place to stop as any.”

“Best we hurry then. I’ll fetch the firewood.”

Chris stared across the river. The water shone as it rushed along towards the drop, and he imagined the fall must look beautiful from down below. Fetching their water skins, he knelt to fill them while Thomas gathered wood for a fire.

“I’ll make a stew,” Chris called over his shoulder.

Cooking wasn’t a talent of his, but the old man had decided he should learn. He cleared a spot for the fire and set up the pot holder Thomas had brought with him. He pulled some jerky from his saddlebag and began to cut it into bite-size chunks.

Thomas dropped an armful of wood and came to look over his shoulder.

“Looks tasty,” Thomas said. “I saw a bit of a pool upstream. Should be able to get some cattail roots. Not quite potatoes, but they’ll do.”

Chris nodded without looking up.

Ha, he thought. Here he was: banished, traveling off-road, avoiding towns, knowing that anyone he met could hand him over to be locked away or worse. Yet he had time to be schooled in the ways of cooking. That would have made Arnold laugh.

He turned his attention to starting the fire.

The stew had just started to simmer when he heard a low growl and looked around. Thomas stood at the edge of the clearing, his feet covered in mud and his arms filled with roots. He was staring west, the way they’d come, where something moved in the undergrowth just inside the forest.

Three somethings.

Chris gasped as the beasts crept into the light, crouching low in the long grass, the tips of their thick tails twitching back and forth. Yellow, cat-like eyes caught the light, almost glowing against the black skin.

“Wraiths,” he said, remembering the name from his time at school.

The middle one paused, drawing in a long breath. Then it let out a growl.

Slowly reaching down to grab the sword at his waist, Chris stared back at the creatures and swallowed. He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of stabbing through those scales.

The middle wraith seemed to be the leader. It glanced at Thomas for a moment, and then turned back to Chris, once again pulling in a long breath.

Then it leaped.

As the beast sailed through the air, front legs stretched out to show long, curving claws, Chris dived away from the fire. The wraith landed where he had been. It snarled and turned towards him, showing its sharp white teeth.

Chris’s sword had landed beneath him when he fell. Before he could free it, the wraith lunged at him, claws lashing towards his face.

Thomas charged into the wraith with his shoulder, knocking it off balance, buying Chris enough time to get to his feet. But little more, for a second wraith was racing towards them.

Chris tugged his sword from where it had stuck in the ground and spun to face this new attack. The creature was almost on him, and as he turned, his sword hit it across the nose. It barely made a scratch, but the wraith pulled up short, shaking its head.

He struck again, this time aiming for the eye, but the beast ducked surprisingly flat to the ground and then lunged forward. Chris dodged left and swung his sword at its neck. The sword bounced off the hard scales, and in return the beast’s tail whipped around and struck him in the side, knocking him back to the ground.

His side throbbed as he scrambled to a crouch, turning towards the wraith. The wraith was standing over him, its paw posed to strike. The claws were clearly visible, as was a thin webbing between the toes. Chris struck quickly, cutting at the webbing.

The wraith pulled back and hissed, and Chris rose to his feet, striking again across the nose with all the force he could muster. It backed away, stumbling and shaking its head, spraying drops of blood.

Scanning the clearing quickly, Chris spotted Thomas in battle with both of the other wraiths, showing amazing nimbleness. But he was being pushed back toward the river, and Chris could see a bad scratch on his cheek.

Then one of the wraiths stumbled into the fire, and as it flailed in pain, its tail struck the stew pot, sending it flying towards Chris.

He dodged away from the scalding liquid and found himself once again face to face with the wounded wraith. It snapped at him, and he stepped backward. It swung its claws and again he moved back. When the beast lunged again, he jumped to the right, but he had forgotten the flailing tail, which caught his legs and knocked him sprawling to the ground.

Momentarily stunned, he lay gasping on the ground, unable to lift his head more than a few inches. A clawed paw pressed against his right shoulder, pinning him down. Pain shot through his arm, and he was sure his old cut had reopened. He could feel the wraith’s breath as it sniffed at his left ear. He jerked his left arm back and felt his elbow connect with the beast’s great head. The weight of the wraith’s paw lightened just enough for Chris to drag himself free.

As he slid, he twisted back and struck his fist against the beast’s jaw. It reared its head, hissing. Chris scrabbled backward. The beast shook its head, but the dazed look passed quickly. Its muscles tensed to lunge again.

And then an arrow struck the soft, loose skin that Chris supposed was part of its ear.

The wraith made a loud sound, something between a hiss and a howl. Its head whipped around to face the new attacker, and Chris couldn’t help following its gaze.

And choked.


Read chapter fourteen...

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 Twelve

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 12

Terrin

Standing at the edge of a cliff, Terrin stared down on green trees that faded into the distance, so thick that you could hardly tell they were leaves and not grass. From up here, it didn’t look too spooky, but she knew this was the very edge of the Dark Forest.

To her right, a river rushed over the cliff and crashed down into a small clearing, but the sound seemed dull, muffled by a steady, buzzing hum. Below, a stream from the waterfall’s base flowed away into the trees.

Beside it lay a black body, cruelly twisted.

She was locked to the spot not by fascination with the body, but by the strange prickling sensation along her back. She had felt that cold tingle before.

Magic.

Four spirits moved out from the trees, pale figures gliding towards the carcass. They formed a half circle around it. Then they looked up at her.

Even from this distance, she could tell they were smiling.

Terrin put her arm out, trying to reach something to steady herself against, but found nothing.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away, and though there were no words in the strange humming, she knew they were calling to her. They were pulling her forward, closer to the edge.

She felt her body sway forward.

Her mind screamed.

* * *

“Terrin. Terrin?”

An insistent voice pulled her away from the cliffs and out of the dream. She woke to a headache and sore neck.

“It’s morning,” said Nora. She moved past Terrin, set a shallow wooden bowl on the small table, and then turned to Arnold’s side. Slowly she started to pull back the bandages, her every move filled with intent. “Good to see you both got some sleep.”

Terrin blinked, pushing away the dream — ineffectively — and rubbing at her temples.

“Not sure that was really sleep.”

Using her hands she popped her neck, and then moved to rolling her shoulders. The dream was still vivid behind her eyelids, but the movement seemed to help.

Nora pulled the last of the bandages away, dropped them across Arnold, and turned to the bowl. Terrin watched with minor interest as Nora pulled a half-submerged cloth from the thick liquid.

Sighing, Terrin stood and walked across the room, swinging her arm up as high as she could into the air. She paused in front of the door and concentrated on stretching. As she finished getting out her kinks, she turned back towards Nora.

The Yorc girl was holding Arnold’s arm in one hand, and the washcloth in another, but she stood stiffly, her eyes locked on the wound.

“Nora?” Terrin asked, quickly stepping back to Nora’s side. “What’s wrong?”

Nora shook her head with quick short jerks, then turned her head to look at Terrin.

“I think it’s infected.”

Terrin arched her neck to see the wound clearly over Nora’s shoulder, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Though the light was dim, she could see the heavy bruising around torn skin that opened to red, live flesh. Bile rose in her throat.

The cloth at the door rustled as Healer Koresh stepped into the medicine hut. Terrin backed away from the hammock to give him room. She felt the wall behind her and leaned against it, glad for the support.

Arnold flinched as the healer took his hand and ran a finger over the skin. Koresh lifted Arnold’s other hand off the bed and held it next to the wounded one, turning them to examine all sides.

Nora put a hand on Arnold’s forehead. “You have a bit of fever,” she said. “Your body is trying to fight the infection.”

“There is definite swelling here,” Koresh said. “We are fortunate, however, in that the redness has not spread far above the wrist.”

He bent over, holding Arnold’s hand near his nose.

Nora watched him, frowning.

He straightened up, met her gaze, and nodded.

“We have two options,” he said. “We could remove his hand now, and lose the minimal amount.”

Terrin squeezed her eyes shut.

“Or we could try to clean out the infection,” Koresh continued, “but risk losing more of the arm. In my own opin—”

“Do it now,” said Arnold, and even without seeing him, Terrin could tell there was fire in his eyes.

She turned and stumbled outside, but she couldn’t bear to go far. Clutching the doorway with one hand, she pressed her head against the wall of the medicine hut. The rough wood scraped her cheek.

“As I was saying,” continued the healer, obviously annoyed, “it is my opinion that, since our medicines have failed to stop the infection from setting in, we can hardly expect them to remove it. I understand that this might be hard to acce—”

This time, Nora interrupted him. “Okay, let’s get it over with. I’ll tie off his arm. Where is your bone saw?”

Terrin almost smiled as she imagined the healer’s frozen face. After all, it was one thing for an eighteen-year-old girl to have healing knowledge, quite another for her to be willing without hesitation to cut off her friend’s hand.

Then her stomach flipped.

What would happen now?

What if the operation went badly?

Or—

No, she thought. Just assume it will go well, and concentrate on the practicalities.

But those thoughts were no more encouraging: Once Arnold lost his hand, who knew when he’d be able to travel? How much could he do without a left hand? He was trained as a warrior, but how would he hold a shield?

Dyani came around the hut and took in the situation at a glance. She took Terrin’s arm and pulled her away.

“Come on, you should eat breakfast,” she said softly. “They will be busy, and you would be in their way.”

Terrin walked in a daze to Dyani’s cottage. She stared out the window while the forest woman fixed her a plate of steaming eggs and sliced venison and poured them both a cup of cool water. Her thoughts kept turning to what was happening to Arnold. Every time, her imagination pictured something worse.

“Arnold is obviously important to you,” Dyani said.

“He was my first friend among the plainsmen.”

“I see.”

Terrin met Dyani’s eyes and saw her concern.

The older woman reached across to pat Terrin’s hand. “Koresh knows his craft. He will take care of the boy.”

They sat in silence. Dyani sipped her drink while Terrin picked at the food.

“Koresh’s sleeping draught is strong,” Dyani said. “Arnold will sleep for several hours after they are done. You need to distract yourself. Maybe you should hunt, or—”

Terrin’s dream popped to mind, and she straightened up.

“I’m going to the cliff — the one by the Dark Forest.”

Dyani cocked her head. “I thought you hated it up there?”

“I’ve been having dreams about it, that’s all. I just … I have to go see. And it’s not like I’m needed here.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of visiting your parents. But if you feel this is important—”

“Will you tell the others where I’ve gone?” Terrin asked.

Dyani’s eyebrows rose, but she gave a slow nod. “Very well.”

Terrin shoveled the last bite of eggs down her throat and took a long drink of water. The thought of going near the Dark Forest, and the spirits who lived within, sent shivers down her spine. But the idea of investigating her dream gave her a sense of purpose, and she clung to that.

As she reached the door, she paused and turned to look back at Dyani. “Don’t mention the part about the dreams. Please.”

“Worried that they’ll think you’re insane?” Dyani smiled. “I will merely say that you felt inclined.”

Terrin returned the smile, but didn’t voice the thought that immediately crossed her mind: No, I’m not worried about what they will think. I’m worried because I think I’m insane.


Read chapter thirteen…

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 Eleven

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 11

Trillory

The chorus of farewells filled the air, and the carriages started pulling away. Trill wished she was in one of them. She’d sent a letter to Father asking that she might go home, as many of the nobles were doing. Her father had refused. Of course, he was trying to do what was best for her. The duke’s manor had once been a castle, and it could still be defended if the war came to them. And her older brother Anthony, as one of Duke Grith’s knights, was staying here in Charlon, though the duke himself was still with the king.

Trillory frowned. Anthony was Father’s favorite, but he had a cruel streak, and she always did her best to avoid him. That would be harder than ever, now.

Lady Joline waved from the carriage window, finally on her way to join the duke in Coricstead. She had complained about having to wait for instructions from the Isles. As an ambassador, it was her job to be in the middle of things, and she worried that by the time she reached the capital, all the interesting stuff would be done and over with.

Joline was sure that if the Diamond Isles took sides in the coming war, it would join with North Raec, but Trill thought they would keep themselves out of the fray.

If there was a fray to join.

Which Trill hoped there wasn’t.

The last carriage went through the gate and disappeared into the streets. Now the castle really did seem empty. Only the duke’s knights remained, and a few of the ladies like Trill.

Perhaps finally there won’t be a ball, thought Trill wryly, as she walked away from the courtyard.

She entered the garden. She’d rather be there than in the stuffy castle, quiet as it would finally be. She wished she had some clippers so that she could trim the small hedge maze. It would be nice to do some work she could really appreciate.

There was a cough from behind her, and she turned around to face Eric.

“Sir Eric!” she said, dropping a quick curtsy.

“Honestly,” he said, “if I am to call you Trill, then you should drop the sir.”

She smiled. “Just Eric then.”

“No, Eric. No ‘Just’ about it.”

Trill was confused. Had it been Arnold, she would have known it was a joke, but it was hard to tell with Eric.

Eric waited for a second, then sighed.

“Never mind. Shall we walk?” He gestured broadly to the whole garden. “I find if one stares at a single patch of flowers too long, one begins to see every little flaw. And I would hate for you to see all the flaws of our garden. Especially when you already think less of it than your own.”

Trill resisted shrugging. She was sure Eric was trying to put a lighter mood on things, but she couldn’t decide how best to respond.

“I suppose you’re too late for that,” she said. “I was already thinking of trimming your hedges. But we can walk.”

He grinned. “Then I had best distract you. Our gardener takes a lot of pride in his hedges.”

He offered his arm. She accepted it, allowing him to lead her away from the maze. She watched his face out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t help wondering why he kept going out of his way to talk to her. Perhaps he was just trying to be friendly. After all, when he was duke, he would want good relations with the other noble families.

They walked in silence for a minute.

Then he spoke again. “I should apologize.”

“Whatever for?”

Trill stared at him, struggling to keep her mouth from falling open. She tried to think of something he should apologize for.

“For being so forceful about you leaving the north wing. I had my reasons, but they weren’t enough to excuse my rudeness.”

Trill considered this for a second. She agreed that he had seemed rather insistent. But she hadn’t really thought of it as needing an apology. But he had offered one, so she nodded.

“Apology accepted.”

Again there was a minute of silence.

Then he continued. “I’m also sorry I didn’t seek you out earlier. I knew that I’d have to befriend you at some point, but I waited. And I’m sorry I did. I mean, what kind of duke am I to be, if I won’t save a damsel from torture.”

Trill arched an eyebrow. “You consider it torture to go without having met you?”

“No, I consider it torture to be Lady Joline’s constant companion.”

“You almost sound like you speak from experience.”

“I do.” He winced.

Trill couldn’t help laughing a bit at his expression. He laughed, too, and something about him looked relieved.

“Well,” Trill continued, “she is gone now. Though I feel sorry for the queen and her ladies.”

He nodded.

Trill had not realized how long it took to walk around the entire garden, though she had seen all but the maze from a bird’s-eye view. But she was beginning to see that Eric was a bit like Chris or Arnold, a potential friend. She had expected him to be more serious, bordering on angry, like Anthony.

Now that the laugh had put her at ease, she needed to clear the air.

“But we shouldn’t make fun of Joline, you know. She can be a prattle, but she has good intentions.”

Though as she said this, she couldn’t help remembering that momentary gleam in Joline’s eyes the day the king’s messenger arrived. The woman had almost looked excited — but no, that was just her overactive imagination.

Eric nodded solemnly.

They walked for a while in silence, coming back around to the start of the path.

“Perhaps we should go in,” she said. She was beginning to feel tense again.

“As you please,” he answered. “By the way, I was thinking of organizing a small hunt. Nothing big, mostly a reason to ride around the countryside.”

“I should like that, if you have a horse you can lend me. I’m afraid I left mine at home.”

“I’m sure we can find one to suit you. Would you like to look at the options?”

Trillory’s stomach twinged, and she glanced up at the sun, surprised at how much time had passed. “Perhaps after lunch.”

Eric glanced up as well, and then nodded.

“Yes, after lunch would be good.” He smiled. “Well then, I look forward to it, Trill.”


Read chapter twelve…

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.