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.
Arnold’s joy at seeing Terrin quickly vanished.
The woman glowered at them and hissed. “I haven’t time for you.”
“Let Terrin go with us in peace. We don’t want a fight,” Chris said.
The woman shook her head, and her wraith pawed the ground. The other three beasts glanced at their leader, but quickly returned to watching Terrin.
“I’m afraid I can’t let her go yet. She’s helping me with a project.”
“We aren’t exactly in the mood for waiting. We are under the protection of the swamp. All of us — including Terrin. Therefore, you are bound to leave us be, for you are of the swamp.”
She laughed, a high loud laugh that made Arnold’s spine crawl. He tightened his grip on his sword and raised it.
“You,” said the woman, her nose wrinkled with disdain, “are not in the swamp. Besides, she is of the forest, and the swamp holds no protection for the likes of her.”
Arnold’s patience snapped. Gripping the horse between his knees, he heeled Rich, and they leaped forward. The wraith twisted away as he charged past, forcing the woman to clutch at its scaly back.
Rich pivoted easily, tossing his head, ready for another dash.
The woman waved a hand, and two of the other three wraiths turned away from Terrin to face Chris and Arnold.
Chris drew his sword, and Marc charged their wraith.
Then Arnold’s wraith sprung. Rich danced out of the way so that Arnold could take a glancing blow at the wraith’s legs. As the creature landed, it spun to face them. Again it dashed by Rich, clawing at the horse as it passed. Rich squealed, lowering his head as he narrowly avoided the wraith’s attack. Arnold signaled Rich with just the touch of his heel, and the horse pivoted to face the wraith.
Arnold’s mouth was a grim line. He was a bit worried at what these wraiths were capable of, but he knew Rich could handle it.
The wraith straightened its legs, arching its back as it raised to almost Rich’s height. It snapped at Arnold, showing its white teeth and pink tongue. Then it lunged. Rich sidestepped away, turned to face the wraith and reared. Arnold’s knees tightened on the horse and he leaned forward, wrapping his left arm around the pommel. Beneath him, Rich’s hooves thrashed against the wraith.
The wraith screeched and fell back. As Rich came back to four legs, Arnold straightened and followed up his advantage. Steering Rich to the wraith’s side, he struck down at it repeatedly. The monster dropped back low to the ground, but Arnold leaned down to jab at it a few more times.
A horn blew loudly.
Arnold lifted his head for a second to see what had happened, letting the wraith escape from his attack.
Three men rode into the clearing — the ones from before, the Diamond Isles captain and two soldiers. All three had swords drawn, but they looked more concerned about the wraiths than the fugitives they’d no doubt come here after.
With a quick glance, Arnold took in the rest of the clearing. Nora was still at the edge of the woods, holding Leaf and looking for a way to reach Terrin, who was still guarded by the third wraith. Thomas was in battle with the old woman, who used a knife much like Ceianna’s.
Arnold turned his head back too late. The wraith had only fled for a second, then spun with lightning speed, lunging and bowling Rich over. Arnold managed to kick his feet free from the stirrups and push himself just clear of the falling horse.
Rich surged back to his feet, knocking the wraith aside and then chasing after it, kicking as fiercely as he could.
Arnold knew he should move, get clear of Rich’s flashing hooves. But he was stunned, partly by the fall, but also by the similarity to the scene a month earlier. He shut his eyes and could see the ginger wolf snarling at him. His left hand, or at least its ghost, throbbed.
Then he set his jaw, imagined his left hand clenching into a fist, and rolled to the side, slowly sitting up as he took several deep breaths. He scanned the clearing, forcing himself to focus.
Terrin was still in the tree, her whole body rigid as she watched the conflict. Nora was fighting one of the soldiers and having some trouble. Leaf had escaped her hold and now wandered on the edge of the battle, tossing her head and snorting, but not fleeing.
Chris seemed to be in a three-way dual with a wraith and the captain. Thomas was still in combat with the woman, while the third soldier was pitted against the remaining wraith — and losing.
Arnold got back to his feet, sheathed his sword, and whistled. Then he sprinted forward. Rich kicked the wraith one last time, good and hard, then cantered a few strides, slowing just as he reached Arnold. Arnold caught the pommel, set his toe in the front of the stirrup and pushed himself up, swinging over the horse. As he settled, he slid his toe from the stirrup and put it back in the right way. He turned Rich to face the wraith once more, and drew his sword again.
The beast gathered itself to its feet. One eye was tightly closed, and it had several cuts along its side. Still it attacked, lunging forward at Arnold and Rich. Arnold slashed upward, catching the inside of its leg with his sword. The wraith howled and fell, its tail lashing back. Rich reared again, striking at the fast-approaching tail, and Arnold held tight as his horse danced. When they came down again, he swung at the wraith’s already wounded eye. It screamed again. After a last swipe with its claws, it bounded away, yowling.
Arnold looked around. The soldier who had been fighting a wraith alone was on the ground, his horse nowhere to be seen. The wraith towered over him. Arnold pushed Rich into a run. His sword struck uselessly at the wraith’s neck as he went by, but it distracted the beast. It turned, and hissing loudly it launched itself at Arnold.
Arnold yelled for the man to escape, but instead he scrambled up and ran to Arnold’s side. Together, they battled the wraith.
To be continued…
Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.