Saturday, 9 May 2015

Aerisia by Sarah Ashwood

Date Published: April 16, 2014

The mystery of other worlds is not one Hannah Winters ever thought she’d solve. However, the day she spots a brown-robed stranger with a magical staff in a neighbor’s field is the day she also discovers Aerisia, a magical land beyond Earth’s sunset.

Here in Aerisia, Hannah is believed to be the Artan, a legendary heroine prophesied to deliver Aerisia from the Dark Powers. Plenty of people, including the Simathe, a race of immortal warriors, and the Moonkind, people of the Moon, are willing to help her discover her true identity, but Hannah’s just an ordinary girl from Earth. She doesn't have any latent magical abilities and she’s not the Artan. However, her allies aren't seeing it that way. Neither are her enemies. In fact, Hannah’s life is in jeopardy nearly from the moment she arrives in Aerisia. And becoming the Artan may be the only way to survive…

The day was darkening, but it wasn’t the peaceful shadows of twilight overtaking the sky. The day was tranquil, but it wasn’t the calm stillness of a summer day drawing to a contended close. A cool breeze whipped up, teasing strands of hair out of the braid I’d re-plaited this morning. The force of it blew and tangled my horse’s mane. Pulling my cloak tightly about my shoulders, I studied the forbidding sky. Dark clouds scudding across its face were gathering into an ominous, foreboding mass.
“It’s going to storm,” I announced.
A needless comment in light of the obvious signs, but I felt like I had to draw my companions’ attention to the fact. They were plodding along, every now and then casting a glance upwards, but otherwise appeared unconcerned.
A raindrop hit the tip of my nose, sliding over my lips. I wiped it away. “Shouldn’t we be looking for shelter?”
I hated storms. As a child, I would quiver under the blankets while they raged outside my bedroom window. When the thunder was so loud it shook the house, I would run to my parents’ room, where I’d be held tight and comforted until the furor had passed.
As a young woman, naturally I no longer ran to my parents, but I still disliked storms. Holding my breath and counting the seconds between lightning flashes and peals of thunder, I could never fall asleep until the fury had abated. This oncoming storm was triggering an assault of memories, and I couldn’t tear my gaze from the threatening sky.
Another raindrop hit my gloved hand. Its twin splashed the tip of my ear. My hands were starting to shake. The wind picked up again, rustling the tall grass on either side of the road. Other than that there were no noises and, besides our party, no signs of any living creatures. All
was eerily silent: the calm before the storm. My horse was tense, its ears pricked. A distant crash of thunder; he shook his head nervously. Lightning flashed though the clouds. Though still a ways away, the storm was obviously moving closer.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. “High-Chief, please, can’t we find shelter? I don’t want to be out in this!”
Not surprisingly, the man was far from alarmed. “It’s only a storm. It will pass.”
His unruffled demeanor made my anger boil. Jerking my horse to a stop, I rounded on him furiously. “I know it’s only a storm,” I yelled, rising in the stirrups. “I don’t care! I don’t want to be caught in it! What’s wrong with you?”
Those pit-black eyes narrowed angrily, and I plunked back down. Suddenly, the gaze pinning me was more frightening than the imminent storm. What was I thinking, screaming at him like that? Was I crazy?
“Look about you,” he lashed out, a keen edge to his voice the storm could never hope to match. “Is there anywhere to take shelter?”
The man had a point, even if I hated to admit it. The countryside was all sprawling fields interspersed with grey boulders, large and small. A few scrubby trees dotted the landscape, while mountains loomed large in the distance. There were no houses, no caves, no trees, no roofs to hide under.
What to do? What to do?
Inside their gloves, my hands were openly shaking.
“The rain will not harm you. We ride.”
That was Ilgard. The man was implacable.
He and his men spurred his horses forward, but I refused to budge. As he passed by, theSimathe leaned from his saddle, catching my horse firmly by the bridle. The animal followed meekly…until I sawed viciously on the reins, making him whip his head to the side and tear loose from the Simathe’s grasp.
Directly overhead, thunder boomed. I panicked, jumped, my silver spurs raking my horse’s flanks. Already spooked, this proved too much for the frightened beast. He bolted down the trail, taking me with him. Gripping the pommel with one hand and the reins in the other, I held on with all my strength. I don’t know how long we ran, or how far, before it happened. Thunder crashed, followed by a brilliant flash of lightning. It struck me…yet it didn’t. One moment I was tearing along at breakneck speed, and the next—a boom, a flash, and I was enfolded in a dazzling veil of white.
Time morphed into a murky soup of air, space, and speed. Beneath me, my horse struggled to run, but it was like moving in slow motion. My body felt frozen, my motions on horseback sluggish, and my fingers unresponsive as they tried to relax their grip on the saddle horn and reins.
A fierce rush of wind blasted us, knocking my horse off its feet. I was still clinging to his back and fell with him, winding up with one leg pinned beneath his weight. Terror, obscene and sudden, flooded me like a wave, overwhelming my mind as I lay helpless on the wet grass. I opened my mouth and tried to scream, but no sounds came out.
That white light was around, within, and about me, holding me powerless in its suffocating grip. I was no longer conscious of the raging storm. Nothing was left except light and choking panic. Thunder crashed a fourth time, and in its sonorous peals I heard an evil voice. No, I heard the voice of evil. Over and over again it called my name, the echoes rolling and crashing like wild waves against a rocky shore.

Sarah Ashwood grew up in the wooded hills outside the oldest town in Oklahoma. Sarah is author of the Sunset Lands Beyond Trilogy, the poetry volume "A Minstrel's Musings," and the novella "Amana," along with numerous other published works. In her imagination, she soars effortlessly through historical and fantastical worlds. In real life, she lives (mostly) quietly at home with her husband and sons. Find Sarah on her Sarah Ashwood Facebook author page, on her Sarah Ashwood Goodreads page, or on Instagram where she goes by @runnerwritermom.

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