A whirlwind tale of magic and adventure, in which dragons and far-off worlds make their home. A sinister plot, to cast the realms into darkness and evil, and the story of how seven young heroes wer...
One fateful accident
Silence abounded across the emerald hills, shimmering in a ghostly way as the breeze rippled across the grass, tiny rivets of light in a sea of ebony. The stars twinkled only faintly and the moon was a thin crescent that night, a mere fingernail of its usual ethereal grandeur. Unmoving on a hill a girl sat, watching the celestial heavens, as she so often did. A big gray mare, of Andalusian heritage stood like a regal statue behind her mistress, waiting patiently, her creamy silken banner playing in the slight wind, twisting to shine like silver.
An deep black cloud moved in front of the moon, blocking its pale radiance out partially. The girl-Aitheria-shook her head as if waking from a dream. Her blissful smile was replaced with her uniform look of indifference. She stood, brushed off her skirt, and turned to the horse, who whickered softly in the night.
The Andalusian, Lucescere, flicked her ears toward her mistress, awaiting any command the girl may have for her. Aitheria whispered a soft word, and the mare knelt in the soft grass so that the girl could sit astride her back more easily. It was obvious the bond that horse and rider shared, for Aitheria had been present at the horse's birth. Her mother had died from complications in the foaling, so the girl had bottle-fed her through all hours of the night, often sleeping in the stables. When she had grown old enough, it had been Aitheria who had first introduced her to a halter, a bit and bridle, and finally a saddle, and guided her patiently through the entire process. Now five years old, Lucescere was perhaps the most loving horse on the entire ranch. In a fluid motion, the dapple-grey mare brought herself up from the grass and took off at an easy pace across the hills, striding toward a tiny flicker of light, like a candle flame so far in the distance.
It was then that Aitheria remembered an important, nay, monumental fact: her friend, Trihnn was coming to visit, and was supposed to arrive...Aitheria checked her wristwatch, and gasped in horror...two hours ago. With a gentle nudge she urged the horse into a gallop, as smooth and easy as the night wind itself. Her creamy white tail streamed out behind her, mane whipping in the air like a piece of captured moonlight.
About halfway there, when the mare was covered in a light sheen of sweat, Aitheria pulled back on the reigns, slowing Lucescere to a sauntering walk. She let the mare drink from a little stream that flowed across the hills, meandering through them like a ribbon of sky-colored pure water. Within minutes, she was off at her gallop again, finishing the journey back to the house.
Finally, Aitheria and her horse reached familiar territory, and Lucescere nickered to some of her horsey friends, nodding her head up and down at the silhouettes on the next rise, their ears turned attentively, heads reaching over the white wooden fence. Aitheria slid down from her horse's back, and guided the mare into a paddock with two other horses, a retired black crossbreed named Nightwind, and a champion chestnut jumper called Alasdair. She did not have to untack since she preferred to ride bareback, and took off at a run down the well-trodden path to her house.
She stopped briefly by the garage, to discover her parents corvette missing.
"They're gone." She whispered, and added in her mind, what a surprise. Aitheria's parents were rarely home. They bred horses, whether it was for racing, dressage, polo, or anything else you could think of, and theirs were the finest in Europe. However, they cared more for the horses than for their daughter. But Aitheria didn't really mind; She had become accustomed to it, and it was much better than /before/...
Fumbling for the key in her pocket, Aitheria opened the back door of her house (Which was actually more of a mansion) and flipped the light switch. She walked silently down the yellow-and-rose wallpapered hall, stopping in front of an antique mirror, its frame ornately decorated with a design of climbing English ivy.
"Uhh, I'm a mess," she said with disgust, looking at her reflection. Aitheria's auburn hair, which reached the middle of her back, was windblown and frizzed out. Her shirt was wrinkled, and both of the knees on her jeans were grass stained. The silvery horsehair which attached itself to her clothing didn't help her appearance any, either. Her skin was lightly sunburned, and her eyes clashed horribly with the rest of her, as bright green as jade. Hmm...At least she didn't smell.
A familiar voice startled Aitheria out of her trance: "Admiring yourself, Ria?"
She grinned lopsidedly, "Admiring isn't quite the word I was thinking of."
She turned around, to see Trihnn, her best friend, leaning against the pale yellow wall. They had met close to seven years ago, in the same foreign exchange program in America. Though there was two years difference in their ages, they had become fast friends. Trihnn was Japanese, though she spoke English most of the time, without any trace of accent. She had olive skin, though it looked golden. Her hair was straight and jet black, hanging down past her back. She rarely wore it down, though. Her eyes were the darkest indigo. If Aitheria could be described as pretty, Trihnn looked like a supermodel.
"Well, Aitheria you know what I'm about to say. I haven't eaten in twenty minutes!"
If one were to say that Trihnn liked food, that would be like saying that mount Everest was only above average in height. Well, there was one thing Trihnn wouldn't eat...fish. For some reason, she hated fish. Trihnn's stomach rumbled, and the Japanese girl made a completely pious face. Aitheria grinned again, "Right this way." She led Trihnn down a hallway, and opened a brass-plated mahogany door, opening into the overly extravagant kitchen.
Trihnn gaped in wonder.
"Help yourself." Aitheria said, though it fell on deaf ears; Trihnn was more than halfway inside the refrigerator, stuffing her face with cold ham. .oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.oOo.
Later, after a short snack of leftover meat, Trihnn and Aitheria caught up on what they'd missed those last two years they had been apart. Gosh! Could it really have been that long? It seemed like they had gone to respective countries only yesterday...
"Hey Aitheria," Trihnn said with her characteristic quirky smile.
"Hmm?" The older girl replied, leaning back in the wooden chair, her eyes closed.
"When did you get so tall?"
Aitheria cracked open her eyes. It was true. Despite Aitheria only being sixteen, she was close to six feet in height.
"Dunno. Last year, I guess...Growth spurt," She smiled, a sheepishly mischievous grin, and added, "When did you get so short?"
"Ha ha," Trihnn rolled her eyes with a sardonic laugh, "You know I've always been short."
"Well, yeah." Aitheria said with only a whisper of mischief. "So what have you been doing recently?"
"Eh, same old, same old. Same old high school. Same old school uniforms. (Eww) Same old cafeteria food." She paused, before adding breezily, "And all these people are offering me modeling contracts...it's really annoying." She looked pleadingly at her friend, "You don't know what it's like...Some of them are stalking me, I swear!"
"Well no wonder," Aitheria said with no expression on her face. She added, "Where did you get /those/?"
"Just lucky, I guess. What about you? I mean, what have you been doing?"
Aitheria looked out the window at Lucescere, who was munching on hay in the paddock.
"I've been wandering around a lot, out on the hills. I mean, it's not like I have anything better to do when school's not in session. Oh yeah! I trained a few of the new horses," she added like she had forgotten about that little detail.
"Do you still have that horse? Lucey?" Trihnn asked. She liked horses a lot, but did not exactly live where you could keep them. Penthouse suites were not good places to keep animals much larger than the average housecat. Trihnn knew this from experience...
"Yeah, do you want to go see her?" Aitheria asked in return, gazing out the window at Lucescere and Nightwind again.
Trihnn yawned, and blinked heavily, "Sure." There was an awkward pause and she added, "Tomorrow."
Aitheria grinned, and said "Follow me. I picked out a room for you," before turning up a flight of stairs leading to the residence floor.
Aitheria opened the back door silently, feeling the slight breeze play on her face, making her hair flutter in little wisps, nature's symphony playing its perfect harmony as the chords strummed out powerfully and gracefully from over the distant horizons. Lucescere whinnied at the sight of her owner, and Aitheria closed the door quietly, sauntering up to the dappled mare, who danced excitedly. She enjoyed taking sunrise rides, and did not wish to wake Trihnn, who was snoring peacefully (And loudly) in the spare bedroom adjoining Aitheria's own. Aitheria stroked Lucescere's long nose, and murmured a few meaningless words to her. The horse turned sideways, and Aitheria started to swing her leg over the mare's back, when she paused....Somethin didn't seem quite right. Lucey whuffled, demanding Aitheria's attention, and gazed into her eyes trustingly. She stared fondly the mare, when Nightwind trotted up behind her and began to eat her hair. Aitheria turned around and dislodged the black horse's mouth from her auburn tresses. She patted the docile gelding's cheek, and looked for Alasdair, the other horse. Now she knew what hadn't seemed quite right...
"Dang it! Where has that idiotic stallion gotten off to this time!" Alasdair was a champion jumper, worth more than any other horse on the ranch. Aitheria's parents would disembowel her if they discovered that he was gone missing...AGAIN.
She took both Lucey and Nightwind's halters and said to the horses, "I guess I'd best go wake Trihnn. I promised her a ride. Besides, the only place he could have gone is out toward the hills...We can look for him...two sets of eyes are better than one."
There was no response but a loud snore, and Trihnn rolled over.
"Wake up, you idiot."
The fourteen-year-old opened one eye, and mumbled something along the lines of "Fish flap in space."
Aitheria sighed and rolled her eyes. Time for the foolproof wakeup plan.
Aitheria returned to her room and picked up the cordless phone on her nightstand. Dialing Trihnn's cell phone number from memory, the girl put the phone up to her ear and waited for it to start ringing. Indeed, from behind the door, Trihnn's ring tone started playing, Dragostea Din Tei sounding faintly. However, before it could even say 'nu ma nu ma yei,' there was a loud crashing noise, as if something had been knocked over, and Trihnn answered the phone, her voice half-awake, speech slurred. "Whaddoyouwant?"
"Is that how you always answer the phone?" Aitheria asked, tsk-ing. There was no response.
"Trihnn, we're going for a ride." She hung up, and heard Trihnn's half-hearted mumble become a squeal of delight, and Trihnn emerged from her room in a matter of minutes, fully dressed, her hair combed.
The girls walked downstairs, pausing for only a minute in the oversized kitchen for some dry toast, and so Aitheria could pack a quick lunch of sandwiches. After that, they headed straight down to the barn where the horses were kept.
"So, which one do you want to ride?" Aitheria asked, after leading Trihnn inside the barn. Trihnn smiled broadly and walked up to the nearest horse, a piebald stallion of Gypsy Vanner blood. His name was Fluffy, although Aitheria though he needed a more majestic name than that...However, the old horse was very gentle, and would be a very good mount for someone with little experience on horseback. But Trihnn moved on to the next horse, a golden chestnut by the name of Harken. The gelding had a fiery temper, and Aitheria wondered if Trihnn would be capable of handling the thoroughbred. Harken plunged and reared, snorting wildly if anyone walked past him, but Trihnn walked up to him, hand outstretched in a non-threatening way, and was soon stroking the horse's nose, who was as gentle as a kitten.
"Wow, Trihnn," Said Aitheria quietly. Trihnn turned around, and Harken nibbled at her hat brim, "Harken hasn't ever taken a liking to anyone before!"
"Does that mean I can ride him?" Trihnn asked, cocking her head slightly.
Aitheria considered for a moment. "I suppose. Be careful though, he's rather touchy."
Aitheria walked into the tack room across from the stalls, and picked out a leather saddle that would fit Harken's narrow back. She hefted it into a comfortable position and also grabbed
a bit and bridle, handing those to Trihnn.
For once in his life, Harken stood still while he was tacked up. By the time they finished, the sun was fully over the horizon.
The wind whistling and the continuous plodding of the horses' hooves were the only sound in the endless rolling hills. The sun was high in the sky. Trihnn and Aitheria had been riding for close to three hours, with no sign of Alasdair.
"This is taking too long. " Aitheria muttered, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"I'm hungry." Said Trihnn, out of the blue.
Aitheria smiled a 'she-is-hopeless' smile, and said, "Can't say I'm surprised. Sure, Let's stop for lunch...right over there." Aitheria had spotted a particularly tall hill. Perhaps they could spot Alasdair from there. Aitheria urged Lucescere into a trot, and Trihnn did the same.
Finally, they reached the top of the hill. Both girls immediately dismounted to give their horses a much-need break, and went about their own businesses, Trihnn unpacking sandwiches and Aitheria searching across the valleys for any sign of a fire colored Horse.
There! She had spotted him, galloping across a low mound very close to them, whinnying shrilly, his head tossing up and down, like flames. She was about to call out when he...vanished. That was the only word for it. Alasdair, her parents' pride had just disappeared. No. It was an illusion, a trick of the wind and sunlight, impossible. It had to be. Just had to be...Aitheria had convinced herself when Trihnn tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Hey, did you see that horse...like...vanish a second ago?" Trihnn looked seriously confused, her expression matching Aitheria's.
"Yeah. But I was trying to persuade myself that it was my eyes playing tricks on me..." She looked in the direction in which Alasdair had evaporated, and said, "Should we check it out?"
Trihnn nodded, and took a huge bite of sandwich (Aitheria's sandwich, by the way). But that didn't matter. Curiosity had made her appetite vanish like Alasdair had.
She swung herself onto Lucey, and Beckoned Trihnn to do the same. Lucescere looked a bit irate at having their break cut short.
With a little difficulty, she pulled herself onto Harken, and kicked him into a canter. Ria did the same, and within a minute, they were on the hill that Alasdair had been on. She wasn't sure what it was, but Aitheria felt uneasy, and the hair on the back of her neck prickled. Lucescere and Harken were jumpy, the Thoroughbred gelding dancing nervously.
Aitheria looked around for the source of her unease, and saw nothing. Wait...what was that? Did the air just...shimmer? She shifted slightly. There it was again! Aitheria walked in a complete circle around it, and discovered it's true shape: an arch, or perhaps a portal. It seemed to be made of a near-invisible silver mist, only appearing when one looked at it in the perfect light.
"Trihnn look at this." She said, her voice a hiss.
Trihnn looked up from soothing the horses, and led them over to where Aitheria was standing.
"What am I supposed to be looking at..." He voice trailed off as a cloud moved away from the sun, it's light shining on the ethereal arch. Trihnn blinked and shook her head to see if it was still there. It was.
Finally, Aitheria took hold of Lucescere's halter and led her toward it.
"Ria! Are you crazy? What are you doing?"
Aitheria looked back at Trihnn's frantic face, Harken resembling her.
"I have no clue," she said frankly, "But I'm curious..."
Lucey followed unwaveringly; she would follow Aitheria into the pits of hell.
Aitheria was only a foot away from it now. This door, or perhaps a window, did not seem threatening. But Lucescere was on edge, every muscle in her body tensed and every nerve in her brain awaiting Aitheria's next command.
"Wow. I must be crazy. I don't even know what this is, or what it will do..."
And Aitheria stepped through the window. Light flashed and color swirled, and for a brief instant, a grey-blue eye appeared, and then all was still.
Lucescere was right beside her master, and shaking with fear. Before she did anything else, Aitheria calmed her horse, until she was something resembling content. Only then did she look around her.
Aitheria was in a place very unlike the one she had just left. The sky seemed infinitely bluer, the grass infinitely greener. Somewhere nearby a stream babbled over rocks. Aitheria noticed a copse of trees nearby, and many farther away. The footing was clover, with tiny white flowers in abundance. She found herself to be standing in the middle of a path of pale yellow cobblestone, which seemed to stretch on endlessly, over the hills where it faded into the horizon. To the north there were mountains, monoliths taller than any known on Earth. Then the thought finally struck her, like a fifty-ton rock. In fact, Aitheris felt incredible dense that it had not occurred to her before.
I'm not on Earth anymore! I'm in another world.