Rising Shadows (Ertera: Book 1)

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The short...
Michelle is an enigmatic and elusive indie author. Emerging from her author cave to gather resources...coffee and dark chocolate. Over decades she has mastered the coveted skill of Bodacious Awesomeness. Her books bear testament to this rare feat.

...and the long of it.
Michelle Emberstar Meraki (1367 L.H.) was the most skilled path creator to new worlds in all Jérin. Her many research expeditions contributed valuable information to the academic societies of Argara. She explored many realms with her inventions and each quest was successful; until she forged the mirror-ring. The mirror-ring was Michelle’s grandest invention; it opened a portal to a planet in a distant galaxy. Overcome with wanderlust Michelle ventured through the portal but in her eagerness, she forgot to secure her way back home. Her nemesis, Xelara Nephane, snuck into Michelle’s workshop, overpowered her beloved, Balthazar, and destroyed the star shards that stabilised the portal. Michelle realised her error too late and found herself stranded on the foreign planet called Earth. Yet fortune favoured her and kind, loving people took her in. They cared for her as their own and Michelle became part of their family. Since people thought her insane for telling her stories Michelle’s family encouraged her to write them in books. Some might call Michelle’s books fantasy novels but writing is the only way she kindles hope to return to her beloved Balthazar and Jérin.

For more information or to subscribe to Michelle's Fantasy Rebels Mailing List visit: www.michellemeraki.com


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Would you keep a secret
if it made you look guilty of murder?

 

What if that secret also
protected your loved ones? For Emperor Cassius ruling the magical Empire of Ertera
means keeping such secrets–even from his beloved daughters, Megara and Lira.

A mysterious message
promises to shed light on Lira’s past of which she has no memory. Although she
longs to share her new hope with Megara the note is clear that she should tell
no one.

The late Empress left
Megara a letter which sparks a journey of self-discovery and exposes secrets
that could endanger her life.

Unknowingly the
inseparable sisters, get pulled into the web of secrecy…

Only the web has started
to unravel with unimaginable consequences…

Rising Shadows is a fast-paced Epic Fantasy
Adventure that will keep you spellbound.

If you like something
genuinely original, incredibly
imaginative and intriguing you’ll
love Rising Shadows, an e
xciting introduction to a sweeping
saga.

Buy Rising Shadows today to see
if secrets are worth keeping at such a cost!


1

 

THE SHRILL SHRIEK OF A distant bird woke Lira with a start. The morning mist still hovered close to the ground and clung to her skin with a chill dampness far too tangible to be the remnants of a vivid dream. She looked down at herself, confusion clouding her thoughts. Her clothes were torn; again. This was the seventh morning she had awoken in the forest with her garments shredded into tattered strips of barely something. However, today she was in a different part of the forest; she did not recognise it at all. She studied the old, gnarled trees covered in mosses and lichens. Peering up at the dense emerald canopy, she sighed. No light trickled through the canopy which made it impossible for her to estimate the time of day. Lira inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself, and the musky wood scent brought a strange comfort. She guessed that she must have made her way into the deepest part of Shadow Oak forest. At the sight of the swirling mist she instinctively wrapped her arms around herself, but, to her surprise, her body was warm, almost as if she had just recovered from a fever. She scanned the forest and, sure enough, a short distance from her lay a pile of folded clothes, a pair of boots and a bunch of berries. Just like the past six mornings. Someone was taking care of her, watching over her; someone knew what was happening to her, but that individual had not shown him or herself yet.

“Hello!” Lira called, her voice edged with frustration and fear, yet the leaf litter and the ancient trees that loomed overhead absorbed the sound. She scanned her surrounds again waiting on a reply, perhaps even an explanation. The distant bird shrieked again, the sound eerie in the quiet forest lulled by mist. Lira discarded the tattered remains of her nightgown and clothed herself in the warm tunic and pants. She sat down and pulled on the soft leather boots then reached for the berries. At the taste of the sweet juice trickling down her parched tongue, she realised how famished she was and wolfed down the remaining berries. She scanned the forest again, almost certain she had heard a twig snap nearby, but nothing. Lira wiped her mouth with her sleeve as she got to her feet and instinctively started toward the south at a brisk pace, breaking into a run. She tried to silence all the questions screaming in her head. She could not answer them anyway and thinking about them just fed the raging frustration that swelled within her. What is happening to me? Am I cursed? She pushed herself harder, replacing the burning questions with burning lungs. The mist cleared; the trees grew thinner and a brighter green as she made her way to the Eastern Trail. Ilialoe was close now; she would reach the imperial city just before dusk. Finally, she slowed her pace and decided to rest in the shade of a rounded tree, out of the midday sun. Each breath rasped down to her lungs in a burning sensation and her tongue stuck to her pallet. She lay down, swinging her arms over her head in one fluid motion and watched the sunlight play on the bright green leaves in the canopy as she waited for the air to fill her lungs with greater ease. Lira could not recall a stream nearby and knew she would have to climb down the ridge to reach the Amuric that gushed over the Cascian Mountains in a brilliant cascading waterfall. She always wanted to go for a swim there and today offered the perfect opportunity. The thought of the cool water washing over her body as she swam filled her with new motivation, but before she could pull herself up from the ground an arrow whirred over her and planted itself in the tree trunk. Instantaneously Lira studied the area from where the arrow had come. All her senses piqued, functioning at hyper-speed. She heard the faintest buzzing of insect wings, the distant gush of the Amuric Falls, and saw raptors circling high above the mountains; everything in an instant. She scrutinised the forest from her vantage point behind the shrubbery. Her heart raced and seemed to rock her body which had involuntarily become as taut as the bowstring that had fired the arrow. There was no movement in the surrounding forest, no sound save for the insects and her pounding heart. She exhaled, realising that she had held her breath the entire time. She glanced at the arrow, noticing that it was no regular arrow. Lira had seen many arrows, most used for hunting or trapping animals. She knew the regional colours used for fletching and every pattern of cresting used on the shafts. This arrow was unlike any she had ever seen. The fletching was of mottled rust brown and cream feathers, the cresting was intricate patterns of greens and white, but, most importantly, it was not a hunting arrow. The shaft was fashioned to carry a rolled-up piece of parchment. Intrigued, she reached for the arrow and pulled it free from the blistered bark. All thought of danger fled from her mind replaced by a deep-rooted curiosity. She sat back down behind the shrubs and removed the parchment with care.

 

Lira daughter of Aria,

Soon you will be of an age to train in the ways of your mother and the tribe with whom she roamed. At the next full Amber Moon, one of our warriors will meet you at this tree. Come alone; he will bring you home to the heart of Whisper Elm. You must not forget who you are.

Chief Torak of the Rorrel Mau

 

Lira gasped, fighting back the tears that welled up whenever she thought of her mother, but there was something more that drew the tears up from the depths of her most guarded self. ‘You must not forget who you are’. Lira would do anything to remember; remember who she was and where she came from. All she knew was that her mother had died in the woods around Rynda and that she had been found unconscious next to her mother’s body. She reread the note and felt hope rise within her, dispersing the clouds of frustration and confusion. Someone who knew the answer to at least one of her questions was waiting for her, inviting her to discover the truth. The Chief of some tribe had known her mother, her origin and perhaps he would know what was happening to her. Lira hoped that Chief Torak knew what had happened in the woods of Rynda all those years ago. She could not tell anyone, she knew that much; she would have to keep it a secret even from Megara. That would be the hardest thing to do, next to leaving her home of seven years, the only place she knew and the only family she had. Lira tucked the parchment into her pocket as she hid the arrow among the roots of the tree, confident that her guardian would find it. She smiled and playfully wrote her guardian a note in the sand where she had hidden the arrow. With a spring in her step she made her way down the ridge to the cool, inviting waters of the Amuric. With each step relief washed over her, but occasionally the relief turned to anxiety, then to anticipation, and hope. The anxious moments were the worst, and she had to bolster her determination to see past the present uncertainty to the future which held more clarity.

***

Megara strolled through the lush gardens of Ilialoe. She enjoyed being outdoors more than being cooped up in the imperial lecture hall where all the wisest teachers came to tutor her in their respective fields of expertise. It was not so much the subject that choked the life from her, but rather the weight of their expectations pressing down on her, crushing her. Here, in the garden, she found a solace of sorts; the plants a gentle reminder that every seed in time grows into what it is destined to be. She inhaled the sweet aroma of the spring blooms that decorated the landscape within the amethyst walls of the palace and then sighed with relief. Today marked the very last day of her lectures, for tomorrow her birthday festivities would begin. The boulders of overwhelming expectations rolled away making way for excitement that bubbled up, escaping her lips in delighted laughter. A sudden urge to run overwhelmed her and she sprinted, leaving her shoes behind. The refreshing green grass beneath her feet filled her with inexplicable exuberance. She dashed across the lawn then leapt off the terrace and made her way through the grove to the southern-most part of the garden. It was the only part of the garden that seemed completely removed and hidden from the palace and the ever-present imperial guards patrolling the grounds. Megara fell down on the plush emerald lawn staring up at the sky. The sky seemed brighter than usual for that time of the year. Almost as if the clarity promised that clouds would follow on the steady spring winds that danced among the leaves, blossoms and through Megara’s hair which had come undone during her liberated sprinting. She sat up and breathed in the fragrance of the fresh south wind which caressed her face, sweeping her hair back over her shoulders. Megara smiled, thinking that the same wind that now refreshed her was filling the sails of the Argarian vessel crossing the Lanar on its way to Ilialoe bearing hither the honorary guests to her birthday festival, the kin of her late mother, Empress Mereva. Anxiety rose up in her again. She had never been to Argara and she had never met her Argarian kinsfolk, save for Vredin, her mother’s best friend and personal guard; she was not even sure if they were related. She had no idea if she had any uncles or cousins or even grandparents; her mother had never spoken of them, only of Megara’s aunt. Mereva had had a twin sister who had been lost as she had explained to Megara. As a child, such sad stories upset Megara as she empathised too intensely with the people involved. Her mother only told her about her aunt once and never mentioned her again, seeing how grieved Megara was upon hearing about it. Perhaps that was why Empress Mereva had refrained from sharing any other tales of her Argarian family. Perhaps they were all sad, Megara thought. She found herself frowning at the thought of how many opportunities she had missed for learning more from her mother, and how precious little she now remembered. Even the library had a small selection of paragraphs on the mysterious kingdom of Argara, far south over the Lanar. The information she could gather was mostly myth and legend, the folklore of an age long past. Megara forced herself to remember the Argarian words her mother had taught her and battled to utter them. The only phrases she could say with any amount of confidence were a nursery rhyme her mother had taught her and the exchange of simple pleasantries, not nearly enough to make an excellent first impression on the Crown Prince and his entourage. Overwhelmed by the Empire’s expectations once more Megara struggled to breathe. It was not a well-kept secret that she was expected to marry the Crown Prince of Argara and that this was the actual reason the Emperor had extended the invitation. In times like these, Megara longed for her mother, not only for her comfort and wisdom but also her intervention and protection. She sighed, trying to rid herself of the constraints of expectation and found herself suddenly seized by a wild urge to run away. What an elegant solution, she mused. Her mind wandered to the few places outside the palace walls she knew and she began planning how she would go about getting there. She recalled her first and last trip down to the river delta where the Amuric met the Lanar. Her mother had insisted that they take a trip downstream. As they dropped anchor in the delta, she had pointed to the colossal marble pillars upon the two promontories either side of the river mouth.

“Do you see the statue on top of the pillar?” she had asked.

“It’s a pony,” Megara had exclaimed in wonder.

“No, my dear, it’s not a pony, not even a horse. It is a sunstrider. What do you see there?” Mereva had pointed to the western pillar.

“A lion, but do they have wings mother?” Megara had asked, confused by what she saw.

“Lions do not have wings my dear, but that is an ari. They are the winged guardians in service of the king of Argara,” Mereva had explained.

“Do they really exist?” Megara had wondered with awed excitement.

“They most certainly do. I’ve seen them with my own eyes,” Mereva had answered, pulling Megara into a hug and tickling her until she squealed with laughter.

Megara was leaning on the balustrade smiling at the pleasant memory. She imagined what the pillars and statues looked like in the light of a fading day. Suddenly she received an unexpected hug which made her gasp in momentary shock. As she turned around recognition sank in and she retaliated by tickling Lira whose laughter resounded clear as a bell through the fresh spring air.

“Lira!” Megara exclaimed. “You are stealthy!” she confessed in amazement as she ceased her friendly onslaught to let Lira to catch her breath. “Wherever did you come by such skill? I honestly don’t understand why father never takes you hunting with him…” Megara trailed off as she noticed Lira’s garments and unruly hair. “Where have you been?” Megara asked as a familiar fear stole her mirth.

“It is difficult to explain and I really couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to,” Lira defended, glancing down as she felt the sting in Megara’s unvoiced reprimand. “Where are your shoes?” Lira wondered aloud.

Megara glanced down as if to check what Lira meant, then blushed, as she recalled what had happened to her shoes. “I…” she stammered, “I felt like running,” she explained, pulling a face as she realised that it was not much of an explanation, nor one a Crown Princess should ever utter.

Lira gently took hold of Megara’s shoulder. “Running helps. I understand. Running also helps me. Now let’s go get them before someone else does.” Megara smiled, grateful that in the entire world there was one other person who understood her and knew her darkest secrets and her deepest fears. “So, today was your last lecture day?” Lira made conversation as they strolled through the garden back to where Megara had left her shoes.

“Let us not shroud our last blissful evening with talk of mundane lectures. I want to enjoy the present moment and forget those old farts,” Megara confessed more boldly than usual. As soon as her words slipped out, she realised what she had said. An amused yet embarrassed expression swept across her face, causing Lira to laugh till tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Very well your highness,” Lira managed. They stood still for a moment in the fading light, cherishing each sight, sound and smell the garden offered. Tomorrow the guests would arrive and the lower palace would bustle with visitors and their guards and entourages. Lira and Megara would not be permitted to come and go as much as they pleased, for safety reasons, of course, but also due to the lists of obligations, they would have to fulfil during the traditional ceremonies.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” Lira asked, gently squeezing Megara’s hand to get her attention.

“Yes, yes… I’m perfectly all right… prepared, I mean,” Megara stammered, trying to hide the nervousness that churned her stomach and stole her appetite.

Lira smiled at her, bright-eyed, “You’re finally getting your opportunity to have your questions answered! They will adore you as much as I do; there’s no way around that! Your heart is what draws people in, Megara, not how eloquently you speak Argarian, or how you look or carry yourself. You’re beautiful, even when you stammer and stutter!”

Megara smiled at her beloved sister and gave her a hug. They might not be blood sisters, but theirs was a bond forged in the struggles and pain of loneliness, desertion, and loss. They had grown up as orphans, Megara thought, so each girl was all the other had. She kissed Lira on the cheek and playfully pushed her away. Lira always knew what to say to encourage and comfort her.

“To my shoes then! I left them right up the path here,” Megara said as she made her way up a sweeping marble staircase.

“Right here, you mean,” a deep voice said. Megara’s blood froze at the sound. Of all the people in the world who could have found her shoes why did it have to be her father? She did not have the strength to endure another one of his lectures on how a lady should behave and what was permitted and what was taboo. Running was high on the taboo list.

What is he doing in the garden at this time of day anyway? She wondered.

“Father,” Megara greeted, suddenly realising that Lira had disappeared.

“I thought I might find you here,” Emperor Cassius said, holding out her shoes to her. Megara took them from him gingerly and slipped them back on. “Are you all alone?” he asked with a sudden concern which seemed strange to Megara.

“Evidently,” she replied, knowing Lira had good reason to disappear and jealous that she herself lacked the stealth to do likewise. “What exactly brings you to the garden father? It’s very unusual to see you here.” Megara changed the topic.

Cassius glanced around to make sure that no one else was within earshot. “Megara, I know I haven’t exactly been present since your mother…” he trailed off, unable to bring himself to speak the obvious word; the cold, hard truth: since she left them since she died. Megara felt uneasy, not sure where the conversation was leading.

“I understand father, you needed to ensure peace for the Empire. You were simply doing your duty,” Megara interjected, hoping to end the conversation before he reached his actual objective. What it was she could not guess, but she did not want him using her vulnerability regarding her mother to achieve any form of leverage.

“Your lecturers were correct in their report on you. They informed me that you showed great skill in diplomacy and reasoning, even to the extent of disregarding your own interests in matters to safeguard the Empire. However, tonight I would like to speak to my daughter and not to the future Empress Regnant,” Cassius stated, observing the shift in her disposition. His last words started an avalanche of thoughts yet she forced herself to focus.

“Empress Regnant?” Megara questioned. “You mean to have me rule in my own right?” she asked in disbelief.

Cassius studied his daughter for a moment before answering, “I can not envisage Ertera in better hands. I plan to announce it at the end of the celebration. Why does this surprise you?”

Megara weighed his glance for any shadow of deceit. She found none. Her silence lingered and Cassius felt the need to address the most obvious reason he could think of that would cause Megara to doubt his word. “The rumours that you are to marry the Argarian Crown Prince don’t stem from my decree. There is an ancient prophecy from the time of Cascian, which holds that the first female firstborn in his line will unite Ertera and Argara forever. Since your birth, the historians and hopeful scholars have been babbling about this prophecy and now that the Argarian delegation will visit Ertera, of course, they have a renewed hope for the prophecy’s fulfilment.” Cassius noticed the brief flicker of defiance that brightened her eyes. “This is not why they are coming. I didn’t even invite them; to be honest, your mother did,” he concluded, and turned toward the palace, signalling his intent to leave.

“Why would she have invited them and why would they honour her invitation after so many years?” Megara demanded, her voice trembling with suppressed emotion.

“Let’s discuss it after dinner. I’m late for a meeting with Major Marick,” Cassius said over his shoulder and, with military bearing, made his way to the southern entrance. A sharp exhalation stammered through her tense body as she dropped her guard. Although her father’s sudden honesty came as a surprise he was still hiding something from her. Why had it taken him this long to tell her about the prophecy? This was not the most vexing of the information Cassius had shared. That her mother was reaching out from beyond the grave to influence her present, and to what end, led to a convergence of clamorous thoughts. Megara made her way to her chambers using the hidden passages in the walls of the palace. She needed to think, to order her thoughts into a more harmonious melodic reasoning, considering every possible angle and motive in light of the information she had. She had learned to remove her emotions to consider the facts.

Yet, if she glanced into the little prison within her soul where she kept her emotions in check, she would not have found one apt word to express what she felt – something akin to a pawn in a chess game of cosmic proportions. No! No emotions – they simply served to confuse and cloud the facts. Each determined step in the dimly lit passageway brought more illumination to her mind.

“What happened in the garden?” Lira’s question came as soon as Megara entered her chamber through the hidden door.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Megara confessed, her body still trembling. “I feel like I’ve cheated death somehow,” she said, sitting down on her bed. Lira sat down beside her, now clean and dressed in imperial robes. “He said that he didn’t invite the Argarians, and he has no intention of having me rule through marriage,” Megara uttered calmly, steeling herself against the pensive storm that milled in her mind.

“Well, that’s wonderful news! No forced marriage and…” Lira paused as a new thought interrupted her celebration, “if he didn’t invite them, why are they coming?” Lira saw she had reached the root of Megara’s concern.

“They come by invitation of my mother,” Megara explained in a faint voice. The sound of pain in her melodious voice did not go unnoticed. Lira pulled Megara into a hug and warm, silent tears soaked her sleeve. Lira marvelled at how Megara could keep her emotions in check and that she trusted Lira enough to let them spill over in her company was an honour.

“Let me tell you something I noticed tonight. I might have been out of earshot, but I could see the strength with which you faced him. You didn’t let fear reduce you to a shadow of a princess. There was regal resolve emanating from you. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you,” Lira offered.

Megara smiled at her. “Here I was thinking I was supposed to mother you. How is it that you’re so perceptive?”

Lira laughed, “Years of having you mother me taught me well.”


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Michelle Meraki

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