Sat May 18 19:57:22 1996
Subject: [AM] Anyone For a Hellride?
        Laura left the library and hurried to her room, a cornucopia of 
emotions stirring within her.  She was about to go on her first 
hellride.  That alone had her in the grip of eager excitement mixed with 
apprehension and uncertainty.  It would be the next step in her 
development as a Lady of Amber, but she did not want her inexperience to 
hold Zachary back.  Still, she felt she knew her cousin at least well 
enough to know that he felt it was important that she come, that she 
learn as quickly as possible the things she would need to know in times 
of trouble.
        The look exchanged between Zachary and Juliana had not escaped 
her, nor their apparent need for haste.  Laura believed the Crown Prince 
felt that trouble was indeed around the corner, or inside the next shadow.
        She was also in awe of the exquisite unicorn she'd seen in the 
brief contact with Karina.  Until now, she had seen such an animal only 
in pictures or animation, for in her Shadow Earth, the unicorn was the 
stuff of myth and legend, not truly believed to be real.  But Laura now 
believed, no -- knew--, that this was no mythological being.  She was 
only beginning to learn what reality truly was.
        In her apartment, Laura quickly undressed.  She was pleased to 
find upon opening her closet door that Barris Harte had already 
delivered a gown, a day dress, some pants and blouses.  The efficient 
Audra had hung them away in good order.  Laura selected pair of red 
leather riding breeches, pink silk shirt, a hip- length open red vest 
and a dark grey cloak.  Her pin lay between her breasts beneath the 
shirt.  Her dagger was sheathed in a supple leather belt and another 
device, fastened about her wrist, was hidden beneath her sleeve.  
Lastly, she grabbed her bow and a quiver of arrows.
Scene:  Outside the Royal Stables
        If Zachary was amused to see Laura armed with dagger and bow, he 
didn't say so.  Whether he was being kind or really believed she was 
showing good sense, she didn't know, but in either case she was grateful 
and the sword at his side hadn't escaped her notice.
        "We need to ride through Forest Arden before we can begin to 
shift, right?"
        "Yes, Laura.  There are a rare few who can shift this close to 
the True City, but I'm not one of them, not yet.  We must ride to the 
edge of Arden which will take several hours."
        The steep journey down to the foot of Kolvir they took  somewhat 
slowly.  It was early evening and though a full moon would light the 
night sky on this 20th day of Asada, moonrise was still some hours off.  
Still Tovarich and Rainpuddle knew the trail well and soon they had 
reached the  Zachary took the lead and Laura noted how finely he sat his 
horse.  Tovarich seemed to fit perfectly under her, his toned muscles 
molding to the legs that gripped them.  Laura leaned forward and patted 
the stallion's neck.
        They looked well together, the serious young man on his dappled 
grey filly and the beautiful blonde on her ebony stallion, and every 
inch the royalty they were.  Soon they came to where the forest began 
and Zachary halted while he examined the ground.  "Ah, there it is.  
This is the trail Juliana chose."
        The hoofprints he pointed at were freshly made.
        "We will follow them through the forest.  By the time we begin 
to shift, you should know them well enough to help you concentrate."
        Laura nodded and they gently kicked the horses into a slow 
canter.  The slowly rising moon cast an eerie glow over the lush 
forest.  The night air was was filled with the fragrance of pine and 
ash.  The forest was alive with the sounds of small animals scurrying 
unseen in the brush, and the occassional howl or screech of larger ones 
gave proof that they were far from alone.  >From the sounds she heard, 
Laura knew that some of those creatures would be unlike any that lived 
in the shadow of her birth.  Forest Arden was beautiful, but as her 
Uncle Julian had warned, dangers lurked within it.
        As if in response to her thoughts of the Prince, the sound of a 
hunting horn ripped the air.  Laura looked up and on a high ridge in the 
distance, she saw a man perched on a horse bigger than she would have 
imagined an equine could be.
        "Julian and Morgenstern," Zachary announced.
        "I wonder if he knows we're here."
        "There is little that happen in Arden that our uncle is unaware 
of, Laura."
        She nodded and knew it was true.
        "Should we ask him to come with us?"
        "I think we will not trouble Lord Julian at this time," Zachary 
said carefully.
        Laura smiled and patted Tovarich's neck.  Her cousin gave 
nothing away save what he chose to.  She wondered, but did not ask, if 
he had told the King what they had seen and were going to do.
        They kept to the trail, following Juliana's tracks, as it 
widened and narrowed, rose and descended.  There were clear, open areas 
where they gave the horses free reign to gallop.  Other patches were 
narrow enough that they had to ride single file.  A few times the path 
was blocked by fallen tree trunks.  Laura felt a thrill of exhilaration 
when Tovarich easily jumped the obstacles, feeling his strength and 
confidence.  The horse seemed to enjoy his leaps into the air.
        They had been riding for several hours when Zachary gestured 
that they should stop.
        "From here we should be able to begin to manipulate shadow, 
Laura."  He pointed to a small bubbling brook.  "We should water the 
horses and let them rest a few minutes while I explain what will happen."
        Tovarich and Rainpuddle needed no direction.  As soon as their 
riders had dismounted, they went straight to the brook.  Heads lowered, 
they drank thirstily.  Laura had a feeling that there was some unspoken 
commmunication between the horses, as if they felt a friendship, or 
kinship, for each other.
        The two cousins sat down, leaning against the trunk of a 
gnarled, ancient tree.
        "It's unfortunate, Laura, that your first experience with 
shadowshifting must be a hellride.  This method of travel though shadow 
is aptly named.  It's going to be very hard on you, and dangerous, and 
even more so for Tovarich.  If he is to come through it unharmed, he 
will need you to stay in control."
        Laura tensed.  She had begun to love the black stallion and was 
determined to protect him."
        "What will happen, Zachary?"
        "When we manipulate shadow in the normal, unhurried way," he 
began to explain, "we focus on an object and begin, through force of 
will and imagination, to change it.  When it's complete, we change 
another until the shadow is complete.  Then we step into it to make it 
        "I don't understand.  You say we can't enter a shadow until we 
finish it, but it isn't finished until we're in it."
        Zachary took her hand and smiled.  "It is a paradox of Amber, 
one we've tried to explain for centuries, and cannot.  Like many things 
about us, it just is.  You will know when the time is right to enter 
your shadow.  When you do, you may begin to work on changing it to find 
the next until you reach the shadow of your desire."
        Laura began to understand though she knew she wouldn't really 
grasp it until she had done it herself.  "How is the hellride different?"
        "In a hellride we pass through shadow after shadow, remaining 
only moments in each.  We focus on just one object and change all that 
is around it.  You will see many things within seconds, things that will 
pull at your attention.  You must not be distracted.  You must retain 
your focus and your calm.  Tovarich will need it."
        He took her hand and looked into her eyes.  "I can't explain how 
difficult this will be for you, Laura, and it will be worse for 
Tovarich.  Few horses can withstand a hellride.  Understand this."  His 
voice took on a hard edge and he spoke slowly, emphasizing each word.  
"You will need every ounce of concentration you have."
        "I understand, Zachary."
        "No," he said flatly, "you don't.  But you soon will.  It's time 
to begin.  We will focus on Juliana's tracks.  Whatever happens, 
Laura.... keep riding."
        They mounted their horses and Laura pulled her cloak more 
tightly about her.  Leaning forward in the saddle, she put her arms 
around Tovarich's strong neck and placed her head down just below his 
mane.  It was a gesture of love and reassurance.  Then Zachary kicked 
Rainpuddle into movement and Laura straightened her back and followed 
suit.  In moments they were at full gallop.
        And then it began.
        The needles of a tall pine on her left turned from green to 
purple.  A tree stump in the path ahead sprouted wings and a beak and 
took screaming to the air.  A musical arrow whizzed just in front of 
Laura and buried itself in a stone boulder that screamed on impact.  
        A thousand images passed in seconds before Laura's eyes and then 
were gone.  A blue sky turned bright yellow and blazed over a blood-red 
sea.  A winged, stripeless tiger leapt at her, missing by only inches as 
she sped forward.  A group of sprightly beings danced in a pink and 
white grove.  The sound of airplanes flying overhead -- then bombs were 
dropping all around them.
         Laura thought.  Waves of 
dizziness threatened to pull her into peaceful unconsciousness.  She 
heard, or thought she heard, Zachary exhorting her to hang on.
        "Concentrate, Laura.  Focus.  You can do it.  You must do it.  
Hold on."
        She fought to keep her center on the hoofprints made just hours 
before by Juliana's horse.  As she had in her pattern walk, she used the 
techniques that had won her a room full of archery trophies.  Let all 
about you disappear from your consciouness until the universe consists 
of nothing but one blazing golden circle... the bull's-eye.
        A blizzard of emerald green snow blew around them.  Off in the 
distance, a woman's screams assaulted them, then faded into silence as 
they rode on.  The ground shook beneath them and a wall of water loomed 
in their path and was gone a fraction of a moment before it would have 
swallowed them.
        Laura felt the tightened muscles of her horse as Tovarich 
whinnied his terror at what he was seeing.  Several times she could feel 
him want to shy and stop dead cold.  She kept a tight grip on the reins 
and on her mind and whispered words of encouragement.
        "It's all right, boy.  Nothing will hurt you.  Keep going, keep 
        He had a valiant heart and Grube had trained him well.  He gave 
his all for the woman who had chosen him and fought to conquer the 
images that were threatening his sanity.  He did as she asked;  he kept 
        A field of red and blue flowers were singing.  Seconds later 
hundreds of men in metal armor were crossing heavy swords in battle.  
They were replaced by the neon lights of a city that looked like Laura's 
New York.
        Then, in one of the billboards, a quiet lake began to form.  
It's fuzzy image sharpened and around it the picture Laura had seen 
during the brief trump contact with Karina took shape.  Just ahead of 
her, she could sense Zachary and Rainpuddle beginning to slow their 
pace.  And as the grove that her mind's eye had seen became real, the 
two cousins reined in their horses.
        Zachary drew in his breath.  Some forty feet in front of them, 
Juliana knelt next to the beautiful white unicorn.  She was examining 
the animal's wounds while Karina stood beside them.  
        Laura dismounted and began to slowly walk her horse.  Tovarich 
was bathed in sweat and Laura muscles twitched from exertion.  She 
breathed deeply and forced her mind to relax as she calmed her horse.
        The hellride was over.
Laura, Lady of Amber