Subject: [AM] Prey
From: "Christopher Ackney" 

Scene: A trail in Forest Arden

'Well, that proved to be a useless trip.' Zachary thought to himself, riding
astride Rainpuddle. His trip into Shadow proved as fruitless as trying to
talk to the Pattern. He looked over the pitifully few notes he had written
down, then snapped the notebook closed in frustration. His stomach's sudden
growl browl his attention to other things, and he realized that he was
indeed quite hungry. Rainpuddle whinnied and bobbed her head in agreement.

"All right, all right." Zachary laughed, patting the mare's neck. "We'll
stop at the next clearing for some food."

The next clearing came soon enough. Zachary dismounted and stretched, taking
in a deep breath of air before setting about the task of unsaddling
Rainpuddle. He knew how much she enjoyed freedom, and tried to give it to
her as much as possible. Besides, it was a nice enough day, and he certainly
had no idea where to head to next. Zachary fished about one of the
saddlebags and brought out an apple for Rainpuddle to munch on, and when she
had done with that, he set about getting together a meal for himself.

* * *

"She's gone?!?" Julian snarled back at the image of Benedict before him.
"How in the Courts could she be gone?"

"A creature attacked her at the castle. In the ensuing confusion, her guards
were killed and Laura disappeared. A number of the younger Amberites have
since gone missing, including the crown prince." Bededict replied calmly.

"If any are within the Forest, I shall find them." Julian promised, and
broke the Trump contact. Whirling, he made his way back to Morgenstern, and
lifted aloft his hunting horn.

* * *

Zachary looked up as the sound of a horn reached his ears. Julian's hunting
horn, he knew. But what could he be hunting for? Perhaps Dalt had finally
attempted an assault on Amber, but Zachary was quite sure that wasn't a call
to arms. It sounded very much like the call he used to summon his Hell

And then Zachary heard the howls.

* * *

All the riders rose their heads at the sound of the horn.

"What's that?" Laura asked, looking back over her shoulder in the general
direction the call came from.

"Lord Julian's Call of the Hunt." Orbus replied, peering back in the same

"'Call of the Hunt'? Hunting what?" Sarah asked.

Orbus gave a meaningful glance to Brandi.

"What? Me?" Brandi blurted out. "Why me?"

"You mean besides the fact that you are currently a fugitive?" Orbus asked
with a hint of a smile.

"Well, yeah, besides that." Brandi replied. In all the sudden switching
around of her friends, that little detail had escaped her.

Then the howls rose behind them.

"Hell Hounds." Orbus observed.

Though well trained, the horses they rode knew danger when they heard it.
They whickered and shifted anxiously.

"Well, I'm sure not sticking around here." Brandi said, swinging Moonghost
around and flicking her reins. The others quickly followed suit.

"One does not escape Julian's Hounds!" Orbus called over to Brandi when
Torch caught up to Moonghost.

"I'm aiming to be the first!" Brandi called back, hoping that what she was
saying would come true.

The horses pounded down the path, branches and leaves whipping past the
riders, brushing up against them and scratching whatever skin was bared.

And the howling came closer.

Snarling barks could be heard, hunters anxious to lunge upon the hunted. The
riders spared glances over their shoulders, but could only see dark shadows
behind them, still hidden by the trees. But the shadows were gaining.

Urging the horses to greater speeds gave only a momentary respite, for
though the horses grew tired, their pursuers were tireless.

Another glance revealed the first glimpse of the hunters. Huge blackened
beasts, red tongues lolled from their gaping maws. Nearly the size of the
horses they rode, the bared down upon their quarry with unwavering red eyes.
These were creatures made for only one purpose: to Hunt.

They burst into a clearing, suprising another rider who had stopped for a
rest. The horses scattered, only to pull up in fright. All paths were
blocked. The Hounds had them.

The riders glanced quickly about them, catching their respective breathes,
only to see themselves surrounded by snarling death. The circle around them
closed tighter.

"Zachary!" Sarah exclaimed, catching sight of the crown prince as he held
onto Rainpuddle's reigns. The others all looked around, surprised at Sarah's

"Seems you've run into a spot of trouble." Zachary quipped, despite the
seriousness of the events around him. There seemed little else to do. He had
no sword, and he was sure that if the Hell Hounds meant to kill them, they
would do it effectively with or without resistance.

"Silence!" A voice thundered across the clearing. The growling immediately
stopped, but the red eyes never left the prey. The others peered over at the
speaker, wearing glittering white armour upon a huge horse of darkest black.

"Uncle Julian." Zachary spoke first. "What't the meaning of this? Are Lords
and Ladies of Amber usually chased by your hounds?"

"It is common for fugitives." Julian answered darkly, eyes boring deep into

"Fugitives? And who here fits that?"

Julian gave the Prince a dark look. "Brandi was placed under house arrest by
your father. As you can plainly see, she has since escaped with intentions
to leave Amber. I had been requested to ensure that she didn't. As for the
others, they should know that associating with this fugitive ..."

"I'm NOT a fugitive!" Brandi snarled. Sarah laid a restraining hand on her
cousin, sensing that it would take only a little more to fully set her off.

"... associating with this fugitive," Julian repeated pointedly, "would
bring the same punishment to them as Brandi."

"And what punishment would that be?" Zachary challenged, stepping in front
of his cousins.

Julian gave Zachary a long, hard gaze. When he finally spoke, it was with
very precise words. "That is to be decided by the King."

Zachary nodded. "Well then, if we are all 'gathered', I suggest we go and
see the king."

"A moment." Julian held up a gauntleted hand. He sat upon Morgenstern,
murmuring seemingly to himself. All present, though, knew he was in the
midst of a Trump contact. Then, Julian's eyes focussed back on the gathered
youngsters. "It seems punishment will be ... delayed. Benedict requests the
presence of Brandi in order to lead an assault on Dalt's encampment. You
haven't convieniently forgotten it's location, have you?" Julian asked
Brandi pointedly.

Brandi's lip curled slightly in a snarl, but she managed to remain quiet.
Zachary was quite impressed with her self-control, not one of her more well
developed attributes.

"Lord Julian!" Riders raced down the path towards them. Four of Julian's
rangers raced alongside a fifth rider wearing the house colours of Thigga,
one of the outer realms of the Golden Circle. "This rider request presence
with the King."

As they got closer, they could see that the Thiggian rider had been riding
hard for a long time. Whatever was happening, it was serious. "I am Prince
Zachary, what is the trouble?" Zachary asked the rider when all five pulled

The rider, a large man wearing leather and plate armour, dismounted quickly
and knelt to one knee before Zachary. "M'Lord. It is our capital of Baless,
it is under attack by forces unknown. Men, but unlike any we have
encountered before. I have been sent to request aid from the great and noble
King Random of Amber."

"An attack, so close to Amber?" Julian said rhetorically.

"Must be Dalt." Orbus confirmed.

"But why Thigga?" Zachary posed. "It has little strategic value to one bent
on attacking Amber. Why not just come straight here?"

"If he has more than men, perhaps he is testing his army's effectiveness."
Julian posed.

"No, something isn't right." Brandi broke in. "Dalt's no Benedict, but he
has some sound tactics. It seems stupid to me to test something so close to
your intended target. Word would get to us like it has and we would be
warned, then Benedict swoops in with his troops and there's the end of
Dalt's ambitions."

"Could Brand be manipulating things?" Sarah asked. She knew a little of the
old family politics, but you couldn't last a day in Amber without finding
out how Brand nearly destroyed all of reality.

"A good possibility, but how do we make sure?" Orbus asked.

"A scouting mission, of course." Laura grinned.

Zachary nodded thoughtfully. "If we are to scout ahead, we'd be able to
discover just what's going on, then Trump Benedict if need be."

"You won't be going alone. I will assign some of my Rangers to you." Julian
broke in.

"But we would be able to proceed much faster without them, Uncle. We could
Hellride there much more quickly without having to pull others through
Shadow with us." Orbus said.

"I agree." Zachary said, nodding. "We can't waste any time, not with Brand
back in the picture. Amber will need all the troops it can get to defend her
in case of an attack while Benedict is away. No, speed is of the utmost
importance, we can't have stragglers along to slow us down." Zachary patted
Rainpuddle, then hefted her saddle up. "No, we'll have to do it this way.
Brandi, you will have to go back to Benedict. He needs you to lead him as
quickly as possible to Dalt's shadow. Uncle Julian, we need you to remain
here to defend Amber in case of attack. The rest of you ... I can't order
you to come, for it will certainly be most dangerous ..."

The other three quickly agreed. Zachary saddled up, then turned to the
messenger. "Show us the way."

Scene: Palace of Kashfa

The dark knight emerged from the shadows, surpising the lady Julianna had
been talking with. "I must go." Jezhbyn said in his thin whisper.

"Go? Now? But I need you here." Julianna paused to excuse herself, then
allowed the demon to pull her aside.

"You do not understand. Things are happening back home."

Julianna remained silent for a moment. "Home as in the Courts?"

Jezhbyn gave a short nod. "I cannot remain here. This is too big."

"What's happening? You know how I hate it when you are vague." Julianna said

"I do so love to annoy you." He replied humourlessly. "But I do not know
what is going on yet. There has been a ripple."

"I felt nothing."

"It is pure Chaos, not of the Pattern. It may have to do with the Soul
Reapers." He bowed to his lady. "You may want to consider heading back to
your own home. Things may become more dangerous than any of us can imagine."
With that, he turned and merged back into the shadows.

Scene: The Crystal Caves

"Excellent!" Brand cheered, swiping a hand over the mists that swirled
within the crystal basin before him. "Most excellent indeed."

"What have you done?" Laura asked, arms held securely behind her by steel
cord and another one of Brands Abyss creatures. This one was different,
though, tall and thin with sharpened bone protrusions sticking out
everywhere along it's body. She had been stuck with a number of them
already, and she learned to keep her distance from it.

"Just a little something I learned during my ... absence from reality. They
will not know that they travel with a false Laura." Brand giggled to
himself. "Not until it's too late." He laughed aloud.

"Take her to her cell." Brand ordered the creature behind Laura. "Get used
to blue, you shall be seeing it for a very, very long time."

His laughter echoed throughout the caves.

Well, here's my first official post in A.F.I.

This should get us into whole heaps of trouble (of which Jono has no need of
help in that regard :)

I am trying to tie a couple of 'loose ends' that have popped up ... more
curves, I guess you could call them. Let's see what my latest bit of evil
does for us 

Matt: Remember that Ragnorak (Brand's shadow-destroying orb) is waiting for
you guys at Dalt's shadow. Have fun :)

Judi: Told ya it wasn't really Laura. Looks like Laura will have to get