This is a vignette from an online ADRP game that my friend, Render, ran for many years. I played a young Amberite who took somewhat after the redheads, so I followed their flame-themed naming motif and called her Star – the biggest, hottest fire I could think of.
Imagine my surprise when, as I randomly (no pun intended) flipped through Corwin's tale, I read his words to the effect of, "As Drum and I Hellrode through the Shadows, I recalled how much I missed Star." I blinked, blinked again, and remembered that Star had been the name of Corwin's favorite horse…so I named her mount "Corwin," of course, of course.
Of course I had to capitalize on this, so during the next gaming session, I visited my Amberite mother, waited for her to say something condescending (for such is the way of our kind), and threw in her face that at least I would never stoop so low as to name my daughter after a brother's horse! Imagine the ultimate mortification that only a Royal of Amber could experience…and Render never saw it coming. Ha-ha!
This small tale is not the most dramatic scene I can recall from that game, nor quite the funniest, nor is it quite the most imaginative in terms of choices made, and consequences suffered. It does, however, capture the dry, wry essence of Render's game in such a way as to illustrate his unique ability to bring Amber to life, true to all the little, ineffable things Roger did to make it what it was. I miss that.
...Such is the Way...
an Amber Story, by Chris "Ro-BARE" Roberts
With apologies to Roger, and acknowledgements that Amber belongs to the Amber Corporation
It is said that the only thing as sad as a battle lost - is a battle won. If you are disinclined to believe this thing, try it sometime. Many of my monastery brethren lay scattered across the field, in varying stages of breathing their last. Those who were in better shape, chanted and meditated helpfully for the rest. I could afford no such luxury. Our foe was withdrawing, and I had a score to settle.
Pauper that I was on both counts, I paid a small price in time and exertion to buy me a higher vantage point from which to survey the scene. It wasn't much of a hillock - I'd call it an oversized rock, if I were in a mood to debate the finer points of topography - but it afforded me that which I had previously lacked: perspective. I was now possessed of a frame of reference, from which I could see the object of my disaffection.
Prince Julian of Amber, radiant in his white-enameled armor, directed the tactical withdrawal of his forces, his legendary self-control on full display. Astride the great beast Morgenstern he sat, emanating poise and puissance, as if to say, "I meant to lose this fight. Everything is going according to my plan." How I have always hated him. True, he was merely an ally of those who had really pissed me off, but he was available, and they were not. Time to summon the merciless lightnings of Justice...
From its dark and dingy confines, the sweeter part of my disposition protested my impending attempt to vaporize my uncle. Yes, uncle. Did I fail to mention that part? Well, the simple fact that he was brother to my mother had never inspired him to display any avuncular tendencies toward me. If anything, our relation made it all the easier. If I got him, I could concern myself with having to deal with one less interfering factor for the rest of my life. Call it cold, calculating, malicious and, to abuse a cliché, Machiavellian. Yes, but, well...such is the way of our kind.
A deep breath, and a cleared mind later, my hair (blonde tinged with strawberry, and long) began to rise, as every free particle of electricity within a radius of many miles defied its ordinary course of business to follow a new path of least resistance, and take up a holding pattern around my body. A neat trick, that…it had been taught to me by the immortal guardian of the monastery - and its world, besides - whose initiates lay dying on the green field below. Those who had enslaved and destroyed him would pay most dearly for his death. Until then, Julian's demise would have to tide me over. With that thought, I saw him wheel his steed about, as though to gallop off into the sunset.
A small flexing of my will, a bestial scream from Morgenstern, and Julian's white figure became Julian's black silhouette against a blinding bolt and a deafening silence. Silence? Silence…as I struggled to my feet, shaking my head - ouch, dammit! - all was indeed silence. And my hair continued to defy gravity, despite its generally convincing arguments to the contrary. That must have been a Hell of a thunderbolt to leave so much static behind, not to mention cutting out the soundtrack of things. Not bad for a first attempt. Raiden would be proud...no, Raiden would still be dead. Oh, would they pay!
To be quite honest with myself (against my better judgment), I was cognizant that Julian was my elder by many centuries - and painfully aware that better than I had tried and failed to shuffle off his mortal coil. This was more of an act of desperation, born of the fury of recent bereavement, and the dire need to lash out at someone handy. Screw you, Julian, and the horse you rode in on. Petulant? Yes, but, well...such is the way of our kind.
As sound returned to the world, I heard cries of fear and dismay from those of our warriors who were approaching Julian's prone form. In a shimmering rainbow-effect, he was gone. That told me disturbing things. Everyone knows you can't Trump the dead or the unconscious, therefore Julian had been neither. It likely also meant that those against whom I had vowed my revenge had been watching all along, from a place of safety and power. Not good. The fact that Morgenstern continued to adorn the battlefield, showing no signs of life, did not even bear considering, lest my knees begin to knock. While I agree that every action does have a reaction, seldom are they equal, or opposite.
Not much later: the field almost cleared, security established, cookfires burning into Night's inky descent, allied leaders gathered in counsel. All but me - I too sought counsel, but from one older and wiser than they. I drew forth from a pack, and focused upon, a card depicting a lady with long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room, her eyes as blue as Lake Erie at three o'clock on a cloudless summer afternoon. The Trump was one of my better works, as befitted the perfection of its subject. The image shifted, and I saw her sitting in her study. I spoke...
"Mother," I said.
She looked in my direction, and focused on me, from behind a pair of fashionable spectacles I knew she did not need. Vanity, thy name has ever been Florimel.
"Star! Where are you?"
I smiled. I always smile when she speaks my name, but that is another story altogether.
"At war. Listen..."
As I relayed the events of the day, her face went from happiness and sadness for a battle won, to deepest dismay, to the most grave concern I have ever seen it express. And I have given it cause for concern, once or twice upon a time.
"Oh, Star, you didn't! You killed that magnificent, beautiful animal...he will never forgive you. Run, Star. Run for your life. You know he is the greatest hunter in the Universe. He will never rest until he exacts his revenge. Go!"
Never forgive me? Hunt me down like an animal? Slay me like some beast of prey? All this, over a horse? It may seem a bit extreme, and more than a bit petty, but, well...such is the way of our kind.
I bade her goodnight, sweet princess, and joined my comrades-in-arms. One of them actually took me in his arms, but that's okay - we're married.
"Dearest," said he - his name is Alain, by the way - "fashionably late, as usual."
"Yes," quoth I, "but, well..."
"Don't say it."
One brief war council later, it was generally agreed that my continued presence was hazardous to our collective health. That night, I dreamt of Julian, astride a giant, undead, demonic Morgenstern, whose flaming strides spanned continents and oceans, belching fire and brimstone, with hoofbeats the sound of...inevitability. I awoke, knowing what I must do. Alain awoke, as well.
"You're going to confront him."
It was true, I was going to confront him.
"It is true, I am going to confront him...and die." I saw a pair of eyebrows gain elevation, rapidly. "Trust me," I said.
And so here I am, astride my own horse, whose name is...unimportant right now. He is, however, a veteran of many Hellrides. Powerful and black as the Void, he bears a silvery-grey mark on his forehead; more like a tight cluster of splotches, really, with a long grey line extending straight down his nose. It was as close as I could get, okay?
Behind me, the smoking battlefield, the diminished encampment. Before me, my destiny. Julian's destiny. Once my work was done, all roads for him would lead to me. A feat such as this is ordinarily all but impossible - after all, Shadow is infinite, and we of Amber may walk it as we please, finding what we want, or perhaps we are creating it as we go. Solipsism, to the very pinnacle of arrogance? Yes, but, well...such is the way of our kind.
But in this case, given that he is already seeking me, a hunter whose skill in tracking defines the concept of so doing...he has already given me ample probability that he will find me. Probability is the medium with, and within which, we work; and this particular circumstance provides me with sufficient raw material for a masterpiece, and to spare. Knock on wood, it will be enough.
Blurred, the ground beneath the hooves. Green grass, lightly wooded...blue now, the grass, and music among the trees...a path, perhaps a game trail...perhaps not...a fast-food restaurant, alone in deep woods...a face in the drive-thru window, surprised...that was odd...fewer the trees, and more the buildings...grey the grass, ringing like pavement under horseshoes...the few remaining trees line the path at intervals...become streetlamps, all unlit...for good measure, I shout, "The British are coming, the British are coming!" and snicker as lamps blossom in cottages...I need a disguise, I realize, and decide there must be a mugging soon...and a mugging there is.
The street is dark and deserted, but still, it is a poor work ethic to mug outside of an alley, or other relative privacy. The trembling young lady recoils from the large, unfriendly-looking man, who wields a large, unfriendly-looking knife. I have decided it is unlikely that they will hear my approach...a nice bit of work, that, me at a gallop and all, but they take no notice of me...yet. He snarls, viciously.
"Now take it off and lie down, or so help me, I'll leave!" He gestures evilly down the street.
"Oh, to be forced in such a way..." She blushes faintly, begins to slowly unbutton.
"?" Think I...no matter. Out the sword, off the head, down from the horse and blade re-sheathed, I whisk the trench coat from the cooling corpse as it falls, before it can get all messy. I retrieve the hat, don the coat, and voila! Carmen Sandiego? Sigh...it'll have to do.
"Bitch!" she cries, forfeiting her life, depending on whom you ask. I, however, have never put myself on the compelling end of tradition. Perhaps this will be my undoing, one day, if my tendency to monologue doesn't get me first. The sky briightens, and I gallop off into the sunrise. I am generous, and decide another mugger will be along soon.
A place for everything, and everything nearly in place. That he will find me, I am certain...I hardly need to decide it will be so. So I must make sure to find me before he does. I must be waiting for him, to confront him, and die, so I may be about my business. Confusing? Paradoxical, even. Yes, but, well...you know the deal.
It is a small, ugly diner in a large, ugly city. I am seated in a booth on the back wall of the dining area, by the double kitchen doors, facing and watching the entrance. I grow antsy, though I know I will arrive at any minute. I flip up my collar and pull down my brim, so I won't recognize me. Here I come, in through the out door, typical, rebellious youth. I take a seat, and I talk to me. Oddly, I seem to have some kind of Scottish accent. No matter.
"So...what's the story?"
"A repetition of the same tired theme. As usual."
"So why should I bother with it?"
"This time there's a twist."
"That's what they always say. And then it turns out to be the same old plots, and complications, with damn little action. I don't think I'm interested."
"Maybe this will change your mind."
I reach into a coat pocket, judging it distinctly possible, no - probable...hell, likely even, that the mugger had taken a good haul off of his previous victim. The thud of a large brick of solid gold onto the table confirms my adjudication in a most spectacular manner. How the hell did I not notice that in there, and why was it wrapped with a slice of lemon? No matter. Don't panic. I hear the wail of sirens in the not-so-distance. Rough town, I think I mentioned.
I see me blink. I can almost hear me think, "You've got yourself a deal."
"You've got yourself a deal," my brogue lilts from across the table, "Now, when and where am I supposed to meet this..."
As if on cue, the worst happens. The sirens wail their siren song, flashers flash, many tires screech to several halts. Police cars, paddy wagons, even a motorcycle - a big one. The rider dismounts, draws his pistol with one hand, picks up his radio handset in the other. A voice over a loudspeaker...a familiar voice. A familiar face, behind the mirrored shades. His demeanor is one of near-legendary self-control. Everything according to plan, more or less. No way. It would appear that I have failed to suppress a variable. Damn. I should have known…
"Charlotte MacArdry! We've got the place surrounded! Come out with your hands up! Surrender now and you'll live to see a fair trial!" Even the voice is chillingly similar...I wonder, idly, what he calls his bike. I am not surprised by the decal which reads, "Forrest City Police".
The me across from me draws a pair of beefy automatics, and yells back over her shoulder, "You'll never take me alive, copper!" She turns in her seat, guns blazing over the backrest. Glass and peace shatter alike, and a hail of bullets answers the challenge.
"Sheitz!" I say, in Old High Thari (the mother tongue of all expletives, among other things). Tucking and rolling, tumbling through the double doors as bullets pepper my wake, slamming my back up against the wall on the other side. I hear all Hell breaking loose in the dining area, and a small, detached corner of my mind observes to no one in particular that I did too good a job of locating a shadow of myself to throw off my pursuit. I failed to take the probability of my shadow's own pursuit into consideration.
Time is not my ally. I can't die on me yet, it's too soon. I yank open a drawer, grabbing out the Tommy gun and drum magazine that had to be there. Damn, but I love my life...lock and load, burst out the other double doors across the kitchen, and add my own contribution to the carnage.
It is the most spectacular display of spray-and-pray marksmanship I have seen since...well, it's been a while. They died, and they died. The uncles from whom I had learned warfare would have been proud. I glance, peripherally, across the joint, to see how I was faring.
It seems like slow motion. There I stand in the open aisle, guns still blazing. My chest blossoms half a dozen red roses, which promptly wither and will soon blacken. What a waste. As I fall, I close one eye, squeeze off one last shot, and the motorcycle cop takes it between the eyes. How predictable. I cease fire.
Sudden silence prevails. I had taken care of the cannon fodder, and the other two key players had taken care of each other. The place is a wreck. I mean a total disaster...hold it. Miraculously, the salad bar has remained completely intact. Tear gas shells fly in through the shattered windows, but it matters not. All is lost, my plan in ruins. Fortune (yes, sweet prince, she is a strumpet…) has turned her back on me, and Hell hath no fury like a Princess of Amber scorned. I unload the remainder of the drum magazine into the salad bar; glass, ice, wilted lettuce, and other second-rate trimmings fly in all directions. Peevish? Yes, but, well...such is the way of our kind, sometimes.
Ammo spent, I duck back through the doors, again pressing my back to the wall. Think. No time. Contact? A familiar presence beckons my mind, and I know it to be Alain, even before the contact is complete. That trick, I taught myself.
"Dearest, I hope you're done with...whatever you were doing. We're ready for our next step, and we need your talents."
"Very well, Darling. Bring me though."
He extends his hand, and rainbows shimmer where I had stood. Heads rise as I materialize, trench coat, fedora, smoking barrel, and all. His eyebrows set a new record. I hear muttering from the peanut gallery...I catch the word, "Weirdo."
"Everything okay, dearest?"
I smile, warmly. I adore this man. "All's well that ends well, my love."
"And that requires a machine gun?"
"Yes, but, well..."
"Don't say it."