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       The Secret Of The Unicorn Queen - Into The Dream, p.1

           Suzanne Weyn
 
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The Secret Of The Unicorn Queen - Into The Dream


  A Fawcett Columbine Book

  Published by Ballantine Books

  Copyright 1989 by Parachute Press, Inc

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  ISBN: 0-449-90358-3

  Cover design by Dale Fiorillo

  Illustration by Rowena Morrill

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition: April 1989

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  BOOK FOUR

  Into the Dream

  SUZANNE WEYN

  FAWCETT COLUMBINE GIRLS ONLY

  New York

  1

  Haunted Days, Sleepless Nights

  Sheila McCarthy stood on a cliff, a warm wind whipping her face Pink and yellow clouds drifted across the deep purple-blue sky above her. "Come on, girl, it's me, Sheila," she coaxed as she stepped cautiously forward.

  The unicorn before her backed away in short skittish steps to the very edge of the cliff. Throwing back her cream-colored head with its black, pointed horn, she whinnied nervously.

  "There's nothing to be afraid of, Morning Star," Sheila tried to soothe the animal. "What's wrong?" Sheila's heart ached at the sight of her beloved unicorn in such distress. The bond between them felt stronger than ever, and Sheila expe­rienced Morning Star's terror without knowing its cause.

  Sheila reached out to Morning Star with only one thought in her head: I have to save her. I must save her. But the unicorn panicked and reared back, beating at the air with her powerful hoofs. Then, as Sheila watched in horror, Morning Star went plunging over the edge of the cliff.

  "No!'' Sheila shrieked. She ran to the edge of the cliff and watched the unicorn sail out for several feet and then plum­met down, down, into a seemingly bottomless void.

  "Come back! Come back!" Sheila screamed. The unicorn seemed to hear her and looked back one last time, but then she began to glow with a strange, sparkling light. In the next second Morning Star was gone—disappeared!

  Sheila fell to her knees, sobbing. “Morning Star, come back! Please come back."

  "Sheila! Sheila!" a voice called to her from very far away. Sheila opened her eyes slowly and saw that it was morning. She was safe in her own bed in her own room. Her mother was sitting on the edge of her bed. "Are you all right, Sheila?" Mrs. McCarthy asked. "You looked as if you were having a terrible dream."

  "I was. Thanks for waking me," Sheila answered sleepily. She felt dampness on her cheeks and realized they were wet with tears.

  "Do you want to talk about it?" her mother asked kindly, running a cool hand across her daughter's sweating fore­head.

  "No, it was only a dream," Sheila said, rubbing her eyes. "I'll be okay."

  "You'd better get up now or you'll be late for school," Mrs. McCarthy said, still looking at Sheila with troubled eyes. “You know that if you want to talk, I'm here."

  "I know, Mom," Sheila said with a small smile. Then, turning to look at the digital clock on her nightstand, she bolted out of bed. "It's seven-thirty!" she cried. "I'd really better get going!"

  Sheila's mother left as Sheila grabbed for her jeans. She was just stepping into them when the image of Morning Star leaping out into nothingness came back into her head. She began to tremble and sat down on the bed. This was the fifth night in a row she had had the same dream. What did it mean? Could sweet Morning Star, so far away, somehow be calling out to her? Or was it only a dream, a sad, terrible dream?

  Sheila gulped down breakfast, grabbed her lavender backpack, and ran out of the house to meet her friend Cookie Rogers. The two girls had walked to school together every morning since starting kindergarten almost ten years ago.

  Cookie waved when she saw Sheila rushing up the street toward her. "Running a little behind schedule—for a change," she teased. "Maybe you should buy a cannon to blast you out of bed.”

  "Very funny. It's just that I haven't been sleeping too well lately, so it's hard to get up in the mornings."

  The two girls walked in silence for a block until they turned up the long paved drive to Hillside High. Then Cookie turned and stared straight into Sheila's hazel eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked. "You've been acting very strange lately, do you realize that?"

  "I'm okay, honestly I am,'' Sheila insisted. "Please stop worrying. I'm really fine."

  "If you say so," Cookie replied, finishing off the last of her chocolate cupcake. "But I'm still not convinced. Look at it from my point of view. Sometime last month I'm walking home from school with you. You're just a normal—well, sort of normal—teenager like me. You tell me you're going to visit that strange Dr. Reit after school. Then, the very next day I see you and—Bam!—it's like you're this totally different person.”

  Sheila stopped and adjusted her backpack. "Cookie, some­times you exaggerate so much! I haven't changed a bit."

  "Haven't changed! You're not serious, I hope!" Cookie shouted, running a slightly pudgy hand through her short curly brown hair. "Ever since that day you've had this faraway look in your eyes, like you're half here and half somewhere else."

  Sheila tossed her long auburn hair over her shoulders and looked at her friend seriously. "I've had a lot on my mind," she said. "You know I have that big science project coming up.

  "Yeah. But that still doesn't explain the fact that you showed up the next day with bruises all over your body and a cut on your forehead."

  "I told you, I was helping Dr. Reit move some equipment and it fell on top of me."

  "Okay, then what about that all-over Florida tan you got in just one day?" Cookie challenged.

  "We've been through this a million times. Dr. Reit has a great sunlamp in his lab. I used that."

  "Sure," Cookie grumbled sarcastically. "I'm sure Dr. Reit really spends his spare time trying to look like a bronzed god. That guy can hardly be bothered to put his clothes on right side out! Besides, those lamps aren't good for you."

  Sheila felt the morning sun warming her back, and she unbuttoned her denim jacket as they neared the school. "I promise I won't use the sunlamp again. Now are you satisfied, Cookie?"

  "No way," Cookie answered. "You still haven't explained how your hair grew at least three inches in one day."

  Sheila sighed. "It didn't. You must not have noticed how long it was getting because I'd been wearing it back in a braid a lot.''

  "All right, then," Cookie said, stopping to face Sheila. "Tell me how you turned into this super athlete overnight? I mean, you were never exactly a clod or anything, but suddenly you're the captain of the archery club. You're down at the stables every afternoon horseback riding. You're even talking about trying out for the fencing team! I never knew you could do any of those things—and I've known you since you were four years old!"

  Sheila shrugged. "I guess I never realized how much I like being active. I'm just exploring a different side of myself. You always said I studied too much.''

  "I didn't mean for you to turn into some kind of sports fa­natic!" Cookie argued as they walked up the wide steps of the school. "And I can't believe you just lost your entire backpack, school books, everything. That's not like you. You're going to have to pay for those books, you know.”

  "People lose things, Cookie. It happens."

  "All I know is that you're different from the Sheila Mc­Carthy I used to know,"

  Sheila put her arm around Cookie's shoulders as they en­tered the school. "It's nice to have a friend who worries so much," she said with a smile. "Maybe I'm just ch
anging. Ev­erybody changes," she said. "Have I really been so horrible to be around?"

  "No, not horrible at all. Just different."

  "We're still friends, though. That hasn't changed. Has it?''

  Cookie smiled up at Sheila. "Of course not. That's one thing that will never change—not ever!"

  "Good. Just try to be patient, and don't worry," said Sheila. "Hey, look at the time," she added, glancing up at the hall clock. "I have to get to my locker before homeroom. I'd better run.”

  "Me, too," said Cookie. "See you at lunch," She headed down the hall toward her locker, then turned back to Sheila who was heading in the opposite direction. "Hey, Sheila," she called.

  "What?" Sheila answered, straining to see Cookie through all the kids rushing to class.

  "That Dr. Reit didn't give you steroids or anything weird like that, did he?" Cookie asked.

  "Cookie! Cut it out! No! See you at lunch," Sheila shouted. She turned and wove a path through the other students. She hated lying to Cookie. But even Cookie would never believe the story Sheila had to tell. She would think Sheila had lost her mind altogether.

  Sheila dialed the combination for her locker and pulled out the history notebook she needed for first period. She threw her backpack in and shut the door.

  Leaning back against her locker, she watched the steady stream of students flow by. Cookie was right—Sheila had changed. Since that day she visited Dr. Reit over a month ago, nothing had been the same.

  But how could she explain it to Cookie? She could try telling the truth. She could just come out and say: "Sit down, Cookie. I have something to tell you. You may not believe this, but here it is. On the day that I went to visit Dr. Reit, he showed me his latest experiment, the Molecular Acceler­ation Transport Device. Even he wasn't sure how it worked or what it did, exactly. But I found out when his cat, Einstein, got underfoot and sent me flying through the transporter screen.

  A small shiver ran down Sheila's spine as she recalled the terrifying sensation of hurtling through swirling blue space, not knowing where—or when—she would ever stop.

  And now, as she made her way toward homeroom, lost in her own memories, she imagined herself saying, "Okay, Cookie, if you believe that much, I'll tell you the rest. I landed in an alternate universe, a world that was sort of like ours, but very different. And I was picked up by a band of women war­riors who rode around on unicorns.

  A small smile spread across Sheila's face as she slipped into her homeroom seat. She could just picture Cookie's shocked expression when she heard the part about the uni­corns. Yet it was all true.

  The women warriors had adopted Sheila as one of their own, and soon made her a warrior-in-training. Under the guid­ance of their leader, Illyria—who was known throughout the land as the Unicorn Queen—Sheila had learned to use a sword, to fight, to ride, to hunt, and to do everything the other women did. Finally she had even gotten a unicorn to accept her as its rider—Morning Star.

  Sheila closed her eyes and tried to visualize the unicorn with her big, blue eyes and soft black mane, ''I love you, girl, wherever you are," she said to herself, somehow sure that Morning Star would get her message.

  Sheila slumped back in her seat. She remembered riding Morning Star into battle as they fought against the Emperor Dynasian, trying to free the unicorns he had captured. The cuts and bruises Cookie had noticed were from that last, tri­umphant battle in the city of Campora.

  Sheila's face softened as she remembered Darian, Illyria's brother, fighting beside her in that battle—as he had done so many times before that. She missed him terribly. It felt as though their parting kiss were still on her lips.

  Sheila knew Cookie would be more interested in hearing about Darian than anything else. "He was sixteen, very cute, and nice, even though sometimes he liked to be the boss," she would tell her friend. "I liked him a lot. A real lot."

  "Then why did you ever leave?" Cookie would ask.

  A good question—and one Sheila had asked herself a hun­dred times already. Why had she left? Because when Dr. Reit came looking for her and was finally able to take her back into her own world, she suddenly realized she belonged there. Be­sides, she had missed her parents and her friends.

  "I missed you, Cookie," she imagined herself saying. "So I came back. And guess what! Even though I'd been riding with Illyria for months, in our time I was only gone a few hours. That's why you're so convinced I changed overnight.”

  "Miss McCarthy!" Sheila looked up, startled by the sound of her homeroom teacher's voice. “Don't you think you should be getting to your first class?"

  Sheila felt herself blush. She was the only student left in the classroom "Sorry, Miss Snyder," she said, grabbing up her notebook and heading for the door. "I can't believe I didn't hear the bell!"

  "Are you all right?"

  "Fine, really," Sheila answered. "Thanks for asking." But as Sheila hurried down the hall toward history class, she I couldn't help wondering. Was she fine, realty? No, not really.

  She felt like a person who didn't quite fit into either of two worlds. At first, everything in Illyria's land had been strange to her. But now it was her own environment that felt uncomfortable. School seemed crowded and dull. It was hard to sit still for hours on end, and even harder to get worked up over the next Hillside High football game.

  How could she spend her days sitting when she had grown used to the exhilaration of hard riding with the wind in her hair? And it was impossible to care about a pep rally when, just a month ago, she had been facing life-and-death chal­lenges. Everything seemed so tame now. She longed for the next adventure and had to keep reminding herself that it wasn't coming.

  That afternoon, as Sheila walked home alone after archery club, she couldn't get Morning Star out of her mind. If the unicorn really needed her, what could she do? She felt so helpless.

  Sheila continued walking up Cardinal Street toward her house. It was a crisp October day, with just a slight chill in the air, but suddenly Sheila felt an icy coldness take hold of her. Shivering, she fell back against a tree. Her hands were shaking and she felt dizzy. All of Cardinal Street was swirling before her eyes. And then it was gone. .

  Once again Sheila was standing on that cliff, the purple sky overhead and the dry wind whipping her hair. Once again she watched, terrified, as Morning Star's lean body flew out into the void and then disappeared. "Morning Star! Come back!" she heard herself scream.

  When she opened her eyes, she was on Cardinal Street once again. Nothing had changed—but the words, "Come back! Come back!" still echoed in her head.

  2

  Transported

  Sheila lifted up the brass gargoyle-head knocker and rapped on the door. She had just turned back down Cardinal Street and, instead of going directly home, had headed for an old Victorian house at the top of Mockingbird Hill. She hadn't visited Dr. Reit in weeks, and she was suddenly seized with a strong desire to see him again.

  She had been standing out front, knocking and ringing the doorbell, for almost five minutes, but there was no answer. She finally gave up and walked around the house, through the overgrown grass and shrubbery, to the back door. "Dr. Reit, are you home?" she called, as she neared his ramshackle back porch.

  A tall man with a shock of wild gray and white hair stuck his head out the inside door from the house. His intelligent dark eyes darted back and forth. "Who's there? Who's call­ing?"

  "It's me," Sheila answered, pulling open the unlocked screen door.

  At the sight of her, the man's face brightened. "What a fine surprise. Come in, come in, by all means." He held the door open and Sheila stepped into his chaotic laboratory, crammed full of test tubes, petri dishes, stacks of yellowing papers, and all kinds of strange contraptions.

  Her eyes instantly traveled to the Molecular Acceleration Transport Device in the corner of the room, which looked like nothing more than a full-sized mirror with gray vented motors on either side. Its panel board stood just off to the right. Only t
he faint purple-white glow coming from the center of the reflective transporter window hinted at the power it would emit when fully activated.

  "How goes it?" asked Dr. Reit as he perched on a high stool, sweeping his rumpled white lab coat behind him.

  "Okay, I guess," Sheila answered, bending to pet Dr. Reit's tiger-striped cat, Einstein. "Things seem kind of boring after, you know, everything."

  "They would, yes, I can well imagine," he said sympa­thetically. "Speaking of your recent adventures, you've come at an opportune time." He hopped off his stool and rummaged through a tall metal cabinet. "I have something to show you," he said, pulling out a metal box about the size of a TV remote-control device.

  "It's my newest innovation—the Molecular Transport Tracker."

  Sheila took the box from him and studied it. The casing was khaki green, with three purple switches across the middle and a thick yellow wire curling down its length.

  ''How does it work?" Sheila asked, turning the surprisingly heavy object over in her hands before giving it back to the scientist.

  "You may remember what a difficult time I had finding you once you tumbled through the transporter window," Dr. Reit said.

  Sheila laughed. "I sure do. But somehow you always man­aged to pop up when I really needed you.”

  "Sometimes it worked out quite well, I agree," Dr. Reit said with a soft chuckle, "but it was all too unpredictable, too chancy. Theoretically, this device will tell me exactly where a person on the other side of the window is located. I can then bring him or her back without going through the window myself." Dr Reit held the box out in front of him. "Just flip the top switch, like this, and then move the bottom switch to the left . . ." No sooner had Dr. Reit demonstrated than a series of numbers came up on a small screen at the side of the transporter. "Those coordinates are telling me that I'm stand­ing right here " he explained, "but I think they might just as well pinpoint a person on the other side-"

 
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