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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Betancourt John Gregory
 

«Chaos and Amber», John Betancourt

Chaos and Amber

Chapter 1

“Oberon!”

Over a roaring wind, I heard a distant calling of my name. I had been dreaming of sailing a small boat across a churning, wind-swept sea; the dream clung to me, and I could not easily shake its tendrils away.

Where was I? My eyes were closed, but I sensed no light beyond them. Could it be nighttime, or was I in a dark room? I heard what might have been either the rush of wind or the beating of a thousand wings around me. My skin prickled all over with goosebumps, and I felt at once cold and hot, wet and dry.

When I tried to sit up and open my eyes, however, I could not. I found my lack of strength vaguely troubling. But it was so easy not to care, to let myself slide back into the dreaming—

Oberon! Wake up!

Ships. I had just begun to dream of ships for a second time when that nagging voice broke in again. The motion around me—a gentle rocking as from waves—reminded me of a ship's deck… but there came no susurrant lap from the waves, no cries of gulls nor smell of briny sea.

No, not a ship, I decided, trying to focus my attention on the problem. Also not a horse; no stamping hooves nor neighs nor smells of dung and horse-sweat. A moving carriage, perhaps? That almost made sense. My father had a magnificent carriage, like a giant pumpkin made of spun glass. I remembered my first and only ride in it; we had passed through dozens, maybe hundreds of nightmare worlds. But that didn't explain why I felt both hot and cold. It didn't explain a lot of things.

What was that roaring noise?

And why couldn't I open my eyes?

Oberon!

I tried to turn my head toward that distant voice but couldn't quite figure out where it came from. Above me? Below? I had gotten turned around; every direction felt wrong, as though I teetered on the edge of a cliff, about to fall. I shivered, and an impulse to flee came over me. I didn't like this place. I didn't like the sensations of being here. I had to get out, now, before something horrible happened.

Once more I tried to rouse myself from sleep. With that effort, colors suddenly pulsed in my head; lights sang and danced before my closed eyelids, and strange tastes and smells and textures flooded my senses. The flavors of lemon and salt and roast chicken and straw all mixed together, the smells of mud and sweat and honey—

If I dreamed, I dreamed strangely. Yet, somehow, I knew I was not dreaming… not quite, anyway. This was something else, something strange and unnatural and unpleasant.

Oberon!” that distant voice bellowed. “Get your lazy ass out of bed! The king needs you! Now!

The king. Yes, King Elnar needed me. I was one of his lieutenants. I tried to reach for my sword. It must be time to muster the men

No, that was wrong. King Elnar had died a long time ago… it now seemed a lifetime past. A sour, discordant note crept into the sounds in my head; the dancing lights pulsed, bright and dark, dark and bright. I reached for the memory, found it, shuddered at the sudden chill it brought. Yes, I remembered too well… remembered how King Elnar fell at the hands of hell-creatures in Ilerium. I had seen his severed head stuck on a pole in the mud outside of Kingstown, a warning and a trap for me when I returned there unexpectedly.

“You killed me!” I had heard his accusing voice say, impossibly coming from that severed head on the pole. “Traitor!” it called. “Traitor…!”

I'd opened my mouth to argue, but the words disappeared in a sudden roar of wind. In my mind, I pressed my eyes shut, refusing to see, but the image lingered. And I knew he had been right.

King Elnar, the entire population of Kingstown, and countless thousands of soldiers—all had died because of me. Hell-creatures had invaded Ilerium to find and kill me because my father was a Lord of Chaos, commanding powers I could barely begin to understand.

Now, with King Elnar gone, I no longer served anyone but myself. I didn't have to listen to his accusing voice. I didn't have to wake up. I didn't have to do anything I didn't choose to do.

Oberon! On your feet!

I tried to answer, to tell the voice to go to hell, but I could not make my body obey. That vaguely bothered me. Had I been drugged? Had I been sick or grievously injured? Everything I remembered—could it all have been some nightmare or wild fever-dream?


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