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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Betancourt John Gregory
 

«The Dawn of Amber», John Betancourt

The Dawn Of Amber

Prolog

One Year Ago

I felt the world around me bend and sway like the branches of a willow in a storm. Strange colors turned, misshapen geometries that couldn’t possibly exist but somehow did, drifting like snowflakes, patterns within patterns within patterns. My vision brightened then dimmed, repeatedly, and in no perceptible rhythm.

Come…

A voice… where? I turned, the world kaleidoscoping.

Come to me…

The voice pulled me on.

Come to me, sons ofChaos…

I followed the sound across a land of ever-changing design and color to a tower made of skulls, some human and some clearly not. I stretched out my hand to touch its walls, but my fingers passed through the bones as though through fog.

Not real.

A vision? A dream?

A nightmare, more like it. The thought came from deep inside.

Come… the voice called to me.

I gave in to the sound and drifted forward, through the wall of skulls and into the heart of the tower.

Shadows flickered within. As my eyes began to adjust to the gloom, I could make out a stairway of arm and leg bones that circled the inside wall, climbing into a deeper darkness, descending into murky, pulsating redness.

I drifted down, and the redness resolved into a circle of torches and five men. Four of them wore finely wrought silvered chain mail of a design I had never seen before. They held down the limbs of the fifth man, who lay spread-eagled on a huge sacrificial altar, a single immense slab of gray marble threaded with intricate patterns of gold. His chest and stomach had been opened and his entrails spread across the altar as though some augur had been reading the future from them. When the victim shuddered suddenly, I realized the men were holding him down because he was still alive.

I reached instinctively for my sword. In any other time or place I would have rushed them, decency and honor commanding me to try to rescue this poor victim. Only he isn’t real, I told myself. This was some sort of vision, some kind of fever dream or premonition.

I forced myself closer, staring at the dying man, trying to see his face. Was it mine? Did this vision predicting fate?

No, I saw with some relief, it wasn’t me on the altar. His eyes were a muddy brown; mine are blue as the sea. His hair was lighter than mine, his skin smoother. He was little more than a boy, I thought, maybe fourteen or fifteen years old.

“Who are you?” I whispered, half to myself.

The suffering victim turned his head in my direction.

“Help me,” he mouthed. He seemed to be staring straight at me, as though he could see me.

I reached out for him, but my hand passed through his body and into the stone of the altar. Had I become some sort of ghost? A powerless creature forced to watch atrocities unfold around me, with no power to act?

I pulled my hand free. A mild tingling, like the return of blood after circulation had been cut off, shot through my fingers, but nothing else. I couldn’t help him.

The young man turned his head away. He shuddered again, but though tears rolled down his cheeks, he did not cry out. Brave and strong, I gave him that.

“Have courage,” I whispered.

He did not reply, but his body began to shake and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Again that wild, uncontrollable rage surged inside me. Why was I here? Why was I having this vision? What could it possibly mean?

I looked at the soldiers, searching their faces for an explanation, and suddenly I realized they were not human. Their slitted eyes glowed a faint red behind their helms. Nasals and cheek guards concealed most of their features, but could not hide the faintly iridescent pattern of scales around their mouths and chins. I had never seen their like before. They must have the blood of serpents in their veins, I thought, to kill one so young in such a horrible manner.

The victim on the slab gave one last convulsive shudder, then lay still. They released him.

“Lord Zon,” one of the soldiers croaked.

Something stirred in the darker shadows by the far wall. Slitted eyes, much larger than the soldiers’ and set a foot apart, opened, then blinked twice. As the creature shifted, torchlight glinted off its metallic-gray scales and the sharp talons of its four spindly limbs.


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