Authors: Martin Ash
Enchantment’s Reach Volume
3: Orbelon’s World
© Martin Ash 2013
© Outside publishing 2013
Cover design & artwork: Alexia Dima, Michail Antonellos
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, other than brief quotes for reviews.
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Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.’
‘Do you know Magic? Can you utter the name of your soul and bring yourself back to light? Can you speak your destiny, create life for yourself from yourself? From the light of your works, do you know who you are?’
The Egyptian Book of the Dead.
‘Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.’
PRELUDE . . .
Though he yelled at the top of his voice, King Leth's words did not seem to carry far. They were absorbed into the all-surrounding blu
e-shaded mist, deadened within the vast, silent emptiness of the place.
He was becoming hoarse from shouting. His anxiety constricted his throat and his cries were growing desperate, though he strove to conceal his nervousness from the two bewildered children who gripped his hands. The silence of this place chilled him to the core. Such was its nature as to seem to amplify to shocking intensity the pounding of his own heart against his ribcage, the roar of the blood raging through his veins, and the almost deafening uneven rhythm of his breathing and that of his young daughter and son.
How long had they been here? At least an hour now, probably longer. It had been late afternoon when they were cast from Leth's study into the eerie blue silence of the Orb. But this place defied any attempt to accurately gauge time, for there was nothing here. Neither sun nor stars, not even a sky. No trees, no breaks upon the perfectly level landscape, no sign of creatures living or dead. No shadows at their feet. Nothing save the veil of blue-toned mist and the blue wall, towering high, higher than Leth could comprehend, encircling them, forming ceiling and floor also and seeming, paradoxically, to be both close and far away.
The paradox did not end here. As he and the children approached the wall, no matter the distance they covered or the direction in which they walked, they came no closer. The boundary of the blue world-chamber remained eternally at the same distance from them, never nearer nor, when Leth turned to look back the way they had come, further away.
Leth walked on, keeping uppermost in his mind the hope of finding Orbelon, the Orb's mysterious tenant. Without him Leth knew of no way of leaving the Orb. He was beset by a feeling of dread at the prospect of remaining here. As time passed the unrelenting uniformity of the place became oppressive. He strained his eyes and ears, seeking something,
, that would relieve the disorientating monotony of his surroundings and reassure him that he and his children had not been cast into a void.
But nothing changed, and Orbelon did not appear. Leth was drained. The loss of Issul, the
Karai invasion, Grey Venger and finally, the coup against him, had left him at his lowest ebb even before he had inadvertently entered the Orb. He struggled to keep a grip on his sanity, and thought of the children at his side. More than ever at this time they needed him. Their understanding of what had happened was even less than his. For them he had to show fortitude, be the resourceful, protecting, loving father they knew and trusted utterly.
Orbelon, why have you forsaken me?
Was he truly facing betrayal here, as he had in Enchantment's Reach? Had Orbelon been building up to this all along? Was Orbelon in league with Leth's enemies; with Fectur, the
Karai, the demonic creature from Enchantment who led and drove them? Was he with one or more of the factions? Aligned with Grey Venger and the True Sept? Could it be possible? Had Orbelon planned this from the beginning?
Leth forced down his fear, reminding himself that it had been an accident that had cast them into the Orb. Orbelon had not known. Even if he had planned to betray Leth, he could not possibly have contrived the random circumstances that had brought them here in such a manner. It was he, Leth, who had by chance permitted his children to enter his study. Jace, his daughter, had been attracted by the precious blue casket which lay upon his desk: the magical casket that was the gateway to this mysterious blue domain: Orbelon's world. Previously it had always been sealed, except for when Orbelon summoned Leth. But Orbelon had then allowed Leth to open it and enter at will in order to confer with the god-creature within. In his distraction Leth had neglected to return it to its secret compartment in the wall. And Jace had picked up the casket and before Leth could stop her had raised the lid, performing the fateful action that opened the way into the Orb, casting them here, all three. No. No one, not even Orbelon, could have engineered that.
In the past Orbelon had repeatedly cautioned Leth against allowing anyone near the casket. No one but he should know of it. Orbelon had been passionate and unmoveable on that score, for to know of it was to covet it and its secret at any price. And Leth had kept the secret almost until the last, telling not a soul, not even Issul. Jace had come upon it by chance, nothing more. And simple, childlike curiosity had been her sole motivation in opening it. Besides, Leth reminded himself, if it had been Orbelon's intention to trap him here he could have done it at any time.
Or had Orbelon been watching and waiting all this time? Were his powers greater than Leth knew?
Had he sought to trap the children, Leth's heirs, too?
This thought shook him, but again Leth fought it back. He would not believe it. He believed in Orbelon, had come to trust him,
had accepted Orbelon's account of his genesis, his history and the history of Enchantment. He gave total credence to Orbelon's account of his defeat by his adversaries, the other Higher Ones, the so-called gods of Enchantment, and his eons-long imprisonment in the empty blue of the Orb. Leth cast it over in his mind again and again, and could not permit that it had all been fabrication designed to lure him and the children here.
But he had only Orbelon's word to go on, nonetheless. And Orbelon remained a mystery. He had informed Leth purely to the degree that he chose, and was often less than candid when faced with penetrating enquiries. There were innumerable questions that Leth had either been discouraged from pursuing or had simply failed to gain wholly satisfactory answers to.
Notably on all past occasions, Orbelon had been here when Leth had entered the Orb. It was solely by Orbelon's command that Leth was able to leave and return to his study in Orbia palace. Why had he chosen not to appear now?
Orbelon, where are you?
He cupped his hands to his mouth, drawing a deep breath, and called once more.
'Father, we want to go back now.'
It was Prince Galry, King Leth's young son, who spoke. He used the more formal mode of address and his face was solemn and pale - indications of his struggle to combat the fear he felt. Galry was aged six, a robust, energetic, proud and handsome boy. But his eyes were red with the tears he fought to withhold, his lips tightly compressed, the lower one jutting forward and trembling slightly, despite his efforts. Galry had burst into tears of terror when they had first been transported here; he had been dazzled by the flash of blue light caused by Jace's opening the casket lid, and had thought himself blinded. Jace, less affected, had simply gazed in silent awe. A year younger than her brother, Jace, who was so like her mother, Queen Issul, in both looks and temperament, had first asked to return home, and then had been keen to explore. Her tears had come a short span later, when she learned that there was nothing to be found, grew bored and discovered that her father was either unwilling or unable to return them to their home.
By that time Galry had overcome the worst of his fear. Sensing something of his father's anguish he had put an arm protectively around his little sister's slim shoulders, gently bidding her to calm and striving to distract her with nursery rhymes and word games.
Leth had been proud of them both. For some time as they walked the children had amused themselves, and provided Leth with much-needed distraction. They had sung songs together, played guessing games, chased one another. But the unrelenting tedium and alien nature of the place, combined with their father's continual calling and thinly-veiled unease, had eventually begun to play upon their nerves. They had been silent for some time. Now Galry felt it incumbent upon himself to express what they both felt.
King Leth knelt and took them in his arms. 'We will go home soon,' he promised.
?' protested Galry. 'I'm bored, Father. And I don't like it here.'
'And I'm hungry,' added Jace.
Leth gazed about him. This was something he had begun to consider early on. It was one of the reasons he had decided to walk rather than remain where they had first found themselves. But the further they went the more his spirits fell as nothing changed. Nothing at all.
Were they to starve here?
Leth strained his eyes, desperate to descry a break, a new feature in the boundless blue mist or encircling wall. Something, no matter how small, which might indicate a way out or a change or a suggestion that the queer bundled denizen of this domain had not wholly abandoned them.
Leth considered his last meeting with Orbelon. It had taken place only moments before he and the children had been transported here. He had gone to Orbelon in desperation, to reveal to him how he, Leth, King of Enchantment's Reach had been gulled and overthrown by Fectur, the scheming Lord High Invigilate and Master of Security of the little kingdom. In an audacious coup Fectur had successfully appropriated power from the King and installed himself as Regent in Leth's place. He had declared Leth to be of unsound mind, had produced "evidence" to substantiate his claim that Leth was no longer fit to rule, and had ingeniously manipulated
circumstances to provide himself with the support of a majority of the most powerful members of government and faction leaders.
Fectur's next move, quite obviously, would be to remove Leth terminally, his heirs too. As long as the King lived he was a threat to Fectur, but with Leth gone and Queen Issul lost and believed dead Fectur would have established an autarchy and secured permanent rule for himself.
Could this be his means of disposing of Leth? Had Fectur and Orbelon worked together to trap the King and his children here, where no one could possibly find them?
It was a terrible thought. Leth recoiled from it. How would Fectur and Orbelon now confront the advancing
Karai and the unidentified god-creature from Enchantment which commanded them? With Orbelon at his side could Fectur somehow halt their advance? After successfully executing his coup against the Crown Fectur had spoken gloatingly to Leth of a possible change of policy in regard to the Karai. He had not enlarged upon the topic, preferring to allow Leth the torment of not knowing. Had he conceived some further devilment with Orbelon?
Leth wildly shook his head to rid himself of these thoughts. Releasing the children he thrust himself to standing and glared at the encircling wall. Betrayal of such scope . . . he could not dwell on it.
His voice was absorbed into the hanging mist, as so many times before.
No, no, he would
believe it! Orbelon had been dismayed by the news of Fectur's deceit. Orbelon was himself endangered by the Karai advance, for the creature that led them was one of his ancient enemies and Orbelon had yet to regain anything like his former powers. Many other enemies dwelt within Enchantment, and they would all have moved instantly to destroy Orbelon had they known of his regenesis.
If Orbelon was to be believed.
Leth told himself again that Orbelon had no need of such a ploy. At any time he could have made Leth his prisoner, with the children had he simply commanded that they be brought.
But could it be that the god who aided the Karai was not unidentified after all, was not even Orbelon's enemy?
Leth mutely raged, momentarily paralyzed by the
notion, then again rid himself of it forcibly. He was surely now probing too deeply into the tunnels of madness.
Another thought came as he took his children's hands once more, this one more welcome: could it be that Orbelon had actually brought the three of them here for their protection? He was fully informed about events at Enchantment's Reach, knew that Fectur would have to kill Leth and the children.
But why no explanation? Why no sign of him?
Leth gave thought to Orbelon's words at their earlier meeting:
"Ah, Leth, a few moments later and you would not have found me."
There had been an uncustomary delay between Leth's arrival and Orbelon's appearance, and though Orbelon had given no real explanation of where he had been going he had spoken evasively of his work upon an experiment of some sort. Now his words seemed laden with an import Leth had not perceived at the time.
Orbelon had reaffirmed his own status as a prisoner here in this world, yet his manner had implied something more. In the past he had made no secret of his yearning to be free of the Orb. It was to this end that he directed the major part of his efforts. Could he have found a way of leaving it? Leth recalled an experience just a few nights ago - was it a week? Two? He was in his bedchamber, unable to sleep, and had stood at the window and gazed with troubled thoughts over the storm-ridden blackness of the city-castle and the low forest beyond, towards the distant, misted weird-lights of Enchantment. And he had thrust himself impatiently back from the window and had seen - or believed he had seen - standing in the shadowed corner of the chamber, the figure of Orbelon, vague and indistinct. He had thought it was a vision. Even now he was not sure. But the figure had moved, had briefly spoken, and had then faded.