Polychrome – Chapter 07
He looked up from the stone he was polishing as the Tempest swirled into the room. “You bring news?”
The bound storm-spirit bowed low before Ugu, and in a thin shrieking voice reported its observations. As he listened, Ugu felt his face tightening, already thin lips thinning. And so it has begun. Once the Tempest had concluded, he nodded and waved it away. “Call the others back; I will have new orders for you soon enough.”
Carefully he placed his tools back in their places; with the strength of a Herkus who had long since assimilated the strength of the mystical zosozo which was the sole province of that hidden group of people, he lifted the three-ton statue he was working on and carried it back to its sheltered niche. Assured that all was neat and clean in his workshop, he left, locking the door with a gesture. “Lady Amanita,” he said to apparently empty air, “we have something to discuss.”
Her light and warm voice replied immediately. “But of course, my King. I will attend you in the throne room immediately.”
Ugu mounted the steps to the great black throne – with its second green throne, slightly lower. He could not quite restrain an acid smile at that. Some would take that to indicate that he was the true ruler, and he suspected that Amanita intended him to view it that was, as well. But he knew that despite his magic being pivotal to their recovery and success, her powers were at least the equal of his own, and she was in some ways far more dangerous.
As the beautiful green-haired woman, eyes sparkling and seeming warm and inviting, appeared in the throne – where a moment before had been fluttering a harmless-looking green butterfly – one aspect of that danger was reinforced. Ugu may have been a hermit in his first war against Oz, but that hadn’t been because he was unaware of certain attractions; and when the former Mrs. Yoop had chosen her new appearance and name, she had made clear that she had very intimate ways to show her gratitude at finally being freed from her prior humiliating shape. Ugu had even allowed himself, for a short time, to believe that she might actually have fallen in love with him. But he had watched people as a sour-tempered Dove for … hundreds of years? He saw her glances in moments out of the corner of his eye, heard what his own spies reported of her behavior and words. Her enthusiasm was for power, and control. Now that she had been forced from her comfortable self-contained retreat, the former desire for isolation had been replaced with a demand for mastery – one as matter-of-factly absolute as her prior assertion of dominance over her home.
So while he still occasionally enjoyed the pleasure of her company, he had to admit it also held the additional thrill of danger – because he was unsure, every time, whether she had some additional plans for his vulnerability. Which was why, in moments he could be assured of privacy, he made his own preparations. She had gathered an array of forces of her own, he knew – and while he had his own advantages, a Yookoohoo with the incredibly honed control that Amanita Verdant (nee Yoop) wielded was a hideously dangerous opponent.
Which was, of course, why the first thing he had done upon acquiring access to his magical tools was to manufacture a charm that prevented any except himself from performing any transformation on him.
“My Lord.” Amanita bowed her head prettily. “What news is this that has you looking so serious?”
“It is time you recalled your spies, My Lady Amanita,” he said, gazing down at the map of Oz and the surrounding countries. “We need all that they have gathered, and we need it now.”
Her green eyebrows quirked upwards. “Oh my. That sounds so… grim, Ugu dear. What has happened?”
“The Lord of Rainbows sent out his daughter but a day or so past.”
“And? The dear girl travels far and wide, and has avoided our little realm.” She knew, obviously, that only one of Iris Mirabilis’ daughters would be referred to simply as “his daughter”.
“And she traveled to the mortal world, directly to the mortal world, and left the Rainbow there.”
All playfulness vanished and she shot to her feet, eyes narrow and cold. “Oh, she did, did she? And has she returned?”
“She has, my Queen. And bringing with her another – a mortal, I would presume.” Ugu was pleased he had managed to surprise her. Often he would call her in with news, only to find that one of her own myriad of spies (in equally many forms) had already given it to her. “Given the reports that Polychrome had indeed rescued that accursed Pink Bear, and the rumors your spies had garnered of a Prophecy, I think we now need the full story. Immediately.”
She nodded sharply. “It will be a loss; it took much to insert a spy undetected into the palace, which is why I have never contacted him until now. But by now he must have at least some of the Prophecy, and with luck all of it. I will recall him and the others.” She gave vent to a curse of such ancient power that one of the green plants she had set in the window nearby spontaneously blackened. “The fools! Did they think we would not know? They think to move against us, now, after we have had all this time to prepare – your marvelous armies, my own Faerie Bindings for power, and all Oz now resigned to our control? Better they had tried earlier – the result would have been the same, but at least they would have made a credible try of it.”
Ugu shook his head. “Do not make the mistake of believing that the Lord of Seven Hues is a fool, Amanita. Even I may be a fool in my own way, but not all others are so stupid as you would make them. If he has chosen to wait, and to act only now, then I assure you he has waited for excellent reasons and has a plan.”
At his quiet rebuke, she glanced at him with momentary fury in the poison-green eyes. But the fury vanished back under the cloak of her control, and she nodded unwillingly. “I… I suppose you are right.”
“I am right, Amanita. We both made the same mistakes before. It would be very well for us both to remember that. We need each other’s power, and we need each other to keep us both from making those mistakes again.”
She stared at him unreadably for a moment, and then suddenly stepped up and kissed his cheek. “You are right, as you say. I should remember that.” For a moment, he thought she actually meant it. She certainly could not forget centuries as a Green Monkey. “Now I will go to the Great Binding and send out the call through the Spirits.”
“Indeed. Go then, and tell me as soon as they return.”
He watched her go, and shuddered as the door closed behind her. The Great Binding was the thing that most frightened him about Amanita Verdant; her greatest triumph, source of her power… and an abomination that even he found distasteful. When they had laid their plans, they knew they needed more power, to arrange certain events to occur in sequence very swiftly after they made their first detectable moves. Amanita had sought out certain other enemies of Oz, including the most powerful dark faeries of all, the Phanfasms. Deprived of much of their memories in the climactic end of their attempt to invade Oz (and not so simply as the mortal books had depicted it), the Phanfasms had no real knowledge of who they had been, though they were no less powerful than before. They were mischievous, sometimes cruel children in their minds, and Amanita’s beauty and words had captivated them. She had whispered pieces of the truth to them, awakened vague memories and rage, and they had sworn to assist her at the proper moment. She had even promised that this time they need not even march to battle.
And – as she always did – she had kept her promise. As Ugu cast the spell which was intended to bring down the Curse of Stone on their enemies, they had known great and powerful defenses would resist such a direct strike. Amanita called the Phanfasms in to “assist in the ritual”, lending their power to the enchantment.
But the pentacle and runic circles she had inscribed had been a trap, something even Ugu had not fully recognized. With the First and Foremost, leader of the Phanfasms, in the center, and all the mass of his people gathered within, focused on a task of malice and destruction… she had enacted a terrifying transformation, a combination of ritual magic and Yookoohoo power that bound the very essences of the dark faeries into a swirling vortex of power, filled with hate and rage and dismay, that she could draw upon. So far, she had used scarcely any of that mass of power which, as far as Ugu was concerned, was the closest thing in faerie to the power of Hell.
He closed his eyes, then shrugged. As long as there was an external enemy, he needed her – and she would be focused outside, not inside.
And it was not as though he, Ugu the Unbowed, did not have his own reserves. When he no longer needed Amanita, there were ways to remove her. Perhaps even taking that tempting abomination for himself.
He smiled, and turned back towards the hall to his workshop.
She tried to turn away, but the light surrounded her. Not the bright and piercing warmth of the sun, the green-white of deep forest illuminance, the rosy color of castle lamps or pale white of the moon. It was the sick blazing actinic hue of daylight to one suffering a headache, the color of burning steel. There was nowhere to turn, no escape from the roiling unrelieved soundless conflagration of stabbing brilliance.
She tried to cry out, but she had no voice, she had no mouth, she had no self. There was only the terrible light and behind it the sense of loss, of failure. The pain of the people who counted on her, who looked to her in times of trouble, who needed her. Something monstrous had happened, but she was barely able to be aware of that fact, scarcely capable of realizing with molasses-slow thought that she, too, was caught in a trap, a web of deceit and diabolical purpose whose nature was all too clear, now that she could do nothing whatsoever.
And the light continued, searing into her. It was the light of prison, the light of torment, the light…
…the light of enslavement. Even as she thought it, she could feel it now, her own connection with the world being reversed, flowing from her, through her, at the will of another. She could not fight it; the binding was complete. Only something so utterly opposed to her enslavers that it lay completely beyond their knowledge or understanding could possible break that binding… and it would then, of course, be something that could have no knowledge of how to do such a thing.
And the light burned on and on, wearing her away, ever thinner, yet never quite able to vanish, never able to die or be destroyed. She would have wept, had she tears or eyes to cry them. Despair was foreign to her kind, but she recognized that in the end even she would fall to it, with no help or hope remaining for her people, her land, and herself. Already she could feel it, an aching emptiness that, once fully opened, could never be filled again.
And then there was a single point of dark. So faint, so distant, but it was there, a negation of fever-brightness and hateful brilliance.
And without lips or face, still she smiled, because the name of the color of dark was hope.