Polychrome – Chapter 09
For a minute I thought he wasn’t going to answer me directly. His storm-violet eyes started to turn away; then they closed, reopened, looked back down at me.
“Erik Medon, this is one of the great uncertainties. Your precise fate… lies beyond any prophecy. The prophecy, in fact, ends at the moment you confront our true enemies. And as I have already told you, even the path to that confrontation is fraught with uncertainty. Die you may, and that well before we have reached even a chance for victory. Or you may fail in some less dramatic but no less final manner.” He held up a hand as I was about to speak. “But I know that you mean to ask about the ultimate end of this adventure, and to that I can say… you may well die then.”
He reached down beside his throne and lifted up a little pink stuffed bear with a crank protruding from its side. The crank began to turn of its own accord, and the little head turned jerkily and one paw came up. “Hail, Erik Medon!” the Pink Bear said in a high-pitched, semi-mechanical voice.
“Hail, Pink Bear.” I kept my expression grave, though I did have a momentary impulse to giggle; the poor thing looked so absurd. “My condolences on your losses.”
“My thanks.” The Pink Bear moved with clumsy dignity from the arm of the throne to the Rainbow Lord and took a seat on one massive knee, gazing down at me from button eyes that still, somehow, seemed alive. “My condolences on what you are to suffer.”
“Don’t,” I said. “I’ve already had two lifelong dreams granted.”
“Tell him of the ending,” said Iris Mirabilis firmly. “He desires to know what will be, if past all the perils set between now and the end he has travelled.”
“As the Lord desires,” the Pink Bear said quietly; he then turned to me and spoke, in childish verse appropriate to a stuffed prophet:
Now he comes to the end, few his friends, alone
Held by words and chains before the Warlock’s throne.
Sorely wounded shall he be, and then his fate be known;
If struck through the heart and silent,
unable he to call
then Ozma’s power sealed forever
and darkness shall rule all;
Bathed in his heart’s blood but still with voice
Ozma’s name he calls;
Her power lifts him up, burns his soul away
But in those final moments he may win the day.
It was silent in the throne room for several moments as I assimilated all of that. “Okay, that could have been better for me, I guess. I’m not sure what all of it means – par for the course with a prophecy, I guess. Either way it sounds like I die.” I tried to say it lightly. It was, after all, a set of verses, and I didn’t have the capacity to see it as my final doom quite yet – though it might sink in later. “What’s the bit about Ozma’s power burning away my soul? Any idea?”
The Rainbow Lord gently set the Bear back down and stood; his pacing showed that he didn’t find this discussion much more pleasant than I did. “More than an idea, Erik Medon. It is possible – if you permit it, given that you are a true mortal – for a Faerie ruler such as Ozma, or myself for that matter, to place our power, our very essence of self, within you and allow you to use it.
“But since you are, in fact, mortal, and we are beings of spirit, your soul must be the channel and director of that spirit. It takes a tremendous effort of will to do this, for it will be very painful – although, at the same time, it would be as the Bear says uplifting, transcendent. The passage of such pure spiritual power through a mortal soul wears it away swiftly.”
I nodded slowly. “Like… channeling hot water through a pipe of ice. The pipe can handle it, can even handle a LOT of it… for a little while. But eventually it’s going to go to pieces. So I die either way.”
“Not necessarily.” Iris stopped and dropped to one knee, gazing at me earnestly. “Princess Ozma’s powers are vast, and if you can defeat your opponents swiftly enough, she may be able to return to her true self and heal you.”
“But she’s … sealed away. What’s the bit about my calling her name?”
The Rainbow Lord looked even more grim. “I have spent many years in this research – perilous research, for merely delving into certain things could have warned Ugu and Amanita of what I sought – and I believe that these verses speak of a dark ritual which takes advantage of a true mortal’s nature. Performed correctly, they would be able to simultaneously break the seal on Ozma while shattering her basic connection to Oz.”
“And that would mean,” I said, guessing, “that they would have permanent access to Oz’ power – and she’d just be another sacrifice or slave for them at that point.”
“Precisely so,” he affirmed. “All such great rituals require some form of sacrifice – of a mortal or of a faerie of some considerable power. No power is attained without price, no change in the Great Order permitted without great effort. A true Mortal’s blood is of great significance, as you might guess, as significant in its own way as that of a Faerie such as Ozma. But all such rituals are also very delicate things.”
“And so if I, the object of the sacrifice, call out to her, I’d… what? Bind her to me, in a way?”
“Give her the opportunity to escape into you, if you allowed it, and allow you to use her power against her enemies in ways she simply cannot, while still being defended in great part by the nature of your mortality.”
Now that made sense, in this weird mystical way. I’d be sort of null-magic powered armor for her spirit to wear. “And if I finished it quickly enough, there might be enough of her left to be able to fix the damage done to me?”
“That is my belief, yes.” His gaze was steady when he said that, so I thought he meant it; he wasn’t just trying to give me a forlorn hope.
“But if I push it too much, I’d burn myself out – destroy my soul.” A paraphrase of Disney’s Aladdin zipped through my mind: “Phenomenal cosmic power… itty-bitty circuit breaker.”
Iris Mirabilis looked at me sympathetically. “And along the way you will have to gain some idea of how you actually might wield this power. As you cannot wield magic in any other way, nor – in fact – allow yourself to be the subject of much significant magic without imperiling your protection – you will have to use her power with instinct and whatever insight you will have gained in your travels, for no one shall be able to train you.”
Of course. I’ll have to travel through numberless perils just to get to the point where someone stabs me through the heart, and then if I can manage to choke out the right word, use a Faerie Princess’ power – that I don’t know how to wield – to defeat two centuries-old, trained, super-powerful mages and all their minions, and do it really fast, but without burning myself up to a cinder. Piece of cake, really.
But I remembered Polychrome, and realized it didn’t matter. I was, like they said in Babylon 5, their “last, best hope”. I looked up. “Okay, Milord. But we’re getting a long way ahead of ourselves. What’s our actual next step? What can you tell me of the prophecies that come BEFORE that?”
“You accept all these risks?”
I chuckled, even though part of me did feel a cold touch of fear. “How the hell could I even explain it to you, Rainbow Lord? Maybe, being immortal, it’s really hard for you to understand what it’s like to know, every day, every week, every year, is bringing you closer and closer to the day you won’t open up your eyes ever again. I don’t believe… well, I DIDN’T believe… in any gods or afterlife, though I might have to reconsider that now. But the cold fact is that most of us live out our lives of a few decades – seventy, eighty, maybe a hundred or so years tops – and see almost none of our dreams come true. We make do. We settle for the best we can get. We dream and fantasize, and then go back to reality.
“So now Polychrome appears to me out of a rainbow, tells me I may be the key to rescuing Oz, takes me dancing through the clouds, and brings me here, to the Fortress of the Rainbow. And you say that I MIGHT die when it comes to the end, to a final throw down with villains as black as any I’ve ever read about?” I couldn’t help but laugh again. “I will die living a dream that most of us won’t ever even conceive. So yes, I accept them, happily and cheerfully and with a right will, sir!”
He stood and echoed my laugh with his own. “Well said, mortal. Well said. Very well, then, know that all the prophecy says for these moments is that the hero must be prepared to face the perils of his journey. How that preparation should proceed has been left to me.” His smile now had a hard edge to it. “Unused I think you are to effort, a stranger to real discipline, and you will face many adversaries before the end. Time for you to be properly trained, I think.”
It didn’t take a genius to guess what he meant by that.” Oh, great. Boot camp.”
“Your idiom is a bit obscure, but I believe you have grasped precisely my meaning. It is not seemly for the prophesied Hero to rely on my daughter for protection in his journey, and in fact she will not always be able to accompany you.” He clapped his hands together, and the far doors opened instantly.
In strode a tall figure, perhaps seven feet high, armored in gray-blue steel like a metal lizard’s scale’s. The warrior’s frame was truly heroic, proportionately even more massive than the Rainbow Lord’s, and over his shoulder the hilt of a mighty two-handed blade. “My Lord?”
Iris Mirabilis looked slightly surprised, as though he had expected someone else. “Precisely who I was going to send for. Nimbus Thunderstroke, Captain of my Storm Legions, Erik Medon, mortal of the Prophecy. It is my wish that you make of him a warrior at least capable of defending himself in emergency.”
Nimbus’ face was hard and scarred, clearly a veteran of many battles. He looked me up and down, then grabbed one of my hands, looked at it, shook his head. “A tall order, My Lord.”
Mirabilis laughed. “But not beyond your capacity, I think. He is a true Mortal, so remember this in your training.”
“As my Lord wishes.” He turned and bowed to the Rainbow Lord; I did the same. “Follow me, Erik Medon.”
I did, suspecting that the Rainbow Lord was grinning behind my back as we left.