Polychrome – Chapter 11
Three blows hammered against my sword, trying to deflect it from its path, and just about succeeding; instead of smashing directly into the Storm Legionnaire currently trying to take my head off, the massive blade glanced off his scaled mail. Even so, the impact was enough to send him spinning away like a pinball.
Two more figures were streaking in from both sides, and this guy had delayed me just a split-second too long. I knew that dodging was out of the question, even with the practice I’d gotten in the past couple of weeks, so I whipped my blade around in a circular, flat arc; its six-foot length combined with my arm length forced the two Faerie warriors to pull up more than nine feet short, their own swords nowhere near long enough to reach me unless they wanted to try timing their rush to be faster than my swing.
I caught the sound of a third set of footsteps, but they were still a little farther off — and something slammed me between my shoulder blades, sending a spike of pain through my spine despite my thick padded armor. Bastard’s using a polearm! I have to remember they can make up for reach in a dozen ways!
I tried to recover, but the jolt had distracted me, and the two swordsmen had closed the distance. I was forced to drop my sword and surrender, or they’d have beaten me black and blue in seconds.
“Stop!” Nimbus commanded, and the others immediately brought their weapons to guard position. The massive commander strode forward, shaking his head. “Five exchanges, FIVE, and you’re already down? And only two of my men downed in the process? You may be facing a legion on your own, and this is the best you can do, with all your formidable capabilities? Do you want to fail?”
“It’s been two goddamn weeks! What the hell do you expect?” I was standing despite the pain, which I happened to feel was something of an achievement; I wasn’t used to people beating on me yet. “You’ve been training these people for years!”
He snorted. “Yes, years, but none of them are capable of picking up my other men and throwing them aside like dolls, or breaking weapons or armor in their bare hands. You have talent, mortal. I’ve seen you measure an opponent, judge an opening. You’re not altogether terrible in your ability to learn the handling of a blade, and you’ve become a passable swordsman for so short a time, and I’d expect you to be doing much better by now. I’m not sure what it is that’s stopping you, but we’ll have to find a way to get you past it.” He shook his head dolefully. “If only Cirrus were here, perhaps he’d know where we’re going wrong.”
He’d mentioned that name before; Cirrus had been his right-hand man, second in command, tactical advisor, and — most importantly for our current issues — had been in charge of training new recruits for something like five hundred years. Cirrus had gone missing — on a patrol to watch the borders of the Rainbow Lord’s domain — around the time I’d arrived. Not surprising with the stepped-up activity of the opposition, but a serious blow to Nimbus’ ability to lead the Legion while also training a clueless mortal… not to mention the loss of his best friend, if the way he spoke about Cirrus was any clue.
I wanted to argue with Nimbus about his pretty harsh assessment of how well I was NOT doing, but I had to admit that in his position I’d probably be saying the same thing. If your recruit’s effectively superhuman, he shouldn’t NEED to be nearly as well trained as the others to start kicking their asses. Besides, I was feeling a little ache in my chest and felt more inclined to save my breath for whatever he was about. Or maybe for buying time. “Look, something’s been bothering me about this super-strength of mine. It doesn’t seem… well, consistent.”
He looked at me sharply. “How do you mean?”
“Well… If I’m as much stronger than you as I seemed that one time, and as it seems when I hit these guys, well, I didn’t even bark my knuckles on your armor. So… your swords and such shouldn’t be able to cut me, and your swings should feel something like a toddler beating on me with a padded pole — that is, not even very noticeable. But that jab I just took HURT and it felt like someone pretty beefy hitting me, too. Okay, maybe not as beefy as I’d have expected before, but it sure wasn’t a toddler. And those weights you’ve had me lifting and walking around in don’t seem to be much heavier than the ones your soldiers practice with — lighter, in a lot of cases. Plus if I was really that much stronger, Polychrome herself shouldn’t have been able to lift much more than a teacup, but she seems strong enough to lift at least as much as I’d expect a girl her size to handle — maybe more. So none of this makes sense.”
“Ha!” He grinned. “You are correct, Erik Medon. It is a more complex matter than simple increase of strength. In essence, your mortal nature reacts against the power of Faerie, or causes Faerie to react strongly against your presence — but this is driven by the focus of your soul.
“Now, when you strike against one of us, your soul is directing your blow, focusing the … anti-power, if you will, of your nature against your target, negating our strength and pushing us away from that which is the antithesis of our power. Except when you perform a powerful and conscious block of an attack, however, your nature is not so strongly directed in your defense, and thus you feel our blows much more as you would feel those of your own kind.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay… so I could break a Faerie door down or something without much trouble, but if a Faerie roof fell on me without warning, it could squash me pretty much as easily as it would you?”
“A good general statement, yes.” He straightened. “Enough talking, however. You’ve got a long way to go before you can be the hero.”
In his tone, I heard the unspoken if. Parts of the other pieces of the Prophecy that Iris Mirabilis had been slowly feeding to me passed through my mind… struck through the heart and silent… Across the sky and sea, wisdom he shall seek; That which he sought shall he refuse, and by rejecting wisdom gains he strength… burns his soul away…
It was always that last verse that kept coming back to haunt me. I picked up my sword again and began running through exercises, but I was still worrying at the dozens of lines of cryptic verse, and always returning to the endgame. Even though both the Lord of Rainbows and Nimbus Thunderstroke had agreed that it didn’t necessarily mean I would have to die — that Ozma’s power could save me — it was pretty clear that death was very much in the cards. And if using her power was going to burn my soul, that meant that there wouldn’t be any of me left to go to the afterlife I was just now suspecting might really exist.
“Enough, you idiot!” Nimbus’ voice broke through my reverie. “You’ve gone off again into your night-damned contemplations and your practice isn’t even worth the sweat of my worst recruit’s brow! Time for some real work! We’ll do the dragging weights this time, all the way around the arena, five times!”
Oh, what I wouldn’t give for the power of Montage…