Polychrome – Chapter 14
I sat down at the small table; this time it was just me, Iris Mirabilis, Nimbus, and Polychrome. “So… what’s on the agenda today?” I said after a pause.
“Nimbus tells me that you have… made considerable progress.” The Lord of Rainbows’ tone showed that there were still reservations in that assessment. “While we have many concerns, it is clear now that you have the potential and the will needed, and that — for good or ill — we shall have to rely on you truly fulfilling the role of prophecy.”
I really hate hearing that line. Too much on my shoulders. Yes, I know it’s all there anyway, but whenever they say it, it just looms up that much more. “I don’t think I’m done with my training yet.”
“No, not quite,” Nimbus agreed. “But we are nearing the point at which I will be unable to teach you much more without taking vastly more time. A few more months, at the most, and you will be ready for the final test. We cannot wait for much longer.”
“No,” Polychrome said. “We evaded Tempests on the way here, so the enemy surely knows I went to the mortal world and did something. They probably even know I brought someone back with me. So they must guess we’re planning to do something…”
“… and the longer we wait, the greater the chance that they will decide to act, rather than react.” Iris Mirabilis finished. “So now we must begin the real planning of what you will do, how it will be done, and how we can best assure our victory in the end. You have heard the Prophecies of the Bear many times. Have they enlightened you at all? For I admit that often they remain opaque even to me, and I have spent many years indeed reading them.”
I grinned. “In some ways, yes, I think they have. Though in most cases it might be best for me to keep things to myself, if you understand what I mean.”
The Rainbow Lord’s immense head tilted slightly, but his lips were touched with a smile. “I believe I may, Erik Medon. For your journey, your guesses and judgments must be your own.” He turned to Nimbus. “Have you solved the riddle of his arms and armor?”
“I’m afraid not,” the Captain of Hosts said reluctantly. “We do not generally work in mortal materials, and such materials would be too heavy and clumsy without proper modification. Our own materials, alas, simply cannot survive his use.”
“Never mind,” I said. “I already have my own answer for that problem. It’s in the Prophecy.”
The three looked at me in surprise. “In truth? I remember no lines that address your equipment. Not even thinking on them now,” Iris said finally, “can I find a reasonable interpretation that would lead me to that conclusion.”
Now it was my turn to chuckle. “Well, maybe it’s not in the Prophecy literally, but it’s sorta implied. Anyway, don’t worry about it.” I ran over the lines in my mind. “I’m more worried about the bit involving fighting a battle there when I happen to know that — as you’ve mentioned more than once — the Great Barrier around Oz prevents any Faerie from entering Oz. I’ll admit I’ve managed to become a lot tougher than I would’ve thought, but I’m not an ‘army of one’, so to speak.”
Iris nodded slowly. “You are correct. This is a matter to which I have had to devote much thought.
“The Barrier cannot be broken from without. From within, however, it can be opened, and by careful examination of the magics used and what we have learned from the enemy’s actions, I have devised a solution.” From a pouch at his side he pulled a crystal — to him, the size of a large marble; to me, more like a golf ball — that flickered with the colors of his Rainbow. “Place this upon the soil of Oz and my Rainbow will bridge the gap, become a path from one side of the Deadly Desert to another.”
That was a relief. “So — if you’ll pardon me for trivializing something that’s undoubtedly anything but trivial — all I have to do is get across the desert and I can bring through my reinforcements?”
The other three laughed. “Yes, indeed, that is all. An afternoon’s work for one of your might, Erik,” Nimbus said with a half-smile. “But there is more to concern us.”
Poly nodded. “The lines that go:
Army faces army, fifty thousand strong
Both of faerie, neither yielding
The battle will be long;
Nimbus grunted. “Any way I read that, I cannot come up with enough men. Even if I assume both armies together are fifty thousand strong, which would strike me as a most unlikely reading. I have ten thousand men, fifteen perhaps if I call for more volunteers. All of these I will commit, but that leaves us many short.”
I nodded. “I know. What about the other Faerie kingdoms?”
Iris shook his head. “None of them will commit anything. They all see any attempt at attacking Oz as foredoomed, and any who attempt it will be destroyed. The only forces of warriors that might have been capable of being a significant factor in such an assault were taken by Amanita herself.”
“The Phanfasms and some of the other nastier Faerie types.”
“You speak truly. Not that they would have been inclined to aid us; though they were partially neutralized many years ago, still their nature was capricious and often cruel, and uninterested in aiding others.”
Nimbus picked up the thread. “You of course represent a new factor… but we cannot discuss that factor with them. You are our secret until you leave here, and when you do so, you must be greatly cautious about those you contact, for any of them could be a spy or ally of our enemy.”
I nodded. “I understand. I’m not planning on taking too many risks. But… I’ll have to take some. Hell, the endgame means I’m going to be risking everything, so I think you — and I, for that matter — will have to trust my judgment on a lot of these things.”
“Yes. We have little choice. But that ‘endgame’ is of grave concern. I am not even sure how to help you there. You would have to understand a great deal, especially about the basic nature of Oz and the power of Faerie, before you could even begin to wield it. And you will have no time to practice… yet there really is no way to teach it to you except in theory. In the end, you will have to have clear in your mind the way in which you will wield the Power of Faerie, and keep that clarity…” Iris frowned. “How to begin? The essence of Oz –”
“–Is the Five Elements.” I said.
The startled, gratified look Polychrome gave me made my heart stop and restart. “True enough,” the Rainbow Lord said slowly. “But can you say what that means?”
“It’s pretty clear after I thought about it a bit. Oz is divided into five areas — four quadrant countries and one central area linking all of them. Then you have the clue of the Tempests, which Polychrome once mentioned were derived from Gillikins, at least in part. So I guess this means that the Gillikin country represents Air, the Quadling country Fire, the Munchkin country Water, and naturally the Winkie country is Earth.”
“And the Emerald City?”
“Emerald, the color of growing things, and the center of Faerie? Spirit, soul, the power of life itself. So if I’m right, Ugu and Amanita have not just storm-based Tempests but other twisted elemental spirits. Am I right?”
Nimbus looked pleased. “You are exactly right. There is much more to each element than their simple natures, though.”
“Yes, I realize that. Together the five make up, well, everything, so things like, oh, intelligence have to be characteristic of some element or another. I’d guess fire, for that one in specific. Toughness is probably earth. And so on.”
“Does this…” Polychrome began.
“…Help? Hell yeah. If you can give me a list of the associated properties for each element, I can get quite a bit of practice envisioning how I might be able to use them in an actual conflict. And with luck, it might even work the way I envision it, if the power combines with me as you say.”
We all carefully avoided the issue of exactly what was going to be happening to me WHILE I tried to use all that power.
“Polychrome? Please gather all this information for Erik. What he asks for we indeed have.” For the first time, I saw actual hope on Iris’ face, and I was glad. The longer I’d been here, the more I’d started to understand what a terrible burden he lived under.
Just as long as it isn’t false hope, the nagging part of me said. But it was right. I had come a long way, I had to admit. I had figured out several parts of the prophecy, and I was starting to see a path to the end of the journey… but any part of it could come unglued with just one wrong guess.
And boy, was I having to make a lot of guesses.