Polychrome – Chapter 25
“Chancellor, we have stormclouds ahead.”
Inkarbleu glanced up from the small dining table we were sharing. “That is… unusual, is it not?”
“Very, sir. Weather indications for this time of year are usually clear – for weeks or months at a time.” The Captain looked grim.
I rose and ran up the steps to the forward deck.
Black stormclouds loomed up in a narrow front, focused on the Pearl of Gilgad, our ship, and her escorts. I narrowed my eyes, trying to see better, as I heard the others coming up behind me. “Captain, can I borrow your spyglass?”
The tiny telescope brought the roiling clouds several times closer. Just enough for me to make out what I was afraid I’d see.
Three tiny dots moving within and about the clouds, guiding and shaping them. Three dots of a sickly black-green-yellow that I had seen once before. Tempests.
“We’re in trouble, Captain.” I handed him back the telescope, a sinking feeling in my gut. Given the situation – on a ship in mid-ocean – “sinking” was not a word I even liked using to describe my gut feelings, but it seemed all too appropriate. “That’s a Faerie storm. Tell your people to batten down the hatches and everything else. This is going to be very, very rough.”
Inkarbleu gazed up. “A storm? How odd. Why in the world would they not simply send a Torrent or three, raise a wave that would crush us like matchwood or drag us through a great whirlpool to the very bottom of the sea? This may actually afford us some small chance to survive.”
I watched as the storm moved rapidly closer, thinking. “My guess? These waters are probably the territory of the Sea Fairies, and King Ugu isn’t ready to piss them off by trying to send his own emissaries straight through their own country.” Given what I knew about Pingaree, that seemed a pretty good bet. “I dunno if that makes things much better, though. They can raise waves on the surface just fine, maybe even cause a whirlpool, certainly hit us with enough wind, rain, and lightning…”
“Lightning is not a terrible danger; we have long since forged steel and copper into our vessels to disperse much of its power,” Inkarbleu said. “Waves and wind, however, remain the boon and bane of all ships.”
The sea began to heave, waves slowly building in height, as the winds started to pick up. “Chancellor, you’d better get below. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do… but I doubt there’s anything you can, and neither I nor the Captain need to be worrying about you while we try to survive this.”
Inkarbleu had already shown he was a man of great practicality; with a simple nod, he headed back below.
I took one of the lines available and bound myself to the forward observation post; I had no intention of being stupidly swept overboard. The armor of the Rainbow Kingdom, fortunately, was ludicrously light – I suspected it was actually lighter than water by a good amount – and would probably help rather than hinder me if I ended up in the drink, but I sure wouldn’t be able to swim the rest of the way to Pingaree. We were about halfway to our destination, which made sense; if Ugu and Amanita wanted to stop us, do it at the point farthest from any possible help.
It bothered me they’d caught on this fast. I’d hoped the distraction at the border of the Nome King’s lands would actually lead them to look at Kaliko’s domains first, but it seemed that hadn’t worked too well.
Now I could make out the Tempests without the spyglass, swirling dots the color of twisters and destruction. Damn. They’re nothing but pure magic bound up in a tiny bit of matter. If I could REACH them they’d probably pop like evil little balloons, but there’s no way I can think of to manage it. Despite a couple of cheap comicbook imitations I’ve done, I can’t pull off flight, or even leaping over tall buildings. Maybe a medium-sized building, if I’m in a really high-magic area, but this ship is mostly mundane. I’m not feeling much resilience from the deck.
The Pearl of Gilgad heaved up as a twenty-five foot crest hit the hundred-fifty foot vessel, and I wavered in my balance.
The ship and its escorts, I saw, were turning into the wind, not letting the waves hit them broadside. They slid up and down smoothly, and it was clear that it would take vastly larger waves to threaten them.
I saw the Tempests spiral downward. They’ve reached the same conclusion. The rain was now sheeting down and a spark of lightning split the sky with an echoing blast, but the ships sailed on. They need to amp up the storm quite a bit, and they can’t do that way up there.
I frowned. The rain was making it harder to see. A lot harder now as it pounded down, mixed with hail, the wind screaming through the rigging, waves reaching crests of nearly fifty or sixty feet. Despite the roller-coaster rises and dips, I still felt the deck startlingly solid beneath me. They build good ships, Gilgad does.
Then I felt it. A slight roll.
“Wind’s shifted!” I heard the Captain bellow over the howl of the storm. “Seas shifting … Bring them around, ten points!”
The fleet began to turn, following the signals barely visible in the storm-gloom. But the rolling continued.
“Shifting again, Captain!” shouted one of the crewmen. “Eight… Ten more points!”
The cresting waves were clashing now, making it harder to judge the angle of attack. I tried to cover my face, get a feel for things. I noticed, oddly, that the wind and rain seemed not quite as intense near me.
Of course. The Tempests are driving this as hard as they can. Their magic drops off near me. Has to.
But then, feeling how the wind was shifting, I realized I had something a lot more important to worry about. “Captain!” I called, but by now the screaming wind was ripping away any sound. I grabbed a nearby deckpin and pulled it up, waving it back and forth to get his attention as the rolling increased.
Dammit, look at me!
The glittering of my armor moving apparently caught his eye at last; he made his way over with careful steps. “What is it, Lord Medon?” he shouted.
“Whirlwind, Captain! They’re making a tornado!”
He cursed. “Of course! That’s why the wind keeps shifting! But not a tornado, boy, they’d have to do that personal-like!
“They’re making a whirlpool, turning the winds, turning the sea!”
Now I could see it, shadowy movement around us, cresting waves higher in a sinister circle, flattening inward, turning, turning…
“Oh, crap. Now what?”
To my surprise, the Captain grinned, a savage smile that would have looked at home on Nimbus. “Now what? Now we sail right out of their trap, Lord Medon! Use the speed of the currents and the winds to whip us up and over! Thanks to you, we’ve seen it in time!”
He raised his arm and signaled his crew, who sent up lights and flags. The ships turned. Then turned again, sails belling out in the storm, and I felt the Pearl of Gilgad lunge forward as it caught the power of the storm. It slid down the forming curve of flowing might that was the developing maelstrom, gathering speed, accelerating at a tremendous rate, turning again with the whirling wind. The masts creaked, inaudible but something I could feel through the deck, bending with the centripetal force, like a car careening around a too-tight curve. Before us loomed a clashing barrier of black-green waves, nearly invisible against the green-black sky.
The Pearl hit the waves with a shock that stretched my mooring lines almost to the breaking point, forced me to catch the Captain as he fell. The ship was momentarily in freefall, literally having jumped the crest, and then it came down with a mighty splash, running before the wind.
“Ha!” the Captain said, still grinning “Let them try that trick again, we’ll head right back out! See, see, my lord! All of the fleet, still with us!”
I looked up.
Three miniature stormclouds were descending, trailing more storm behind them. “I think they realize that wasn’t working.”
The Captain followed my gaze. “Blast. Now you’ll have your waterspout, Lord Erik, and I’m not sure we have anything for that.”
The wind was now whirling tighter, the storm contracting, more and more intensely upon the Pearl of Gilgad. It was clear that this was their target.
The sails guttered, flapped, and the ship stalled. I saw the banners hang limp, then lift… starting to point up. Spray whipped around the ship, rising higher, more intensely.
A funnel cloud was forming above, following the descending Tempests, narrowing, dropping towards us as the spray rose to meet it.
Rose to meet it…
The Captain gaped as I suddenly released the ropes holding me. “What are –”
“Tie yourself down, Captain!” I said. “And if this doesn’t work… well, you may still get out of this alive.”
I threw myself into the rigging and began climbing as fast as I could, trying to ignore the swaying of the ship and the increasingly distant deck. Got to get as high as I can…
The Tempests were getting closer, much closer now. I could make out their spinning, roiling forms, living clouds the color of bruises and agony, glints of lightning-blue for eyes, and the howl of the growing twister was growing, the entire ship starting to turn despite the efforts of the men at the rudder. The whirling funnel was dropping with terrifying speed. A few more seconds… Got to get higher…
With a final lunge I popped out into the crow’s nest, weaving dangerously, catching the mast with one hand as I yanked my sword out. Wait… wait… judge it…
Just as the funnel cloud was about to drop upon me, I saw a deckpin go flying up. NOW!
I judged the jump through sheer gut instinct, seeing the Tempests almost to my level, spinning in a perfect triple circle around the tornado. I hit the updraft and was carried up, moving outward with the whirling winds, sword extended.
There! For a moment I thought I’d misjudged it too badly, even angling my body, turning –
–but it saw me. I don’t know if it recognized me, and thought it could finish the job on its own, or just thought it had found a new and temporary plaything. For whatever reason, the Tempest slowed, turned, and our courses were bent together. Too late it saw the sword, too late it realized there was no terror, only a grim smile, coming through the wind and mist to greet it.
“I’ve got you, my pretty – and your little fog, too!”
The sword cut through the Tempest like a hurricane through a wheatfield, causing the twisted elemental to burst into disintegrating fragments of vapor, and I continued on, sword and my mortal body ripping through the side of the mystically-controlled tornado. The whirlwind seemed to stagger and waver, coming apart at my passage, and the second Tempest was suddenly in front of me, trying to somehow regain control of the storm, realizing a fraction of a second later that it had made just the wrong move as I reached out and plunged my hand into its icy center, causing it to explode into nothingness.
The mighty upwelling winds broke apart as the last Tempest retreated, understanding that there was no longer any chance of this plan working.
I looked down. “Oh boy. Now I know how the Coyote feels.”
Five hundred feet below, the wind-tossed sea began a lunge up at me.
I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and tried to align my body into a spike. Armored feet will hit first. Rest of the armor will brace me to some extent. Might survive if I hit just right – a wave just dropping away below me. Keep the eustachian tubes open, you’ll be going way, way down… open your damn eyes a crack, you have to know when you’re going to hit so you can hold your breath –
The ocean was rushing closer, reminding me of my prior fall from a great height. This time I was in better shape, I was armored, I was falling into water, not onto land… but there was no faerie princess to rescue me, either. Almost there… Hold —
A drifting pattern of darkness… a spark of tormented light, far away, calling in green… I reached out…
I opened my eyes, becoming aware of aches in almost every part of my body. The Chancellor was looking down at me.
“…Wow,” I managed. “I’m… alive.”
“Just barely, it would seem, but you should make a full recovery by the time we reach Pingaree.” Relief was written clearly on Inkarbleu’s face. “Your armor and luck appear to have saved you.” He raised his voice. “Tell the Captain he has awakened and appears to be himself.”
“How… how long was I out?”
Inkarbleu smiled faintly. “Hard to say precisely, sir. You were floating unconscious when we found you.” So I’d been right about the buoyancy of the armor… fortunately. “But it has been about two days.”
“Two days we have waited in fear that we could not thank you.” The Captain stood in the doorway. “Lord Medon, you took a fearful risk to save my ship and crew, and we cannot easily express our gratitude.”
I tried to wave that away, but my arms were not cooperating. Any movement made me wince. “Forget it, Captain.” I said, feeling the aches in my jaw as I spoke. Even my tongue hurt. “You wouldn’t have been in any danger except for me being there, so it was the least I could do. I don’t think they’ll try that again, though.”
“I would hope not. But ah, what a song this adventure will make!” The Captain bowed to me, and then strode out on deck, presumably to tell everyone the news.
I turned my eyes towards Inkarbleu. “I… think I need some water and food. Soup. Chewing would hurt. And then real sleep.”
“It is good,” Inkarbleu said as he rose, with a thin smile, “to see that some heroes can actually be sensible… once they’ve regained their senses.”