Polychrome – Chapter 15

Chapter 15.

“… and these notes were written by the Wizard himself, not all that long before Oz fell.” She placed the thick sheaf of parchment on top of the least-wobbly stack next to Erik.

The mortal could-be-Hero nodded absently, absorbed in sketching some sort of diagram or chart which, she could see, had already been re-sketched, modified, parts scribbled out and redrawn, with dozens of little notations that she couldn’t really make out; his handwriting wasn’t very readable to begin with, and he seemed to have a habit of using abbreviations or annotations which referred to things only he understood. “Are… are you making progress?” she asked hesitantly.

He glanced up and looked contrite. “I’m sorry, really, Poly, I didn’t mean to seem like I wasn’t paying attention.”

It was strange how… formal, cautious, apologetic he became around her. She’d watched him around other people and he didn’t act at all like that around them – even her father. He wasn’t rude normally, at least not intentionally, but he seemed almost impervious to the intimidation most mortals or Faerie would feel in the presence of the Rainbow Lord, and spoke to them apparently as he would to any reasonably respected adult. She couldn’t understand why he was so oddly gentle and attentive.

But it did make these rather dull study sessions much more tolerable, so she smiled. “No apology needed, if you’re getting anywhere.”

He stretched, giving a prodigious yawn, and then smiled back, the smile that sometimes made him look years younger. “Oh, I’m getting somewhere. It’s amazing what you can dig up when you know what you’re looking for.”

She couldn’t keep her eyebrows from rising. “How could you possibly know what you’re looking for, when none of us do, and you’re not even a trained wizard?”

One of his eyebrows arched up and he raised a finger. “Because I know what I will need to be able to do, the prophecy indicates it’s possible for me to do it, and this narrows down the approaches I can reasonably use to achieve it. More, because I was selected by the prophecy rather than someone else, I have to assume that this, too, was no coincidence, but rather that it’s what I am, personally, which will give me a chance to win this battle,” he said in a very professorial tone.

She shook her head. “Does that actually make sense, or are you just talking? Sometimes you are very hard to read, Erik.”

“Oh, it makes perfect sense.” He stood and pulled out a chair for her. “I’ll take it apart for you. First, I know that I’m going to have to match – at least – both Ugu the Unbowed and Amanita Verdant up-close and in person, at the center of their power and with them probably by that point fully aware I’m a True Mortal. They’ve got all the power of Oz – minus whatever Ozma can give me, I suppose – to throw at me, plus servants or weapons wielding all the power they’ve managed to make use of in these three centuries. That means I have to face the full power of the Five Elements, and even if they can’t DIRECTLY affect me much, there’s plenty of indirect effects any of these things could manage which would totally trash me. One of those Infernos setting the surroundings on fire, for instance.

“So I’ll need to be able to equal, or better yet overpower, any manifestation of the Five Elements, and do it myself, with no time for formal training. The prophecy, by its existence, tells me I can win: “…but in those final moments he may win the day”, remember.” He looked momentarily grave as he always did when he heard that line, and she felt a small pang at the realization of what he must be going through. I brought him here to offer himself up for our sake. What must he think of me for that? Bringing a man to Faerie so he can die to protect us.

She shook off the mood; he was continuing, and she wanted very much to understand. “So, then, how can I possibly fight two masters of such wizardry without knowing any myself, AND without destroying everything that I’m trying to protect? Ozma’s power has to be directed and controlled by me. Maybe she can give me some pointers, but I have to assume it’s really me doing the work.” He glanced down at the annotated diagram and smiled sharply. “So that means that I must be able to properly direct and control the powers pretty much by having a clear idea of what I want to accomplish, and the basic method of doing so using the Five Elements. In short, if I understand enough about how the powers work, then it’s up to me to be able to visualize what I want them to do accurately and clearly and with enough … force, I guess, passion, will, to drive them. I’m the conduit for the force, or perhaps a lens to focus it.”

She looked at the diagram. “And you think you’re learning what you need?”

“I think I already knew a lot of what I needed. Oh, not the details, but I spent an awful lot of time – significant parts of my life since I was fourteen, actually – imagining things that aren’t, powers that only existed as far as I knew in stories, figuring out how they worked under a dozen different sets of assumptions, visualizing these things… and here, in the notes from Glinda, the Wizard, others, are the keys.

“You mentioned before your father felt there was a connection between the Faerie and Mortal worlds; these papers prove it. Our dreams, our fantasies, our nightmares and visions, these cross through and touch the Faerie world, affect the fabric of your reality; and in turn, your actions, the changes and wars and triumphs of your world, echo back through the connection and affect our very souls. There are some terrible implications in this as well, ones we’ll have to face later. But for now, it means that I already know what I want to visualize in many cases; I just needed the information on how I could make that work.”

Now she could see that the diagram had symbols associated with particular groups of notations; a wave, a cloud, a flame, a mountain, and a star. “Oh! Water, air, fire, earth, and spirit?”

“Exactly! Each with the characteristics attributed to them by various researchers.” He scratched his head. “Problem is that there isn’t universal agreement here. In fact, there’s a lot of overlap and confusion. You guys never quite got to the Industrial Revolution really and certainly haven’t even knocked on the door of the Information Age. If I end up staying here I may have to introduce the profession of librarian. Anyway, so for Water we have of course the physical characteristics of water, plus wisdom – depth, you know – but also healing, self-knowledge, reflection, transformation in some ways. For Fire we get (besides heat, of course), speed, intelligence or cleverness, the symbolism of power; Air is truth and illusion – the clarity of a blue sky or the concealment of cloud, evasion, movement; Earth, toughness, solidity, defense, stability in all senses of the word, endurance; and Spirit is willpower, life, emotions, that which separates ordinary matter from the numinous.”

“That makes sense,” she said, appreciating his summary, “but how would you use it?”

He had the same slightly embarrassed look she remembered from earlier. “Well… rather than go into details on that, as a simple example it means that if he throws, say, an Inferno at me, I can counter with Water, a Tempest’s lightning I can ground out with Earth, and so on. These people understand magic; I am a very devious and sneaky ba –” he broke off, continued, “er, guy, and I can think of things to do with magic that only an advanced technological civilization with our peculiar quirks would come up with.”

He’s a strange combination of diffidence, arrogance, confidence and uncertainty. “I’m sorry I got you into this,” she said suddenly.

“I’m not.” He looked at her directly and she noticed his cheeks looked flushed for a moment. “Yeah… I’m not all that excited about getting killed, which looks pretty likely… but then, a lot of people have died for things that were worth a lot less. You are… I mean, you know, you as in all of you,” he stammered, speaking quickly, “you are … all of the dreams I had as a child, and aren’t dreams worth dying for sometimes?”

Polychrome wondered at why she found those words so… frightening. “Well, Erik, let’s try our best to avoid all the dying. In fact, I don’t think I like this direction of conversation.”

“Right. Too grim.” He looked somehow relieved, yet tense. “Um… look, you know, I’ve hardly had much chance to talk to you or anyone about what you people do outside of the training and all. I’ve been kept mostly a secret outside of the guards as far as I know, and so I haven’t seen much since my original arrival. So… when there isn’t some terrible emergency, what do you people do?”

She blinked. “Why, I…” She giggled. “That was a rather abrupt shift. I haven’t thought about that sort of thing in a while. I do a lot of dancing, of course, and I’ve always spent more time around the Storm Guards than Father might like. But there’s parties, and the Cloud Theatre, and sometimes magicians showing off their talents, or…”

“You go with people, I’d presume?”

“Well, yes, of course, any event’s more fun with the right people. My sisters come to some events, though they haven’t got my… well, what they call adventurous side, when they’re being polite.” His gaze seems… so intense, she thought as she continued, describing how she sometimes convinced some of the Guard to accompany her. That’s silly, though. It’s not as if we’re discussing anything of importance.

But I… rather like the fact he pays attention so well.