With the prologues out of the way, we get to the real start of the story...
They're close now.
She was astounded by the speed. Over cloudscape and through brilliant ways of the sky she had met few that were her equal and none her master; even her own father could not match her in fleetness of foot across the skies.
But these were no natural beings, not even in the sense that she, a princess of Faerie, could be considered natural. Forged from spirits of dark power and bound in chains of Faerie magic, constrained to the will of others, they were living aspects of wild storm – alive, yes, thinking, yes, but not creatures that were ever meant to be. Father had his Storm Legions, trained warriors of the heavens, and so they made their Tempests.
Despite the peril, she laughed joyously. At last I'm doing something. The waiting is over!
The clouds were valleys and hills, dark-tinted with hints of storm and rain, white with touches of sun, and she danced along them, pretending she did not see the blue-black flickers of motion in the deepest shadows, the sparking crackles of hidden lightning. They were closing in, hoping to cut her off.
As she rounded a great white-blue crested cliff-face of smoke and dreams, two Tempests flowed from within the cloud's depths, moving on tendrils of sickly green-tinged black, the hue of tornado and destruction. "Halt –"
Instead of pausing or slowing, she gave a great leap forward, springing high, the lowering rays of the evening sun catching her fair hair and making it flame like molten gold. The Tempests were caught unprepared, not expecting her to act so decisively and dangerously, and she landed fully six feet on the other side of them and danced onward, laughing. "I halt not until I reach my destination, you poor bound stormcloud-spirits, and I have no time to play tag with you today!"
Three more leapt from a slow-curling arc of white above her, slashing with crackling lightning and jagged-edged talons of night-dark mystic cloud. More serious now, but still wearing a half-pitying, half-mocking smile, Polychrome whirled aside, turned, bent like a willow; lightning missed, cursed talons caught only air, and she dealt the nearest a gentle slap that somehow unbalanced it, sent it reeling into its fellows, gave her an opening.
I have to make it to the proper point. She had to watch now, for the time was growing very near. She repeated the words of the prophecy to herself again:
Where three cloud-castles stand and face the sun
There the Rainbow Princess ends her run;
Cloud-wall ahead, dark storms behind
At last the fated place you'll find.
Down the Rainbow all is changed, there is no familiar ground;
Only when your name is spoken shall you turn yourself around
And when you see the speaker know your hero has been found.
It had been a job memorizing the prophecy; especially since the Little Bear would sometimes reword things when repeating it, saying that the future itself could shift. She also suspected that there were parts her father had never told her. She just hoped she remembered it all correctly now; the future of everything might depend on her getting all of the words exactly right.
Focus on what I'm doing now! she reminded herself as she barely evaded two more Tempests; there were a dozen behind her now, trying to close the distance, and failing – but not failing nearly so easily as she had hoped. There are many steps to victory, Father always said, but you can only take one step at a time, and anyone trying to take more will only trip over her own feet.
A crackling bolt of lightning hooked just past her ear, cutting a strand of her hair, leaving it to flutter through the cloud to the ground below. Black-tendriled octopus shapes loomed through the mist ahead; she ran up the side of the billowing clouds to her left, bounced down and literally danced her way over the Tempests' stunned heads before they could react. She laughed again, the exhilaration of risk and of hope combining in a heady brew like the finest Cloudwine.
Before her clouds blazed brilliantly, reflecting the light of the setting sun… There!
Just to her left, she could see three mighty thunderheads in a perfect row, triple towers throwing back the light of the sun that, as she altered her course, was directly behind her – perfect conditions for a Rainbow. "And there surely are dark storms behind," she muttered.
A clear space, wisps of cirrus trailing gossamer bridges; she paused in her flight, sent a shockwave of Faerie power across, the bridges shattering behind her, Tempests plunging downward; they would recover, but they had lost precious time. Not all of them, though…
Now the cloud-walls loomed up like the bulwark of the world, so she would need to crane her neck to see the top, and the Tempests were coming faster. "Father!" she called. "Father, now!"
A blaze of light appeared and grew before her, a mighty bridge of seven colors forming in midair, with a second slightly dimmer but no less spectacular arch above, a bridge that Polychrome danced onto mere inches ahead of the Tempests; but no creation of dark magic could set foot on the Rainbow, and the Tempests knew it all too well; with screeches and howls of frustration and rage like hurricanes at a window, the dark and twisted beings faded away, returning to the clouds and, Polychrome knew, eventually to their Master and Mistress in Oz.
But let's not think on that, she told herself. We're going to rescue them soon! Her feet knew the curve of the Bow as well as they knew the clouds of home, and she danced her way down the Rainbow. Things do look different… great jumbles of buildings like I've never seen… so many houses… streets… what's all those things moving on them?
There wasn't much time to study it, though, for her descent was fast, down the Rainbow nearly as fast as a stone might fall, to come to rest on a hard, black surface, a strange, exciting odor lingering in the air.
She landed in the middle of a ring of people, already staring even before she arrived. Of course. For them, the rainbow recedes ever away, can never be caught. It's been… centuries? … since the last time Father's Rainbow came to rest with one end fully in the mortal world, centuries since I set foot here. Ever since Faerie truly began to separate itself.
It was a bit of a jolt to realize how long it had been. She remembered that day well – the day her father had been told that the mortal and faerie worlds would separate for some unknown time. She herself had been younger – young enough to still have sisters that were more babies than girls, and as mortals counted time that would be a long time indeed.
The Rainbow lifted up and faded, only moments after her foot touched the black surface, and the murmur of the surrounding people increased. She looked back eagerly. Which one of these would recognize her? They all look so… strange.
It was a warm summer's eve – though it still felt a bit brisk to Polychrome when she wasn't moving – but even so, some of the women were positively indecent! Exposing the entirety of their legs and arms wasn't enough, it seemed – they even had exposed their midriffs! And the men were not dressed that much differently. Shorts like those worn by boys, loose shirts… but no, not all of them were at all the same. She saw a couple of young women who had hair of a color that would have made more sense for Faerie, not for the mortal world. Another … man? woman?… was dressed so oddly, and wearing such makeup that Polychrome couldn't even decide which he or she was. And black lipstick?
She also noticed that – however much things might have changed – there were some things that hadn't. Many of the men in the circle were looking at her in a way she always thought of as "hungry". It was sometimes annoying, sometimes useful… but one difference was the openness of the gazes. Gentlemen tried to conceal it – the Wizard, for instance, had been so subtle about it that it had taken some time before she was sure he even noticed. This was much more direct… and unsettling.
A somewhat more … normal looking man, wearing what appeared to be work pants with boots and a checkered shirt, stepped forward. "Excuse me… miss… did I just see what I think I saw?" His eyes only occasionally met her own, being busy surveying the rest of her.
She laughed. "Not being in your mind, sir, I have no idea what you think you saw, so I cannot say." The laugh chimed around the huge black expanse, which was filled with peculiar brightly colored metallic shapes – carriages of some sort, she realized, as she saw some of them moving in and out of the black expanse. A quick glance showed that the black lot, covered with regular lines of a bright yellow, was in the center of a U-shape of buildings – storefronts, she decided. Some kind of a market area.
"She came down out of the sky with the rainbow!" someone else said, and that seemed to break a dam; suddenly all of the people surrounding her were talking, a babel of voices that was filled with words she couldn't recognize, many disbelieving, some overjoyed, some hostile, and a few in tones she did not like at all: "…impossible, the rainbow can't…" "…saw it, you can't deny it, a visitation…" "…like me a piece of that…" "… hey, who you shoving?…"
The ring of faces began to contract around her, and for the first time she felt a twinge of… well, not fear exactly, but concern. The crowd had grown, they surrounded her five deep, six, more, and she wasn't sure she could clear all of them in one leap if it got much deeper. And she had no idea where to go now that she was here; none of this was familiar in the least. She thought she was somewhere on the eastern coast of the country Dorothy called America, but she wasn't even sure of that.
"…angel would have wings, wouldn't she?…" "…care what she is, she's hot…" "…people all sound crazy, and what the hell is she dressed in? Ought to call…"
Across the black lot she saw one of the carriages slow and turn in the direction of the crowd; her eyesight, closer to that of an eagle in some ways than of mere mortals, could make out the word Police on the side. I'm not sure I want to speak to their officials; do they even believe in faerie any more?
And then, from behind her, an incredulous voice said, "Polychrome?"
It was a warm, deep baritone voice; she liked it immediately, and her heart seemed to leap within her. At last!
A smile broadening on her face, she turned to see the speaker.