Khamet was still falling with the wind still rushing cold against his fur. He began to enjoy the feeling of the fall with the ground rushing and his grand view of the land below. He thought of the old man sitting on his throne and wondered what he could have meant about the land helping him. Picture it, see it, and imagine it and then you can do it. Khamet thought. He was Heere, high above and staring at the land below falling fast.
The land will help me, he thought.
Mushrooms. He thought of mushrooms and remembered being large and felt mushrooms pelting him as he fell through a swarm of mushrooms. He smiled at this letting his lips pull back and the wind flapped in his mouth. He thought of cookeys that made him smaller and suddenly he fell through a wave of cookeys.
How was this possible, he thought?
He thought of the cookeys again and there they were. He swiped at one with his paw and took a bite. There was the sound of him imploding, as air smacked together and he shrunk. He took another larger bite and it happened again. Suddenly he was so small he didn’t feel like he was falling, but flying with the wind pushing him around. The impact would not even harm him now.
Is that what the old man meant?
He felt himself sway in the wind, but it was now very cold. The cold was affecting him and he thought of the mushrooms and suddenly he was among the enormous things. He reached out with his claws and latched onto one. He was falling faster now thanks to the giant mushroom. He bit down and grew to somewhat his original size and was falling fast again.
That didn’t seem to help much and he thought of the Roadscholar. The old man said he was the first thing created by the land. What could he tell him about this? The land doesn’t listen to him anymore? But then is it listening to me Khamet wondered? He thought of the Roadscholar, nothing happened. He thought harder the way he did when he stepped out of himself. He concentrated on the little enclosure in the Bandersnatch nest.
There was a flash and suddenly the wind stopped. He felt something shift with a sound like ‘WHUMPF.’ He was yanked through a tunnel and then everything was silent.
Khamet was standing in the room beneath the Bandersnatch and in the far corner sat the Roadscholar. “Hello?” he asked.
The figure started and looked up. “What?” the Roadscholar said looking towards Khamet. “You?”
“You returned. I said I would wait patiently and so I have.” His voice was raspy and vacant.
“Why are you stuck in here?”
“Oh you know all about that. We have talked haven’t we? I’ve lost count. How many times?”
“What are you?”
“I said not to come back the last time I don’t what to end up like…”
“Like the Saedi?”
“The Saedi? Hum,” he mumbled and coughed. “They are in their own prison and have nothing to do with me or…”
“But you put them there.”
“I had no choice. They are not supposed to be here. They are all figments. Phantoms, fragments, echoes from Yonderland. They should not be here so I placed them somewhere where no one could get to them and they could do no harm.”
“I saw them. I was in the Delirium, they are right below you and you won’t release them.”
“Who are you? Why do you torment me like this? I told you to go away the last time… it is too much.”
“I have only been here once and not again. When I was captured by the Bandersnatch.”
The Roadscholar seemed to comprehend something right then. He stood and took a step towards the cat. The dirt and bark crumbled off him in great hunks with every step. “I remember. You got out. You said you would come back to free me. That was an age ago. And you came back as a ghost and then again, and the others, and others, and on, and on.”
Something was wrong here. “Why are you imprisoned? Why can’t you leave? Doesn’t the land listen to you?”
“It used to, long ago and now…” He moved back and sat down again. He cracked as he moved sounded like the rustling branches of a dead tree. Suddenly something seemed to occur to him. “How did you get here? Did the Bandersnatch return,” he sounded excited. “Did it drop you?” He made to stand again, but it was an effort and he sat back down.
Khamet paused at this and turned. He moved to the opening and crawled out the hole to the top of the nest. The Bandersnatch nest was deserted. The things that had been growing were dead and the branches bristly and dry. It had not been maintained. The great bird thing had not been here in quite some time. He crawled back down then found the opening to the tree. The bark was returning and the tree was no longer smooth.
Khamet pulled himself out of the hole, “You can climb down there is bark now.”
“No, I can’t. I can barely remain here.” he said grabbing a bit of something and nibbling on it. I have nothing fresh to sustain me.” He picked up a large dried branch and squeezed. It cracked then and suddenly his hand exploded in a cloud of old bark and dirt. The branch dropped to the floor and his hand reformed.
The Roadscholar was starving to death.
“I can see the smoke on the horizon. I smell the change in the land. Things are lost thanks to the mad king and his actions and I cannot change them for the land doesn’t listen to me any longer.”
Something occurred to the Roadscholar, “How did you get here?” he asked again. “The Bandersnatch is gone and no one can get here.”
“I could have climbed.”
The Roadscholar cracked a smile of melancholy and loss and his cheeks crumbled revealing a dirt and bark skull. “Do you remember your first time here? Your first name?” He stared at the cat slyly. “The land is listening to you isn’t it? It is doing things for you? I knew it would. I was certain when you came back to me as a ghost.”
“I found the Princess of Hearts and the Jack of all Trades. I must help them.”
“Did you find the Jubjub or…?” His voice trailed off like the old mans and he went into his head.
“No I don’t know about the Jubjub.”
“The Roadscholar smiled. Go and save your lady. There are more things that you need to know. Things I can or can’t tell you. You could look for the Bicycles. Then again the Tarot may help, but I doubt it. They give themselves names and care nothing for me. Never have. The Popularopinion has no effect on them either. They are rogues. Without them the black cards cannot be defeated. And they must be defeated. The land is dying. We have never had war. I was to prevent that, but…” “he trailed off.
“Why did the land stop listening to you?”
“The Delirium, the Saedi.” He looked sad again. “I am Saedi. We were the first. Then the others. They were not supposed to be. They are figments from Yonderland from all times. They are ideas that have never become. There is no fulfillment in Yonderland. There are infinite dreams. Infinite hopes. Most remain unfulfilled. Those that get fulfilled stay and as they stay, they live and thrive.”
“But even those are imprisoned. Shouldn’t those be free? If the land allows them then they should be free.”
The Roadscholar looked sad. “I am the first and the only one to be called forth and to name.”
“You imprisoned them.”
The Roadscholar began to cry tears of stony clumps of earth that crumbled from his eyes and fell from his cheeks. He nodded, “And the land stopped listening to me. And one day the Bandersnatch snatched me and brought me here.” He waved his hand around the nest and most of it crumbled off. I cannot leave here. The land won’t allow me.”
“If the land did that to you because of the Saedi, then free them.”
“I can’t. The land doesn’t listen to me anymore, but… it does listen to you. This is the reason, yes.” He broke a crumbling smile. “You can stop the war. Set the Saedi free. You can do this.”
“Yes, open the Delirium, but first save the Princess, go.”
The Roadscholar smiled, “The same way you got here.”
Khamet concentrated on the Princess of Hearts and waited. Nothing happened. He concentrated again and waited. “I can’t.”
“I was afraid of that. You can’t shift into the Spade Kingdom. It was been blocked from me long before the conflict began. Long before the land stopped listening to me. The land began to split, so long ago even I have forgotten. I could not move freely. Like the Tarot I cannot see or shift into their land either.”
“But the Spades didn’t start the war. The King of Hearts did.”
“Red versus Black since it all began.” The Roadscholar looked down. “I drew the maps and walked the roads from sea to sea to the end and back. The Spades and Clubs are warriors. The Hearts and Diamonds are passion mongers and hoarders. Go to the Tarot. Find the Jack of all Trades. This can all come to a good end…” He chuckled and then let out a heavy laugh. Something caught in his throat. He choked and reached up as his head exploded.