Khamet pictured the Jack in his mind and concentrated. It was easier this time. Again there was a ‘whumph’ and he was suddenly standing right in front of him.
“Hey what’s that!” someone called and suddenly there were spears and swords pointed at Khamet who stood staring up at the Jack of all Trades. The Jack looked hangered as well, worn and sick with worry.
“The war seems to have caused everyone distress.” Khamet said looking around at all the weapons pointed at him.
“Hold!” The Jack cried out and the commotion stopped. “I know you little cat. Don’t I? You were there when…” his familiarity turned to distress.
“I have come here to help you rescue her.” Khamet said.
The Jack stared for a moment confused. Then he settled and shook his head. “We can’t rescue the Princess. We’ve done all we can and it has come to not. This war has raged with no end in sight. We have no idea where the Princess of Hearts is being kept and if we did, have run out of means to mount an escape. The Clubs and Spades at far too strong.”
“The Princess is locked in the third level of the dungeon beneath Spade Castle, where they are turning the cards to paper.”
“How do you know this?”
“The same way I knew how to find you. We spoke a while ago.” One of Khamet’s other selves that had come to him while he was falling, had an almost hopeless conversation with the Jack.
“But that was, a dream.”
“No it was not,” Khamet said and pushed. Another projection stepped out of him. A Diamond card jumped back with a spear and prepared to come down on the projection.
“No,” the Jack called again irritated. He stood, “Everyone out! Inform the Ace of Diamonds we will be seeking another audience with the Tarot.”
Khamet was uncertain of the surroundings. It was a cave of sorts, but the entire area seemed to have been dug out of the earth. “Where is this place?”
“The Weeds. The flowers take no sides nor does the grass. The trees are split amongst themselves in the midst of their own conflict and to be honest no one trusts them enough to get into any sort of tangle. Too big and temperamental and far too spread throughout the land. So we sought and found refuge in the weeds, once the Hearts and Diamonds turned against us.”
“Why did they turn against you?”
“The King of Hearts took no responsibility and tried to blame me for what happened. He had me imprisoned. In the end was able to brake free and I ran. A few people that know the truth of what really happened joined me.”
Megette entered the room and recognized Khamet instantly. “You have returned!” She exclaimed, running up and wrapping Khamet in her card body for a hug.
Khamet began to purr. “Yes.”
“It is good to see you.” She said.
“The king tried to say she was involved as well and attempted to have her executed,” the Jack said.
Megette began to get teary eyed.
“I have been trying to enlist the help of the Tarot, but they are reluctant. They have never cared for the dealings of Heere. Our affairs ae our own and as I am a half breed they distrust me even more.”
Khamet looked at him.
“Oh. I am the product of an Ace and a Big Joker, but when you’re raised in the Weeds, there are no allegiances,” the Jack said.
“So you were raised here?” Khamet asked.
“Not here, a different bed on the other side of the land. Exiles. Over near where the Tarot reside. What happened to you when the Princess was taken? I too had half a mind that you were part of the conspiracy.” The Jack said.
Khamet did his best to explain starting with his first arrival, the Payasograss and ending in the Tulgey Wood.
The Jack interrupted, “Something is happening in the Tulgey Wood. Something different that I believe the Spades are behind. Even the caterwaul are terrified which is unusual.”
Khamet knew what he was talking about. After having encountered the caterwaul personally, anything that terrified them was both awesome and terrible. Khamet thought of the couple living near the Tulgey Wood, what was their name? They had failed to mention it hadn’t they? They certainly would have mentioned the caterwaul being killed off.
The Jack moved to the other side of the room, “I must say I am glad you have returned. If what you say is true and we can enlist the help of the Tarot, I am certain we can rescue the Princess. As far as the war is concerned, I have no clue how it will all come to an end. The Clubs and Spades are warriors and stronger than the Hearts and Diamonds, but there are much less of them so it evens out in the end.”
Khamet noticed there was a small mirror in the desk and began to move towards it. He wanted a glimpse.
“Megette make certain the Tarot are being informed of our intentions,” the Jack said.
“May I look at…?” Khamet motioned to the mirror.
“The looking glass? Certainly.”
Khamet hopped up onto the desk, his agility hadn’t seemed to lessen, even with his great size now. In the small mirror. In it he saw sand and wood and sunlight. He knew, at least to some extent, he must be off the ship. His body was either still dead or dying, that is if he had no body to go back to, what would the end result be? In a yesterday that now belonged to forever he had been disemboweled and mummified and still he came back. What did it mean, and how was his brother handling it? Was he angry? Frustrated? The last time he wanted Khamet to hurry up. Which meant what exactly? Die? At this point Khamet felt no reason to return to Yonderland. He was certain that his brother would object too this. He had died five times now and the story his brother had told him was something about nine times. What happens at nine? This too he wondered about.
Khamet stared at the silent sand in the looking glass while listening to the Jack as he spoke to someone about going to the Tarot. He didn’t get too close to the glass for fear of being drawn back again. It occurred to him that if he could see sand then it was quite possible that he was staring at the sand. Why wasn’t he being drawn back if that was the case? What did his brother see when he looked in and there was no mirror to see Khamet? Was he able to watch him? Or see what he saw? This seemed doubtful as he would be seeing Khamet in the moment and as the time between the two moved at different paces then… It was all still very confusing.
He looked closely at the sand maintaining a distance of several inches. The cold empty void of the mirror began to tug at him. In the end it seemed that the size of the glass didn’t matter much at all. Khamet watched as the sand darkened and something glinted in the distance, a rock. Another moment and it went completely black and the stars were visible. Time was shifting faster over there. His brother seemed to know more about this, than even the Roadscholar.
“Cat!” The Jack called out. “It is quite a journey to the Tarot. Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes.” Khamet said leaping off the table. He stood before the jack and pushed. Three phantoms leapt out of him stepped out and stood beside him for a moment then ran out of the cave.
“Where are they going?”
“To the Princess of Hearts. She should know we haven’t forgotten about her and we are trying to rescue her.”
The Jack waited, he had seen three go.
“I also need to find my brother. And I wanted to find out what’s been happening in the Tulgey Wood.”
“Oh yes,” Megette said. “Something even worse than the caterwaul.”
“Exactly and I know people in the vicinity so I wanted to check on them.”
The next safe weed bed was at the base of the Mystic Mountains just beyond the next field. Khamet was barely aware of where they were going. When he was in the air he had seen the grid that comprised the landscape, but in his absence his other selves had not traveled this far.
They left in a small group with the Jack of all Trades, Megette who was a Six of Hearts, a Three of Spades names Eldhan, a Nine of Diamonds called Naich and a Ten of Clubs known as Knarc. Everyone had been picked by the Jack who believed they had greater chance of success of their group contained a mix of all cards. There were some Aces that were willing to make the journey, but the Jack refused. Once away Khamet asked the Jack why he had refused the Aces as they were the best fighters.
“Aces are idealists.” the Jack said. “Though they may rebel, in the end they are traditionalists and never truly give up their suit. An ace not accepting orders from a King or a Queen of their suit is a dangerous thing.”
“What about a Jack?”
“I’m not a real Jack my friend. I am the Jack, The Jack Of All Trades, but that is because I am the product of a substantial Ace and a Big Joker. Actually I’m more Seight than anything.”
“What about the Seight, couldn’t they help us?”
“They could, but they won’t. If our war destroys us they will simply be able to come down from the mountains and take over the lands. And after the way they have been treated, I wouldn’t blame them.”
“So why these cards and not all Aces?”
“I told you about Aces. They live to serve, they are aggressive. Ideally I could never completely trust an Ace. Regardless of suit.” The Jack looked around him at that.
Over the course of the journey Khamet learned about the cards and significance of numbers and suits.
The Jack explained. “Tens stand for rebirth, completion, and beginning, the stepping forward into the light of newness. Nine’s are the mystical and highest level of change. The Diamonds are said to have a greater force of this mystic quality than any other suit. In fact there is a legend that nine Nine’s of Diamonds can stand together and cause a card to change suit, even change number.”
“Has anything like that ever happened?”
“It’s mostly just a legend. Eight’s live for the moment as simple pawns and go where the wind takes them. They are ready to sacrifice themselves to whatever must be. Many servants are nines, as well as sixes who are all about responsibility. In many kingdoms you will find sixes and nines working in tandem, building and cleaning. Sevens are teachers and philosophers.”
Khamet learned not to speak to Sevens if it could be avoided as they will twist your head, your thoughts and ideas to a different purpose.
“Sevens mean well, but they confuse people constantly offering, point and counter point, even to their own arguments. Fives are all about doing. They are constant and restless, always craving action and movement. Fours are procreators and nurturers, midwives and such. They bring up the next generation alongside Sevens. They teach the different roles cards are to play, and though this is often not much of a stretch, no card is required to follow their potential. Some cards go other directions. Sometimes they reach to become an animate or a face. It is quite a process to become a face, but after which, they are not usually accepted by any kingdom so they then become rogue.”
Khamet got the idea the Jack had done this. “But there are others I met who were animate.”
“Oh there are animates out there. Faces like me. True Faces are everywhere and they are probably the most untrusting contingent. Every female has the potential to be queen and every male to be king and most attempt it. They are usually loyal to themselves alone, no one else, and will stab each other in the back at the very drop of a hat to gain another level of status.”
The Jack looked down at the two of them. “Which is how we got into this position in the first place. My mother is an animate.”
“Your mother?” Khamet said.
“Certainly, all Jokers are animate. Big or Small the entire race are animates and not accepted by any kingdom. However there are so many, they simply formed their own community.”
The Jack continued. “Threes are the great communicators and advisors. They know a little about everything and are fascinating to speak to. Two’s are all about maintaining balance in the creative cycle of everything. They rarely remain cards. They often have a certain sense of sentience, but they do remain in the kingdom. But the rarest cards are the Zero’s,” Megette whispered. “It is rumored the Roadscholar was a Zero, but no one knows for certain. They stand for all cards and all citizens, sentient or not and have abilities no card or citizen has. I have never seen a zero and know no one who has.”