Something in the air was different than before. “Hello?” Khamet called into the darkness.
“Humph?” a low voice answered. There was a crash and crumbling as the figure shifted. “Humph, who’s there?”
“Humph, that’s not a name I gave you cat,” the shuffling came stronger. “Popularopinion doesn’t know what to call you either though I’m sure there are rumors now.” The figure came forward on unsure legs, a zombie of dead bark, tree and dirt falling to pieces as he came. “Humph, the land is listening to you is it. Abandoned for you, my own land abandoned me.”
“You brought me here.” Khamet accused.
“Figured that out did you?” The Roadscholar said.
“With my brother?”
“Can’t have one without the other, and now you have to decide what to do about it all.”
The Roadscholar stepped forward and sat, half of his face crumbled as he did so and one arm fell off with it. His feet absorbed the debris and a new arm began to regenerate. “You can’t be even. Not like we tried to be, the way it happened to us…” he turned and laughed. A great spray of dirt and dust blew out of his mouth at the first eruption, at the second one he blew out a hole in his neck.
“We came together. Me on the road and he in the forests. My brother and I, brought here by the land itself. There is a popular story in Yonderland called Adam and Eve. It is the wrong story. They added it to the real story. The one that followed it called Cain and Abel. When this land was created, we were brought here to name it. But the roads thinned as the land ran its course of ideas. Then the land went to sleep and Yonderland began spilling over. I imprisoned my brother in the Saedi along with the others.”
Khamet watched as the Roadscholar’s legs sunk into the nest and crumbled.
“There is no equal and things need changing. I listened to the land and brought you and your brother. It was the last thing it allowed me to do from here. You were only here a moment, but that was enough. Your brother stayed and was twisted by the waiting and the frustration of time. He had an idea how he could be released, but he was wrong and now he is lost.”
Khamet tried to picture his brother. He concentrated on him for several moments attempting to go to him, but nothing happened.
The Roadscholar smiled, “He isn’t like that anymore. You must open the Saedi and free them. Stop the war however you may. The land is already corrupt and it will be many somes before it gets better. Everything is a pawn. There are no kings and no queens, not really. And every pawn can rule the board, change the world and become a king or a queen.”
Khamet thought about the cabin and the man and woman, closed his eyes and pushed. Two of his other selves hadn’t yet returned and he wondered about them. He thought about the Jack…
The Roadscholar stared. “Wait a moment! You didn’t come through a looking glass yet, you crossed over.”
“You must not ever crossover again. Once you have done so nine times your brother can kill you, and with it he can take all the power for himself. He is becoming a plague, but I fear the plagues that are to come are worse still.”
Khamet thought about this for moment. Then he concentrated on the Jack and was gone in a flash.
The flames in the fire licked the air and crackled around the dark campsite. It was warm in the cold air and Khamet tried to understand what he should do now. He couldn’t find his brother and how was he to open the Delirium for the Saedi? Near the fire staring at the flames licking, Megette had moved very close to the Jack again. Something she did the previous night as well even though she couldn’t be near the fire, she seemed to brave it to be close to the Jack.
The crackling embers took him away and he wondered more on his brother. Was he really trying to kill him? He thought of the Princess held captive in this war. None of his other selves had returned yet and he wanted information. It seemed he could easily go anywhere he wished as long as he could see it in his mind, had been there before, or if he concentrated on the person and what they looked like, but if that was the case then why hadn’t he been able to go to his brother. He had yet to try to with the Princess. If he could get to her, he might be able to give her a little hope. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Something tugged at him, he felt the pull, but nothing happened.
The land is listening to him now, the Roadscholar had said. That’s where the power is coming from, but there were still things that made no sense to him, or maybe it was that he couldn’t grasp them yet.
The land is listening? He looked at the fire and held up his paw and concentrated. Right before him his paw vanished. He was shocked and stared at his arm leading right up to a nub of nothing. He thought again and brought it right back. It was amazing. However it seemed nothing he could do served any practicality. So he could vanish and reappear and shift around to other parts of Heere. If he were a thief all of that would be a beneficial skill to have, but he was not a thief. He was still learning. He could take people with him when he shifted and that would certainly facilitate the escape of the Princess of Hearts, but he could not shift to Spade Castle.
Khamet lay by the fire and tried to doze, but that didn’t seem to help. He thought of the frog faced man and woman with the games. They seemed to know a great deal about Heere and now he had to find a way to release the Saedi. The Roadscholar had almost crumbled away and there was no sign of his brother. How could he get to the Princess of Hearts?
He suddenly sat up, took a breath, concentrated on the sword and vanished
The room was large and it reminded him of the palace with Pharaoh which was not so very long ago in his mind. It was lavishly decorated with a pillows and trinkets and in the corner. There was another Crystal Box like the one his brother had shown him when he’d first come to Heere. In the opposite corner stood an enormous full length mirror and Khamet suddenly felt the urge to go over to it. It was just curiosity, but the draw was strong and it took all his concentration to avoid looking. Had he decided to go over to the mirror he would have seen two extremely large catlike eyes staring from the top of the mirror down at him. Those two eyes now watched from the mirror as he moved across the room to the bed.
The bed was enormous and comfortable. A bed fit for a king. The pillows at the headboard were reinforced with thick material and lay across the entire upper portion of the bed. In the center of the pillows lay the head of the Suicide King propped up along with his sword, resting on the pillows as he lay sleeping. It didn’t look very comfortable overall and Khamet wondered how much pressure the sword was putting on the king’s skull. It had been a few years, but the king looked too be much older than Khamet remembered. The hair falling around the sword was lighter and his skin had a pasty worn down look to it.
Khamet scanned the dark room. Apparently no one got this close to the king. If there were guards they were certainly outside and left the room empty. Khamet remembered the trees grabbing the Jack and escorting him away and realized that not seeing any guards did not matter in the least.
A strange consuming feeling came over him and Khamet turned to the mirror, but he could see nothing. He ignored it and stared at the spot right beside the king’s head. He shifted and was suddenly there. “Good evening your majesty,” he said casually.
The king stirred and released a moan of sleep. His eyes blinked.
Khamet leaned forward and brought his head around to stare almost upside down onto the face of the Suicide King.
“Oh,” the king said startled sitting right up in the bed. “Who?” He turned and looked about the room.
“Hello,” Khamet said again.
The king looked up to see the cat staring down at him from the blade of the sword sticking out of his head. “Oh, guard…”
Khamet’s paw, which was quite large now, smacked the king’s face playfully then settled over his lips. “Your majesty, please. I am trying to help and you are going to call your guards? If I wanted to harm you,” he turned his paw over and released a single long black claw that was so large it even shocked him. “I am only here to talk to you.”
The king whimpered and nodded. Khamet took his hand away in a gesture of trust and leapt from the sword to the bed.
“Who are you…?”
“No questions, majesty. I am trying to rescue your daughter, but I want to see if she is worthy of being rescued,” he paused, contemplating. “All of this is your fault.”
The king’s face was not indignant at all. The age and worry showed and his eyes sank. The ends broke and he began to cry. “Yes. I didn’t have any idea they would take her.”
“Then you blamed someone else for the tragedy and the entire kingdom has stood faithfully behind you in an effort to destroy the black kingdom.”
“I know. The Spades and the Clubs have now formed an alliance against the Hearts and Diamonds. It has become a war of colors with all of Heere being split in the balance, red versus black with no end in sight.”
“Is there any chance for a truce?”
“The Ace of Spades has declared there can be no truce as long as I am alive.”
“You have indeed killed yourself majesty and many others with you.”
The king’s face was the picture of sorrow, “Can you get my daughter back?”
Khamet felt something staring at him again and the hairs on his back rose. He turned again to see nothing in the room and tried to remain calm. “Where is she?”
“In the Spade Castle’s dungeon I believe, but in the alliance between two factions of war…” The king paused, his frustration and excitement mounting. “They all live for violence in the dark kingdom. That’s why I did it… It was because Hearts love and Diamonds shine and those savages over there don’t deserve to be Heere. That’s why I initiated the attack.” He sat higher and reached out for Khamet. “I tell you if you can get my daughter back I will rule, with a just kind hand, and the numbers of Hearts and Diamonds will…”
“Enough!” Khamet could feel the propaganda speech gaining momentum and raised his paw again with all five claws out. “I cannot end this war. But I can save the Princess of Hearts. What of the Ace of Spades?”
“Our spies tell us he has moved to the Club Castle at the moment to reevaluate their strategy… Aaaah!” The Suicide King cowered in fear.
Khamet turned to the balcony and felt a slight tug as a white streak shot across the chamber and struck him. That’s better, he thought. “Your majesty,” he said with respect and vanished before the kings eyes opened.
The Suicide King opened his eyes and looked around the room a moment. They fell on the large mirror in the corner and saw the thing with the enormous eyes which had been watching. He tried to cry out as he leapt from his bed and ran to the door. In the darkness and his own frightened panic the hilt of his sword struck something and the king was spun around. He was thrown off balance and fell striking the floor in such a way the sword added leverage to his fall and twisted him. He landed face first in his red night clothes stitched with a great heart on its back. His head had been turned all the way around and was now staring straight up and dead with an expression of shock, the way his servants would discover him at the days break.