The waiting is over.
Tomorrow there will be no dawn.
Only Midnight, absolute and eternal...
from - Prologue
What The Blind Man Saw
On the early coast of Idjit, where two a.m. looked south over the darkened straits towards the island of Gorgossium, there was a house, its façade much decorated, set high upon the cliffs. Its occupant went by the name of Mr. Kithit, and several others besides, but none of the names were truly his. He was known simply as the Card - Reader. The cards he read were not designed for games of chance. Far from it. He only ever used the Abaratian tarot deck, wherein a reader as expert as Mr. Kithit might find the past murmuring, the present in doubt, and the future barely opening its eyes. A decent living could be made from interpreting the way the cards fell.
For many years the Card - Reader had served the countless customers who came there in search of wisdom. But tonight he was done with serving the curiosity of others. He was done with it forever. Tonight it was not the future of others he was going to fond in the cards. They had summoned him to show him his own destiny.
He sat down and took one slow, calming breath. Then he proceeded to lay out a pattern of nineteen cards chosen by the will of his fingertips. Blind though he was, each image appeared in his mind's eye, along with its name and numerical place in the pack.
There was Fear. There was The Door to the Stars. There was The King of Fates and The Daughter of Curiosity. Each card was not only to be read for its own values, but also calibrated against the cards surrounding it; a piece of mythological mathematics, which most heads could not fathom.
The Man Lit by Candles; Death’s Island; The Primal Form; The Tree of Knowing…
And of course the entire arrangement had to be set against the card that his customer – in this case himself – had chosen as his Avatar. In this case, he had elected a card called The Threshold. He had put it back into the pack and then shuffled the cards twice before laying them out by instinct in the Naught Hereafter Spread, its name signifying that all things the Deck contained would be here displayed: all reparations (the past), all possibilities (now), and all risk (henceforth and ever).
His fingers moved quickly, summoned by a call from the cards. There was something here the cards wanted to show him. He quickly understood that there was news of great consequence here, so he neglected the rules of reading, one of the first being that a Reader waited until each of the number of cards required for the Spread had been laid out.
A war was coming; he saw it in the cards. The last of the plots were being laid, even now, the weapons loaded and polished, the armies assembled, all in readiness for the day when Abaratian history turned the final corner. Was this the cards’ way of telling him what part there was for him to play in this last, grim game? If so then he would attend to whatever he was being taught; trust to their wisdom as had so many who had come to him over the years, despairing of all other remedy, seeking that which the cards would show.
He was not surprised to find that there were many Fire cards around his Threshold, laid out like gifts. He was a man whose life - and flesh - had been re - wrought by that unforgiving Element. Touching the cards with his seared fingertip, it was impossible for him not to remember the merciless conflagration that had beaten him back as he tried to save his family. One of his children, the youngest, had survived, but the fire had claimed all the rest except his mother, and it had only granted her a reprieve because she had always been as pitiless and all - consuming as a great fire; a fire large enough to reduce a mansion and most of a dynasty to ashes.
In effect he’d lost everything, because his mother – crazed by what she’d witnessed, it was said – had taken the infant and disappeared into Day or Night, perhaps in her madness to hide the one survivor of her twenty - three grandchildren from the slightest hint of smoke on the wind. But the insanity plea had never been sufficient to quite calm the Card - Reader’s unease. His mother had never been a very wholesome woman. She’d liked – more than was good for an unbalanced spirit such as hers – tales of Deep Magic, of Earth - Blood Doing and worse. And it had troubled the Card - Reader more than a little that he had lost track of both his mother and son; troubled him because he’d not known what they were up to. But even more because they – the one who had borne him, and the one he had fathered - were out there somewhere, a part of the powers assembling for the labors of destruction that were signaled everywhere in the lay of the cards.
“Must I come and find you?” he said. “Is that what this is? Do you want a sentimental reunion, Mother?”
He judged by weight how many of the cards he had so far laid down. A little over half, he guessed. It was possible the half he still held carried news of his last connection with Abaratian history but he doubted it. This was not a spread of specificities. It was the Hereafter Naught, the last apocalyptic gospel of the Abaratian tarot.
He set the unplayed cards down, and went to the door of his house to bathe his scarred face in the cast of the silver starlight. The years when the children of the village of Eedo, which was at the bottom of the steep trail that zig - zagged up the cliff to his house, had lived in fear of him had long since passed. Though they would play - act terror to amuse each other, and he played the growling monster to feed the fiction, they knew he usually had a few paterzem to toss over the threshold for them to squabble over, especially when – as tonight – they brought him something they had found along the shore to give to him. Today, as he stood at the door of the house, one of his favorites, a sweet hybrid of Sea - Skipper and commonplace child, called Lupta, came squealing to find him with an entourage of children following closely behind her.
“I have flotsammi jetsammi!” she boasted. “I have many. Lookazis! Lookazis! All thrown up by Our Gracious Lady Izabella.”
“You want to see more?” said her brother, Kipthin.
“Of course,” the Card - Reader said. “Always.”
Lupta grunted out instructions to her little gang who noisily un-netted their catch onto the ground in front of the Card - Reader’s house. He listened with a practiced ear to the noise the find gave off: The objects were large. Some clattered and clanged, others rang like sour - noted bells.
“Describe them to me, will you child?”
Lupta proceeded to do so, but – as was so often the case for haggling in the weeks since the persuasive currents of the Izabella had invaded the Hereafter, flooded Chickentown in Minnesota, and returned carrying some trophies of that other dimension with them – the objects which the tide had thrown up on the rocky beach below were not easily described or pictured, having no equivalent in the Abarat. Still the Card - Reader listened intently, knowing that if he was to understand the significance of the deck half spread in the darkened room behind him then he would need to understand the nature of the mysterious Humaniticks, some of whose artifacts, their details hard to make sense of when a man had no sight, surely offered profound clues to the nature of those who might unmake the world. Little Lupta perhaps knew more than she thought she knew. And behind her guesses, she was plucking up truths...
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