0 – The Fool
They were happy. Lael knew this.
He sat across from them at the table in the crowded cafe. It was a pleasant summer evening, so all the good seats inside and out were taken. But that was okay. Lael kept his hands wrapped around the warm drink and wore a genuine smile on his face.
“So,” Antel began, the first to break the silence.
If those around them had been paying more attention, perhaps they would have noticed none of these five had spoken to each other for the twenty minutes they had been there.
“Yes?” Lael replied, eyes on Antel, a pleasant smile still on his face. Their defenses were strong. Lael could see this with just a quick scan. Good. Tension eased from his shoulders.
Antel’s tan cheeks darkened. “I, uh,” he rubbed the back of his head, feeling as if he had just broken a rule of some sort. He hadn’t. There were a number of unspoken, unwritten rules for their kind, but his action broke none of them.
Lael’s grin widened. “Antel, you’re fine.”
“I–” Antel’s pale brown eyes widened. “Right. Of course,” he laughed.
Rory chuckled as well. He cocked his head to the side, continuing his study of Lael. “Have you figured out what we can do yet?”
Lael bowed his head. “Yes. Have any of you figured out what I can do?” He glanced back at Antel. “Except for you. You already know.”
It was Crystal who leaned forward, her long fingers curling around the edge of the table. “Tarot,” she said at last.
Lael nodded. “Correct!” He reached into his tattered bag and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He set it down on the table–which they had wiped down before sitting. “Now,” he looked to Rory and Michelle. “Can either of you guess how old my deck is without peaking?”
The two glanced at each other and then at the bundle.
They were cousins. Lael could see tell with just a cursory glance. Not just by the air they gave, but the resemblances were there regardless of Rory’s Korean father. Both had similar chins, small noses, and nearly identical ears. They also both had thick, coiling black hair that seemed to dominate the parts of France their grandfather had come from.
It was Michelle who spoke.
“I don’t know how old it is, but you’ve had it for thirteen years.”
“Its age is impossible,” Rory muttered. “The numbers are all over the place.” He looked back at Lael, eyes narrowed. “Your sister gave it to you?”
Lael nodded. “Everything you say is correct.” He reached over and unwrapped it. Lael considered offering them a bonus question–what the fabric that housed his cards was.
“Oh!” Crystal’s hand shot up. She then clamped her hands over her mouth.
“No worries,” Lael said, smoothing out the cloth. “It was a surface thought. You’re fine.”
“The cloth,” she said after a moment. “It was your sister’s baby blanket.”
“Yes.” Lael picked up the cards. “Though, with a few repairs,” he said, tapping the deck even on a patch.
“How long are you here for?” Antel asked, changing the subject.
Lael glanced at him. “Well, the convention starts tomorrow and ends Monday.” Strange. There was something there in Antel he hadn’t noticed until now. He tucked it away, deep in the back of his mind. His defenses were deceptively simple. With a quick look, one would assume the “memory” palace was just that. This was intentional. Anyone who dared to disturb his mind would find their own greatly disturbed.
“You were able to get those days off?” Crystal asked.
Lael laughed. “I quit.”
“What?” They all stared.
Lael nodded. “The cards told me to drop the job. So I did. I’ll be okay, don’t worry. Some of the convention friends I’m meeting with are going to help me out.” He paused in shuffling. “Oh, and, y’know my boss was gonna fire me anyway. Pretty sure he thinks I’m the one who did the tip off for the OSHA violations.”
Crystal’s eyes widened. “But didn’t you?”
He shook his head. “No. It was Binh. But, of course, the boss won’t suspect some fifty year old who they think can’t speak English.” Lael snorted. “I took the fall, so he’ll be fine,” he said before they could voice their worry. “Anyway. The convention. You guys should check it out.”
“Eh,” Rory shrugged. “We see it every year. We checked it out six years ago. Was pretty disappointing.”
Lael clucked his tongue. “That was the worst year. That was the one with all the drama that spread from the staff to the attendees. Try it again this year. Just one day?”
Rory laced his fingers together. “I’ll consider it.”
That was the best he’d get. Lael accepted it. “Antel?” He looked to his link between the rest of this group. “What about you, ladies?”
Michelle shrugged. “If I can get the day off, sure.”
“I can go Saturday. My job’s after school swim lessons, so…” she shrugged.
“Excellent.” Lael set the deck down. “Who wants to give it a try?”
All four stared at the cards.
“So soon?” Antel asked, glancing up.
Lael shrugged. “You guys don’t have to if you don’t want to. Would you feel better if I tried your methods first?”
“Yes,” Rory said, answering for all of them.
“Very well.” Lael wrapped up his cards and returned them to his pack. He looked at each of them. “Michelle, I want to see how these dice work.”
She shrugged. “Alright, works for me.” Michelle reached into the bag on Crystal’s chair. She pulled out her own cloth swaddled possession. Inside it was an old, wooden box of oak. She pulled out an aged set of dice. They reeked of ancient air.
“My grandfather says these were made from the horns of an auroch,” Michelle explained to Lael. “He has no idea how old they are himself.” She scooped them up and dropped them on the plaid fabric. “His old plaid shirt,” she added.
Lael nodded, looking at the dice. Most of them were six-sided, covered in the signs of the Greek zodiac according to element, the associated planet on the opposite side. There were two twelve-sided dice, a symbol on each face for one, and the other numbered. There were also other six-sided dice with a sign and its ‘opposing’ sign opposite to it. There were also two six-sided dice with black and white faces.
Michelle held the dice out to him.
Lael accepted. There were twelve.
“Shake them. Think about something, or don’t think about anything.” She shrugged.
He emptied his mind. The dice felt heavy in his hands as he shook them.
Lael released them onto the shirt. They clacked and crashed against each other.
To him, the results were a total mess.
Michelle’s gray eyes darted about the results. She leaned forward, her hair spilling over her bare shoulders. Crystal leaned over too.
“Your friend at the convention,” Michelle finally began, “will not be able to help you.” She looked up. “But the other one, the one who’ll be picking you up, can.”
Lael grinned. “I thought so. Thank you.”
She then frowned.
Lael glanced between her and the dice. Her eyes were on the blank ones.
The air changed. It felt much heavier. Lael looked at the group in front of him. They had felt it too.
Michelle looked up at Lael. “I think I’m going to check out this convention myself.”
Rory turned to her. “What?”
He then said something to her, but what, Lael couldn’t know, nor was he going to try. Whatever it was, it made Rory frantic enough to just cover it up enough to not be understood yet be detected. Though, to be fair, none of the four knew just how powerful Lael’s powers were.
Crystal’s gaze never wavered from the dice. “What day would be best?”
“Alright. I’m calling in sick.” She scooped up the dice and let out a quick huff of air over them. “Rory, why not you do him?”
Rory gave her a steely look before focusing his attention on Lael. “Yes, why not?”
Lael glanced at Antel. There was the sound of a gentle breeze going through fresh laundry.
“He’s always this prickly,” Antel whispered.
“I know.” Lael replied. “But you felt it too–something just changed.”
“Yeah. But don’t worry. We’ll figure out what it is.”
And that’s what Lael was afraid of. He hoped to find out before they did. Something now made his whole world feel off kilter. It was a vague, almost familiar sensation, one Lael didn’t think he could have ever known. But the growing fear in the pit of his stomach made him realize he did indeed know this sensation, and it was one he had felt six years ago.
Somebody powerful, more powerful than even himself, had just entered the building.