The Grand Tarot Family
The Grand Tarot Family
By Dallas Aaron Marshall
The night was a particularly cold one and The Moon stood to watch. The citadel must be guarded at this most important time, for The Fool had to be protected. The Fool was in his room, deep sleep and restful as his hands nestled against his face, the same way it did as he was a young child.
The Moon stood on his balcony, watching him with a smile.
“Do not worry, I will protect you,” he whispered in an undertone as the night wind blew lazily. Then, suddenly, there was an updraft that came with a whisper that said, “I'm on my way.” The Moon turned his attention back to the vantage point of the balcony, and already he knew, “I failed as a sentry.”
The other members of the Grand Tarot Family were in their inner chamber with the exception of a few. Usually, the dinners in the lavish Dark Ruby Room were more of a jovial nature but tonight there was no comfort, a somber duty was to be discussed amongst them.
The Emperor was the first to bring together the missing members of the Grand Tarot Family as he was the strongest of them, this was one of the oldest of the families of The Tribes of Esoterica; going as far back as the various European royal families. Next to him was The Empress, calmly yet cautiously eating her meal. 'Has he poisoned it in any way?' She thought to herself.
The Hierophant was the first to break this silence while the other cards forked their growing-cold food.
“There is no need to worry, The Moon has been placed with the important task of watching him. There is no possible way that HE will be able to do anything here and The Sun will be back soon.”
The Magician, easily distracted, fiddled around with a trinket that he carried around like a security blanket. But the gravity of the situation threw his mind back into the important matters at hand.
“Things are not always as they seem, Hierophant, he may have done so in the past but that does not guarantee the future.”
The Heirophant hated to be challenged more than anything, he was the keeper of the religious traditions and always made it a habit to throw his authority around he felt it was necessary. But in this tense scenario, the last thing needed was a squabble.
The Star was the next to chime in. Drinking from her wine glass, she was certainly the most hopeful of all during this dour dinner.
“Dear brothers and sisters, everything will be fine.” She gestured grandly while talking only to have some of her wine splashes into the face of The Chariot, a displeased and glaring look in his eye. He stood up in protest.
“Watch what you do, whelp!” He wiped his face and changed his emotional tune once he saw the look on The Star's face. He stood his massive frame and placed his hands on the table; The Chariot's voice boomed and echoed through the hallowed halls of the Dark Ruby Room. “The Star is correct if HE decides to make his way back here, I and my guards will charge him into oblivion! See if he can top that!” A muscular woman, The Strength, put her hand on the forearm of The Chariot as if to console him; her pet lion yawned as she drew large scraps from the table to feed him.
The High Priestess, the record keeper of the citadel was always one step ahead. But this night, she was not so sure. “Maybe we can call some of the others back from outside of the castle; The Hermit does have some of my sacred scrolls after all, and The Tower should be back from the armory soon, he'll know what to do.” There was a silence that fell upon the hall, a great doubt hung heavy upon the room. “Maybe if we call upon The Devil...” The others at the table, all for except The Temperance let out a gasp of shock and a flurry of curses.
“Do you suggest we work with that drug-addled, weak, man? He is a disgrace!” The Empress cried out, breaking her silence.
The Hanged Man sat in his chair upside down, adding a different perspective and some clarity to the conversation. “Have you thought about anything Temperance?” He asked, looking at her with a grin as he practiced his stretches at the table—much to the chagrin of The Heirophant. Temperance toyed with her food, sheepish to add her suggestion to the family.
“Well, I have nothing to add...Because whenever I do...It is dismissed almost immediately.”
The other members at the table sat silently, awaiting her reply.
“We could try negotiation.”
In a roar of curses and gasps, the others shot down Temperance almost immediately. She sunk into her chair, knowing that such a thing was going to happen. Only The Hanged Man did not treat her in such a way. The Hanged Man did the best he could to sit upright and calm the others down. “Now now, there is no need for such a ruckus. The High Priestess has a point, I know nobody here likes to admit it, but The Devil is good in a pinch. After all, he is skilled at fighting fire with fire.”
The Emperor tapped his fingers on the table, resolving to have an answer, and quickly.
“So be it, tell The Tower to go to The Devil's chambers and retrieve him,” The Emperor commanded. All in attendance pounded their hands on the table two times—except Temperance—to signify agreement.
The Tower was a tree of a man—lanky and tall. He made his way from the armory, carrying a huge satchel of various weapons and armor. He shuddered at the notion of approaching The Devil's room, but desperate times did call for desperate measures. When he approached the room, loud and lurid music filled the air; muffled by the heavy chamber door of the room. He knocking about fifteen times as if wanting to knock down the door.
A disgruntled and nasty voice rose from the music of the room.
“What do you want?” Following after, a loud sniffing noise could be heard. The Tower rolled his eyes, and after setting down the satchel of weapons he asked if he could come in.
“Sure, I guess.”
The Tower, opening the door and stepping down a foot or two to enter, observed the surrounding of The Devil's room and was disgusted. Clothes were strewn about with no consideration to the organization. Various posters hung from the wall some half torn and in a vain attempt at repair, sloppily utilized tape to hold it together. Almost all of the posters had half-naked, and sometimes full naked, women. The Devil turned around to see who entered his room. He was bumping cocaine while masturbating to a pornographic film.
“Hey Tower, how's it hanging?” The Devil asked as a chorus of sexual moans filled the air. The Tower blushed, trying not to be transfixed by the lewd images on the screen.
“It's the others, they're worried about HIM coming here. He seems to be on his way.” The Devil, furiously stroked his member, seemingly ignoring The Tower and his proclamation.
“Oh yeah, get it, baby, she's hot!”
“Are you listening at all?”
“Huh, oh yeah, right. HIM.”
The Tower sighed. “The others are asking for you to join us so that we can make it through to the next day, he's coming for The Fool!”
This made The Devil's ears perk up. “The Fool, he's going after the little fella?”
“Yes! It seems like it will be tonight. We need all hands on deck.”
The Devil stopped the video and although the situation was dire, he was never one for being dour. He flicked some residue off of his hand and wiped it with a napkin. The Tower winced in disgust but a small part of him was disappointed when The Devil turned off the video. After he wiped, The Devil lifted a palm up to show that his hand was squeaky-clean.
“Well, I guess I can stop touching my pecker for a least a bit to help the little guy out.” The Tower made sure behind them was closed.
“Look, I don't want to make this a habit to bring you these goods but as a thank you for helping us out. Here is a little something.” The Tower craned out his giant hand, long talon-like fingers held an envelope which he gave to The Devil.
The Devil took a peek inside and immediately flashed a grin to his height-gifted brother. “Well, shit bro!” He punched him on his shoulder. “This is why you're always been my favorite, giving me the good stuff! Let's go!” With that, The Devil sauntered out of the room.
“Well, at least the damned fool has something which can get him out of this godforsaken den.” He cursed, under his breath.
“Hey, Tower, you coming?” The Devil inquired.
“In a minute, I'll meet you in the Ruby Red Room!” The Devil shrugged and made his down the spiral staircase which led to the great hall.
“There's something I want to see beforehand.” The Tower muttered to himself, picking up a magazine as his eyes glazed over the buxom beauties plastered across the cover.
The Devil entered the Ruby Red Room, wearing nothing but a pair of tight leopard-print purple jeans. The High Priestess was the first to notice him enter. “Oh, look.” The others turned their head to greet him with a litany of stares.
“Such impropriety! Can you at the very least wear a top garment?” The Hierophant wailed, waving his staff around. The Devil cackled.
“Ever heard of no shoes, no shirt, no service?” Asked The Star.
The Devil, like a petulant child, stuck his tongue out. “I'm here, aren't I? And don't I have nice abs?” He jested as he took his seat next to Temperance. “Hey Temperance, how you doing, sweetheart? Been a long time!” Temperance sheepishly replied with a “fine” and went back to forking her food.
“Where is The Tower?” Asked the Emperor, wanting to get this meeting started post-haste.
“Oh, Tower, the tall guy is back in my room, said he'll be up in a minute.” Answered The Devil, already eating food with the most flagrant disregard for table manners.
The Tower stared at the curves of the woman on display. “Never in my life.” He whispered to himself in lustful abandon as we turned the page to only be greeted with a new one, “Oh, the posterior on her!” The Tower was lost in a small word of lewd abandon that he rarely got to indulge in. Day in and day out, he was doing things for the castle. Wanting to have a moment to himself. Oh, how he relished this moment to enjoy some of the pleasures of the flesh that he was deprived of! The Tower took a peek behind him, making sure the door was locked. He unzipped his pants and with a wad of spit in his palm, he began to fondle his eager member.
The Tower was briefly interrupted by a gust of wind that ran shivers down his spine, he did not remember the window being open. He cursed under his breath and closed it, only to then go back to pleasuring himself. As his lust rose, picture after picture, a bevy of big-breasted beauties assaulting his masculine senses, he could feel his climax arriving. He closed his eyes, winced, and a jettison of genetic material coated the page of the magazine. He closed it, hoping nobody would know of his self-pleasuring. As soon as he had pulled up his pants and suspenders, he opened the door and was met with a sharp stab in the chest. The sudden pain and shock flooded his nervous system. And the only thought that came to his mind at the moment was “brings whole new meaning to the word prick, eh?”
The Fool woke up, barely able to speak but wailed as he rose from the bed. His childish mind was all in a kerfuffle as he could not find The Moon anywhere. He cried as if he was missing his mother. A reasonable response for a child, but not for someone like The Fool. He was reaching the age of eighteen and was still kept within the confines of the citadel, a victim of unwilling house arrest and not knowing what life is like outside of the walls of his gilded cage. The Fool had everything he could ever want and need: The finest of foods, extravagant clothes, the latest in technological advancements, and some servants. The Fool did not know how to express the dissatisfaction that festered within him, he could only speak in fragmented sentences. Whenever he asked about the outside world, The Emperor would tell him that he would be allowed to leave once he reached his 21st birthday. The Fool caught on that this was a lie because the Emperor would always change the goalpost of when The Fool's exodus would come.
The Fool knew this, but could not articulate what he was feeling or wanted to say to The Emperor. The Emperor would tell the overgrown child that the world outside was cruel, that there were monsters out there who wished to destroy the Grand Tarot Family. In part that was true, the Grand Tarot Family was once a source of inspiration and love for the masses but—much like many with power—began to corrupt and use their influence to better their own lives. This was their secluded citadel, to escape the lynch mob which called for their blood. The Grand Tarot Family had mass connections with corporations, heads of state, crime syndicates, the Vatican, etc. Whatever the connection that could be made, the Grand Tarot Family had their fingers in it. But much like any monster that had its conquering tentacles in various arenas, it had become too large to handle and the masses knew they were next on the chopping block. The inevitable uprising was on its way, but if it could be curtailed just long enough until The Wheel Of Fortune comes back to the citadel—there might be a chance.
The Fool would overhear something about a return of all of the family members and that they would be able to regain their status in the world. The Grand Tarot Family was weakened but not destroyed, down but not out! The man-child could not understand what any of this had to do with him, had no concern for the politics of the family. He just wanted to go outside and see what was out there, the only knowledge he had of the world was what The Hierophant had given him. Sometimes he would roam the castle, when allowed and would see The Magician, tinkering with some new magical doo-dad. When The Magician would notice his presence, he would quickly have him avert his eyes from the esoteric project at hand.
Things became worse when The Fool would approach lower levels. The Devil's room was completely off-limits and all of the denizens of the citadel made that very clear! This made The Devil all the more intriguing to the overgrown Fool. One day he got so far as to reach the door of The Devil and smelled some foul yet intoxicating scents waft towards the outside. Before he could even reach for the door, The Empress pulled him away. “That is no place for a young lord of the citadel!” Before The Fool could even raise a voice in protest with what little words he knew, she dragged him back into the care of The Heirophant. He received a scolding of the highest order that day. Day in and day out, this was the life of The Fool, restrained in prison that he was forced to call home. The Fool lay down this night and thought about that over and over. That is until he heard a scream. It seemed to be coming from the Ruby Red Room.
The Tower staggered into the room still carrying the satchel, but just barely. He dragged it behind, hunching over as droplets of scarlet dripped onto the floor.
Plop. Plop. Plop.
The other attendees at the dinner table turned from the scream brought on by The Star as she pointed in terror at The giant jack knife in The Tower's chest. The Tower, gathering all of the strength he could to bring what was needed to the rest of the family, tried to speak. But the blood began to flood his lungs as he opened his gnashing maw, only to have copper flavored streams trickle down his throat and out his mouth. He collapsed to the floor with a loud thud, all the weight of his body causing a small reverb throughout the chamber. All of the other members of the Grand Tarot Family except The Devil—who just watched in shock—gathered around their fallen brethren.
The Magician placed his fingers on the throat of The Tower and made a diagnostic. “He's dead.” A wail from The Strength followed as The Chariot took her in his arms to provide comfort. Temperance looked to the others, “We could be next, all of us! And it's all your fault! I warned you, I warned all of you!” The Emperor, ignoring the urge for anyone to point fingers in this dire time of need, removed himself from the crowd and looked around. “Where is The Moon? Where is the guardian of The Fool?” He scanned the area and then noticed in one of the drapes there was a shadow of something.
“What is that?” The Chariot noticed the silhouette as well and hastily moved over to open the drapes. There, with the gasp of the rest of the family, hung The Moon—blood dripping from his neck as twine strangled him. The Moon hung low, swinging to and fro; eyes bulging out and his entire torso a bloody mess. With the blood that remained on him was a morbid message: “You're Next!”
The Emperor let out a stark cry. “He's here! Chariot, batton down all doors, and assume the defensive position! Every member of the family is defending the citadel, he must not get a hold of The Fool!” The rest of the family retrieved whatever weapons they could as they all went to different places within the hall. The only one who made a break for it was The Devil.
Silence fell upon the entire hall as everyone assumed the position. The collective fear held sway overall, as sweaty palms gripped their weapons and hearts began to race as if in unison. Every creak in the old house was a cause for alarm and every false alarm was a reminder for everyone to stay on their toes. The Emperor made a gesture to The Chariot to move in haste to the main chamber door. He nodded and shuffled his feet, keeping as quiet as possible as he waited by the door, axed raised high above his head—ready for the first strike.
There was a slow tapping of feet, the tapping became louder and echoed through the halls outside the door as it seemed to draw closer. The sound stopped and The Star pointed to the floor beneath the door, a shadow could be seen. She tried to hold back tears as she burrowed her head into the chest of The Strength. The Star nearly dropped her dagger which The Strength caught and gave back to her. Tip, tap, tip. The steps stopped as the handle to the Ruby Red Room door began to turn slightly. The door slowly opened and a boisterous pair of voices called out “greetings we're...” But before the sentence could be complete, The Chariot let down his mighty ax and split the guests in two.
The Emperor made his way slowly to The Chariot. “Good work my son, did you get...” A look of ghastly fear painted itself on The Emperor's face.
“No, no no no! Not The Lovers!” The Chariot gazed down onto the floor, his feet a sticky wet red as a pool of blood formed at his feet.
“By the gods! What have I done?” He cried out, mortified that he had murdered two of his family members. He dropped his ax, face trembling with woe and an aching feeling of self-disgust. “How could this have happened, why did nobody tell me that The Lovers were coming home today?” The Emperor boomed, looking around the room to place blame upon someone's head. Temperance was the first to speak. “I told you, I said that The Lovers were going to be returning today.” She said, her eyes looking down on the floor not willing to look her grief-stricken lord in the eye. The Emperor, in one swift motion, took his stride to Temperance and gave her a swift slap across the face which had her tumble to the floor.
“All in attendance who can leave and search every room for HIM!” The others made haste and then The Emperor turned to his attention to Temperance. “And you...Clean up the remains of The Lovers and give them a proper burial. Do something while you are doing nothing...”
Everyone had left the Ruby Red Room to scout out the rest of the citadel, all except The Hanged Man was hiding atop the chandelier.
“HE won't know what hit him.” He snided in an undertone, readying a dagger for the strike. He heard footsteps, this time he was going to make sure that it was HIM. The Hanged Man was not going to make the same blunder as his brother did and would be the one to gather the glory of taking down the foe. The Hanged Man swore that he saw his enemy enter into the room and he placed himself in position, dangling by his knees to strike from above. The Ruby Red Room was dark, but all he needed was moonlight—The Hanged Man was blessed with a disposition of a unique perspective, after all.
His foe was none the wiser and The Hanged Man gave a wicked little smile and then dropped from the chandelier. The claws of his blades extended, victory was his!
Or so he thought, a hand lunged out and grabbed his wrist as he was in mid-air, he twisted the area until the bones of his wrist broke and curled upward to The Hanged Man's neck. Despite the pleading, his assailant dug the edge of the blade deep within the jugular of The Hanged Man. With the last bit of will within him, The Hanged Man let out a wail which was heard by both The Chariot and The Strength in the hallway. The duo dashed into the Ruby Red Room as fast as they could and saw their slain brethren held by the nape of his turn neck and then tossed aside like a bloodied rag doll.
The Chariot, not one for words, charged as fast as he could and met the assailant head-on, hurtling himself into his adversary—both of them crashing into an adjacent wall. The Strength let out a small cheer as her pet lion yawned. The Chariot repeated the bashing action a few more times, with each consecutive motion causing dust and debris to kick up. The Strength edged forward a bit as The Chariot stepped back and gave a laugh of triumph. “Looks like we won't be seeing any more of HIM.” The Strength, standing stone-cold and mortified, could not even speak.
“What is wrong?” The Chariot inquired. The assailant was now of a different form, slowly coming up like a liquid around The Chariot's arm. “What the devil?” The liquid snaked around The Chariot's arm forcing him to go up and wrap his hand around his neck, grabbing and squeezing until he crushed his own windpipe.
The Strength, shocked and overcome with grief, yelled for her pet lion to attack which at first, it had done as The Strength had commanded. Then The Strength could smell rotting flesh near her, a part of The Chariot's arm was near her foot. But before she could react, the lion had twisted his body around and went in for the kill, tearing The Strength to shreds in hopes of obtaining not only the arm but the other savory meat of The Strength. Their silent assassin walked away from the carnage with the screams of the Strength bouncing off the hallowed halls of the Ruby Red Room.
The Magician was in his chambers, scrambling for whatever artifacts and amulets he could find to help him with his mission to kill HIM. The Magician's world was falling around him as he continued rummaging and gathering what he could until he reached the end of the drawer. The lights around him began to flicker and in a frantic moment of primordial fear, The Magician grabbed his ritual dagger and swung it forward into a defensive position. He panted as the lights danced in and out of existence, mocking him as the fear bubbled within. With every noise, The Magician turned to greet it with the same defensive position. “I'm not scared of you! Come out and face me you coward!” The Magician yelled out, chest puffed with faux courage.
The lights flickered in and out, as several of the flames of the candles around him extinguished and the light above his musky chamber died. The Magician let out a gasp and almost dropped his dagger. He reached for a nearby candle on the table and within moments had it lit. The moment he raised the candle he was greeted by a ghastly visage staring into his own. “Boo...” it said in childish derision as it released a puff of air. The air that came from the assailant burst the small flame of the candle into a burning inferno which consumed The Magician and consumed him. Bit by bit, the entire ritual chamber of The Magician was engulfed in a reddish-orange fury as he ran about the room screaming in agony. The voice maniacally laughed and stood watching the hellfire take over the entire room. “Anybody up for Barbeque?” He chided, laughing merrily as his victim stormed out the room, running down the hall in the vain attempt to extinguish himself. The Magician frantically ran about as he reached a window and jumped out several stories.
The Emperor and Empress stood in a defensive position, swords extended and pointing at the bolted door of their chamber. The breath of both was as heavy as the air of tension that covered the entire castle. The Emperess looked at her husband, her eyes flitting between him and the thick slab of wood that shielded them from their assailant.
Then suddenly a loud banging was on the door. An assault to the eardrums. With each bash against the chamber door, both The Emperor and The Emperess jumped; teeth chattering and eyes wet with terror. The door smashed upon, ripped from its hinges, and flung across the room destroying the throne of The Emperor.
“Hello, your majesty.” The assassin said, giving a low bow after stepping into the lone light in the room; mocking both royal husband and wife. The Emperor placed his hands on the shoulders of his wife to comfort her, or so she thought. “Death. I could smell your foul stench a mile away, why? Why must you torment the family so?”
Death stepped forward, raising his hand and exposing one long knife-like nail. “I am here for the fool, your grip on him is not to protect but to imprison. I have been silent for too long. Release The Fool from his gilded cage—or die.” The Emperor gave a chuckle, but it was short-lived because, in the blink of an eye, Death was behind them both and held The Empress hostage. The Emperess, feeling the long nail press against her jugular begged for her life.
“Dear, please, don't let him kill me.”
Death smiled as the lamplight shadowed the skull-like visage of his face. “Your last chance, don't make me kill mother.” The Emperor stepped back and gave a hearty laugh. “Son, you think I give tinkers damn about her? I will sacrifice ANYTHING to keep this family intact! I will not fall to the likes of you.” The Emperess' eyes filled with a mixture of rage and sorrow, but before she could even release the scream from her lips, a spray of crimson fountained from her neck as Death jabbed his bony nail into his mother's neck. Death, his saddened face covered in the mire of his mother's blood, gently placed her onto the floor. He closed her widened death-staring eyes, giving her a silent prayer asking for forgiveness.
“I'm sorry mother, sorry you have to be taken in by such a fool.” Death stared his father in the face, enraged that he would so flagrantly disregard his wife.
“Glare at me all you want, but it is you who betrayed the family. I do what I must. The Fool will remain here, he is part of the prophecy of riches. He will...” Death stood tall in defiant interruption.
“Enough! Prophecy this, prophecy that! Those are lies! The Fool is his own person and you have no right to contain him!” Death was at his mental breaking point, the rage towards his father pumping him full of adrenal power.
“He is my son, I have the right as his father to do as I please and I will shield him from this world so that the family fortune may continue!”
Death raised his hand. “Then you leave me no choice.”
And with a flash of light, the two of them clashed. Father versus son.