The Jack of all Trades did not enjoy losing his garments to Megette who found suitable clothing for him to wear. She was not entirely certain if he was a prisoner or not. When he was escorted into the ballroom and seated the Ace of Hearts approached him. The card was huge almost double the size of the regular cards. He held a staff with two heart sharpened ends and he was thicker than the other Hearts as well. When he turned to the side he was not lost. The single enormous heart situated in the center of him bulged from the front as well as the back.
“Card!” The ace said to the Jack. “You understand your instructions this evening?”
“Yes.” The Jack said annoyed.
“You understand my instructions this evening.”
“If the Princess wants to speak, address, or otherwise interact with you, it will be her doing not yours. I will have one eye on you and one on the king. Anything funny or chumper, by rublick I’ll gut you like a waterflopper. Got it?”
“Yes.” The Jack of all Trades said. Though he was quite certain he could avoid anything this big Heart threw at him. It might be hard to take him out, but avoiding his strikes… that should not be a problem. He watched the ace lumber away.
The Grand Ballroom was on one of the higher floors of the castle and was nothing more than an enormous open room with bright red walls with white trim. There was a second level with a balcony that was completely inaccessible without some sort of aid. The aid had set itself up. Hearts and Diamond cards were everywhere, folded, bent and interlinked. They formed a grand archway over the main entrance and on the far wall, they had become an enormous staircase that started on one side and wound all the way up and around the wall to reach the balcony. All around were amazing shapes sculpted, wrapped and folded out of cards. In the center of the room was an enormous bouquet of flowers that was also cards.
Khamet was impressed at the sheer grandeur of everything. Large torches were burning, held by cards who had woven themselves into sleeves and holders that were being held by other cards. The banquet tables, the chairs, and all the fixtures were cards, white with red hearts or diamonds showing through their configurations.
“Presenting the King of Spades,” the announcer said. The trumpets blared again and Khamet looked from his perch beside the Princess and watched as an extremely tall dark skinned man stepped through the great card arch. He was followed by a large procession of cards, all of which were like the Hearts and Diamonds, except they were black cards with white symbols rather than red.
The assembly moved right down the center to the large card throne where the King of Hearts sat. A large sword was situated right through his head.
The King of Spades bowed low to the Suicide King, “Majesty, I am honored you would invite us to this wondrous event in your kingdom.”
“Please make yourself comfortable and by Itwilbus have a good time.” The Suicide King said.
“By Itwilbus,” The King of Spades said and moved away.
Right behind the king, a great black card larger than any of the others came into view. The card, presumably an ace, had a single enormous white spade that hung down most of his face and another on his back. His face was so dark Khamet couldn’t read his expression at all. He bowed and quickly followed the king as the procession moved on.
The Princess of Hearts leaned over to Khamet. “Daddy and the King of Spades have been at odds for quite some time. For him to be invited was quite a feat. The King of Spades had to accept or he would have been dishonored. This whole thing is a sort of a truce between their fighting.”
Khamet learned that a handful of the servants were called animates, which were cards that had bodies. Some animates came from species mixing, sometimes from individuality and sometimes pure status. It was not exactly a random occurrence. Animates were definitely considered better than cards and all the faces of Heere especially the faces that ruled were animates, but there were entire clans scattered around Heere that were animates. “I suspect the Jack is a product of one of those,” the lady said smugly. “At least he isn’t a Seight,” she said the word with more disdain than any other and Khamet had to ask what it was.
As if in response to his question the announcer called out, “The Duke and Duchess of Seight.” The entire ballroom quieted as two of the most interesting creatures Khamet had yet to see entered the room. One was male and one was female, but other than that the similarities ended. They looked as if someone had thrown a bunch of cards and people into a meal grinder and then poured molds out of them. Both were animates, but their skin was such a display of colors, numbers and symbols as to be beautiful and horrific in the same moment. The entire crowd watched as the Duke and Duchess made their way to the Suicide King, bowed and took their places.
“Cards all intermix and it isn’t usually a problem,” the Princess began. “Clubs mix with Diamonds and visa versa, ones and threes, faces and numbers, even jokers and cards is not a problem. But ones cannot mix with twos, nor twos and threes, and so on. All mixing must be out of sequence. If the numbers are in sequence or rublick forbid the same numbers, there are mutations. The first of these is a legend of a Seven of Hearts and an Eight of Clubs. The union created the first Seight. They are a recognized kingdom, but Popularopinion decreed that they be allowed no higher status than a Duke and a Duchess.”
The Duke and Duchess sat and conversation resumed. The Seight were obviously a very low class in many eyes.
“It is sad,” the Princess said staring.
“I agree daughter,” the Suicide King said.
“Because they are simply the product of cards falling in love and being too close to each other,” the lady finished.
It was more of a statement than a question, but the King of Hearts turned to her shocked. His eyes looked from her to her guest, the cat supposedly from Yonderland. The look in his eyes was dark and crazed and one Khamet had seen on a few people where he had come from. “No daughter,” he said with contempt. “That they allow them to live.”
Khamet’s ears flattened as the king turned back to the party. The Princess of Hearts dropped her eyes. Her expression of sorrow and embarrassment made her flush and for Khamet many things became clearer. He saw that this was an expression she made often.
Khamet watched as beings with heads three times the size of their body, and some with bodies three times the size of their heads entered. Everyone wore colors of their native lands. Some slipped in and didn’t walk the isle to greet the king. Khamet wondered if they weren’t allowed to, weren’t invited or simply refused.
“The Hatters! Mr. and Mrs. Belfry!” An odd looking short male and female with large heads, greatly enhanced by their oversized hats with the price tags dangling on the side of each, stepped forward and bowed before moving on.
“Mayfield and Mayflowers!” twins, one girl one boy. Both had sky blue skin and were wearing yellow. Both stepped up and bowed to the King who ignored them. A table was set up near the front on the far side nearest the Princess of Hearts, she waved and pointed to Khamet and smiled as they sat at the her table.
“Junebride!” wore all white including a long healthy main of white hair that draped over her face. She ran forward and bowed low smiling at the Princess of Hearts who smiled and waved back.
“Aprilshowers!” was blue as well. Not only blue, but her skin seemed to be made of a translucent liquid that shimmied as she walked. She didn’t appear to be clothed but her legs were a constantly rising and falling waterfall. The white foam formed the base and train of her dress. She was not hurrying to catch up with the others, but was very poised. She, the Suicide King noticed. He stared hungrily at her and bowed as she curtsied and smiled and sat at the Lady’s table.
“I can’t wait to introduce you to my friends. They are going to be so excited.” The Princes of Hearts said.
The procession continued for over an hour with the volume rising with the number of guests. The music grew louder and the party continued to grow. Food was served. Nothing was recognizable to Khamet, but he ate, happy to learn more about this new place. At the far end of the room, indeed the table furthest from the king sat the Jack of all Trades. Once he was spotted, Khamet waited to see if the Princess of Hearts made any eye contact. He didn’t have to wait long. The two began flirting and didn’t stop. The Princess of Hearts would glance over every time she thought her friends were not watching.
Once dinner was finished the lights dimmed and one wall, which comprised of cards disassembled to reveal a large stage. Khamet noticed that the large black ace seemed to tense at the assembly of Hearts moving along the walls. One of his hands seemed to scratch his chest and fondle with the spade imprinted there.
The announcer came forward, “Maids and Gents itwilbus for your pleasure I present The Fools.” He stepped away as a large procession of cards came out from all areas of the stage and began to perform balancing acts of skill that was mixed with comedy. The crowd roared with excitement and laughter.
The Princess of Hearts was laughing so heartily she didn’t notice Khamet slip from beside her and go looking for a place to relieve himself. He thought there was an area on the second floor. He climbed the stairs which seemed to have grown much thinner as the night wore on. The steps had grown higher and wider with fewer cards linked together. He searched the second floor. It took some time to find a spot that would serve him. He spoke with several plants along the corridors. They directed him to numerous areas which were also occupied with plants who did not want him to do any sort of digging and burying in their beds.
Khamet finally found a suitable spot and was burying the evidence when he heard a loud commotion. He ran down the hallway to the stairs only to find there were no stairs and no bridge to the other side. Everything had disassembled. He was not the only one trapped, a handful of guests were standing in shock at the pandemonium below. Cards and guests were running in all directions, screaming or calling out names. Several Heart guards had surrounded the Ace of Spades who no longer had the white symbols on his chest or back, but was now brandishing both in his hands like two great swords.
“Majesty!” he called to the body at his feet. The King of Spades lay oozing a dark liquid, his body deflating from a sword to his chest. The very sword one that had moments before been stuck in the Suicide King’s head.
The Suicide King was laughing maniacally as two cards held their hands to the sides of his head where the sword had been. A Three of Hearts approached the king holding another large sword. The king smiled and turned his head as the sword was inserted where the other had been. The Suicide King made a strange face as this happened.
Khamet could see the Jack of all Trades in the corner trying to stay out of the fray, but he was watching everything intently.
“You are truly without honor!” The Ace of Spades screamed towards the King of Hearts as the King of Spades became a pale colorless dull grey.
“Am I? Your master is gone. Ace!” The King of Hearts clapped. The Ace of Hearts suddenly rose up from behind the king. “We have big hearts here. And may I introduce you to the captain of my guards.”
The Ace of Hearts was almost twice as big as the Ace of Spades, and the circle moved out even further. The screaming died down.
“I‘m quite certain we could overpower you, but I have a big enough heart to give you a chance. You have served your master well.”
The Ace of Spades looked around. The others in their party had also been surrounded. Many of the structures had come down suddenly leaving the cards to brandish weapons and corner the Spades.
Khamet saw some small outcroppings in the stone along the wall. He ran to the wall and leapt, striking one of the outcroppings several feet below. He landed on the back of a Heart who gave a cry, then leapt to the floor. He was small enough that no one noticed.
There was a clang in the center of the circle. A great pole arm rose up over the crowd. One end was a sharpened heart shape, with a fat heart shaped bludgeon on the other. Without waiting the Ace of Hearts attacked. The Ace of Spades was not one to be challenged easily and he blocked the pole arm. He countered with his two spade swords, the symbols flying as the sound of ripping slipped through the silent air. The guests all cringed.
“I am afraid I have no choice, but to break your heart majesty.” The Ace of Spades mocked with the spinning grace of his blades.
The Ace of Hearts stood before the Ace of Spades with several rips in his edges. The polearm seemed difficult to lift, but still he attacked. He spun the pole arm as the Spade bent and twirled around each attack. The pole arm was obviously difficult for the Ace of Hearts to control from his injuries. The Ace of Spades avoided each blow waiting for the Heart to swing off balance. When it happened, it was fast.
The Ace of Spades flipped over the weapon, his thin body flapped and seemed to use the air as leverage, but as he came down there was a loud tear. The Ace of Hearts was not as injured as he seemed. The pole arm slipped right through the center of the black card. There was the ‘ching’ sound of another weapon being drawn from behind the Ace of Hearts. He grunted a smile and pulled a heart shaped knife from behind his back.
The Ace of Spades folded himself backwards as the swing from the Heart missed his neck by an inch. He continued to bend backwards, his body still impaled on the pole arm. His weight pulled the Ace of Hearts to bend forward. The Heart swung the knife again. The Spade righted itself, blocked the knife with one sword and swung another blade at the Ace of Heart’s neck.
The rip was so fast and smooth it was almost silent. The crowd held its breath as the top portion of the Ace of Hearts floated to the ground, now only a thick sheet of paper. With the head gone the body followed.
The Ace of Spades took advantage of the hush, “SPADES!” he screamed pulling the polearm from his chest.
In the foray several Spades had moved to surround the Princess of Hearts and several others moved to one of the balcony. Everything seemed to have been previously orchestrated and happened with practiced timing. The Ace of Spades suddenly attacked the Hearts that surrounded him. The guests panicked. The Hearts attacked, but several lost their heads quickly and were reduced to simple sheets of thick paper.
The Princess of Hearts screamed and Khamet began moving towards her as did the Jack of all Trades who was dressed Khamet could see in a set of fine green robes that flowed behind him.
The Suicide King had been amused most of this time and carried a slight smile on his face, but as he saw what was happening he frowned. “Hearts! Block the balcony! Shut the doors! Stop them!”
The Ace of Spades was fighting and working the commotion. He called out to the king, “This is your doing and you shall reap the consequences.”
The two locked eyes for a moment.
Hearts were being cut down left and right by the Spades that were performing their own sort of acrobatics on the balcony. The Ace of Spades joined the group of Spades that had the Princess of Hearts and quickly the procession moved to the balcony without halting.
The Jack still wore his hat. He pulled on the folded brims and produced two green knives made of leaves, “Let her go,” he shouted, leaping through the procession using anything as leverage to propel him forward. A Spade shot out of the crowd to block the Jack. There was a fast rip and the sides of the Spade crumpled to the ground leaving him alive, but without arms. Khamet saw the Ace of Spades look back and he and the Jack stared at each other. Something was exchanged in that moment and Khamet was certain the two knew each other.
The Jack moved forward. The Ace of Spades stepped out of the moving crowd to meet him. The Ace towered over the Jack and swung. His swords came fast, but the Jack had some obvious skill. Using only the two green knives he blocked and spun, flipping and parrying each blow that came from the Ace. Khamet was impressed at the ballet the Jack seemed to perform as each sword came at him.
The Jack caught the base with the knife and continued its momentum, which in turn led to another spin. Suddenly he was standing behind the Ace and kicked the arm that held the sword, then spun again and kicked the Ace in the head. The Ace was thrown forward, but recovered quickly with a look of shock. The Ace grinned and nodded at the Jack’s skill.
“Let me go! Daddy!” the Princess of Hearts called out.
Khamet looked for a way through the crowd to get to her and ran. A Spade saw him approach intending to block the little thing. Khamet leapt, his claws out, he swung at the arms that grabbed for him and then at the black chest of the Spade. The arms fell to the floor and Khamet tumbled through the opening made by his claws leaving the card helpless and shocked.
The Ace of Spades attacked the Jack again. The Jack grabbed a Heart and threw it to the ground. It caught itself landing in a small arch. The Jack was already moving. Using the Heart as a step, he leapt high in the air over the Ace’s swords and as he came down brought both knives across the Ace’s back opening the hole made by the pole arm. The Ace was hurt badly. The Jack landed and turned, but the Ace was already blocking with both swords behind his back. He twitched and his head and arms spun, reversing to face the Jack again.
“That’s a neat trick,” the Jack said. “Never seen that before.”
The Ace smiled, “I didn’t show you everything,” he replied. “SPADES!”
There was a barrage of movement in the balcony as the Princess of Hearts was moved out the door. Khamet latched on one of the Spades who dislodged from the group and used his own body to wrap up the cat. All the cards on the balcony leapt off at once and fell. The Princess of Hearts screamed as the interlinked group began to flap. An enormous great black bird of cards caught the wind and rose into the air.
The Ace of Spades smiled and made to attack the Jack again. The Jack went on his guard as the Ace suddenly ran towards the opposite balcony. Khamet wrapped inside of the Spade found himself suddenly choking. He coughed and spat mud as he tried to claw himself out. The Spade suddenly released and shot after the Ace of Spades leaping through the crowd with the Jack in pursuit. Khamet coughed up more mud, righted himself and ran as well.
The Ace of Spades was agile and screaming through the terrified crowd swinging his sword at the guests as the Suicide King watched in horror. “Welcome to your war majesty!” the Ace called as he went through the door and leapt off the balcony.
The Ace behind him was about to do the same when suddenly two knives and a set of claws pierced his back and sliced the card to large portions of confetti.
Khamet and the Jack reached the balcony at the same moment to see the great black bird of cards fly into the distance with the Princess of Hearts held atop the thing beside the Ace of Spades.
“No!” the Jack screamed.
Khamet stared out into the distance. He was suddenly struck by two things, the loss of the Princess of Hearts and something in him, deep in the pit of his stomach wrenching him. He began choking again and coughed up more mud. He was choking then and was suddenly without air. His head ached and he fell to the ground as a searing pain pierced him. He screamed. The Jack dropped down beside him and Khamet was aware of him,
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Khamet tried to speak, but only succeed in deafening meows…