The Jack awoke to Khamet screaming, “What is it cat? Your ranting will wake Rublick.”

“I found her!”

Megette woke as well rolling off the Jack and parrying in an instant. Her sword was becoming part of her.

“I found her!” Khamet cried again.

“Where is she?” The Jack was suddenly alert and excited.

“She is being held in the dungeon at the Spade Castle.”

“How is…?” but the Jack didn’t finish the question. The look in Khamet’s eyes told him all he needed to know. “We need a plan. There aren’t enough of us to lay siege to the Spade Castle.”

Khamet calmed. His whiskers pulled back in a snarl that was just as big and awesome as his grin had been, but it was no smile. “I have an idea.” He growled. Khamet’s other self had shown him what he needed to know.

It was night. He was standing in a paper garden of statues and flowers in a field at the edge of Spade Castle. Dark shadows covered him as he crept forward silently towards the back side and the entrance to the dungeon. The entrance was nestled right at the base. It was heavily guarded and could only be approached from behind. It was the middle of the night.

A group of Spade soldiers of all different numbers marched around a group of captured Hearts and Diamonds herding them into the dungeon. Some of the Spades were hauling provisions and loot, spoils from the battle. Khamet slipped into one of the baskets of loot unseen and was carried into the dungeon with the prisoners.

The basket was set into a room that contained weapons, clothing, and all manner of unsorted items. Now that he was inside he was able to move around more freely. 

The Hearts and Diamonds had been marched down a long passage which led to a stairway and Khamet followed. The dungeon was a large network of tunnels and passages, but it was left mostly abandoned. A few Spades and Clubs occupied the cells he passed, but there were no Hearts or Diamonds to be seen. He stopped and hid in a small corner as two Clubs led another group of Hearts down the stairway. Once they passed he followed right at the guard’s heel into the lower levels.

The dark tunnel wound down and down empty cells on each level. It ended at an enormous room on the bottom where Khamet could hear the sound of chains and ripping. There were sobs and pleads of mercy. There were long rips and screams that were being cut short. There was pleading and several grunts, struggling, then silence again, followed by more tearing.

He stayed as close to the walls as he could. The entire procession was moved into a large cell and Khamet ran into the room and crouched beneath a table. A group of Clubs entered the open area dragging a Seven of Hearts. There were a dozen large tables, all spread throughout the room, with mixed groups of Clubs and Spades working. 

The Seven of Hearts was brought to the table Khamet was hiding beneath and spread over it face down. The Heart was bigger than the table and his head, hands and feet over lapped face down. The Seven stared down at Khamet from the edge of the table with a look of pleading sadness.

“Help me.” The Seven mouthed.

On the table above him was the sound of a long rip and the Seven’s upper portion fell to the ground like a paper cloth. It was picked up and tossed into the fire. The group moved on and two Spades came over to the table. Above Khamet they worked on the seven as the sound of ripping continued through the room. After a few minutes the two walked away carrying the Seven with them.

He was only able to get a glimpse of what they had done, but it looked as if the seven was now a shape. They had folded it into a flower.

Khamet’s shuddered at the horror and thought back to the field he had crossed to get here. His features dropped as he remembered the paper statues and figures. Had they all been folded from cards? His hair stood out on end and watched as another was carried out. How big had that field been? The size of the orchard? Bigger? Someone mentioned the worst fate for a card imaginable was Origami. His heart sank.

Suspended in the center of the room, above the tables, was a large crow’s cage.

Khamet had to see what was inside and began to search for a way of reaching it. The stairway allowed no access and the walls were extremely high. There were chains, but they were secured to the ceiling and suspended through a hole.

He tried not to watch as one by one Hearts and Diamonds were laid out and their upper portions were torn off and thrown into the fire.

An Eight of Clubs entered the room with a plate of breadfruit and a small pitcher. The crow’s nest was lowered until it rested on four of the center tables and the Eight of Clubs opened the cage door. Khamet could see a figure huddled in the far corner of the cage. The Eight of Clubs set the plate and the pitcher down, collected the previous plate and pitcher, then stepped out and closed the cage door.

Khamet could squeeze though the bars and waited until the Eight was moving away before he leapt. The crow’s nest began to rise again and Khamet shot forward. He leapt onto the nearest table and then to the cage and was inside as guards called below.  

The figure on the other side of the cage was familiar, but only bore a vague resemblance to the Princess of Hearts. She was still wearing the dress from the ball. It had been years and it seemed she had been fed, but little else had been done for her. She looked so painfully awful it hurt to see her this way. Khamet felt the hot salt of his tears burning his jade green eyes. She was filthy. Nothing like he remembered. The beautiful innocence he had known so briefly had gone from her. And he bit down hard pulling his whiskers into a menacing snarl.

He had to get back to his true self so that something could happen.

His lady was right in front of him and he moved nearer. She looked even worse up close. “My Lady?” he said.

The Princess of Hearts stirred a bit and she seemed to focus as the cage began to lower again. 

“My Lady,” he cried again, the tears matting his fur as he listened to the guards yelling below.  

The Princess of Hearts was able to focus for only a moment. She saw Khamet, but showed no recognition. She whispered something softly and Khamet’s ears flattened. He grit his fangs again and hissed at the guards. He could do nothing, but he threw a menacing look and hissed at the cards. They stepped back.

“My Lady, we will come to rescue you,” he said.

The Princess of Heart’s eyes lost their focus and she whispered again the same words as before. “Off with their heads.”

The crow’s nest landed in the table and a Spade guard tried to undo the latch. The door swung open and Khamet was gone in a ghost flash to find his true self.

 

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