There is a great tree in the black forest. The Tumtum Tree is by far the tallest tree in all of Heere, but the black tree, named by the Roadscholar as the Biggun and renamed by Popularopinion as the Tree of Death was by far the widest. Its circumference is so large it would take a card the better part of two minutes to walk around it fully.

The Tree of Death sits right in the center of the Black Forest, which is right beside the Dark Field, which happens to lay at the base of Spade Castle. A large deep vertical gash in the center of the trunk caused it to look as of the tree were screaming and caused Popularopinion to give it its name. Khamet used this tree as a place to assemble as it would be undercover and he could safely get everyone close to Spade Castle before deciding on the next move. The black gash split with bright blue light shining in its mouth and one by one Khamet, Jack and Megette followed by all the animate Saedi who wished to join, stepped into the Black Forest. There were dozens. Most of the Saedi left the moment they were free and were now headed into the land of Heere, which was always supposed to be their home.

The party moved through the Black Forest, a motley crew of figures, creatures, animates and other things that were indistinguishable. The great big wolf thing was in the lead beside the hook handed man. Three walking and talking pigs wearing clothes, several children, including one little girl in a red hooded cloak and adults of all shapes and sizes moved together. There was a huge slimy bestial thing with great tentacles looking like a bird crossed with a squid that moved in the rear with the other large creatures. The hook handed man with the eye patch seemed to be in charge of the Saedi and called orders to them as they went along. He was speaking now to a tiny flat man no thicker than a card. The little man gave off a pleasant odor of sweet ginger. Despite himself Khamet found himself hungry and wanted to take a bite out of the man.

Khamet looked around, “Where has Frob gotten to?” He asked the Jack.

The Jack flushed. “Frob vanished soon after you did and has not been seen since. We have searched all the Delirium and feared that perhaps one of the Saedi had…” he stopped.

Khamet looked down for a moment thinking hard. “Can any of the Saedi fly?”

“There are a few.” The Jack said.

Khamet smiled. “Have any of them tried to brave the fog?”

“Well I’m sure that some of them have tried, but…”

“Have they tried to go above the fog?” Khamet finished.

The Jack stopped.

“Of all the creatures, in Heere, I might guess that the Bandersnatch and the Jubjub could have arrived out of the Saedi as well, but they flew up an escaped.” Khamet said.

The procession continued. Vapors, zombies and several unnamed monsters gave Megette a chill. She came up and leaned close to the Jack and Khamet, “I’m glad some of these are on our side.”

“Like you couldn’t handle them,” the Jack said. “She has gotten quite proficient in the time that you abandoned us.” This was said with a terse air though he was smiling as he looked down at Khamet.

Megette blushed.

“What was it the Arcana called it, voral?”

“Vorpal Sword.” Megette corrected him. “Apparently it’s quite a powerful sword.”

“I’m glad that you are on our side,” Khamet said with a great grin.

The party stopped and all discussion fell silent as they reached the edge of the forest. Megette looked shocked. Her breath caught and she released a whimper from the depths of her throat that was full of pain. She began to sob quietly.

“Dear Rublick!” The Jack said awestruck. He made a strange sign with his hands and dropped to one knee. “Father,” he whispered. “What horrors have befallen you to create such destruction?”

Before them the dark fields were no longer dark. As far as the eye could see leading up to and around the Spade Castle were origami folded from the paper bodies of Hearts and Diamonds. Thousands littered the ground each with their heads torn off and their bodies folded into swans, dragons, the Jubjub, the Bandersnatch, trees, mome raths, moths, bugbeetles, butterflies, lotus, and all manner of shapes and poses. Star clusters, olipahant’s, spideras, scorpi’s, unicornu’s. All eyes were held at the tree line and started in shock and awe.

Khamet’s eyes stung. The fur beneath them dampened and the grin that was just now on his face turned to a fearsome scowling cringe. He thought of his lady, now his queen sitting in the cage, watching as her subjects were beheaded one by one and folded into such a disgraceful mockery of themselves.

The Jack turned to Khamet and sighed with grief. “Cat, can you get me to the roof? I know my way from there. I must see to my father while you rescue the Queen.” His face pleaded. “Get her to safety.”

Khamet moved to the nearest tree and scratched at the knothole. It opened wide enough for the Jack to go through. The Jack selected the great wolf and the hook handed man. With a nod to Khamet they stepped through and were gone. The knothole closed.

“The rest of you will lay siege to the castle while Megette and I rescue the queen.” Khamet looked out at the fields. “Burn this, the field and that castle to the ground if you will. This all ends tonight.”

The Saedi all took torches and fanned out along the tree line and waited for the signal. Khamet watched and once everyone was in place he motioned to Megette who, with tears in her eyes, began setting fire to the origami. All along the Black Forest the origami lit. The field, being an enormous landscape covered with paper, spread with a vengeance.

Clubs and Spades flooded out of the castle in an instant with buckets to try and stop the blaze. The Ace of Spades stuck his head out from a high window and began screaming for the cards to protect the castle.

The Jack of all Trades, the great wolf and hook handed man crept across the roof as the commotion began to sound below. The Jack lowered a rope to the first balcony and slipped down. The three of them passed through the chamber and the Jack stopped at the door to peer out. It was deserted. He opened the door and cautiously moved to the railing. Several Clubs and Spades were headed down the stairs to head off the attack and protect the castle.

On the level below, an authoritative, “Yes my lord!” sounded and a Ten of Spades closed a door to one chamber before following the other cards down the stairway.

The three of them moved along the hallway to the stairs all baton, hook and teeth at the ready.

The Jack slipped down the stairs and stopped at the door. He stooped low and peered through the keyhole. “He’s alone.” The other too made ready and the Jack held his hand up. “Please. Allow me to deal with my father. Go down the stairs and attack from behind. I will join you once he is dealt with.”

The hook handed sea captain and the big bad wolf headed man beast looked at him apprehensive for a moment, then they both nodded and moved back down the hallway to the stairs and were gone.

“Come along all of you!” the Ace of Spades screamed from his balcony. His eyes peered to the forest and he inhaled. “Ready the troops, we are under attack!”

Behind him the door opened and the Jack burst into the chambers.

The Ace wheeled around his hands moved across his stomach and back and he brought his Spades up. He stopped when he recognized the Jack. “Son, welcome home.” He paused. “I was pleased to see you made it through the Datamancer.”

The Jack stood silent and ready.

“What? Nothing? After all I gave you?”

The Jack still remained quiet.

“Opportunity? Possibility? All that you have become was because of me you know? There was a great deal of respect to be had simply by infiltrating the ballroom. Of course we had no use for your talents at the time, but still you have done very well and are now worthy to be part of this court.”

The Jack continued to hold himself at the ready. He knew his father’s tricks.

“Love is what did this to you, and…” The Ace looked out from the balcony. “Now you have come to thwart me.”

“Why did it have to come to this?” the Jack said.

“Why!? Her father! That bastard! The Suicide King and all he stood for! He is the one responsible for this!” the Ace yelled. “He offered treaty and killed my king! Your king!”

“And your response? What of that?”

“Justified.”

“How?” the Jack said.

“He would have us all destroyed us so no black card remained, leaving an ocean of red as far as Popularopinion could see. The land of Hearts and Diamonds that’s what Heere was to him.” The Ace said.

“He’s dead, you have won.” The Jack said.

“No. We have merely brought everything into balance. Not until we rule, Spades and Clubs, a land of darkness with the red cards existing to be only for our pleasure and servitude.”

The Jack looked disgusted at his father.

“Isn’t that right?” the Ace of Spades called out.

There was a creek and the Jack moved instinctually. Ducking fast, he leapt to the side as something cut the air and exploded on the floor where he had been standing. Shrapnel erupted around the room and the Jack used his baton, flipped and landed on the far side of the room.

“I don’t believe you have ever met my counterpart,” the Ace of Spades said.

The Jack had never seen the Ace of Clubs before. This card was even bigger than the Ace of Hearts had been. The animate card was a great black, almost round lumbering thing twirling an enormous club in each hand.

Inside the castle the hook handed man and the great wolf were moving down the stairs, clearing the level after leaving the Jack to deal with his father. They ripped and tore at the Clubs and Spades as they came at them, the wolf grabbed and tore cards apart with his great claws, while the hooked handed man sliced them with sword and hook screaming in triumph at each, “That’s it now! Come and have me steel! Locked away from you I have been, come now, come to the captain! Another and another! Avast! Ye want to taste me hook?” The two left a trail of thick shredded paper in their wake.

The Ace stepped up swinging both clubs at the same time. The Jack leapt fast, narrowly avoiding the massive club that smashed into the wall. He landed on the bed and continued on as the second club struck the headboard which exploded with the impact.

The Ace of Spades cried out as a shower of wood shards struck him and sliced into his body. “Careful you idiot!” It was obvious who would really be ruling the land.

The Ace of Clubs turned away from the Spade and focused on the Jack. It lumbered forward trying to corner him, but the Jack saw an opportunity.

The Ace of Clubs began another slow heavy swing and the Jack ran forward. Brandishing his baton, he leapt and struck the Club dead center. The card gave for a moment before splitting and the Jack went straight through him to land near his father.

The Ace of Spades swung. The Jack parried the blow, but did not move. The second blade sliced through the Jack’s arm. The Jack countered, pulled at this father and pinned the Ace against the wall.

The Ace of Clubs roared at the injury and turned in a fury. He swung the two great clubs around towards the Jack who stood blocking his father’s spades and holding him against the wall, waiting.

“No, you fool!” the Ace of Spades called out, but the humungous clubs were already coming down. The Jack used the walls as leverage and leapt up stepping on the clubs and flipping behind the Ace of Clubs as the two clubs came smashing down on the Ace of Spades with an explosive crash.

The Ace of Clubs seemed to know he’d done wrong and pulled the clubs from the cracked ground. He grunted in sorrow and confusion looking down at the crumpled Ace of Spades.

“Well done idiot!” the Ace of Spades said picking up his two blades and standing to smooth himself. A loud rip sounded, followed by another and finally the Ace of Clubs made a face that only lasted a second before turning to paper and the top portion fell to the ground. His body split in two and crumbled to the floor like a black curtain falling away to reveal the Jack of all Trades standing behind him.

 

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