The fields were burnt to glowing cinders with the fire still raging forward leaving the remnants of the lost cards as ash. The air was thick with gray and black smoke blotting out the sky. Spades and Clubs were still streaming out of the castle avoiding anything that could burn them while the Saedi were slipping through the fire and in some cases throwing burning origami at the attacking cards.
The paper cards were no match for the fireballs and ran in poetic terror, or leapt into the moat if they found themselves ablaze, their victims coming back to haunt them.
There were cries of attack, cries of pain and triumph from both sides. Some of the Saedi existed as simply mist, substantial to a degree, but still mist. Some of the cards found themselves flying into the air and being dropped onto the fires one after another. The ones that had emerged from the moat were now waterlogged and tore even easier than those who were still dry, and as their heads came off they were in turn tossed onto the fire. A sizzling steam wafted into the air blending with the smoke.
A block wall glowed with a bright blue light and Khamet stepped into the great dungeon chamber that he had seen before as his other ghostly self, with Megette beside him. The two were spotted instantly. Megette, still frantic and emotional over her origami brother and sister Hearts and Diamonds, released such a fury with her sword that in no time eleven Clubs and Spades lay as paper filaments crumbling to the floor.
Several captured Diamonds and Hearts were still caged and began calling for aid while Megette continued her assault. Khamet’s chief concern was for the floating cage in the center of the room suspended by several ropes. He chewed the line to no avail and tried the pulley. It was too heavy for him. While Megette continued taking out guards, he shot across the chamber to the nearest cage. Using his claw he easily picked the lock to release the weary Hearts and Diamonds.
“Help your Queen,” he called out.
There was a stunned pause from some of the Hearts and Diamond’s as they took in what he just said. Then several of the larger cards let the cage down. They moved to get the Queen of Hearts out, but they couldn’t get through the lock.
Khamet opened the other two cages and got one last glimpse of Megette as she sliced three Spades in two with a single blow and headed in frenzy deeper into the dungeon.
Khamet moved to the far wall and began scratching at the stones which fell inward to reveal a glowing blue hole. The prisoners helped the few still on the tables awaiting their end and burned the few who had been folded into origami.
“Through the passage,” Khamet called to the prisoners. “All of you now!”
“But the Queen?” a burley One of Diamonds called near the cage.
“You! Wait there.”
The rest of the cards began storming through the opening that began to blink with the bombardment of cards stacked one upon another squeezing and flipping through the opening.
Khamet reached the cage and picked the lock with his claw. The once Princess of Hearts was cowered in the corner and nothing but filth. Her knees were brought up to the remnants of the rags of the tattered dress she wore to the ball so many years ago. Her hair still had the red heart that grew naturally, but it was a black tangled nest hanging far past her shoulders and hiding her face. She tried to scramble away as the cage door was opened. The One was about to rush in, but Khamet held up his paw.
Khamet approached her slowly. “My Lady?” he whispered in an almost silent tone.
One of the best advantages of Spade Castle was that it was built bordering the Endless Sea. None, not even Popularopinion knows how far the ocean extended or what lay beyond it. It is flat and incessantly calm so any approach is noticed.
The field burning sent smoke thousands of feet into the air and all of Heere was fully aware that a battle was happening at Spade Castle. The first waves that began breaking on the shore line were insignificant and the dark night of the Endless Sea hid what was fast approaching. The waves became heavier until the call sounded and the first of the ships dropped anchor.
There were seven ships in all and six began loading fighters and moving towards the shore. The seventh ship did not slow. This was war after all and its captain, an animate Club called Viisi de Cinco led an entire ship of Eights, both clubs and spades.
“Full speed ahead!” Captain Viisi ruled the Endless Sea and had done so before the war began. He accepted only eights on his crew because they were the most loyal and the most questionably do or die card that existed. He and his crew had traveled far into the Endless Sea and had seen things that none knew of. There was in fact an island of numberless and faceless cards no one had ever heard tell off. Captain Viisi could barely communicate with them as they spoke in a language he had never known.
“Shoreline ahead captain!”
“Damn the ship, our castle is being attacked! Full speed!”
“Brace for impact you cards.”
The ship didn’t slip very far aground but the impact was certainly horrendous. The explosive crash caused all cards to shoot forward and some went overboard. “ATTACK CARDS!”
The eights did not hesitate.
The tide at Spade Castle turned suddenly and the Saedi suddenly found themselves being pushed back by the siege of cards from the ships. These Clubs and Spades were in fact worriers.
Above the field there was a loud screech from the air and two great claws suddenly exploded from the smoke to grasp at the Saedi leaving a huge divot in the field where they had been. A moment later they returned having been dropped from some great height. The Bandersnatch screeched and swooped down again and again.
From scorched earth the great squid bird creature released what could only be described as a roar though it was far too deep. The sound was so horrible it caused many of the Spades and Clubs that heard it to simply crumple in fright. Then it opened a set of wings. The leathery, slime ridden thing took flight. The Bandersnatch didn’t even realize it was being challenged. It noticed the flying squid thing that was the vision of a horrible ancient God from the disturbed mind of a writer in Yonderland. The beast’s name could barely be pronounced and it landed on the Bandersnatch grounding it.
The great ancient God stood holding the creature, its tentacles wrapping around the Bandersnatch’s head prepared to strangle it until it was suddenly hit from the side. The Jubjub bird did not recognize the attacker and it screamed at the great beast with its own challenge to protect the Bandersnatch that had provided it sustenance for an eternity of somes. The assault sent the squid thing sprawling all tentacles and slime across the field and into the forest. The Bandersnatch, never having something like this happen to it before, forgot all else when it was free and flew away in the direction of its nest. The great ancient squid God of horrors righted itself and went at the Jubjub Bird, and the two locked in combat in the scorched Black Field while the battle raged and everything burned.
The unwanted and in fact hated Seight were like no card or animate in Heere. All were versatile and all were skilled to some degree. The King and Queen of Seight were quite confident that they would be able to defend their kingdom, hidden far in the northwest, from any invaders once the conflict between the Red Cards and the Black Cards was concluded. They didn’t like what they had witnessed at the ball by either side and they left as soon as they were able. Over the year the actual intentions of the Black Cards was becoming more and more apparent. As it stood now, the Queen of Hearts was currently the highest ranking card accepted in all of Heere and they decided that their support and allegiance should hold to that ranking.
The King of Seight was currently watching the proceedings from the edge of the Black Forest with all of his troops. The battle had been going well and he was not certain they would be needed until the ships landed, but once the Jubjub and the Bandersnatch arrived his decision became obvious.
“Seight, we are the unwanted bastard children of this land. This land cannot continue under such a rule as the Ace of Spades so, for the Queen of Hearts and for the land of Heere, we attack!”
The Seight moved as a refined unit of excellent precision and the battle at that moment shifted completely.
In the dungeon, Khamet touched the pale shoeless foot of the Queen of Hearts and she drew herself further back in her cell. “My Lady,” he said the tears coming strong now. He stepped forward slowly to nuzzle her leg. Then he inched across the frightened queen making as much contact as he could with his body, purring as he did so.
The Queen pulled back, but something in this affection seemed to refresh her and she began to relax. Khamet continued to nuzzle. Tentatively she raised her head, opened her arms and looked down as the cat slipped into her embrace. Khamet turned his head and nuzzled her hand then did the same to her neck. The Queen raised her hand on the cats head. Khamet twisted forward forcing the stroke. The tears filled the Queen’s eyes and began to fall. Khamet continued to nuzzle until both the Queens hands reached around to hold him and stroke his fur.
“Someone’s coming,” the One of Diamonds whispered.
Khamet wanted to move, but was afraid for the Queen. He looked towards the entrance as Megette suddenly appeared. She ran down towards the cage with a severe limp. All along the edges of her card had slices and holes in it, and the bottom corner of her card was cut almost completely through.
“We have to go my lady.” she said.
The Queen of Hearts held the cat and blindly stroked him as if not hearing.
“Set fire to everything. We will get her out,” she said to the One.
“I can’t move,” Khamet said to Megette in a tentative whisper.
The One of Diamonds carefully selected a portion of wood that would not burn him then began to run around lighting everything he could. In moments the room was a rage of fire. Megette helped the Queen of Hearts, who held fast to the cat as she walked them across the room to the great blue hole in the wall. The One of Diamonds came fast to aid the last steps and waited till the other three were safely through the passage before taking one last look around and followed. The blue passage closed.
The Jack burst out the door to the chambers parrying and avoiding the attack from his father. He moved across the landing trying to avoid the fury of sharpened spade swords that came spinning and slashing.
The great Ace of Spades taunted his son, “Never taught you that did I boy? Or this,” The card leapt forward rolling himself into a spear with his two spades flared on the end.
The Jack was faster and more limber to some extent, but his father was rumored to have been the greatest fighter in all of the lands of Heere and always had been. The Ace of Spades was not one to be taken in combat.
“I really do thank you son for killing the Ace of Clubs like that. It saves me the trouble.”
The Jack didn’t respond, but continued to parry as best he could. Down the stairs they moved to the third level where the kitchen lay deserted. There was a lot of evidence that the great wolf and the hook handed man had been there. Everywhere lay paper, ripped and shredded like the aftermath of a party. A large bucket marked fresh water beside another bucket marked dish water was on the counter. The Jack twisted and flipped over the counter using his baton to send the buckets one after another towards the Ace.
The Ace slashed the buckets as they came at him as the Jack thought he would and was soaked with water.
“Slowing me down son? That won’t save you.” The Ace came with an even greater fury of spades flying.
The Jack exited the kitchen and moved to the balcony. He had to be careful and his timing just right. He attacked his father with vigor. The soaked Ace was no longer flying and floating through the air, but his skill was still masterful. The Jack penetrated a few blows with his baton that poked holes in the center of the black card.
With the Jack close the Ace of Spades rolled forward, blocked the baton with the first spade. The baton whipped around to the other end. The Ace blocked the other end with the second spade and had already folded around with the first as the Jack twisted and the spade cut right at the Jacks head.
The Jack ducked to miss the blow and avoided his neck, but the spade struck and opened a deep gash in his cheek. The cut went deep and blood spattered the waterlogged Ace. The blow was hard enough to knock the Jack to the ground and shocking enough that he dropped his baton as his father stood over him.
“Yes son. I am sorry about all of this, but that is the way of things is it not.”
“Yes it is, father.” The Jack said lifting his legs and kicking up to send his father forward over the balcony’s edge.
Normally the Ace would simply spin and swing back, but he was waterlogged and weighed three times his normal weight. He was only able to hold for a moment before he fell, not light like a card, but fast like a stone right into one of the bonfires bellow. The sound of sizzling steam began as the Ace of Spades tried to emerge from the bonfire. He was hurt, but not too bad. The heat from the fire was intense and as he climbed off he began to dry. Slowly he began to burn.
His legs went first and he dropped to the ground to drag himself. Then his hands went up next and he was left to wait. His body and head being the thickest part of him held the most water. He dried slowly and slowly he burned. The screams became so frantic that some of the fighting in the vicinity came to a sudden halt and the enemies all looked to see who it was. At the sight of their leader, many of the Spades and Clubs gave up right then and word began to spread through the battle.
The ballroom of Hearts Castle had not changed much since Khamet had been there. There was nothing set up. No cards fanned as displays or overhangs, it was just an enormous room. There were numerous prisoners being tended to. Khamet emerged in the arms of the Queen beside Megette, followed by the One of Diamonds and a great hush went through the crowd’s commotion.
The Princess, now the Queen of Hearts seemed to recognize the room and stood in zombie like shock as every card and body, injured or not, dropped to one knee and bowed to their Queen. Her arms dropped releasing Khamet to the floor and collapsed as she began to sob. Megette was fast and caught her.
“I have to go back.” Khamet said.
Megette nodded. “I’ve got her.”
Khamet concentrated and vanished.
The Queen of Hearts saw the cat vanish and her sobs intensified the moment he left. She leaned on Megette sobbing and mumbling incoherently. Megette laid the Queen back, placed the Vorpal Sword on the ground and began tending to her once again, as if no time had passed and the sword had never been in her possession.
Spade Castle and the surrounding fields were all ablaze or burnt to blackened ash. Word of Ace of Spades death spread fast and most of the remaining Clubs and Spades began to beat a fast retreat to Club Castle where it was rumored the Popularopinion was still being held. The Jubjub bird had flown off as well after being bested by the great ancient squid God thing of a Yonderland writer named Herbert. The great wolf and the hook handed sailor had both made it out of Spade Castle which was now engulfed in flames.
Khamet appeared and looked around at the destruction. “Where is the Jack of all Trades?”
The hook handed man stepped up and related to Khamet what had happened to the Ace of Spades, “The Jack did not emerge.”
Khamet looked up to the burning castle and vanished.
The Jack had ascended to the top floor moving from balcony to balcony trying to find something he could use to get down or find someone he could signal, but he was so high nothing could be heard other than the fire. An idea suddenly struck him and he ran from room to room collecting all the rope and bed linens he could find. He began to fashion a rope at the top most balcony. The heat was intense and he was sweating profusely. Had he been a card he would have ignited already.
The bedroom he was in suddenly caught fire, cutting off his last hope of escape save the balcony. The Jack tied and tied checking the distance every so often. He had three stories complete and looked at the fabric of linens, curtains and rope, “It will have to be enough.” He said to himself tying off the end and throwing everything over the side.
He was just about to descend when he looked and saw that everything he had tied was on fire. The Jack considered for a moment then untied the end and released his only escape. He watched the rope fall and suddenly heard a playful voice behind him.
“I was thinking that perhaps a friend such as yourself could do with and would appreciate a bit of rescuing.”
The Jack turned around searching, “Who is that, and where are you?”
The fire suddenly formed the shape of an enormous cats head. It grinned at him, then two large green eyes took shape and the fiery grin became great jagged teeth that would have been sinister on any other creature. “Hello.”
The Jack smiled back and then looked over the balcony, “Oh yes my cat friend. No, don’t trouble yourself. I think I shall be fine.”
“Oh, very well.” And with that the eyes winked out and the grin closed.
“No!” the Jack called desperately. “I was not serious!” he stared into the fire that was inching closer to the balcony. “Cat?” he called “Please?”
The grin reappeared, “Very well then.” The mouth opened wide and a great blue passage appeared.
The Jack hesitated for a moment. Khamet stepped out of the fire and came to stand beside him. “It time to see your Queen my friend.”
The Jack looked nervous, but turned and stepped into the opening as Khamet followed.