The sun shines down upon the base, the rays sweltering and blinding. The one star in the sky looming over the entirety of Carterre. Yet somehow, the darkness still consumed the very likeness of the fortress. Every corner seemed like a shadow with its claws grasping onto the stone brick walls of the place. In the middle of it all, it was all but silence. The wind was still, yet the air was heavy. I was told this place used to be a place of common commerce, market stalls of produce and food used to line the stone walls. It was never intended to be a place reckoned as a fortress, now with the crimson banners and stains on the walls. This was the only place that blocked access form the Noir Kingdom. Hopefully, soon, it would change. And it will, as a lone soldier donned in red metal armour decided to patrol right into my line of sight. They walked too close, possibly could’ve seen the frightened eyes hidden in the darkness of the fortress, so I might as well have struck. One good smack to the head by the hilt of my sword later, that was at least taken care of. The other eyes stepped forward, the one with clubs for her brown irises simply poking the unconscious body with the handle of her dagger.
🌹 “Well, that was easy.”
🔥 “Too easy?”
🌹 “No, because we aren’t spouting clichés today, Ai.”
♦ “Besides, the real difficulty is taking the rest of them out. There’s about a hundred of them here”
🃏 “Yeah…so many and so spread out.”
♠ “Focus, the stairway isn’t far ahead. We just have to move further”
🔥 “We’re near the gates, I think I can set the fire there. Should be enough to lead them off.”
♠ “Alright. Rose, get Ai over there. We’ll get into position to move up.”
🃏 “Who’s Roger?”
🌹 “No I mean-, nevermind”
I huffed a breath, taking Ai by the forearm and guiding her through the shadows. Shuffling near the walls, hiding behind the mess of clutter surrounding the place, and soon we reached the gates. Ai stood by it, her hands rubbing together as if she were creating a spark. And unsurprisingly, it worked. The fire in her hand was bright and burning, remained as such whilst she lowered it to the grass. It was a good thing she got the endorsement from Morgan, otherwise, this would set him off. Once the fire was set, I grabbed Ai’s arm again. This time, with a finger snap, we were back in the shadows. I peeked around the wall, watching them all act like moths as they were drawn to the flame. From the opposite side, a few of those moths were tied up with vines before they could even move. Morgan raised a thumb at us before continuing up the stairs with Lou. I heard grunts and punches thrown from above us. Sounded like Jacques was in position too. All the pieces were set in place.
🔥 “It’s showtime.”
🌹 “You ready?”
🔥 “Born ready, let’s go”
And with that, Ai and I ran towards our positions. We shimmied close to the walls to reach the opposite side of the fortress. Near a tall structure, I pressed my back against it and cupped my hands. The hermit managed to get up to climb it as I boosted her. I only had to jump up to pull myself up. It didn’t take too long before we sprinted across the roof of the upper floors, where Jacques was next to a pile of unconscious soldiers. I had to do a double-take to notice the pile.
🌹 “Okay, that’s gruesome, wow”
🃏 “Hey! I didn’t kill them. They’re just asleep”
🔥 “Rigghhhtt and they’re in a pile because?”
🃏 “There’s not much room up here, give me a break. I’ll put them down later.”
🔥 “Fine, fine. Are we ready?”
🔥 “Let’s do it, squad!”
Ai took out her card, taking a deep breath before she flicked it. I didn’t expect that the flame erupting from the card would get so big, but here we are. With a giant flame very much attractive to the moths down below. She reeled back, the flame getting unstable as she did so. I held the card over her hand, giving my reassurance. To regain stability. She nodded, holding the flame higher. Jacques took out their card too, flicking a small but considerable whirlwind to carry the pyre across. Ai watched, her hair was morbidly alight with orange upon the sight of the soldiers’ scurry and panic. I just smiled, at least she’s having some fun, right? The two kept sending the waves of blistering flames across the courtyard> I was just tasked with making sure they didn’t get too caught up in the arson. Even if I threw in my own powerful flames into the mix. With that, the entirety of the platoon was out of the fortress, running to the forest to retreat. We all joking waved them all goodbye as their shapes shrinking into ants in the distance. I placed a hand on both Ai and Jacques’ shoulders, finger-snapping us back to the centre of the fortress. I ran a hand through my charcoal hair, the wind seemingly staying and blowing it. Jacques was already calling the early celebrations, jumping up and down in a joyous fervour
🔥 “Is that everyone?”
🌹 “Got to double-check, we can’t be too sure.”
🃏 “Alright, you go west, you go east, I’ll see the back”
One collective nod later, and it was off searching for the strays. I made my way over to the west wings of the fortress, making the couple turns to a wide-open area, surrounded by the walls and floored with the same stone. Now without the adrenaline sidetracking me, I was able to get a more comprehensive view of the place. Although, there wasn’t much to comprehend. There were supplies but they were very limited amounts in the crates in which I checked. All that was there was just the broken and dilapidated scraps of the wooden stalls that used to occupy the space. Not a lot of food, not a lot of weapons either. This was where the platoon had placed themselves, for the long time being, it was supposed to be their residence. Yet it seemed so barren. None of the ones that fled could’ve taken so much stuff in a short amount of time, so they had such a small supply in the first place…the reasoning behind it was a head-scratcher. Needless to say, it was mostly empty. Not a soldier in sight. That was a relief, at the very least.
I made my way back to the main courtyard, seeing Ai fiddle with the dagger out in the open.
🔥 “Rose, have you seen Jacques anywhere?”
“No..? They went to the back, did you check there?”
🔥 “I did, not there”
I placed a finger on my chin. But there wasn’t much time to think when I heard the crackling of fire just behind us.
🃏 “WATCH OUT!”
Instinctively, I ducked and pulled Ai down with me. As we did, a wall of water came to shield us form a wave of flames.
🔥 “THE FUCk-“
“Well, this place still isn’t empty”
🔥 “NO KIDDING!”
🃏 “Guys! Are you okay!?”
“Yeah, we’re okay, what was that?”
🃏 “I-I don’t know, I saw someone rush by and towards you guys. I ran here just in time though. ”
“Great, we got company”
In the silence, there was a giggle. Somehow, a familiar giggle
“Ai? Why are you laughing?”
🔥 “What- I’m not?”
🃏 “…oh no-“
The Joker flicked their card, carrying the water shield next to them. They stood on-guard, even if the grip on their card was shaky. I stood too, Ai behind me. All three of us looked upon the source of such roaring laughter, seeing the flame ignited in the shadows. Out stepped hickory leather knee-high boots, with tight neat laces. Short and tattered black skirt and dress, torn all around the edges. Deep mahogany tunic over it, tightened at the waist with a black leather belt with a golden buckle. Short puffed up sleeves making room for her brown leather gloves. In her long, straight midnight and scarlet hair, a crimson ribbon tied in a bow. She smiled wide upon her carmine clubs eyes landing onto us. If it weren’t for the whip in her hands, there might’ve been a small chance I though she was friendly.
♣ “Good to see you again. Jackie!~”
🔥 “…why the fuck does she look like me?”
♣ “Yeesh, you couldn’t get partners with less dirty tongues? Yikes, yikes, yikes”
🌹 “Jacques, explain-“
♣ “No worries, don’t let the dimwit slow my introduction down. My name is Reine Trèfle”
♣ “Oh! So you’ve heard of me? I’m honoured that Jackie over there is still remembers me. Even If nobody else remembers him”
🔥 “Okay, what the hell do you want?”
♣ “Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to kill a very very specific person. Specifically, the joke over there”
🔥 “Oh fuck no, we won’t let you hurt them”
♣ “Correction, you’ll try. And you’ll fail!”
She snaps her fingers, inviting a wave of a groaning chorus to erupt. All of a sudden, from all around us, soldiers donned in the crimson armour stood tall. Many of them blocking the exit. Ria laughed even more and skipped like a child towards the stairway. Towards Morgan and Lou.
🌹 “Same as before?”
We split, me taking the west once again. I unsheathed my sword and charged through blade first. I managed to make enough headway, parry after a parry, swing after swing. Quick slices and most of the soldiers were dealt with, though many more came to fill their place. And here I thought there was just a platoon, it was like a whole army was stuffed into the fortress. I turned my head around, spotting Ai being pushed back by a couple of them. I huffed, snapping my fingers. I didn’t look back as my other self took care of them for her. I had to snap my fingers a couple times to handle the influx, actually. Even with many sword swings, there were about three more for every one soldier I took down. I was getting overwhelmed with it all like my head was spinning, or perhaps it was the overuse of my multiple selves around the area. Eventually, it was enough to drive me away. I made my escape towards the back area of the fortress. It was essentially a small field caged by the usual walls and short hallway, leading up to a spot for observing. Or perhaps being flung through to land onto the patch of grass, which was what happened to Jacques. The Joker-bound slammed against the wall, arm over their chest bleeding. The moment I took my eyes off the soldiers, I was pushed to the wall. Being pinned never hurt so badly, the stone scraping my back through my cape, if it weren’t for the fact exhaustion overrode my stamina.
♣ “Well, well, aren’t you all a weak bunch. I expected more from Earth dwellers. After all, many wondrous things were said about you, especially after the Ten of Clubs was sent there. But I guess you’re just all talk”
🌹 “For someone who hates talk, you don’t know when to shut your damn mouth- GAH!”
♣ “Oh, hush. Since she’s injured anyway, kill her off”
🃏 “NO! Ria, why are you doing this!? We’re here to stop the king!”
♣ “Why do I want that?”
Ria swung her whip again, Jacques dodged. This continued around and around the field. It was only for a brief moment that they pulled out the card and flicked it up. Ria was knocked back, held down by the vines that shot up from the ground.
🃏 “Don’t you see what he’s doing!? He’s causing the imbalance in the world! This is wrong, to hurt people, to kill off the innocent, you taught me that! Didn’t you?”
♣ “PFFFT, YOU THINK I MEANT THAT? Those are just the stupid things that adult teach kids. But as a kid, I already knew those adults were liars. They teach but never preach. They only do so for their own benefit. Make us kids subservient, to be their little slaves.”
♣ “I turned the tables on them, Jackie. I gained the system early. None of those morals matter, they just are puzzle pieces to switch around. Put them right and you can fit in perfectly”
🃏 “So…everything you taught me….was a lie…”
♣ “HAHAha, of course! Just like everything in your life! Your fate to be the hero of Carterre, to bring upon peace? Please, that’s just a title that gets you freebies. The only reason I was around you was to get the goodies that came with”
🃏 “You…lied to me? Ria..you lied to me?”
♣ “Hehehe, since when were you a friend to me, let alone a person? You weren’t fated to be a hero, you fated to be a tool”
That was enough for Jacques to hyperventilate. Their breaths quickened, all short and shallow. Gave Ria ample time to burn down the vines and kick Jacques right in the face. As they rolled across the grass, she skipped happily towards them. Her hands reached for her card, trailing the edge of it across the bleeding spots. I tried breaking out of the hold, but teleporting was a no go. Not in my weakened state. All I could do was watch as Jacques was begging to breathe, writhing with tears and screams. Ria was laughing like she heard a joke, maybe to her, the joke was right below her. But that laughter would be cut short with a knife. Or rather a dagger flung past her cheek and enough to catch her off guard.
🔥 “Seriously, explain why you look like me”
♣ “Heh, well if it isn’t the third weak one of the group.”
🔥 “How about you shut up, ya sack of shit”
♣ “How about you do yourself instead of letting other people do it for you?”
🔥 “Hah, bitch say bet”
Ai lunged first, tackling her legs and kneeing her gut. Just as Ria leaned forward, Ai pulled on her skirt and tossed her aside. Ria whipped the other Clubs-bound, wrapped around her arm. The whip seemed to glow red, smoking even. But Ai looked at it with fascination and shrugged. She tugged on it and tossed that far away. Once discarded, the hermit dashed over to Ria, pinning her down with the dagger in hand. If I weren’t so weakly pressed on the wall, I would’ve cheered.
♣ “I think I am allowed to kill you, no?”
🔥 “Go on, try”
The blade was right at her neck, blood might as well be seeping out. Yet the long-haired one smiled so confidently.
♣ “See, you can’t, you have morals. Just like any other weakling.”
🔥 “Oh you really are a piece of shit aren’t you?”
♣ “I accept any name, honestly. But you, you’re scared of whatever label they give you. You don’t want to be a murderer, that’s why you’re shaking
🔥 “I-I-I’m not-“
♣ “What’s the matter? Are you scared right now? Are you afraid? Without anyone, you’re frozen. You need people to be confident for you”
🔥 “Shut up!”
♣ “Am I wrong, Ai? Am I wrong that you’re quivering even if you tower me?
🔥 “I said SHUT UP!”
♣ “Am I wrong to think that you’re useless on your own?”
♣ “Am I wrong? Tell me I’m wrong-“
Ria releases a hand from her grasp, gripping onto Ai’s wrist and twisting it. Her screams are bloodcurdling, already the tears have formed.
♣ “-that you’re nothing more than a crying coward?”
She kicks Ai back, the hermit rolling over and curled up in gasping inhalations. In that time, Ria was able to reach for her whip. She could’ve killed her right then and there, I wouldn’t be able to stop it. But it was even worse when she didn’t take the opportunity, only the adhere whiplashes onto Ai’s back. The hermit was curled in her ball, hands to her head and clutching her midnight hair. The other, in her own sweet time, picked up the dagger and added a few slashes into her back too. My hands clenched, I felt the barest tear prick my eyes as I witnessed it all. I couldn’t even breathe to shout either. To add the literal salt to the wound, Ria gleefully wrapped the whip around her neck and tugged.
It was almost like clockwork, like a chime of the bell. As soon as Ai’s cry for help, cry to breathe reverberated, I felt one of my selves disappear. One last boost of strength allowing me to teleport and cut that bitch’s whip with a swing of my sword. I collapsed on the ground, still conscious but barely hanging on
🌹 “You…aren’t going to do shit”
♣ “You annoying little-“
Before she could even finish her insult, a scream erupted from somewhere. Ria lowered her cut whip and tossed the dagger away.
♣ “Hmm, seems like she did her job. Nevermind you, I best be going.”
🌹 “No, you’re not going ANYWHERE-“
♣ “I beg to differ. But then again, I don’t really have to beg too much”
Ria snapped her fingers, flipping her midnight hair ever so mockingly. Her hands spread out as she let herself fall to the sliver of light below her. I almost could lunge at her by the legs, but I wasn’t quick enough. My body fell to the grassy field, my hands gripping at the grass. I heard the rustle behind me, followed by a frail hand at my side
🔥 “A-Are…you okay…?”
🌹 “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay”
I coughed, sniffled and heaved a heavy breath. It all was now a blur of everything. Jacques injured. Ai severely hurt. Ria went as soon as the scream…
The realization hit me, as I snapped my fingers quick. My body leaned against the doorframe I teleported to. And it seemed, it hit me too late. As I breathed the dead air hanging above me, the stench of it clogging my nose like the sobs in my throat. With eyes trailing to Morgan clutching Lou in his arms. Hand in his twilight hair, grasping it tightly. His entire body being grasped tight, even if it were leaking crimson and ice shards poking through his stomach. Morgan took his sight away from his chérie for a moment, to face me an say-
♦ “I’m sorry, Rose…”