Thursday, September 30, 2010

Four Assassins

A variant on Rogue's Court sometimes sees all four Tens acting as Assassin cards who can trump Kings. Obviously, in this variant, the Tens do not trump each other, but instead tie each other as normal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


When playing Rogue's Court with more than two players, you may either have each player determine which other player to attack on their turn or else have all players play their cards against all other players, with only the player of the highest card claiming the trick. In the case of the former, some players may run out of cards before others. In this case, they simply can no longer play. If only one player has cards left, they automatically win every trick until they run out of cards.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Assassin Card

The Ten of Hearts acts is the Assassin Card. She can kill any king, even the King of Spades, but is still killed by Queens and Jacks and even the other Tens. The Death Card can also kill the Assassin.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Libri Arcano I


Symbolic of swords and the element of air. Associated with cunning and violence, sometimes with sinister connotations.


Symbolic of cups and the element of water. Associated with emotion, romance, and seduction. The Female symbol.


Symbolic of coins and the element of earth. Associated with the physical, with wealth, health, and growth.


Symbolic of staves and the element of fire. Associated with will, passion, and power. The Male symbol.

-Libri Arcano

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Find a performer at the ballet,
Tell them they look rather ill today,
They will have quite a bit to say,
Which will not include hip nor hooray.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Man of Death

The man of death
The death of man
Why do they fear you so?
Who are you?
Why are you?
What has become of those once past?
You are one who walks alone
But is one who is never alone
You carry them all forever to the end
What has burdened you so?
Do you seek forgiveness?
Or do you hide in your shame?
Every day they become more burdensome
Yet you continue on
Who are you to judge yourself?
When they themselves judge you not
Where are you going?
Why do you hide?
The man of death
Runs from the death of man

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two in One

You who are two?
But one in the same
You are he
And he is you
One is blue
The other is green
You don’t belong here
You want me here
I am all I need to be
You are nothing you want to be
Always fighting
Always sharing
Why do you fight with yourself?
You are not me
No, I am what you want to be
Father you scream
Mother you cry
Who am I?
Or am I a we?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Everyone Lies

Ask someone what they care about most today,
And "God, King, and Country!" is what they'll say,
But ask them what they think of the newly written tax,
They'll rant and they'll rail and say "Give it the axe!"

Everyone says that they live for noble virtues, from when they're born until they die,
But in truth they all care just for themselves, in truth everyday everyone lies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Open Letter to the Peoples of Novakalich

If you wish to judge a household, you must look at the pets,
If it is good they'll be tame, but if bad they growl threats,
For the children, abused, shall spite their dogs,
And the wife, abused, shall have her children flogged,
If the man of the house is cruel then the house will follow,
If the leaders abuse, the subjects hearts shall be hollow,
Likewise, if you wish to judge a nation, look to the freaks,
If the subjects abuse them, they suffer Hell's fiery heat,
But hurting the freaks does the subjects no good, is the thing,
So find the courage to attack the court,

Yours, the Dark Wood Circus King

Monday, September 20, 2010

Here Sits the Sad Revenant

Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant. Once tormented by the fire of Hell that burned within him, now he realizes a true doom. His purpose is no more, his origins lost, his existence forgotten by the very powers that spawned him. He is left without pain and with very little corporeal form. He has wandered for thousands of years, seeking death or life, seeking any varience in his being. Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant. Now he yearns for rage, cries to a void from a void. He cannot speak, for none have spoken to him. The Dark has abandoned him, and the Light has rejected him. He once had a body, but it was destroyed. He once had will, but it fell to neglect. He cannot see, he is blinded by a thing. He cannot hear, nor can he touch, the burdens of the thing. No longer has he a world, though a world of destruction he remembers. Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant. He still can feel, and feel he does. An eternal hate, a silent fury. Though gone is his once formidable power, gone are the flames and the ice, in their place lies a brooding abomination. In their place lies the focus of his contempt. No chasm has he found deep enough to bury it. No moutain can hide it. No sea vast enough to distance it. Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant. Once was he feared, now he has not the satisfaction of scorn. From the ruins of his consciousness, a voice whispers, a thought stirs. Merely an echo now, repeated by that vile abhorrence that inhabits his cognition. He does not raise his head, nor is any cry freed from his tongue. Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant. Gone is hope and dread, fortitude and cowardice. In eternity, the wretched soul must now dwell, twisted and condemned by that one thing. Decay lords over his form, stagnation over his being, madness over his mind. He does not wait nor bide.

He is consumed by his hate, his silent fury at that damning entity, the Self. Alone in the twilight, here sits the sad revenant.

Submitted by Tyler Christensen

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Short - Wishing Wolf

Once upon a time there was a wolf and he would grant anyone their wildest dream, but at a price it would at random eat a person for every wish. Even though he would do this people still flocked to his forest saying “Dear wolf, Dear wolf come grant me a wish.”

And the wolf would appear at the forest edge his yellow eyes watching carefully. His grey coat would always be gently moving as if a wind was perpetually around him. The wolf would speak back to the person, saying
“You who have called me, I shall grant your wish, but be warned I will devour someone in the world.”

A young boy came to the wolf crying at the edge for he lost his ball and couldn’t find it. The boy remembered about the wolf and cried out “Dear wolf, Dear wolf come grant me a wish.”

The wolf came again and spoke to the child and even warned him about the devouring yet the child didn’t heed him. And he wished for his ball. The wolf granted it and sent the boy on his way.
A few years past and the boy came back no longer a boy but a young man. He called for the wolf. As before the wolf appeared stated his peace and waited for the wish. The young man wanted to have the best blacksmith shop in the world. And, as before the wolf granted it and sent him on his way.

Not a long time after that the young man cam back again and bade for the wolf to come to him. The wolf without fail appeared as he did before stating his peace and waited. The young man not being a patient person had no skill for metalworking. So he wished to be a master smith. And yet again the wolf granted his wish and sent him on his way.

Many, many years past and the young man was married to a beautiful woman. They also had a child. The man ran into a dilemma though a great king came to him and told him to make the finest sword out of a bar of the finest metal. But he couldn’t find any of the metal. He remembered the wolf from a long time back and he went to the forest once more, saying “Dear wolf, Dear wolf come grant me a wish.”

The wolf came to the edge of the forest again and said “You who have called me, I will grant your wish, but be warned I will devour someone in the world.”

The man wished for a bar of the finest metal in the entire world. The wolf granted it and sent him on his way. When the man returned home the wolf sat at his steps.

“Dear wolf,” The man said, “why are you at my house?”

The wolf sat and turned its head in contemplation. “I have come for your child. He is the one who was chosen to be devoured this time.”

Horror struck the man and he cast the metal at the wolf striking it in the head killing it. The man stepped into the house with the metal to work it into a sword but as he entered the building everything was sand and in his hand the metal sifted away amongst it.

Even as the man tried with all the money he had he could never work metal. All the metal he touched rusted away.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter Two

The pub in Weirech was quite a bit more crowded and noisy than that of Novaharod, and Wilder was glad to be out of it. He much preferred walking through the streets in the dark, making his way through the winding maze of the city back to where Ashen and Jenna had left the caravan. When he found their caravan/camp in a field on the edge of town, he took a seat around the campfire. The two of them fell silent as he drew near. "Well?" Ashen asked.

"The guy with the sword has been killing a lot of people on the road to Hemmelsbach," Wilder said.

"How long?" Ashen asked.

"A few weeks is what they said," Wilder said, "And the last one was pretty recent. There's more, though. He was with someone."

"Who?" Ashen asked.

"They didn't give me a name, but they said that this guy killed someone," Wilder said.

"Under what circumstances?" Ashen asked.

"No one knows. He went into a room with the guy and left a few minutes later, and the guy was just dead. No wounds," Wilder said.

"Poison?" Ashen asked.

"The mortician couldn't find any in his body," Wilder said.

"...Interesting," Ashen said, staring into the fire.


The banging on the church doors grew louder as the sound of the door splintering urged the crowd onward. The priest hurriedly pushed the young boy and the travelers into the tunnel and, without a word, rushed up the stairs hoping to quell the crowd. They rushed to the exit hoping no one in the village knew about this escape route. The child’s green eyes gleamed in the torchlight a worried yet calm expression hovering in them. Part of him was frantically searching for answers, but the other part just accepted it as fact. It wasn’t as if it was anything new. Everywhere he went it was the same. The sun stung his eyes as he left the safety of the tunnel. One of the men quickly grabbed his hand pulling him along.

“Jaromil, you must move faster.” He spoke in a hushed tone.

Jaromil nodded his agreement to the man he just met a few hours ago.

The priest’s words still rang in his ears clear as day “Be as a child.” He whole heartedly agreed with those words for he feared that there would be no escape this time.

Their small group managed to slip away from the town and deep into the forest. They decided that this would be a good place to camp for the night. From the group of travelers the leader walked over to Jaromil.

“Sleep well kid. The morning will be rough.” With that he turned and walked away. Jaromil didn’t like the smile on the leaders face.

With out notice he was thrown from his makeshift bed. Laughter surrounded him making him even more confused. When his head cleared he looked up at all the men that traveled with him.
The leader stepped forward and said “We know what you are, freak...We can fetch a good profit for giving up your head to Princess Katrina.”

The man kicked Jaromil forcing all the air in his lungs to burst forth. He gasped for air as they tied him. They cruelly jabbed at him and tripped him laughing as they walked dragging him onward. Nearing mid day they crossed onto an actual road making the abuse a little easier on Jaromil. That night when they stopped to camp they tied him to a tree and moved back to their campfire. Later on one of the men stumbled toward him holding a bottle of Mead.

“Sthay sum… thing smthart.” He managed to blurt out before falling over from his own intoxication.

The boy smiled. “By drinking as much as you do. You are in a sense committing suicide.”
The man focused on the boy for a second, “you’re not… changed.”

“It’s because I’m being childish for indulging your idiotic wish.” Jaromil sighed. He was slipping, his skin growing wrinkled, his hair slowly turning white. Being around a bumbling fool was starting to rub him the wrong way. “Do you even know what your idiosyncrasies are? For that matter do you even know what idiosyncrasy means?”

The man attempted to stand but fell back down. “I’ms going to Idiosythrasy you.”

“You really are an ignoramus aren’t you?” he couldn’t help himself anymore. The drunks face turned stern as the transformation from young boy to a small, aged man completed itself. “You's really is old.”

“For your simple aperception to conceive the difference of age and appearance you’d have to ponder it for an eon. Than again, I’m still not sure if you could pay mind longer than a minute.” The man stared in response for a moment, then walked away, scratching his head and wondering if he'd been insulted.


The priest was reading over passages of the Good Book, unable to shake his memories of Jaromil. There was nothing he could do now except pray for the boy, but still he found himself unable to turn his focus elsewhere. For this reason, by the time the echoing sounds of booted feet on the church floor struck him as unusual, the man making them was already halfway across the floor to him. He was wearing a tophat and long red coat, walking with the aid of a cane he clearly didn't need. Walking by his side was a young girl wearing a porcelain mask. "Far be it from me to tell a man of God how to do his job," the man said, "But I think you might want to invest in a new door. The old one's got a few scratches." He gestured back to the splintered remains of the door.

"Yes, I know," the priest said. He wasn't sure what else to say. "There was a mob involved."

"A mob? I can't imagine why," the man said.

"I'm afraid you wouldn't understand," the priest said.

The man glanced at his companion, then back at the priest and said "Are you now?"

The priest hesitated a moment, and then said "He'd never done anything wrong. He was just a boy! The villagers thought he was the cause of the famine...But if there's any cause to that, it's their own sins!"

"Same song, second verse. Or more like the fourth, really," the man said, "Why don't you just give me the details?"


The screams woke Jaromil from his slumber. Remembering that he was tied to a tree all he could do was wait. Once the screams had died down, Jaromil noticed a slumped form walking toward him. As it got closer he couldn’t even see who it was through all the blood. Jaromil lost his stomach hurling onto the ground than he passed out.

The sound of two men talking gently brought him from his slumber. His eyes popped open the flicker of a fire danced on the cave ceiling. Sitting up his head swirled making him nauseous again.
One of the men spoke, “So our interesting companion has awakened.”

Jaromil quickly glanced over to the men near the fire. One of them was dressed in a decent looking shirt even if it was a bit dirty; his dark brown hair hung loosely around his head, and his bangs was angled to cover his left eye. The other man had a black shirt with an image of a white flower on his right shoulder, and he had short jet black hair.

“Well, your awake the least you can say is thank you.” The black haired man motioned to his companion.

Looking at the brown haired man Jaromil asked, “Were you the one who saved me?”

The man laughed, “I guess you could say that. Do you have a name?”

“It’s Jaromil.”

“Well Jaromil, my name is Ceslav and my companion is Byelbog.”

“It’s nice to meet you two.” It had just dawned on Jaromil that he had an unnerving fear for Byelbog, but he couldn’t explain why. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at the man’s face.

Byelbog stood up and stretched. “I’m going to check the snares.” And with that he stepped out of the cave.

Ceslav seeming to notice Jaromil’s displeasure with Byelbog spoke “Don’t hate him.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not him. As far as he has told me it’s always been with him. Everyone just hates him when they see him. He isn’t too bad of a person once you get to know him, and you learn to get over the feeling.”

“What about you?” Jaromil inquired.

“What about me?”

“Why are you here? And why did you save me? And did you kill all of those men?” he asked but he knew the last answer already.

“I’m here because just like Byelbog and you I’m different and I tend to be hated when people find out about me. But that’s not important what is important is when is he going to get back with something to eat.” Ceslav smiled.

Jaromil started to feel a knot in his stomach. “You know about me?”

“Well it’s hard to miss a young boy whose brown hair turns grey and his skin wrinkles in your arms agreed?”

“You don’t hate me for it?” The knot started to ease itself.

“As I said before, we are all different. If we started hating people for being different than us we would have a long list of people to hate.”

Jaromil chuckled, “you have a point.”


Ashen closed his eyes and tried to imagine the scene, and quickly. He didn't like leaving Wilder alone with the caravan for too long. The boy, presumably Jaromil, had vomited, which was expected. There was another pile of vomit, but curiously enough it seemed to be coming from the same set of footprints as the swordsman who'd killed the men in the first place. Was it just a coincidence that the vomit landed there, and it was actually the swordsman's companion who'd vomited? Ashen couldn't tell if the boy had struggled or resisted, but he'd definitely been carried away. There were no remains and no footprints of the right size leading away from the campsite. "I'm guessing our swordsman is a Devil's Hand, took the boy as food," Ashen said, "But that doesn't explain why he'd shack up with Deadly Jack."

"They could just be friends, you know," Jenna said.

"Could be," Ashen said, "But I doubt it. I'd guess it's a mutual defense sort of thing. Jack's aura gives the swordsman a bubble that others daren't pop, and the swordsman dices up people who try to kill Jack."

"No. They're just friends," Jenna said.

"So that gypsy made you clairvoyant, too?" Ashen asked. Jenna just stuck her tongue out at him. Ashen smiled and turned back to the scene of the battle, looking for more clues, when suddenly he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. “Stay here,” Ashen said, ducking off into the shadows.

“Hello?” the approaching figure asked. Jenna just stared back, occasionally glancing around to try and find Ashen. “Who are you?” the figure asked, drawing slowly closer. A sudden wave of dread washed over Jenna, and she stumbled backwards, tripping over one of the bodies at the scene. The figure backed away and said “I'm not going to hurt you!”

“No kidding,” Ashen said from about two feet behind the man.

The man whipped around and backed away quickly, saying “Don't get close.”

“My name's Ashen, what's yours?” Ashen asked, offering a hand to the stranger. The man hesitated a moment, looking at Ashen's hand. “Ah, you're Deadly Jack!” Ashen said, pulling his deck of cards out of his coat pocket and shuffling them.

“My name's Byelbog,” the man said his good eye narrowing.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Ashen said, “Where's your friend?”

“How do you know I'm not alone?” Byelbog asked scratching at the scar crossing over his white damaged eye.

“I'm exceptionally clever,” Ashen said, “Where is he? And the boy, what'd you do with him?”

“They're both waiting at our camp. Why?” Byelbog said loosening one of his gloves.

“Byelbog,” Ashen said, ignoring the question and sliding the Jack of Spades out of his deck, “When you were a little boy, did you ever wish you could run away and join the circus?”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Girl in a Porcelain Mask

Sitting in the shelter of an overhanging ledge is the girl in a porcelain mask,
Covering her face from the probing eyes of the crowd who care not to ask,
"Why wear a mask, why hide your face from all those who'd like to see?"
They don't ask, they don't care, not about her nor you and me,
This one's been broken by the sorrows of the world, his luck's run completely dry,
This one's just learned he'll finally have a son, but this one's just barely getting by,
This one's lost her lover to the man with the axe, and her brother says he'll track him down,
This one's always running away from his past, and this one can't afford a wedding gown,
Everyone's got problems of their own, which is why no one cares to ask,
Why the girl in the shelter of an overhanging ledge is wearing a porcelain mask.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thirteen Knives and Cyanide

Thirteen knives and cyanide hidden in his coat of red,
Thirteen knives to stay alive, for fear of dying, is what he said,
Thirteen knives to defend the Spades, for fear they'll be unled,
Ten and three fine, sharp blades, for cutting throats and cutting bread,
Thirteen knives, each one he'll hide, for each one he's often bled,
And with them hidden cyanide, in case he ever must be dead.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Empty Stands

The Dark Wood Circus comes to town,
A merry little band,
And puts on a show in hat and gown,
For mostly empty stands,

We need to sell more tickets,
So spread the word around!
We're tired of chirping crickets,
Tell friends of the circus you've found!

Spread the word, far and wide!
Tell any who will hear,
So we can say, once they're inside,
"Oh, you're here, you're here!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter One

Rain poured down upon the town of Navahorod, the villagers running quickly from one place to another, eager to get inside and out of the rain, those in the pub glad to have a warm drink and hoping the rain would let up before they'd have to make their way home. The pub had no windows proper, just holes in the wall that were patched up during the winter months and then opened up again for the summer. It being midway through August, the windows still stood open, and the rain outside gave the pub a damp feel to it.

Ashen Winter sat near one of the windows, just outside the small circle of wet floor caused by the incoming rain. He sat alone at his table, the others avoiding him for his strange outfit, a long red coat and a tall black top hat, a pair of white gloves over his hands, yet the whole thing so battered and old that he was clearly not a member of the upper class. A crude black cane with a white tip completed the ensemble, that of the poor man pretending to be rich.

Ashen sat, shuffling a deck of cards, until eventually a man sat down across from him, the pub having run out of space at other tables. “How do you do?” the man asked in a grizzled voice. Ashen grabbed the edge of his top hat and nodded slightly, freeing a few bangs of blonde hair, which rested for a moment in front of his yellow eyes before he brushed them aside. “You've got a deck, I see,” the man continued, “Are you one for a game of chance?”

“I prefer not to rely on chance,” Ashen said softly in a voice that carried an accent far to the west of Navahorod, and then looked away out the window.

“Then why're you here, with a deck of cards and no drink?” the man asked.

“It's raining,” Ashen said, “And I'd rather not get my hat wet.” There was a momentary pause. “It's brand new, you know,” Ashen said, tapping the brim of the hat, which looked to be at least ten years old.

“Is that so?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Ashen said, “But the coat is ancient, at least a month old. I should see about getting it replaced sometime, else I'll have to declare it a family heirloom,” Ashen continued, indicating the long red coat, which appeared to be twice as old as the hat. There was a moment of silence, and the man was about to say something to the effect of Ashen's clothes seeming much older than he'd said, when Ashen beat him to the breaking of the silence, saying “Would you like to play a game of cards?”

“I thought you said you didn't play games of chance?” the man said.

“Yes, but this isn't a game of chance, it's a game of cards,” Ashen said.

“How do you figure?” the man asked.

“I don't,” Ashen said, “Would you like to play?”

The man paused for a moment, and then decided that a game of cards would be that much easier to win when playing a madman. “What's the wager, then?”

“I have no money to spare on me,” Ashen said, removing his hat and placing it on the table. He shook his head a bit, his hair, once flattened by the tophat, now simply messy and untamed. “I'll wager this hat for starters, though.” The man pulled a few rubles from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. “My man, you are severely underestimating the worth of this hat,” Ashen said, “But, it's been so long since I've played a good game of cards, I'll take the bet anyway. Have you ever played Rogue's Court?”

“I can't say I have,” the man said.

“It's simple, we each draw five cards from the deck, and then we play five tricks. Each trick, we each play one card, highest card wins the trick, whoever wins the most tricks takes the pot. Spades trump, deuces trump aces, but,” Ashen pulled the top card off the deck, the Ace of Spades, “The Ace of Spades is the death card, it trumps all, except for the King of Spades, whom the Ace answers to. But that doesn't matter because the King of Spades is actually missing from this deck.”

“The King of Spades is missing?” the man asked, “Are the rest all there?”

“Oh, yes,” Ashen said, “Just the King is gone, fifty-one cards.”

“I think I understand it, then,” the man said, “Let's play a game!”

“Alright, then,” Ashen said, shuffling the deck twice and then handing it to the man. The man began to draw his cards, but Ashen held up his hands to stop him and said “Wait, wait, no, you shuffle first.”

“I shuffle, too?” the man said.

“Yes,” Ashen said, “We both shuffle the deck so that no one can rig it in their favor, right? You don't do that here?”

“No, not here,” the man said, shaking his head.

“Well, you must be a refreshingly honest town,” Ashen said, not mentioning the possibility of their being refreshingly stupid as the man shuffled it and then drew his cards. Ashen took the deck back and drew his own five, the Two of Clubs, the Jack of Diamonds, the Ace of Clubs, the Nine of Hearts, and the Three of Clubs.

“Alright,” Ashen said, shuffling the Three of Clubs up to the top of his hand and asked “You ready? We play at the same time.”

“Of course,” the man said and pulled a card out. The two of them slapped the card on the table simultaneously, and Ashen peered over his hat to see the cards on the table. His three against the Queen of Diamonds. “Well, that's yours then,” Ashen said, and pulled a golden colored chain from his pocket and laid it down on the table next to the hat. “That's painted tin, by the way, not real gold,” he said.

“What's this, then?” the man asked.

“Oh, the loser raises the wager and the winner has to match it or bow out, and leave everything on the table to the loser,” Ashen said.

“You didn't mention that earlier,” the man said.

“Fair enough,” Ashen said, “Shall we just call the game off entirely then, take back what's ours?”

“No, no,” the man said, pulling out a few more rubles and placing them on the table.

“Right, then, ready?” Ashen asked, ready to play his Nine of Hearts. The man nodded and they slapped the cards down on the table again, the other man playing a Four of Spades. “Well, that's mine then, you raise,” Ashen said. The man placed a single ruble on the table, and Ashen stared at the table for a moment. “I'm going to match you with the deck of cards we're playing with right now, how's that?”

“Fair enough, fair enough,” the man said. Ashen smiled and shifted the Ace of Clubs to the top of his hand. The two slapped the cards down again, the other man having played a Six of Hearts. Ashen pulled the cards away, but the other man was smiling as he added a large pile of rubles to the table, Ashen raising him by a pocketwatch, which he flipped open briefly to show the clock still ticking before removing the brass chain and leaving it on the table. They slapped their cards down again, Ashen's Jack of Diamonds against the man's Queen of Hearts. The man grinned and took the trick, the two of them now even at two and two. Ashen pulled out the brass chain the watch had been on and laid it on the table next to the watch, and the man heaped over several more rubles, now having nearly two days wages on the table.

“Are you sure you don't want to call this off now? We can just walk away completely, each taking his own back,” Ashen said, his expression twitching slightly.

“No, no, we're even, let's finish it, I'm feeling lucky,” the man said.

“Alright,” Ashen said, “We've only got one card left a piece, why don't you play yours first?”

“We're supposed to play at the same time,” the man said.

“No, on the last trick, when you've only got one card a piece and you haven't got anything else to change your mind to, you play them one at a time. That's just how you play the game,” Ashen said.

The man nodded and grinned, and said “Well, I hate to ruin the suspense, but...” He played the Ace of Spades on the table, “I have the Death Card.”

“Well,” Ashen said, playing his own card on the table, “I found his master.”

The man gaped for a moment at the King of Spades on the table and began stammering, “Y-You said the King of Spades was missing! Fifty-one cards!”

“No, no, no, no,” Ashen said, taking the watch, both chains, and his hat back, “I said the Ace of Clubs was missing, you must've misheard.”

“You said the King of Spades was missing!” the man shouted, drawing a crowd as Ashen gathered the deck up.

“No, you misheard, I said the Ace of Clubs was missing, and you still haven't told me who Boris is.”

“Boris?” the man asked.

“Yes, according to you, I'm as much a freak as his mother,” Ashen said.

“What?” a voice called from the crowd, “Who said my mother was a freak?”

“Technically, no one,” Ashen said, while the man he'd been playing with stared at him in ever-growing fury, “But this fellow here said that I was 'as much a freak as Boris' mother,' I honestly don't even know who that is.”

Boris pushed his way to the front of the crowd and demanded “What're you saying 'bout my mother?”

“I didn't say anything!” the man shouted, but Boris was already grabbing him by the collar while Ashen grabbed the rubles off the table and ran. As he passed the door out of the pub, a small girl, perhaps no more than twelve years old, hurried after him. She was dressed in a long white dress with simple brown boots, her face concealed by a porcelain mask and her right arm heavily bandaged.

The two of them hurried out into the rain, the music of street performers cutting through the air and the pitter-patter of rain on the rooftops. An accordion, playing a circus tune with an eerie violin as accompaniment, and a young girl, perhaps only fourteen years old, singing an eerie tune to match them both.

All of the cast, you will see smiling,

Although their forms, are rather interesting,

But it is fun, when you see the show,

In the Dark Wood Circus performance!

One body with two heads...Smiling!

One young diva with her deformities,

One blue beast who takes his meals,

Inside the shadows of the stands.

Ashen smiled as he passed, dropping the pile of rubles into the basket in front of the street performers. The singer glanced down into the basket and suddenly stopped singing. The other musicians, noticing her sudden silence, looked down to see the rubles in the basket, a huge grin spreading across their face, seeing the money they usually make in a week lying in the basket. “Thank you, sir,” the singer said, “Would you like a special-” She stopped speaking as she turned around to face him, and found that he and the girl who had followed him had both vanished.

Wilder had been trying to go to sleep, having worn himself out from hours of rage. The chains around his hands had been made to hold him, though. The supernatural strength of his claw-like right hand, all the flesh stripped away leaving nothing but his the sharpened bones of his fingers, was useless against the cold steel of the chains, and would be equally so against the harsh iron bars. Strength beyond that of a man he was granted by his Devil's Hand, but not strength enough.

He was stirred momentarily when he heard a strange gurgling noise, and some shouting, but he soon blocked it out and closed his blood red eyes once more. He was tired. Tired of living in a cage and being fed the desecrated remains of the last town's graveyard for the sake of a crowd, tired of being too starved to refuse the meals, and tired of trying in vain for the thousandth time to tear his way out of the chains and the cage.

The shouting grew louder, and was eventually accompanied by a gunshot from the manager's flintlock pistol, his bellowing voice heard over the shouts of the traveling freak show momentarily before being silenced. Wilder stirred and looked over in the direction, where the other three members of the show, each infinitely more willing than Wilder himself, seemed to be fighting with one another. Wilder grinned and strained his neck, trying to get a better angle on the chaos, and hoped that they'd all die from the wounds they inflicted on each other. Perhaps Hell was bringing vengeance on those who'd dare chained up its infernal servants?

A moment later and his hopes seemed to have been confirmed. Someone, not much older than him, but dressed in a long red coat, stepped out from behind the crates, wiping the blood off of several red-handled knives before sliding them back into his coat. Once in place, they were practically invisible. The man tucked away his bloodcloth into a coat pocket and grinned at Wilder, who instantly noticed his razor sharp teeth. Sharp like Wilder's own. This man was also a Devil's Hand. “You were sent by the demons, weren't you?” Wilder asked, “You were sent by Lucifer?”

“No,” Ashen said, “The force that has brought me here is far greater.”
“What could possibly be a greater force than Hell?” Wilder asked.

“Economics,” Ashen said, “Jenna, the keys, if you would?” Jenna, a young girl in white with a porcelain mask, crept nervously out from behind her hiding place, carrying a set of keys in her good hand and handed them wordlessly to Ashen. “You haven't met Jenna, have you?” Ashen asked as he began trying different keys on the lock to Wilder's cage.

“I haven't met either of you,” Wilder said.

“What?” Ashen said as the cage door swung open, “You don't recognize me? Wilder, I'm hurt.”

“I don't...Who are you?”

“It's me, Ashen,” Ashen said, unlocking one of Wilder's manacles and then moving on to the other while Wilder moved his arms in circles, trying to work away the aches from being chained in one spot all day.

“Ashen?” Wilder asked, “So you did make it out? They told us you'd been killed in the fire!”

“And you trusted them?” Ashen said as he unlocked the second manacle and Wilder began rubbing the feeling back into his wrists.

“Well...No, of course not,” Wilder said.

“You're still a bad liar, Wilder,” Ashen said. Wilder opened his mouth to respond, but Ashen didn't pause to give him the chance. “Wilder, this is Jenna, Jenna, this is Wilder, you can meet and greet later, for now I have a job offer for you.”

“A job offer?” Wilder asked.

“Yes,” Ashen said, “When you were a little boy, did you ever wish you could run away and join the circus?”

“I'm-” Wilder began, but Ashen cut him off.

“This,” Ashen said, waving his hand at the crates, the cage, and the caravan it was attached to, “This is not a circus. Circii have acts. This is a freakshow.”

“Yes, it's latin, are you in or not, Wilder?”

“I...You run this circus?” Wilder asked.

“Yes,” Ashen said, bowing a little. “Ringleader of the Dark Wood Circus, at your service...Or rather you may well be in mine, do we have a deal?” Ashen said, offering his hand to shake. Slowly, Wilder took it, and Ashen shook it quickly before pulling away. “Excellent,” Ashen said, pulling out a deck of cards and cutting to the middle of the deck. He pulled the top card off and handed it to Wilder

“What's this?” Wilder asked, looking at it.

That,” Ashen said, “Is the Ace of Spades, it's your card.”

“My card?” Wilder said.

“Yes, your card, your identity, how we sort out who's who in this circus. It's the Death Card, Wilder. It's who you are.”

Wilder looked down at the card in his hands and grinned. When he looked back up, Ashen and Jenna were already walking away. Wilder shoved the card in his pocket and hurried to catch up.