Welcome to "Dusk", a story I'm currently working on. It's unrelated to any other stories I've written, so you don't need to read any of my other writing to get into this story. A magical realm, magical girls, and girls in love with other girls, but with a bit of a darker twist. If you enjoy this and haven't read any of my other work, I suggest checking out my profile to see if there's anything else there that may tickle your reading fancy.

Part 1

Joker hopped down the last step, hands in his pants pockets as he ducked under some of the dead vines. He could faintly hear the sounds of the other Players arguing above. Most likely Queen taking out her frustration on Jack as King stood by, silently enabling his lover to do as she pleased. Ace, of course, was too busy chasing other phantoms. It wouldn't be long until the other three left Joker to his strange basement searching, deterred by the Thorns that crawled the area.

After all, most of Dusk contained easily monsters - shadows that would disperse with one hit of their weapons, but Thorns were much harder to deal with. He let his fingers run over his broken pocket watch, almost itching to use it on an unlucky Thorn that threatened to cross his path... but there was none. He stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the room. It looked entirely desolate and he wondered if this expedition was another miss.

He could have sworn that the giant thorn that routinely wandered around the perimeter of this building was hiding something important. Thorns served the Bride, the Bride was their target and even though he knew that she had to be hiding in a cathedral or a chapel, there had to be something precious in this dank basement. Everything during Dusk turned an unpleasant color, but this place had the unmistakable scent of dead flowers. And if Joker were making bets, he would have said they were roses.

His lips twitched into a smile as he noticed the almost hidden door in the back of the room. During normal time, this was probably an ordinary basement used for storage by the apartment building residents, but right now, it was Dusk. And during Dusk, nothing was quite the same. He walked over to the door and when he placed his hand on the knob, he pulled away to look at the grime that gathered on his hands. The knob was now a clearer brass, albeit it looked gray in the lack of light. Joker could briefly see his reflection.

He ran his clean hand through his messy black hair, examining his make up to see if any of it was out of place. To him, it was natural to have the two dark slits crossing down his eyes and the black lipstick on his face. Jack always pursed his lips whenever he noticed Joker fixing his makeup and would always mutter 'queer' under his breath. But Jack was a young fool and Joker forgave him, especially since he did consider himself a rather weird fellow (though he doubted that's what Jack meant by the word). When Dusk was over, the makeup would magically disappear, just like the powers in his pocket watch... But for now, he straightened out his black Players jacket, checked that his white dress shirt was tucked in and that his black pants were clear of dust.

He didn't know what was behind the door, but there was nothing wrong with checking how he looked before he went in. He turned the knob and pulled, breaking away the vine and dead roses that tried to keep the door sealed. Only small slivers of light entered the room because his shadow was in the way. There were no Thorns inside, which he found odd. Was this thing not important? He stepped in, taking in the flowery scent and almost hearing the dust crunch beneath his feet.

There was a wall of black, dead roses in front of them and his confusion mounted. The Bride loved white roses - those were her calling card. Was this her work as well? He stepped closer, realizing that there was a huge pile of flowers, almost like a bush, leaning against the wall, suspended by vines and barely touching the floor. Joker liked to think he had great composure, but even he was stunned when he saw white flesh peeking out from the vines.

It was a dainty foot, its toes barely touching the floor. Joker pulled at some of the vines, revealing the body that he now knew was there. Impatient, he tore many of the vines, revealing a flat stomach that led down to creamy hips and led up to the bottom swells of breasts. His smiled widened as he pulled at the vines higher up, revealing the face of the sleeping girl. Had she been awake, she would have been frightened by his expression.

He continued to destroy the dead plants, finding them to be as fragile as paper. There were so many of them binding the naked girl and when most of them were gone, it was just her strung up against the wall by the few of her restraints that remained. Something silver caught Joker's eye and he looked over at the girl's right hand. On her ring finger... was a ring. He chuckled to himself, wondering why it was on her right hand and why she would be naked except for it. He shook his head still wearing that same, strange grin as he reached out for the girl and pulled her into his awaiting arms. She settled nicely against him and he noticed that she had long black hair that was obscured by the dead roses before.

"What an odd girl... Does Sleeping Beauty require a kiss?" he asked, gripping her naked flesh tighter.

She seemed to take in a deep gasp air, as though she'd been drowning. Her eyelids fluttered open and her eyes were such a deep blue that Joker was taken aback by their color. She closed her eyes and slumped in his arms, presumably going back to sleep. He turned and walked out of the room, smiling. Oh what the other Players would say about his beautiful discovery...

"I can't believe you found such a cute girl down there," Jack exclaimed, running a hand through his messy brown hair. His Players jacket that signified him as Jack of Clubs was haphazardly over his white t-shirt and loose black pants seemed to match his messy look. He was letting his staff lean against his shoulder as he stared ravenously at the girl. "And naked, too."

"I try my best," Joker said, setting the girl down. She seemed... like a teenager, possibly around Jack's age, maybe a bit younger. "Stare too much and you might scare her."

"Oh," Jack said, immediately backing away, though not tearing her eyes off of her. "Are you just going to leave her naked?"

"Well, since you like staring at her-"

"That's not what I meant," Jack whined, looking towards the living room. They were at what Ace of Spades liked to call their Headquarters and what Joker really thought of as the apartment building they stayed in that happened to be their base when Dusk arrived. "Queen! Don't you have extra clothes?"

Queen of Hearts snapped her head towards him, a vicious snarl about to cross her lips. King of Diamonds stood patiently next to her, his axe resting by his side. She, however, looked ready to raise up her double blades and draw one of her powerful arrows. She had her hair tied back in a tight bun, making her face look all the more stressed and her jacket was small, covering the top of her elegant dress that puffed out, demanding everyone's attention. King was dressed... well, like a king, with his jacket also being elegant, having a matching crown with Queen and pants fit for a king.

The joke almost made Joker himself laugh. Ace was still nowhere to be found, likely on his way back. "I doubt any of my stuff would fit," Queen scoffed. "Why did you bring her here, anyways?"

Jack rolled his eyes and trotted off to his room, like the little dog that he was. "You shouldn't be so self conscious, Queen. It's not like King would replace you with a younger woman."

Her hazel eyes lit up with fire until King placed a hand on her shoulders. "Don't listen to Joker. He's always trying to rile you up... You're everything to me," he said. Joke could never understand why such a gentle man loved such a violent woman.

"Of course," she stated, crossing her arms.

Jack came back from his room and went into the girl's, holding some clothes. He nearly dropped them all as she let out a small sound and turned on her side before opening her eyes. Jack looked to Joker and Joker looked to Queen, who was still fuming, and Joker decided that the naked girl would just have to deal with being greeted by guys. Queen was hardly a matronly person anyway.

"H-Hello," Jack said as the girl looked over at them. "I got... clothes!"

She shivered and held herself tightly, her breathing quickening as she looked around the room. "Where am I?" she asked, her voice soft and quivering.

"You're at our base," Jack answered. "Joker found you in a basement surrounded by Thorns."

She stared at them as though she had no clue what Jack was talking about. The young man handed her the clothes, which were simply a shirt and a pair of boxers, looking to Joker to continue the conversation. "I'm Joker and this is Jack, King and Queen are in the living room and Ace is still out," he said.

The girl pulled on the clothes quickly, bringing her knees to her chest as her eyes continued to look around the room. "...why is it so dark?"

"Because it's Dusk," Joker said.

"What are you talking about?" she murmured, holding herself tighter.

"She doesn't know anything," Jack said quietly to Joker.

"So it seems," Joker sighed, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I was hoping you could explain why you were in a hidden room, restrained by roses."

Her blue eyes were blank and she shook her head. "I... I don't know..."

"Well, like he said, I'm Jack!" the young man suddenly said, sitting down on the bed with a smile. "What's your name?"

She opened her mouth, then closed it, staring at him. "...I'm not sure."

Jack's smile faltered. "...Really?"

She nodded slowly before hiding her face in her knees.

"We can't keep her," Ace said before looking back out over the balcony. Thorns and monsters were walking around the streets, looking for new victims to devour. "She's probably just another person that suddenly found themselves sucked into Dusk and is having a panic attack."

"She was trapped in a room, held there by dead roses," Joker said. "She must be important."

Ace's hair was red and wild, but his eyes cold. "Our target is the Bride. There's not room in the Players for a kid."

"She's a teenager, just like Jack. Besides, she could be... Ten of... Hearts, just to piss off Queen." Ace smiled a bit. "That would make her mad. She's already fuming."

"I know... but I didn't say that we could just allow this girl to join us for no reason," Joker said, spotting some Thorns near the building.

"Test her?" Ace asked. "...Jack seems to like her though."

"There are other beautiful teenage girls he can chase if she fails," Joker said nonchalantly.

"If she fails, we leave her," Ace said, turning towards the balcony door. Through the dirty glass, he could see Jack trying to coax words out of the girl while King and Queen watched them. "We have no need for weaklings."

"Of course," Joker said. "Would you like to do it now?"

"Are you so confident in her?" Ace asked. "She doesn't even know her name."

"We'll explain Dusk to her and maybe a tiny bit about the Bride... then we'll see what kind of power she has," Joker murmured, taking his watch out of his pocket. "If she's been trapped in Dusk for so long, she must have a special power like us."

"Ten of Hearts..." Ace muttered. "I'm surprised you don't want her to be the Red Joker."

Joker ran his tongue over his lips. "That's a possibility."

"No wonder Jack calls you queer," Ace said stiffly, walking back into the room.

Joker chuckled, looking down at the Thorns. They would do nicely.

"You remember the normal world, right?" Jack asked, gently placing his hand on her shoulder. The girl practically gripped his arm and held it to her chest, making him blush.

"...a little," she whispered, walking next to him, barefoot. The streets were dark and the sky a strange shade of red.

"When the sun sets, it becomes possible for regular humans to enter the world of Dusk," Jack continued. "This is what Dusk is - it's kind of like another realm. Entering here is usually by accident or unless you have powers. I came here by accident and awakened my power when I was threatened and now I come here every day during Dusk with the other Players."

"Why would you want to come here?" she asked, leaning closer to him when she saw a shadow out of the corner of her eye.

Jack caught a whiff of her hair and it was like flowers... She was rather tall, too. Taller than Queen, who he knew was five foot six. Maybe this girl was five foot eight or seven? "Well, you don't really get to choose. There are monsters here that will eat people... so we're all kind of stuck with them and you have to get stronger."

She held onto him tighter, her eyes glued to the other players in front of them. King and Queen were walking side by side and in front of them were Ace and Joker, quietly talking.

"Then there's Thorns," he said, his voice dropping an octave. "They belong to the Bride."

"...who?" she asked quietly.

"The Bride has a lot of power and she's always waiting on someone to marry. It's said that whoever marries her will gain the ability to merge Dusk and the world together, but she's insanely dangerous... We're trying to find her since she reappeared six years ago after a prolonged absence," Jack explained. He could feel the girl nod against his arm as they stopped.

"We're going to take care of something rather dangerous," Ace said, walking back to where Jack and the girl were. "You should stay here."

Jack disentangled his arm from her, but she grasped it tighter. "...alone?" she asked, looking to Jack for support.

He gave her a bit of a forced smile. "Y-yeah! You'll be fine... we need to go kill some of those Thorns up ahead and if you come with us, you might get hurt."

"Just be a good little girl and stay," Queen said, her voice dripping with venom.

"You'll get in the way," King added as they started to walk ahead.

"Don't worry," Joker said before motioning to the ring on her finger. "That's important to you, right?"

"I think so," she said, watching as the other four continued on ahead.

"Then maybe it will keep you safe... we'll be back," he promised with that same wicked grin.

She took in a shuddering breath, feeling her skin crawl. Joker was frightening with his black lipstick and eye makeup. She didn't know why she was scared, but she was. Soon, they were nothing but small images, being hidden by the strange mist that pervaded some parts of Dusk. The girl wrapped her arms around herself, praying they would come back soon. She strained her ears, hoping that Jack would come back because he'd been nervous to leave her.

There was a slight rustle and she turned to look behind, eyes widening at what she saw. It was... a giant white rose. It inched slowly towards her, it's beautiful white petals so inviting that she hardly stopped to wonder why it was coming closer thanks to the vines protruding from its bottom. She took a step back when she heard a slight animalistic noise come from it and it reminded her that this was one of the Thorns Jack had told her about.

She turned towards the direction they had left, planning to scream when she noticed another Thorn, this one less than three feet away. How had it gotten so close? She backed away from both, but there was another behind her... three of them. She held her right hand close to her chest, looking down at the ring and hoping that Joker wasn't lying to her. A thorny vine shot out from one of the plants and pulled her hands away from her body. It started to pull her towards it as the other two sent out vines to wrap around her midsection and thighs. She fell to her knees as they pulled, struggling to scream. She suddenly found her voice when the petal of the roses parted revealing teethed mouth as large as her head.

She screamed and screamed, drowning out the shrieking sounds of the mouths.

"...c'mon, can't I go save her?" Jack asked, worriedly wringing his hands on his staff.

"Look at how pitiful she is," Queen sneered. "She's not worthy of the Players."

"If she had a power, it would manifest now," King added.

Joker ran his tongue over his lips. "No... no, she has to be special."

Ace crossed his arms. They had all moved to the roof of a building nearby to get the perfect vantage point of the girl's test. "Nothing's happening. The only special thing is that the Thorns haven't killed her yet."

"She is unique," Joker insisted. "But-"

"Let me go help her," Jack whined.

"No, she's useless to us," Ace said.

"Yes, unfortunately she is," Joker sighed. "Such a pretty girl, too bad she will become Thorn fertilizer."

Jack sighed. "And she was nice... way nicer than you!"

Queen frowned at his last statement. "Too bad your little whore is such a weakling!"

"...wait," Ace said, narrowing his eyes. The Thorns were drawing closer to the girl, but they hadn't yet killed her... instead, she seemed to be falling asleep. "What are they doing?"

"This is new," Joker said, his smile returning. "They are putting her to sleep rather than eating her... Perhaps to deliver her to the Bride?"

"Let's continue to watch what happens," Ace said. "Maybe she is of interest, even if she has no power."

The girl couldn't hear what they were saying as the strange creatures drew closer, their sickeningly sweet pollen lulling her to sleep. More vines wrapped around her body, but they were gentle now, as though to ensure that the thorns wouldn't pierce her skin. Sleep sounded so nice - then she wouldn't have to deal with such scary monsters...

"Get away!"

The girl perked up at the words, her tiredness fading away as the plant in front of her hissed and started to spurt a white liquid from its stem. She noticed a knife in it and more started to rain down on the Thorns until they had collapsed, withering into dust. The vines around her body slowly fell away as a young man ran towards her. "Are you alright?"

She looked over at her savior, not recognizing him as any of the Players. He had soft blue eyes and tussled blonde hair, upon which he wore a lopsided top hat. He wore a black vest over his white dress shirt and had black slacks and a black tie to match. He looked far more suited for a formal event than fighting monsters. As he kneeled down next to her, she noticed the knives in one of his hands and the large box strapped to his back... it was almost like a coffin.

"Are you alright?" he asked again, inspecting her wrists which had small cuts from the thorns.

"...y-yes," she stammered. "Thank you."

"A gentleman must help a lady in need," he responded, looking around. He momentarily caught sight of shadows on the top of a building, but they disappeared. "...is there anyone else here with you?"

"The Players," she said as he helped her stand.

"The Players," he repeated. "Are they a group that already understands Dusk?"

She nodded.

"Do you understand Dusk?"

"Only what they told me..."

His expression softened into a smile that she found more inviting and warming than either Joker's or Jack's. "Do you have a place to go?"

"...I..." She shook her head and began to tell the man everything that had happened to her, from the strange room Joker described and not knowing her own name and how they left to go fight something.

"They must have left you behind," he said sadly, before holding out his hand. "I also experience Dusk, but unlike them, I'm here to help people that accidentally fall in here."

She took his hand and it was warm. "Now, let's go home."