People on the street quickly walked past the man who sat motionlessly against the wall of a building. Bruises covered his skin, and dried blood coated his tattered clothes.

The man just stared with half-lidded, lifeless eyes at the civilians who avoided him as they passed by him. None of them bothered to stop and help him; they simply sent him a look of pity and fear, whispered amongst each other, and then continued on minding their own business.

They were afraid; afraid that if they helped the man, they would be put in his position later.

Understanding that, the man now knew for certain that he was going to die alone on the side of a street.

He closed his eyes, waiting for his death.

"Are you dead?"

That was all it took.

Somehow, three simple words said by an emotionless yet confident voice was all it took for hope to spark in the man's heart once again.


When the Joker Smiles

Akaha

Prologue


When the man opened his eyes, he saw a small girl. She was probably 10 years old at most—but she was peculiarly dressed.

The others were dressed in rags—tattered pieces of cloth roughly patched up to look presentable. There were almost no colors on women's dresses, and men's pants were covered with dust.

But this girl—she had on a deviant outfit.

She wore a colorful, sleeveless zip-up jacket that ended at her abdomen, various colors forming different, dizzying patterns. A brown leather belt held her loose pants up low around her thin waist, pooling around her knee. Black, red, and gray colored boots that ended at her knees were on her feet. On her wrists were four bracelets, two on each side, and they each had diamond, heart, spade, or clover-shaped charm dangling from it. Her fingernails were painted black and red.

When he lifted his head slightly, his eyes met blank, red ones that seemed to know everything about him. The girl's hair was purple, and was spiked naturally in a manner that made her look charming yet mysterious. She clutched what seemed like a large, white seal doll in her arms, buttons stitched on in the place of the eyes and nose.

She reminded him of a clown—a wickedly beautiful and cunning clown.

"… Who are you?" the man asked, his voice cracking.

"Have you heard the story of a clown who held magical powers, and collected souls?" she asked, ignoring his question.

"A… clown?"

Suddenly, the world around them shifted. The townspeople were nowhere to be found; only colors, cards, and dolls surrounded the girl and the man.

"Once upon a time there lived a clown," the girl started, walking around as dolls began to tremble, and laughter of glee rang in the little space they were in. "He performed on the side of the streets, in the town squares, wherever the children could find him.

"Then one day, he spotted a child who was crying while he performed. He walked down from the ball he was balancing on, and asked her this:

'Dear child, why are you crying? You should be smiling and clapping your hands, like the others!'

And the girl replied:

'Mr. Clown, my father is on the verge of passing away. I was sad that he wasn't able to see your performance and laugh. He had always loved tricks and magic.'

The clown, feeling pity for the girl, went to where she lived, hand-in-hand. And indeed there, he found an old man lying in his bed, sick and cold. No matter what he tried, he couldn't get the man to laugh, and the girl's cries became louder. He decided that the only way he could calm the cries was to show her something pretty. Alas, there was nothing around him that struck him as breathtaking.

Then he saw it."

With that, the girl turned to dying man, and tilted her head. "What do you think he saw?"

"…" The man thought about it. "I don't know."

"He saw the soul of the girl's father!" she exclaimed, raising her arms for dramatic effects and dropping her seal doll in the process. As if on cue, the chattering of the dolls became louder, and cards began to fly around the tiny girl's figure. "He was so desperate that he saw the soul of the father. But there was also "hope" next to the soul. Hope was a silver ball; soul was golden. Deciding that soul was prettier, the clown reached into the man's chest, and pulled out the golden ball that shone as if it was the sun itself. And the instant he took it out, hope shattered and the man died.

The clown smiled and showed it to the girl, thinking that it would calm the cries of the child.

Alas, that's not what it happened."

"… It terrified her," the man said subconsciously. Then he looked up. "It scared her, didn't it?"

"Bingo~" the girl said, voice and expression still monotonous. "The girl screamed her head off, shaken at the sight of the clown's hand simply going through her beloved father's chest and pulling something pretty out, killing the girl's parent in the process.

She kicked and yelled at the clown, telling him to get out and go die. The clown, shocked, simply walked out of the house, confused.

The next day, he wasn't welcome in the town anymore. The next day, and the next, and the next, and the next; no matter where he went, no one would clap and laugh for him anymore. He felt hopeless, and was about to pull his own soul out.

And that's when he met her—the love of his life!

Evangeline was her name—and oh yes, just as her name sounds, she was a stunningly beautiful woman.

When the clown saw her, he fell in love at first sight. With her flowing, golden locks of hair, her flawless pale skin, her azure eyes that sparkled in the sunlight, her dazzling smile, her endless kindness.

Of course, Evangeline had heard of him—the one who killed a girl's father.

But she didn't care. Being the kind girl she was, she listened to the story of the clown, and understood that he had only wanted to help her.

And the two fell in love.

They would meet secretly during nighttime and whisper words of love into each other's ears.

The next night, however, Evangeline didn't show up at their usual rendezvous spot—underneath a large pomegranate tree that had grown unnaturally tall and bore many fruits.

The clown went back the next night, but his love didn't show up. It continued on, and the clown began to worry more than ever.

And then he found out that the Evangeline's family and neighbors had found out about their relationship, and…"

"Killed her," the man finished for the girl. "They killed Evangeline."

"Correct~" she said, clapping her hands. "They killed her for being in an intimate relationship with a murderer.

The clown's world shattered.

Humans had taken away his joy of listening to children laugh and clap, and now they had taken away his love.

He was mad—no, he was furious.

'They took away my precious, so why don't I take their ones?' was what the clown thought.

And that's exactly what he did. Every day, he would skip around, taking souls of those who were close to death, and even the ones of those who could be saved. He was merciless.

Soon, he became a monster.

He didn't die or age, no matter how many years had passed. He was invisible to regular mortals' eyes; he was only clear in the eyes of those he wished to be seen to.

And he even gained magical powers.

He loved his strength, oh yes he did—he loved taking away the beloved of the humans, he loved making fun of them and they wouldn't notice him right next to them.

One day, he met a small girl who frightened him out of his wits—for this girl had the exact same appearance of his beloved Evangeline.

But the girl was about to die. She had been starved and abused by her parents, and no one had bothered to try and help the poor child. As he reached out to get her soul, the girl stared at him in fright. Just as he grabbed her soul and made move to pull it out, she placed her cold hands on both of the clown's cheeks, and with tearful eyes she said this to him:

'You poor clown; all alone in this world. No one can see you, can they? You must feel lonely. Yet you keep that smiling mask of yours on; poor, poor clown.'

And she died.

The clown was shaken. No one had said that to him. It was though the girl he just killed was another Evangeline—the kindness could only belong to Evangeline.

Killing this girl was the same as killing Evangeline to the clown—he only realized this after it was done."

The man blinked, suddenly realizing that he had been just sitting here, listening to the girl's story when he should be dying. But he didn't feel close to death anymore. His injuries didn't hurt, and he could feel his heart beating in his chest, as lively as ever.

"… What happened next?" he asked slowly.

"The clown shattered into five pieces." She lifted her hands, the stack of cards rising in unison. "His love broke away from him first—and became a clown filled with love for the others: the Ace of Hearts." With that, she snapped her fingers, and a card floated in front of the man—an Ace of Hearts.

"Next, his beauty—"she paused, and tilted her head. "Did I mention that under that clown makeup of his, he was a beautiful man? No? Well, he was. His beauty turned into a clown that charmed every woman with his looks: the Ace of Diamonds." Another snap, and a second card joined the Ace of Hearts; the Ace of Diamonds.

"His craftiness and the ability to make others laugh became the Ace of Clubs. Finally, his intelligence became the Ace of Spades."

"That's four," the man said, looking at the Ace cards in front of him. "What was the fifth?"

"Ah, now here's the interesting part!" the girl exclaimed, once again, monotonously. "The fifth was me!"

"You…?"

It was then the man noticed a collar around the girl's slender neck and the golden "J" charm that hung on it.

"The Joker," he murmured.

"Right-o!" the girl said, clapping her hands, yet still expressionless.

"But… aren't there two Jokers in a normal stack of cards…?"

"You're a smart one, aren't you? That's right; there are two. The fifth piece broke in two. So the clown had actually broken into six pieces.

One of the two pieces was me: the emotionless, Black Joker who takes souls mercilessly, just like the original clown. The second one is the bright and bubbly White Joker, my twin. I take souls, he gives out hopes.

You see, us Jokers are incomplete. There can't be two Jokers, no matter what the creator of cards may say. We were here first, not the cards. In fact, the cards were based on us Aces and Jokers. As for the Kings, Queens, Jacks, they're-" She paused. "Ah, I digress. I don't have enough time to explain everything to you. Anyway, as I said, there can't be two Jokers. We're fighting for domination—if I win, I can take as many souls as I want, and hope will be extinguished. If he wins, hope will spread and blossom. The more souls I collect, the more power I gain. The more hope he plants, the stronger he gets.

On the Judgment Day, we'll have a final showdown. Whoever kills the other will decide how hope will exist in the world. But it seems that the Aces don't really like me all that much. He and they are trying to stop me from collecting souls, and as we speak, they're coming closer to us. So…"

The girl knelt in front of the man, and reached into the man's chest. His eyes widened as he felt all his previous pains come back and strike him, leaving him weak and tired.

"Sorry to cut it short and leave a lot of details out. What part do the Aces play? What about the Numbers, the Kings, Queens, and Jacks? You must have a lot of questions. But you know what? It's meaningless even if you knew, since you're going to die right now." The girl smiled a smile that was innocent, yet somehow malicious at the same time. "Thank you for listening to the long-lost tale of a clown who collected souls."

The colors swirled, the laughter of the dolls echoed in his ears, and the smile of the Black Joker burned into his brain as the man felt something shatter inside of him.

Ah… I guess that was my "hope."


Akaha: … I just wrote something really weird. O.o

Did this story make any sense?

I've always wanted to write something like this… but even I feel like this story's pretty confusing o.o

Roles of Aces, Numbers, and King/Queen/Jack will be explained in later chapters.

The date of the "Judgment Day" will be revealed sometime later on.

Please give this story a chance!

PS: A review would be nice? Two would be better. More than two, I'll be in bliss.

PPS: Cover pic coming up soon, and if a cover pic isn't out until after like few chapters, I'd be more than glad if someone drew one for me…? Aha. I love you all.

Edited by Sokilee :DDDDDD I give my thanks~!