Chapter 1

Burden

It was summer morning, a dark summer morning. The trees' leaves wilted with radiation, the waters littered with the rotting aquatic life. A village of simple buildings rose in the flat plain, a concrete wall topped with barbed wire surrounding them. The buildings themselves were made of lesmidium, a special alloy of brass, iron, and lead. Its special properties gave it a sizeable resistance to the constant radiation from outside, which was very helpful considering a military is mostly organic.

The sun was blocked out by the clouds of rain which no longer dropped water, but a weak acid which ate away at normal materials. The clouds bore a dark blue color, largely due to the radiation and pollution of the conflict.

A light trickle hit the roofs of the buildings, the pitter-patter of the rain barely drowning out the noise in the barracks. Inside, the celebrating of a victorious company could be heard. The drinking, partying, and most likely somewhere in the room, love-making could be heard all around the base. It's not like anyone really minded, as everyone was joining in on the fun.

Alright, maybe not everyone. At least four soldiers were outside the walls on patrol at all times, along with two soldiers in each of four corner towers, and three in the center tower. Their uniforms were lined with lesmidium fibers so they wouldn't be affected by the rain or radiation, unfortunately they couldn't protect well against the heat, as the metal trapped heat. Their routine was simple. When the patrols were completed at eight times round, the next team in line would switch in.

Now was her time to act.

It wasn't like she couldn't just walk in and blow up the place. They did treat her like a god after all. She decided she would wait until the next team would switch out, so she could maximize the potential while minimizing the effort.

She sat in the healthiest-looking tree, which by standards was anything with more than no leaves. Twiddling a card between her fingers, she closed her eyes and took a short rest.

Meanwhile, the commander's voice in the barracks rang out. "Five-minute warning for patrol change! Team 3, get your shit on and get out there!"

A man with a purple shirt quietly muttered to himself in the corner. Perfectly sober, and perfectly alone, he didn't particularly enjoy being surrounded by people. Especially drunk people.

He slid on his boots, linings, jacket and pants, and grabbed his card, which solidified his place in the operation. He stared at the picture on it. A red Joker card, as if pulled out of a poker deck and set aside perfectly for him. He grabbed his custom C-13 Plasma Rifle and slipped the card into its respective slot, powering the rifle on.

He stuck the rifle to his back and grabbed his helmet, walking out with the next team on duty. He was assigned to patrol, so he quickly found his patrol buddy and began circling the base. Roughly eighteen acres of total area, it would take them nearly two hours to circle the base eight times.

Away on a tree, the woman woke up and noticed the new shift change. The little light that seeped through the morning clouds shone in her eyes, but she wasn't bothered by it. She merely jumped off the tree and began walking towards the base.

The man had finally made it to the corner turn when he noticed the woman walking towards. He was surprised that anyone could be out walking around here, without armor even, but by protocol, he was forced to stop and question her. "Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to remain there. We need to check your identification."

"No need." She said as she flashed her card. "This should be enough I presume?"

The text on the front and back of the card confirmed that a member of the High Tarot was in his presence. He bowed to her, also under protocol, but mostly out of respect.

"As you were soldier." She said coldly. "I'm here on inspection. Making sure everything is up to date."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Tell me, are you going to let me in or are you just a fresh Joker?"

"Yes ma'am. Open the gate! The Star is here."

She ruffled her long black hair, and used her free hand to slide her card back into her pocket.

The heavy gates began to slide away from each other, revealing the Combat Base Juliet-7. She stood fearlessly in front of the doors, walking between them as soon as she could.

The man scratched the back of his neck. Why would there be a High Tarot here? Shouldn't they be out fighting the Crimson Empire? The enemy? Weren't the Jacks in charge of inspection? He had so many questions.

His buddy nudged him in the shoulder. "Hey, who was that?"

"She is number 17 of the High Tarot. XVII, The Star." He said. "She's among the higher members. I have no idea what she's really doing here, but I highly doubt it was really inspection."

Inside the base, The Star walked around with a clipboard she picked off a table. Every so often, she'd pretend to check things off, just to solidify her story. What she was really looking for though, was the euridium power generator, so she could destabilize it, causing the base to explode.

She assumed it was underground, but since her card's power was low, she'd have to wait to blink into there for a few hours. She doubted she'd be able to hold the disguise of "inspector" for very long. The Commander on base approached her and bowed, then politely asked, "With all due respect, what the hell are you doing on my base?"

She stuck to her story. "I'm here on inspection, making sure everything is up to date."

"That seems like one hell of a job to be stuck with, considering the Jacks are mainly the people who do that."

"Well, blame my superiors, not me. Now, as you were Commander."

"Yes ma'am."

He walked off and started blaring off commands like a drill sergeant. She held the clipboard to her chest as she sighed in relief. "This better pay off."

Outside, the man had made his first loop, and was ready to kill his buddy. "Hey so what are the ranks and how do you move up?" This was not the first time he asked that question so far, he had just worded it differently over and over.

"First, you're given a Joker card, and a rifle." He told the annoying man. "You advance by taking the cards of a fallen comrade. Once you have two cards, you combine them into the next level. Two Jokers make an Ace. Two Aces, a Two; Two Twos, a Three; and so forth."

"So like, I heard the cards give you powers? Is that right?"

He sighed, continuing explaining. "The card itself is made out a unique zyanthaminium crystal, which can absorb nuclear radiation and convert it to what the scientists are calling Flux."

"Flux?"

"It's basically magic, but we refuse to call it that."

Questions kept spilling out of his buddy's mouth. It had started to severely annoy him.

"So, what's your callsign?"

The man paused.

"I'm assigned to Blaze Team. My callsign is Blaze-3."

His buddy gasped. "You're on Blaze Team!? That's an elite platoon! You must have a fire-based power then!"

The man rolled his eyes. "I'd prefer not to talk about it."

"Come on please?"

"No."

"I just want to know."

"I said no. Next time you ask I'm going to be labeled a verator."

"Why do you say that?"

The man stopped moving and stared his buddy in the eyes.

"I'm going to give you a second to think about that."

His buddy gulped and kept walking, the man joining up behind him.

In the base, The Star noticed that there was a small group of soldiers walking towards her. She made her best effort to avoid them, but they were persistent. Soon, she ducked behind a dumpster to get rid of them. She heard them talking and muttering something about the Commander wanting to talk to her.

Just then, a hand wrapped around her mouth.

"Hey, the Commander was looking for ya."

She tried blinking forwards, but she didn't have enough energy.

"No! No! It's me! It's me!"

She looked behind to a familiar face.

He let her go and she whispered at him, "It's a good thing I love you. The whole rapist thing doesn't exactly go over to well with anyone else. Also, how did you know that the Commander was on my ass?"

He retorted without missing a beat, "I've been undercover here for a while. When Tarot sets up a training base in Japan of all locations, something's up. It took me a while to figure out what that something is."

"Well spit it out." She said.

"They've been planning to farm the radiation here to enhance the cards. You know how bad that would be for our cause."

The Star pondered her options. She could either take the base, and take the soldiers prisoner, or destroy it, which was her original plan.

"Hey, what are the odds of capturing the base?"

"I'd say 30%. Most of them are drunk, but can still fire a weapon."

He had a good point.

"What about a quiet takeover. I could blend in like you."

"No, too risky. Everyone here knows what you look like now."

Another fine point.

"I can't really do anything else can I?"

"No, we're stuck with this now. Might as well finish it while we can."

The Star nodded.

The guy pulled his card out of his pocket. On it read, "I, The Magician."

"Let's just get this over with." She said.