"It was said that in the beginning, there was a world of slaves. Cast into shackles by entities of pure will, to do their will. It was said that four mages rose from the earth itself - the true earth, below the cloud of time - to free them and escape endless torture forever. Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts emerged from the chaos of arcane purity. And with the four orders combined, a flying continent was built from the flesh of the world.
The Champions stepped through into a cathedral, the black-and-red paisley carpet designs swirling around their feet playfully. The carpet extended for what seemed like miles, leading to a throne at the heart of the building. Above the throne, light shone through four stained-glass windows, bearing one of each suit's insignias in shifting patterns.
"It was said that once the Mages had sent the slaves beyond the clouds and into the safety of the atmosphere, they used a gift of their father and their king to seal them in time. Had they not, the ivory agents of the world below would find them with ease. The Four Suits had allowed them to escape, and thusly was their strength. But such concentrated magical order holds no sway over the immense chaos of their power's source. The beings of the underworld, known amongst our people as the Misere, were masters of the chaos. Their hounds were sent after us throughout time and space to bring us back, dead or alive. But our survival has been assured, courtesy of those four mages of old.
As they stepped further forward down the epic hall, the dominant voice's origin became apparent. There was a tall, handsome man sitting atop the throne in scarlet papal attire. Atop his head sat a magnificent crown adorned with the finest rubies and jet, and in his hand was a staff - at its tip shone a hypnotic, beautiful gem of the most radiant auburn.
"The mages disappeared soon afterward, leaving the continent to its people. They may be gone, but their legend lives on in the hearts and minds of us all. In their absence we built this church in their honour - the church of the Full House. Here, we pray that some day they may return."
And pray that I do not.
He looked down at the twenty that stood before him, glancing over them with a sweep of his brilliantly red irises.
"I am the administrator of the Full House, the figurehead of the religion that defines the very core of Chicane. Some may refer to me as the King of Hearts, but most call me House. The Diamond Inquisition has placed you in my custody, and thusly I bear your responsibility as Champions of the House. I will be your host in the coming weeks."
'Host' is appropriate.
House head tilted back and he opened his mouth to scream, but no noise came out. When his head violently lunged forward once more, his perfect irises were scarred by his pupils - now in the shape of long, snakelike diamond slits. When he spoke, his voice had become less soothing and powerful as they were deep and booming.
"And I am the Ace of Diamonds, speaking to you through time. I would have taken you under my wing in person, but we are currently... preoccupied in your immediate future. Please excuse the rudeness of my claiming your host as my own, but we have some matters to attend to."
The possessed man stood up and stepped toward them.
"We are all in terrible danger. An agent of Misere will find or city in two weeks time, and we are witnessing the slaughter of the people we saved so long ago, perched atop the tower in the centre of our continent. Our magic crafted this world, but is not sufficient to defeat such a being. We require a number of Champions unaffected by the physics of our world to restore order and save what little is left of Chicane."
"That is why we have brought you here, to help save the lives of a people that have only known slavery. To not only allow them to survive, but give them a chance to live."
He swept over them once more.
"This is not merely an act of generosity on your part, however. One of you, should you succeed in slaying the Joker, shall obtain his godlike powers. You shall become as powerful as the being even the Full House fears. Would you like a chance at such incredible power? Well, here it is."
"We can not train you all, however. There are a few unique magical artefacts that you will need to defeat the Joker, but fewer of you will have the chance to wield it. We need to test you to reap the strongest and smartest from our selection, and train them in the ways of the Four Magics so that you may be ready for any confrontation - god or otherwise."
"Our first test is to test you all against one another. To harden the hardened and discard the weak. House will provide you with the suitable transport; the Decimators shall assign you on your tests. They are the perfect warriors, after all."
He sat down once more. As he did, behind the champions the door to the cathedral opened to reveal four silhouettes. They were tall, and light reflected off the metal that comprised most of their bodies like exoskeletal armour. Each had a single power core in their chest that glowed brightly, seen only through a window in their chests - the shapes of one of the Four Suits forming the shape of the light that shot from them. They looked at their pupils with blank faces. It was no doubt that these were the Decimators, the generals of the Clubs military - they were physically superhuman, yet also seemed perpetually cold and calculating.
"There are a few warnings I must issue you before I return to my duties. You are from beyond this plane of existence, and thusly you are our greatest chance against the pure arcane. But this does not make you invincible, you are still just as affected by the Four Magics and the Jokers' as any of us. It simply means that you can not be immediately destroyed by the same forces that created you."
"Another warning is one that you may regard or diregard your own discretion; that all citizens of Chicane sans some... unsavories are firm believers in the House. To them, the Aces have been absent for centuries. They will not take kindly to you as our Champions, as even our slightest involvement in your actions will be considered a heresy punishable by death."
"The same goes for the tower at the centre of Chicane - the Ace of Hearts has built and maintained an incredibly strong perception filter to ensure that we remain hidden from their every sense. Seers and druids living in the underground woods have caught glimpses of he tower through the corner of their eyes, but should they mention what they have seen, the kindest reception they will receive is to be burned at the stake."
"We have gone to painstaking length to hide our presence to the people, but it is for a good cause. Our presence and direct intervention is like a beacon of magical energy to the forces that wish us dead. We must hide if they are to survive."
"I will keep in contact, and some time soon we shall meet in person. I await that day. But before we do, you have your own duties to attend to. Be gone - I will be watching."
House's eyes returned to their original proportions, and he slumped forward in his chair as unconsciousness claimed him. The Decimators stood side by side behind them.
When our puppeteer is a puppet himself - what does that make us?
"Come." Said the Decimator of Clubs. "We have much to do, and we are running on borrowed time. We will send you to your arenas in House's name - we are assured you will take care of the rest. We will contact you again when one is left standing in each arena."
The Ratings War VI - Aces High
Block 1 - Black
The Black Decimators looked at their pupils with contempt. They were certainly no warriors. However, if there was anything a Decimator could face it was adversity, even the adversity of disipline. The Reds had since parted ways, heading into the urban districts of Chicane while the Blacks began their way downwards into the heart of the continent. Spades and Clubs are ruled by the physical, a communion with nature and the self. And these champions would be challenged thusly.
They came to a set of five doors at the end of an enormous corridor - the walls of the caveshad not been sighted in hours.
Spades stepped ahead to inform the Champions:
"Your arenas are through each of these doors - you have each been given a number between 1 and 5. The doors will not open until one stands victorious. You do not need to kill your opponent, only to make them concede. But where's the fun in that?"
ARENA 1: Soneyo (000Ronald) v Isaac (Nukey)
Deep in the heart of the caves of Chicane resides the backbone of the continent - the Spades workers that toil with and without their magic to extract minerals and construct facilities for various other faculties. The Diamond Inquisition and the Clubs army have men posted here, keeping watch over the workers and keeping alert for the rising of any workers' strikes. Or worse, revolutionaries.
Be aware that guards are keeping watch for any and all violence, and will attempt to either restrain or kill you if you are caught trespassing on their premises. Also notable is the high concentration of explosives littered throughout the mine - be careful what you do here, one wrong move could blow both of you to pieces.
ARENA 2: Wight (elementsoul) v Troy (staika)
Deep underground at the absolute lowest part of the continent resides a woodland - pools of light shine from under the ground to illuminate the stony roof and the leaves and roots that spiral and etch throughout it.
The Druids also live here, seers that count the cards of fate - they use illegal Diamonds magic (i.e. not being connected to a Diamond Hive) to see the past, present and future with precision. It has helped them escape the gaze of the Clubs patrols for so long, but your actions may attract the attention they have acted so carefully to avoid.
The luminous marshes at your feet may contain carnivorous leeches as well - watch your step.
ARENA 3: Faustus (Tips_of_Fingers) v Zayin (RBMidknight)
The Factory District
Nearer to the surface of the mines lie many industrial zones that the Spades workers toil in. Most of them have clocked off by this stage, but there are still a few people working the machinery. The molten furnaces, the crushing plates and most importantly, the deadly tools enchanted with Spades magic - they never break, they penetrate any surface, and they could mangle a human body like tissue paper in a variety of different ways. Truly a battleground for those with a twisted mind.
ARENA 4: James (Zombie_Fish) v William Darke (ThreeWords)
Another, smaller scale church of the Full House - no violence is tolerated within these hallowed walls. But we're not exactly model members of the House, are we?
If you take the route of violence, beware the priest. His Hearts magic can woo even the most brutal persona into peaceful submission - all he needs to do is be given a chance to speak.
ARENA 5: Izumi (Fragrance of Mtn Dew) v The Mantle (Segadroid)
Hidden away in a chamber forgotten by time, lie the ruins of a colossal temple. In the centre of this obsidian pyramid lies a throne the size of a football stadium - it is believed that the Ace of Spades once sat upon this seat before the Full House mysteriously disappeared.
Be wary of the hostile nature of this place - there are traps everywhere. There is a fabled treasure at its heart, for those who would dare seek out its riches, and there is even lore that once upon a time, the golems that stand guard in the throne room would come to life...
Block 2 - Red
The Red Champions stood in a glass elevator that rose slowly up one of the many towers of Chicane. Looking inward, one could see the hasty movements of various businessmen - mostly consisting of young professionals hailing from the University of Hearts. Or at least, they certainly looked young. Hearts mages thrill in the art of deception - there was a reason they were charged with control over business and the media.
Looking outward, you will see the glass towers of Chicane in all their glory. The intense sunlight glistened on the walls, refracting and diffracting to produce brilliant shows of light and colour around the urban wonderland. Two towers in particular used the light to produce a hologram of a clock, using the sun's position as a frame of reference.
The Decimators stared blankly at the display, as if it bored them. In fact, they seemed somewhat more irritated by the blinding light that reflected off their exoskeleton armour.
The elevator finally stopped to reveal a set of five doors situated before them - the roof of the building was sheltered underneath a glass dome. Inside the dome, there sat a handsome blonde man at an ivory desk, glancing at a manuscript as he spoke into a microphone. When he noticed the champions entering the room led by the duo of supersoldiers, he announced a break from regular transmission and diverted his attention toward them.
"Hello, you must be the ones His Eminence spoke of." he said in a soothing, deep tone. "Allow me to introduce myself - I am one of the four brothers bearing the title of Jack. We assist in the general orchestrations of society that our superiors cannot. I believe you have already met my king - His Eminence, the House."
He straightened his white tie, pronounced by the scarlet silk of his shirt and framed by the white of his blazer. He stood up, leaning on his ruby encrusted cane to greet them properly.
"The people know me as Mister Chicane, the voice of of our great city. From here my speeches are broadcast across the entire continent, inspiring the lives of so many. Surely you appreciate the beauty of control - that is why you are here, are you not?"
The Decimator of Hearts spoke up. "Jack, we are running on borrowed time. Save your speeches for the radio, we have business to conduct and time is of the essence."
The elegant man conceded. "Very well, as you wish. These five doors behind me are portals to various realms across this continent - your fellow Champions of the darker persuasion have already entered their own."
He gestured toward a set of envelopes addressed to each Champion on his desk.
"Your allocated letter contains a number - that is the door you shall enter, the one you will share with one other in this room. Only two can enter this door, but only one may exit. My business with you is henceforth done - please leave my office quickly, I have to resume my show."
Jack returned to his notes, glossing over them as he switched his microphone on. The doors opened, and the portals beckoned the Champions through.
ARENA 1: Underwood (Lost in the Void) v Reject (wesdabigman)
A labyrinth of towering bookcases expanding almost endlessly, this is home to many an aspiring Diamond mage. Many of the books have magical properties, so beware of reading them. If one beckons to you or asks you to read it, try to resist the temptation or do at your own peril. And don't ever attempt to access the Restricted Section - prolonged exposure to magical radiation from the heavily enchanted tomes may cause hallucinations or even madness.
ARENA 2: Smiles (Hafrael) v Shift (Viking Incognito)
A favoured place of the Spades mage on leave, this resort is a world of earthly pleasure. Many failed Hearts mages find themselves using their talents professionally here, regardless of said profession's questionable nature. Beware the lure of the many whores of both genders, the sultry but ruthless Madame of the resort has heard rumours that two Champions of Hearts may be here as clients. If she works out who you are, her words (not to mention her men and women) might seduce you unwittingly under her employ.
ARENA 3: Baramiah (Khedive Rex) v Doctor (Baldrek)
The Clubs Barracks
Where the Clubs mages train for service in the Chicane military, the Barracks are the proving grounds of the Decimators. There is a large arena surrounded by an armada of tents, and inside the arena is provided a variety of weapons at your disposal. Normally the Clubs mages would watch the spectacle, but many of them are absent for some reason...
ARENA 4: Daman Ra (CounterAttack) v Dimitry Shanks (Armitage Shanks)
Inside an office filled with lawyers and their mountains of paperwork, two Champions settle their differences. There are many security guards distributed throughout the building, ready to break up any tension so be careful to avoid them where possible. Be advised as well that the glass walls, rooves and floors of the building not only make you extremely visible but also place you on unreliable ground. A single misplaced shot, and an entire floor may collapse inward. Lose your balance badly enough, and you might fall through one of the walls to your demise.
ARENA 5: Hui (JoJoDeathunter) v The Solver (Doc Gnosis)
The most hardened criminals, the most brutal mages, all wind up here in due course. You're stuck in a building with them all, and they're all waiting to get a piece of the new guys. But to be honest, they're not your biggest problem. Your biggest problem is the assortment of Clubs Wardens - they're ready for any kind of violence with more arms on their person than would seemingly be necessary. But in the event of a riot, you'll need all the help you can get.