King of Hearts: Agape

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Summary

Modern take on spiritual warfare with emphasis on the capability of youth, and adding humor to the genre while maintaining strong themes of morality, and the right to choose one's path. At the end of a millenia long struggle between an earthbound angel and his demonic nemesis, Kai Hart, a fifteen year old boy known by all as the King of Hearts, takes over the role of Guardian of Souls. Kai will struggle to come to terms with his role as the successor to his family's honored fate and partner to the earthbound angel. With the aid of his devious friends and marine mentor, Kai will take on mysterious strangers, absurd pizza toppings, and the General of Hell's armies. Join the Kings of Hearts, Spades and Clubs as they baffle and humiliate an eons old force of evil

Genre:
Fantasy / Adventure
Author:
Toby Hibbs
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
17
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1: Tapestry Thread

“So late so late so late. I knew I shouldn’t have taken that stupid shortcut through Daemon’s yard. I get stuck in a boobie trap every single stinkin’ time. I mean what does he need all that crap for? I seriously doubt the paper boy appreciates the threat of land mines.”

A tall, thin young man brushed his brow length dirty blonde hair aside as he flung open the screen door of 304 Deacon Drive on the afternoon of August 8th, 2008. His blue eyes darkened and winced at the wretched creaking that accompanied the entrance’s grinding hinges. As he took off his shoes at the doorway, he glanced around the aged yet well-kept living room. Not a speck of dust could be found on a single knick knack, and three book cases were stuffed with bibles and books by famous pastors. His lips arced in amusement as he noticed a new entry on top titled God for a New Generation.

“Oma, I’m here now. Where are you?” He took a couple steps and looked around the corner into the kitchen but there was nothing, or more accurately, he saw nothing.

“Ah, there’s my prey now!” A fowl smelling creature with grey skin made of stone and horns that jutted out in place of ears glared at the boy, as he hid in the shadows of another realm.

“My time is not yet up. If you break the contract… if you even dare purge one drop of Kai’s innocent blood, I will not hesitate to obliterate you, Ga’ail.” Hidden in the same veil, Sarah Higdon, the mighty Guardian of Souls stepped towards her living room and planted herself firmly between the hell spawn and the oblivious youth. “Leave this place.”

“Not without tasting the flesh of that child, the final cursed fruit of a rotting tree.” The demon lunged for Kai but Sarah’s reflex was immediate as she caught Ga’ail by his wrists.

“I will say it only one more time! Stay away from my grandson!” Fire flashed in Sarah’s hazel eyes and her hands were suddenly lit with glowing embers. “Heeeeeeiya!” With a great moan and all of her force, Sarah hurled Ga’ail against the wall. The kitchen rattled a little.

Kai jerked his head back towards the kitchen and he stepped forward. “Is that you, Oma? Are you in your bedroom? I’m sorry I’m late,” he called to the darkness as he entered a little farther.

“Yes!” Ga’ail hissed. “Step closer little worm.”

Sarah stuck him in the shoulder with a short blade she had produced seemingly from nowhere and the demon shrieked and writhed in pain. “As long as I live and breathe I will never let your filth touch him,” Sarah bellowed.

Ga’ail regained his composure and stood back up, pulling out the dagger and reducing it to dust with a burst of fire. “Age has spoiled your proud plumage, oh great guardian phoenix. I can see the last of your beautiful feathers dropping and now it’s time for you to BURN!” Ga’ail bellowed as he hurled a pair of flaming orbs at Sarah.

Sarah ducked her head and crossed her arms as the flames crashed into her body. She dropped to one knee. “Father, give me strength!”

“What a waste! You should offer strength to the boy!” Ga’ail lunged again at Kai with outstretched claws, but he stopped short and crashed to the floor, Sarah grasping his stone legs. Though the sounds of combat were as veiled as the sight of the battle, it didn’t stop the various shelved trinkets from rattling on the walls, drawing Kai’s attention.

“What was that? Are you okay?” Kai rushed down the hallway towards Sarah’s bedroom. “Oma did you fall over?”

“Now! While Kai is out of the way I will finish it!” Sarah yanked Ga’ail closer and grabbed hold of his arms. “My body may be old and withered but my faith is as strong as steel! Be gone!” Sarah ripped the demon’s arms from his body and used his own claws to slice through his neck.

The demon began to wilt into a heap of ash. “Heh. Fine, keep him alive a little longer. Let him flourish so that it will be all the sweeter when my master devours his young flesh. You haven’t saved him Guardian! You’ve only prolonged his suffering!” Ga’ail let out one final laugh before his head disintegrated into a pile of ashes, the stench of brimstone and blood only permeating Sarah’s senses.

Sarah took in a deep breath and exhaled. “Oh good gracious, Kai must be worried sick!”

She rushed into a bathroom in the hallway as Kai walked out of the hallway while scratching his head.

“Shoot, her bedroom is locked. What should I do?” Just then Kai heard Oma’s bedroom door open.

“My sunny little grandchild, always oblivious of duty and the passing of time. I told you two o’clock sharp and it’s already three. You know this is when I do my aerobics. I’m very old, you know, and I can’t halt my daily routine for you, my dear.” The fierce warrior Sarah Higdon walked out of the hallway looking like nothing more than a smiling granny with curly silver hair and soft hazel eyes. She crossed over to where the considerably confused and startled youth was standing. Her smile broadened as she looked directly at her grandson, and it made the wrinkles in her face stand out even more.

“I know, I know,” he pleaded slowly. “It’s just that I was in the middle of this epic game of speed with Michael, and I lost track of time. I mean you know how it goes with him and me. We can practically read each other’s minds and copy each other’s moves and we end up having to play like four rounds just to settle one…”

Oma faked a laugh, cutting off his rambling, and fixed the teen with a soft, yet annoyed look. The kind of look an elder dawns as if to say Im not mad, just disappointed. “Ho ho ho ho hum,” she said. Oma tended to say such things without even realizing she did. They were her way of releasing just a slight amount of disappointment without hurting the feelings of others. She was very kind and preferred not to speak too harshly. The one person she actually scolded was the teenage boy who was now awaiting his inevitable lecture.

“Playing cards… nothing but trouble.” Oma did not approve of many modern games. She would scold her children and grandchildren for many of them whether they were too frivolous or had too close a connection to obtaining money. She considered playing card games to be the worst. In fact, she was certain that the only thing any kind of playing cards was good for was gambling which of course was not a good thing at all to any member of Kai’s family.

They were, as a whole, a fairly conservative Christian family. Therefore, they tended to disapprove of a lot of things a young teen like Kai might include in his lifestyle.

Fortunately for Kai he was anything but a typical teen. He was Kai Hart, the ultimate “goodie goodie” of Shur’s Angel High School, or as most people knew him, the King of Hearts. To add to his poor grandmother’s dismay, Kai had chosen this name for himself when he was only twelve years old, creating a whole folkloreish story around the true meaning of the four card suits.

For Kai, King of Hearts was a badge of honor he wore that was synonymous with his kind heart and burning ambition to help those in need. This tended to mean that his activities to be worried about more closely aligned with taking on unfair school rules through organized protest, rallying the destitute and homeless into an optimistic parade, and sometimes the occasional mad scientist experiment. The latter were typically initiated by another of Kai’s friends, Daemon Black.

“You should be spending more time with your poor old grandmother while you still have the opportunity,” Oma pressed on. “Do you hear me Kaiser?”

Kai flinched briefly, but then continued the conversation. “Yes ma’am, but please stop using my full name. What good is having a schwe German name like Kai if it has to be short for Kaiser? I know a Kaiser is a type of ruler and all but it just janks with my schweness.” Kai made this point often, with little results even though his grandmother went by her middle name, Sarah, and detested her own first name, Ethel.

“You need to stop focusing on your petty vanity and focus more on your lessons. You have no idea how valuable they are going to be to you,” Oma continued. “I only have so much time left to impart very important wisdom to you, child. I’m already inhibited enough by your paranoid mother without you being tardy and wasting time on nonsense.”

Kai smirked and stared his elder right in the eye as though for sure he had a solid comeback. “Who do you think you’re kidding with all this while I still have time talk? You are like the toughest old person in the world. I mean last year I caught you at the gym bench-pressing 165 pounds. I know I’m kind of scrawny, but I can’t come close to that. I think if the angel of death came for you you’d just pull a Jacob and wrestle him over it.”

Oma rolled her eyes. “Uriel Theoreous doesn’t wrestle, Kai.”

“Who?”

Oma chuckled. “Oh never mind, just don’t fight me on this any longer. I’m definitely too old to be arguing with a snarky teenager.”

Kai’s grandmother played the age card many times before to pressure him into studying harder, and he was wise to it. Still this time seemed different. He saw, as he looked at his grandmother’s face, that she was giving him a rather unreadable smile.

“What’s that smile, Oma? You know something I don’t know,” the young Heart King pressed.

“Every day holds new possibilities, and there is no way of knowing when the time will come for either of us. As a matter of fact, the Lord could come for all of his people this very night. You do remember that lesson well enough don’t you Kai,” she said with hope in her voice.

“Yes ma’am,” Kai muttered.

Oma sat and daydreamed for a moment before speaking again. “Speaking of which, you owe me a lesson time.”

“On my birthday?”

“What better gift can I give you than wisdom passed down from the Lord of all Creation?”

“Oh, come on Oma, you’ve read me every Bible story so many times that I know them all by heart, and that’s not even counting all the different times I’ve heard them in church. It just seems a little pointless.”

“Yes, perhaps you do know how to divulge each story as if they were something you had memorized for a mere school test, but do you know the meaning and purpose behind each of these stories? Do you know what message lies in each of them? What about the specific application for your own life? Did you just forget that our Bible is not a textbook but the living word of God?”

The smirk continued to grow over her wrinkled face as she glared at her grandson. Her eyes shined like amber.

“Well… I mean if you want to get technical about it… I mean I guess...” Kai dragged out his pointless attempt at a rebuttal, while still trying to look his wise grandmother in the eye.

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” she replied in a tone that others might perceive as cocky, but those who knew Oma knew she was just glad her grandson understood his own foolishness. The building smile on her face faded all at once.

Her eyes seemed to lose focus, and Kai stood there in her presence believing she had lost what she was about to say, as she often did.

In truth, she was glancing at the ash pile still heaped in her kitchen, visible only to her. Her wrinkled fingers contracted into a small fist at the thought of Ga’ail and his kind attacking this naïve child.

“Kai,” she began at last, “you just don’t understand yet how important it is to me that I teach you what I can while I still have time to do it. Your life is precious to me, and your spiritual growth is precious to all of humanity. Neither of my daughters can accept the torch I am passing. Neither of your siblings have that spark either. Those opportunities have passed, and now you are the one who is going to have to follow in my footsteps.” Her withered fingers curled and extended periodically as she spoke.

“You have to choose for yourself if you’ll accept the torch for yourself, but you must understand it is as heavy as it is bright. You must understand what’s at stake. Only you will have the gifts necessary to stand against the mist that will blanket this world.” Oma sat down and beckoned Kai to do the same.

Kai knew what was coming. He knew because he had heard his Oma start this long speech in such a way many, many times. He avoided this fairy tale at all costs, the so called family legend that Oma had used as a prod for progress for years. However, while he could not reason why he felt the way he did, he felt his body tense with anticipation. He wanted to hear what his wise grandmother had to say. He sat on an overstuffed sofa with a picture of an owl sewn into the fabric, and got situated for a long afternoon.

“I can see it so clearly,” she began. “The day your aunt Melody was born… your grandfather and I were so proud. She was such a blessing.” Oma sat in thought for a moment before continuing to put words to her flashback. “I could tell she would be strong. In fact, I’m sure you’ve noticed that your aunt Melody has absolutely no problem speaking her mind in any situation.”

“You can say that again,” Kai added.

“She is a different kind of strong, though. Blessed with intense compassion for mending the hearts of the broken while they are in this world. She could not separate herself from her work with the community to face such tangible principalities.”

“Like the demons?” Kai inquired saracastically.

“Then there was your mother Tamara,” Oma continued. “She was such a sweet and innocent child. Very timid, and yet she loved nothing more than to bring harmony, and to cheer people up. I can still recall so clearly the first time she was able to recite all of John 3:16.”

Oma smiled, but Kai soon saw her lips curl donward with fermented bitterness.

“In the end my lifestyle wore away at her sensitive heart. No, she wasn’t quite as outgoing as her sister, and kindness, precious as it is, cannot fend off the dark without the proper conviction to match. Even if she had wanted to, it would have been such a burden for her to bear. The loss and the loneliness can be so suffocating. That’s why I’m so glad that you took after your father.”

At these words Kai sat for a moment and thought of the father he had never known. The way he had heard it told from his family, Kai’s father was a kind and very outgoing man who cared deeply for everyone around him. Kai had never actually been told what had killed his father. The truth was he really didn’t want to know. All Kai needed to know was that R.W. Hart was a man of strength and courage. Kai knew that, and Kai knew he had inherited his father’s outgoing heart and piercing blue eyes.

My dad, Kai thought. Like Kai, he had been very light hearted and free spirited and was willing to take on nearly anything if it meant he could impact someone important to him. He was always sticking his neck out for someone.

“Yes, there’s no doubt that he would have been an excellent Guardian of Souls if he had been in our lineage.”

“Can we not get into this again on my birthday of all days,” Kai moaned as a droll, bored look crept over his face and his mysterious blue eyes began to lose their piercing brightness and drift shut.

Oma’s eyes narrowed at once. “Do not dare denounce our honored title,” she replied hastily in a critical voice, ill-fitting her abundantly kind personality. “The day of your birth is something to be celebrated indeed and you know why. It’s high time that you got use to the fact that you posess the gifts that could pull humanity out of the inky blackness. When you were born, it was obvious to me that you had spiritual prowess all about you that even the strongest and most diligent minds could only dream of. Such natural blessings have only been seen in one person in our family every fifty or so years, however you are the first and only one to take on this mission as a child and you must be ready. You are going to be the next in our line to carry the family mission. You should be proud of the valiant struggle your ancestors have taken part in all these years!”

Then suddenly, her expression softened, and her voice lowered to a whisper as she finished making her point.

“Understand Kai that you are destined to save the world from an unspeakable incarnation of hatred. You may not see the two of us as being able to make a great difference, but we are mighty because we are a people filled with the intensity of purpose. All the world is filled with those who need us.” For one reason or another it was at this precise moment that Kai realized something he had been fighting to reject.

It’s not just fairy tales for her grandson. She really believes all of this. His heart could not fend off the oncoming outburst.

“None of this stuff could really be happening right under the world’s eyes. You’ve been ranting about this stuff since I was ten and I’ve never even heard mention of what I’m supposed to be fighting. You act like it’s going to be real flesh and blood demons!”

“Would that truly surprise you? You are aware that such forces assail God’s children daily.”

“Yeah, but outside of like the Revelation I’ve never read anything about real live demons wreaking havoc. I mean, if I’m supposed to make people remember morals, or promote the golden rule or like… I don’t know, save a cat from a tree or something, that’s fine. I’m happy to help others, but I’m only a fifteen-year-old kid. How the heck can you believe that I’m supposed to save the world from demons?”

Kai hadn’t noticed how tense his body had become over the last several minutes. His arms and legs felt sore. It was like old injuries responding to a coming storm. As the accumulated adrenalin from his outburst settled, Kai became aware of the cold sweat that clung to his skin. His breathing was shallow and he shook feverishly.

When he looked back up from his trembling hands, he expected to see that he had frightened his poor grandmother with this sudden outburst, but saw instead that she was calmly grinning at him. It was a grin that almost dared him to release even more of this sudden passion that had been awakened by her bizarre lecture on metaphysical threats.

“It’s wonderful, simply wonderful. You’re the same brat I was when your great grandpa trained me. You’re stuffed with emotions that you cannot even begin to understand, moved by the swelling love you have for the lost in this world.” She walked to the other side of the room.

“Yeah, but I thought that was just teen drama crap,” Kai muttered. “How was I supposed to know it was because I’m gonna be God’s new right hand man? How could I ever do something like that? I’m not athletic or super smart. So why me?”

“Well, if you want an answer to such a question I think a visual aid is in order.” Oma placed a gentle palm on the surface of one of her favorite possessions. It was a large, crimson tapestry that covered a wall all by itself. Engraved on it was a picture of a coat of arms designed to mimic the Armor of God, a metaphor for how God has equipped his people from the book of Ephesians.

As Kai looked in the direction his grandmother had walked, he began to smile. Of all the things in the Bible his Oma had ever taught him, this was one of his favorites. He was given these special lessons once per month in addition to the weekly lessons he already received. She taught him that as soldiers in God’s army they were to put on the full Armor of God: The Sword of the Spirit, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, the Shoes of Peace, the Breastplate of Righteousness, and the Belt of Truth. Because Kai had always been so interested in swords and crests and knights anyway, this really hit home with him more than any other parable in the Bible.

“Tell me Kai, do you know how long this tapestry has been in our family?”

Kai concentrated for a moment and thought carefully about his answer. “Well let’s see,” he began as he recalled all of the family stories his Oma and his mother Tamara had told him. “You got it from your mother when you turned eighteen so… about seventy years right?”

Oma had an almost devilish look in her eyes as she gave her grandson the real answer. “Would you be surprised to find out that this is a sacred heirloom of the first Guardian of Souls that we have possessed for nearly four thousand years?”

Kai almost started laughing, but when he saw that her face was without humor, he sat for a moment frozen.

I can’t believe it. There’s no way, he thought to himself as he tried to look for a hint of humor on his grandmother’s solemn wrinkled face. It’s impossible. The tapestry still looks brand new, and if it was really that old it would have to mean she was… I mean she’d have to know our entire… no, she must be losing her memory for real. He paused in mid thought for a moment. Unless everything she’s been saying about this family burden stuff is totally true.

“Kai you think you can do nothing to change this world of ours. You think you are just an insignificant boy stumbling through your life with no direction, but in reality we each have a path that God has laid out in front of us, and you are far from being the exception. I know the passion to save people is in you. While I’d prefer you had chosen a different title, it’s clear that the King of Hearts fights the unfairness in his own part of the world because he wants to do more than just the same old thing.”

Kai continued to eye her curiously. “Oh! Kai wants to know if it’s time to start talking in third person. It does seem like the ominous thing to do,” he said sarcastically.

Oma rolled her eyes. “If you still have any doubts allow me to demonstrate what I mean to you using an analogy that has been in our family for over forty generations.” Oma then proceeded to pluck one single thread out of the tapestry. “This one thread, were it a living thing like you and I, would probably have the same opinion about itself as you, Kai. Oh, I’m just one crimson colored thread on the outline of a magnificent work of art. They don’t really need me. I’m ordinary. I’m unnecessary,” she said on behalf of the thread. “However, without each individual thread together, the world they create would not existl. In such a way no one can really have an insignificant life because each individual person is an important part in creating the world we know, and God loves to use the ones who seem the most insignificant to prove the most significant points and fight the fiercest battles. Or are you too caught up in the grandeur of King David to remember David the shepherd boy?”

Kai considered this for a moment. I made up my title because I wanted people to know I would help anyone in need. Maybe it is instilled in me from birth… but to actually fight demons or something. There’s no way.

Oma stared with great interest into his youthful face. I see. He’s finally starting to understand, and not a moment too soon, she thought to herself.

Kai was about to attempt to pry his Oma’s mind again, when Oma spoke. “That is enough of a lesson for one day. I will see you later Kai. It’s four o’clock. Your grandmother’s old and she needs a nap. Oh, by the way I wish you a happy birthday, Kai.” She pointed to a small parcel on the coffee table.

“Thanks Oma,” Kai said half-heartedly, snatching up the poorly wrapped parcel and shuffling towards the door.

“Kai…” Oma called out and halted him.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Why do we carry a Shield of Faith, my dear grandchild?” Oma stared him dead in the eyes as she stood from her chair.

“To deflect the fiery darts of the enemy,” Kai replied with a sudden burst of restored zeal.

“Why is the word of God such a powerful weapon?” Oma smiled as she saw the light return to Kai’s eyes.

“Because it is sharper than any double edged sword.” Kai swelled with pride as if it was the first time he and his Oma had shared this exchange, thought their tradition dated back years.

“Do you know that we are stronger when the two of us stand together?” Oma inquired.

Kai nodded sharply. “Yes, because God is in our midst and a rope made of three cords is not easily broken.” A pause of silence blanketed the two in unity and understanding.

“I love you Kai.”

“Love you too Oma.” The door creaked into a slam as Kai hopped off the porch.

Oma allowed a ten second delay before exhaling a tense breath, standing from her spot and walking into the kitchen and staring at the fuming heap of ash left by her opponent. “Better clean this up before Kai visits again or theoreo won’t hide it.” She grabbed a dust pan and broom and began sweeping up the remnants of the hellspawn. “I hope you’re getting a laugh out of this mess you left me, Ga’ail.”


As Kai paced through neighborhoods, staring down at his gift, he recalled presents Oma had given him for occasions in the past. There was a dusty old angler’s hat, which was pointless because Kai never wore any kind of hats at all. Then there were some odd button-up shirts depicting ancient objects and seizure inducing patterns. Kai actually wore these frequently simply because no one else had anything like them. As long as it was different from what anyone else deemed in style, Kai liked it.

There were also snow globes, about twelve different bibles and the old handkerchief she had given him for his birthday after a year of particularly boring studies with an attached note telling him to work harder. As the young Heart King stepped into the boundaries of his family’s less than stable driveway, and gravel gave way beneath his feet, Kai strained to decide whether he wanted to open the gift right that second or if he really cared to open it at all. He paused and his eyes shifted a shade lighter.

“I have been working my butt off to keep up with her lessons. Maybe this year she actually splurged on me.” Kai walked into his lovely two-floor home at 504 Landslide Road, but barely got through the doorway before his mother blocked his path.

“So, come on and tell me. What did your Oma get you this year Kai?” Kai’s mother smiled brightly, and her eyes reflected hope that the unknown gift was something he was really going to like this time. Most of the time Kai’s mother Tamara was nearly impossible to understand, fluctuating between infectious cheer and unrivaled paranoia. While Kai was charismatic enough to win her over most of the time, she could be inexplicably restrictive on how much time Kai spent with his friends, his older brother Cameron, and even his Oma, Tamara’s own mother.

She had the classic homemaker look down to a science, complete with what Kai affectionately referred to as the June Cleaver fashion line, complete with matching pearls and earrings Kai’s father had gifted her for their anniversary years before Kai was born. Between her and Kai’s nineteen-year-old sister Rivers, the home was kept adequately tidy though both had a tendency to collect a few too many trinkets and in Rivers’ case, a wealth of books. In the noon to early afternoon, one could not walk through the Hart residence without the melodramatic dialogue of some soap opera thickening the air with decade long plots of love and betrayal.

As Kai fidgeted under his mother’s gaze, he glanced up from his visual lock on the small parcel and admired the hair Tamara had inherited from Oma. Mother and daughter shared perfect natural curls, though while Oma’s curls had reached a climax of silver and grey; Tamara seemed to dye hers a different shade of brown almost every month. Her eyes however were a wonderful shade of hazel that precisely matched how she took her coffee.

“Staring is rude, Kai. I asked you a question,” Kai’s mother pressed as her grin increased a few centimeters. Tamara never showed such a toothy smile unless she knew something good was about to happen. At the same time, Kai could not help but think she seemed a bit nervous. She had a habit that Kai lacked, which allowed her to keep her expectations for things low and evade disappointment, but this time Kai struggled to make heads or tails of how his mother was feeling.

What’s with mom? She’s different, he thought before replying to his mother’s query. “I don’t know,” he mumbled sheepishly before clearing his throat. “I haven’t opened it yet.” Kai looked away from his mother’s scanning eyes and tried to relax his mind by taking in the den. A crooked clock on the wall, an air conditioner that was never used, the stained glass cross hanging in the massive window, old armchairs that had seen better days but were nonetheless comfortable, the ceiling fan with its light bulb covered by a flowery glass globe.

His mother grew impatient and pressed again. “Well don’t keep me in suspense, son. Go on and open it!” She seemed to know it was going to be something legitimately impressive, although to be fair she also thought the snow globes were impressive as well. This was, of course, very absurd considering that almost every single one of them was the same ‘BEAUTIFUL AUGUSTA’ snow globe that Oma had no doubt purchased from a tourist store downtown. Living in the capital of Maine meant that having those trinkets was an unexciting testament to the place Kai had lived all his life. He considered just letting his mom open it herself.

Then suddenly Tamara said something that managed to catch her son’s elusive attention. “Your Oma told me she is giving you something really precious. She said you’ve been studying harder than ever this year, and that she wanted to give you a one of a kind present.” At this point, Tamara’s face showed a sudden flash of antipathy and then went right back to pure optimism. It was intriguing and creepy at the same time. Kai could barely believe what his mother was telling him. Of course, he knew that his Oma loved him very much, and granted he had studied very hard with her that year, but she was one of the few grandmothers in the world that didn’t spoil her grandkids and it sounded like it was going to be a magnificent present.

He began to shear off the paper excitedly. After a few seconds, a patch of golden color revealed itself, and as Kai peeled back the rest of the crude covering, Kai saw it was a picture. It was one of the legendary archangels, Raphael. Kai and his grandmother delved into all sorts of angelic lore, and by Oma’s account, Raphael was the chief paladin of the angelic armies, second in command to the head archangel, Michael. After he had ripped completely through the paper restraining his gift he saw that it was some bizarre form of cards. They were the most amazing things Kai had ever seen; detailed pictures of a variety of angels and relics from the Bible including six cards depicting each individual Armor of God piece.

“What are these?” Kai said with excitement flooding into his tone. As the young King of Hearts rubbed the surface of the Raphael picture, he noticed his mother’s shoulders falling as she let out a held breath, though Kai couldn’t imagine why she was so tense about a simple birthday present. “The surface of the picture is rough. Why is that?”

“Well, I’m not exactly certain. Your grandmother said she commissioned them from a dear old friend with amazing artistic skills. She said it was the most fitting gift she could think of to compliment all you’ve learned.”

Kai chuckled. “Hope she doesn’t plan to use them like flash cards and drill me or something,” he muttered.

Tamara covered her mouth and giggled. “Well that doesn’t sound unlike my mother. Stricter and sweeter than Aunt B.” Tamara cleared her throat. “Get to it!” She chirped sharply before giggling some more. Tamara was practically raised on The Andy Griffith Show and quoted it all the time. “Oma knows how much you like card games and wanted you to have some Christian cards for your collection. Maybe she thinks it’ll keep you from getting corrupted by the evils of gambling.” Kai and Tamara both laughed heartily at Oma’s outdated fears. “In any case, I think she suspects you’ll find a more interesting use for them than just decoration. She did have another gift in mind but I didn’t think you’d care for it.”

Now Kai stared at his mother with true interest. “What was it,” he asked regardless of what she had just said.

Now it was her turn to evade her son’s piercing gaze. She stared over into the kitchen that was next to the den and separated only by a bar covered in candles and out of place Christmas ornaments. She looked down at the flowery blue carpeting under her feet and then finally back to her son.

“Nothing you would have used. It was some old pendant that belonged to your Great Grandpa Higdon. You don’t really strike me as the type who would wear clunky pieces of jewelry to school anyway.”

Kai shrugged off the feeling that there was more to the story and instead marveled at the beautiful portraits. “They’re awesome,” he finally resolved. “I could base an entire game off of them… this calls for root beer!” That was all Kai took time to say to his mom as he raced up to his room on the second floor, flung himself onto his full size bed, and began shuffling through the various cards. He finally took a moment to look at the backs and see that they shared the same coat of arms as his Oma’s tapestry. He squinted at it curiously.

“Four-thousand years,” he repeated as Oma’s voice echo in the depths of his conscious memory. “What is so significant about that tapestry?” As he went through the cards, he came across one that was merely a sketch of a face with blue-green eyes and an inscription. “What the…” Kai squinted and tried to read the odd text. “Angelo… angle… angelos… theoreo.” He flinched at a sharp pain in his eyes and dropped his collection onto the bedspread.

“The heck was that about,” he exclaimed. As he started gathering up his cards, he noticed something that didn’t belong in the stack. “This is the key to Oma’s bedroom.” He weighted the sizeable old skeleton key in his hand. “She must have stuck this in here by accident,” Kai muttered as he thought of all the times his grandmother had opened and closed her room with the handsome key. He had always wondered what it was like in her room. When he asked her if he could go in she always refused him and said that everyone needs personal space to be alone with God.

“I’ll take it back to her tomorrow when I thank her for my gift,” he resolved as he noticed how drowsy he was beginning to feel. He had been looking through the cards, and jotting down ideas for rules for hours, only stopping for a bit of dinner that his sister brought in. On the bed in front of him was his notebook, now covered in pages and pages of ideas and concepts for the game. At the top was a list of scribbled over titles with just one remaining. The game would be called Guardians of Warfare a mix of Spiritual Warfare, and Oma’s family legend, the Guardian of Souls.

“I can’t wait to tell Michael and Daemon about this!” Michael and Daemon were Kai’s two long time best friends. Michael was a bit short for the age of fourteen, with a dark complexion, black hair and coal eyes. Upon meeting this boy for the first time, Oma had told Kai not to underestimate him because of his size, and that allegedly just like Kai, he had vast supernatural power. At times Kai almost believed she was correct on this account. Even though he was the shortest and, for that matter, laziest of all three of them he was the strongest. He could do one-handed pushups with Kai sitting on his back while eating snack cakes with the other hand. His strength and practiced apathy had earned him the title King of Clubs.

They had selected their card crest names carefully. A long day’s discussion went into what the four suits could represent in regards to a person’s personality. The Hearts were the passionate, adamant and emotional ones. The Spades were the devious geniuses with the gleam in their eyes like Daemon. This gleam always meant a wild plot of some kind had just been hatched. The Clubs were the more relaxed and unshakeable ones with the sturdiness and durability to match their never shifting mental state. As Kai thought about these things he considered that Oma had only made such a strange remark about Michael and one other of Kai’s friends. That other one was the King of Spades, Daemon Black.

He was crafty and extremely intelligent with a slightly pale complexion and spiked eyebrows like horns over his dark eyes, all masked under his tangled black hair. People only thought Michael had black hair and eyes. Then they met Daemon. His were so dark against his pale skin that it stepped up the color palate from coal straight to abyss. He was also by far the quickest of the three of them in wit and in actual physical agility. His intelligence sometimes tended to lean more toward maniacal genius bent on world domination so it was no wonder he had earned the title King of Spades.

Of course, ever the chivalrous modern day knight, Kai was certain that his King of Hearts crest was the greatest of them all.

Now, Kai thought, suppressing a yawn. Time to get some sleep so that I’ll be more than ready to stomp those two losers at this new game tomorrow. Best part is, there’s no way they can win ’cause I’m still in the process of making up the rules. Kai chuckled. “Best unfair advantage ever,” he muttered aloud.

Kai went over the rules to his new game over and over in his head until at last he fell asleep around one in the morning. The next day he wrote a note and stuck it on the front door to explain where he had gone and set out early toward Daemon’s heavily armored house. After about twenty minutes of walking, he finally arrived and was pleased to see that Michael was already there as well. He was also happy to see that Daemon had disarmed all the traps in his yard in preparation for company.

“Guys, drop what you’re doing and let the schwe times roll!” Schwe, of course, was Kai’s favorite alternate slang for cool. After happening across it on the internet purely by a typo of a German word he was looking up, he had bonded with the feel of the word so entirely that he decided the rest of the world needed to abandon cool and adopt schwe into their daily vocabulary.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was weird, that Kai was weird. As big of a legend as he was at school, Kai was sort of a nerd… for lack of a better word. So were Daemon and Michael for that matter. They just had so much edge and renown and guts that it didn’t really matter to the rest of the student body. Nerds or not, they were mocked and respected in equal proportions.

The other two kings stared back at Kai inquisitively for a moment before Daemon remembered that Michael would say nothing no matter how long they waited so he took the initiative to question Kai’s claim.

“What the heck are you talking about Kai?”

Kai immediately went to work, pulling out his notebook and cards and beginning to explain how he had received the amazing collection from his Oma as a birthday present and invented a game called the Guardians of Warfare.

“Oh great, Kai’s inventing stuff again,” Michael muttered.

“Yeah, the last time it was that shadow light,” Daemon said. “How dumb can you get?”

“Hey, you just never thought that one through Spade King. Think about it, there’s a glare on the screen when you’re watching an awesome movie or something. My shadow light projects a shadow onto the screen and makes it easy to see.”

Daemon sighed. “I invent stuff; you spew catch phrases. Let’s not muddy our skill sets.”

“Just get on with the game,” Michael muttered with all the enthusiasm of a unicyclist at a tricycle convention.

“In the game,” Kai began, “the counter will start out at four-thousand years. Each time one of our guardians defeats an opponent the holder will gain a one-hundred-year reign. At the end when the counter reaches zero the person whose reign was the longest will be the winner. In the event of a tie, each player picks a champion from everything left in their deck and duke it out. The best part is, Oma really went all out with this gift she commissioned. We don’t just have warriors and supernatural creatures, we’ve got artifacts and spiritual gift references to use as power ups. There are also cities and locations not to mention some of the most schwe weapons in the world. Heck some of these cards and weapons aren’t even in the world.” As Kai delved into the more advanced rules, Daemon discovered an impressively diabolic looking figure that he determined to be particularly powerful by the standards Kai had written down in the notebook.

“Who’s this dude?” Daemon showed the card to Kai who immediately recognized the name.

“That’s Abaddon. He’s briefly mentioned in the book of Revelation as the angel of the bottomless pit. He’s a really powerful demon in Satan’s army. To Satan he is kind of like Michael the Archangel is to God. He’s like the head general or something. At least that’s what Oma says. All I’ve ever read on him is that he’s the power behind one of the big plagues in the end of days.”

“What makes him such hot stuff?” Michael interrupted in an unconcerned tone.

“Dunno,” Kai said. He sounded like he was a bit curious himself. “He’s the only entity in the Bible Oma doesn’t like to talk about. When I ask her about him during my Revelation study days she starts to act really weird. All she’ll ever say is that he is the one who can corrupt the force that can’t be broken, whatever that means. Allegedly one of the conditions for Oma giving me a homeschooling in theology is that she can’t teach me about the Revelation too much. Mom things it’ll give me nightmares or something.”

“No offense dude, but your Oma always acts a bit weird,” Daemon reminded him. “Your mom too for that matter. Nightmares from two-thousand-year-old apocalyptic literature? Give me a break.

“Yeah,” Michael joined in, “and all that stuff your Oma is always spewing about you and us saving the world from diabolic tacos or whatever it is.” They laughed slightly for a moment while Kai looked on and thought.

“Well guys I gotta be honest with you, these days I’m not so sure that it’s just craziness. As nuts as it sounds I think she’s on to something. We are a pretty odd group of people. If something that weird was to happen, I’m pretty sure it would happen to us.” As Kai finished a grin crept its way over Daemon’s face as Michael tried to suppress his.

“You don’t mean it,” Daemon said holding back a laugh.

“Yeah, like you’re gonna save the earth from evil. I can see it now, Super Kai,” Michael said, finally raising his own volume a few decibels. The three kings were masters at picking up where the others left of and chaining a very impressive rant, so it was no surprise when Daemon immediately fed into Michael’s taunting.

“Yeah, faster than a speeding cork out of a root beer bottle, more lethal than his older sister on a bad hair day… it’s a turd… no it’s a pain… yes, its Super Kai!” At this point neither one of them could stop themselves from exploding with uncontrollable laughter.

“It’s the King of Hearts to you,” Kai grunted, suppressing his anger until it subsided into garden-variety irritation. “Weirder things have happened, most of which were your fault Daemon.”

“Yeah whatever you say dude. Just finish teaching us how to play the game already,” Daemon half requested, half demanded. Kai separated the cards into three equal decks as best as he could, and took careful time to teach his friends each detail of his new creation as he destroyed them in three sets of games.

After several rounds of competition, Michael finally asked the question that had been itching at Daemon as well. “So, can your gram get any more of these cards for us? I mean this is fun and all but we’ve only got like twenty cards each here.” Both kings looked at Kai expectantly.

“Dunno, I mean priceless works of art don’t exactly grow on trees, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask Oma. Come with me. I have to take this key back to her today anyway.” Kai showed them the heavy brass key that had been hidden in his pocket.

Daemon and Michael looked at Kai as he said these words and then did a double take.

“Wait wait wait… you mean that special key that your gram always has next to the couch when we’re over there?” Excitement was quickly taking over Daemon’s voice.

“You mean the one that she never even lets you touch? The one that opens the door to that bedroom of hers that you’ve never seen the whole time she’s lived there,” Michael pressed further.

“Yeah, that’s the one. She likes to keep her room private. That’s not so weird. Either way I’m sure she’ll want it back soon. Come on, let’s hurry guys.” At these words, the three Kings set off for their destination. As they walked side by side, Daemon peered to his left and watched Kai place the key back into his pocket. The King of Spades began planning his next move.

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