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Left. Right. Left. Right.
The rhythm is thieved by the heart and reason,
Leaving my mind unlocked for insight.
The span of the leaps become subliminal -
They hasten until I am feather-light.
Their steps equal mine
Our feet act as one
I aim for the dawning sign,
Shadow’s thirst by the rising sun
Thirteen spades on thirteen tombs do ring,
So lies the corpse of the card,
One grave, from ace to king,
But the Jester knows no graveyard.
“Are you sure you wish to do this?”
“Sure as anything. Now, tell me, how does this work?”
“Pick a card, any card.”
“It’s not like I have a choice.”
“The card has a choice, and that choice is determined by your anterior decisions. Therefore, you do have a choice.”
“Whatever. I pick that one.”
The gambler hands over the only card in his hand. I turn it over. I’m outraged.
“You’re nothing but a no good card-cheat,” I yell. My muscles tense and my hands clench into fists. I become aware of witnesses in the background. “What is this nonsense?”
“I told you-“ He tries to explain, but I throw myself against him and the wall, hovering my forearms dangerously against his throat. “…You and the card make a choice. I don’t.”
“How do I change the outcome of the card?” I shake him by the shoulders and demand an answer. He spits in my face and laughs.
“Ace of Spades,” he mumbles as I back away, wiping my bloodied palms on my black jacket. “Unluckiest draw a man can make.”
His limp body collapses on the floor, and I sheath the blade back in my belt. Blood is everywhere now; the crimson trickles down my face and down my arms. Every time a drop hits the cement I cringe. The masked figure draws his last breath.
“You have until sunrise…” So dictates the Law of the Cards. “Run.”
My heart pumps at thrice the normal rate and adrenaline rushes everywhere. My body goes rigid but my mind races. They’re forming: the cravers of reality, the takers of life. The sun rises with them. I refuse to die. Clearly, dying is for the weak. And so, I do what I do best: I flee.
Uncertainly, I put my hand to the handle of my blade. My left foot takes a step and they are notified of my presence. The right foot shuffles towards the ladder, and groans arise from the ground. I turn and grasp the third rung, holding on as my lower body swings onto the steps. I hurry up as fast as I can and I’m halfway before they fully form. I dare not look down, and focus on my target instead.
I’m up on the roof now, and commence my sprint. I know at this point that there’s no going back. The chasers are after me and they know my cards better than anyone else. My legs run faster than I can control. In moments I near the edge of the roof, but my body reacts before my mind does. In a single, swift, leap, I clear the drop of the alley where I had just been. I accelerate even more on the next stretch, and clear the relative jump with ease.
I sprint across the rooftops, fully knowing who chases me. My enemy arises to the east but it's the only way I can go. Its rays drape across my face but I feel no joy. The light fills me with dread and sorrow and the deepest of fears. It warms my skin but boils my anger. I cross the next roof, and jump onto the next.
Because light means formation of shadows, and the shadows are the reapers. The spirit of the cards lies within them. They know what I had drawn and they wish to claim what is rightfully theirs. And my life is truly, rightfully, theirs.
I have killed many men with the blade I hold now. I caused uproars and chaos wherever my swift feet passed. The black cloak had become a sign of rebellion and youthfulness. I had seen adolescents getting shot because of protecting my sign. And even then, I merely stood by and watched. Funny thing is, I don't want any followers. They can’t keep up with me.
This platform had a rope tied from one chimney to the next. It was an easy obstacle to clear, but difficult to process at the speed I’m racing. At the last possible moment, I crouch down and roll forward. The black cloak flails behind me and wavers in the wind rapidly, creating an intricate series of beats which fit my rhythm. The stages ahead are cleared of any potential dangers, and I dare take a glance at the pursuers.
Two fine silhouettes, imprinted on the rooftops, merely meters behind me. I need to up the pace if I wish to stay ahead. It scares me how much they look like me. I suppose that’s exactly what shadows are. Mirror images, except they’re more pure than a mirror: they actually depict the darkness within.
How long has it been? I don't want to run anymore. My body is aching and my mind is fading away. Hours have passed. The ball of fire looms ominously in the orange skies. The horizon touches its very edge and I wish it to hunger. I wish for the darkness to descend. Night is all I want.
I think back to the masked man. He had given me a choice: to accompany him, or to draw a card. Following him meant the end and rest- a well-needed and well-deserved rest after a lifetime of running. Drawing the cards would grant me time and a late, untimely death… unless I beat the chasers. No one had ever won this game of tag. I would prove to be the first.
Perhaps I had picked the wrong option. The black cloak I stood for would have gambled with the cards any day, but perhaps I’m not the black cloak. If the masked man halted me now and gave me an option, I would quit. The cards would be his to keep. I wonder if that was truly the choice I’d make. That was my wholesome persona: battling for my life in the morning and getting recognition in the evening.
The sun is setting now. I don't care how my feet are burning, or how my heart pumps weakly. Nearly half a day of sprinting has almost earned me an infinite lifetime. I will stand my ground as the fastest runner of the world: faster than the shadows- faster than the reapers.
Night descends on them as the sun had arisen. The shadows return to their creator ever so slowly. As their strength fades, so does mine. This was the final stretch, the last leap. One final gap to the final roof as the final sundown passes. I stare at the last jump, but my feet refuse to budge.
I come to a halt in front of the crevice between this roof and the next. It takes me less than an instant to figure that if I stayed here for a single more millisecond, all my efforts will go to waste.
I take one last step, but the momentum and will are lost.
I grasp for the ledge but I know I can’t make it. My hand scrapes the wall and by feet bounce against the brick. I know it’s over when my head strikes the blocks.
It hurts at first but as I lose my senses I lose my pain as well. My drooping corpse strikes the ground and I feel my vision starting to leave. The shadows.
Did they get me? Am I alive? Will I live?
The masked man appears in front of me. My back’s against the wall and I can see his eerie outline perfectly. He’s holding something. He starts to extend it towards me.
“Well,” he sighs. “I genuinely didn't think you’d make it this far.”
“…” There are a multitude of words I want to shout, but none leave my dead, unwavering lips.
“Congratulations, I hope your mind is at peace now. But not even the fastest runner can escape me.” His right hand shuffles and he points something at me. “Farewell, Ace of Spades…”
The masked man is holding a flashlight. He flips the switch and the reapers tag me.