Deck of Cards I: The Tower

by Travis Clark


"Jack met Lyndon Johnson during the Crusade. The taking of Rome has always been of high importance to the Empire. The papal states, even Florida, have been an insult to the Emperor. Pope John Paul whichever-number he is, has always shown contempt, calling Britain the next Babylon.

"Johnson had left the country of Texas not long after Howard's death. He worked in the docks, making minimum wage until he was elected president of the union. Lyndon's passion in his speeches were the cause of several reforms in labor conditions. He was a hero to the men in the union. When the Sixteenth Crusade started in 1951, he joined the British/American Imperial Army in hopes of becoming a different kind of hero. In his term, he served underneath a 'snot-nosed little captain' who worked his men like dogs. Through battle, he learned to respect that captain, and called him friend.

"The Crusade was hard, especially since Germania tried to defect from the empire and side with Rome. When the 21st American Legion was slaughtered, five men survived, two of them being Johnson and the captain, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

"These five men were taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. After the first three months, the other three died. Johnson and Jack were the only survivors.

"What horrors they faced down in those pits, as the mad men of Germania practiced their scientific experiments on them, we'll never know. Both Johnson and Kennedy were tight-lipped about it.

"Johnson couldn't handle the strain, whatever it was. He was adamant about not saying anything, even though he had no secrets to give. At night, he would mutter to himself, ignoring Kennedy's attempts of conversation. Several times, Johnson would wake screaming, then mutter "just a dream."

"In the midst of the winter, Johnson broke. He cried on the way back from the yard to his cell. Kennedy helped him get into bed. "This must end," Johnson said. "It will, Lyndon, I know it will."

"That evening Kennedy tried to keep an eye on Johnson, worried that he might do something irrational. Kennedy's vigilant watch ended when he promptly fell asleep.

"At midnight murmuring woke Jack. Through his bleary eyes, he saw Lyndon, sitting in the middle of the room, his legs crossed. On the floor, markings were etched with a dark ink.

"As he cleared his eyes, Jack realized that Johnson was naked, and the ink was Lyndon's blood! Frantic, Jack ran over to his friend, but was thrown back by an invisible force. All the while the naked soldier chanted louder and louder. The words faded from Jack's mind as soon as he heard them.

"Then came a rushing of wind, and the sound of thunder, though the sky was clear and the torches didn't waver. A moaning, as if the wind were alive, came from within the camp. As the naked man chanted louder, the moaning grew louder with him.

"The moaning soon became a roaring and the soldiers, usually quiet, were screaming. The chanting, the roaring and the screaming pummeled to a climax. Kennedy lay flat on his back, hands over his ears. Lyndon Johnson sat there, legs crossed, chanting.

"A second, a minute, an hour, an eternity later all noise stopped. Lyndon was unconscious , but still in upright position. Jack walked tentatively over to the circle of blood, and reached out and grasped Lyndon's body.

"Lyndon crumpled into his arms. Three days later, troops found Jack Kennedy walking through the lines of Germania, carrying Lyndon. He was wide-eyed and his face was smeared with blood.

"Johnson and Kennedy never told a soul what happened that night. Their experiences had built a bond in between them, that could not be broken even by madness."

The hooded man stops again, lifts a finger to a bar maid and waits for her to fill his mug. Rasputin sits still, enraptured with the man. Where did he get this? How can he know? What's under the hood?

The ale is fresh, and the hooded man drinks one more draught before he continues.

"The bond forged between Kennedy and Johnson was forged of pain and blood. After the Crusade they were celebrated heroes. Appointed at the young age of 35, Kennedy was the youngest governor in the history of the Empire. They began to call it Camelot.

"Lyndon, a great and charismatic speaker, was appointed as his seneschal, his keeper, his vice-governor, if you will. Since he did wonderful things, Kennedy put his trust in him completely.

"Jacqueline, on the other hand, didn't like the look or the feel of Johnson. And that's where Kennedy made his mistake. He ignored his wife for the sake of their friendship.

"Lyndon made passionate pleas to the Emperor and Empress to supply the duchy with money. Instead, the Emperor handed Kennedy a work voucher. If he could justify the building of it, he could build it. Kennedy handed this to Johnson, giving his old friend something to do.

"Johnson leapt at the chance, and started work on the Erie Canal, which cost millions of pounds and thousands of lives, but was and is still needed. He then built that Imperial Statue, giving it as homage to the queen, even though it was the butt of jokes from the very start.

"Then the Tower. Yes, my friend, the Tower. The truth of the Tower, was that it was to be a library, a library of the occult, storing the vast amounts of sourcerous literature in the duchy. Made sense, to Jack, if he could keep an eye on where the knowledge was found, then he could keep an eye on the untrustworthy magi.

"So Lyndon built his Tower, quickly. And yes, August Derleth did visit the house, and he did seduce a chamber maid or two. But Kennedy would hold no truck with the man. What kept Jack from throwing him out was Lyndon's absolute adoration of the disciple.

"As the Tower was being built, Lyndon became more frantic and more erratic. He pulled in as many strings as he could to get as much literature as he could. The floors of his library were stacked with books. The chamber maids refused to go in there, and Jack could not blame them. He even felt uneasy in Lyndon's sanctuary.

"Derleth supervised the building of the Tower, while pointing Lyndon to certain texts, which shall remain unnamed. As the Tower grew to completion, Johnson threw himself into the literature of the damned.

"Finally, the Tower was done. It was January 3, and the next morning the books were to be moved into their new home. At two a.m., Jack woke from a sudden nightmare. He pulled on his robe, and stumbled his way into the kitchen for a quick bite to eat.

"As he passed Lyndon's library he heard a murmuring that struck a chord in the echoes of his brain. He slowly opened the door to the sanctuary, and there was Lyndon, naked, cross-legged, with his blood spilt on the floor. The man was chanting, eyes open wide.

"Without thinking, Jack dived into the big man, knocking him out of his circle. Lyndon grappled with him and through Jack in the corner, then stumbled back to the circle. Jack grabbed a book and threw it with all his strength. The book struck true. It hit Lyndon at the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.

"Jack got to his feet, alerted the guards and had Lyndon bound. When the seneschal awoke he spat out obscenities and foreign words. He bit his tongue and spat the blood on himself, then started chanting again. Jack knocked him unconscious again.

"For a week, Lyndon would do nothing but curse and try to chant. His tongue was raw, and infected. His eyes were black. There was nothing left to do. Jacqueline wanted to put Lyndon out of his misery. But Jack could not do that to him.

"So he had him locked up in the tower, his tongue cut out to prevent further infection and sourcerous behavior. Every day Jack went and visited him, tried to force feed him. Soon, after months, Johnson died. After that, Camelot had fallen. Kennedy was not the same man anymore.

"People called him Mad Jack. Yet who would not be mad if their best friend had been driven into insanity by a religion? And that explains of Jack's hatred for sourcery, why he drove the Lovecraftians and the Crowlians and the hedge wizards out of the duchy. And still they called him mad.

"For the next two years, he pushed that crusade of his. With it, he boosted economy by encouraging spending. No more needless deaths for fools errands. Then one night, two years after Lyndon had died, Jack was walking home from a meeting with the Lords, when a bullet entered his right eye.

"And there the story ends."

The hooded man drinks the last of his ale, and stands to leave.

"Hold it, old man," Rasputin says. "Who are you? How do you know this?" What is under the hood?

"Just a story-teller," comes the reply.

"I don't buy that. You say this is all true, how would you know?"

"It's just a story."

Rasputin jumps up and reaches for the hood, but the hooded man is faster than he expects.

"Let well enough alone," he says, as he dodges the hand. "You have heard the truth now, go and spread no more lies."

The hooded man walks to the door and opens it. A gust of wind blows back the hood, and just for a second, Rasputin sees a patch over the right eye and a red scar down the cheek, before the old man pulls the hood back down and disappears into the night.

Rasputin sits down and finishes his wine. I know that face, he thinks. Ancestors, I know that face.

After a moment, Rasputin stands to leave. He is heading home, but knows he will not sleep for a long time.

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