Varajas did his best not to flinch at the sight of the knife clearly illustrated on the card Samir had just put down.

As he got a longer look, Varajas realized it wasn’t a perfect recreation. The blade was shorter, narrower, with a small crosspiece where the real knife had none. But the dead, twisting branches that surrounded it on the card combined with the black, curving blade—it was clear what this card represented.

“What does that one mean?” he asked, pretending a calm he didn’t feel.

Samir was frowning at it. “That’s Death. And it’s the second time that card has come up on this trip.”

Death. Of course it was. What other card would the knife belong to?

The knife. Ruan’s voice was soft, meditative. That was a dangerous voice. That meant Ruan was thinking. Does this tie to the tree we saw?

Samir asked, What tree?

Not now. And then, because that answer wasn’t fair, he said, It is tied together. I think it may be tied to more than I realized. Once we’ve seen this, once we’re out of the vision, we’ll talk.

“Death,” Varajas said out loud. “That’s figurative, right? The fate cards, they’re open to interpretation.”

“Yes and no. Some more so than others.” Samir pressed his hand flat over the crossed cards at the center of his spread. He closed his eyes, took several slow breaths. Varajas could feel…something. A focus, a clarity in his mind. A pressure that hadn’t been there before.

Samir nodded, opened his eyes, and started gathering up the cards. “Death doesn’t always mean literal death. Sometimes it’s pointing to a simple loss of self, or great pain that transforms you. It can be speaking of a new beginning, but any new beginning that emerges out of Death is comes at great cost.”

The knife on the card, with the dead vines all around—vines that could be branches of the tree. That couldn’t be a coincidence.

That the card existed, Varajas didn’t question. The knife had been in the world a long time, its power present, no matter how much the knights had worked to contain it. That it had cast its shadow into the minds of dreamers—Varajas had no trouble believing that.

“How much does the picture on the card matter?”

The good news was, Samir didn’t seem to find anything strange about his questions. “The picture can matter a great deal. Sometimes, the picture matters more than the actual meaning of the card.” He held up the wizard of air, the card that was clearly a portrait of Samir. “When this comes out, it’s usually talking about me. Whether or not I match the usual person the card describes. Although the artists who make these—they don’t tend to illustrate a card with an image that’s completely opposite to the meaning of the card.”

Varajas reached for the card, slow enough Samir could say no if he didn’t want Varajas to touch it. As it passed between their hands, their fingers brushed. Varajas looked directly in Samir’s eyes as he said, “So tell me what sort of person the wizard of air usually describes.”

Really. Dry and sharp, from Ruan. Flirting in the middle of a haunted castle. That’s an excellent decision.

Jealous? Varajas threw back.

Shut up! Samir who was watching was sounding annoyed. While the Samir in the vision just seemed flustered. “The air cards are hard to pin down.”

Bolt gave a short, sharp bark. Varajas reached for his sword reflexively, turning because he seemed to be staring at something behind them. Nothing was there, and it occurred to Varajas the dog might simply have been growing impatient.

Samir plucked his card back from Varajas’s hand and tucked the deck away. “Come on. We should go.”

He sounded steady enough. Varajas had to trust Samir knew what he was doing. The prospect of forgetting—of losing control of his own mind—it was unpleasant.

On the way back outside, he kept his sword in hand. Just in case.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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