This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.
Gabriel’s mouth tightened into a straight line as he touched his wounded cheek.
“Help me stop Luke.” Kassandra looked him straight in the eye. “Can you do that?”
“I want to help you.” He looked toward one of the mirrors, body slumping under the pressure of those images.
She grabbed his face. “Focus on me. Ignore the mirrors. They’ll show you everything you’ve done wrong.” Kassandra leaned close, pressing their foreheads against each other. “Close your eyes. Shut it all out.”
Gabriel did what she said. Except now he was back to square one—surrounded by these horrible mirrors and trapped in the middle. The room was still in control.
“Think. The mirrors only show your mistakes.” Kassandra glanced at the reflections. “What’s something you did right?”
“I can think of nothing.”
“No, I won’t accept that.” She scanned the room, settling on the easel. “Listen, you said you only drew the cards, right? Luke was the one who did the nasty part. He filled them with people’s souls, not you.”
“So what did you really do wrong?”
“Vanity. That was my bargin with Donald Cloots.”
She glanced at the mirror holding Mr. Creeps, still draped with the black cloth. Her skin prickled. Could he see her through the sheet?
“I wanted my work to live forever. Now it is my curse.”
“Yes, but we have a chance to stop it. To stop Luke. Isn’t it worth trying?”
Gabriel opened his eyes and looked straight at Kassandra. “Pain and misery have surrounded me for these many years. Yet you…” He ran his fingers along her cheek. “You are filled with so much hope.”
Kassandra looked down. Of all the ways to describe her, hope would never be the word she used.
“Perhaps, I can atone for my misdeeds a little by helping you.” He leaned closer and she picked up the musky wood scent again. “Thank you.”
Kassandra smiled. Not something she’d done a lot of lately.
“You say Luke has all the cards?” Gabriel flexed his right arm, testing it.
“Except The Magician.”
“And you hid it?”
“Yeah, more or less.” Kassandra could picture the card wedged behind Mom’s phone.
“If we hope to defeat Luke, we must travel to his card to discover his secrets.” Gabriel picked up a sliver of mirror from the ground. He pulled off a shirt button and used the mirror to slice the thread.
The nightingale chirped from its perch on one of the candelabras. The bird had done the same thing when she was gathering the supplies on the workbench. It acted like the world’s smallest cheerleader.
“We shall need a portal for our escape.” Gabriel set the mirror and button on the ground and used the rope from his ankles to create a thick knot. Then he spat into his hand.
Kassandra made a face. He wasn’t going to make her shake his hand, was he? Some sort of friendship bond?
“Bring the mirror, the rope, and the button.” Gabriel scooted to a clear section of marble floor and squatted down. She gathered the items and brought them over.
“Are you going to make one of those door things?”
“Yes. The portal opens a passageway between cards.”
He dipped a finger in his hand, and then drew a watery spit line on the floor. After the first line, Gabriel had to spit again for more liquid.
“Okay, I get that the mirror represents swords and the button is coins.” Kassandra knelt down on the floor. “I’m guessing you knotted the rope to make it like a club for the wands suit. But how does spit equal a cup?”
“I cup my hand to hold it.” He dipped his finger again and completed the rectangle drawn on the floor. “In addition, each suit relates to one of the four elements. Water is the element for cups, air for swords, earth for coins, and fire for wands.”
Kassandra flashed back to the items the bird set out on the workbench. The match looked sort of wand-shaped. But it could also light on fire. Maybe it was the fire part that really made it represent the wand suit.
The nightingale fluttered down and landed next to the rectangle.
“Each card is hitched to another in a series, like a caravan of wagons.” Gabriel waved in the direction of the mirrors. “You can see them there.”
Scanning the mirrors, Kassandra found the one with Ezabell. Behind her ran a line of covered wagons, strung together like a train.
Gabriel’s fingers brushed hers as he took the knotted rope, placing it in the upper right-hand corner of the rectangle. “We must reach Luke’s castle in The Magician card, yet ten cards stand between us and our goal.” He placed the mirror shard and button on opposite corners. “The Wheel of Fortune might prove useful to alter our course.”
“That’s Auntie Jo’s card. Luke used the card on her. Is she’s trapped in there?”
“Most likely, but…”
“We need to save her.”
Gabriel paused, thinking a moment. “You cannot rescue your aunt from inside the Tarot deck.”
“Now wait a minute, I cut you down. Why can’t I do the same for Auntie Jo?”
“If I glance away from the floor at those mirrors, I will become lost again in a world of my sins.” He glanced up at her once. “Your aunt will be overwhelmed by the illusion of the Tarot deck. She will not leave except by force.”
“Then I’ll force her.”
Gabriel gave a half smile.
So what if he thought Kassandra was nuts. She wasn’t about to give up on Auntie Jo. Not if there was even the slightest chance of saving her.
“So how come Luke said you betrayed him? It seems like you were both screwed by this Cloots guy.”
“I did betray my brother, though it was only to save his soul.” Gabriel rubbed his elbow where an old scar ran along the skin. “Once I learned of how he empowered each card, I refused to draw the last illustration, the Tower. Without a complete deck, there could be no deal with Cloots, and therefore no chance to save Ezabell.”
Kassandra looked at the mirror where Luke held the scraps of paper showing the creepy tower. He screamed, shaking the torn illustrations. She’d never seen him so angry.
“Luke would often visit here.” Gabriel pointed to the knocked over easel. “He made me illustrate Ezabell.”
“Why would you do anything for him?”
“So I could see her again. Not in death, but how she was in life. Luke would cover the mirrors and I drew from memory.” Gabriel took a long breath, letting it out slowly. “It was a serene moment in a sea of tumult.”
Kassandra glanced at the rectangle. Only three corners held items: the button, the knotted rope, and the mirror. “Wait. Isn’t there something missing?”
“I am the last symbol.” He cupped his hand again and rested it on the lower right corner. The floor rumbled. Then the marble inside the rectangle crumbled and fell away to darkness.
Kassandra trembled. Going into the blackness last time felt like swimming through tar.
“First we must traverse the card of Fortitude.” Gabriel stood slowly, teetering a little. “Be wary of what you see. Although I designed each card, I have never been inside any but this one. I do not know what we shall encounter.”
Kassandra strained to remember the illustration from Fortitude. It was the card Lindsay had taken in the hall at school. And the one Luke used against her. Did people end up being trapped by the cards they chose? Auntie Jo said the Wheel of Fortune was her card.
Kassandra stared at the black rectangle in front of her. There was a lion loose in there. But also Lindsay. She swallowed. Which one scared her more?