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.
Kassandra wanted to be shocked, but it made perfect sense. She ran one finger along the rim of the brass cup. Luke always seemed to know just what to say and when to say it.
“My brother bragged about his new talent when he visited me. He recounted the many times he had played with young girls’ emotions, pushing them toward crisis.” Gabriel glanced at Kassandra and then stopped speaking.
“It’s all right.” She gave a weak smile. “I kind of figured that part out for myself. I just didn’t know he could actually read my every thought.”
“Luke cannot open your mind like a book and see what he likes. He can view only the page you are currently on.”
“So, what I’m thinking right when I stand in front of him?”
Was there a way to turn it off? Shut the book so Luke couldn’t read anything? It would mean she’d have to think about nothing. Or something totally different.
Kassandra glanced at Gabriel. “The paper doll down there…” She pointed to the room below. “That was you, right?”
He nodded, eyes taking a far off look. “I had no idea what my drawings could do. If I had known what Luke used them for…” A snarl of disgust slithered across Gabriel’s features.
“It’s the deck, isn’t it? It let Luke read minds and it caused your drawings to come to life.” Kassandra turned to the table with the cup and ball trick. “How does this game work?” She picked up the leather ball. “What does he do to make the ball vanish?”
Gabriel shrugged. “No one could best Luke at the game. It was his favorite and he never shared his secrets.”
“He’s cocky, that’s for sure.” She set the ball back on the table and rolled it back and forth between her fingers. An idea bubbled up. “If I can get him to forget about the cards, even for a moment, then they’ll zap back to me. I’ve seen it happen before.” The experiment with The Magician card flashed fresh in her mind. The minute Auntie Jo ignored it, the card zoomed back to her. Only this time, maybe the whole deck might return.
Kassandra lifted one of the brass cups—it felt surprisingly light—and plopped it over the ball, making it disappear. Gabriel watched. This trick was mesmerizing. It made people want to find the ball.
“If I dangle the final card in front of him, he’s sure to give me his full attention.”
“No, you cannot let him have the card! Luke fears The Magician card. It is his prison, as the Hanged Man was mine. You must lock Luke back in the Tarot deck.”
“No.” The answer can automatically from Kassandra’s lips. “The cards make him powerful. Without them, Luke’s just some six-hundred-year old guy.”
“You deceive yourself. Luke will never abandon the Tarot deck. He has waited too long.” Gabriel’s eyebrows bunched together. “What has he promised you?”
Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. She shook her head and grabbed a brass cup off the table. Distracting Luke would make the cards come back to her. It had happened before with Lindsay. She forgot about the Fortitude card and it zapped back. Only, would the one Magician card be enough to pull back the whole deck?
Gabriel snatched the cup away and held it up. “Luke plays with your mind. He tells you what you crave to hear.”
Kassandra turned away. “I can get the cards back. I know I can.”
“No.” He hurled the brass cup across the room. It slapped into a pile of wood, sending the whole assortment crashing to the floor. Both birds startled, chirping their displeasure.
Gabriel stepped right up to her face, inches away. His frustration hummed in the air between them, yet he tenderly gripped Kassandra’s chin.
“What has he promised you?”
The words came out as a whisper. “My dad.”
A look of puzzlement crossed Gabriel’s face.
“He’s… like Ezabell.”
The name acted like a slap, startling Gabriel.
“You have succumbed to the very same illness as Luke. My brother has clung to that false hope for centuries. If there were a solution to be found, he would have solved it by now.” Gabriel grabbed her. “He would not listen to reason. I pray you will. There is no return from death.”
Kassandra had seen Dad before. Here, in the cards. It meant there was still hope.
“I tried to get Luke to understand this. I refused to illustrate the final card.” Gabriel let go and stepped back. “In return, he locked me in here.”
An idea appeared in her brain, like a fogged mirror suddenly wiped clean. “You.” She pointed at Gabriel, who looked truly baffled now. “Luke has to know you’re gone from your card. And he totally freaked when I said I’d talked to you.
“I do not know what you mean.”
“Luke’s afraid of you. That’s why he locked you in here.” Kassandra turned toward the table with the cups again. “If I could make you appear in the real world, it would really throw Luke off his game. Then I could get the cards back.”
“You are mistaken. Luke fears nothing, certainly not me.” Gabriel glanced at the surrounding stained glass walls. “I am also not in my card. I cannot return to the real world.”
“Yes you can. Luke almost pulled me out of the Fool card, so it must be possible. Plus this is the only card he doesn’t have. So Luke has no idea you’re in here.”
“Kassandra. Do not fall victim to the same illusion that has plagued my brother.”
She ignored him, scanning the room for a way out. Kassandra scooped the nightingale off the floor, palms tingling as it fidgeted.
Gabriel grabbed her arm. “Consider for a moment. You have a friend trapped in these cards.”
She remembered Auntie Jo stuck in the chair, watching the endless parade of floats. But Kassandra needed the cards to free her. It was the only way.
“This plan of yours.” Gabriel looked her in the eyes. “Is it the best idea for your friend? Or for you?”
A heaviness filled her chest. Was she abandoning Auntie Jo to save Dad? Maybe there was a way to save them both. Kassandra held the bird up. It cocked its head. Was she being selfish? It fluttered its wings, testing the damaged one.
“I don’t know what I want anymore.” She glanced at Gabriel.
“I understand the temptation of Luke’s offer.”
Kassandra caught movement out of the corner of an eye. The bird’s claws momentarily gripped her skin and released. Then it was in the air, shooting forward.
The instant the bird touched her chest, Gabriel and the tower burned away. Everything became pure white light. Muscles spasmed, each one pulled in different directions. An ache spread through Kassandra’s bones almost like they were stretching. A blast of air pumped her lungs open to the bursting point.
Then she smacked, face first, onto an icky grey carpet. This was not Auntie Jo’s house. Someone she knew leaned over her.