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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Batons

"Ulf" Flash Fiction based on OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Batons

Ulf

The old windmill creaked. A thin gauze of mist slithered over the ground. The full moon cast its silvery light upon it, and it looked like a very long will-o’-the-wisp.

Ulf pulled his cloak tight around him and shivered in the icy breeze. He gazed at the old windmill lit by moon-rays, and though decrepit, it would afford shelter for the night. With heavy and determined steps, he traipsed towards it. Tomorrow, he would find his way home.

Nothing stirred in the old windmill, save for its creaking and shuddering blade in the soft, glacial breeze. 

Ulf cursed himself for losing his way in the well-known woods. It seemed the trees kept shifting, drawing him further into the deep forest until a sliver of crimson sunlight peeking through the dense canopy announced eventide. Night had fallen when Ulf reached the spooky glade with the long-forgotten windmill.

Ulf settled himself against the sturdiest wall and pulled his hood below his eyes, he draped his woolen cloak around his knees and bowed his head, hoping to sleep. A shaft of moonlight illuminated him as a pair of unseen red eyes glared at him from the darkness.

Exhausted and hungry, Ulf soon fell asleep, wishing he were in his soft, warm bed with Bear, his placid sheepdog, sleeping beside him.

A gelid wind billowed the white curtains, and Ulf shivered beneath the covers. Bear snorted, and Ulf felt his warm breath on his face, and the wet lick of Bear’s tongue on the tip of his nose. He nuzzled against Bear as the cold seeped into Ulf’s bones. He needed to shut the window, and upon opening his eyes, thought how strange it was that Bear looked like a wolf. Stiff from the cold, Ulf willed himself to move, but his body did not respond. Then, his arm twitched, and the wolf-like Bear, dug his sharp fangs into his forearm.

Ulf jerked awake from the searing pain. Moonbeams fell like jagged claw-marks on the rotting floor. Gasping, Ulf scanned the darkness until he recalled the old windmill. His heart thudded in his chest and pain stung his forearm.

A low snarl in the far corner caught his attention, and he glared at it, trying to pierce the blackness. Two red spots flared in the gloom, and white fangs flashed in the cold moonlight before vanishing.

The darkness faded, and the soft, white light of dawn oozed through the cracked wooden walls. Ulf glanced down at his stinging arm; thick vermillion blood trickled from it. The cold haze of early dawn glistened on the fanged bite marks that had gashed Ulf’s flesh.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Ace of Wands

"Fireflies" Flash Fiction based on ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Ace of Wands

Fireflies

The fire crackled in the hearth as the blue light of dusk seeped through the French doors. It bounced and glinted off the silver and gold ornaments that decorated the room. The firelight cast happy shadows that flickered on the walls.

The world faded into nightfall as Elmer stood on the balcony with a glass of brandy in his hand. He wiped a tear from his eye and gave the room a quick glance before turning back towards the encroaching forest that swallowed up the once-manicured gardens.

Uncle Raymond had let the gardens fall into disrepair, now overgrown with weeds and bramble and wildflowers. The house, in contrast with the garden, was in excellent shape. Uncle Raymond had loved this house and nurtured it. Yes, that was the word, he nurtured it.

Now the house was his, but who cared? Elmer thought. He would rather spend one more day talking to the man who raised him and loved him than owning these possessions. Yet Uncle Raymond lay underground in a fresh grave on the family plot.

Long ago, Elmer could see the jagged graves of his ancestors from this very window. No more, his forefathers now slept in the forest’s belly.

The fire sputtered, and the evening star awoke in the indigo sky. Elmer leaned against the railing and sipped his brandy. He recalled a frequent conversation they often had since the autumn of Uncle Raymond’s life.

“The ancient spirits of the world play in the woods,” Uncle Raymond said.

Elmer wondered if Uncle Raymond’s old mind was playing tricks on him. Was the end beginning? Had he reached life’s apex and now began the steep decline?

“I see them at night,” Uncle Raymond’s wistful gaze hovered over the forest, “They pinprick the darkness with their lanterns.”

“Fireflies,” Elmer said.

The old man said nothing.

Often they revisited the conversation, and the old man would lapse into silence whenever Elmer pointed out the most logical explanation: fireflies. Elmer wondered what might have been if he had played along with Uncle Raymond’s fantasies.

“Too late for that now,” Elmer muttered.

A soft breeze rustled in the trees. The first specks of light appeared in the gloaming.

“See, Uncle Raymond, fireflies,” Elmer whispered.

But the silver and gold lights multiplied and spread over the land until Elmer thought a sea of stars was flooding the forest.

The wind blew and his ear caught strange voices speaking in a language far more ancient than any human tongue. The voices laughed and giggled and then broke into song. The sparkling lights condensed and expanded, flowing in an intricate dance, which first resembled the flicker of flames, morphed into the flow of ocean waves, then blended into the gusting wind on the mountaintop, and at last, it slithered like snakes on the earth. 

Elmer watched the sparkles weave these strange and shimmering patterns to the old and beautiful music he heard as the wind ruffled his hair. It whispered the secrets of the world.

Elmer smiled and raised his brandy glass to the sky.

“Cheers, Uncle Raymond,” he said.

“Cheers,” the wind echoed. 

He drank the last gulp of brandy and stepped inside, closing the balcony door behind him.

Better not intrude on the ancient spirits of the world.

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: Queen of Swords

"Phantasmagoria" - Flash Fiction based on GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: Queen of Swords

Phantasmagoria

Millie stared at the blue-and-black speckled ceiling. Moonlight shone through the branches scratching the window and its shadows draped a phantasmal leopard skin over the ceiling.

In the still darkness, the prior day’s euphoria settled and a calm self-reflection washed over her. 

He had asked her to marry him. Ecstatic, and amid the amused gazes of the restaurant patrons, Millie had accepted. Yet, now, in the tranquility of her bed and the silent, silver moon-glow, vacillation wormed over her and tainted her enthusiasm. 

Why should she feel this way? Millie wondered, was she happy?

The question oozed into the room and loomed over the bed as Millie’s eyelids drooped and the mottled ceiling shadows melded into pitch blackness.

An eerie silence fell over Millie; she stood among gravestones. Millie tried to read the inscriptions, but the letters appeared faded and jumbled. 

A red moon spilled its bloody light over one grave. Millie approached it on heavy feet that sliced through the lavender mist slithering over the ground. The grave intrigued her; a figure sat beside it. As she stepped into the crimson moonlight, the figure glanced up, and Millie smiled.

Her dear, beloved brother, who had left her side long ago, stood beside the grave. He visited her often in dreams, and the sight of his eternal child’s face always lightened her heart and eased the sorrow she had borne for years. This time, Millie’s countenance fell when she noticed the scarlet shadows crawling across Maurice’s somber face.

“Do you love him?” Maurice asked in a hollow voice.

She gave him a slight nod. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Do you love him?” He asked again.

Millie nodded, and opened her mouth to speak, but lightning flashed across the sky and thunder clapped so loud it shook the graves.

“Do you love him?” Maurice pierced her with his spirit eyes.

The thunder roared, and the sky opened its belly and rained hot bloody sparks that seared open her chest. 

Millie gasped and opened her tear-filled eyes; fat salty drops spilled down her cheeks. She panted and sobbed as the truth that had lain dormant burst into the spectral room and overwhelmed her.

No, she did not love him.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XVII The Star

Ripper

Ripper

Dainty heels click-clack on the pavement and approach the dark alley. He hides in a doorway, the dim gaslight of the streetlamp shines only on the blade peeking out from his sleeve. His features are in shadow, yet, in the darkness, he smirks.

The heels approach, and the woman rounds the corner, entering the alley. The sputtering gas-lamp flickers as she walks by, but he sees the seductive radiance emanating from her. She shines with the light of the brightest star.

Does she not know a murderer lurks the streets?

He wants her.

He chooses her.

He waits as she passes by the gloomy doorway, oblivious to his shadowy presence. He slithers in the gloom, his footfalls soundless on the cobblestone. Her footsteps echo in the night.

The fingers clasping the cold dagger twitch, and his nostrils flare, anticipating the aroma of flowing blood. It is a metallic perfume so powerful in its seductiveness, he must bathe in it again and again.

She walks on and nears the next gaslight. 

He reaches out and grabs her. 

She snarls. 

The blade flashes in the dim light.

The street is abuzz with the rumor the killer has struck again. Police shove their way through the crowd huddled in the alleyway. In the soft light of dawn, they expect the sight of a woman’s torn corpse. 

They find a man instead; a dagger lies beside him. 

Jagged fang marks slash his throat, and his eyes stare, frozen in abject terror. 

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MINCHIATE: King of Coins

The Hunter

The Hunter

Jenny played with Nero, her beloved black cat, while Gil fiddled with the kindling in the living room fireplace. Never a country soul, he surprised Jenny when he announced he had inherited a country cottage.

“It’s the old family cottage,” Gil beamed, “Uncle Gilbert used it as a hunting lodge until his mysterious death. He was an avid and excellent hunter, you know. My great-aunt Dorcas lived there for the rest of her life. She left it to me in her will.”

Jenny joined Gil’s enthusiasm at having a weekend getaway. She had never seen the place, nor met Aunt Dorcas, who was very reclusive, but they were the only relatives to attend the old lady’s funeral weeks ago. 

This was their first night in the cottage, and Jenny marveled at the ornate ceilings with its hardwood panels. Aunt Dorcas had maintained the house in excellent shape; perhaps as a tribute to her late husband. The marble floors gleamed with exquisite patterns, and the chandelier shot out sparkling rays of light over the lavish dining room.

“Rich people…” Jenny muttered, glancing at the gold-leaf ornamented cornices, “and they call this a cottage!”

It was more of a chateau, but who was complaining?

The trophy animal heads that had disgraced the walls were the only things she had disliked about the place. As a veterinarian, they had shocked her, and she had refused to set foot in the building until Gil removed them. Gil did not protest, he also loved animals—live ones. Indeed, he had met Jenny through Rufus’s penchant for swallowing objects. Gil reached over and stroked the great Saint Bernard’s head. 

“Here lies the laziest, dumbest dog there ever lived,” Gil joked; Rufus replied with a languid yawn. 

Minutes later, Rufus glanced up as Gil got the hearth started, at last. Nero left Jenny’s lap and sidled over to his best friend, eager to share in the warmth.

“How did your great-uncle die?” Jenny asked, as the fire flared.

Flame-shadows danced on the walls as twilight cloaked the room. Jenny glanced at the standing lamp, but decided against switching on the electric light; the fire was cozy and bright.

Gil strode over to the couch and sat down beside her. He placed his arm around her shoulder; she leaned her cheek against the crook of his arm.

“No one knows,” Gil said, “they found his dead body deep in the woods, and could never determine a cause of death.”

“How mysterious…” Jenny murmured as the dancing shadows played around them, and her eyelids grew heavy.

“Aunt Dorcas once told me the Lord of the Animals took his life as a punishment for savoring the hunt,” Gil continued.

“How superstitious…” Jenny yawned; Gil, too, fell silent.

Night peeked in through the windows; cat and dog slumbered beside the roaring fireplace.

A sudden draft blew and stirred the crackling flames. Shadows whirled around them, and Jenny watched in placid drowsiness as they took shape. Shadow-trees flickered on the walls, and a deer silhouette pranced across it. The outline of a hunter followed. He paused, took aim, and shot the deer. Satisfied with the kill, the hunter kneeled beside the dead deer. Then, a creature crept up to the hunter. It was a tall person, much taller than any human, and it had antlers on its head.

The hunter-silhouette turned in its direction and, and upon seeing it, screamed. The shriek rang out through the house, and the flames sputtered. On the walls, the shadow-play ended with the hunter crumbling and falling dead beside the deer.

Another draft blew, and the spell broke. Gil’s and Jenny’s stunned eyes met; Nero and Rufus slept undisturbed.

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THE GODDESS TAROT: Five of Cups

The Silver Goblet

The Silver Goblet

Dust-cloth in hand, Marie picks up the antique silver goblet and wipes it, admiring the delicate engraving of waves and curls on the bowl. Canned laughter blares from the TV in the living room, but Marie pays no attention. She reminisces about the story of the beautiful goblet in her hand, an heirloom Grand-Mère brought from France after World War II. It was an antique even then, passed down for generations and rescued from the old ancestral home when the Nazis occupied France. Marie always suspected Grand-Mère worked with the Resistance, and though she never said it outright, Grand-Mère always dropped brief hints and allusions that only made sense later in history class.

Grand-Mère left France with nothing but the family diamonds sewn into the hem of her undergarments, and the one thing she never parted with: the silver goblet. Grand-Mère always said the goblet reminded her of the beloved brother she left behind and lost to the war. When pressed, Grand-Mère offered no further explanation.

The slamming screen door interrupts Marie’s reverie, and she glances up from the silver goblet as her son, Eric, shuffles towards the living room. He offers no help to clean the house, and slumps with a loud thud on the couch in the front of the TV, which Marie switched on for mere background noise in the silent house.

She shakes her head, expecting Eric’s Xbox to blare. Her cheerful child is now a morose and bumbling teenager. Marie suspects a girl’s involvement, but he has clammed up as tight as Grand-Mère did about the Resistance and losing her beloved brother. Like Grand-Mère, Eric also drops hints and intimations now and again.

Marie finishes dusting the dining room. The TV booms what sounds like a movie. Marie pauses and listens; Eric only plays video games. Wasn’t it playing a sitcom?

Marie creeps into the living room, perplexed, and stands behind the couch; her son stares at the TV, enthralled.

“What are you watching?” Marie asks.

“I don’t know,” Eric shrugs, “this was already on when I sat down.”

Marie focuses on the screen, which plays a black-and-white movie in French. 

“I thought you hate old movies,” Marie asks.

“Well, this one’s pretty good.”

“What’s it about?”

“The rich girl is a member of the French Resistance, but the Nazis arrested her best friend and sent her away to a concentration camp. She’s trying to find out who blew the whistle, because the friend was hiding in her house.”

Marie sits down beside her son, who does not move away. She watches the movie, and marvels at how much the young actress reminds her of Grand-Mère. The scene takes place in a lavish living room, where the actress sits deep in thought.

A door slams, and a young man enters the scene. The actor and the actress look very much alike, and Marie is about to say something when she notices the swastika wrapped around the young man’s arm.

“Huh,” Eric snorts, “the brother’s a Nazi? Didn’t see that coming.”

The young woman in the movie raises her eyebrows, and her face lights up with sudden realization. She ponders something for a moment, then offers the young man a drink. He nods, and she pours wine into a goblet. The young man drinks it, then chokes while the young woman looks on with tears in her eyes. Gasping for air, the Nazi slumps back onto the high chair, his eyes roll backwards, and then dies. The goblet falls from his hand and the camera zooms into it as it rolls on the marble floor.

Marie gasps, and Eric looks stunned.

“Isn’t that Grand-Mère’s…?” He stammers and points to the living room.

They gaze past the threshold and at the silver goblet taking pride of place on the dining room display cabinet.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Queen of Wands

Harbinger

Harbinger

Cleopatra Bysbys sits in her aerie with her rifle resting beside the chair. She gazes at the large windows, but does not see the treetops and full moon shining its silver light on her shabby house. On most days, at this late hour, she uses her long-sight—her mind’s eye—to snoop on the neighbors from the comfort of her bed. But tonight, Cleopatra sits in her belvedere, the small observatory atop her house, with her gun at the ready because she knows danger is coming.

Her next-door neighbor, Adrian Ryder, is in his bedroom, while across the street from him, Cassie Power cries herself to sleep, mourning her dead mother. The soft hum of the TV helps muffle her tears; it is her father’s nighttime resource to numb the pain. Cleopatra Bysbys sees him sitting in the living room, the TV blaring, while he stares straight ahead, not minding what he sees. 

Cleopatra switches her mind’s gaze to Adrian Ryder’s house. His family is far more entertaining than the Powers’ gloomy lives. Adrian is reading a book, enjoying the unusual quiet of his home. His younger brothers are at a sleepover, while his father works late. His mother is…

Adrian pauses his reading and listens for a moment. He senses his mother is in her bedroom, sitting at the vanity table and wiping off her makeup. Adrian resumes reading; Cleopatra Bysbys raises an eyebrow. Can the boy…? Impossible, she thinks, he just knows the family routine. There are no fights tonight, and Adrian basks in the silence, grateful that his father has been working so late these past few weeks. Cleopatra sneers; Mr. Ryder left work hours ago, mere minutes after his new assistant sashayed out of the building. 

Cleopatra Bysbys snaps to attention as the black mist descends upon her street. She does not like this mist. It is the harbinger of an ancient evil, one she thought vanquished eons ago. Her hand slides down and caresses her rifle; a man in a top hat saunters in the mist.

Adrian Ryder pauses his reading and gazes out the window. Cassie Power’s tears have stopped flowing, and she stares at the moonlit glass. The black mist swallows all night sounds; Cleopatra Bysbys raises her rifle and kneels at an open window with the barrel pointed at the mist. Though the mist hides the man in the top hat, her powerful mind’s eye perceives him well.

An eerie atmosphere envelops the street, and Adrian Ryder is on high alert. Cassie Power senses the danger in the night, and the fear paralyzes her. She reaches for the long chain around her neck and clasps the horse-shaped obsidian pendant at its end. Her heart races.

Adrian Ryder clutches the golden coin in his hand, and stares straight ahead. His toes jerk with adrenaline, and he wills himself to run and defend Cassie, but an invisible rock crushes his body and paralyzes him.  

Blinding white soars past Cassie’s window and a barn owl alights on the narrow ledge with its back to Cassie. Cassie gulps in fear, as the barn owl rotates its head and faces Cassie. The sight of the heart-shaped white face comforts her, and the fear lightens a little. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist struts up the Powers’ driveway and climbs the stoop. He reaches for the door knob, smirking and savoring the fear emanating from within the house.

A loud crack whips through the black mist, dissipating it. The man in the top hat snaps his hand back and growls in pain. Blood drips from his hand onto the stoop; his palm has a gaping hole. He scans the surrounding street, but sees no one. The barn owl screeches and breaks his silent spell. Clutching his injured hand, The Ugly Man in the Mist flees into the night.

Cleopatra Bysbys lowers her rifle and directs her gaze at the radiant barn owl perched on the ledge at Cassie’s window.

“The Long Fight is coming, my friend,” she says, “but at least this one bleeds.”

The owl meets her gaze and hoots in response.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: VI of Cups

Dark Corner

Dark Corner

Shadows slither down the wall like spilled ink spreads over paper. Darkness envelops the world outside the window until all Colin sees are dark masses of black and gray. He pulls the bedcovers up to his chin and listens to the comforting sounds of Mom and Dad as they prepare for bed. 

Colin wills the light peeking through the crack under the door to shine brighter, but knows the darkness will also swallow it soon. It swallows everything, and Colin wishes that night would never come. He wishes to live on a planet that never rotates on its axis and always faces the sun.

“But life would be impossible on such a planet,” the teacher said.

“So would darkness,” Colin answered, and the teacher gazed at him with a puzzled expression.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” His mother asked when she hung up the phone.

Colin nodded, and Mom promised to buy him a nightlight. Dad said the world stays the same in light or darkness, and he should never fear the dark. Colin nodded and gulped down the embarrassment, but refrained from telling it was not the darkness that he feared most, but the man that appeared in its depths.

Tonight is the last night he will sleep in gloom; Dad turned the closet light on and left its door ajar, and Mom left the bedroom door open.

Colin’s heart beats like a drum against his chest when both doors sway themselves shut, as the shadows ooze in through the windows and plunge the room into pitch black.

Colin stares at the deepest corner; his breath clings to his throat and sweat runs down his feet. The darkness is taking shape, condensing and expanding until Colin sees the clear-cut figure of a hooded man standing there, watching him, glaring at him. He senses its icy stare on his clammy toes and closes his eyes tight, like a kitten, hoping, pleading with the figure to leave.

“Tomorrow,” Colin whispers, “you won’t be here anymore.”

The figure’s lips curl into a sneer.

“I’ll always be here,” it whispers in its deep voice, “just because you cannot see me in the light does not mean I am gone.”

Colin gulps, knowing it speaks the truth. Beads of cold sweat form on his forehead and he wants to scream for Dad. But something in the smooth silkiness of its voice stops him. Colin feels a warm touch on his cool forehead and opens his eyes. The apparition no longer stands in the corner. It sits on the bed now and smiles at Colin with loving warmth.

The apparition strokes Colin’s forehead, and the fear melts away.

“Who are you?” He asks.

“I am Darkness, Loneliness, Fear. Everything you cannot see and do not understand. I am The Unknown, and now that I have introduced myself, you will never fear me again.”

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MINCHIATE: Two of Coins

The Antique Mirror-Minchiate: Two of Coins

The Antique Mirror

Catherine wandered through the tiny aisles of the antiques mall. Knickknacks surrounded her as she paced among books, furniture, and pictures of bygone days that filled the dusty old store. She glanced at everything, yet saw nothing at all. The deeper into the store she browsed, the more the number of antiques overwhelmed her, until a creeping claustrophobia crawled up her spine. While hurrying through the labyrinthine aisles toward the front door, one object caught her eye.

The old mirror hung above an old-fashioned iron stove, flanked by yellowing pictures of Tom Mix and James Dean. It was an oval with an ornate brass frame. The tarnished and clouded glass had black spots sprinkled over its surface, but Catherine’s bemused, yet intrigued, image peered from the flowery, corroded metal frame. Something about it attracted her—perhaps it was the way her face appeared out of its hazy freckled glass—and Catherine decided it needed to hang above her night-table. 

At home, Catherine smiled at her own reflection while she cleaned it. The shopkeeper told her the mirror may need to be re-silvered, but Catherine liked the dark, warped image of herself on its surface. The corroded brass and black spots gave her reflection an eerie, Gothic semblance. She looked like the imagined heroines in the gothic novels her older sister, Emma, had read to her at bedtime. Little Catherine had both cringed in horror and squealed with delight as Emma’s soft voice filled the darkened room. Her words painted a snaking dreamscape of villains and ghosts, and through the pages they traveled to dark castles and gloomy dungeons in faraway lands.

Catherine fought back hot tears as a lump snagged in her throat. She tried not to think about Emma too often because the pain still welled up, threatening an overspill of dark and despairing emotions. But now, alone and gazing into a clouded mirror, she loosened her restraint and let the tears streak down her cheeks. 

Emma went to the grocery store one bright summer afternoon and never returned. The police found no signs, no clue to her whereabouts and no suspect. Years dragged on with no news of her beloved sister, and the case grew cold. Emma became just another statistic; her face was a fading memory. Catherine’s childhood vanished with her sister. Catherine’s love of gothic novels was all that remained of Emma.

Catherine wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Then, she stroked the book that always lay on her night-table. It was the same tattered book she took out of her childhood home and carried through all the changes in her life, but never read. At least, she had never finished it. Emma had been halfway through it when she went missing, and Catherine never had the heart to read it to the end. She picked it up and smelled her sister’s memory as she leafed through the pages, never reaching the end. Catherine feared that if her eyes ever landed on the last words, then Emma would never return. 

Catherine pulled herself together and hammered a nail into the wall above the night-table. With a soft, satisfied yet tragic smile, she hung the mirror on the nail. Catherine gazed at her reflection, and for the first time in her life, thought she looked like her sister. Impossible, her logical brain whispered. Emma was blond with piercing blue eyes and milky white skin, while Catherine had a dark complexion with soft brown eyes and black hair. 

“Like Jane and Elizabeth Bennet,” Emma’s voice rose out of the deep well of Emma-memories in Catherine’s mind and filled the room. 

She reached her hand out and touched the damaged surface. Her heart jolted with electricity; Emma’s broad smile beamed through the darkened glass and radiated from the corroded brass frame. At last, Catherine had found her sister.

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TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 7 of Pentacles

Aegis

Adrian Ryder tore his gaze away from the book and contemplated the middle distance. He was reading about Perseus and Medusa, but found it hard to focus. The recent dream had sparked a tiny ember of peril that flared and dulled over the following days, but never died out. In the dream, Adrian, riding Ethur, came upon the Ugly Man in the Mist and an evil crone plotting to take Cassie. He had awakened, sensing its reality and the certainty that Cassie’s life was in grave danger.   

The school year was ending, and he kept telling himself this was the last stretch, but the sense of impending menace nagged at him. Yet, the branches of the ever-blossoming trees of the Grove by the Old Cemetery doused this dread almost to extinction. He sought the silence of the biggest ever-blossoming tree and hoped that by climbing it and being in it, not just in the grove, he might move forward with his final school assignment. But the dream…

It showed him the people who wanted Cassie for mysterious and nefarious reasons, but not how to stop them. Later, it had disturbed him even more when Cassie told about the new girl turning into a hag in front of the bathroom mirror. 

He laid his head back on the tree trunk and wished for Athena’s shield, which struck the enemy down in terror, as the soft rustle of the breeze through the blossoms lulled him and their sweet fragrance numbed his worried brain.

“Adrian,” a soft voice said beside him, “Climb down.”

Adrian gazed into a woman’s face. She had Cassie’s striking emerald green eyes, and knew it was Cassandra, her ancestor, buried in this grove.

Adrian clambered down from the tree. He found himself in a moonlit cemetery with old and crooked grave stones spiking out of the gnarled bramble. This place was ancient, much older than any cemetery in New England. He felt it in the moonlight and the soft breeze that swirled around him whispering in a thousand dead tongues. There was an eerie, yet comforting, peace about it. Cassandra stood beside one gravestone shimmering in the moon’s glow, but time had effaced its name.

“Dig,” she whispered.

He kneeled; one moonbeam pointed its long tendril to a glimmering spot on the ground, and Adrian scraped the damp earth with his hands. Dirt caught between his nails and soft brown mud caked his fingers. Digging deeper, the earth’s thick texture changed and covered his hands in fine soot and ash. He suppressed a shudder; they burned witches in this part of the world. Soon his fingers closed over a cloth pouch. He pulled it out of the ground, and turning it in his dirty hands, untied the string and opened it.

A shining gold coin fell on his blackened palm. It had a long, gold chain wound and threaded around it, binding it in a tether like Ethur’s silver bridle. Adrian turned to Cassandra, but she had vanished. A moonbeam caught the coin, and it sparkled in the starry darkness; it had a woman with serpentine hair engraved on one face, the other was a smooth and golden mirror. His heart skipped a beat, but his lips broke into a smirk. He draped the chain around his neck; a hawk screeched and the sound cut right through him.

Adrian’s eyelids flew open. Sunlight hurt his eyes, and the wind gusted through the blossoms. He jerked in surprise and almost fell off the tree. He gazed at his dirty fingers with black soot under their nails. Around his neck he felt the weight of the gold coin: Athena’s shield.