by Marie Brennan
Robert started half out of his chair when the door crashed into the wall. He didn’t relax at the sight of me in the entrance to his dorm room, and I couldn’t blame him.
He eyed me warily from his half-crouched stance as though debating whether to bolt for cover. “Are you angry at me, my absent roommate, or some poor ill-starred third party?”
My only response was to show him the tarot deck in my hand. He nodded, lowering himself back into his chair as I shuffled three times, cut, and threw down the top card.
It skidded across his desk and landed at a skewed angle. Lurid flames leapt forth from cracks in the walls of a crumbling spire. Pieces of masonry fell to earth like burning comets. People fell alongside them, hands outstretched as though that would save them. “The Tower,” Robert said. Sorcerer he might be, but he could recognize the Major Arcana.
I rammed it back into the middle of the deck, shuffled, cut, and dealt.
Shuffle, cut, and deal.
Robert leaned back in his chair and quirked one eyebrow at me. He seemed more amused than anything else. “Las Vegas would have great use for you.”
“It’s not me.”
The harsh words froze his easy grin. Slowly, cautiously, he shifted forward again, not looking away. “I believe you.” He paused. “Do it again.”
“I was doing class work for Historical Tarot,” I said as I shuffled and cut. The motions were soothingly familiar and kept my hands from shaking. “Trying to, anyway. But every single time, no matter what the question is, the first card up is the Tower.” And once more it held true.
Robert spun his chair and plunged one hand into a chaotic drawer. He fished around blindly for a moment before coming up with a nearly-new deck. Dropping the cards into his hand, he shuffled more times than he needed to, cut, and dealt.
Six of cups, reversed.
He repeated his test. The nine of wands landed on his desk.
Grabbing a scrap of paper, Robert began to write furiously in his illegible scrawl. “How many times?”
I closed my eyes and tried to remember. “Five here. One other time with this deck, making six. Four times with an eighteenth-century deck, once with an original Rider-Waite, once with a Manifestation-era Urban Tarot, twice with my Piacenza. And every time it was the Tower.”
Still writing, Robert extended his free hand. “Do you mind?” I handed him the deck without hesitation; the cards were a library loan anyway. Twice he shuffled, cut, and dealt. The first try turned up the two of swords. The other produced Temperance.
Robert handed the deck back and shrugged. “It seems to be you.”
Repeating the test with his cards, I got the Tower again. I sighed and sank into his roommate’s empty chair. “I kind of hoped Julian would be here—no offense.”
“None taken. He seems the natural audience for such strangeness.”
I hadn’t seen Julian since he came by my room; he’d missed lunch on Monday and Wednesday. I’d never told him about my own reading, and the Moon. There hadn’t seemed much point: a vague warning in response to a personal question, and nothing indicating Julian except maybe the Knight of Swords. But now this.
Robert leaned back and looked pensive. “The Tower. A card of destruction, as I recall, or sudden and severe change. Have you tried other tools? What do they turn up?”
His mind was a gem. “Do you have runes?”
“Somewhere.” He gave the drawer a vague look. Then his hand dove in again and came out holding a bag. “They’re wretchedly cheap.”
“I don’t care.” I stuck my hand in and grabbed the first piece my fingers encountered.
“Well?” Robert asked impatiently. “What is it?”
I laid the square of plastic down on his desk. He glanced at the figure painted on it—an H-shaped character, with the cross-bar tilted at an angle—and shrugged. “I confess ignorance. Three years I’ve owned these, and never used them.”
“Hagalaz,” I said slowly. “Sudden change, again, and destruction. It can also mean a bridge between worlds, but its primary significance is like the Tower’s.” I tossed it back in, shook the bag up, and drew. Neither of us was surprised to see Hagalaz again.
Robert glanced around the room. “I have no other divination tools, and I’m damned if I’ll touch Julian’s things to find any. You might want to experiment further, to see if this continues. Your class meets tomorrow, yes?” I nodded. “Ask then, I suppose. Perhaps others have encountered this phenomenon.”
“What do you make of it?”
“You are the diviner, not I.”
“I know what I think. I want to know what you think.”
Robert’s brow furrowed. “Well. It must be serious, to produce results this consistent even when you try to ask different questions. If others have experienced the same, be assured the university will set people to investigate at once. More likely, though, the change augured is specific to you.”
He’d arrived at that conclusion without even knowing about my prior reading. It cemented my growing fear. But then Robert surprised me by adding, “If the change is not personal, and you are the only one to see it, then it’s also possible you are unusually sensitive—or being specifically targeted with a warning.”
Somehow, that was even less comforting than the thought of the Tower in my life.
Check out the Book View Cafe bookstore page to buy ebook or audio copies of Lies and Prophecy.
Want to read the sequel? The Kickstarter for Chains and Memory ends June 17th. Backer rewards include ebooks, print editions, soundtracks, t-shirts, tarot readings, limited edition copies of the original draft, and even the chance to be a character in the story!
Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories.
When she’s not obsessing over historical details too minute for anybody but her to care about, she practices shorin-ryu karate and pretends to be other people in role-playing games (which sometimes find their way into her writing).