An Excerpt from DARK ORACLE by Alayna Williams
[ Information on Dark Oracle ]
The air seethed, like a living thing disturbed.
Dust settled from the sky as the roar of the explosion rolled away into the
desert. Gradually, the sky cleared, revealing stars. In the sandy haze of dust,
a building had blistered open, like an empty shell too weak to hold a great and
terrible seed. Chunks of concrete littered the ground, illuminated by weak
sparks and fizzles from the severed legs of ruined machinery.
Swimming through the wreckage, dozens of tiny lights milled like
fireflies, winking in and out. Unlike fireflies, they burned dark violet,
wandering in wayward paths. Undisturbed by the remnants of walls, they glided
through twisted I-beams as easily as smoke. In bright flashes of light, some
flickered out. Others swarmed together, levitating before they vanished with the
rushing sound of air, leaving spirals of dust in their wake.
They came from the machine. The hull of the massive mechanism lay open in
the darkness. Its skin ripped open by the force of the explosion, wires dangled
in heavy tentacles over ruined copper tubing warped into blossoms by the sound.
A solenoid switch clicked on and off, on and off, with no circuit to complete.
The violet particles rimmed the interior skin of the machine, seething over the
steel like the surface of an indigo sun. The machine was like an egg cracked
open, pouring life into the night.
But it was not life. The particles drifted away, blazed out, sucking bits
of air and time as they disappeared. The faint light illuminated a trace of
human wreckage in the debris: a silver watch.
Its face gleamed smooth and unbroken, but the time its hands had measured
had stopped. There was no trace of its owner, the man who had keyed the last
operating procedure into this apparatus.
No life; no life, at all.
Yet, something more than life. Dim violet sparks crept out into the
darkness toward the sounds of distant sirens.
Tara had once been accustomed to awakening to staccato knocks on her door in
the middle of the night. She had always answered that summons to roll out of bed
in razor-sharp readiness back then. She could dress and launch herself beyond
the door in less than ten minutes, her case full of notebooks, guns, and more
arcane tools of her trade. Sometimes, she could even squeeze feeding the cat
into those preparations.
That was a long time ago, but old habits never really went away.
This knock was different, softer. Tara rolled over in bed, her bare feet
skimming the floor. Automatically she reached for the holstered .38 revolver
hung behind the headboard, just out of sight, but close at hand. The cat leapt
down from the pillow beside her to hide under the bed.
Found. Here. How? Tara's brow wrinkled. She'd never been disturbed in
this place, by anything but her own dreams.
The shadows of tree branches stained the floor in abstract chiaroscuro
shapes. Melting snow rattled through the forest beyond the exterior walls of the
cabin. Tara had hoped to feel the thaw in her bones for weeks now, had watched
the ice slip and break under the late-winter sun. Though it was nearly March,
the ice would be treacherous to most travelers, and would dissuade them from
traveling the hidden dirt road to Tara's sanctuary. There wasn't even mail
delivery this distant from civilization. For all intents and purposes, the
little cabin didn't exist, forgotten in the buzz and shuffle of the outside
world. Tara had hoped some of that forgetting extended to her.
Tara walked noiselessly over the pine floorboards. She knew the location
of each squeak, sidestepping each in the dark as expertly as a dancer with an
invisible partner. She crossed the cabin's living area, illuminated only by dull
embers in the fireplace worming into the sweet-smelling apple wood.
Again, the knock. Tara touched the door, feeling the vibration echo
through the surface. She could close her eyes to it, crawl back into bed. She
could pretend she wasn't here, had never been here, that she hadn't heard.
But the knock rang with a quiet authority that could not be ignored.
Tara slid back the deadbolt and cracked the door open as far as the chain
would allow. She held the gun in her left hand, behind the door, invisible to
the caller. She thumbed back the well-oiled hammer with an echoing click. In the
dark, the ratchet of a shotgun would have been a more effective deterrent to
unwanted visitors, but the sound was still unmistakable. Her hand sweated
against the rubber grips, her index finger grazing the stainless steel trigger
"Yes." Her voice felt rusty. It had been a very long time since she had
used it, other than with the cat.
"Tara. It's Sophia."
Tara swallowed, peered through the gap in the door. The wan porch light
illuminated a woman with brilliant silver hair standing outside, her breath
making ghosts against her lined skin and dark coat. The woman smiled
reassuringly, the expression rumpling pleasantly around her gray eyes.
The smile chilled Tara, tightened her chest. She closed the door, inhaled
a deep breath. Slowly, her fingers worked the chain free, then opened the door
"I'm sorry to have come at such a late hour." Sophia said. "It couldn't
Tara only nodded, stood aside as Sophia stepped into the dark room. Tara
reached for the light switch. Though she was accustomed to seeing in darkness,
she was certain her guest was not.
When she turned back, Sophia looked pointedly at her gun. "My dear, you
won't be needing that." Sophia shrugged out of her coat. Tara knew this was all
Sophia would say about the weapon.
Tara released the hammer on the gun. The heat from her fingers fogged the
stainless steel. She placed the .38 on the kitchen counter, leaned against the
sink with her arms crossed. "Why are you here?"
Sophia fixed her with her Athena-gray eyes, serious and piercing. "Your
Tara made a cutting gesture with her hand. "I don't want to talk about my
Sophia did not look away. Tara knew Sophia had been the last person to
see her mother alive. And Tara hated the jealousy and anger she felt, thinking
Sophia continued. "Your mother would not have wanted this for you."
Tara narrowed her eyes. "What would she not have wanted?" She sketched
the cabin and the forest beyond with her hand. "I have peace. And I did have
Attracted by the light and the voices, Tara's cat drifted into the
kitchen. He blinked his golden eyes at Sophia. She rubbed her fingers together,
and Oscar trotted over to her, tail up. Much to Tara's irritation, he began
rubbing his face on Sophia's black pants, leaving trails of yellow fur. He was
far too comfortable with her.
Unbidden, Sophia pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Reluctantly,
Tara slid into a chair opposite her. Oscar leaped into her lap, purring like a
diesel engine. Her silver hair hung in a tantalizing braid over her shoulder,
and Oscar took a swipe at it. Sophia let him bat at it until his claws became
tangled, and she gently worked them free. "She would not have wanted this
isolation for you, especially after what happened."
Tara bit back her anger, leveled her voice. "My mother is gone. I make my
"Dear child." The older woman reached for Tara's hand. Sophia's touch was
surprisingly warm. Tara remembered those hands from when she was a child, warm
as sunshine, brushing her hair. "You've lost much."
Tara's jaw tightened. "And you and your sisters would probably blame me
for following...what was it, you called it? The destroyer's path?"
Sophia shook her head, quivering her crescent-shaped earrings. "Not that.
The warrior's path. And we would never blame you."
This old argument, again. "I became a profiler because I wanted to help.
And I did." Tara's fingers traced a scar disappearing under her sleeve and she
shrugged. "Besides, that's over now." She didn't mask her wry expression,
disappointed in herself that she still sought Sophia's approval. "I would have
thought you would have approved of me leaving that life."
"Leaving that life, yes. Not leaving life altogether."
Tara rubbed her temple. "Sophia, what brings you here? Did you want to
see me? Or do Delphi's Daughters want something?" She pressed her mouth in a
grim slash. She'd not spoken of Delphi's Daughters in a long time, and the name
of that secret society was foreign on her tongue. She would not be their tool.
Tara had been a tool for the Feds for too many years, summoned out of
sleep to solve unspeakable crimes. Like a doll, she would be taken out of her
box, wound up, and set upon a case. When she wound down, drained of all insight,
they'd put her back in the box, only to come knocking again. She would not allow
herself to be used that way, not again. Not by her government, and not by
Delphi's Daughters. Delphi's Daughters had existed since the beginning of
recorded time, and she was sure they could exist without her.
"Both," Sophia said, her face honest and open. "Something has happened,
and we need your help."
"I'm all helped out. Sorry."
Sophia pulled a manila file folder from her bag and set it on the table.
Tara did not touch it. Sophia pulled a photograph out of the file and slid it
across the table. Still, Tara refused to touch it. But she could not help
looking. The picture was of a man in his fifties, dressed in a wrinkled lab
coat, with his hands jammed in his pockets. His posture was of one who spent a
great deal of time hunched over computers, and his stringy body suggested
someone who often forgot to eat. His expression felt intense, even through the
photographic ink. She could practically see the gears of his thoughts working
behind that blue. . .
Tara shoved back from the table, as if the photo was too hot to touch.
She didn't want to fall into it, didn't want to have to fight to claw her way
back out. "Sophia. I can't."
The older woman did not remove the photo. "He's very important, Tara. His
name is Lowell Magnusson. As I understand it, he was involved in some very
powerful technology. Dark matter and gravitational fields. There was an accident
earlier this evening. His atom smasher blew up. He's gone missing."
Tara frowned. "Why is he important to you?"
Sophia laughed, a sound like bells. A sound that reminded Tara of her
mother. "Strange, isn't it? He's a man, and he has no ability to see into any
future beyond what his own imagination can create...one would think that would
land him far outside of the purview of Delphi's Daughters."
"One would think that, yes." Tara waited for an explanation. Delphi's
Daughters dedicated themselves to salvaging hidden things, to preserving the
intellectual and physical lineages of esoteric knowledge since the time of the
Oracle of Delphi. In all the time she'd observed her mother's association with
the secret society, she'd never seen men involved. It was always the women,
whispering their arcane and alchemical lore from mother to daughter in unbroken
chains spanning centuries. They trafficked in information and secrets, building
empires of influence and knowledge, manipulating world events to their liking.
And Tara, who had inherited her mother's talents, remained a stubbornly broken
link. She had refused to follow in her mother's footsteps and join them.
Sophia's laugh trickled away, and her eyes darkened to the color of
winter storms. "Dr. Magnusson is very important to the balance of power, Tara.
The powers he is working with are truly immense...gravity, time, the
void...technology beyond imagination. And this technology would be very, very
dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. The Pythia thinks--"
"I don't care what the Pythia thinks," Tara snapped. The Pythia was the
strongest of modern oracles; surely she could see Tara wouldn't help her.
"The Pythia thinks this technology could be misused and result in vast
devastation and global war. He must be found."
Tara leaned back in her chair, balancing on the back legs. She wanted no
part of this. "Sophia, I..."
Sophia looked down at her hands. "I do not ask this lightly, Tara. We
would have asked your mother for her assistance."
"But she is gone, and you are the only one left in her line who has her
particular knack for finding people."
Tara glanced down at the picture of the scientist. "Even if I wanted to,
I'm so far out of practice, I would be of very little use."
Sophia grinned at her. "No one ever falls out of practice in your art."
Sophia slid the file across the table to her. "No one will force you, and
I won't come knocking again. All I ask is you think about it."
Tara could not refuse her that much. That much would, at least, get her
out of Tara's house.
The file folder lay undisturbed on the kitchen table for many hours after
Sophia left. Tara moved around it, trying to pretend it didn't exist. But she
found herself orbiting it unconsciously, like a star around a black hole. Unable
to return to sleep, she made herself a cup of hot chocolate and paced the
kitchen, chewing on her thoughts.
It would take a great deal of desperation for the Pythia to send someone
to her doorstep. Delphi's Daughters and Lowell Magnusson obviously needed her
help, but she resisted. Altruism warred with her desire to stay clear of the
business of profiling again. Absently, she scratched at the scars crossing her
belly. The last time she'd gone tracking in men's minds, she'd nearly lost her
life. It was not a risk she was willing to take again, even for an innocent like
Oscar leaped up onto the kitchen table and sat on Magnusson's picture. He
parked himself on his butt and splayed his toes to take a bath.
"Oscar." She pulled the picture out from under his furry bottom. She
glanced sidelong at the bathing beauty. "She whispered something in your ear,
didn't she? You're in cahoots with her, aren't you?"
Oscar nonchalantly ignored her, passionately cleaning his paws.
As far as Tara knew, Sophia's particular talents lay in scrying, not
in manipulating animals. That didn't mean she couldn't. No one but the Pythia
ever knew the true extent of the power of Delphi's Daughters.
Hesitating, she touched the picture. She held it at arm's length,
reluctant to allow the image to creep too far into her head. Lowell Magnusson
stared back at her. He was wearing a truly awful navy blue tie patterned with
cartoon planets, comets, and stars. It was the kind of tie one would receive as
a gift for Father's Day. No one would ever pick a tie like that out for himself.
Tentatively, she flipped open the folder.
The file didn't belong to Delphi's Daughters. As far as Tara knew,
the secret society didn't keep files. They were dreadfully old-fashioned that
way. Rather, they seemed to gather information volunteered from unusual places.
Judging by the form titles and letterhead, this file had come from the State
Department. The Daughters of Delphi had money, stashed in accounts around the
world. Old money. And money could buy a tremendous amount of information and
Lowell Magnusson, age fifty-three, was a quantum physicist on contract
for the Department of Defense. He was currently on sabbatical from teaching at
Cornell. Tenured. Nice gig. Divorced, with a daughter, Cassie, age twenty-three.
He'd been cited by the city of Albany twice for failure to mow his lawn, and his
vanity license plates read QUARKY. He'd been raised in a small town in Ohio,
which had named a reading room in the county library after him. Neither of his
parents was still living, and he had no siblings.
His interest in astronomy had begun when he was twenty-one. As a graduate
physics student working as a research assistant at Ohio State University,
Magnusson had the good fortune to be present when his mentor, Dr. Jerry Ehman,
received the famous Wow! radio signal. Ehman and Magnusson had been involved in
the SETI project at the Big Ear Radio Telescope at Ohio State University in
1977, when the Big Ear caught a seventy-two-second burst of odd radio wave
activity. The signal strongly suggested the existence of extraterrestrial life.
It had never been replicated.
Tara flipped through a series of ID badge photos of the subject.
Magnusson took a bad ID photo. He was squinting in half of the shots. His
driver's license also displayed the same blink reflex. She paused at a picture
of him standing with a young woman who Tara assumed to be his daughter. They
stood together in front of a string of lush green mountains, smiling under a
bright blue sky. Magnusson was wearing a lurid yellow floral Hawaiian shirt that
showed off a spectacular case of blistering sunburn. His daughter stood with her
arms behind her back. She was her father's daughter: dark hair, lanky frame,
with her dad's deep blue eyes. In the background stood the white dome of a large
telescope facility. Hawaii, Tara guessed.
She thumbed through the file, reading paragraphs at random. Several
papers Magnusson had written were included, and she read abstracts of articles
dealing with the theoretical properties of dark matter and dark energy,
describing neutralinos and super-dense particles, gravity wells and the bending
of light around unseen objects in space. Magnusson was fascinated by the big
cosmological questions of the universe: If only thirty percent of the universe
was made of conventional matter and energy--things that could be touched and
measured--where was the rest? How can we detect this so-called dark matter and
dark energy, which is virtually undetectable?
Tara closed the folder on Magnusson's questions, leaving out the picture
of the physicist and his daughter. She was certain Sophia had included it to tug
at her emotions.
Beside it, Oscar snored softly.
Tara pushed away from the table, padded to the bedroom. The gray
light of dawn lightened the windows, casting a soft glow over the worn quilt
covered in a frost of cat hair. She stood before the dresser, bare except for a
closed jewelry box and a framed photograph of her mother and her when Tara was a
child. Her mother, dressed in a paisley dress and straw hat, dark hair flowing
over her shoulder, had flung her arms around Tara. Her smile was broad as a bow,
unself-conscious. Tara was barefoot, wearing a yellow dress embroidered with
yellow ducks her mother made for her. Sunlight shone through tree leaves. Tara
gently held a salamander in her dirty hands, joyously displaying the newly
captured creature to the camera.
Out of the corner of her eye, Tara glimpsed her reflection in the
photo frame's glass. There was no mirror above the dresser or anywhere else in
the cabin; Tara had removed all those when she'd moved in. The indistinct image
illumined by the dim light of dawn showed the resemblance to her mother. Blue
eyes, chocolate hair, skin pale as porcelain. But a truer looking glass or even
turning on the light would reveal where the similarities ended: with the scars
on her throat, the dark circles under her eyes--the haunted look that never
completely left her visage. For a moment, she fingered a raised scar on her
collarbone, then let her hand fall. She was not her mother's daughter, after
all. Her mother's daughter would not be so reluctant to follow in her maternal
Tara knelt to open the bottom drawer of the dresser, a drawer that had
remained firmly closed for a very long time. She withdrew a small bundle wrapped
in a red silk scarf. It had been her mother's scarf. It still smelled a bit like
her, jasmine and orange, fragrances that seemed out of place in this dull gray
season. The bundle felt weighty in her hands as she carried it back to the
kitchen. She spread the embroidered cloth open on the kitchen table, smoothing
the fringe out.
A deck of Tarot cards and a small brown leather notebook lay on the
table. The notebook had most of the pages torn out of it; the few remaining
leaves were blank. The cards were well-worn with use, small nicks marring the
art on the back of the cards: a tree, outlined in gold, branches reaching toward
a night sky and roots reaching into the black earth. The black had faded with
time. Tara had never really known the provenance of this particular deck. As
much as her mother had tried to encourage her to find an affinity with another
deck as a child, Tara had latched on to this particular one. It had belonged to
her mother but, along with several other decks in her possession, wasn't the one
she used daily. Tara had suspected the cards were much older than her mother.
She'd never seen another deck like it. The cards had spoken to her the first
time she touched them, seeming to warm to her hands and buzz when she shuffled
them like the wings of hummingbirds. She'd bonded to them right away.
But the cards spoke to her no more. Since the terrible incident that
had scarred her and sent her into hiding, Tara had sealed them away and silenced
them. Still, she'd never been able to destroy them.
Tara rested her chin in the palm of her hand, hair tricking over her
wrist, reluctant to touch the deck. Her gaze brushed the picture of Lowell
Magnusson and his daughter, smiling at her from glossy paper.
She feared opening the door to her intuitions again, to the
synchronicities that would wake her from sound sleep. But Sophia had opened the
door for her, and there was no silencing the clarion of the knowledge that
someone needed her help.
Tara sighed, reached for the deck. Just one attempt at a reading and
she'd put the cards away again. Then she'd tell Sophia she couldn't help.
She centered herself, putting her feet flat on the floor and her
hands palm up, open in her lap. She listened to her breath. Tara could also hear
the whirr of the refrigerator, the cat's snores, the splintering of ice outside,
a crackle of a last ember in the fireplace. But she focused on her breath, and
that sound drowned out the others. She emptied her thoughts and concentrated
them on Lowell Magnusson. When she felt calm and still, she reached for the
cards. The deck flexed in a familiar rhythm as she shuffled. Her hands still
The idea of the Tarot was centuries old. Predecessors to the modern
deck of playing cards, they retained the archetypical imagery of the hero's
journey through two series: the Major and Minor Arcana.
The twenty-two images of the Major Arcana depicted ideas and
archetypes that had existed throughout time: death, rebirth, life, justice...
all abstract ideas embedded in the soul from the beginning of time. They could
represent major events or pivotal people in one's life. In the modern deck of
playing cards, only one of these cards survived: the Joker. It was the analogue
to the first card of the Major Arcana, the Fool, representing innocence.
Somehow, it was ironic that innocence would always survive through the ages.
The fifty-six cards of the Minor Arcana were divided into four suits:
cups, wands, swords, and pentacles. Their modern analogues of hearts, clubs,
spades, and diamonds lived on in every poker room, casino, game of solitaire,
and senior citizens bridge group in the world. Each suit was associated with an
element and an affinity: cups to water and feelings; wands to fire and action;
swords to air and realms of thought; and pentacles to earth and prosperity. The
Minor Arcana most often represented the attitudes and feelings of the
questioner, where the court cards of each suit--the kings, queens, knights, and
pages--could often represent people met along the questioner's journey.
Together, these enduring images of the Tarot were intended to trigger
the questioner's imagination. They used symbols to bring hidden information into
the conscious mind, by creating associations and emotions. Each individual's
reaction to a symbol would be unique, colored by experience, memory, and
situation. These unique reactions yielded an association meaningful to the
questioner. Jungian psychologists believed that the Tarot provided a pathway of
connections, a means for the conscious mind to reach into the subconscious using
symbols as a tool. But Tara knew Tarot could access much, much more.
"What do I need to know?" she thought aloud, working the deck. She
shuffled until her mind felt blank and the cards seemed to stick together. She
placed the deck to her right, and began a Celtic Cross reading; although
differences in placement varied among readers, it was the oldest and most common
pattern of laying out the cards, the spread. A spread was a way of asking a
question, a framework for a story to develop. The Celtic Cross was a broad
reading, touching on past, present, future, and the querent's place in the
environment. This version had been her mother's favorite, and one of the first
spreads Tara had learned.
She drew the first card and laid it faceup on the center of the
scarf. This card represented the present situation: the Four of Swords. A knight
lay in effigy in a church. Light streamed through stained glass windows,
illuminating four swords hanging over his head, and a wreath of white roses lay
on the effigy's hands. Tara's mouth twisted. It signified enforced solitude,
respite to heal...but could also suggest fear of facing the world.
She drew the second card, laid it crosswise across the first. This
represented her immediate obstacle or support. The High Priestess stared back at
her with a direct, serious expression. The Priestess held a sheaf of paper and
was crowned with a silver moon headdress, representing spiritual mystery. Tara's
attention drifted to the file folder, and she thought of Sophia's silver moon
earrings. Sophia both opposed Tara's solitude and supported her leaving it.
Beyond Sophia, Tara thought of the Pythia, the Priestess of her own secret
She drew another card and laid it vertically above the others,
directly below Magnusson's picture. This card crowned the first two and
represented the highest destiny that could be hoped for in the situation. The
card depicted the Magician, the inventor, the alchemist...the source of vital
creativity. A man in a violet cloak stood holding a wand to the sky, with
symbols of the four elements spread on a table before him: a sword, a pentacle,
a chalice, and a wand...air, earth, fire, and water, made one. Above the
Magician's head was the figure-eight shaped lemniscate, the sign of infinity,
glowing golden against a background of lilies. Tara's gaze flickered up to the
Tara steepled her hands before her. The fact the Magician was in the
destiny position suggested he could be found. The two last cards laid out before
her worried her. Both were Major Arcana, large archetypes cycling through life.
This question was important, of great weight, heavy as lead.
She drew the fourth card and placed it below the first three to
symbolize the distant past influencing the situation. The Two of Swords. The
card depicted a blindfolded woman sitting on a beach, balancing two swords in
crossed arms, one on each shoulder. The ocean roared behind her. Tara tipped her
head, absorbing the card. The card could denote the deliberate closing of one's
eyes to the truth of the ocean, a closed heart, or unwillingness to choose
sides. A precarious situation, to be sure. Tara couldn't tell if this referred
to the Magician's experience, or to her own. It seemed her experiences and
feelings were bleeding over into the reading.
She placed the next card to the right of the Priestess to represent
the recent past. The Eight of Pentacles was reversed, its image upside down from
Tara's point of view. A man worked at a bench, meticulously tooling disks of
pentacles, absorbed in his work. In the upright position, this would have meant
pride in one's work. Reversed, it suggested unsatisfying work, professional
envy, jealousy, or covetousness.
This was the second eight she'd drawn. Her thoughts drifted back to
the lemniscate, the infinity sign gracing the Magician's head. She was certain
these last two cards referred to Magnusson's situation.
She drew a sixth card, placed it to the left of the other cards. This
card would describe the near future and near influences. The Knight of Pentacles
brooded over a disk engraved with a star cradled gently in his hands. He was
dark haired, sitting astride a black horse. A practical man. A man of action,
deeply rooted in the physical world. Tara mentally filed this image away for
later. She did not know this person, and he did not seem like an aspect of her
own personality. Perhaps he would figure into the investigation.
She placed the seventh card on the lowest right-hand corner of the
table. This represented Tara, as the questioner. The Queen of Swords, the snow
queen. The card showed a crowned woman sitting on a throne before a gray sky.
Wind and snow tangled in her hair and cloak, and she held a silver sword
upright. She held the sword in her right hand, but held her left hand as if the
sword of her intellect had cut her. She looked at a horizon Tara couldn't see,
and her expression was one of sorrow. The traditional meaning: sadness,
sterility, mourning. After Sophia's visit, it wasn't hard for Tara to imagine
herself in that context
Enough about her. Tara quickly drew the next card from the deck. The
eighth card represented the environment. She drew the Tower, the card of
disaster, of revolution. It depicted a tower, struck by lightning, from which
two people fell to the ground. A powerful image, and a powerful event of
upheaval, betrayal, chaos. Sophia had said there had been an explosion in which
the scientist had disappeared. Tara looked carefully at the figures falling from
the tower, wondering if they would survive.
She placed the ninth card above the Tower. This represented inner
emotions, hidden things. The Star. A maiden bathed in a starlit pond, gazing up
at a starry sky. She poured water from two cups, pouring energy back into the
universe. This was a softer release of power than the Tower, a subtle
transmutation. It represented hope, truth.
Tara pulled the last card and put it on the table above the Star,
finishing the vertical column. This card, the Six of Swords, represented the
final result. A ferryman rowed a boat carrying six swords over water to a green,
distant shore. It was a card of movement, of travel, but of carrying a precious
Tara leaned back in her chair. The reading was mixed. She felt sure some
of the cards called to her personally; others reflected the larger situation of
the missing man. The reading was heavy on swords, which symbolized the element
of air but, of the Minor Arcana suits, involved the most conflict. A large
number of Major Arcana cards suggested the situation involved significant forces
Oscar rolled over dramatically, his tail twitching the deck she'd
laid to the side. She reached over to rub his orange-speckled belly with one
hand, as she jotted down the spread and her impressions in the little notebook.
She wrote down the date, the question she'd asked, the cards she'd drawn, in
order. Below each card, she jotted notes of what she thought of how the
interacted with the situation, what details stood out, which associations she
made in her mind. She left plenty of blank space, especially for those cards she
didn't understand fully now. Perhaps their meaning would become clear in the
She knew Dr. Magnusson had little time. Most missing persons had to
be found within the first hours or days of their disappearances, or risk being
lost forever. In her head, a mental clock was set, ticking softly. Sophia had
said he'd just disappeared. Perhaps there was still time. She grimaced inwardly.
She hated the idea of getting involved, but the photo pulled at the rusty wires
of her heartstrings. If that young woman was left without parents, as Tara had
been...Tara didn't think she would be able to set aside the guilt. The cards had
come alive to her, at least in part. She knew she could help.
Her gaze lingered on the last card, the journey card. That card, at
least, was very clear to her rusty senses. She sighed, reached for the phone to
ask for Sophia to reserve her a plane ticket and arrange for someone to feed the
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