Tarot Academy 4 - Sarah Piper
Death has been hunting me for decades.
I know intimately the all-encompassing weight of its shadow, the icy scrape of its talons against my spine.
How many nights have I awoken in a cold sweat, certain it lingered at the foot of my bed, waiting for me to take that final breath? How many times have I gazed into its dark, empty eyes at the bottom of a bottle?
How many times have I secretly wished for its promise of peace? Of nothingness?
More than I can recount. Yet for all the nightmares and close-calls, this—this might be the thing that finally kills me.
“Tell me he’s going to be all right, Doc,” Stevie says. It’s not a request, but a command, as if by sheer will alone she can save his life.
I remain silent. Ashamed. Petrified.
We move swiftly through the coal-black night. I can’t even look at Stevie; her fear is so palpable, I can practically feel it crawling on my skin.
Ani is as pale as a wraith, his body hanging limp in my arms. Blood leaks from his nose and mouth, drying in a sticky black smear down the side of his face.
I don’t even know if he’s still breathing. I don’t dare stop to check.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not for Ani. Not for any of them.
Once again, Death is close on my heels, its fetid breath brushing the back of my neck. The ground is falling out from beneath my feet, and all I can do is keep running, hoping to stay at least one step ahead—for all our sakes.
“In here. Let’s go.” I push through the entrance to Time Out of Mind, heading right for the old grandfather clock at the back of the store. Behind it lies the off-grid portal that will ferry us to the safe house in Red Sands Canyon. All my hopes are on Professor Broome—that Kate can find some antidote, some magick brew to bring him back to us.
Kirin and Carly stayed behind to pack up some necessities from Stevie’s suite and try to locate Baz, still missing since he took off from Harvest Eve dinner. Now, crammed into the dark space of the portal, it’s down to three of us. All I care about—all I’ve got room to think about—is getting them to safety. Protecting Stevie. Bringing Ani back to us, whole and undamaged.
I meant what I said to Trello. If I have to leave with them—turn our backs on this Academy and this magickal fight, drive off into some dusty desert hideaway where nothing can ever touch them—I won’t hesitate.
But I can’t do that if he’s not breathing.
“Ready?” Stevie asks, and I nod, tightening my hold on Ani as the magick cloaks us in its gossamer threads.
Through the haze of her worry and grief, Stevie manages to find the Six of Swords card for the portal spell. She holds it between us, ducking my gaze as swiftly as I’m ducking hers, and together we recite the spell.
We travel together through time and space
In my mind’s eye, I hold the next place
Steer us safe and guide us true
The Six of Swords will see us through
Spell complete, Stevie wraps a shaky hand around my arm.
“Almost there,” I whisper, pulling Ani close against my chest. Goddess, if I could carve my own beating heart out of my chest and give it to him, I’d do it. “Just hold on, Ani. Hold on.”
One more breath, then the magick takes hold, spinning us through time and space.
The portal deposits us unceremoniously in the coat closet just inside the home’s front door. We bang our way through it, crashing into the house like a tempest.
“Professors!” I call out. “We need help!”
“Oh, thank goddess.” Kate Broome rushes toward us, her forehead creased with worry. Her face pales as she takes in the broken body in my arms. “Kirin called—we’ve been expecting you. What happened?”
“Potion overdose,” I say. “We think he’s trapped in the dream realm.”
She reaches for Ani’s wrist and checks his pulse. A faint curse emanates from her lips, the lines in her forehead deepening. “Come on—let’s get him into the back bedroom. We’re all set up.”
We follow her to the small guest room at the back of the house. The decorative bedding has been stripped, leaving only a set of stark white sheets tucked tightly around the mattress. A long, low table is set up beside the bed, scattered with magickal tools, herbs, crystals, and potions.
I lay Ani on the bed, the faint smell of bleach wafting