The first tarot card Petra drew was the three of wands. The dark tent, lit only by candles dripping with black wax, was like being trapped under a thick blanket. She inhaled incense with every breath, the tangy orange and patchouli notes adding to the weight of being here. But she needed answers. She’d come all the way to Bucharest, afterall.
“Ah,” the fortune teller cooed in her deep, smokey voice, “Wands are fire, passion, sexuality, and creativity. The three of wands represent growing and making plans.” She pointed at it with a heavily gilded finger. “I see you have made careful plans in your recent past.”
Petra remained silent, but she gave the woman a slight nod. Just a few months ago, her father was training her to take over the family business, and she was progressing faster than anyone thought she could.
It had been obvious that Cornelius was disappointed in his daughter. It wasn’t that she’d done anything wrong, but he made snide remarks about how he wished he had a son. “The family name is important,” he would say during their studies. “It’s a shame that you’ll have to give it up someday.”
These remarks used to make her self conscious. But after she hit puberty, something clicked into place and she used them as fuel. Every time he would say, “You’d have hit that target had you been a boy,” Petra spent an extra three hours practicing so she could nail it the next day. When they would spar, she’d always look for her father’s weaknesses–his left hip, left rib cage, and right ankle–so that she could make him falter before he could say anything about her coordination.
The three of wands depicted a robed man standing among the wands and looking off into the sunlit distance. She undeniably felt a kinship with him. This was her–someone looking forward to her future as the head of her grandfather’s training institute.
The fortune teller’s long, dark fingernails waved over the incense smoke. The jewels on her hands sparkled in the candlelight. “Now for your current situation.” She motioned for Petra to pull another card. She chose one from the top and slid it to the fortune teller. “The three of pentacles,” the woman whispered, “in reverse.”
Reversed cards were rarely a good sign. This card, if it were right side up, illustrated three people looking up at an elaborately carved archway. One person was working on the three inlaid pentagrams while two others looked on. “What does that mean?” Petra asked.
The fortune teller drew in a deep breath and sighed dramatically. Petra watched as the woman’s nose ring vibrated with the release of air. “It means you are not learning.” The woman tapped the card three times with her index fingernail. “You’re making mistakes. You have been given a task, and you’re failing.”
Petra couldn’t argue. She was a failure. She’d come to Bucharest to find her father. She’d been here for two weeks and was no closer than she’d been when she discovered he’d left their home in Brussels. She was running out of money and she was losing faith. There were moments of fleeting breakthroughs when she was sure she’d found a lead. The notes in his locked office were the first hint. The maps, the diary, the scribbles of how he would avenge his father. Those led her here, but after she’d arrived, the trail had gone cold. She was beginning to think that he’d never come here in the first place.
She found herself thinking about him in the past tense when she woke at the inn this morning. It was desperation that drove her to the fortune teller’s tent. She had enough money to buy one more week of rooms and travel back home, so she’d set out to talk to anyone she could find. She wandered the streets, stopping in every shop she passed, pulling her locket open to reveal his face on one side, her mother’s on the other. “Have you seen this man?” she’d asked in her pedestrian attempt at Romanian. Each person stared blankly at her, shook their head, or simply said, “Nu.”
“What am I missing?” she said aloud, asking herself instead of the woman across from her.
The fortune teller smiled and held out one hand. “Another question or some clarity? That will be another silver.”
Not wanting to part with another coin, Petra shook her head. “The third card, please.”
The fortune teller waved her hand through the smoke once more. “The last. Your future.”
Petra focused on the deck, willing answers to be found on the other side. She needed a direction. A lead. Some small thread of hope for Cornelius. She picked the next card and prayed.
The card turned, and as the woman pulled her hand away, Petra’s breath caught. Three swords came together to pierce through a heart on a black background with gathering storm clouds. This could not be a good sign.
“Oh,” the fortune teller cooed. “My girl. I am so sorry.”
Petra fixed her eyes on the woman. Her glossy dark hair, her golden shawl, her beautiful, ruby red lips, her unnaturally pale skin. “It’s not good news.” The words struck like a dagger. Petra knew the familiar feeling of impending doom. As a Van Helsing, she was used to it.
The fortune teller smiled, revealing pointed fangs that stuck out prominently over her lips. “You will be unlucky in love.”
Shifting her hand slowly, Petra extended her wrist and caught the wooden stake as it shot from her dress sleeve and into her hand. “How so?” she continued, wanting to keep the vampire’s attention on her reading.
The vampire’s eyes illuminated tell-tale bright yellow. “Sorrow and suffering,” she hissed, her voice barely above a whisper. “Pain and betrayal.”
Petra leaned forward as if to hear more. “Who? My father?”
The vampire’s teeth were almost glowing in the low light of the tent, anticipation of the hunt obvious in her posture. “You will fall for the wrong person,” she said as she leaned in ever so slightly. “Someone who cannot love you back.”
Petra moved her feet to a wider stance. She stood up, and just as she’s done hundreds of times before, plunged the stake into the vampire’s chest. The vampire howled the primal, unearthly screech only a creature of the night can produce. Black ichor covered the table, the candles, and the cards.
Petra got the clarity she needed. There were vampires in this place. Her father was somewhere close by. When the vampire’s remains had shriveled to dust, Petra fished the three of swords from the pool of black blood. She wiped it on her dress and tucked it into her pocket. If anyone could change their destiny, it was Petra Van Helsing.