Reynolds ran toward her. Throwing his cloak back, he pulled free one of his swords with a harsh scrape of metal.

Isobel shoved harder against the stone door, willing it to close faster.

The gap shrunk to a mere slit.

She let go, and the stone continued to slide on its own.

Isobel stood back as Reynolds slammed to a halt before the thinning crevice.

She saw his eyes just before the door slid all the way shut, black coin-size holes fixed on her with murderous intent.

Then, with a low boom, the door snapped into its frame, blocking him out completely, sending a puff of ash and grime into Isobel’s face.

She coughed and fumbled through the dank and enclosed space.

Throwing her arms out, she found a narrow set of walls on which to brace herself. She turned, but her toe caught on something hard and she faltered, collapsing onto an ascending stretch of stone steps. Pushing herself up on trembling arms, she peered toward the top of the stairs.

Light peeked through the clearing haze of dust. Several feet above, she saw an open doorway.

Squinting, Isobel could detect a curtain of green vines hanging over the archway in a spilling cascade. Flowers dotted the vines, their heavy heads lolling sleepily amid waxy green foliage.


With a gasp, she pulled herself onto her feet. She mounted the ash-coated stairs and rushed to the doorway. Parting the vines with one hand, she passed through the archway and into a circular room. Countless crimson buds climbed the iron-gate perimeters, their interlacing boughs and vines thick enough to form a living wall between the interior of the room and whatever lay without.

The vines and flowers commandeered the domed ceiling as well, though Isobel thought she could detect the mesh of black tree limbs and the hint of violet light through one of the thinner sections.

Gazing upward, Isobel thought there must be thousands of the flowers, maybe even hundreds of thousands—every single bud the same deep bloodred hue. In addition to the climbing roses, long-stemmed roses grew along the base of the trellised wall, their blooms blending in with all the others.

Their overpowering fragrance, like the smell from a shattered bottle of perfume, filled her nostrils with every breath, making her light-headed.

A carpet of ruby petals covered the circular marble floor, while several open archways lined the curved wall, all of them leading out into what appeared to be rose-lined tunnels.

Though Isobel saw no sign of the fountain, she knew she was in the garden from her dream—the place where Varen had told her he would be waiting.

At last, she’d made it.

She took a step toward the center of the room, her sight set on one of the open archways. But then she stopped, distracted by a staticky voice that came from behind.

“Now, there’s a surprise,” the voice said.

Isobel’s momentary elation withered in an instant, replaced by a crawling fear that caused her heart to leap into her throat.

“I didn’t expect to see you here. Gone and locked out my old friend, did you?” the acidic voice asked. “And here I’ve been waiting so long to find him. Ever since he broke my . . . well, everything.”

Isobel turned slowly.

He sat on the ground next to the doorway through which she’d entered, looking just like he had the night she’d discovered him in the blue marble crypt. The only difference now, though, was that he was no longer in pieces.

Grinning at her, showing a mouth full of spiked teeth the color of blue quartz, the Noc shifted to stand, his gangly frame rising to tower over her.

She watched in horror as he laid one indigo-clawed hand across his bare chest, right over a sprawling patch of porcelain skin that, unlike the rest of his body, appeared void of intricate carvings. Instead, it displayed a crackled jigsaw pattern of broken bits reconstructed.

“But, as you can see,” Scrimshaw hissed through his saw-toothed smile, “it’s true what they say. Time heals all wounds.”


Double Time

“So tell me what I am to do now,” he said, tilting his head at her with a quick twitchlike movement. The Noc blinked, his enormous black eyes closing tightly, then reopening even wider than before.

Isobel staggered back from him. Her mouth fell open, and though she tried to speak, no words came. Her throat was too tight, constricted with sudden terror.

He took a step toward her and then another, his black boots crushing velvet petals.

“Maybe,” he said, “since our masked companion won’t be joining me after all . . . you would like to play instead.”

“St-stay away,” Isobel stammered. She risked a glance to her left, searching for the nearest archway, her closest escape. When she looked back, though, she jumped to find him standing right in front of her.

Most Popular