Again, fighting against the nearly overpowering instinct to run, Isobel instead gave him her back, if only to prove that she knew he was bluffing, and veered into the tunnel on her right.

Black wisps shot past her a third time. He solidified again, closer than before, his grin growing wide enough to deepen the zigzag crack that ran up one side of his skull.

No longer able to ignore the urge to retreat, Isobel backpedaled toward the tunnel passageway he’d occupied the moment before. At the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to turn around and start running, either, hypnotized by the dark resolve burning within his eyes.

“I’m not afraid to fight you,” she snapped.

He gave her an appraising once-over, raising a clawed hand to hover above her head as though making a note of her height. “While the attempt to do so would certainly be an appropriate if uninformed response given your circumstances”—he lowered his hand, lifting a single claw—“you seem to be missing one vital element in the whole situation. It’s something you need to understand, I think, before we can get started. And that is that I”—he pointed at himself—“as you might have guessed, am not like the others. I’m what you’d call special. A one-of-a-kind specimen, a Ming vase amid pale imposters.” He laughed at that, throwing his head back before refocusing on her. “The very last of my ilk, in fact,” he went on. “Unique in that I bear no connection whatsoever to the outsider who has found himself trapped here, that boy who I know you came all this way to reclaim. The one whose adoration shields you from all the others. Blah, blah, blah.”

Isobel’s eyes widened as he spoke, her mind returning to the vision in the hospital room and the moment when Scrimshaw had appeared at Poe’s bedside, whispering to him in hissing tones. Instantly she felt her blood congeal in her veins as the truth invaded her consciousness. Her legs stiffened beneath her while her lungs ceased to take in air.

Scrimshaw wasn’t one of Varen’s Nocs. He couldn’t be and he never had been.

He was Poe’s.

Eyeing her closely, taking one step toward her for every two she took to get away, he seemed to have been monitoring her expression, waiting for the moment of realization to wash over her. And Isobel knew right away that her face must have betrayed her sudden understanding, that her mounting terror must have become apparent, because all at once, he stopped his advance.

His smile deepened into the voracious grin of a piranha.

Bringing his hands to his face, he crisscrossed claws in front of his open eyes as though to cover them. He watched her, unblinking, through the cagelike barrier.


“One,” he said. “Two.”

Isobel bolted, taking the path directly behind her, the walls of roses whizzing past.


Met with a dead end, Isobel skittered to a halt. “No!” she shrieked.

“Fouuuur,” she heard Scrimshaw drawl. “Some more numbers. Aaaand—nine-ten!” he shouted, cackling.

Isobel whipped around, only to find the passageway now empty, two foot-shaped depressions imprinted in the snowlike ash in the place where the Noc had stood a moment before.

Panic rose within her as she hurried back down the long vine-covered corridor, over the footprints, choosing her next direction at random, no longer certain from which way she’d come.

The roses seemed to watch her like thousands of spectators as she passed, their delicate heads bobbing in her wake. There was no sign of him around the next corner, or even the next. As Isobel took one passageway after another, she couldn’t help but feel that she was winding her way deeper and deeper into the garden’s maze and into Scrimshaw’s snare.

The soles of her boots slapped the marble floor, the sound muffled only slightly by the thin coating of petals and ash that carpeted each passageway.

Isobel whirled to stare at her tracks, wondering if she should try to cover them or just keep running. She knew the Nocs were too fast for her to outrun. If Scrimshaw had wanted her dead right away, he’d have killed her already. He was looking for a chase, for the hunt before the kill. And as long as she panicked, she would be giving him just that. She had to get a grip. She had to think her way around him—invent her own rules.

Know when you are dreaming, she thought.

Isobel dug one hand into the pocket of her jacket. She brought out the butterfly watch and flicked open the wings. The black hands spun around one another, wheeling faster and faster. She willed them to slow, and to her astonishment, they did. Just like she’d been able to close the stone door of the tomb, the hands of the watch responded to her thoughts.

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