“Show me the way to the fountain,” she whispered aloud.

In response, all three hands, joining in one line, aimed themselves at the twelve and, like the needle of a compass, pointed her forward.

She began to run again. As she did, she pictured in her mind that in the next tunnel and the next one after that, there would be no ash to record her steps.

Turning the corner, Isobel suddenly found herself in another circular room identical to the first. But now, the rose-covered corridors leading out of this clearing appeared to have been swept clean of ash. Isobel checked her watch again. She saw the hands split apart. They rotated in opposite directions and joined together again, aligning at the number nine. Left!

Isobel made the turn. She hastened toward the end of the covered hall, through the opening, and into the largest clearing yet. And here, in the center of the room, stood the very thing she sought—the fountain.

High above the brass statue’s head and arcing veil, a blanket of roses twined with the decorative domed ceiling, their vines braided with the scrolling wrought-iron bars. A breeze entered through the gaps between flowers and metal, sending a cascade of petals raining down.

Everything was just as it had been in her dream. Everything except for one detail.

“Varen?” she shouted.

There was no response. He wasn’t here. There was no one here. Nothing.

Isobel bit her lip, cursing herself in her mind, knowing that by yelling, she’d given herself away.

Checking the watch, she found that the hands had gone back to spinning.


“Take me to Varen!” She shook the silver charm and checked it again. This time, when the hands stopped, they pointed her in three separate directions. What did that mean? Was the watch telling her that any way would take her to him, or that no way would?

Why wasn’t he here like he said he’d be?

“I told you you’d come,” said a nearby voice, one Isobel knew well. “You said you would.”

She lowered the watch.

With careful steps, she moved closer to the silent fountain. Rounding the ornate grillwork gate, she discovered Pinfeathers sitting against its base, occupying the exact same space he had the morning she’d gone to Varen’s neighborhood, his head hung, held between his clawed hands.


“You shouldn’t have, though,” he said, and looked up, his face twisted with anger. “Even if we knew you would, you shouldn’t have.” He got up and began moving toward her. “Why,” he growled, “when we will only show you we are not worth it? Why, when we have no other choice but to prove to you we’re not worth it?”

Isobel swallowed and began to back away from him.

She didn’t know what he was saying, what any of it meant, or where it was coming from, but the rage contorting his broken face made it clear that, like Scrimshaw, she was dealing with something that wanted to rip her to shreds. And even if Pinfeathers couldn’t do it himself, she knew by the look in his eye that he would settle for watching.

She sprinted toward one of the doorways, trying to think of some way to control this, some way to change what was happening to her, knowing Pinfeathers would be on her in a second’s time.

Ahead of her, Scrimshaw turned the corner, filling the frame of the archway she’d almost taken. Isobel stuttered to a halt, dropping the watch, which hit the floor and became lost in the ash with a muffled clank. She looked behind her and saw that Pinfeathers had already started toward her at a fast walk, his crimson claws bared, his furious gaze trained on her.

She looked to Scrimshaw, whose smile broadened at the turn of events.

Isobel tossed her head from side to side, glancing between the two of them, out of options for escape.

Then Scrimshaw launched himself at her, claws raised, jaw unhinging as he unleashed a shrill screech.

She broke away in a dash, already knowing it could only end in her death. Any moment now, someone’s hands would catch her by the throat. Pinfeathers would seize her and Scrimshaw would rake through her with his claws, spattering the roses with her blood.

Reynolds had been right. She would die here.

As she reached one of the archways that would lead her back into the maze, she heard a fierce yell, followed by a crashing sound. Loud and unexpected, it made her stop even though her body urged her to keep running. The noise, like a porcelain bowl smashing, sounded just like the splintering of a Noc.

Isobel whipped around to find Pinfeathers standing erect in the center of the domed room while Scrimshaw, half-shattered, missing one arm and half of his torso, knelt several yards off, surrounded by the scattered pieces of his broken body.

Most Popular