Isobel gaped at Scrimshaw as he peered around at the fragment-strewn floor, his eyes flitting from his severed arm, the one portraying the etching of the long-haired and diamond-tailed mermaid, to the smashed shards, and finally, to the unlikely figure who had wrought the destruction.

As he stared up at Pinfeathers, the look of shock on Scrimshaw’s face began to fade, transforming into demonic rage. He opened his mouth, let loose a howl, and dispersed into swirls of black ink. Re-forming on his feet, Scrimshaw ran full tilt toward Pinfeathers, who stood ready.

Scrimshaw closed the distance between them. He pulled back his remaining arm and prepared to swing at Pinfeathers, who at the last moment dissipated into wisps of violet ink. Then Scrimshaw loosened once more into black swirls, slithering through the air to entwine with the purple vapor.

The two of them merged into one cloud, a virulent mixture of opposing currents, each struggling to overpower the other. Together they flew across the room, past Isobel, who pressed herself to the floor as they collided with a patch of wall just behind her. A torrent of rose petals burst forth.

Their faces, sharp and snapping, swam up through the murk of the smoke as they shot along the concave ceiling, cutting a sawlike path and sending down a spray of more bloodred petals.

Isobel pushed herself to her feet. She ran out into the center of the room, to the fountain. Grasping the railing, she peered up into the domed ceiling, her eyes seeking out Pinfeathers. Was he . . . could he possibly be . . . protecting her?

One of them, she wasn’t sure which at first, transformed into a bird. Flapping giant wings, the enormous creature suddenly switched its path of attack, aiming itself straight for her, talons bared.

Isobel screamed and, falling to her knees, lifted her arms to cover her head just in time to shield her face from the claws that slashed the flesh of her wrists and hands. They raked at her mercilessly, and the sound of her own cries joined with the creature’s piercing screeches, until a second bird swooped in to divert the first.

In a flurry of tearing feathers and stabbing beaks, the two birds freewheeled far up and away from her. They fluttered madly against each other, almost seeming to become one beast for a brief moment, until with talons locked, they began to plummet toward the ground. They tore apart at the last second, the larger of the two birds ripping free one wing of the smaller.

The smaller bird—a crow—squawked as it burst into murky violet wisps, re-forming with a hollow cry into the figure of Pinfeathers, his arm now missing from the shoulder socket down. The second bird, a raven, hurtled itself fast as a bullet toward Pinfeathers, who had lost sight of the other Noc.

“Behind you!” Isobel cried as she saw Scrimshaw solidify at his back.


Pinfeathers swung around, just in time for Scrimshaw to plow into him.

Isobel heard a sickening crunch, the sound of a delicate glass object wrapped in cloth being smashed to bits. A second crash followed as Pinfeathers tipped onto the floor, half of his side caving in on impact, the back of his head collapsing inward like the shell of an egg.

“Pin!” she cried, and ran toward him.

She saw his eyes flicker out and become empty pits, as hollow as the hole in his cheek.

She stopped as Scrimshaw looked up from the body of his slain opponent. His eyes narrowed on her, no longer full of morbid playfulness or cryptic mirth but genuine malice and hate.

“You,” he seethed. “This is all because of you. I am tired of you. It ends . . . now!”

He rushed her and Isobel fell back, sprawling against the floor as his shadow grew long over her. He raised his arm, claws gleaming.

All she could do was cover her face with her hands and wait for the deathblow to rain down.



The blow never came.

For what felt like an eternity, Isobel stayed crouched where she was, curled into herself.

Was he waiting for her to look up? Was it that he wanted her to see it coming?

Isobel refused. She would not lift her gaze. She couldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing the terror on her face.

Her thoughts, those that would surely be her last, went to Pinfeathers and his efforts to try to save her.

Whatever he’d been, whatever tortures and horrors he had brought with him before, here, in this moment, he had tried to protect her. He had tried and he had failed. Why?

Isobel shifted her eyes in the direction where Pinfeathers had lain, scattered and broken. But she did not see him there.

Except for a few splintered bits, he was gone.

She risked a glance up and saw Scrimshaw’s single hand now groping at his throat, attempting to pry away the red-clawed fingers that gripped him there, squeezing.

Most Popular