She avoided looking down as she moved forward through the wreckage, the bits and pieces, the empty limbs strewn across the floor. Making her way to the wall of flowers, she did her best to block out the sound of shards popping and crunching beneath the soles of her boots.

She stopped at a section of interlacing iron and vines uninterrupted by any archway. Reaching out, she clasped the empty air next to one of the iron bars, and as she did so, a matching ornate door handle materialized in her fist.

Isobel twisted the handle and the door swung outward.

As she’d suspected, the world outside the rose garden held the muted and gray landscape of the woodlands.

Trees, black and dead, stood innumerable before a glowing violet horizon. Leaden and tattered, the clouds hung low in the slate-colored sky, while the interlocking boughs of the trees created a webwork of shadow patterns over the ash-coated ground.

Within the dense forest, Isobel could discern two rows of old-fashioned lampposts, their glass holders lit with violet flames.

She stepped out of the garden, drawn by the flickering of their otherworldly light, her boots sinking into the spongy ash.

On either side of her, through the network of trees, she could also see a line of familiar houses, though their structures were far less recognizable now.

The foundations beneath supported mere frames, the facades themselves in crumbling ruin. Doors and windows lacked panes and wood, giving the homes the appearance of blackened skulls, their vacant entrances like slack-jawed mouths gaping in shock.

With the fountain at her back, Isobel did not have to guess to know where she was.

It made sense.


Like the bookshop, Varen’s neighborhood had a mirror-image dreamworld counterpart.

A twilight version of reality, she thought, remembering the words Gwen had read aloud from the book describing Lilith’s domain.

That was why she had found Pinfeathers at the fountain on the morning she’d ridden Danny’s bike here—to the real here. Like the Noc had said, he’d been waiting for her all along.

And Pinfeathers . . . in the moment before he’d shattered apart, hadn’t he told her that Varen was “home”?

Isobel glanced in the direction of Varen’s house. Through the thick cluster of trees, she could determine only the vague outlines of the homes farther down the street.

She moved onward, trying to ignore the sharp sting of the scratch that marred her cheek.

But the pain, like the thought of what the wound meant, would not relent.

Pinfeathers . . .

The way he had touched her had seemed so gentle. Like a caress. But she now knew that he’d inflicted the cut on purpose.

It had been his last act of protection. His final warning.

His way of telling her that Varen . . .


Isobel stopped, refusing to let her thoughts stray in that direction. She knew better than to let the things that occurred in this world take root in her mind and grow. If she allowed that, she risked forgetting what was real, forgetting that what she’d had with Varen was real. That it still was.

It had to be.

A burst of wind slipped past as she continued to make her way down the desolate street. It was the first breeze she had felt since leaving the garden. Cool and brisk, it carried with it that familiar scent. Incense, spice, crushed leaves.

Ahead, the solemn structure of Varen’s house loomed into view, a darker twin of its real-world equivalent, its facade in complete reverse.

Unlike the other houses, which all looked as if they’d been blown through from the inside out by well-thrown grenades, Varen’s, though distorted, seemed to be intact.

The now-blackened windows gave the mansion a wounded look. And the stained-glass front door, no longer golden hued, hung slanted in its frame. A deep violet glow emanated from its colored panes, reminding Isobel of the purple chamber from the Masquerade, the room where she had left Varen on Halloween night.

The most obvious disfigurement of all, however, was the crack that zigzagged from the crown of the structure down to its very base, effectively splitting the house into two. One side, the right side, stood straight, bricks and windows in solid order. But the left side tilted downward, the second-story window askew, like a sorrowful eye.

Isobel stopped between a pair of trees that occupied the very place where the front sidewalk should have been. She looked up, seeking Varen’s bedroom window through the tangle of limbs, and saw a tall shadow slide by. It passed quickly, but she would know its shape anywhere.

“Varen,” she whispered, and hurried onto the sloping porch. But as soon as she touched the doorknob, an unexpected sound caused her to pull back.

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