Music. Piano music. It came muffled through the door, the lullaby drifting out in lingering tones.

Isobel set her hand on the doorknob again. As she did so, she felt the metal twitch beneath her fingertips. She heard a sliding back, followed by the clunk of the heavy metal deadbolt. Then the door drifted slowly and silently open, moving inward on its own.

A screen of pure darkness greeted her.

Like the house itself, the blackness that pulsated within seemed somehow alive, made of the same substance she had seen churning on the ceiling of Poe’s hospital room. It was the same murk that had stolen out of thin air to wrap its way around Varen during the Grim Facade, pulling him into its depths.

Isobel listened as the piano music continued to flow forth from beyond the sheet of darkness.

She hesitated, wondering if following the music through the black miasma was exactly what Lilith wanted her to do. Lifting a hand to the hamsa at her throat, Isobel wrapped her fist around the amulet.

Even if this was a trap, she thought, what other choice did she have?

She stepped into the house.

As she moved through the doorway, she felt the blanket of shadows engulf her. Black smoke tendrils slithered over her. Like tentacles, they wrapped their way around her arms and waist. She felt them pull her inward.

The darkness smudged her surroundings into nothing as the piano music became garbled in her ears. Though it grew louder for an instant, closer, the notes themselves began to tremble and shudder. They warbled and echoed, almost as though she’d been plunged far underwater.

Then, as suddenly as they had taken hold, the shadows released her.


Like a thick fog, they receded from her, leaving her standing in the foyer of Varen’s house, a few clinging wisps slithering over her now-bare shoulders and arms.

Glancing down, she found herself wearing a dress of pure ebony, her gritted and ash-caked clothes, along with Varen’s jacket, having vanished. A pair of black slippers took the place of her boots.

Wham! The earsplitting crack of the door slamming shut behind her made Isobel swing around. She watched the lock’s brass thumb latch twist itself to one side, the deadbolt sliding into place once more.

Isobel backed away from the door, layers of stiff fabric rustling around her legs.

Like the pale pink dress she had worn to the Grim Facade, this dress had a strapless bodice and a set of full skirts that ended at her knees. But without the frills and lace fringe of the former, this one seemed to be its dark opposite.

She did not have to strain to remember where she had seen it before. It had been worn by the corpse lying on the lid of the sarcophagus in her vision of the blue crypt.

Her corpse.

Isobel’s hand sprang to her cheek, the silken satin ends of her ribbon, still tied to her wrist, brushing against her arm. She touched the scratch Pinfeathers had left, realizing that it, too, had appeared on the body.

A sudden clang of piano keys made her jump.

“No, no,” came a woman’s soft voice from somewhere behind her. “Not a C there. How about a D instead?”

The music began again, and Isobel turned to face the reversed interior of Varen’s house.

White sheets covered all the furniture. Black draperies hung from the windows.

Above, weak violet light flickered from a flame-lit chandelier with no chain. It hovered over her head, suspended by an invisible force, the crystal prisms and pendalogues jagged and broken.

To her right, the stairs that led up through the rest of the house looked loose and dilapidated. Glancing to her left, she saw that the sliding doors to the parlor were closed. Through the long slit that separated the wooden panels, however, she could just make out the edge of the piano as well as someone sitting at its bench.

The floor creaked beneath her as she drew nearer to the doors.

She heard the melody stutter, stop, and start again.

This time, a woman’s soft humming accompanied the haunting tune.

Isobel crept closer and closer, pausing only when she saw a flash of light from the corner of her eye. Her attention snapped to the painting on the wall. It hung above the sheeted hallway table that held the model of a schooner, now bedecked with black sails.

For a moment, the painting within the gilded frame appeared to be nothing more than a canvas of pure black. Another flash, however, revealed otherwise. A bolt of lightning contained within the square frame flickered to illuminate an old-fashioned ship as it tossed about on choppy nighttime waters. The fierce waves in the painting rolled and swelled, the whole tumultuous scene fluttering in and out of sight as the lightning continued to flare in the background. It lit the tar-colored underbellies of the clouds as well as the ship itself, which seemed as small as a toy amid the storm-tossed seas.

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