Isobel made no move, even though her heart thundered in her chest. For a moment, she feared that the thing standing before her, this gruesome creature, more ghoul now than woman, would snatch the necklace free with her skeletal finger, toss it aside, and rip into her with her awful teeth.

Instead Lilith’s hand began to quiver, her outstretched fingers stopping just short of Isobel. Then, like paper caught by a wayward flame, they began to wither and flake. A flicker of pain crossed her now-monstrous features as her hand began to crumple, her fingers curling back on themselves before dissolving into ash.

Those twin points of light widened as they continued to bore into Isobel. Vines of blackness climbed up Lilith’s neck and jawbone, her cheeks and forehead, appearing like black reeds on her pasty complexion.

“It won’t,” the demon said, her voice no longer sensuous or girlish, but deep-throated and low, like that of a beast that had somehow learned to speak. “I don’t have to touch you to destroy you. I have . . . other means for that.”

As she dragged back her clawed bird’s feet, the train of Lilith’s white garments whispered against the floor. Isobel stared as the demon made her way through the parlor doorway, where someone else now stood—a man.

Lilith went around him, her hand, rejuvenated and once more white and flawless, passing across his chest. Smiling, her dark beauty having returned, Lilith glanced over her shoulder at Isobel.

“She would make a nice addition to my ever-growing collection of the lost, don’t you think, Gordon?” she said to the man. “Kill her. And then, before she comes to, before she awakens and realizes what has become of her, I want you to place her in my old quarters. I think you know where I mean.”

With that, Lilith disappeared around the corner, leaving Isobel with a man she had seen earlier that night. It was the very same man whose face she’d unmasked in the Baltimore cemetery where Poe lay buried.

Isobel pushed herself to her feet, bits of mirror glass that had stuck to her legs and dress tumbling to the floor around her.

Quickly he drew forth one of the two swords he wore on his belt.

The wink of silver flashed cold as he aimed the blade straight at her.



Mad Trist

In addition to being without the white scarf, Reynolds no longer had his cloak or hat. In place of his usual solid black clothing, he wore dark brown ash-smudged trousers, leather boots, and a ragged gray waistcoat buttoned over a loose long-sleeved shirt. Garments from another time.

His dark, slicked-back hair gleamed in the subdued light of the foyer chandelier. Its violet glow cast hard shadows across his already stern and unsmiling face. His eyes, black and dead, remained fixed on her.

“So,” Isobel said, her gaze darting from him to the blade he held pointed at her chest, “Gordon, huh? I guess that’s as good a name as any for a snake and a coward.”

“Snakes are cunning creatures,” said Reynolds. Or Gordon—whoever he was. “And not so much cowards as they are conspirators.”

She watched him as he swept the blade through the air in a clean and threatening stroke that made her flinch and caused the thin strip of metal to sing.

Her eyes met with his again as a thousand questions scrolled through her head at lightning speed. Chief among them was how he’d played her so well from the beginning of all this. Though it seemed now as if he’d played everyone, all his supposed “friends,” including Poe.

Why? To what end? To serve what purpose?

If he’d been Lilith’s pawn all this time, then why had he ever entered Isobel’s world to seek her out and “warn” her about what was happening? Why had he fought against the Nocs and helped her along? If Varen was what Lilith had wanted from the very beginning, if he was what she’d needed, then why had he involved Isobel at all?

None of it added up.

However, it had not been lost on Isobel that Lilith had not called him “Reynolds.”

Of course, Isobel had always suspected it was not his real name. But why had he needed to conceal his true identity? Why hide behind a mask and cloak?

“She doesn’t know about you, does she?” Isobel asked. “The other you, I mean.”

Lowering the cutlass, Reynolds aimed the blade toward the floor and, thrusting it downward, embedded the sword between the boards. There, the tarnished hilt swayed as he took several steps backward into the foyer hallway. Drawing the second blade from its sheath, he gestured with it to the first.

“Pick it up,” he said.

Isobel’s hands balled into fists at her side, a knee-jerk reaction to his command. “No.”

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