Through deception and seduction, Lilith had found a way to access that hollow part of him that yearned for connection. Like black oil, she had poured herself in, filling his mind, his heart, and eventually his stories. Stories that had not only given her strength, but had opened a gate to this world. In short, she had exploited that very characteristic of Varen’s that so many chose to judge him by.

His aloneness.

The word drew Isobel’s thoughts away from Gwen’s voice and back to the poem by Poe that Varen had once told her was his favorite: “Alone.”

It made her realize how Lilith must have squeezed her way into a similar chink in Poe’s own heart.

Now Isobel thought she finally understood why Varen had gravitated toward Poe in the first place.

In the pages of his stories and the lines of his poems, Varen had discovered a light much like his own. In researching Poe’s life, he’d been able to draw parallels between them. He had found a kindred spirit.

He is not like others, is he?

Isobel tilted her head as the words floated through her mind, drowning out her own thoughts as well as Gwen’s voice as she continued to read aloud.

It was what Lilith had said to her that night in the attic of Nobit’s Nook, when Isobel had asked why she had chosen Varen.

He is special, even in regard to those who have come before him.

Isobel felt her skin prickle as the voice spoke within her head again. The sound of it, crisp and resonant, as merciless as it was melodious, electrified the hairs on the back of her neck. A crawling sensation of being watched stole over her.


She frowned as Gwen’s voice began to fade, ebbing away into a distant murmur, replaced by a faint ringing noise.

Her focused snapped to the etching.

The woman’s veils—they moved.

Isobel felt the blood drain from her face. She went still as, line by line, the etching began to animate itself. And yet she knew Gwen wasn’t seeing any of it because she just kept reading, her voice a dim murmur to Isobel’s right, like the sound of a radio playing somewhere in the next room.

Isobel blinked deliberately once, then twice at the etching. But now the branches seemed to be moving too. Like clawed hands, they scraped and scratched soundlessly at the page. All the while, the ringing in her ears grew, loud enough to drown out Gwen’s voice entirely before converging into a multitude of unintelligible whispers. Whispers that seemed to be coming from the entanglement of hollow-faced creatures surrounding the swathed figure of Lilith. Like a knot of interlacing serpents, they began to writhe, their skeletal limbs snagging in the tattered scraps of fluttering white veils.

Then the woman’s eyes snapped open.

Two black pits bore into Isobel, causing her breath to catch in her throat.

The woman’s lips parted. Her mouth opened wide, allowing a rushing sound to issue forth, like a hissing surge of wind through autumn trees. It grew louder as tendrils of ebony hair danced and whipped across the page like black smoke.

In one great whoosh, the birds in the background of the image took flight from their perches.

The rasp of their hoarse caws and the flap of wings joined with the hissing whispers until it all rose into a hellish cacophony, converging with the woman’s glass-shattering scream.

Isobel fumbled for the book, knocking Gwen aside in her effort to grab it and slam it shut. But it was heavier than she’d expected, and it slid from her hands, tumbling between them. Its spine cracked when it met with the floor, and then it fell flat against the carpet with a thud, still open.

Isobel scrambled backward, away from the book, and crashed into the wall with a thump. She clapped her hands over her ears but couldn’t block out the monstrous screech emanating from the book.

In the corner of her vision, she could see Gwen shouting at her.

Then they froze, both of them staring at the book as it began to move on its own. One heavy half tipped itself upward, as though pulled by magnetic force. It fell onto the other half with a sharp slam, squelching the piercing shriek at last.

An entire minute passed before either of them made a move.

“What . . . just happened?” Gwen asked in a small voice while Isobel removed quaking hands from her ears.

“It moved,” Isobel said. “The picture. Did . . . did you see it?”

“I saw the book . . . move,” Gwen said. Then there was silence between them again, enough that she could hear Gwen swallow before she added, “Just now.”

“You didn’t hear the . . .?” But Isobel didn’t bother finishing her question. It was already clear that Gwen hadn’t seen or heard what she had.

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