Isobel tried to steady herself, willing the thundering of her pulse to slow, willing her nerves to steady themselves and her increasingly tenuous grasp on reality to return.

Reality. The thought of that word caused her to utter a short, sharp laugh because, by now, it had begun to lose its meaning.

Isobel felt Gwen’s eyes on her and, turning her head, found herself caught in the beam of Gwen’s widest, most fearful stare.

It made Isobel want to laugh again, because it only went to show how much she really was on her own. Even if Gwen wanted to help her, how could she? How could anyone when they couldn’t even see the things that she could?

Still, the moment with the book made her wonder.

If Lilith already had what she wanted, if she had Varen locked within her world, then why show herself here and now?

Because, Isobel thought, she must know that Varen had found a way to reach her, to communicate. She must know he’d visited her in a dream.

Isobel felt herself beginning to smile, while within her chest, a warm spark of courage ignited like a flare. It brought with it a flash of clarity: Despite everything, she was still a threat.

“Isobel,” Gwen said, “I’m really not liking that look on your face right now. It’s a little Chucky meets Buffy, and it’s freaking me out. As if I’m not freaked out enough already with you seeing stuff and my dad’s book slamming itself shut. How am I supposed to take that thing home with me now?”

Feeling calm for the first time in what felt like a decade, Isobel drew herself slowly to her feet. She went over to the book and, stooping, scooped it from the floor. It didn’t feel as heavy as it had before. She tipped it into one hand and passed the fingers of her other along the spine, probing for any cracks or breaks. She felt Gwen watching her as she went to the bed and slid the book back into the black messenger bag.

“Sorry I let it drop,” Isobel said. “From what I can tell, I think it’s okay.”


“What I’m wondering,” Gwen said, “is if you’re okay.”

“I’m fine. Especially now that I understand what it is I’m dealing with.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Lifting her arms above her head, Gwen knocked her wrists together as though she were a referee calling a foul. “Beep-beep, there, Cassidy, back up the truck. I think this is all getting a little thick up in that blond head of yours. What we’re ‘dealing with’”—Gwen paused long enough to insert air quotes, her fingers hooking like raptor claws—“is actually more likely the one doing the dealing. With us. And don’t get me started on your usage of the word ‘understand.’” Again with the raptor quotes. “What I need for you to understand is that there is no understanding. We’re a pair of Tinkertoys to this thing. Do you hear me? As if that wasn’t painfully obvious from whatever weirdness it was that just—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Isobel said, cutting her off. “It doesn’t change anything.”

“Uh, on the contrary, demons can change a lot of things,” Gwen said. She raised one hand, ticking off fingers. “Let’s see, their shapes, for example. Minds. They can change their minds. Other people’s minds, in some cases.” She gestured to the book in the messenger bag. “Inanimate objects, apparently. Oh, not to mention they can change you. Into somebody dead.”

“What I meant is that it doesn’t change the fact that I still have to fight this thing.”

“Don’t you get it?” Gwen said. “What do you think I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time? You can’t fight it! Isobel, this creature, this entity. . .” Her hands grasped and wrung the air in front of her, the right words evading her at every pass.

Isobel turned away and started pacing the patch of floor at the foot of her bed, thinking.

If only she could remember the dream with Varen. If only she could recall more of the details. Why had it seemed so real when it was happening and so amorphous now?

“Are you listening to me?” Gwen said. “I’m telling you that what’s happening here is bigger than you or me or Varen or Poe or any of this put together. If you saw something just now, which I know you did, then that means it’s trying to get to you. That means it can get to you. Isobel, are you not hearing me when I say she can kill you? I’m trying to dial through to that pom-pom brain of yours. We’re talking about a demon here. Believe me, you can’t fight it with force and expect to win!”

Isobel stopped pacing. She wheeled on Gwen.

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