She had heard what he’d said about Varen’s jacket, though.

“If it wasn’t you,” she asked, deciding to humor him, “then who?”

“Us,” Pinfeathers replied, his gaze dropping as he fixed another chalk-white piece into the shrinking crater in his chest, his work nearly complete. “But not me.”

Isobel’s mouth twisted with unease and frustration. When it came to dealing with Pinfeathers, she’d learned that whenever possible, no reaction was the best reaction.

“You’re saying it was Varen then. How?” she demanded. “If he can come into this world like you, then why isn’t he here right now?”

Pinfeathers remained silent, rooting through the remaining shards with one claw.

Isobel stomped up to the fence. “Answer me!” she cried, and gripped the railing.

“The masked man,” Pinfeathers said, ignoring her questions. “The hidden one you’ll soon leave in search of. He took that jacket from us, you know. He has the power to take what he wants. And go where he pleases. Power he should not possess.”

Isobel felt her scalp prickle and the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand at attention. But it wasn’t the chill in the air that was making her skin crawl.

Her thoughts jumbled in her head like a scrambled signal as she tried to comprehend how Pinfeathers knew about her plan to go to Baltimore and find Reynolds. Then, all at once, it dawned on her.

“That night with Gwen,” she said. “The shadow I saw moving around in my room, that was you, wasn’t it? You were there, listening the whole time. You have been spying!”


“The other was wise to run,” was all he said.

“And then later outside the bathroom door. You were—”

“I told you, cheerleader,” he said, his tone infuriatingly calm as he fit one final fragment into position, wincing as it snapped into place. “The jacket wasn’t me.”

Grabbing one of the loose straps on his coat, he threaded it through the corresponding buckle with practiced ease and pulled, cinching the thin black material back over his chest. He did so again with the topmost buckle, once more concealing the spiderweb patch of hairline cracks. Then he stood, unfurling himself limb by spindly limb from the base of the fountain.

Isobel stumbled backward, away from the railing, nearly tripping over her feet.

She hated feeling this defenseless against him. It was true she could wound him if she got lucky. But what could she possibly do to him, when clearly they both knew he was the one with all the answers?

For the first time since she’d met Pinfeathers, Isobel found herself fearing that any second he would evaporate and be gone, taking with him her one solid connection to Varen.

“Tell me he’s okay,” she said, pleading. “Please. Tell me the dream in the bookstore was a lie and that he still knows I’m coming. Tell me he has the ribbon.”

She watched Pinfeathers as he stepped toward her slowly, even gracefully, and it occurred to her that he was moving that way on purpose, as though making a conscious effort not to alarm her.

The hilarity of that thought might have made Isobel laugh if she hadn’t been so close to tears.

The Noc stopped at the railing. He extended his arm out to her, his hand opening like a bear trap.

“Come,” he said, “there’s something you need to see.”

Isobel shook her head. “I’m not touching you,” she said. “And I’m not going anywhere. There’s no way.” She took another step backward, her heel meeting with the concrete curb. She could run if she wanted to. She knew that. She also knew that if he wanted to catch up to her, she wouldn’t get very far.

Pinfeathers did not lower his hand. He didn’t come any closer, either, but stayed behind the railing as if to say, This is as far as I go.

“No tricks this time,” he said, “no false realities. Just a memory caught in passing. Something that might interest you. You said yourself that I can’t hurt you.”

Isobel’s eyes darted from the serrated edges of his shark’s teeth, clamped together through the open pit in his cheek, to the needle-point tips of those crimson claws.

Despite his macabre exterior, everything about him in that moment, from the planted way he stood to his grave, ascetic expression, resonated through her like an echo.

“You’re . . . different,” Isobel said, the urge to turn and run dissipating like the white fog of her own breath. “Why? What happened to you?”

“Change of heart?” he said through a thin smile that was as bitter as it was brittle.

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