Though her body screamed against doing so, Isobel took a tentative step toward him. She told herself it was a test step, just to see how he would react.

His smile faded, his expression becoming suddenly sober and serious—more human than she had ever seen it. Almost . . . recognizable.

Pinfeathers’s claws clicked together as he beckoned.

Isobel took another cautious step toward him, then another.

She had come here tonight in search of Varen’s ghost.

Maybe, Isobel thought as she cleared the distance between them, finally fitting her hand into the Noc’s porcelain grip—just maybe—she’d found it.

His hand closed tightly around hers, the claws of his fingers and thumb crisscrossing one another like some kind of wicked locking mechanism.

He squeezed hard, and Isobel opened her mouth in a silent gasp of pain.

Just when she thought she’d made a terrible mistake, her hand yielded and his fingers passed through hers, as if she’d suddenly become as intangible as a mirage.

Almost as if preparing to waltz, Pinfeathers stepped backward, drawing Isobel forward. But her body remained paralyzed, rooted in place while some separate part of her began to slide forward, drawn by his pull.

It felt as if she were being peeled away from herself.


And that, it seemed, was exactly what was happening.

Her vision went double while the open-air sounds of night, wind, and rustling leaves became muted in her ears. Then, in a flash, everything disappeared, winking to crystal white.

She floated in a world of nothing, weightless, alone, and strangely unconcerned about what had just happened or where she was or if she would come back. It was like teetering between waking and falling asleep, and it made her wonder if this was what dying felt like.

Something pulled at her, and her senses returned.

Looking down at her side, she saw her hand still clutched in Pinfeathers’s grip.

Disoriented, Isobel glanced up to find herself no longer standing in front of the fountain. Gone were the houses and the trees, the cars and the flickering lamps. In their place stretched a long and dark corridor, lined on either side by plain utilitarian doors. All of them were closed.

She looked up at Pinfeathers, who pressed a single bloodred claw to his lips, calling for silence. Then he loosened into smoke and, with a rustle and flit of feathers, re-formed as an ebony bird, perching on Isobel’s left shoulder.

The weight of the bird’s body felt almost nonexistent, as if even in this form, the Noc was still only hollow within.

Aiming his beak forward, he gave a hoarse and urging croak.

She faced the dimly lit hall, which seemed to stretch on forever into a far-reaching pit of blackness. She wondered where Pinfeathers had brought her and why, but the bird only bobbed his head and snapped his beak with several impatient clicks. Clearly he wanted her to proceed.

Isobel did so with cautious steps, her footfall making no sound on the worn floorboards.

Between each of the doors, antique oil lamps burned with steady yellow flames, their glass holders warping the light into hourglass shapes along the barren walls.

The scent of kerosene and the antiseptic smell of iodine mixed with alcohol permeated the air. Beneath that, though, Isobel could detect another odor, a hint of putridity like the stale reek of a sickroom.

A quiet squeaking drew Isobel’s attention to the right, and she soon saw someone gliding toward them—a woman dressed in white.

She stopped cold. Fear pierced her gut like a spear, holding her in place.

A trap, she thought. She’d been stupid enough to trust Pinfeathers, and now it had landed her right where she should have known it would, straight into Lilith’s waiting grip.

As the woman drew closer, however, her figure became more discernible, and Isobel saw that instead of white veils, she wore what appeared to be an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform. With a starched white cap sitting atop her pouf of dark brown hair, she looked like a costumed actress straight out of a period movie. A matching apron cinched her narrow, corseted waist while long, heavy skirts swished around her feet.

The woman, her gaze intent on the path before her, took no notice of Isobel as she bustled by, even as her skirts nearly brushed Isobel’s legs.

Behind the woman, a teenage girl, dressed in the same uniform, wheeled a gurney, the source of the high-pitched squeaking. On it, an old man with skin like raw dough lay prone and listless.

Isobel turned her head to watch their grim procession as they passed.

A hospital, Isobel thought. She was in some sort of old hospital. But why would Pinfeathers have brought her to such a place?

He’d called this a memory, and clearly she was viewing something from the past, but when? With the gas lamps and the way the nurses had been dressed, Isobel’s first guess was the 1800s. But if they’d gone back this far, then whose memory could this possibly be? Certainly not Varen’s.

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