From Aunt Addi, Eli learns the sheriff had found Jake’s grandmother. Dead in her trailer, hidden in the bedroom loft. By the timeline, she’d probably been Jake’s first victim. Eli tries not to think of a fading blue eye, watching him from beneath the water as its owner slowly drowned.
No one (else) dies from the incident at the rec centre, although Lance and a few others get treated for burns. They’d tried to subdue Jake after Eli had saved Arthur, and Jake had unleashed balefire on them to escape. The whole thing gets written up as just another attempted mass shooting—just another day in America, nothing to see here—this one averted by the bravery and quick thinking of a room full of teens.
“It was cool, what you did with the lacrosse stick.” Two days later. Eli’s at Zoe’s. They’re both sitting in the big couch-sized swing in her front yard, carefully supervised by Mr. Chung from the bay window in the den. Giving them space, but . . . watching. All the adults are on edge right now. Eli supposes he can’t blame them. He thinks his ribs are still bruised form Aunt Addi’s crushing hugs.
“Was it?” Zoe says. She isn’t in cosplay today, just nebula-patterned leggings and a big chunky black sweater. Eli thinks she looks really nice. Zoe always looks really nice, but today it’s . . . even more. “It felt kinda . . . shitty,” Zoe continues. “Like . . . like, I dunno. Un-feminist? Sending a Man”—she pronounces the capital letter, voice pitching low portentously—“to fight when I should’ve been able to do it myself.”
“We’re all having a shitty time, asswipe! This is high school!”
He doesn’t, as it turns out, get far. Instead, he runs straight into Zoe in the hallway. Her eyes are wide and she’s breathing hard, like she’s been running too, which—
“Zee, I have to—” Eli blurts, at the same time as Zoe says: “Eli! Listen, I—”
They both stop, stare at each other for a moment, then blurt:
“No, me first!”
And it would be funny, maybe, if things weren’t so dire and Zoe didn’t look so panicked. Come to think of it, why did Zoe look so—
Eli doesn’t even get to finish the thought. Not when Zoe blurts:
“I saw it, Ee! In the flash. From the lightning. We were just, I dunno. Talking. Then the lightning hit and the lights went out, and everyone screamed. And it was kinda funny, y’know? Except, Ee. Ee, there was another one. More lightning. And in the flash, Ee. I saw it.”
And somehow, Eli just knows what she’s going to say. That little half-forgotten memory, from what seems like another lifetime, rushing to the fore:
“Eli. His shadow. It wasn’t his, it was the peryton’s.”
The peryton’s shadow. Just like the evil sorcerers in Zoe’s parents’ dumb Dungeons & Dragons book.
“Jake,” Eli says, and Zoe’s eye get even wider, whites seeming to almost glow both from the gloom and from the dark eyeshadow framing them.
It’s about that time, however, that the screaming starts. For real this time, not just the half-hearted shock of before. In between the sound, Eli can feel something. A sort of static hum and a thudding bass, like being too close to a live wire and too close to a concert speaker, all at once.
Eli ends up outside the Rosemont Heights Rec Centre a little before six, clothes damp from the rain and backpack still heavy with the weight of Jake’s chem book.
Jake hadn’t been home. Eli had found the address easily enough, and had been . . . sort of surprised, actually. It’s not like he’s been to a lot of trailer parks in his life, but the neat, modern, wood-paneled trailer with the double glass front doors and rooftop patio is not what he’d been expecting. Seemed like nothing in Rosemont was immune to gentrification.
No amount of knocking or ringing of the doorbell or peering in through windows had enticed anyone—Jake or his grandmother or otherwise—to appear, however, and things had been getting late. So Eli had moved on.
At the rec centre, Arthur and Zoe greet him at the door which, Eli has to admit, is a sight he thought he’d never see.
“Dude!” says Arthur, at the same time as Zoe announces, “You’re soaked!”
Zoe has changed since Eli last saw her, into a simple black dress. He almost thinks she’s out of cosplay until he sees her earrings, shaped like tiny silver bees. “Are you . . . dressed like a witch?” he hisses at her, while Arthur is busy off to one side doing something with a table full of finger food.
Zoe draws a sort of triangular shape in the air with her fingers. “My hat is full of sky,” she says, then winks.
Eli finds Morgan doing something with her violin in one corner of the room, not far from where a table has been set up with a memorial for Val. There’s a photo of him in a sombre, black frame, surrounded by pale white lilies and roses, plus a big book and fancy looking fountain pen for people to write messages. Morgan comes over while Eli is studying the arrangement, wondering if he should write something and, if so, what. Sorry I couldn’t save you, seems like the sort of thing that Zoe would sneer and call “manpain,” although maybe it doesn’t count when it’s another dude.
“She’s a real Stacey, I’ll give you that. So I guess I wouldn’t blame you.”
Nothing much else happens for the rest of the evening. Eli cooks dinner with Aunt Addi, and sends some texts back and forth with Zoe, just to make sure Arthur’s not doing anything . . . Lacroix-ish. He’s not, judging from Zoe’s enthusiastic replies (im corrupting a lacroix with my wicked witchy ways!), and that makes Eli feel a little better.
Addi isn’t so enthusiastic about Val’s wake, partly because of the whole murders thing, but mostly because of who extended the invitation.
“Arthur’s . . . okay,” Eli says, and almost can’t believe he’s saying it. “He apologized for being a jerk. Kinda.”
Addi sighs, stabbing at her spaghetti with her fork, smashing apart the meatballs distractedly. “It’s not Arthur I’m worried about,” she says. “Yvonne Lacroix is . . . dangerous. More than you know.”
“Okay, Aunt Addi,” says Eli, who think he knows exactly how dangerous the woman is. More so than Addi does. “I promise I’ll be careful.”
In the end, Addi agrees to let him go, but only after he assures her Zoe will be there as well. This, as it turns out, isn’t even a lie.
arthur wants to ward the rec centre, Zoe texts, as Eli is messing around with his computer, trying to turn “Waifu Perfect Class 2” into something appropriate for a wake (“Melancholy Perfect Class”, Eli calls it, if only in his head). just in case
Prolly a good idea, Eli replies. Then he sends Zoe a rough cut of the track he’s working on. Her only reply is to send back a list of her favorite depressing Vocaloid songs, so Eli figures he’s still got some way to go.
“I lied. I wasn’t scared. I was guilty.”
Mallory is Eli’s shrink, and has been since Eli moved to Rosemont. He is . . . okay. Mostly they just talk about stuff and Mallory uses a soft voice and makes suggestions like “have you tried starting a new hobby?” or “running seems to help, doesn’t it?” Eli really only goes because it makes Aunt Addi feel better. He doesn’t think Mallory is a bad person or anything, it’s just he’s so . . . old. And white. And sometimes says old white man things like “I suspect you saw a lot of violence, growing up,” like he thinks Eli came out of some lurid TV cop-show version of East Harlem, circa 1995, and not twenty-first century Midtown.
As it turns out, about the most violence Eli ever saw “growing up” was watching cops manhandle homeless people off the subway. So much for that life, he supposes.
So it’s not like Eli thinks Doctor Mallory is bad, exactly, but he also doesn’t feel the need to correct the version of Elias Drake Mallory obviously keeps in his head. Eli knows this means Mallory isn’t going to be doing him much good, mental-health wise, but the guy’s Rosemont’s only psychologist and it’s not like Eli’s got other options. So he goes along, to keep Aunt Addi happy, and says vague and non-specific things, to reassure Mallory that he is just some surly damaged urban projects kid, or whatever it is the old guy thinks.
Mallory’s office is on Main, a couple blocks from the school. Eli has a note from Aunt Addi to bail out of class, and only just manages to dodge getting escorted by one of the Rosemont High’s finest. Like the “security officers” ever did shit for Eli when he was getting beat up by Arthur’s goons, and like they could do shit against a peryton, if one decided to chase Eli through the middle of Rosemont proper.
“You said you’d killed one before.”
“You don’t look so good. Are you . . . are you okay?”
Thursday morning, and Eli feels like his head is ready to burst and his eyelids have rusted shut. He is one-hundred percent not ready, in other words, to deal with Morgan Lacroix.
“Yeah,” he says. “Just . . . rough night, y’know?”
Morgan nods. She’s still in all-black but it’s not quite the lace-and-lamentation of yesterday. “I’m sorry,” she says and, near as Eli can tell, sounds sincere. “If you need anything . . .” She trails off, biting her lip and looking away, almost as if she knows how futile the offer is.
“‘m okay,” Eli lies. “Just . . . need time, y’know?”
Morgan has cornered him just outside the school, and there’s an awkward moment where neither of them seem to know what to say. Eli’s trying to figure out an excuse to leave when Morgan’s eyes suddenly dart between him and their surroundings, and she leans forward to hiss:
“I got it.”
“Huh?” says Eli, eloquent as always.
“The . . . the files,” Morgan clarifies, or tries to. “About the murders.”
“Oh,” says Eli. Then, when the memory clicks in place: “Oh!”
“From Mom’s laptop. I took photos. I don’t— I need your number. I’ll text them. Then I have to delete them”—said with great urgency—“Mom can never know I took these. You understand, right?”
“Yeah,” says Eli, who does. “Of course.”
He exchanges numbers with Morgan and, a moment later, a series of photos ping into his messaging app. They’re grainy and low-res, obviously taken of the screen of another computer, but they’re readable enough.
“Is that . . . is that what you needed?” Morgan asks.
“The warlock. I think it’s Morgan.”
Eventually, they make their way back to the main part of the cave. Zoe has pages and pages of notes and half a lunchbox stuffed with glowing mushrooms and impossible flowers, and they’re so busy arguing over whether or not she should take them home (“What if your mom finds them, Zee?”) that neither of them notice Widow Adeline until they’ve all-but run into her.
“School’s out for the day, is it?”
Eli yelps, which comes out as a kind of strange bark, and his immediate instinct is to rear up on his hind legs and spread his wings to try and hide Zoe. As if Widow Adeline hadn’t seen them coming from yards away.
“I assume I don’t want to know,” Adeline says. Then, tilting her head to the side as if to peer around Eli’s wing: “Good afternoon, Miss Chung.”
Zoe, bravely, steps out from behind Eli. “Um. Hello, Ms. Desmarais,” she says which, actually, Eli thinks is the first time he’s ever heard someone call Window Adeline anything other than “Widow Adeline.”
“Desmarais, darling,” Adeline says. Correcting Zoe’s pronunciation, Eli assumes, although he can’t hear the difference.
“Oh, well, I mean. It’s Chung, not ‘Chung’”—that difference, Eli can hear—“but, yanno . . .” Zoe shrugs.
“Touché. I see Elias has let you in on his little secret.”
Zoe looks between Eli and Adeline, brows arching, and Eli says, “It’s okay. She knows. She’s been helping me.”
“Attempting to teach you the language and history of your ancestors, yes. And you, Miss . . . Chung”—better, this time—“I hear you’ve also been indulging in some extracurriculars.” She gestures at Zoe’s lunchbox, brimming with flora.
Zoe doesn’t scream, although it’s mostly because she has her hands clamped over her mouth. Above them, her eyes are anime-girl wide; almost grotesque and comical. Eli shifts, awkward in the silence that’s dragging on far too long.
“So, um,” he says. “Ta-daa?” He sits up on his haunches as he says it, making a sort of car salesman gesture with his arms. Zoe’s eyes, if anything, go even wider, and a muffled squeak emerges from behind her fingers.
Eli lowers himself back down again. There’s no way he can be smaller than Zoe, short of lying on the ground, but he does his best anyway to make himself non-threatening. “Um. Zee? Say something, please?”
“You can talk!” Still muffled behind Zoe’s hands and woolen bracer things. But it’s a start.
“You . . . you’re a dragon!”
Eli shrugs. It’s more in the wings than the shoulders, and he doesn’t miss the way Zoe’s eyes follow the motion.
“A week?” he hazards, in answer to her question. “Since the peryton, really.”
Zoe drops her hands. She’s shifting back and forth, craning to look more at Eli now her shock is being replaced by curiosity. Something inside Eli unclenches in relief. If Zoe had been frightened by him . . .
“There’s something I need to show you.”
The Rosemont High gymnasium pulls double-duty as an auditorium, meaning one end is dominated by a long stage. There are rooms behind it, hidden and disused except during plays and assemblies, and Eli and Zoe hide out in one now.
“I hate crying.”
Zoe is sitting in the corner, hunched over her own bag. Her tears have mostly stopped, but she’s still sniffling. She’s still in her gym clothes, too, unkempt and unarmored.
“How do you feel?” Eli asks. He wants to sit next to Zoe, to wrap his arm around her and pull her close, but isn’t sure if she’ll allow it. So he leans against the far wall, instead, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his hoodie.
“Headache,” Zoe says eventually. “And . . . my mouth tastes gross.” She smacks her lips a few times to demonstrate. “Like I’ve been licking garbage.”
Eli doesn’t bother to ask how she knows what garbage tastes like. He can taste it too. Not strong, but: “It’s the rísók, I think.”
Zoe looks up at him, narrowing eyes red-rimmed from crying. “The what-awk?”
Eli bites his lip. “Um,” he says. “How . . . how much do you remember? About . . .?” He waves a hand, noncommittal.
“I . . . I warded my bag,” Zoe says, looking down at the object in question. “After Morgan. I . . . I didn’t want . . .” She stops, takes a deep, shuddering breath, and starts again: “We were outside. Running, y’know? When I felt, like . . . It was the ward. I can’t explain how I knew, but I knew. You know?”
Eli nods. He does know.