“What you have just experienced is a Hatching.”

When Eli next wakes, he’s in bed he doesn’t know, in a room he’s never seen.

He’s also naked. And there’s a cat, sitting on the pillow next to his head.

The cat is not pleased when Eli bolts upright in a sudden rush of panic. Things come back to him in flashes; his flight through the woods, his transformation, his fight with the peryton. Widow Adeline.

Eli has never been inside Widow Adeline’s house, but the decor around him certainly screams “elderly woman.” The bed he’s in has four huge, carved wooden posts, and the duvet is both overly plump and makes a slightly crunchy plastic sound when he moves. The room looks like a guest room, with heavy velvet drapes and shelves of leather-bound books and odd curios. The only light comes from an ornate brass fitting on the wall; the sort with cherubs that looks like it was retrofitted from gas to electricity.

The sheets, Eli notes, are covered in blood.

It’s not his blood—a quick once-over reveals no injuries worse than bruises—but he is absolutely covered in it, and the sight makes his lip curl in disgust.

No one else is in the room, just Eli and the cat, so he gets out of the blood-stained bed.

His satchel is sitting on a chair nearby, a little folded card perched on top. The inside of the card is full of the sort of old-timey looping handwriting that Eli has to squint at to decipher. It says:

Don’t fuss about the sheets. Take a shower. There’s a robe if you need it. I will be downstairs waiting. — Ms. A.

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