"At least Lacroix will know it wasn't you."

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The circuit around town is a bust. Zoe picks up and examines several black feathers along the way but Eli knows, without knowing how he knows, that they aren't feathers from the peryton. Several times he gets a strange feeling, like he's being watched, but he never catches sight of anything unusual and nothing jumps them from the shadows.

Eventually, they end up back outside the Chungs', Zoe regarding her feathers with a critical eye.

"Well," she says, "I can make up some of the locator charms with these tonight. We can meet up tomorrow to test them out."

Eli nods in agreement, then they say their goodbyes. Zoe offers him a lift back to his place ("I'm sure Dad won't mind"), but Eli declines. The clouds have finally lifted and the sky above is clear and studded with stars, moon hanging like a big silver grin against the dark.

It's getting cold, but Eli doesn't mind. He likes night times out here. Back home—back in his previous home—the city was so bright that the closest they ever got to dark was a kind of dull, yellow twilight. In Rosemont, there are actually stars.

Eli is so busy watching them, in fact, that he doesn't notice the peryton until he almost runs into it.

It's just standing in the middle of the road, at the end of Zoe's street, watching him. It's definitely there for him, judging by the way it rucks up its wings and lowers its antlers when it meets his eyes.

It growls, one scythe-clawed talon pawing at the bitumen, and Eli has exactly enough time to say:


Then it leaps, and he runs.

He means to head back up Jefferson, back to the Chungs' place, but the peryton is one step ahead and gets there before he does. It moves in a half-run, half-glide, the gusts from the downstrokes of its wings heavy enough to make Eli stumble. He adjusts his trajectory, into the trees that separate the Chungs' and Window Adeline's. He has a mad, half-formed idea that maybe he can boost Adeline's security fence and can already see the dark edges of it between the branches when he realizes just what a stupid idea that would truly be.

The peryton, after all, can fly. Eli, not so much.

He can hear the peryton behind him, crashing and lumbering through the wood. Eli has one vicious, futile little moment of joy to realize he was, at least, right about it being more awkward here than in the open.

On the other hand, so is Eli. The woods are dark and he's not even running half-speed. Every second step feels like the ground is shifting beneath him, piles of half-decayed leaves and long-fallen logs just waiting to open up under his feet. To send him plummeting to the ground where, this time, there won't be any miraculous save-by-magic. He should've gotten an amulet from Zoe. She even made some, except Lacroix took them, because of course she did. And now Eli is going to die here, in the woods behind Window Adeline's mansion, torn to shreds by a deer-eagle that shouldn't even exist because why not?

And then, up ahead, the path runs out.

Eli's been lapping the mansion, keeping the fence to his right as he runs to avoid getting lost in the woods. So he's not lost, but he's never been out here before and what he was not expecting, not at all, is the massive jut of rock that rears up ahead. The mansion fence ends along the edge of it, and the rock is too high and too sheer to climb. Eli can lunge left except the forest starts there in earnest, dark and closed-in and real and Eli's hands slam into the stone before he realizes that he's trapped.

That he's trapped himself.

He howls into the night; terror and frustration. This can't be how it ends. It just can't. He's going to die a virgin sacrifice in the woods and Zoe is going to blame herself, for the rest of her life, even though there was nothing she could have done.

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