"What you have just experienced is a Hatching."

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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.

Eli does not need the robe, given he has his gym clothes at the bottom of his backpack. They aren't the most fragrant thing in the world but, on the other hand, they aren't pink and feathered like the robe is.

The note says to take a shower, so Eli does. The bathroom has brass fittings and a real-deal claw-foot bathtub, but the hot water works just fine. He doesn't linger, just in and out fast enough to get most of the blood off. His hair's still filthy but Widow Adeline doesn't have the stuff to clean it (of course). He just hopes the blood doesn't show against the black.

Cleaned of blood and stinking of gym, Eli leaves the bedroom. Widow Adeline's house smells like old lady and cat, and looks like the sort of place a Harry Potter movie would be filmed in. Everything is dark wood paneling and bright Persian rugs, leather-bound books and strange curios and patterned silk drapery that a hundred years ago would've been described with words like "exotic." The lighting is dim and originates from wrought brass wall scones hung beneath carved cornices and beside old oil paintings of bucolic medieval scenes.

There is, Eli notes, a distinct dragon motif to the decorations: tables have scaled claws carved into the feet; winged serpents dangle illuminated orbs from their claws; Chinese long roll their eyes wildly on faded silk tapestries. Eli flexes his fingers, feeling the memory of scale and claw, and hopes the theme is a good omen.

The hallway ends at an enormous, carved staircase that swoops down into a foyer with a black-and-white marble laid out in squares like a giant chessboard. A pair of huge French doors to the left of the staircase are open, the room beyond lit more brightly that the rest of the house. When Eli enters, he finds Widow Adeline, sitting in a high-backed leather chair, a cat on her lap and a delicate cup of espresso in her hands.

"Mister Drake," she says. "Come, sit. Eat. You have questions, I assume." Widow Adeline is still in her robe, though she's taken the time to reapply make-up and wrap her hair in a silk scarf. She looks like a faded movie starlet or an aging princess, all pencil-sharp brows and tight plum lips.

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