"Are you saying I should breathe fire all over Zoe?"

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Aunt Addi is gonna be pissed about Eli skipping class, but he figures she can deal. This is an emergency.

It's an emergency that sees Eli ringing the buzzer of the mansion atop Rosemont Heights, hoping desperately Widow Adeline doesn't have bridge club or Power Yoga or whatever else it is old women get up to during the day.

He gets buzzed in, which is a good sign, and Adeline greets him at the top of the driveway. She's wearing knee-length yoga pants and some sort of crop-top/loose-shrug ensemble that really shouldn't look so good on someone so old.

Widow Adeline, as it turns out, is kinda ripped.

Eli is sweaty and panting from running all the way from the school, but Adeline looks about the same. "By the stars, boy," she says. "Whatever's the matter?"

"I think my friend's been possessed," Eli blurts, because it's the nearest explanation he has for the oil-smoke and malevolent presence he'd felt on Zoe.

Widow Adeline regards him for a moment, head tilted. Her hands and feet are taped up and she has sweat stains on her top, and Eli suddenly wonders if he's interrupted kickboxing practice. Is the old lady at the top of Rosemont Heights secretly some kind of martial arts master as well?

He'll think about it later. Right now, Adeline sighs and invites him inside. They sit in her huge kitchen, oddly modern and minimalist compared to the rest of the house, and Eli blurts out everything he can about the peryton, the cabin, and Zoe.

He omits the part where he spent the evening with Morgan Lacroix. As a dragon. Somehow, he doesn't think Adeline will approve.

"From your description," Adeline says when Eli is through, "I suspect your little witch friend is under the influence of a rísók."

"A reesawk?" Eli butchers, and Widow Adeline sighs.

"Rísók. There's . . . no good single word for it in English. A talisman, I suppose, but the connotation is evil."

"Right." Eli picked as much up from the ending. Bad words in Xyl'tha end in k, or kki if there's more than one. By extension, Eli supposes that if a rísók is an evil talisman, then a rísóa must be a good one. Like the protection amulet Zoe made him, what seems like a thousand years ago now. "How do I destroy it?" he asks.

"With the xyl'kóa, of course," Widow Adeline says, as if it should be obvious. Then, at Eli's blank stare. "The dragon fire, my dear. Your dragon fire."

"I can't breathe fire," Eli points out.

"Not yet, no," Adeline says. "But eventually, yes. And the kóa does not burn so much as purify. If your friend is pure, she'll be quite safe."

It takes Eli a moment to work out what Adeline is saying. "Are you . . . are you saying I should breathe fire all over Zoe?"

"Yes, of course." Window Adeline waves a hand, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"Isn't that . . . dangerous?"

"Only if her heart is impure, my dear. Only the shyu'ìk, those who practice dark magics, have anything to fear from the kóa. If your friend is shyu'ìyu, the fires should do her no harm. I'm even told they can be . . . invigorating."

Yu is the neutral ending. Eli wonders about that, about why Adeline would use that rather than shyu'ìa, which Eli assumes would be the word for "good witch."

Is Zoe a good witch? Eli wants to think so, but . . .

But he remembers a lock of hair, pressed between the pages of a grimoire, and suddenly isn't so sure.

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