"We're all having a shitty time, asswipe! This is high school!"

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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.

Zoe must feel it too, because she says: "The wards. Something . . . something's trying to get in."

"Wait here," Eli says, as if that . . . as if that's going to do anything. Zoe seems to realize it too, because she calls his name indignantly as he bolts down the short corridor and into the rec centre's main room.

People are definitely screaming. Eli has to muscle his way through the crowd, which is pressing itself against the walls, as far away from the windows as possible. They run one whole side of the room, big floor-to-ceiling plate glass looking out over the pool, hinged like they open up during summer.

They're closed now, though. Which is good. Because outside, the dark, hulking shape of a peryton looms. As Eli watches, it spreads open its putrid wings, lowering its head and screaming. Then it lunges at the glass.

More screaming, from inside this time. Then a strange, almost crystalline crashing as the peryton hits, not the glass of the window, but the crackling blue-white forcefield of Zoe's wards. It's the same sort of magic that protected Eli, when all of this first started, except now it's covering the entire building. Eli can feel it, bright and crisp and vibrant. Keeping the corruption outside at bay.

"It's okay!" someone shouts. "We're safe inside. It can't get in." Arthur. It's Arthur, pushing his way to the front of panicked group of teens, regal and confident like his namesake.

"It's a monster!" comes another voice. Then a third: "It killed them! Those people!"

"It killed Val." Arthur strides right up to the window. "I saw it." Then, to the peryton snarling at him from outside: "You're going to die you monstrous piece of shit!"

Another crash of lightning, illuminating both Arthur and the beast. Then, when it clears, the sound of a single set of hands. Clapping.

"Oh, bravo. Bravo. Very heroic. I'm inspired, are you?"

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