When he finally finds Zoe at lunchtime—dressed in an Attack on Titan Survey Corps uniform—she double takes.
"What happened to your face?" she asks, incredulous.
"Huh?" He didn't think the Goon Squad roughed him up that badly.
Zoe makes a gesture in her own general facial area. "I seem to recall a lot more light wounds last night."
Eli puts his own hand on his cheek before he realizes she means the injuries from his fight with the peryton, not Arthur Lacroix. "Oh. Yeah, they were gone this morning. Guess your magic potion worked, huh?"
Zoe gives him a very strange look. "Ee, you realize it's just, like, herbs and honey, right? It's not . . . I mean, it's never"—another vague gesture—"before."
"So you're more powerful than you thought. That's good, right?" Because if Zoe's a witch, maybe it won't matter Eli's a monster.
"I guess . . ." Though Zoe looks like she can't decide between being proud and being scared. She finally settles on resigned, sitting down on the retaining wall behind the science block. "I heard you got the third degree from Lady Lacroix this morning," she says.
It's as good a segue as any, so Eli takes it. He tells Zoe about Lacroix, senior, and Lacroix, junior. The latter in particular elicits a great deal of consternation and warm hands, running across his cheeks and his limbs, checking him for injuries.
When she's convinced Eli's not going to drop dead of internal hemorrhaging, Zoe sits back with a, "Well. My morning wasn't nearly as exciting. I've been trying to scout shadows."
Zoe gestures towards the overcast, steel-grey sky with a self-deprecating twist of her lips. "Short of shining a flashlight on everyone . . ." She drops her hands. "I think I may have found something else, though. A locator spell."
"To find the sorcerer?" It still feels strange saying the word out loud like it actually means something. Like it's a Real Thing existing in the Real World.
"Kinda," Zoe says. She starts rummaging around in her satchel, eventually pulling out a thick, leather-bound book.
This is Zoe's grimoire, her book of magic. Eli's seen it before. It has rough-edged, hand-pressed paper and looks ancient, but was really brought back from San Fran by Mr. Chung as a gift. Bits of leaves and feathers stick out from various points, the pages covered with a combination of Zoe's overly ornate handwriting, colorful magical diagrams, and not-half-bad sketches of things Zoe's seen while wandering the woods around Rosemont.
Zoe opens the grimoire to a page that sports a valiant attempt at sketching the peryton. Next to it, she's written the directions for a spell.
"The problem," she says, "is we need a piece of the thing we're trying to locate."
"That's going to be hard, given we don't know what we're looking for."
"Hah!" Zoe announces, a devious sort of gleam creeping into her expression. "No, see. All we need to do is get something from the—"
Zoe's mouth clicks shut with such force Eli's surprised her eyes don't roll from the jolt. When he looks up, it's into the gormless face of Jake Smith.
"Hey," Eli says.
"Whatcha up to?" Jake shuffles anxiously a bit, then sits down on the other side of Zoe. She's already halfway through stuffing her grimoire back into her bag.
"English assignment," she says and, well. That's it. They're not going to tell Jake what's going on.
"Oh," he says, leaning forward just enough to glance between Zoe and Eli. "M-maybe I can help?"
"It's fine." Zoe waves a hand. "We've got it under control."
"Oh." Jake almost visibly melts, slumping in on himself, and Eli does everything he can not to sigh.
Trust me, Eli wants to say, this one isn't one you want in on.
He wants to say it, but he doesn't. Instead, they sit there in awkward silence until Jake tries, "I like your outfit. You look nice," to Zoe. That's all the encouragement she needs to launch into a Shakespeare-length monologue about fabric and patterns and the impracticality of converting the two-dimensional into three.
Eli's heard it before, though it still makes him grin, because listening to Zoe talk so passionately always does. So he keeps half an ear open even as he pulls out his phone and earbuds and stars messing around with his Launchpad app.
Attack on Titan has a pretty cool theme song, he recalls. Maybe he can make a remix. Zoe will love it.
Zoe does love the remix, when Eli plays it for her at the end of lunch. He drops some Vocaloid and some Nyan Cat in there too, and the whole thing is a mess but Zoe thinks it's hilarious, which is all that matters. She makes him send it to her and he calls it "ATTACK ON WEABOO (☆.。.:*・° REMIX)" when he does.
"I'm going to play it as my entrance music for Physics class," she tells him.
That's where she's headed. Eli, meanwhile has Math. Math with Jake, in fact.
"She likes you," Jake says, as they're walking the hall to class.
"Huh?" Eli is still thinking about the mix. It wasn't great, but if he swaps out some of the back-beats and re-keys Nyan Cat . . .
"Zoe," Jake is saying. "She really likes you." Eli doesn't miss the emphasis.
"Nah, man," he says. "It's not like that. Zoe's great. But it's not like that."
"It could be, though," Jake insists. "If you wanted it to. Girl like that, she'd do anything for a guy like you, y'know?"
Eli starts to get a queasy sort of feeling in his gut. "What's that supposed to mean?" He has a sudden odd twitch across the back of his neck. Like he's trying to raise hackles that aren't there.
Jake shifts, edgy, and he won't meet Eli's eye. "N-nothing," he says. "F-forget I said it."
"Yeah," says Eli. "Whatever, Whitebread."
Math is trig, stuff with angles and radians and whatever. Eli's always liked Math. It's sort of like music, he thinks; describing something beautiful in neat formulas and equations, distilling it down into its most perfect parts. Math doesn't come naturally, not like the music does, but he still loves learning it and struggling his way through exercises and theories named after guys who sound like they've just walked off the set of Game of Thrones.
Zoe tells him loving Math makes him weird which, Duh. What was your first clue, Zee?
There's a lot of magic in mathematics, though. Sacred geometries and mystical numbers. Eli looked it up once. He makes a note to mention it to Zoe next time she complains about her own classes.
Speaking of Zoe, and hated classes; they have English together next. Eli and English do not get along, which is to say, Eli and Ms. Worthington do not get along. Eli's convinced she hated him the second she heard his voice, and has been on a mission to prove he doesn't speak "proper" English ever since. The last paper Ms. Worthington assigned was an essay on the symbolism and syntactic structures of any great modern poet. She'd distributed worksheets of Lewis and Yeats and Kipling as "inspiration." Eli had chosen Flavor Flav instead. Less through any great love of hip hop and more for the pinched expression on Ms. Worthington's face as she'd handed back the paper (B minus) and said, I would have thought the nephew of a Sheriff's deputy would have more respect. To which Eli had been able to reply, utterly truthfully, It was Addi's idea.
Eli grins as he ditches Jake and heads to Zoe's locker. His good mood lasts exactly until he gets to the corner, and hears Zoe's unhappy cry of, "What are you doing? You can't touch that!"
Eli sprints the rest of the way, shouldering aside the gathered crowd of gawkers in a cloud of indignant protests. When he reaches Zoe, he's somehow not surprised to find Ms. Lacroix there as well.
"This," Lacroix is saying, "is witchcraft!" She's standing in front of Zoe's open locker, holding up a book she's obviously just pulled from inside. The Complete Book of Witchcraft is dog-eared and well-thumbed. It's not Zoe's favorite book on the subject, but Eli knows it is the first one she bought, and it has sentimental value.
"So?" Zoe snaps. "Its not 1692 anymore. Witchcraft isn't illegal." Her voice has that thin, thready wobble that means she's trying not to cry. Eli knows he's not the only one who hears it, judging from the sniggering laugher of the assembled crowd.
"Sadly, no," Lacroix is saying. "But murder is."
"M-murder?" Shrill and panicked, now. "I haven't—"
"I'm sure you're aware of the situation." Lacroix is pulling things out as she talks; books, bags of dried herbs, bottles of infused oils. "There is undoubtedly an . . . occult slant to the killings. As an investigator, it is my responsibility to follow up all leads." Punctuated with an impeccably manicured sneer over Zoe's triple goddess paten.
There's a box at Lacroix's feet and she drops the dish into it with a metallic clatter. Zoe gives a distraught shriek, goes to lunge towards it. She only gets halfway when Lacroix's boot stops her, pushing her back by the shoulder.
"Ah ah aah," Lacroix sing-songs. "That's evidence."
She's getting off on it, on humiliating Zoe in front of the school. Eli gets that hot, shivery feeling again. Like scales shifting beneath his skin, claws flexing behind his fingers.
A voice says:
"That's illegal, is what it is."
A voice that belongs to Eli. But there's something about it he hasn't heard before; deeper and more commanding. Older.
He steps forward, next to Zoe. His fingers brush briefly against her shoulder. I'm here. I've got your back.
Lacroix's split-skull smile gets broader. "Elias Drake," she says. "I should have known."
"What you're doing is illegal," Eli says. "It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment to search a student's locker without probable cause."
"Is that so?" Lacroix uses the voice Eli's heard Morgan use more than once. The one that has an silent, mere mortal tacked onto the end. At least he knows where Morgan gets it from. "Well, Mister Drake, I'm afraid I have to inform you that the law is a little more complicated on these matters than Law & Order may make it seem." She pulls an athame from the locker and makes a tisking noise. "Unacceptable."
"It's blunt!" Zoe protests, even as the knife joins the rest of the items in the box.
"You can't do this!" Eli says. "People like you think you can do whatever you want, because we're just kids. But you can't. We have rights too. If my Dad—" His jaw slams shut on the words fast enough to hurt, but not fast enough to stop the way Lacroix's expression sharpens and twists into something vicious.
"If you father, what, Elias?" she says. "Were here? Well, he isn't, is he? And your aunt . . . I'm sure you don't want to make things harder for her than they already are."
The words feel like a physical blow, the threat behind them obvious.
"You—" Eli tires, but he can't make anything else come out. Not past the sudden logjam of fear and impotent rage in the back of his throat.
Fortunately, he doesn't have to say anything. Not when Zoe announces:
"Eli's Dad might not be here, but mine will be. He's not a lawyer, but he is a millionaire. And, trust me. The second he hears about this? He's gonna sue the shit outta you." In her hand, she's holding her phone, text message already sent.
And that, more-or-less, is how Eli and Zoe wind up spending the afternoon sitting outside Principal Malek's office, while Mr. Chung engages in a shouting match inside.
To say Zoe's father had been unhappy to be summoned to the school would be an understatement. Lacroix had already hauled off Zoe's stuff by the time the Chungs' Tesla rolled up into the school carpark, which left only one outlet for Mr. Chung's outrage. Words like "racial profiling" and "Constitutional rights" and "freedom of religion" have been thrown around a lot. Eli listens to them all through the thin wall of the Principal's office, Zoe crying quietly against his shoulder.
"I d-don't even k-know why I'm crying," she tells him.
"'Cause you know Lacroix was wrong," Eli replies.
"She took my stuff."
"My tools. We have to . . . the peryton. I can't find it if . . ."
Eli sighs. "Don't worry 'bout that right now, 'kay?" he says. His heart hurts, like it has a big, Dad-shaped hole in the centre of it, trying to suck the rest of him in. He hopes Aunt Addi is okay, hopes Lacroix was just messing with him. Surely she wouldn't really . . . what? Get Addi fired? Just because Eli called her out?
Who's he kidding. She would totally do something like that.
Through the wall, he hears:
"For god's sake, Max. You think I like this any more than you do? Having that . . . that harpy claw her way through the school? Things are tense enough as it is, but I can't be seen not to be cooperating with an investigation."
"It's not an investigation!" Mr. Chung's usually so chill. It's strange to hear him angry. He sounds like a completely different person. "If there were any real suspicion against the kids the Sheriff would be here, doing things properly. This is all just Yvonne's personal crusade."
"Even if it is," Principal Malek says, "the school can't afford to make enemies of the Lyddan Group."
"Fuck the Lyddans!" Mr. Chung snarls. Eli feels Zoe start at the curse. "You can't afford to make an enemy of me. I will sue, Asif. I'll sue this school, this district, the Sheriff, the goddamn Lyddans, and I'll sue you, personally, if I ever, ever hear of anything like this happening again, do you hear me?"
"Wow," Eli whispers. "Your dad is kinda mad."
"Ssh." Zoe isn't crying any more, but she's still huddled against Eli's side, ear pressed against the wall. "I'm listening."
"—can't take on the Group," Principal Malek is saying. "There isn't enough money in the world for that. Don't you think it hasn't been tried before? For god's sake, Max, be reasonable. Just tell the kids to keep their heads down and this will all blow over. They haven't done anything wrong. Eventually, even Yvonne will have to admit as much."
"And in the meantime? She broke into Zoe's locker. She stole my daughter's stuff, in front of the entire goddamn school, and no one did anything to stop her. You know Zoe. Things aren't always easy for her, and now this on top of everything?"
There's a pause, a faint noise that doesn't quite make it through the wall. Then, Principal Malek: "I'll speak with Yvonne. I can't promise anything, but . . . if she won't listen, Jim's wife plays tennis with Maryam." Eli thinks Principal Malek means the Sheriff, Jim Peters. He has no idea who Maryam is, or what tennis has to do with anything.
Whatever it is, Mr. Chung seems appeased, given the next words he says are, "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Thank you. I just . . . it's Zoe, you know? My baby girl. I can't . . . She was in tears, Asif. No father wants to see that." By the end, his voice is nearly inaudible. Principal Malek's reply definitely is.
Eli waits with Zoe for about another ten minutes before Mr. Chung emerges from the office. He and Principal Malek thank each other cordially and shake hands as if they hadn't just been engaged in a giant screaming match. Adults, Eli thinks, are really weird.
Mr. Chung talks to Zoe first. She's still cuddled against Eli's side, his arm around her shoulders, but they both straighten up and shift apart under Mr. Chung's scrutiny. He just gives them a gentle smile and hugs his daughter, murmuring something into her hair. Eli looks away, a weird jumble of emotions churning in his gut at the sight, until he feels a hand on his shoulder. When he looks up, Mr. Chung is smiling at him.
"I've spoken to your aunt," he says, "you're welcome to have dinner at our place, if you like."
Eli shoots a quick glance at Zoe, but she's nodding and mouthing something that looks like peryton behind her dad's back, so, "Okay. Thanks, Mr. Chung."
Mr. Chung gives a wry little smile. "Any time, Elias," he says. "And, please. Call me Max."
At the Chungs', they make pizzas and eat them sitting on the floor at the coffee table in front of the TV. Pizzas at the Chung household are concoctions of ingredients like goat's fetta and herb-baked potatoes, but they're pretty good. Ms. Chung is just as incensed as her husband over the day's events, and gives both Zoe and Eli a long lecture about power and authority.
"Never confuse the two," Ms. Chung tells them, eyes intense beneath thick glasses and pastel pink hair. "People with power will try and make you. They'll say you should obey them because they're powerful. True power is authority, and authority is instilled by legitimacy; by the notion that the power someone holds is instilled by a system that you trust and you agree to. There will often be times in your life when you won't be in a position to push back against someone who has power, but not authority. Times like today. Sometimes you just have to hold your tongue and wait it out. But always remember that abuse of power reflects on those who perform it, not on you."
Ms. Chung is an odd lady, sometimes. She doesn't speak much, but when she does, it's always intense.
Eli isn't quite sure he understands what point she's trying to make, but he nods along and tucks the thought away in his mind for later.
Once dinner is eaten, they excuse themselves and head out into the yard, after a brief detour via Zoe's room to fetch some of her spellcasting kit.
The Chungs' home is a massive, sprawling building sitting at the top of Jefferson Lane. It doesn't have a yard so much as a clearing in the forest; doesn't have neighbors so much as it has adjoining properties hidden behind the trees. Jefferson Lane is the second highest street and the Chungs' is the second largest house in Rosemont Heights. The only one that's bigger belongs to Widow Adeline, whose lurking, black mansion Eli's only ever seen at a distance, and whose owner reminds Eli of Cruella de Vil, right down the long, tapered cigarette holder.
Tonight, they avoid the Adeline house, skirting around the perimeter fence—the only gated mansion in a gated community—to get into the woods at the base of Mount Rhodes.
They've worked out a sweep pattern, staring here and progressing down the hill until they hit Old Coe Road. From there, they'll head along the edge of the woods towards the gas station where the first body was found.
It's the body that jogs Eli's memory. "Lacroix told me there'd been six murders, not two," he tells Zoe. The woods around them are shadowed and dim. They have maybe an hour before they run out of sunlight.
"Six?" Zoe says. "Do you believe her?"
"I don't know."
"She could've just been trying to mess with you."
"Yeah," says Eli. "But why?"
Zoe just shrugs. "Why does she think you're a murderer in the first place?"
"Because of Lance, I guess."
"There's a bit of a difference between biting a bully and murder, though, isn't there? I wasn't aware schoolyard fights were probable cause to suspect someone of being a demon-summoning serial killer."
Eli can't help the way his hand comes up to touch against his lips. The teeth behind them are neat and square and straight, not sharp and jagged. Just like his eyes are dull and brown and his skin is smooth and soft and significantly lacking in the spines department. And this is it, he thinks. This is the part where he turns to Zoe and says, I think I'm turning into a monster. When I bit Lance . . . something happened to me, something is happening to me, and I don't know what it is or why and I'm scared.
Because he is. Eli is scared. He's been trying not to think about it but, there it is. Sharp teeth and golden eyes and if anyone could understand—anyone in the world—he knows it would be Zoe. So he should tell her.
But he doesn't.