Chapter 4: Things that Go Bump in the Night


After Orion kills Jack with magical fire and throws his burnt corpse into the hall, El directs Orion to find a magical healing bandage that Mum made. Once El is stabilized, she tells Orion that he should return to his room. Two students in the same room attract many more maleficaria at night. But Orion stays to protect El, fighting the monsters as they appear. El gives Orion useful—but rude—advice as he fights. Orion’s ability to drain mana from the maleficaria quickly fills him with excess mana. El tells Orion that he can store extra mana in her crystals (which will benefit her more than him). Orion is quite surprised by the actual crystals, since they are very well known. El reveals to Orion that they were made by her mother, the famous healer Gwen Higgins—and she tells Orion that she likes to keep this secret.

When the exhausted Orion and El leave her room in the morning, gossip and rumors about them increase. Orion helps El and is very attentive to her injured condition, which all the most popular students—including those of the London enclave and of Orion’s New York enclave—take notice. El needs help with her semester project, a magical mirror, and Orion offers to help her—this time out of kindness. Seeing an opportunity to increase her social standing, Aadhya offers to help as well. In the cafeteria, El is joined for lunch by Orion, Nkoyo and Aadhya. The top members of the London and New York enclaves join the table, too, because both groups want to secure Orion after graduation. Neither group is interested in El beyond Orion’s attachment to her. El is equally rude to both groups.


One of the central conflicts in the novel is self-preservation versus collaboration, as the constant presence of mortal danger forces characters to choose between empathy and survival. El is aware that she lacks friends or even basic alliances, and she knows that being on your own in the Scholomance is often life-threatening. However, relying on other students can also be dangerous if those students choose to protect themselves rather than help others in their alliance. This dynamic, along with El’s fear of vulnerability, drives her to push Orion away initially. This conflict also forces El and the other students to be strategic about who they associate with. Although El shuns Orion, she also uses her association with him to create a reputation for herself as his romantic interest in order to build alliances that could help her survive until graduation. El’s fear of vulnerability is tested as she is forced to accept Orion’s help in the wake of Jack’s attempt on her life. The fact that Orion stays with her throughout the night at risk to his own safety allows El to be vulnerable, although outwardly she is still very prickly towards him. 

The mana crystals that El obtains from her mother symbolize the power of good. They connect El to her mother and to her mother’s ethic of earning rewards through hard work. While enclave kids have come to the school with privileges that make it easier to accrue and maintain power, El’s mother, in keeping with her belief in diligence, has provided her with a way to store the mana she produces herself. El must work hard to fill these crystals using mana. The crystals also connect El to her own thoughts and memories of her mother, serving as a reminder of her desire to be good rather than evil. Orion’s shock that El has the powerful mana-powered crystals at all indicates a contrast between El’s dark powers and grim demeanor and her mother’s reputation as a spiritual healer.