He couldn’t seem to get the words out.
“What’s wrong with him?” said Bronwyn. “Mill, what’s the matter?”
“You’d better explain right now what you mean by ‘no,’ ” Emma said threateningly.
“Because we’ll die, that’s why!” Millard said, his voice breaking.
“But back at the menagerie you made it sound so easy!” I said.
“Like we could just waltz into a punishment loop …”
Millard was hyperventilating, hysterical—and it scared me. Bronwyn found a crumpled paper bag and told him to breathe into it. When he’d recovered a bit, he answered.
“Getting into one is easy enough,” he said, speaking slowly, working to control his breaths. “Getting out again is trickier. Getting out alive, I should say. Punishment loops are everything the dog said and worse. Rivers of fire … bloodthirsty Vikings … pestilence so thick you can’t breathe … and mixed into all that, like some devilish bouillabaisse, bird knows how many wights and hollowgast!”
“Well, that’s fantastic!” said Horace, tossing up his hands.
“You might’ve told us earlier, you know—like back at the menagerie, when we were planning all this!”
“Would it have made any difference, Horace?” He took a few more breaths from the bag. “If I’d made it sound more frightening, would you have chosen to simply let Miss Peregrine’s humanity expire?”
“Of course not,” said Horace. “But you should’ve told us the truth.”
Millard let the bag drop. His strength was returning, and his conviction with it. “I admit I somewhat downplayed the punishment loops’ dangers. But I never thought we’d actually have to go into them! Despite all that irritating dog’s doomsaying about the state of London, I was certain we’d find at least one unraided loop here, its ymbryne still present and accounted for. And for all we know, we may still! How can we be sure they’ve all been kidnapped? Have we seen their raided loops with our own eyes? What if the ymbrynes’ phones were simply … disconnected?”
“All of them?” Enoch scoffed.
Even Olive, eternally optimistic Olive, shook her head at that.
“Then what do you suggest, Millard?” said Emma. “That we tour London’s loops and hope to find someone still at home? And what would you say the odds are that the corrupted, who are looking for us, would leave all those loops unguarded?”
“I think we’d have a better chance of surviving the night if we spent it playing Russian roulette,” said Enoch.
“All I mean,” Millard said, “is that we have no proof …”
“What more proof do you want?” said Emma. “Pools of blood? A pile of plucked ymbryne feathers? Miss Avocet told us the corrupted assault began here weeks ago. Miss Wren clearly believed that all of London’s ymbrynes had been kidnapped—do you know better than Miss Wren, an ymbryne herself? And now we’re here, and none of the loops are answering their telephones. So please, tell me why going loop to loop would be anything other than a suicidally dangerous waste of time.”
“Wait a minute—that’s it!” Millard exclaimed. “What about Miss Wren?”
“What about her?” said Emma.
“Don’t you remember what the dog told us? Miss Wren came to London a few days ago, when she heard that her sister ymbrynes had been kidnapped.”
“What if she’s still here?”
“Then she’s probably been captured by now!” said Enoch.
“And if she hasn’t?” Millard’s voice was bright with hope.
“She could help Miss Peregrine—and then we wouldn’t have to go anywhere near the punishment loops!”
“And how would you suggest we find her?” Enoch said shrilly.
“Shout her name from the rooftops? This isn’t Cairnholm; it’s a city of millions!”
“Her pigeons,” said Millard.
“It was Miss Wren’s peculiar pigeons who told her where the ymbrynes had been taken. If they knew where all the other ymbrynes went, then they should know where Miss Wren is, too. They belong to her, after all.”
“Hah!” said Enoch. “The only thing commoner here than plain-looking middle-aged ladies are flocks of pigeons. And you want to search all of London for one flock in particular?”
“It does seem a bit mad,” Emma said. “Sorry, Mill, I just don’t see how that could work.”
“Then it’s a lucky thing for you I spent our train ride studying rather than making idle gossip. Someone hand me the Tales!”
Bronwyn fished the book from her trunk and gave it to him. Millard dove right in, flipping pages. “There are many answers to be found within,” he said, “if you only know what to look for.” He stopped at a certain page and stabbed the top with his finger. “Aha!” he said, turning the book to show us what he’d found.
The title of the story was “The Pigeons of St. Paul’s.”
“I’ll be blessed,” said Bronwyn. “Could those be the same pigeons we’re talking about?”
“If they’re written about in the Tales, they’re almost certainly peculiar pigeons,” said Millard, “and how many flocks of peculiar pigeons could there possibly be?”
Olive clapped her hands and cried, “Millard, you’re brilliant!”
“Thank you, yes, I was aware.”
“Wait, I’m lost,” I said. “What’s St. Paul’s?”
“Even I know that,” said Olive. “The cathedral!” And she went to the end of the alley and pointed up at a giant domed roof rising in the distance.
“It’s the largest and most magnificent cathedral in London,” said Millard, “and if my hunch is correct, it’s also the nesting place of Miss Wren’s pigeons.”
“Let’s hope they’re at home,” said Emma. “And that they’ve got some good news for us. We’ve had quite a drought of it lately.”
* * *
As we navigated a labyrinth of narrow streets toward the cathedral, a brooding quiet settled over us. For long stretches no one spoke, leaving only the tap of our shoes on pavement and the sounds of the city: airplanes, the ever-present hum of traffic, sirens that warbled and pitch-shifted around us.