Melina nodded. “Them and their shadow beasts came three nights ago. Surrounded the place, took Miss Thrush and half our wards here, then set fire to the house. I hid on the roof. Since then, wights have come back every day, in little groups, hunting for Winnifred and her friends.”
“And you killed them?” Emma asked.
Melina looked down. “That’s what I said, ain’t it?”
She was too proud to admit she’d lied. It didn’t matter.
“Then we’re not the only ones hunting for Miss Wren,” Emma said.
“That means she’s still free,” I said.
“Maybe,” said Emma. “Maybe.”
“We think the pigeon can help us,” I said. “We need to find Miss Wren, and we think the bird knows how.”
“I never heard of any Miss Wren,” said Melina. “I just feed Winnie when she comes into our courtyard. We’re friends, she and I. Ain’t we, Winnie?”
The bird chirped happily on her shoulder.
Emma moved close to Melina and addressed the pigeon. “Do you know Miss Wren?” she said, enunciating loudly. “Can you help us find her? Miss Wren?”
The pigeon leapt off Melina’s shoulder and flapped across the room to the door. She warbled and fluttered her wings, then flew back.
This way, it seemed to say.
That was proof enough for me. “We need to take the bird with us,” I said.
“Not without me,” said Melina. “If Winnie knows how to find this ymbryne, then I’m coming, too.”
“Not a good idea,” said Horace. “We’re on a dangerous mission, you see—”
Emma cut him off. “Give us the bird. We’ll come back for you, I promise.”
A sudden jolt of pain made me gasp and double over.
Emma rushed to my side. “Jacob! Are you all right?”
I couldn’t speak. Instead I hobbled to the window, forced myself upright, and projected my Feeling out toward the cathedral dome, visible over the rooftops just a few blocks away—then down at the street, where horse-drawn wagons rattled past.
Yes, there. I could feel them approaching from a side street, not far away.
Them. Not one hollow, but two.
“We have to go,” I said. “Now.”
“Please,” Horace begged the girl. “We must have the pigeon!”
Melina snapped her fingers, and the dresser that had nearly killed me raised up off the floor again. “I can’t allow that,” she said, narrowing her eyes and flicking them toward the dresser just to make sure we understood one another. “But take me along and you get Winnie in the bargain. Otherwise …”
The dresser pirouetted on one wooden leg, then tipped and crashed onto its side.
“Fine then,” Emma said through her teeth. “But if you slow us down, we take the bird and leave you behind.”
Melina grinned, and with a flick of her hand the door banged open.
“Whatever you say.”
* * *
We flew down the stairs so fast that our feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. In twenty seconds we were back in the courtyard, leaping over dead Mr. Crumbley, diving down the dry well. I went first, kicking in the mirrored door at the bottom rather than wasting time sliding it open. It broke from its hinges and fell in pieces. “Look out below!” I called, then lost my grip on the wet stone steps and fell flailing and tumbling into the dark.
A pair of strong arms caught me—Bronwyn’s—and set my feet on the floor. I thanked her, my heart pounding.
“What happened up there?” asked Bronwyn. “Did you catch the pigeon?”
“We got it,” I said as Emma and Horace reached the bottom, and a cheer went up among our friends. “That’s Melina,” I said, pointing up at her, and that was all the time for introductions we had. Melina was still at the top of the steps, fooling with something. “Come on!” I shouted. “What are you doing?”
“Buying us time!” she shouted back, and then she pulled shut and locked a wooden lid that capped the well, closing out the last rays of light. As she climbed down in darkness, I explained about the hollows that were chasing us. In my panicked state, this came out as “GO NOW RUN HOLLOWS NOW,” which was effective if not terribly articulate, and threw everyone into hysterics.
“How can we run if we can’t see?!” Enoch shouted. “Light a flame, Emma!”
She’d been holding off because of my warning back in the attic.
Now seemed like a good time to reinforce that, so I grabbed her arm and said, “Don’t! They’ll be able to pinpoint us too easily!” Our best hope, I thought, was to lose them in this forking maze of tunnels.
“But we can’t just run blindly in the dark!” said Emma.
“Of course,” said the younger echolocator.
“We can,” said the older.
Melina stumbled toward their voices. “Boys! You’re alive! It’s me—it’s Melina!”
“We thought you were—”
“Dead every last—”
“One of you.”
“Everyone link hands!” Melina said. “Let the boys lead the way!”
So I took Melina’s hand in the dark and Emma took mine, then she felt for Bronwyn’s, and so on until we’d formed a human chain with the blind brothers in the lead. Then Emma gave the word and the boys took off at an easy run, plunging us into the black.
We forked left. Splashed through puddles of standing water. Then from the tunnel behind us came an echoing crash that could only have meant one thing: the hollows had smashed through the well door.
“They’re in!” I shouted.
I could almost feel them narrowing their bodies, wriggling down into the shaft. Once they made it to level ground and could run, they’d overtake us in no time. We’d only passed one split in the tunnels—not enough to lose them. Not nearly enough.
Which is why what Millard said next struck me as patently insane: “Stop! Everyone stop!”
The blind boys listened to him. We piled up behind them, tripping and skidding to a halt.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” I shouted. “Run!”
“So sorry,” Millard said, “but this just occurred to me—one of us will have to pass through the loop exit before the echolocators or the girl do, or they will cross into the present and we into 1940, and we’ll be separated. For them to travel to 1940 with us, one of us has to go first and open the way.”