By then Caul had wriggled into the corridor and was halfway down it. I could hear my friends’ voices echoing from the other end. They hadn’t escaped yet. Perhaps they refused to leave Miss Peregrine behind (or me, possibly). They were still fighting.
Bentham was running now, as best he could. He’d spied the other large urn and was heading right for it. I took a few limping steps toward him. He reached the urn and tipped it over. Its blue liquid hissed into the channel and began circulating toward the spirit pool.
He turned and saw me.
He limped for the pool and I limped for him. The urn’s liquid reached the pool. Its water began to rage and a column of blinding light shot up toward the ceiling.
“WHO IS TAKING MY SOULS!” Caul bellowed from the corridor. He began to worm his way back into the chamber.
I tackled Bentham—or fell on him, whichever you prefer. I was weak and dizzy, and he was old and brittle, and we were just about a match for each other. We struggled briefly, and when it was clear I had him pinned, he gave up.
“Listen to me,” he said. “I’ve got to do this. I’m the only hope you have.”
“Shut up!” I said, grabbing at his hands, which were still flailing. “I won’t listen to your lies.”
“He’ll kill us all if you don’t let me go!”
“Are you insane? If I let you go, you’ll just help him!” I grabbed his wrists, finally. He’d been trying to get something from his pocket.
“No, I won’t!” he cried. “I’ve made so many mistakes … but I can put them right if you let me help you.”
“Look in my pocket!”
Caul was backing slowly out of corridor, roaring about his souls.
“My vest pocket!” Bentham shouted. “There’s a paper in it. One I carry with me always, just in case.”
I let go of one of his hands and reached into his pocket. I found a small piece of folded paper, which I tore open.
“What is this?” I said. It was written in Old Peculiar; I couldn’t read it.
“It’s a recipe. Show it to the ymrbynes. They’ll know what to do.”
A hand reached over my shoulder and snatched the paper from me. I spun around to see Miss Peregrine, battered but human.
She read the paper. Her eyes flashed at Bentham. “You’re certain this will work?”
“It worked once,” he said. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t again. And with even more ymbrynes …”
“Let him go,” she said to me.
I was shocked. “What? But he’s going to—”
She put a hand on my shoulder. “I know.”
“He stole my grandfather’s soul! He’s taken it … it’s in him, right now!”
“I know, Jacob.” She looked down at me, her face kind but firm. “That’s all true and worse. And it was a good thing you caught him. But now you must let him go.”
So I released his hand. Stood up, with help from Miss Peregrine. And then Bentham stood, too, a sad, bent-backed old man with the starry black drippings of my grandfather’s soul running down his cheeks. For a moment I thought I could see a flash of Abe in his eyes—a little of his spirit there, sparking back at me.
Bentham turned and ran for the column of light and the spirit pool. The vapor was gathering into the shape of a giant almost as large as Caul, but with wings. If Bentham reached the pool in time, Caul would have a worthy challenger.
Caul was nearly out of the corridor now, and he was raging mad. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” he cried. “I’LL KILL YOU!”
Miss Peregrine pushed me flat to the ground and lay beside me. “There’s no time to hide,” she said. “Play dead.”
Bentham stumbled into the pool, and immediately the vapor began funneling into him. Caul had finally wriggled out of the corridor and lurched heavily to his feet, then ran toward Bentham. We were nearly crushed as one of his enormous feet crashed down not far from our heads, but Caul arrived at the pool too late to stop Bentham from merging with whatever old, great soul had been in that urn. Miss Peregrine’s younger, weaker brother was already rocketing up to twice his original height.
Miss Peregrine and I helped each other up. Behind us, Caul and Bentham began to clash, the sound erupting like bombs. No one had to tell me to run.
We were halfway to the corridor when Emma and Bronwyn sped out of it to meet us. They caught us by the arms and whisked us toward safety faster than our weak and battered bodies could’ve managed alone. We didn’t speak—there was no time to do anything but run, no way to shout loud enough to be heard—but Emma’s face, electrified with wonder and relief at the simple fact that I was alive, said it all.
The black tunnel enveloped us. We’d made it. I looked back just once, to catch a glimpse of the riot exploding behind us. Through clouds of dust and vapor I saw two creatures, taller than houses, trying to murder each other: Caul choking Bentham with one spiky hand, gouging his eyes with the other. Bentham, insect-headed, thousands of eyes to spare, feeding on Caul’s neck with long, flexible mandibles and battering him with great leathery wings. They danced, a tangle of limbs, slamming together into walls, the room coming down around them, the contents of countless shattered soul jars flying, a luminous rain.
With that preview of my nightmares thus cemented in my brain, I let Emma pull me into the dark.
* * *
We found our friends in the next chamber, swallowed by the dark, their only light a fading gleam from the lantern in Addison’s mouth. When Emma fired a flame and they saw us loping toward them, worse for wear but alive, they let out a great whooping cheer. I saw them in her light and winced. They were in rough shape themselves, bloodied and bruised from being slammed around by Caul, a few limping on sprained or broken legs.