We touched down in the courtyard, Millard first and then finally Olive, who was so spent that she landed on her back and stayed there, breathing like she’d just run a marathon. We gathered around, cheering and applauding her.
Her eyes got big and she pointed up. “Look!”
In the air behind us, where the top of the tower had been just moments before, there spun a small vortex of shimmering silver, like a miniature hurricane. It was the last of the collapsing loop. We watched hypnotized as it shrank, spinning faster and faster. When it became too small to see, there issued from it a sound like the crack of a sonic boom:
And then the whirlwind winked out, sucking Caul’s voice away with it.
After the loop collapsed and the tower fell, we weren’t allowed to stand shell-shocked and gaping—at least not for long. Though it seemed the worst dangers were behind us and most of our enemies had been felled or captured, there was chaos all around and work to be done. Despite our exhaustion and bruises and sprains, the ymbrynes set about doing what ymbrynes do best, which was to create order. They changed into human form and took charge. The compound was searched for hidden wights. Two surrendered outright, and Addison discovered another—a miserable-looking woman hiding in a hole in the ground.
She came out with her arms raised, begging for mercy. Sharon’s cousins were employed constructing a makeshift jail to hold our small but growing number of prisoners, and they set happily to work, singing while they hammered. Sharon was interrogated by Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet, but after just a few minutes of questioning, they were satisfied that he was merely a mercenary, not a secret operative or a traitor. Sharon had seemed as shocked by Bentham’s betrayal as the rest of us.
In short order the wights’ prisons and laboratories were emptied and their machines of terror smashed. The subjects of their horrible experiments were brought out into the open and attended to. Dozens more were freed from another block of cells. They emerged from the underground building where they’d been held looking thin and ragged. Some wandered in a daze and had to be corralled and watched, lest they walk away and get lost. Others were so overwhelmed by gratitude that they couldn’t stop thanking us. One small girl spent half an hour going from one peculiar to another, surprising us with hugs. “You don’t know what you did for us,” she kept saying. “You don’t know what you did.”
It was impossible not to be affected by it, and as we gave them what comfort we could, we were beset by sniffles and sighs. I could not begin to imagine what my friends had been through, much less those who’d spent weeks or months in Caul’s keeping. Compared to that, my bruises and traumas were inconsequential.
The rescued peculiars I’ll remember most were three brothers. They seemed in fair health but were so shocked by what they’d experienced that they would not speak. At the first opportunity they retreated from the crowd, found a bit of rubble to hunker on, and stared hollowly around them, the oldest with his arms stretched around the younger two. As if they could not quite square the scene before them with the hell they had accepted as reality.
Emma and I crossed to where they were sitting. “You’re safe now,” she said gently.
They looked at her as if they didn’t know the meaning of the word.
Enoch saw us talking to them and came over with Bronwyn. She was dragging a barely conscious wight behind her, a white-coated lab worker with his hands tied. The boys recoiled.
“He can’t hurt you anymore,” Bronwyn said. “None of them can.”
“Maybe we should leave him here with you awhile,” said Enoch with a devilish grin. “I’ll bet you’d have a lot to talk about.”
The wight lifted his head. When he saw the boys, his blackened eyes widened.
“Stop it,” I said. “Don’t torment them.”
The youngest boy’s hands curled into fists and he started to get up, but the oldest boy held him back and whispered something in his ear. The younger boy closed his eyes and nodded, as if putting something away, then tucked his fists tightly under his arms.
“No thank’y,” he said in a polite Southern drawl.
“Come on,” I said, and we let them be, Bronwyn dragging the wight along behind her.
* * *
We milled about the compound, awaiting instructions from the ymbrynes. It was a relief, for once, not to be the ones who decided everything. We felt spent but energized, exhausted beyond belief but charged with the crazy knowledge that we had survived.
There were spontaneous bursts of cheering, laughter, songs. Millard and Bronwyn danced across the scarred ground. Olive and Claire clung to Miss Peregrine, who carried them in her arms as she buzzed around, checking on things. Horace kept pinching himself, suspicious that this was just one of his dreams, some beautiful future that hadn’t yet come to be. Hugh wandered off by himself, no doubt missing Fiona, whose absence had left a hole in us all. Millard was busy fretting over his hero, Perplexus, whose rapid aging had stopped when we entered Abaton and, strangely, not yet resumed. But it would, Millard assured us, and now that Caul’s tower was destroyed, it was unclear how Perplexus would reach his old loop. (There was Bentham’s Panloopticon, of course, but which of its hundred doors was the right one?)
Then there was the matter of Emma and me. We were attached at the hip and yet hardly exchanged a word. We were afraid to talk to each other, I think, because of what we had to talk about.
What would happen next? What would become of us? I knew Emma couldn’t leave peculiardom. She would have to live inside a loop for the rest of her life, be it Devil’s Acre or some other, better place. But I was free to go. I had family and a home waiting for me. A life, or the pale approximation of one. But I had a family here, too. And I had Emma. And there was this new Jacob I had become, was still becoming. Would he survive back in Florida?