I needed all of it. Both families, both Jacobs—all of Emma. I knew I would have to choose, and I was afraid it would split me in half.
It was all too much, more than I could face so soon after the trials we’d just endured. I needed a few more hours, a day, to pretend. So Emma and I stood shoulder to shoulder and looked outward, throwing ourselves into whatever the ymbrynes needed of us.
The ymbrynes, overly protective by nature, decided we’d been through enough. We needed rest, and besides, there were tasks, they said, that peculiar children had no business taking part in. When the tower fell it had crushed a smaller building beneath it, but they didn’t want us combing the wreckage for survivors. Elsewhere in the compound there were ambro vials to be recovered, which they didn’t want us going near. I wondered what they’d do with them, or if those stolen souls could ever be reunited with their rightful owners.
I thought about the vial made from my grandfather’s soul. I’d felt so violated when Bentham used it—and yet, if he hadn’t, we never would have escaped the Library of Souls. So in the end, really, it was my grandfather’s soul that had saved us. It was gratifying to know that at least it had not gone to waste.
There was work to be done outside the wights’ compound, as well. Along Louche Lane and elsewhere in Devil’s Acre, enslaved peculiar children needed to be freed, but the ymbrynes insisted they should be the ones to do it, along with some peculiar adults. As it happened, they would face no resistance: the slavers and other turncoats had fled the Acre the moment the wights fell. The children would be collected and brought to a safe house. The traitors hunted down and brought before tribunals. None of this was our concern, we were told. Right now we needed a place to recuperate, as well as a base of operations from which the reconstruction of peculiardom could begin—and none of us wanted to stay in the wights’ fear-haunted fortress any longer than we had to.
I suggested Bentham’s house. It had tons of space, beds, facilities, a live-in doctor, and a Panloopticon (which, you never know, might come in handy for something). We moved as dark was falling, loading one of the wights’ transport trucks with those of us who couldn’t walk, the rest marching behind it. We crossed out of the fortress with a little help from the bridge hollow, which lifted the truck across the gap first and the rest of us in groups of three. Some of the kids were frightened of the hollow and needed coaxing. Others couldn’t wait and clamored for another ride once they’d crossed. I indulged them. My control over hollows had become second nature, which was satisfying if slightly bittersweet. Now that hollows were nearly extinct, my peculiar ability seemed obsolete—this manifestation of it, anyway. But I was okay with that. I didn’t care about having a showy power; it was just a party trick now. I’d have been much happier if hollows had never existed.
We traveled through Devil’s Acre in a slow procession, those of us on foot surrounding the vehicle like a float in a parade, others riding its bumpers and roof. It felt like a victory lap, and the Acre’s peculiars flooded out of their homes and hovels to watch us pass by. They had seen the tower fall. They knew things had changed. Many applauded. Some gave salutes. Others lurked in the shadows, ashamed of the role they’d played.
When we arrived at Bentham’s house, Mother Dust and Reynaldo met us at the door. We were welcomed warmly and told the house was ours to use as we needed. Mother Dust immediately began treating the injured, showing them to beds, making them comfortable, anointing them with dust. She offered to heal my bruises and the bite wounds across my stomach first, but I told her I could wait. Others were worse off.
I told her how I’d used her finger. How it had saved my life, and the lives of others. She shrugged it off and turned back to her work.
I insisted. “You deserve a medal,” I said. “I don’t know if peculiars give medals, but if they do I’ll make sure you get one.”
She seemed taken aback by this somehow, and let out a choking sob before hurrying away.
“Did I say something wrong?” I asked Reynaldo.
“I don’t know,” he said, concerned, and went after her.
Nim meandered about the house in a daze, unable to believe what Bentham had done. “There must be some mistake,” he kept repeating. “Mr. Bentham would never betray us like that.”
“Snap out of it!” Emma said to him. “Your boss was a slimeball.”
The truth was a bit more nuanced, I thought, but making an argument for the complexity of Bentham’s moral character wasn’t going to make me terribly popular. Bentham didn’t have to give up that recipe or take on his monstrous brother. He made a choice. In the end he’d damned himself in order to save the rest of us.
“He just needs time,” Sharon said of Nim. “It’s a lot to process. Bentham had a lot of us fooled.”
“Even you?” I said.
“Me especially.” He shrugged and shook his head. He seemed conflicted and sad. “He weaned me off ambrosia, pulled me out of addiction, saved my life. There was good in him. I suppose I let that blind me to the bad.”
“He must’ve had one confidant,” Emma said. “You know, a henchman. An Igor.”
“His assistant!” I said. “Has anyone seen him?”
No one had. We searched the house for him, but Bentham’s stone-faced right-hand man had disappeared. Miss Peregrine gathered everyone together and asked Emma and me describe him in detail, in case he returned. “He should be considered dangerous,” she said. “If you see him, do not engage. Run and tell an ymbryne.”