“Ah,” said Addison, nodding gravely. “It’s bad news, I’m afraid. Part of me, I admit, was hoping you wouldn’t ask.”
Emma’s face drained of color. “Tell us.”
“Of course,” he said. “Shortly after your party left, we were raided by a gang of wights. We threw armageddon eggs at them, then scattered and hid. The larger girl, with the unkempt hair—”
“Fiona,” I said, heart thudding.
“She used her facility with plants to hide us—in trees and under new-grown brush. We were so well camouflaged that it would’ve taken days for the wights to root us all out, but they gassed us and drove us into the open.”
“Gas!” Emma cried. “The bastards swore they’d never use it again!”
“It appears they lied,” said Addison.
I had seen a photo once, in one of Miss Peregrine’s albums, of such an attack: wights in ghostly masks with breathing canisters, standing around casually as they launched clouds of poison gas into the air. Although the stuff wasn’t fatal, it made your lungs and throat burn, caused terrible pain, and was rumored to trap ymbrynes in their bird form.
“When they’d rounded us up,” Addison went on, “we were interrogated as to the whereabouts of Miss Wren. They turned her tower inside out—searching for maps, diaries, I don’t know what—and when poor Deirdre tried to stop them, they shot her.”
The emu-raffe’s long face flashed before me, gawky, gap-toothed, and sweet, and my stomach lurched. What kind of person could kill such a creature? “God, that’s awful,” I said.
“Awful,” Emma agreed perfunctorily. “And the girls?”
“The small one was captured by the wights,” Addison said. “And the other … well, there was a scuffle with some of the soldiers, and they were near the cliff’s edge, and she fell.”
I blinked at him. “What?” For a moment the world blurred, then snapped back into focus.
Emma stiffened but her face betrayed nothing. “What do you mean, fell? Fell how far?”
“It was a sheer drop. A thousand feet at least.” His fleshy jowls drooped. “I’m so sorry.”
I sat down heavily. Emma kept standing, her hands white-knuckling the rail. “No,” she said firmly. “No, that can’t be. Perhaps she grabbed onto something on the way down. A branch or a ledge …”
Addison studied the gum-spackled floor. “It’s possible.”
“Or the trees below cushioned her fall and caught her like a net! She can speak to them, you know.”
“Yes,” he said. “One can always hope.”
I tried to imagine being cushioned by a spiky pine tree after such a fall. It didn’t seem possible. I saw the small hope Emma had kindled wink out, and then her legs began to tremble and she let go of the rail and thumped down onto the seat beside me.
She looked at Addison with wet eyes. “I’m sorry about your friend.”
He nodded. “Same to you.”
“None of this ever would’ve happened if Miss Peregrine were here,” she whispered. And then, quietly, she bowed her head and began to cry.
I wanted to put my arms around her, but somehow it felt like I’d be intruding on a private moment, claiming it for myself when really it was hers alone, so instead I sat and looked at my hands and let her mourn her lost friend. Addison turned away, out of respect, I think, and because the train was slowing into another station.
The doors opened. Addison stuck his head out the window, sniffed the air on the platform, growled at someone who tried to enter our car, then came back inside. By the time the doors closed again, Emma had lifted her head and wiped away her tears.
I squeezed her hand. “Are you all right?” I said, wishing I could think of something more or better to say than that.
“I have to be, don’t I?” she said. “For the ones who are still alive.”
To some it might’ve seemed callous, the way she boxed up her pain and set it aside, but I knew her well enough now to understand. She had a heart the size of France, and the lucky few whom she loved with it were loved with every square inch—but its size made it dangerous, too. If she let it feel everything, she’d be wrecked. So she had to tame it, shush it, shut it up. Float the worst pains off to an island that was quickly filling with them, where she would go to live one day.
“Go on,” she said to Addison. “What happened to Claire?”
“The wights marched off with her. Gagged her two mouths and tossed her into a sack.”
“But she was alive?” I said.
“And biting, as of noon yesterday. Then we buried Deirdre in our little cemetery and I hightailed it for London to find Miss Wren and warn all of you. One of Miss Wren’s pigeons led me to her hideaway, and while I was pleased to see that you had arrived before me, unfortunately so had the wights. Their siege had already begun, and I was forced to watch helplessly as they stormed the building, and—well, you know the rest. I followed as you were led away to the underground. When that blast went off, I saw an opportunity to aid you and took it.”
“Thank you for that,” I said, realizing we hadn’t yet acknowledged the debt we owed him. “If you hadn’t dragged us away when you did …”
“Yes, well … no need to dwell on hypothetical unpleasantries,” he said. “But in return for my gallantry, I was rather hoping you would assist me in rescuing Miss Wren from the wights. As unlikely as that sounds. She means everything to me, you see.”