“I agree with that,” Emma said. “Ymbrynes first, then our friends.”

“And then what?” I said. “Once they notice we’re stealing back our peculiars, they’re going to come after us. Where do we go from here?” It was like robbing a bank: getting the money was only half the job. Then you had to get away with the money.

“Go anywhere you like,” Bentham said, gesturing down the length of the hall. “Pick any door, any loop. You have eighty-seven potential escape routes in this hallway alone.”

“He’s right,” Emma said. “How would they ever find us?”

“I’m sure they’d find a way,” I said. “This will only slow them down.”

Bentham held up a finger to stop me. “Which is why I’ll lay a trap for them, and make it look as if we’ve hidden ourselves in the Siberia Room. PT has a large extended family there, and they’ll be waiting just inside the door, good and hungry.”

“And if the bears can’t finish them off?” Emma said.

“Then I suppose we’ll have to,” said Bentham.

“And Bob’s your uncle,” Emma said, a Britishism that would’ve been incomprehensible if not for her sarcastic tone of voice. Translation: your nonchalant attitude strikes me as insane. Bentham spoke as if the whole thing were no more complicated than a trip to the grocery store: storm in, rescue everyone, hide, finish off the bad guys, and Bob’s your uncle. Which was, of course, insane.

“You realize we’re just two people,” I said. “Two kids.”

“Yes, exactly,” Bentham said, nodding sagely. “That’s to your advantage. If the wights are expecting resistance of any kind, it’s an army at their gates, not a couple of children in their midst.”

His optimism was beginning to wear me down. Maybe, I thought, we did have a chance.

“Hullo, there!”

We turned to see Nim running down the hall toward us, panting for breath. “Bird for Mr. Jacob!” he called. “Messenger bird … for Mr. Jacob … just winged in … waiting downstairs!” Upon reaching us, he doubled over and launched into a coughing fit.

“How could I have a message?” I said. “Who even knows I’m here?”

“We’d better find out,” said Bentham. “Nim, lead the way.”

Nim fell over in a heap.

“Oh, lord,” said Bentham. “We’re getting you a calisthenics trainer, Nim. PT, give the poor man a lift!”

* * *

The messenger was waiting in a foyer downstairs. It was a large green parrot. It had flown into the house through an open window several minutes before and begun squawking my name, at which point Nim had caught it and put it in a cage.

It was still squawking my name.

“JAYY-cob! JAYY-cob!”

Its voice sounded like a rusty hinge.

“He won’t talk to anyone but you,” Nim explained, hurrying me toward the cage. “Here he is, you silly bird! Give him the message!”

“Hello, Jacob,” the parrot said. “This is Miss Peregrine speaking.”

“What!” I said, shocked. “She’s a parrot now?”

“No,” Emma said, “the message is from Miss Peregrine. Go ahead, parrot, what does she say?”

“I’m alive and well in my brother’s tower,” said the bird, speaking now in an eerily human-sounding voice. “The others are here, too: Millard, Olive, Horace, Bruntley, Enoch, and the rest.”

Emma and I glanced at one another. Bruntley?

Like a living answering machine, the bird went on: “Miss Wren’s dog told me where I might find you—you and Miss Bloom. I want to dissuade you from any rescue attempts. We are in no danger here, and there’s no need to risk your life with silly stunts. Instead, my brother has made this offer: give yourselves up to his guards at the Smoking Street bridge and you won’t be harmed. I urge you to comply. This is our only option. We will be reunited, and under my brother’s care and protection, we’ll all be part of the new peculiardom.”

The parrot whistled, indicating the message was over.

Emma was shaking her head. “That didn’t sound like Miss Peregrine. Unless she’s been brainwashed.”

“And she never calls the kids by only their first or last names,” I said. “That would’ve been Miss Bruntley.”

“You don’t believe the message is authentic?” Bentham said.

“I don’t know what that was,” Emma replied.

Bentham leaned toward the cage and said, “Authenticate!”

The bird said nothing. Bentham repeated his command, wary, and cocked his ear toward the bird. Then, suddenly, he straightened.

“Oh, hell.”

And then I heard it, too: ticking.

“BOMB!” Emma screamed.

PT knocked the cage into a corner, swept us into a protective embrace, and turned his back to the bird. There was a blinding flash and a deafening bang, but I felt no pain; the bear had taken the brunt of the blast. Other than a pressure wave that popped my ears and blew off Bentham’s hat, followed by a searing but mercifully brief sensation of heat, we’d been spared.

It was raining paint flakes and parrot feathers as we stumbled out of the room. We were all unscathed but the bear, who sank onto all fours and showed us his back with a trembling whimper. It was seared black and stripped of fur, and when Bentham saw it he cried out in anger and hugged the animal by its neck.

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