Nim ran off to wake Mother Dust.
“Do you know what this means?” Emma said. She was shaking, eyes wide. I’m sure I looked the same; surviving a bomb attack will do that to a person.
“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Miss Peregrine who sent that parrot,” I said.
“And Caul knows where we are.”
“If he didn’t before, he does now. Messenger birds are trained to find people even if the sender doesn’t have their exact address.”
“It definitely means he caught Addison,” I said, my heart sinking at the thought.
“Yes—but it means something else, too. Caul’s scared of us. He wouldn’t have bothered trying to kill us otherwise.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Definitely. And if he’s scared of us, Jacob …” She narrowed her eyes at me. “That means there’s something to be scared of.”
“He isn’t frightened,” said Bentham, lifting his head from the folds of PT’s neck. “He should be, but he isn’t. That parrot wasn’t meant to kill you, only to incapacitate. It seems my brother wants young Jacob alive.”
“Me?” I said. “What for?”
“I can think of only one reason. Word of your performance with the hollowgast reached him, and it convinced him you’re quite special.”
“Special how?” I said.
“My hunch is this: he believes you may be the last key to the Library of Souls. One who can see and manipulate the soul jars.”
“Like Mother Dust said,” whispered Emma.
“That’s crazy,” I said. “Could it be true?”
“All that matters is that he believes it,” said Bentham. “But it changes nothing. You’ll execute the rescue as planned, and then we’ll get you, your friends, and our ymbrynes as far from my brother and his mad schemes as possible. But we must hurry: Jack’s foot soldiers will trace the exploded parrot to this house. They’ll be coming for you shortly, and you must be gone before they arrive.” He consulted his pocket watch. “Speaking of which, it’s nearly six o’clock.”
We were about to go when Mother Dust and Reynaldo rushed in.
“Mother Dust would like to give you something,” he said, and Mother Dust held out a small object wrapped in cloth.
Bentham told them we had no time for gifts, but Reynaldo insisted. “In case you run into trouble,” he said, pressing the item into Emma’s hand. “Open it.”
Emma peeled back the rough cloth. The small thing inside looked at first like a stub of chalk, until Emma rolled it in her palm.
It had two knuckles and a small, painted nail.
It was a pinky finger.
“You shouldn’t have,” I said.
Reynaldo could see we didn’t understand. “It’s Mother’s finger,” he said. “Crush it up and use it as you will.”
Emma’s eyes widened and her hand dropped a little, as if the finger had just tripled in weight. “I can’t accept this,” she said. “It’s too much.”
Mother Dust reached out with her good hand—it was smaller than before, a bandage covering the knuckle where her pinky used to be—and closed Emma’s hand around the gift. She mumbled and Reynaldo translated: “You and he might be our last hope. I’d give you my whole arm if I could spare it.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Use it sparingly,” Reynaldo said. “A little goes a long way. Oh, and you’ll want these.” He pulled two dust masks from his back pocket and dangled them. “Otherwise you’ll put yourselves to sleep along with your enemies.”
I thanked him again and accepted the masks. Mother Dust gave us a little bow, her enormous skirt dusting the floor.
“And now we really must be going,” Bentham said, and we left PT in the company of the healers and the two bear cubs, who had come in to snuggle their ailing elder.
We returned upstairs to the hall of loops. When we came off the landing I felt a brief whirl of vertigo, a sudden cliff’s-edge dizziness in recognition of where I was standing, eighty-seven worlds behind eighty-seven doors all stretching out before us, all those infinities connecting back here like nerves to a brain stem. We were about to go into one and maybe never come out again. I could feel old Jacob and new Jacob wrestling over that, terror and exhilaration coming at me in successive waves.
Bentham was talking, walking quickly with his cane. Telling us which door to use and where to find the door inside that door that would cross over to Caul’s side of the loop and how to get out again into the Panloopticon machine inside Caul’s stronghold. It was all very complicated, but Bentham promised that the route was short and marked with signs. To make doubly sure we didn’t get lost, he’d send along his assistant to guide us. The assistant was summoned from tending the machine’s gears and stood grim and silent while we said goodbye.
Bentham shook our hands. “Goodbye, good luck, and thank you,” he said.
“Don’t thank us yet,” Emma replied.
The assistant opened one of the doors and waited beside it.
“Bring back my sister,” Bentham said. “And when you find the ones who have her …” He raised his gloved hand and made a fist with it, the leather creaking as it tightened. “Don’t spare their feelings.”