“Hello, there. I’ve been expecting you.”
It was a slimy-smooth voice I would never forget. Caul.
Emma summoned flames that shot from her palms with the sound of a whip-crack. “Tell us where the ymbrynes are, and I might spare your life!”
Startled, the man spun around in his chair. What we saw startled us, too: below his wide eyes, his face was a ruin of melted flesh. This man was not Caul—he wasn’t even a wight—and it couldn’t have been him who’d spoken. The man’s lips were fused together. In his two hands he held a mechanical pencil and a small remote control. Pinned to his coat was a name tag.
“Gee, you wouldn’t hurt old Warren, would you?” Caul’s voice again, coming from the same place as the music: a speaker in the wall. “Though it wouldn’t matter much if you did. He’s only my intern.”
Warren sank low into his swivel chair, looking fearfully at the flame in Emma’s hand.
“Where are you?” Emma shouted, looking around.
“Never mind that!” Caul said through the speaker. “What matters is that you’ve come to see me. I’m delighted! It’s so much easier than hunting you down.”
“We’ve got a whole army of peculiars on their way!” Emma bluffed. “The crowd at your gates is just the tip of the spear. Tell us where the ymbrynes are and maybe we can settle this peacefully!”
“Army!” Caul said, laughing. “There aren’t enough fight-ready peculiars left in London to form a fire brigade, much less an army. As for your pathetic ymbrynes, save your empty threats—I’ll gladly show you where they are. Warren, would you do the honors?”
Warren pushed a button on the remote in his hand, and with a loud whoosh a panel slid aside in the wall to one side of us. Behind it was a second wall made of thick glass, which looked into an expansive room engulfed in shadow.
We pressed against the glass, cupping our hands around our faces to see. Gradually, there came into view a space like a neglected basement, jumbled with furnishings and heavy drapes and human forms frozen in strange postures, many of which appeared, like the spare parts on Warren’s desk, to have been stripped of their skin.
Oh God what’s he done to them—
My eyes darted around the dark, my heart racing.
“That’s Miss Glassbill!” Emma cried, and then I saw her, too. She sat in a chair off to one side, mannish and flat-faced, perfectly symmetrical braids falling down either side of her head. We pounded on the glass and called to her, but she merely stared, in a daze, unresponsive to our shouts.
“What have you done to her?” I shouted. “Why won’t she answer?”
“She’s had bit of her soul removed,” Caul said. “Tends to numb the brain.”
“You bastard!” Emma shouted, and punched the glass. Warren backed his rolling chair into the corner. “You black-hearted, despicable, cowardly …”
“Oh, calm down,” Caul said. “I only took a little of her soul, and the rest of your nursemaids are in top health, if not spirits.”
A harsh overhead light flicked on in the jumbled room, and it became suddenly clear that most of the figures were just dummies—no, obviously not real—mannequins or anatomical models of some kind, posed like statues with their tendons and muscles all flexed and popping. But in among them, gagged, bound to chairs and wooden posts, flinching and squeezing their eyes shut against the sudden light, were real, living people. Women. Eight, ten—I hadn’t time to count them all—most of them older, disheveled but distinguished-looking.
“Jacob, it’s them!” Emma cried. “Can you see Miss—”
The light flicked off before we could find Miss Peregrine, and now my eyes, ruined for the dark, could see nothing through the glass.
“She’s there, too,” Caul said with a bored sigh. “Your pious bird, your wet-nurse …”
“Your sister,” I said, hoping that might inject some humanity into him.
“I would hate to kill her,” he said, “and I suppose I won’t—provided you give me what I want.”
“And what’s that?” I said, pulling away from the glass.
“Nothing much,” he said casually. “Just a little bit of your soul.”
“What!” Emma barked.
I laughed out loud.
“Now, now, hear me out!” Caul said. “I don’t even want the entire thing. Merely an eyedropper’s worth. Less even than I took from Miss Glassbill. Yes, it’ll make you a bit dopey for a while, but in a few days you will have fully recovered your faculties.”
“You want my soul because you think it’ll help you use the library,” I said. “And take all that power.”
“I see you’ve been talking to my brother,” Caul replied. “You might as well know: I’ve nearly accomplished it now. After a lifetime of searching, I’ve finally found Abaton, and the ymbrynes—this perfect combination of ymbrynes—have unlocked the door for me. Alas, it was only then that I learned I needed still another component. A peculiar with a very specific talent, not often seen in the world these days. I had nearly despaired of ever finding such a person when I realized that a certain peculiar’s grandson might fit the bill, and that these ymbrynes, otherwise useless to me now, could act as a lure. And so they have! I do believe it’s fate, my boy. You and I, we’ll go down in peculiar history together.”