“We’re not going anywhere together,” I said. “If you get that kind of power, you’ll make the world a living hell.”
“You misunderstand me,” he continued. “That’s not surprising; most people do. Yes, I’ve had to make the world a hell for those who’ve stood in my way, but now that I’ve nearly achieved my goal, I am prepared to be generous. Magnanimous. Forgiving.”
The music, still warbling below Caul’s voice, had faded into a calm instrumental number, so at odds with the panic and terror I was feeling that it gave me a chill.
“We’ll finally live in peace and harmony,” he said, his voice smooth and reassuring, “with me as your king, your god. This is peculiardom’s natural hierarchy. We were never meant to live like this, decentralized and powerless. Ruled by women. There will be no more hiding when I’m in charge. No more pathetic cowering beneath the skirts of ymbrynes. Our rightful place as peculiars is at the head of the human table. We’ll rule the earth and all its people. We’ll finally inherit what’s ours!”
“If you think we’re going to play any role in that,” said Emma, “you’re out of your gourd.”
“I expected as much from you, girl,” said Caul. “You’re so typical of ymbryne-raised peculiars: no ambition, and no sense at all but one of entitlement. Quiet yourself, I am speaking to the male.”
Emma’s face went as red as the flame in her hand.
“Get on with it,” I said tersely, thinking of the guards that were probably on their way, and our friends, still fumbling with keys in the hallway.
“Here’s my offer,” said Caul. “Allow my specialists to perform their procedure on you, and when I’ve got what I want, I’ll let you and your friends go free—and your ymbrynes, too. They’ll pose me no threat then, anyhow.”
“And if I refuse?”
“If you won’t let me remove your soul the easy and painless way, then my hollows would be more than happy to do it. They aren’t known for their bedside manner, though, and once they’re through with you, I’m afraid I’ll be powerless to stop them from moving on to your ymbrynes. So you see, I’ll get what I want either way.”
“That won’t work,” Emma said.
“Are you referring to the boy’s little trick? I’ve heard he’s been able to control one hollow, but how about two at once? Or three, or five?”
“As many as I want,” I said, trying to sound confident, unflappable.
“That I would very much like to see,” said Caul. “Shall I take that as your answer, then?”
“Take it however you like,” I said. “I’m not helping you.”
“Oh, goody,” Caul said. “This will be loads more fun!”
We could hear Caul laughing over the PA, and then I startled at the sound of a loud buzzer.
“What’ve you done now?” Emma said.
I felt a sharp pulse in my gut, and without Caul having to explain anything, I could picture exactly what was happening: in a tunnel below the ymbrynes’ room, a hollow had been released from deep within the bowels of the complex. It was coming closer, climbing toward a grate in the floor that was scraping open. It would be among the ymbrynes soon.
“He’s sending up a hollow!” I said. “It’s coming into that room!”
“We’ll start with just one hollowgast,” said Caul. “If you can manage him, I’ll introduce you to his friends.”
I banged on the glass. “Let us in!”
“With pleasure,” said Caul. “Warren?”
Warren pushed another button on the remote. A door-sized section of the glass wall slid open.
“I’m going!” I said to Emma. “You stay here and guard him!”
“If Miss Peregrine’s in there, I’m coming, too.”
It was clear there was no talking her out of it.
“Then we’re bringing him with us,” I said.
Warren tried to dart away, but Emma caught him by the back of his coat.
I ran through the door, into the dark and jumbled room, and Emma was behind me with the squirming, mouthless intern collared in one hand.
I heard the glass door bang shut behind us.
I turned to look.
On the other side of the door, on the floor, lay the remote. We were locked in.
* * *
We’d only been inside the room a few seconds when the intern managed to wriggle from Emma’s grasp and tumble off into the darkness. Emma started to chase him, but I held her back—he didn’t matter. What mattered was the hollow, which was nearly out of its hole now and into the room.
It was starving. I could feel its gnawing hunger as if it were my own. In moments it would start feasting on ymbrynes, unless we could stop it. Unless I could stop it. First, though, I would have to find it, and the room was so crowded with junk and shadows that my ability to see hollows wasn’t of great advantage.
I asked Emma for more light. She strengthened the flames in her hands as much as she could, but it seemed to only lengthen the shadows.
To keep her safe, I asked her to stay by the door. She refused. “We stick together,” she said.
“Stick together behind me, then. Way behind me.”
That, at least, she granted me. As I moved past catatonic Miss Glassbill and deeper into the room, Emma hung back several paces, holding one hand high above her head to light our way. What we could see of the room looked like a bloodless battlefield hospital, deconstructed human forms scattered everywhere.