“When we find him,” Enoch said, “I’d like to pull out his fingernails before we kill him. Anyone have a problem with that?”
“As long as I can send a squadron of bees up his nose first,” said Hugh.
“That’s not our way,” Miss Peregrine said. “When this is all over, he’ll be sentenced by ymbrynic law to rot in a punishment loop for the rest of his unnatural life.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” said Enoch.
Miss Peregrine gave him a withering look.
I made the hollow let me go, and with Emma’s help I limped through the door and into the observation room. My friends were all there—all but Fiona. Ranged along the walls and resting on office chairs, I could see pale, frightened faces watching me. The ymbrynes.
But before I could go to them, my friends blocked my way. They threw their arms around me, holding up my tottering body with their embraces. I gave in to it. I hadn’t felt anything so sweet in a long time. Then Addison came trotting up as nobly as he could with two hurt paws, and I broke away to greet him.
“That’s twice now you’ve saved me,” I said, putting a hand on his furry head. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”
“You can start by getting us out of this bloody loop,” he growled. “I’m sorry I ever crossed that bridge!”
Those who heard him laughed. Maybe it was his canine nature, but Addison had no filter; he always said just what he meant.
“That stunt you pulled with the truck was one of the bravest things I ever saw,” I said.
“I was captured the minute I got inside the compound. I’m afraid I let you all down.”
There was a sudden, loud boom from outside the heavy door. The room shook. Small items tumbled off shelves.
“The wights are trying to blow in the door,” Miss Peregrine explained. “They’ve been at it for some time.”
“We’ll deal with them,” I said. “But first I want to know who’s unaccounted for. Things will get out of hand when we open that door, so if there are peculiars elsewhere in this compound who need rescuing, I want to keep them in mind as we go into battle.”
It was so dark and crowded that we resorted to a roll call. I called our friends’ names twice, just to make doubly sure they were all here. Then I asked after the peculiars who’d been snatched from Miss Wren’s ice house alongside us: the clown (thrown into the chasm, Olive told us through hitching sobs, for refusing orders from the wights), the folding man (left on the Underground in grave condition), telekinetic Melina (upstairs and unconscious, having had some of her soul drained), and the pale brothers (same). Then there were the kids Miss Wren had rescued: the plain-looking boy in the floppy hat and the frizzy-haired snake-charmer girl. Bronwyn said she’d seen them being led off to another part of the compound, where other peculiars were being held.
Lastly, we counted the ymbrynes. There was Miss Peregrine, of course, whose side the kids had not left since they were reunited. There was so much I wanted to talk with her about. All that had happened to us since we last saw her. All that had happened to her. Though there was no time to say any of it, something did pass between us, in the brief moments our eyes would meet in passing. She regarded Emma and me with a certain pride and wonder. I trust you, her eyes said.
But Miss Peregrine, as deeply glad as we were to see her, wasn’t the only ymbryne we had to be concerned about. There were twelve in all. She introduced her friends: Miss Wren, whom Emma had cut down from the ceiling, was wounded but coherent. Miss Glassbill was still staring in her vague and mindless way. The eldest, Miss Avocet, who hadn’t been seen since she and Miss Peregrine were kidnapped together on Cairnholm, occupied a chair near the door. Miss Bunting, Miss Treecreeper, and several others fussed over her, adjusting blankets around her shoulders.
Nearly all of them looked frightened, which seemed distinctly unymbrynelike. They were supposed to be our elders and our leaders, but they’d been in captivity here for weeks, and they had seen things and had things done to them that had left them shell-shocked. (They also didn’t share my friends’ confidence in my ability to control a dozen hollowgast and were keeping as far away from my creatures as the dimensions of the room would allow.)
At the end of it, there was still one person among us who hadn’t been named: a bearded, small-statured man who stood silently by the ymbrynes, watching us through dark glasses.
“And who’s this?” I said. “A wight?”
The man became incensed. “No!” He tore off the glasses to show us his eyes, which were severely crossed. “I am heem!” he said, his accent thick and Italian. There was a large, leather-bound book on a table next to him, and he pointed to it, as if this somehow explained his identity.
I felt a hand on my arm. It was Millard, invisible now, his suit of stripes removed. “Allow me to introduce history’s foremost temporal cartographer,” he said grandly. “Jacob, this is Perplexus Anomalous.”
“Buongiorno,” said Perplexus. “How do you do.”
“It’s an honor to meet you,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, nose rising in the air. “It is.”
“What’s he doing here?” I whispered to Millard. “And how is he still alive?”
“Caul found him living in some fourteenth-century loop in Venice that no one knew existed. He’s been here two days, though, which means he could age forward very soon.”