As I had come to understand such things, Perplexus was in danger of aging forward because the loop he’d been living in was considerably older than the one we were in now, and the difference between those times would eventually catch up with him.
“I’m your biggest fan!” Millard said to Perplexus. “I have all your maps …”
“Yes, you tell me already,” Perplexus said. “Grazie.”
“None of that explains what he’s doing here,” said Emma.
“Perplexus wrote about finding the Library of Souls in his journals,” said Millard, “so Caul tracked him down, kidnapped him, and made him tell where it was.”
“I made oath of blood to never say nothing,” Perplexus said miserably. “Now I am cursed forever!”
“I want to get Perplexus back to his loop before he ages,” said Millard. “I won’t be responsible for the loss of peculiardom’s greatest living treasure!”
From outside the door came another boom, this one even bigger and louder than before. The room trembled and pebbly bits of rock rained from the ceiling.
“We’ll do our best, dear,” Miss Peregrine said. “But we’ve got other things to see about first.”
* * *
We quickly hatched a plan of action, such as it was: throw open the big door and use my hollows to clear the way. They were expendable, seemed in good working order, and my connection with them was only growing stronger. As for what could go wrong, I dared not even wonder. We would find Caul if we could, but our priority was escaping the compound alive.
I brought my hollows into the little room. Everyone gave them a wide berth, pressing their backs to the walls and their hands over their noses as the creatures shuffled past and gathered round the heavy door. The largest hollow knelt down and I saddled myself to him once more, which made me so tall I had to hunch forward to keep my head from scraping the ceiling.
We could hear the voices of wights outside in the corridor. No doubt they were planting another bomb. We decided to wait until they set it off before going out, so we stood by, waiting, a taut silence filling the room.
Finally, Bronwyn broke the tension. “I think Mr. Jacob should say something to all of us.”
“Like what?” I said, making my hollow turn so I was facing everyone.
“Well, you’re about to lead us into battle,” said Bronwyn. “Something leader-ly.”
“Something inspiring,” said Hugh.
“Something that’ll make us less terrified,” said Horace.
“That’s a lot of pressure,” I said, feeling a bit self-conscious. “I don’t know if this will make anyone less terrified, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I’ve only known you for a few weeks, but it feels like so much longer than that. You’re the best friends I’ve ever had. And it’s weird to think that just a couple of months ago I was back at home, and I didn’t even know you were real. And I still had my grandfather.”
There were noises outside in the hall, muffled voices, the thud of something metal being dropped on the ground.
I continued, louder. “I miss my grandfather every day, but a very smart friend once told me that everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t lost him, well, I never would’ve found you. So I guess I had to lose one part of my family to find another. Anyway, that’s how you make me feel. Like family. Like one of you.”
“You are one of us,” Emma said. “You’re our family.”
“We love you, Jacob,” said Olive.
“It’s been quite something knowing you, Mr. Portman,” Miss Peregrine said. “You would’ve made your grandfather very proud.”
“Thanks,” I said, getting emotional and a bit embarrassed.
“Jacob?” said Horace. “May I give you something?”
“Of course,” I said.
The others, sensing that something private was unfolding between us, began to murmur amongst themselves.
Horace came as close to the hollow as he could bear and, trembling slightly, held out a folded square of cloth. I took it, reaching down from my high place on the hollow’s back.
“It’s a scarf,” said Horace. “Miss P was able to smuggle me a pair of needles, and I knitted it while I was in my cell. I reckon that making it kept me from going mad in there.”
I thanked him and unfolded it. The scarf was simple and gray with knotted tassels on the ends, but it was well made and even had my initials monogrammed in one corner. JP.
“Wow, Horace, it’s …”
“It’s no great work of art. If I’d had my book of patterns I could’ve done better.”
“It’s amazing,” I said. “But how did you know you’d even see me again?”
“I had a dream,” he said, smiling coyly. “Will you wear it? I know it isn’t cold, but … for luck?”
“Of course,” I said, and wrapped it clumsily around my neck.
“No, that’ll never stay on. Like this.” He showed me how to fold it in half lengthwise, then loop it around my neck and back through itself so that it knotted perfectly at my throat and the loose ends hung neatly down my shirt. Not exactly battle-wear, but I didn’t see the harm.
Emma sidled up to us. “Did you dream about anything besides men’s fashion?” she said to Horace. “Like where Caul might be hiding?”
Horace shook his head and started to answer—“No, but I did have a fascinating dream about postage stamps”—but before he could tell us more, there was a noise from the corridor like a dump truck crashing into a wall, a sonic thud that shook us to the marrow. The big bunker door in the end of the room blew open, flinging hinges and bits of shrapnel into the opposite walls. (Thankfully, everyone had been standing clear of it.) There followed a blank moment while the smoke cleared and everyone slowly uncrouched themselves. Then, through the ringing of my ears, I heard an amplified voice say, “Send the boy out alone and no one gets hurt!”