Surprisingly, they all agreed. “We can’t stop now,” Enoch said, wiping blood from his hands.
“If we do, they’ll just keep chasing us forever,” Bronwyn said.
“No, we won’t!” said an injured wight, who was cowering on the floor nearby. “We’ll sign a peace treaty!”
“We tried that in 1945,” said Miss Peregrine. “It wasn’t worth the lavatory paper it was written on. We must keep fighting, children. We may not have such an opportunity again.”
Emma raised a flaming hand. “Let’s burn this place to the ground.”
* * *
I sent my hollows racing out of the lab building, into the courtyard, after the remaining wights. The hollows were ambushed again and another was killed, going dark from my mind as it died. Save the one I was riding, by now all my hollows had taken at least a bullet apiece, but despite their wounds most were still going strong. Hollows, as I had learned several times the hard way, are tough little buggers. The wights, on the other hand, seemed to be running scared, but that didn’t mean I could count them out. Not knowing precisely where they were only made them more dangerous.
I tried to keep my friends inside the building while I sent the hollows to do reconnaissance, but the peculiars were angry and charged up, itching to get into the fight.
“Out of my way!” said Hugh, trying to push past Emma and me, who were blocking the door.
“It ain’t fair for Jacob to do everything!” Olive said. “You’ve killed near half the wights now, but I hate ’em just as much as you do! If anything I’ve hated ’em longer—near a hundred years! So come on!”
It was true: these kids had a century of wight hatred to work out of their systems, and I was hogging all the glory. This was their fight, too, and it wasn’t my place to keep them from it. “If you really want to help,” I said to Olive, “here’s what you can do …”
Thirty seconds later we were out in the open courtyard, and Horace and Hugh were reeling Olive up into the air by a rope around her waist. Right away she became our invaluable eye in the sky, shouting back intel that my ground-bound hollows could never have gathered.
“There’s a couple to the right, past the little white shed! And another on the roof! And some running toward the big wall!”
They hadn’t scattered to the winds but were mostly out beyond the courtyard. With any luck they could still be caught. I called my six remaining hollows back to us. Spread four of them into a phalanx that would march before us and two behind us as a guard against rear attacks. That left my friends and me to sweep the space between and deal with any wights that might breach our wall of hollows.
We began marching, toward the edge of the courtyard. Astride my personal hollow, I felt like a general commanding his troops from horseback. Emma was at my side, and the other peculiars were just behind: Bronwyn collecting loose bricks to hurl, Horace and Hugh hanging on to Olive’s rope, Millard attaching himself to Perplexus, who was unleashing a constant stream of Italian profanities while shielding himself with his Map of Days. At the back, the ymbrynes whistled and made loud bird calls in attempt to recruit winged friends to our cause, but Devil’s Acre was such a dead zone that there were few wild birds to be found. Miss Peregrine had taken charge of old Miss Avocet and the few shell-shocked ymbrynes. There was nowhere to leave them; they’d have to accompany us into battle.
We came to the edge of the courtyard, beyond which was a run of open ground about fifty meters long. In all that space was just one small building, all that stood between us and the outer wall. It was a curious structure with a pagoda roof and tall, ornate doors, into which I saw a number of wights flee. According to Olive, nearly all the remaining wights had taken up positions inside the little building. One way or another, we were going to have to flush them out.
A quiet had settled over the compound. There were no wights visible anywhere. We lingered behind a protective wall to discuss our next move.
“What are they doing in there?” I said.
“Trying to lure us out into the open,” Emma said.
“No problem. I’ll send the hollows.”
“Won’t that leave us unguarded?”
“I don’t know that we have a choice. Olive counted twenty wights going in there at least. I need to send enough hollows to overwhelm them or they’ll just get slaughtered.”
I took a breath. Scanned the tense, waiting faces around me. I sent the hollows out one by one, sliding across the open yard on tiptoe, hoping light footsteps might allow them to surround the building unnoticed.
It seemed to work: the building had three doors, and I managed to place two hollows at each one without a single wight showing his face. The hollows stood guard outside the doors while I listened through their ears. Inside, I could hear someone with a high voice speaking, though I couldn’t make out the words. Then a bird whistled. My blood went cold.
There were ymbrynes inside. More that we hadn’t known were here.
But if that was true, why weren’t the wights trying to negotiate?
My original plan had been to break down all the doors at once and charge inside. But if there were hostages—especially ymbryne hostages—I couldn’t risk such rash action.
I decided to have one of the hollows risk a look inside. All the windows were shuttered, though, which meant I’d have to send it through a door.
I chose the smallest hollow. Reeled out its dominant tongue. It licked the knob, gripped it.