The hollow leapt to its feet, nearly bucking me off, then launched forward like a racehorse at the starting gun. We burst from behind the wall, the hollow and I leading the charge, my friends and our ymbrynes close behind. I let out a screaming war cry, not so much to scare the wights as to tear down the fear that was clawing at me, and my friends did the same. The wights balked, and for a moment they couldn’t seem to decide whether to keep charging or stop and shoot at us. That bought the hollow and me enough time to clear much of the open ground that separated us.
It didn’t take long for the wights to make up their minds. They stopped, leveled their guns at us like a firing squad, and let loose a volley of bullets. They whizzed around me, pocking the ground, lighting up my pain receptors as they slammed into the hollow. Praying it hadn’t been hit anywhere vital, I sank low to shield myself behind its body and urged it forward, faster, using its tongues like extra legs to speed us on.
The hollow and I closed the remaining gap in just a few seconds, my friends close behind. Then we were among them, fighting hand-to-hand, and the advantage was ours. While I concentrated on knocking the guns out of the wights’ hands, my friends put their peculiar talents to good use. Emma swung her hands like flaming clubs, cutting through a line of wights. Bronwyn hurled the bricks she’d gathered, then punched and pummeled the wights with her bare hands. Hugh’s lone bee had recently made some friends, and as he cheered them on (“Go for the eyes, fellows!”) they swirled around and dive-bombed our enemy wherever they could. So did the ymbrynes, who’d turned themselves into birds after the first gunshots. Miss Peregrine was most fearsome, her huge beak and talons sending wights running, but even small, colorful Miss Bunting made herself useful, ripping one wight’s hair and pecking his head hard enough to make him miss the shot he was taking—which allowed Claire to leap up and bite him on the shoulder with her wide, sharp-toothed backmouth. Enoch did his part, too, revealing from under his shirt three clay men with forks for legs and knives for arms, which he sent hacking after the wights’ ankles. All the while, Olive shouted advice to us from her bird’s-eye view. “Behind you, Emma! He’s going for his gun, Hugh!”
Despite all our peculiar ingenuity, however, we were outnumbered, and the wights were fighting as if their lives depended on it—which likely they did.
Something hard crashed into my head—the butt of a gun—and I hung limp from the hollow’s back for a moment, the world spinning around me. Miss Bunting was caught and thrown to the ground. It was chaos, awful bloody chaos, and the wights were beginning to take the momentum, forcing us back.
And then, from behind me, I heard a familiar roar. My senses returning, I looked and saw Bentham, galloping toward the fight astride the back of his grimbear. Both were soaking wet, having come through the Panloopticon the same way Emma and I had.
“Hullo, young man!” he called, riding up next to me. “In need of some assistance?”
Before I could reply, my hollow was shot again, the bullet passing through the side of its neck and grazing my thigh, painting a bloody line through my torn pants.
“Yes, please!” I shouted.
“PT, you heard the boy!” Bentham said. “KILL!”
The bear dove into the fight, swinging his giant paws and knocking wights aside like they were bowling pins. One ran up and shot PT point-blank in the chest with a small handgun. The bear seemed merely annoyed, then picked up the wight and sent him flying. Soon, with my hollow and Bentham’s grim working together, we had the wights on the defensive. When we’d picked off enough of them that it became clear they were outnumbered, their ranks whittled to no more than ten, they took off and ran.
“Don’t let them escape!” Emma cried.
We tore after the wights on foot, on wing, on bearback and hollowback. We chased them through the smoking ruins of the parrot house, across ground stippled with catapulted rodents from Sharon’s insurrection, toward an arched gate built into the looming outer wall.
Miss Peregrine screamed overhead, dive-bombing fleeing wights. She pulled one off his feet by the back of his neck, but this, and more attacks from Hugh’s bees, only made the nine that were left run even faster. Their lead was growing and my hollow was beginning to fail, leaking black fluid from a half dozen wounds.
The wights crashed on blindly, the gate’s iron portcullis rising as they neared it.
“Stop them!” I shouted, hoping that beyond the gate, Sharon and his unruly crowd might hear.
And then I realized: the bridge! There was still another hollowgast left—the one inside the bridge. If I could get control of him in time, maybe I could stop the wights from escaping.
But no. They were already through the gate, running up the bridge, and I was hopelessly behind. By the time I passed through the gate, the bridge hollow had already picked up and tossed five of them across to Smoking Street, where only a thin crowd of ambro addicts was lingering—not enough to stop them. The four wights who hadn’t yet crossed were stuck at the bridge gap, waiting their turn to be flung.
As my hollow and I started running up the bridge, I felt the bridge hollow come online inside me. It was picking up three of the four wights and lifting them across.
Stop, I said aloud in Hollow.
Or at least that’s what I thought I said, though maybe something got lost in translation, and maybe stop sounds a lot like drop in hollowspeak. Because rather than stopping midair and then bringing the three kicking and terrified wights back to our side of the bridge, the hollow simply let them go. (How strange!)
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