Millard hesitated for a moment, then dropped the knife and ran. Caul made a grab for him but missed, and Millard’s footsteps curved away in a trail of divots.
Bentham composed himself and straightened his mussed shirt. Caul, his good humor gone, turned the gun on Miss Peregrine.
“Now listen to me!” he barked. “You there, across the bridge! Let those guards go!”
They had little choice but to do as he asked. Sharon and his cousins released their collared wights and backed away, and the wight who’d been standing on our side of the bridge lowered his hands and picked his gun up off the ground. Within seconds the balance of power had been reversed completely, and there were four guns aimed at the crowd and one at Miss Peregrine. Caul could do what he wanted.
“Boy!” he said, pointing at me. “Pitch that hollow into the chasm!” His shrill voice a needle in my eardrum.
I walked my hollow to the edge of the chasm.
“Now make him leap!”
It seemed I didn’t have a choice. It was an awful waste, but perhaps just as well: the hollow was suffering badly now, its wounds leaking black blood that flowed around its feet. It wouldn’t have survived.
I unwrapped its tongue from my waist, unsaddled myself, and stepped down. My strength had returned enough for me to stand on my own, but the hollow’s was going fast. As soon as I was off its back it bellowed softly, sucked its tongues back into its mouth, and sank to its knees, a willing sacrifice.
“Thank you, whoever you were,” I said. “I’m sure that if you’d ever become a wight, you wouldn’t have been a completely evil one.”
I put my foot on its back and pushed. The hollow tumbled forward and dropped silently into the misty void. After a few seconds, I felt its consciousness disappear from my mind.
The wights across the bridge rode over to our side on the hollow’s tongues, Miss Peregrine’s life threatened again if I interfered. Olive was yanked out of the sky. The guards set about herding us into a tight and easily controllable cluster. Then Caul shouted for me, and one of the guards reached into the crowd and dragged me out.
“He’s the only one we really need alive,” Caul said to his guards. “If you must shoot him, shoot him in the knees. As for the rest of them …” Caul swung his gun toward the tightly packed crowd and fired. There were screams as the crowd surged. “Shoot them anywhere you please!”
He laughed and twirled with his arms poised like a squat ballerina. I was about to run at him, ready to dig out his eyes with my bare hands and damn the consequences, when a long-barreled revolver appeared front and center in my field of view.
“Don’t,” grunted my monosyllabic guard, a wight with broad shoulders and a shiny bald head.
Caul fired his own gun into the air and shouted for quiet, and every voice fell away but the whimpers of whomever he’d shot.
“Don’t cry, I have a treat for you people!” he said, addressing the crowd. “This is a historic day. My brother and I are about to culminate a lifetime’s worth of innovation and struggle by crowning ourselves the twin kings of peculiardom. And what would a coronation be without witnesses? So we’re bringing you along. Provided you behave yourselves, you’ll see something no one has witnessed for a thousand years: the domination and expropriation of the Library of Souls!”
“You have to promise one thing, or I won’t help you,” I said to Caul. I didn’t have much negotiating power, but he believed he needed me, and that was something. “Once you get what you want, let Miss Peregrine go.”
“I’m afraid that won’t do,” Caul said, “but I’ll let her live. Peculiardom will be more fun to rule with my sister in it. Once I clip your wings I’ll keep you as my personal slave, Alma, how would you like that?”
She tried to respond, but her words were lost beneath the bear’s meaty paw.
Caul cupped a hand behind his ear and laughed. “What’s that? I can’t hear you!” Then he turned and began walking toward the tower.
“Let’s go!” the guards shouted, and soon we were all stumbling after him.
We were herded toward the pale tower at a brutal pace, the wights encouraging stragglers with shoves and kicks. Without my hollow I was a limping, hobbling mess: I had nasty bite wounds across my torso and the dust that had kept me from feeling them was beginning to wear off. I forced myself forward anyway, my mind spinning out ways we might save ourselves, each more implausible than the last. Without my hollows, all our peculiar powers were outmatched by the wights and their guns.
We stumbled past the wrecked building where my hollows had died, over bricks misted with the blood of parrots and wights. Marched through the walled courtyard, into the tower door and then up and up its winding hallway past a blur of identical black doors. Caul paraded before us like a deranged bandleader, high-stepping and swinging his arms one moment and turning to hurl profane insults at us the next. Behind him, the bear waddled along with Bentham riding in the crook of one arm and Miss Peregrine slung over its shoulder.
She pled with her brothers to reconsider their course of action.
“Remember the old stories of Abaton, and the ignominious end that came to every peculiar who stole the library’s souls! Its power is cursed!”
“I’m not a child anymore, Alma, and I’m no longer frightened by old ymbrynes’ tales,” Caul scoffed. “Now hold your tongue. That is, if you want to keep it!”