Caul indicated the door. “The library awaits.”
Bentham removed his hat. “Extraordinary,” he said, hushed and reverent. “It almost seems to be singing to us. Like all the resting souls here are coming awake to welcome us.”
“Welcoming,” said Emma. “I doubt that.”
The guards pushed us toward the door. We ducked through the low opening and into another cavelike room. Like the others we’d seen in Abaton, it had been dug by hand from soft rock, untold ages ago. It was low-ceilinged and bare, empty but for some scattered straw and broken shards of pottery. Its most unique feature was the walls, into which had been dug many dozens of small coves. They were oval-topped and flat on the bottom, large enough to hold a bottle or a candle. At the back of the room, several doors forked away into darkness.
“Well, boy?” said Caul. “Can you see any?”
I looked around. “Any what?”
“Don’t trifle with me. Soul jars.” He stepped to a wall and swept his hand inside one of the coves. “Go and pick one up.”
I turned slowly, scanning the walls. Every cove appeared to be empty. “I don’t see anything,” I said. “Maybe there aren’t any.”
Caul nodded to my guard. The guard punched me in the stomach.
Emma and Miss Peregrine shouted as I fell to my knees, groaning. Looking down at myself, I saw blood trickling through my shirt—not from the punch, but from my hollow bite.
“Please, Jack!” cried Miss Peregrine. “He’s just a boy!”
“Just a boy, just a boy!” Caul said mockingly. “That’s the very heart of the problem! You’ve got to punish them like men, water them with a bit of blood, and then the shoot begins to spring up, the plant to grow.” He strode toward me while spinning the barrel of his odd, antique pistol. “Straighten his leg. I want a clean shot at the knee.”
The guard shoved me to the ground and grabbed ahold of my calf. My cheek ground into the dirt, my face aimed at the wall.
I heard the gun’s hammer pull back. And then, as the women begged Caul for mercy, I saw something in one the coves in the wall. A shape I hadn’t noticed before—
“Wait!” I shouted. “I see something!”
The guard flipped me over.
“Come to your senses, have you?” Caul was standing over me, looking down. “What do you see?”
I looked again, blinking. Forced myself to be calm, my vision to focus.
There in the wall, coming gradually into view like a Polaroid photo, was the faint image of a stone jar. It was a simple, unadorned thing, cylindrical in shape with a tapered neck and a cork plugging its top, its stone the same reddish color as the strange hills of Abaton.
“It’s a jar,” I said. “Just one. It was tipped over, that’s why I didn’t notice it at first.”
“Stand,” Caul said. “I want to see you pick it up.”
I drew my knees to my chest, rocked forward onto my feet, and stood, pain rioting through my midsection. I shuffled across the room and reached slowly into the cove. I slid my fingers around the jar, then got a shock and pulled my hand away.
“What is it?” Caul said.
“It’s freezing,” I replied. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Fascinating,” murmured Bentham. He’d been lingering near the door, as if reconsidering this whole endeavor, but now he took a step closer.
I reached into the cove again, ready for the cold this time, and removed the jar.
“This is wrong,” Miss Peregrine said. “There’s a peculiar soul in there, and it should be treated with respect.”
“To be eaten by me would be the greatest respect a soul could be paid,” Caul said. He came and stood next to me. “Describe the jar.”
“It’s very simple. Made of stone.” It was starting to freeze my right hand, so I passed it to my left, and then I saw, written across the back in tall, spidery letters, a word.
I wasn’t going to mention it, but Caul was watching me like a hawk and had seen me notice something. “What is it?” he demanded. “I warn you, hold nothing back!”
“It’s a word,” I said. “Aswindan.”
“Aswindan,” Caul said, his brow furrowing. “That’s Old Peculiar, isn’t it?”
“Obviously,” Bentham said. “Don’t you remember your lessons?”
“Of course I do! I was a quicker study than you, remember? Aswindan. The root is wind. Which doesn’t refer to the weather but denotes quickness, as in quickening—as in strengthening, invigoration!”
“I’m not so sure about that, brother.”
“Oh you’re not,” Caul said sarcastically. “I think you want it for yourself!”
Caul reached out and tried to snatch the jar from me. He managed to get his fingers around it, but as soon as the jar left my hand his fingers closed on themselves, as if there were suddenly nothing between them, and the jar dropped to the floor and smashed.
Caul swore and looked down, dumbfounded, as blue and brightly glowing liquid puddled at our feet.
“I can see it now!” he said excitedly, pointing at the blue puddle. “That, I can see!”
“Yes—yes, me too,” said Bentham, and the guards concurred. They could all see the liquid, but not the jars that contained and protected it.
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