Then he tensed, excited, and ran away into the dark.
“Sir! Wait!” the guards shouted, shoving us after him.
Caul vanished briefly before reappearing at the end of the chamber, illuminated by a shaft of faint blue light. He stood half-rimmed in it, transfixed by something. When we caught up to him and rounded a corner, we saw what it was: a long tunnel shining with azure light. A square opening at the other end was ablaze with it. I could hear something, too, a vague white noise like rushing water.
Caul clapped his hands and whooped. “We’re close, by God!”
He skipped down the corridor, manic, and we were forced after him at a stumbling run. When we came to the end, the light that enveloped us was so dazzling that we all staggered to a stop, too blinded to see where we were going.
Emma let her flames die. They weren’t needed here. Squinting through my fingers, the space came slowly into view. Bathed in undulating curtains of gauzy blue light, it was the largest cavern we’d seen—a huge, circular space like a beehive, a hundred feet across at the bottom but tapering to a single point at its top, several stories above. Ice crystals gleamed on every surface, in every cove and on every jar—of which there were thousands. They climbed to impossible heights, festooning the walls.
Despite the freeze, there was free-flowing water here: it sprung from a tap shaped like a falcon’s head, tumbled into a small channel that circled the room at the base of the walls, and flowed into a shallow pool at the edge of the room, ringed by smooth black stone at the far edge of the room. This water was the source of the cavern’s heavenly light. Like the stuff inside soul-jars, it glowed a ghostly blue, and it pulsed dimmer and brighter in regular cycles, as if breathing. It might’ve been oddly soothing, all this, like some Nordic spa experience, if it weren’t for the distinct and human sound moaning at us beneath the water’s pleasant burble. It was exactly like the moan we’d heard outside—the one I’d dismissed as wind whistling through doors—but there was no wind here, nor any possibility of hearing wind. This was something else.
Bentham hobbled into the cavern behind us, winded and shielding his eyes, while Caul strode to the middle of the room. “VICTORY!” he cried, seeming to enjoy the way his voice ricocheted between the towering walls. “This is it! Our treasure house! Our throne room!”
“It’s magnificent,” Bentham said weakly, shuffling to join his brother. “I see now why so many were willing to give their lives fighting for it …”
“You’re making a terrible mistake,” Miss Peregrine said. “You mustn’t desecrate this sacred place.”
Caul sighed dramatically. “Must you spoil every moment with your schoolmarmish moralizing? Or are you simply jealous and mourning the end of your reign as the more-gifted sister? Look at me, I can fly, I can make time loops! A generation from now, no one will remember there was ever such a silly creature as an ymbryne!”
“You’re wrong!” Emma shouted, no longer able to hold her tongue. “It’s you two who will be forgotten!”
Emma’s guard moved to strike her, but Caul told him to leave her be. “Let her speak,” he said. “It may be her last opportunity.”
“Actually, you won’t be forgotten,” said Emma. “We’ll write a new chapter in the Tales about you. The Greedy Brothers, we’ll call it. Or the Horrible Awful Traitors Who Got What They Deserved.”
“Hmm, a bit flat,” Caul said. “I think we’ll call it How the Magnificent Brothers Overcame Prejudice to Become the Rightful God-Kings of Peculiardom, or something to that effect. And you’re fortunate that I’m in such excellent humor right now, girl.”
His attention turned to me. “Boy! Tell me about the jars here, and skip no detail, however small.” He demanded an exhaustive description, which I gave, reading aloud many dozens of their spidery, hand-scripted labels. If only I spoke Old Peculiar, I thought, I could’ve lied about what was written on them, maybe tricked Caul into taking a soul that was weak and silly. But I was the perfect automaton: blessed with ability but cursed with ignorance. The only thing I could do was try to divert his attention from the most obviously promising jars.
Though most of them were small and plain, a few were large, ornate, and heavy, with hourglass shapes and double handles and gem-toned wings painted on their surfaces; it seemed clear they contained the souls of powerful and important (or self-important) peculiars. The larger size of their coves was a giveaway, though, and when Caul made me rap on them with my knuckle, they rang deep and loud.
I had no tricks left. Caul would get what he wanted, and there was nothing I could do about it. But then he did something that surprised everyone. Something that seemed, at first, bizarrely generous. He turned to his guards and said, “Now! Who would like first crack at this?”
The guards looked at each other, confused.
“What do you mean?” said Bentham, hobbling toward him in alarm. “Shouldn’t it be you and I? We’ve worked so long …”
“Don’t be greedy, brother. Didn’t I tell them their loyalty would be repaid?” He looked again to the guards, grinning like a game show host. “So which of you will it be?”
Both of their hands shot up.
“Me, sir, me!”
“I’d like to!”
Caul pointed to the wight who’d been guarding me. “You!” he said. “I like your spirit. Get over here!”