“Thank you, sir, thank you!”
Caul pointed his gun at me, thus relieving my guard of his duty. “Now, which of those souls sounds like your cup of tea?” He remembered where I’d identified certain jars and began to point them out. “Yeth-Faru. Something to do with water, flooding. Good one if you’ve ever fancied a life under the sea. Wolsenwyrsend. I believe that’s a sort of centaurish half-horse, half-man creature who controls clouds? Ben, sound familiar?”
Bentham mumbled something in reply, but Caul was hardly listening.
“Styl-hyde, that was a good one. Metal skin. Could be useful in a fight, though I wonder if you’d have to oil yourself …”
“Sir, I hope you don’t mind my asking,” the guard said meekly, “but what about one of the larger urns?”
Caul wagged his finger. “I like a man with ambition, but those are for my brother and me.”
“Of course, sir, of course,” the guard said. “Then … um … were there any others?”
“I gave you the best options,” said Caul, his tone edging toward warning. “Now choose.”
“Yes, yes, sorry, sir …” The guard looked anguished. “I choose Yeth-faru.”
“Excellent!” Caul boomed. “Boy, retrieve the jar.”
I reached into the cove Caul indicated and removed the jar. It was so cold, I pulled the cuff of my jacket over my hand like a glove, but even through the fabric it felt like the jar was stealing all the warmth left in my body.
The guard stared at my hand. “What do I do with it?” he said. “Take it like ambrosia?”
“I’m not certain,” Caul said. “What do you think, brother?”
“I’m not sure, either,” said Bentham. “It’s not mentioned in any of the old texts.”
Caul scratched his chin. “I think … yes, I think you should take it like ambrosia.” He nodded, suddenly sure of himself. “Yes, that’s the ticket. Just like ambro.”
“Are you sure?” asked the guard.
“Absolutely one hundred percent sure,” said Caul. “Don’t be nervous. You’ll go down in history for this. A pioneer!”
The guard locked eyes on me. “No tricks,” he said.
“No tricks,” I said.
I uncorked the jar. Blue light shone out of it. The guard put his hand around mine, guided it and the jar above his head, and tilted back his face.
He took a long, shuddering breath. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered, and tipped my hand.
The liquid poured from the jar in a viscous stream. The instant it reached his eyes, his hand clenched so tight around mine that I thought my fingers would break. I wrenched free and leapt backward, and the jar fell to the ground and smashed.
The guard’s face was smoking and turning blue. He screamed and fell to his knees, his body shuddering, and then he pitched forward. When his head smacked the ground, it shattered like glass. Bits of frozen skull shot out around my feet. And then he was silent—and very, very dead.
“Oh, my God!” cried Bentham.
Caul clucked his tongue as if someone had spilled a glass of expensive wine. “Well, drat,” he said. “I guess it’s not like taking ambrosia after all.” His gaze roved around the room. “Well, now someone else has got to try it …”
“I’m quite busy, milord!” cried the other guard, who had his gun trained on both Emma and Miss Peregrine.
“Yes, I can see you’ve got your hands full there, Jones. Perhaps one of our guests, then?” He looked at Emma. “Girl, do this for me and I’ll make you my court jester!”
“Go to hell,” Emma snarled.
“That can be arranged,” he snarled back.
Then there was a loud hiss and a brightening of light at one edge of the room, and everyone turned to look. The liquid from the broken jar was dripping into the channel by the wall, and where the water and blue liquid had mixed, a reaction was taking place. The water bubbled and churned, glowing brighter than ever.
Caul was gleeful. “Look at this!” he exclaimed, bobbing on the balls of his feet.
The quickly flowing channel pushed the bright, bubbling water around the edges of the room. We turned, watching it go, until it reached the shallow, stone-rimmed pool at the far end of the room—and then the pool itself began to churn and glow, a column of strong blue light rising from it all the way to the ceiling.
“I know what this is!” Bentham said, his voice trembling. “It’s called a spirit pool. An ancient means of summoning and communicating with the dead.”
Hovering above the pool’s surface in the column of light was a ghostly white vapor, and it was coalescing, slowly, into the form of a man.
“But if a living person enters the pool during the summoning …”
“He absorbs the spirit being summoned,” Caul said. “I do believe we’ve found our answer!”
The spirit hovered, motionless. It was dressed in a simple tunic that revealed scaly skin and a dorsal fin that jutted from his back. This was the soul of the Yeth-faru, the merman chosen by the guard. The column of light seemed a sort of prison from which it could not escape.
“Well?” Bentham said, gesturing at the pool. “Are you going?”
“I’m not interested in another man’s leftovers,” Caul said. “I want that one.” He pointed to the jar I’d rung for him earlier, the largest of them all. “Tip it into the water, boy.” He pointed his gun at my head. “Now.”