I did as I was told. Reaching into the oversized cove, I took the urn by both handles and tipped it toward me—carefully, lest it splatter and ruin my face.
Bright blue liquid ran down the wall into the channel. The water went crazy, hissing and bubbling, the light it produced so bright that I had to squint. As the urn’s liquid flowed around the room toward the spirit pool, my eyes darted to Miss Peregrine and Emma. This was our last chance to stop Caul, and there was only one guard left—but he wasn’t taking his eyes or his gun off the women, and Caul still had his pistol aimed squarely at my head. It seemed we were still at their mercy.
The great urn’s liquid reached the spirit pool. The pool frothed and heaved as if a sea creature was about to break the surface. The column of light rising from it grew brighter still, and Yeth-faru evaporated into nothing.
A new vapor began to coalesce, much larger than the one it replaced. If this was taking the shape of a man, it was a giant one, twice as tall as any of us, its chest twice as broad. Its hands were claws, and they were raised, palms upturned, in a way that implied great and terrible power.
Caul looked at the thing and smiled. “And that, as they say, is my cue.” He reached into his cloak with his free hand, pulled out a folded piece of paper, and shook it open. “I just have a word or two I’d like to say first, before I officially change stations in life.”
Bentham hobbled toward him. “Brother, I think we’d better not dally any longer …”
“I don’t believe it!” Caul shouted. “Will no one allow me a moment to glory in all this?”
“Listen!” Bentham hissed.
We listened. For a moment I heard nothing, but then, distantly, there came a high, sharp sound. I saw Emma tense and her eyes widen.
Caul scowled. “Is that … a dog?”
Yes! A dog! It was the bark of a dog, far away and lost in echoes.
“The peculiars had a dog with them,” Bentham said. “If it’s following our scent, I doubt it’s alone.”
Which could mean only one thing: our friends had overpowered their guards, and led by Addison, they were coming after us. Yes—the damned cavalry was coming! But Caul was moments from taking power, and who knew how far echoes traveled in these caverns. They could still be minutes away, and by then it would be too late.
“Well, then,” Caul said, “I suppose my remarks will have to wait.” He tucked the paper back into his pocket. He seemed in no particular hurry, and it was driving Bentham mad.
“Go, Jack! Take your spirit and then I’ll take mine!”
Caul sighed. “About that. You know, I’ve been thinking: I’m not sure you could handle all this power. You’re weak-minded, see. By which I don’t mean unintelligent. On the contrary, you’re more intelligent than I am! But you think like a weak person. Your will is weak. It isn’t enough to be smart, you know. You’ve got to be vicious!”
“No, brother! Don’t do this!” Bentham begged. “I’ll be your number two, your loyal confidant … anything you need me to be …”
Serves you right, I thought. Keep talking …
“This groveling is precisely what I mean,” said Caul, shaking his head. “It’s the sort of thing that could only change the mind of a weak-willed person, like yourself. But I am not susceptible to emotional entreaties.”
“No, this is about revenge,” Bentham said bitterly. “As if breaking my legs and enslaving me for years wasn’t enough.”
“Oh, it was, though,” Caul said. “True, I was cross with you for turning us all into hollowgast, but having an army of monsters at my disposal turned out to be quite useful. But if I’m being honest, it’s not even about your weak character. It’s just … it’s my own failing as a brother, I suppose. Alma can speak to this. I don’t like to share.”
“Then do it!” Bentham spat. “Get it over with and shoot me!”
“I could do that,” Caul said. “But I think it would be more effective if I shot … him.”
And he aimed the gun at my chest and pulled the trigger.
* * *
I felt the impact of the bullet almost before I heard the gun roar. It was like being walloped by giant, invisible fists. I was knocked off my feet and thrown backward, and then everything became abstract. I was looking up at the ceiling, my vision tunneled to a pinhole. Someone was screaming my name. Another gun fired, then fired again.
I was dimly aware that my body was experiencing a great deal of pain. That I was dying.
Then Emma and Miss Peregrine were kneeling over me, anguished, shouting, the guard out of the picture. I couldn’t understand their words, as if my ears were underwater. They were trying to move me, to drag me by the shoulders toward the door, but my body was limp and heavy. Then came a howl like hurricane winds from the direction of the spirit pool, and despite unbearable pain, I managed to turn my head and look.
Caul was standing calf-deep in the pool, his arms outstretched and head tilted back, in a state of paralysis as the vapor gripped him, merged with him. It poured into every opening in his face—tendrils of it sliding down his throat, ropes of it reeling up his nose, clouds of it settling into his eyes and ears. Then, in a matter of seconds, it was gone, the blue light that had shone throughout the cavern dimming to half strength, as if Caul had soaked up its power.
I could hear Miss Peregrine shouting. Emma picked up one of the guards’ guns and emptied it at Caul. He wasn’t far and she was a good shot. She must have hit him, but Caul didn’t so much as flinch. Rather than falling, he seemed to be doing the opposite—he was growing. He was growing very quickly, doubling in height and breadth in just a few seconds. He let out an animal scream as his skin split open and healed, split open and healed. Soon he was a tower of raw pink flesh and tattered clothes, his giant eyes electric blue, a stolen soul having finally filled the old blankness he’d nurtured so long. Worst of all were his hands. They had become huge, gnarled things, thick and twisted like tree roots, ten fingers each.