Library of Souls
FOR MY MOTHER
GLOSSARY OF PECULIAR TERMS
PECULIARS The hidden branch of any species, human or animal, that is blessed—and cursed—with supernormal traits. Respected in ancient times, feared and persecuted more recently, peculiars are outcasts who live in the shadows.
LOOP A limited area in which a single day is repeated endlessly. Created and maintained by ymbrynes to shelter their peculiar wards from danger, loops delay indefinitely the aging of their inhabitants. But loop dwellers are by no means immortal: each day they “skip” is a debt that’s banked away, to be repaid in gruesome rapid aging should they linger too long outside their loop.
YMBRYNES The shape-shifting matriarchs of peculiardom. They can change into birds at will, manipulate time, and are charged with the protection of peculiar children. In the Old Peculiar language, the word
HOLLOWGAST Monstrous ex-peculiars who hunger for the souls of their former brethren. Corpselike and withered except for their muscular jaws, within which they harbor powerful, tentacle-like tongues. Especially dangerous because they’re invisible to all but a few peculiars, of whom Jacob Portman is the only one known alive. (His late grandfather was another.) Until a recent innovation enhanced their abilities, hollows could not enter loops, which is why loops have been the preferred home of peculiars.
WIGHTS A hollowgast that consumes enough peculiar souls becomes a wight, which are visible to all and resemble normals in every way but one: their pupil-less, perfectly white eyes. Brilliant, manipulative, and skilled at blending in, wights have spent years infiltrating both normal and peculiar society. They could be anyone: your grocer, your bus driver, your psychiatrist. They’ve waged a long campaign of murder, fear, and kidnapping against peculiars, using hollowgast as their monstrous assassins. Their ultimate goal is to exact revenge upon, and take control of, peculiardom.
The monster stood not a tongue’s length away, eyes fixed on our throats, shriveled brain crowded with fantasies of murder. Its hunger for us charged the air. Hollows are born lusting after the souls of peculiars, and here we were arrayed before it like a buffet: bite-sized Addison bravely standing his ground at my feet, tail at attention; Emma moored against me for support, still too dazed from the impact to make more than a match flame; our backs laddered against the wrecked phone booth. Beyond our grim circle, the underground station looked like the aftermath of a nightclub bombing. Steam from burst pipes shrieked forth in ghostly curtains. Splintered monitors swung broken-necked from the ceiling. A sea of shattered glass spread all the way to the tracks, flashing in the hysterical strobe of red emergency lights like an acre-wide disco ball. We were boxed in, a wall hard to one side and glass shin-deep on the other, two strides from a creature whose only natural instinct was to disassemble us—and yet it made no move to close the gap. It seemed rooted to the floor, swaying on its heels like a drunk or a sleepwalker, death’s head drooping, its tongues a nest of snakes I’d charmed to sleep.
Me. I’d done that. Jacob Portman, boy nothing from Nowhere, Florida. It was not currently murdering us—this horror made of gathered dark and nightmares harvested from sleeping children—because I had asked it not to. Told it in no uncertain terms to unwrap its tongue from around my neck.
Addison nudged my calf with his nose. “More wights will be coming. Will the beast let us pass?”
“Talk to it again,” Emma said, her voice woozy and vague. “Tell it to sod off.”
I searched for the words, but they’d gotten shy. “I don’t know how.”
“You did a minute ago,” Addison said. “It sounded like there was a demon inside you.”
A minute ago, before I’d known I could do it, the words had been right there on my tongue, just waiting to be spoken. Now that I wanted them back, it was like trying to catch fish with bare hands. Every time I touched one, it slipped out of my grasp.
The words came in English. The hollow didn’t move. I stiffened my back, glared into its inkpot eyes, and tried again.
English again. The hollow tilted its head like a curious dog but was otherwise a statue.
“Is he gone?” Addison asked.
The others couldn’t tell for sure; only I could see it. “Still there,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
I felt silly and deflated. Had my gift vanished so quickly?
“Never mind,” Emma said. “Hollows aren’t meant to be reasoned with, anyway.” She stuck out a hand and tried to light a flame, but it fizzled. The effort seemed to sap her. I tightened my grip around her waist lest she topple over.
“Save your strength, matchstick,” said Addison. “I’m sure we’ll need it.”
“I’ll fight it with cold hands if I have to,” said Emma. “All that matters is we find the others before it’s too late.”
The others. I could see them still, their afterimage fading by the tracks: Horace’s fine clothes a mess; Bronwyn’s strength no match for the wights’ guns; Enoch dizzy from the blast; Hugh using the chaos to pull off Olive’s heavy shoes and float her away; Olive caught by the heel and yanked down before she could rise out of reach. All of them weeping in terror, kicked onto the train at gunpoint, gone. Gone with the ymbryne we’d nearly killed ourselves to find, hurtling now through London’s guts toward a fate worse than death.
So, then: somewhere in the flashing dark was an escape to the street. A door, a staircase, an escalator, way off against the far wall. But how to reach them?
English, naturally. The hollow grunted like a cow but didn’t move. It was no use. The words were gone.
“Plan B,” I said. “It won’t listen to me, so we go around it, hope it stays put.”
“Go around it where?” said Emma.
To give it a wide berth, we’d have to wade through heaps of glass—but the shards would slice Emma’s bare calves and Addison’s paws to ribbons. I considered alternatives: I could carry the dog, but that still left Emma. I could find a swordlike piece of glass and stab the thing in the eyes—a technique that had served me well in the past—but if I didn’t manage to kill it with the first strike, it would surely snap awake and kill us instead. The only other way around it was through a small, glass-free gap between the hollow and the wall. It was narrow, though—a foot, maybe a foot and a half wide. A tight squeeze even if we flattened our backs to the wall. I worried that getting so close to the hollow, or worse, touching it by accident, would break the fragile trance holding it in check. Short of growing wings and flying over its head, though, it seemed like our only option.
“Can you walk a little?” I asked Emma. “Or at least hobble?”
She locked her knees and loosened her grip on my waist, testing her weight. “I can limp.”
“Then here’s what we’re going to do: slide past it, backs to the wall, through that gap there. It’s not a lot of space, but if we’re careful …”
Addison saw what I meant and shrank back into the phone booth. “Do you think we should get so close to it?”
“What if it wakes up while we’re …?”
“It won’t,” I said, faking confidence. “Just don’t make any sudden moves—and whatever you do, don’t touch it.”
“You’re our eyes now,” Addison said. “Bird preserve us.”
I chose a nice long shard from the floor and slid it into my pocket. Shuffling two steps to the wall, we pressed our backs ...