Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(11)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(11)
Author: Brandon Mull

"Okay," Kendra said. "If you can come, let's do it."

"I hate to put you in this position," Warren whispered. "Stan would wring my neck. But even though I hate the risk, and even though we might be wrong, I think we have to try."

Kendra nodded.

They sat in silence, listening to the logs snap and pop in the fireplace. Although the wait stretched much longer than Kendra had anticipated, she experienced no boredom. Her mind continued reexamining the situation, trying to foresee how everything would play out. It was impossible to predict, but she found herself holding firm to the resolution that she and Warren had to go to Lost Mesa and see what they could learn. And perhaps what they could steal.

Nearly an hour later, Dougan returned, removing his mask as he came through the door. "Sorry about the wait," he said. "The Captain is swamped right now. The Captain mentioned that there were circumstances I could not know involving trouble at Fablehaven that would have justifiably made you extra cautious. Warren, if Kendra is willing to mbark for Lost Mesa in the morning, you will be welcome to join her."

Warren and Dougan looked to Kendra. "Fine with me," she said, feeling a little sorry for Tanu and Coulter. No matter how this was explained to Grandpa and Grandma, they were going to be furious!

Chapter Six

Plague

Seth threw the baseball as high and hard as he could, deliberately making it a tough catch for Mendigo. The primitive wooden puppet sprang into action the instant the ball took flight, dashing across the lawn. The human-sized limberjack wore a baseball glove on one hand and a cap on his head. The golden hooks that served as joints jingled as he dove over a hedge, stretching out to trap the ball in his mitt.

The nimble puppet landed in a somersault, then whipped the ball back at Seth as soon as he rolled to his feet. The ball hissed through the air, streaking straight instead of arcing high, and slapped into Seth's glove, stinging his hand. "Don't chuck it so hard," Seth instructed. "My hands have nerves!" The limberjack stood in a crouch, ready to make the next impossible grab. After playing catch with Mendigo in the yard and having a few rounds of batting practice, Seth was convinced Mendigo could land a multimillion-dollar contract in the major leagues. Mendigo never dropped the ball and never threw wild. When pitching to Seth, the puppet would put the ball wherever Seth asked, at whatever speed he wanted. Batting, Mendigo could smack line drives in any direction he was told, or he could just as easily smash home runs with his quick, fluid swing. Of course, eligibility might be an issue. Seth wasn't sure about Major League Baseball's policy regarding giant magical puppets.

"Showboat," Seth called, throwing the baseball high.

Mendigo was already running before the ball left Seth's hand. As the puppet closed in on the baseball, he shifted the glove from his hand to his foot and performed a smooth cartwheel, catching the ball with his gloved foot while upside down. The limberjack tossed the ball back to Seth, still with some zip, but not as hard as his previous throw.

Seth winged the ball sidearm in a new direction. Playing with Mendigo was a fun distraction, even though he knew the puppet was really his baby-sitter. Things had been tense since Coulter and Tanu had returned with news that Warren and Kendra had embarked on a mission for the Knights of the Dawn. Even without knowing all of the details, Seth felt sick with envy.

Grandpa and Grandma had taken the news hard, becoming even more protective of Seth than usual. Technically, his three-day period prohibiting even chaperoned excursions was over, but they had forbidden him from accompanying Coulter and Tanu on their assignment this afternoon.

Grandpa had been monitoring the nipsies while the others were gone, and had found that the warlike nipsies were relentless in their thirst to conquer the others. Nothing he tried could dissuade them. In the end he decided that the only way to save the untainted nipsies was to relocate them. Coulter and Tanu were currently searching for a new habitat for the good nipsies. A routine assignment, but Grandpa had suspended Seth from the woods until they figured out the story behind the new subspecies of dark creatures.

Mendigo returned the ball to Seth, who threw it to the right, lower than his previous toss. Mendigo started after it and then halted, letting the ball drop to the grass and roll into a flower bed. Seth put his hands on his hips. Unlike Hugo, Mendigo had no will-he only followed orders. And the current order was to play catch.

Continuing to ignore the ball, Mendigo rushed toward Seth at full speed. The action was baffling. Once, Mendigo had served Muriel the witch, but some fairies had helped Kendra break that connection earlier in the summer. Mendigo only took orders from the staff of Fablehaven now. He had proven so useful that Grandpa had arranged for Mendigo to be allowed past the barriers protecting the yard and house.

So why was Mendigo charging him? "Mendigo, stop!"

Seth cried, but the puppet paid him no heed. Grandpa had issued Mendigo a standing order not to allow Seth out of the yard. Was the limberjack confused? Seth was nowhere near the edge of the lawn.

When Mendigo reached Seth, he dipped a shoulder, wrapped both arms around his legs, hoisted him into the air, and sprinted for the house. Slung over the wooden shoulder, Seth looked up and saw a group of dark fairies streaking toward them. They were unlike any fairies Seth had ever seen. Their wings did not glisten in the sunlight.

Their raiment did not sparkle. In spite of the clear sky and the hot sun, each of the dozen fairies was shrouded in shadow. Faintly, a thin, dark contrail followed each one. Instead of light, these fairies radiated darkness.

The fairies gained swiftly, but the house was not far away. Mendigo swerved to avoid inky streaks of shadow hurled from the fairies. Wherever the black energy struck, vegetation instantly withered. Grass turned white and sere, blossoms wilted and faded, leaves crumpled and dried. A dark streak zapped Mendigo on the back, and a black circle appeared on the brown wood.

Bypassing the stairs, Mendigo clambered over the railing of the deck and clattered to the back door. The puppet dropped Seth, who thrust the door open and ordered the limberjack inside. Yanking the door shut, Seth hollered for Grandpa.

Seth now understood Mendigo's behavior. The puppet had one permanent command above all others-to protect the people of Fablehaven. The limberjack had sensed the fairies coming, and had known they meant trouble. Seth had a queasy feeling that if not for Mendigo, he might be a brown, shriveled corpse out on the lawn, the human version of a spoiled banana.

"What is it, Seth?" Grandpa asked, emerging from the study.

"I was just attacked in the yard by evil fairies," Seth gasped.

Grandpa glowered at him. "Have you been trapping fairies again?"

"No, I promise, I didn't do anything to provoke them," Seth insisted. "These fairies are different. They're wild and dark. Look out the window."

Seth and his Grandpa went to a window. The dismal flock of fairies were working their magic on a row of rosebushes, turning green leaves brown and vivid petals black. "I've never seen such a thing," Grandpa breathed, reaching for the door.

"Don't!" Seth warned. "They'll come after you."

"I have to see," Grandpa said, pushing the door open.

At once the fairies darted toward the deck, firing shadowy streaks. Grandpa promptly retreated indoors. The fairies hovered just beyond the deck. Several were laughing. A couple made faces. They desiccated a few potted plants on the deck before flitting away.

"I've never heard of anything like these creatures," Grandpa said. "How did they get in the yard?"

"They flew in as if they belonged," Seth replied, "just like any fairy would."

"Fairies are creatures of light." Grandpa spoke weakly, uncertainly, as if hesitant to believe what was happening. "Some of the nipsies turned dark," Seth reminded him.

Frowning, Grandpa rubbed his chin. "These fairies aren't in a fallen state. When a fairy falls she becomes an imp, and would be banned from the yard. These fairies are in a darkened state-an undefined alteration that leaves them with full access to the gardens. I've never heard of anything like it. Perhaps I ought to place a temporary ban on all fairies, until we get this sorted out. I'm not sure I can exclude only the dark ones."

"Is Grandma still shopping?" Seth asked.

"Yes," Grandpa said. "She won't be back for at least an hour. Dale is down at the stable. Tanu and Coulter are still out scouting for a place to relocate the good nipsies."

"What should we do?" Seth inquired.

"I'll telephone Ruth," Grandpa said. "Warn her to be careful when entering the yard. I'll send Mendigo to fetch Dale."

"Can we get in touch with Tanu and Coulter?" Seth asked.

"No, but they have Hugo with them," Grandpa said. "We'll have to trust that they can take care of themselves." He turned to address the big puppet. "Mendigo, at full speed, go retrieve Dale from the stables, keeping him safe from harm. Steer clear of any dark creatures like those fairies."

Grandpa opened the door, and Mendigo raced out onto the deck, vaulted the railing, and sped across the lawn. "What should I do?" Seth asked.

"Keep watch from the windows," Grandpa said. "Don't go outside. Let me know if you see anything unusual. After I call your grandmother, I'm going to make a more concerted effort to get the Sphinx on the line."

Grandpa hurried away, and Seth went from room to room, checking through all of the windows, trying to spot the dark fairies. After three laps, he gave up. Apparently they had flown away.

To test his assumption he opened the door and ventured out onto the deck. Hadn't Grandpa done the same thing a moment ago, but with the fairies in sight? Seth was ready to retreat, but no gloomy fairies attacked. Had Grandpa already banished them from the yard? Seth sat down in a chair, gazing out at the garden.

He realized this was the first time he had been outside unsupervised since getting busted for visiting the nipsies. He felt an instant itch to bolt into the woods. Where would he go? Maybe to the tennis court to check in on how Doren and Newel were doing. Or to the pond to chuck rocks at the naiads.

No. After the scare with the fairies, he had to grant reluctantly that Grandpa was probably right about this being a foolish time to roam the woods. Besides, if he got caught, he would probably lose Grandpa's trust forever and end up grounded for all eternity.

He noticed a few normal fairies fluttering around the yard. They approached the dead roses and began healing them with glittering flashes. Wilted petals blushed. Curled leaves unfurled. Brittle limbs became supple and green.

The fairies were evidently not banned yet-the others must have voluntarily deserted the yard. Seth watched the fairies continue restoring the damaged vegetation. He did not try to move in for a closer look. Even the pretty fairies had no fondness for him. They were still resentful that he had accidentally turned one of them into an imp the previous summer. They had punished him, the fairy had been restored, and he had apologized a lot, but the fairies still mostly spurned him.

As his excitement over the dark fairies wore off in their absence, Seth ached with boredom. If Grandpa would trust him with keys to the dungeon, he could probably find a way to pass the time down there. He wished Mendigo would return. He wished he could switch places with Kendra, off on an adventure so secretive nobody had trusted him with the details. He even almost wished he was shopping with Grandma!

What could he do? There were toys in the attic bedroom, lots of them, but he had played with them so much over the summer that they failed to entice him anymore. Maybe he could rip up some of his clothes and leave them for the brownies to mend. It was always interesting to see the improvements they made.

Seth stood up, ready to go inside, when a vaporous personage emerged from the woods. The misty, translucent figure glided toward the deck. Seth realized to his horror that the ghostly apparition looked like Tanu, except wispy and insubstantial.

Had Tanu been killed? Was this his spirit come to haunt them? Seth watched as the gaseous form drew nearer. Its face looked grave. "Are you a ghost?" Seth called.

The vaporous Tanu shook his head, and motioned as if drinking something from a bottle.

"A potion?" Seth asked. "That's right, you have a potion that turns you into gas, like the one Kendra said Warren used when you were battling the giant panther!"

Tanu nodded, drifting nearer. A light breeze arose, forcing him off course and temporarily dissipating his misty body. When the breeze died, Tanu re-formed and continued until he reached the deck. Unable to resist, Seth passed a hand through the insubstantial Samoan. The gas felt more like powder than mist. None of it stuck to his hand.

Tanu gestured for Seth to open the back door. Seth complied and followed Tanu into the house. "Grandpa, Tanu came back! He's made of gas!"

Indoors, Tanu held together better, which made him look more solid. Seth swatted a hand through Tanu's stomach, making the vapor shift and swirl.

"What is it, Tanu?" Grandpa asked, hustling into the room, cell phone in hand. "Was there trouble?"

The Samoan nodded.

"Where's Coulter? Is he all right?"

Tanu shook his head.

"Dead?" Grandpa asked.

Tanu shook his head slightly and shrugged.

"Does he need our help?"

Tanu tilted a hand from side to side.

"He doesn't need our help immediately."

Tanu nodded.

"Are we in immediate danger?"

Tanu shook his head.

"How long before you're back to normal?"

Tanu scrunched his brow, then held up one hand, the fingers spread wide.

"Five minutes?" Grandpa verified.

   
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