Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(15)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(15)
Author: Brandon Mull

"That must have been appetizing," Warren said, shooting Kendra a glance.

"W-w-we're ready for food," Gavin said.

"We're ready to feed you," Rosa said with a smile. "Enchilada soup, tamales, and corn casserole."

Tammy wheeled Javier into the room, and they started passing the food around. Kendra tried to put zombies out of her mind when Rosa ladled the reddish soup into her bowl. The food looked and tasted different from other Mexican fare Kendra had eaten. Even though she found it a little too spicy, she enjoyed it.

The conversation during dinner was all small talk, with Hal saying the most, and Mara saying nothing. After the meal, Warren and Dougan excused themselves, taking Kendra and Gavin with them. Warren led Kendra into a bedroom with a view of the courtyard and closed the door.

"Dougan is filling in Gavin," Warren said. "This will be your room. We should be out of here in no time. We're going after the artifact tomorrow. They agreed to let me tag along. All you'll have to do is sit tight."

"What happened last time?" Kendra asked.

Warren moved closer and spoke lower. "It was Javier, Tammy, and a guy named Zack. The entrance to the vault is up on top of Painted Mesa, and I guess getting there is a pain. Neil knew a way, so he guided them up, but waited outside the entrance. Rosa had entrusted them with the key to the vault, so they got inside without much trouble and made it past a couple of traps. Then they ran into a dragon."

"A live one?" Kendra said.

"Zack, the leader, was dead before they knew what was happening. Javier lost a leg and injured the other one. He wasn't bitten-he got swiped by the tail. He and Tammy were lucky to escape with their lives. They couldn't relate much about what the dragon looked like, but they both act certain about what attacked them."

"Gavin's dad worked with dragons," Kendra said.

"Which is why they brought him along. Apparently Gavin is a natural dragon tamer. You need to keep that quiet for his sake. It's the main reason his father kept him a secret. It could make him as big a target as you."

"What's a dragon tamer?" Warren sat down on the bed. "To understand that, first you have to understand dragons, arguably the most powerful race of magical creatures. They live for thousands of years, they can grow to the size of apartment buildings, they have frighteningly keen intellects, and they have deep magic woven into every fiber of their bodies. Just about any mortals who try to converse with dragons find themselves instantly transfixed and rendered utterly powerless. A dragon tamer can avoid this effect and actually hold a conversation."

"And then they can control the dragon?" Kendra asked.

Warren chuckled. "Nobody controls a dragon. But dragons are so accustomed to overpowering all other beings simply with their gaze that they find a human who they cannot break most intriguing. It's a dangerous game, but sometimes dragons will grant favors to such individuals, including allowing them to live."

"So Gavin will try to talk his way past the dragon?" Kendra asked.

"That's the idea. I just found out about the dragon, but they informed him earlier. I guess he's game to try. And I'm fool enough to tag along."

"What if talking fails? Could you guys kill it?"

"Are you serious? With what? Their scales are like stone, their bones like adamant. They each have a unique arsenal of powers at their disposal, not to mention teeth, tail, and claws. And keep in mind, all but a select few people become petrified in their presence. Dragons are the supreme predator." "Hal acted like Patton Burgess might have killed a dragon," Kendra said.

"How'd you end up talking about slaying dragons?"

"They have a dragon skeleton in their museum. Donated by Patton."

"Patton always denied the rumors that he ever killed a dragon. I see no reason to doubt him. In olden times, great wizards learned how to use magic to destroy dragons, which was how they persuaded them to take refuge in the Seven Sanctuaries. But a wizard who could slay a dragon has not walked the earth for hundreds of years. The only people I've heard of killing dragons in our times are poachers abusing hatchlings. Poachers of that sort are rare, courtesy of their short life spans."

"What are the Seven Sanctuaries?" Kendra asked.

"Higher preserves than the kind you have seen," Warren said. "Some magical creatures are too powerful to endure human supervision. These are sent to the Seven Sanctuaries. Almost nobody knows their locations, myself included. But we're straying from the topic."

"You're going to try to steal an artifact from a dragon," Kendra said.

"Close. I'm going to sneak past a dragon in order to help Dougan obtain an artifact in order to steal it from Dougan in order to hide it in a better spot."

"You think Gavin can really talk his way past a dragon?" Kendra asked.

"If he's everything Dougan claims, maybe. His father was the most renowned dragon expert in the world. Even among caretakers and Knights of the Dawn, dragons remain the stuff of legend. I've never seen a live one. Almost none of us have. But Chuck Rose lived among them for months at a time, studying their habits. He even photographed one."

"How'd he die?"

Warren sighed. "A dragon ate him."

Chapter Eight

Shadowman

Seth squeezed toothpaste onto his brush and started scrubbing his teeth. He hardly saw his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Things at Fablehaven were getting so intense he had almost stopped envying Kendra for being away. Almost. He still sometimes pictured her and Warren rappelling into an Egyptian tomb, mowing down mummies and cobras with machine guns. An adventure that awesome would outshine a mysterious plague making the fairies lose their light.

After spitting into the sink and splashing water on his face, Seth headed out of the bathroom and up the attic stairs. He had just participated in a long conversation with Grandpa, Grandma, Tanu, and Dale, and he was trying to sort through all the new information so he could figure out a way to save everybody. If only he could prove that his defeating the revenant hadn't been a fluke, the next time a secret mission became necessary, maybe they would bring him along.

At the top of the stairs he paused, leaning against the side of the doorway. The fading light of dusk glowed purple through the window of the attic playroom. Grandpa and the others had been trying to list all the possible sources of the plague. According to them, there were four major demons at Fablehaven: Bahumat, who was trapped in a secure prison under a hill; Olloch the Glutton, who was frozen in the woods until some idiot fed him; Graulas, a very old demon who was basically hibernating; and a demon nobody had ever seen named Kurisock, who lived in a tar pit.

Against his will, Seth glanced at the journals piled beside Kendra's bed. She had known about the tar pit already because of reading. Could those pages contain info Grandpa and the others might have overlooked? Probably not. And if so, they were welcome to do the reading themselves.

The adults had expressed the opinion that, of the four demons, Bahumat and Olloch were currently the most dangerous, because they had never agreed to the Fablehaven treaty. Normally, all of the magical creatures admitted to Fablehaven had to pledge to abide by the treaty, which established boundaries for where they could roam and limits to how much they could harm other creatures. There were borders that Graulas and Kurisock had sworn not to cross, rules they had made binding vows not to break. Only people foolish enough to enter their domains were at serious risk from those two. But Bahumat had been at Fablehaven since before the treaty was established, and Olloch had come to Fablehaven as a guest, which imposed certain automatic restraints but left room for him to cause trouble if he gained enough power. At least that was how Seth understood it.

The important part was that the plague probably wasn't caused by any of the four demons, at least not acting directly. None of them had sufficient access. There were some candidates in the dungeon, but Dale had checked, and they were all still safely imprisoned. There was a hag in the swamp who had helped train Muriel, but Grandma had maintained that starting the plague was far beyond her abilities, and the others agreed. There was a poisonous bog full of evil creatures, but their boundaries were clearly defined. Same with the inhabitants of a tunnel not far from where Nero lived. Grandpa had named many other dark creatures on the preserve, but none that were strong enough in dark magic to have possibly initiated the plague.

In the end, with no viable suspects, Seth had asked what creature haunted the old Fablehaven mansion. Before responding, the adults wanted to know how he knew a creature dwelled there. He had never brought up how he had visited the manor after escaping from Olloch, worried that everyone would be angry at him for choosing to go inside. He explained how he had been lost, and how he had hoped that from the roof he could get some perspective regarding his location. Then he told how a mysterious whirlwind arose, chasing him from the house, leaving him shaken and terrified.

Grandpa explained that they weren't sure what dwelled in the mansion. Apparently the manor had been overthrown on Midsummer Eve more than a hundred years ago. The acting caretaker at the time, Marshal Burgess, lost his life, and caretakers had been warned ever after to avoid the old manor.

"Whatever found a new home in the mansion," Grandpa had concluded, "was something from this preserve. Even if it escaped from the poisoned bog, it should not have the power to create a plague like we're witnessing. An advantage to the treaty is that we know what creatures are here. We have them catalogued."

"How could any creature have remained in the mansion after Midsummer Eve?" Tanu had inquired. "The culprit should have been forced to return to its proper dwelling once the night ended."

"Theoretically any of them could remain if they managed to change the register, which appears to be what happened," Grandpa had explained. "The register is used to alter certain boundaries and grant access. Patton Burgess managed to tear the treaty from the register and escape with those essential pages. Otherwise the preserve might have fallen. The treaty now resides in the current register. But the damage done to the old manor was irreparable."

So the whirlwind wasn't the answer. The demons weren't the answer. None of the creatures at Fablehaven were apparently the answer. And yet the plague was happening. They had eventually decided to sleep on it, leaving the problem unresolved. The only decisive action taken all day was when Grandpa used the register to prohibit all fairies from entering the yard.

Seth wandered to the window to gaze out at the purple evening, and jumped back when he saw a black figure silhouetted against the glowing sky. Seth jostled against the nearby telescope, embracing the expensive piece of equipment before it could topple. Then Seth turned back to the window, half expecting the figure to be gone.

The figure remained, crouching, not a silhouette-a human-shaped, three-dimensional shadow. The shadowman waved at Seth. Hesitant, Seth waved back.

The shadowman shook his fists as if excited, then motioned for Seth to open the window. Seth shook his head. The shadowman pointed at himself, then pointed into the room, then once again pantomimed opening the window.

Seth had gotten into major trouble the previous summer for letting a creature into the house by opening that same attic window. The creature had been disguised as a baby, but turned out to be a goblin, and once inside, the treacherous intruder had let other monstrosities in. Before the night was over, Grandpa had been kidnapped, and Dale had been temporarily turned to lead. Seth had learned his lesson. This year, he had stayed in bed on Midsummer Eve. Peeking out the window had hardly been a temptation.

Of course, Midsummer Eve was different from most days, being a night when the boundaries of Fablehaven were dissolved and all sorts of nightmarish monsters could come into the yard. But today was ordinary. On a regular evening, dangerous creatures should not have access to the yard in order to crouch outside Seth's window. Did that mean the shadowman was a friendly creature?

Then again, nice creatures had become menacing lately. Maybe this shadowman had once been able to enter the yard, and now that he was evil, he was using that status to trick Seth! Or maybe this was whoever had started the plague! The thought made Seth shiver. It had a ring of truth to it-the inky black figure looked like a likely candidate for starting a plague that replaced light with darkness.

Seth tugged the curtains shut and backed away from the window. What should he do? He had to tell somebody!

Seth clomped down the attic steps and raced to his grandparents' room. The door was shut, so he banged on it.

"Come in," Grandpa invited.

Seth opened the door. Neither Grandpa or Grandma had changed into their nightclothes yet. "There's something outside my window," Seth whispered hastily.

"What do you mean?" Grandpa asked.

"A shadowman. A living shadow in the shape of a man. He wanted me to let him in. What creatures can enter the yard besides fairies?"

"Hugo and Mendigo," Grandma said. "And of course the brownies live under the yard and have access to the house. Anything else, Stan?"

"Everything else is by invitation only," Grandpa said. "I've let satyrs into the yard on occasion."

"What if this shadow guy started the plague?" Seth speculated. "A creature we didn't know was on the preserve, some shadowy enemy who can come into the yard but not the house."

Grandpa scowled thoughtfully. "The yard has fail safes to prevent most creatures, even surprise guests, from entering. Whatever the nature of this shadowman, not all of the rules seem to apply."

"At least it couldn't enter the house," Grandma said.

Grandpa started toward the door. "We had better fetch Tanu and Dale."

   
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