Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(2)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(2)
Author: Brandon Mull

The entire area inside the hill was landscaped in miniature, bristling with tiny castles, mansions, factories, warehouses, shops, mills, theaters, arenas, and bridges. The architecture was complex and varied, incorporating soaring spires, swooping rooftops, spiraling towers, fragile arches, cartoonish chimneys, colorful canopies, columned walkways, multitiered gardens, and glistening domes. The nipsies constructed with the finest wood and stone, adding a gleam to many of their fanciful structures with precious metals and gemstones. Radiating out from a central pond, an elaborate irrigation system comprised of canals, aqueducts, ponds, and dams connected seven sprawling communities of dense habitations.

"Feast your eyes on the Seven Kingdoms of the nipsies," Newel said.

"See that squarish building there?" Doren asked, pointing. "The one with the pillars and the statues out front? That's the royal treasury of the Third Kingdom. Not a bad place to begin if they fail to cooperate."

Among the splendid edifices of the Seven Kingdoms, the tallest of which barely reached the height of Seth's knees, scurried thousands of minuscule people. At first glance they looked like insects. After rummaging through his emergency kit, Seth crouched near the mouth of the engraved tunnel where a crew of nipsies had been digging and peered at the undersized workers through a magnifying glass. They wore dapper clothing and, despite falling short of half an inch, looked just like humans. The group Seth was watching made animated gestures in his direction as they scurried away. Tiny bells started ringing, and many of the nipsies began to flee indoors or into holes in the ground.

"They're scared of us," Seth said.

"They'd better be," Newel blustered. "We're their supreme gigantic overlords, and they tried to lock us out with predatory plants and carnivorous slime."

"Look there, by the reflecting pool," Doren mourned, extending a hand. "They tore down our statues!"

Remarkable likenesses of Newel and Doren, each over a foot tall, lay toppled and defaced near vacant grandstands.

"Somebody has gotten much too big for their britches," Newel growled. "Who has desecrated the Monument to the Overlords?"

Pandemonium continued in the bustling streets. Frantic crowds pressed to get indoors. Dozens of nipsies recklessly descended the scaffolding of a building under construction. Nipsies armed with diminutive weapons congregated on the roof of the royal treasury.

"I see a delegation gathering around the horn," Doren said, motioning at an eighteen-inch tower topped by a large, pearl-colored megaphone.

Newel winked at Seth. "Time to open negotiations." "Are you sure this is right?" Seth asked. "Taking from these little guys?"

Doren slapped Seth on the back. "Nipsies live to sniff out pockets of ore. Our taking some of their stored wealth gives them something to do!"

"Hail, Newel and Doren," a tiny voice chimed. Even magnified by the megaphone, it was squeaky and hard to hear. Stepping carefully, Seth and the satyrs leaned in closer. "We, the nipsies of the Third Kingdom, are overjoyed at your long-awaited return."

"Overjoyed, are you?" Newel said. "Poisonous plants were not exactly the welcome we expected."

The nipsies on the tower conferred together before answering. "We regret if the defenses we erected of late have proven problematic. We felt an increase in security was warranted due to the unsavory character of certain potential pillagers."

"Little nipper almost makes it sound like he's not talking about us," Doren murmured.

"They're none too shabby when it comes to diplomacy," Newel agreed. He raised his voice. "I noticed that our monuments have fallen into disrepair. Our tribute is long overdue."

Again the delegation on the tower huddled before responding. "We regret any lack of appreciation you may perceive," a voice squeaked. "You arrive in a desperate season. As you know, since time out of mind, the Seven Kingdoms of the nipsies have dwelt in peace and prosperity, interrupted only by the abusive solicitations of certain gigantic outlanders. But dark times have befallen us of late. The Sixth and Seventh Kingdoms have united in war against the rest of us. They recently decimated the Fourth Kingdom. We and the Second Kingdom are harboring thousands of refugees. The Fifth Kingdom is under siege. In the First Kingdom there is talk of retreat, a mass exodus to a new homeland.

"As you are aware, we nipsies have never been a warlike people. It is plain that a sinister influence has overcome the citizens of the Sixth and Seventh Kingdoms. We fear they will not be satisfied until they have conquered us all. As we speak, their navy sails toward our shores. If you simultaneously attack our community from the rear, I fear the Seven Kingdoms may fall into darkness. However, if you lend us aid in this tragic hour, we will gladly reward you handsomely."

"Allow us a moment to deliberate," Newel said, pulling Doren and Seth in close. "You think this is a trick? What the nipsies lack in size, they often make up for in guile."

"I see a large fleet of black ships, there in the central pool," Doren said. Although the biggest ships were no larger than Seth's shoes, there were dozens of them approaching.

"Aye," Newel said. "And look off to the left. The Fourth Kingdom does appear to be in ruins."

"But who ever heard of nipsies at war?" Doren questioned.

"We'd better have a chat with the Seventh Kingdom," Newel resolved. "Hear their version of things."

"We will return," Doren declared to the nipsies on the tower. He and Newel began walking away. "Who are you?" the voice chirped from the megaphone. "The one without horns."

"Me?" Seth asked, placing a hand against his chest. "I'm Seth."

"O wise and prudent Seth," the voice resumed, "please prevail on the goat giants to come to our aid. Do not allow the wicked elders of the traitorous kingdoms to seduce them."

"I'll see what I can do," Seth said, hurrying after Newel and Doren, watching the ground carefully to avoid flattening any nipsies. He caught up to the satyrs outside of a walled kingdom built of black stone and flying sable banners. The streets of the kingdom were virtually empty. Many of the nipsies in view wore armor and bore weapons. This kingdom had a tower with a megaphone as well.

"The wall is new," Doren remarked.

"And I don't recall everything looking so black," Newel said.

"They really do appear more warlike," Doren conceded.

"Here they come up the tower," Newel observed, nodding toward the black megaphone.

"Greetings, worthy overlords," a voice squealed. "You have returned in time to witness the culmination of our labors and to share in the spoils."

"Why are you waging war with the other kingdoms?" Newel asked.

"You have yourselves to thank," the speaker answered. "The Seven Kingdoms sent out many parties in search of methods for preventing your return. No party ventured farther than mine. We learned much. Our vision expanded. While the other kingdoms constructed defenses, we quietly rallied support within the Sixth and Seventh Kingdoms and developed engines of war. After all, as you have long known, why make when you can take?"

Newel and Doren shared an uneasy glance.

"What would you have us do?" Doren asked.

"Victory is already inevitable, but if you help hasten our hour of triumph, we will reward you far more generously than any of the other kingdoms. Most of our riches are below ground, a secret they would never share. Surely the others have solicited your aid in stopping us. Such action would prove disastrous to you. We are in allegiance with a new master who will one day rule all. Stand against us, and you stand against him. All who defy him must perish. Join us. Avoid the wrath of our master, and reap the handsomest reward."

"Can I borrow your lens?" Doren asked.

Seth handed the satyr his magnifying glass. Doren stepped over the city wall into a vacant square, squatted, and examined the figures on the tower. "You two will want to have a look," he advised soberly.

Doren moved out of the way, and Newel took a long look through the magnifying glass, followed by Seth. The tiny men on the tower looked different from the others Seth had seen. Their skin was gray, their eyes bloodred, and their mouths fanged.

"What has happened to your countenances?" Newel asked. "Our true form revealed," the voice responded from the megaphone. "This is how we look with all illusion stripped away."

"They've been corrupted somehow," Doren hissed.

"You won't actually help them?" Seth said.

Newel shook his head. "No. But it may not be wise to resist them either. Perhaps we should avoid involvement." He looked to Doren. "We do have an appointment elsewhere shortly."

"That's right," Doren said, "I had almost forgotten our other engagement. We don't want to disappoint the, uh, hamadryads. Can't afford to get behind schedule. We'd better head out."

"You don't have an appointment," Seth accused. "We can't just abandon the good nipsies to be destroyed."

"If you're so big on heroism," Newel said, "you go stop the navy."

"My job was to get us in here," Seth replied. "If you want batteries, you need to earn the gold yourself."

"He has a point," Doren admitted.

"We don't need to earn anything," Newel asserted. "We can go take what we need from the Third Kingdom treasury and be gone."

"No way," Seth said, shaking an upraised hand. "I won't accept stolen payment. Not after what happened with Nero. The Third Kingdom offered an honest reward if you help them. You were the one telling me the nipsies can't harm us. Is that any different just because some turned evil? Tell you what, I'll even waive my extra twenty-five percent." "Hmmm." Newel rubbed his chin.

"Think of all the shows," Doren urged.

"Very well," Newel said. "I'd hate to see this little civilization ruined. But don't blame me if the eerie nipsies and their nefarious masters come hunting us down."

"You'll regret this," the hostile nipsies cried through the megaphone.

"Will I?" Newel asked, kicking a hoof through the city wall. He ripped the megaphone off the tower and threw it over the side of the excavated hill.

"I'll go stop the siege of the Fifth Kingdom," Doren offered.

"You stay put," Newel ordered. "No need to give them a score to settle with both of us."

"They really got under your skin," Doren chuckled. "What are they going to do?"

"There is a dark influence at work here," Newel said grimly. "But if I'm going to defy them at all, I may as well finish the job." He tore up the roof of a solid-looking building and scooped out a handful of minute gold ingots, dumping them into a pouch he wore at his waist. "Here's a lesson for you," Newel said, reaching into the treasure house a second time. "Don't try to threaten the supreme gigantic overlords.

We do as we please."

Newel strode off into the pond, which was never any deeper than his furry shins. He rounded up the flotilla of ships and began carrying them back to the Seventh Kingdom, snapping off the masts and scattering the vessels around the city. "Careful not to kill any of them," Doren cautioned.

"I'm being careful," Newel replied, sloshing through the pond, sending ripples of water crashing into the fragile docks. When he had dumped the final ships in an empty marketplace, Newel crossed to the Fifth Kingdom and began smashing the little siege engines and catapults that were attacking fortified locations around the city, including the principal castle.

Seth watched the proceedings with undivided interest. In a way, it was like witnessing a spoiled child destroying his toys. And yet when he looked more closely, he beheld the numerous lives the satyr's actions were affecting. From the perspective of the nipsies, a thousand-foot giant was thundering through their world, changing the course of a desperate war in a matter of minutes.

Newel scooped hundreds of attacking troops out of the Fifth Kingdom and placed them in the Seventh. Then he demolished several of the bridges that gave the Sixth Kingdom access to the Fifth. He stole several golden decorations from the proud towers in the Sixth Kingdom and systematically tore down their defenses. In the end, Newel returned to the tower of the Seventh Kingdom where the megaphone had been.

"Be warned-cease to make war, or I will return. Next time I will not leave so much of your kingdoms intact." Newel turned to face Doren and Seth. "Come on."

The three of them walked over to the Third Kingdom, near the engraved tunnel that led back to Hugo. "We have done what we can to halt your war," Newel declared. "All hail the supreme gigantic overlords!" a small voice called through the pearly megaphone. "Today will ever be a holiday to honor your gallantry. We will raise and refurbish your monuments to unsurpassed splendor. Please take what you wish from the royal treasury."

"Don't mind if I do," Newel said, prying open the wall and scooping out infinitesimal gold, silver, and platinum coins along with some relatively large gemstones. "You nipsies keep your guard up. Something is grievously wrong with your cohorts over in Kingdoms Six and Seven."

"Long live Newel!" the squeaky voice approved. "Long live Doren! Long live Seth! Wise counsel from our heroic protectors!"

"Looks like we're done here for now," Doren said.

"Nice job," Seth said, clapping Newel on the back.

"Not a bad day's work," Newel sniffed, patting his bulging pouches. "Several kingdoms saved, a couple of kingdoms humbled, and a treasure won. Let's go weigh our loot. We've got shows to catch."

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