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

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

Chapter Two

Reunion

For Kendra Sorenson, there was no such thing as total darkness anymore. She sat in a chilly hall in the dungeon underneath the main house at Fablehaven, her back to a stone wall, her knees drawn up to her chest. She was facing a large cabinet with gold trim, the sort of cabinet a magician would use to make an assistant disappear. Despite the absence of light, she could make out the contours of the Quiet Box without difficulty. The hall was dim, the colors muted, but unlike even the goblin wardens who patrolled the dungeon, she needed no candle or torch to navigate the gloomy corridors. Her heightened vision was one of many consequences of her having become fairykind the previous summer.

Kendra knew that Vanessa Santoro waited inside the box. Part of Kendra desperately wanted to speak with her former friend, even though Vanessa had betrayed the family and almost gotten them killed. Her desire to communicate with Vanessa had little to do with nostalgic feelings about the conversations they had shared. Kendra yearned for clarifications about the final note Vanessa had scribbled on the floor of her cell prior to being sentenced to the Quiet Box.

Upon discovering the note Vanessa had left, Kendra had immediately shared it with her grandparents. Grandpa Sorenson had scowled down at the glowing letters by the ghostly light of an umite candle for several minutes, weighing the unsettling accusations left by a desperate traitor.

Kendra still recalled his initial verdict:

"This is either the most disturbing truth I have ever encountered, or the most brilliant lie."

Nearly two months later, they were no closer to either verifying or disproving the message. If the message were true, the Sphinx, the greatest ally of the caretakers, was actually their archenemy in disguise. The message accused him of using his intimate association with the protectors of the magical preserves to further the sinister schemes of the Society of the Evening Star.

Alternatively, if the message were false, Vanessa was vilifying the most powerful friend of the caretakers in order to create internal dissension and provide a reason for her captors to release her from her imprisonment in the Quiet Box. Without outside assistance, she would remain trapped inside the Quiet Box in a suspended state until someone else took her place. Potentially, she could wait there standing upright in black silence for centuries.

Kendra rubbed her shins. Without another person to take Vanessa's place temporarily, releasing her one-time friend from the Quiet Box for a brief conversation would be impossible. Not to mention the concern that Vanessa was a narcoblix. Over the summer, before she was unmasked, Vanessa had bitten nearly everybody at Fablehaven. As a result, once outside of the Quiet Box, she could control any of them whenever they were asleep.

Kendra would have to wait for a chat with Vanessa until everyone else agreed. Who knew how long that might take! The last time they had discussed the subject, nobody had been in favor of giving Vanessa a chance to further explain herself. Under a strict vow of secrecy, Grandpa and Grandma had shared the troubling message with Warren, Tanu, Coulter, Dale, and Seth. They had all taken measures to investigate the truthfulness of the note on the floor. Hopefully tonight, with Tanu and Warren returning from missions, they would have better information. If not, might the others finally conclude that the time had come to hear what else Vanessa had to say? The narcoblix had tantalized them by hinting that she knew more than she had revealed in her note. Kendra felt convinced that Vanessa could shed more light on the subject. She resolved that once again she would argue in favor of hearing more from Vanessa.

A flickering light danced at the end of the hall. Slaggo rounded a corner. The creepy goblin carried a crusty bucket in one hand while clutching a guttering torch in the other. "Skulking in the dungeon again?" he called to Kendra, pausing- "We can put you to work. The pay is unbeatable. You like raw hen flesh?"

"I'd hate to barge in on your fun," Kendra snapped. She had not been very polite to Slaggo or Voorsh ever since they had almost fed her to her captive grandparents.

Slaggo leered. "You'd think they locked your favorite pet in the Box, the way you sulk."

"I'm not pining for her," Kendra corrected. "I'm thinking."

He took a deep breath, surveying the hall smugly. "Hard to picture more inspiring surroundings," he admitted. "Nothing like the futile moans of the condemned to set your wheels turning."

The goblin proceeded forward, licking his lips. He was short, bony, and greenish, with beady eyes and bat-wing ears. He had looked much more fearsome when Kendra was temporarily seven inches tall.

Instead of passing her, he halted again, this time gazing at the Quiet Box. "I'd like to know who was in there before," he murmured, almost to himself. "I've wondered every day for decades... now I'll never know."

The Quiet Box had contained the same secret prisoner ever since it had been brought to Fablehaven, until the Sphinx had swapped Vanessa for the mysterious occupant. The Sphinx had insisted that only in the Quiet Box would Vanessa be unable to use her ability to control others in their sleep. If Vanessa's final message were true, and the Sphinx was evil, he had probably released an ancient and powerful collaborator. If the message were false, the Sphinx was merely relocating the prisoner to a new place of confinement. None of them had seen the identity of the secret captive, only a chained figure whose head was hidden by a coarse burlap sack.

"I wouldn't mind knowing his identity either," Kendra said.

"I got a whiff of him, you know," Slaggo said casually, giving Kendra a sidelong glance. "I lay low in the shadows as the Sphinx walked him by." He was clearly proud of the fact.

"Could you tell anything about him?" Kendra asked, taking the bait.

"I've always had a reliable sniffer," Slaggo said, wiping his nostrils with his forearm and rocking back on his heels. "Definitely a male. Something odd about the scent, uncommon, hard to place. Not entirely human, if I were to guess."

"Interesting," Kendra said.

"Wish I could have gotten a closer smell," Slaggo lamented. "I would have tried, but the Sphinx is not a man* to trifle with."

"What do you know about the Sphinx?"

Slaggo shrugged. "Same as anyone. He's supposed to be wise and powerful. He smells exactly like a man. If he's . something else, he hides it perfectly. Man or not, he's very old. He carries the scent of another age."

Slaggo of course knew nothing about the note. "He seems like a good person," Kendra said. Slaggo shrugged. "Can I offer you some glop?" He swung the bucket in front of her.

"I'll pass," Kendra said, trying not to inhale the putrid stench.

"Fresh off the fire," he said. She shook her head, and he strolled away. "Enjoy the darkness."

Kendra almost smiled. Slaggo had no idea how well she could see without light. He probably thought she adored sitting alone in the dark. Which meant he thought she was his kind of girl. Of course, she had made a habit of spending time alone in a dungeon, so maybe he wasn't far off.

When the goblin was out of sight and the orange flicker of his torch had dwindled, Kendra arose and placed a palm against the smooth wood of the Quiet Box. Despite the fact that Vanessa had betrayed them, despite the reality that she was a proven liar, despite her obvious motivation for pretending to possess valuable information, Kendra believed the message on the floor, and she longed to know more.

Seth arrived at the dinner table wearing his best poker face. Coulter, the magical relics expert, had cooked meat loaf, with baked potatoes, broccoli, and fresh rolls on the side. Everyone was already seated-Grandpa, Grandma, Dale, Coulter, and Kendra.

"Tanu and Warren haven't shown up yet?" Seth asked.

"They called a few minutes ago," Grandpa said, holding up his new cell phone. "Tanu's plane got in late. They're grabbing food on the road. They should arrive in about an hour."

Seth nodded. The afternoon had ended profitably. He had already tucked away his share of the gold in the attic bedroom he shared with Kendra, the leather pouch containing the treasure bundled in a pair of athletic shorts at the bottom of one of his drawers. He still found it hard to believe he had stashed the gold before anybody could sabotage his success. All he had to do now was play it cool.

He wondered how much the gold was worth. Probably a few hundred thousand at least. Not bad for a not-yet thirteen-year-old.

The one complication was the nipsies. Surely, as caretaker, Grandpa Sorenson knew of their existence. Seth was pretty sure Grandpa Sorenson would want an update on what had happened to them so he could investigate further. Who was the evil master the warlike nipsies had mentioned? Could it be the Sphinx? There were any number of shady candidates at Fablehaven. Despite the action Newel had taken to prevent the scary nipsies from defeating the nice ones, Seth felt certain that the conflict was not over. If he did nothing, the good nipsies could be wiped out.

Still, Seth hesitated. If he spilled what he had learned about the nipsies, Grandpa would know he had been venturing into prohibited areas of Fablehaven. Not only would he get privileges revoked, he would almost certainly have to return the gold. It made Seth shrivel inside to think of how disappointed everyone would be in him.

There was a chance Grandpa would discover what was wrong with the nipsies as part of his routine duties watching over the preserve. But considering the defenses the nipsies had erected, Grandpa might not have any plans to visit them in the near future. Would he find out what was going on in time to prevent a tragedy? Ever since Kendra had discovered the final note from Vanessa, everyone had been so preoccupied by events outside of Fablehaven that Seth doubted whether anyone would check up on the nipsies for a long while. There was even a chance that Grandpa knew nothing about them.

"We'll still meet tonight to discuss what Tanu and Warren have discovered, right?" Kendra sounded concerned.

"Of course," Grandma said, spooning broccoli onto her plate.

"Do we know if they had much success?" Kendra asked.

"All I know is that Tanu failed to find Maddox," Grandpa said, referring to the fairy dealer who had ventured onto the fallen Brazilian preserve. "And Warren has done some serious traveling. I refuse to risk talking about the details of our secret concern on the telephone."

Seth added some ketchup to his meat loaf and took a bite. It was almost too hot, but tasted great. "What about my folks?" Seth asked. "Are they still pressuring you to send us home?"

"We're running out of excuses to stretch your stay much longer," Grandma said, giving Grandpa a worried glance.

"School begins in just a couple of weeks."

"We can't go home!" Kendra exclaimed. "Especially not until we prove whether the Sphinx is innocent. The Society knows where we live, and they're not afraid to approach us there."

"I wholeheartedly agree," Grandpa said. "The problem remains how to persuade your parents."

Kendra and Seth had been at Fablehaven the entire summer under the pretense of helping to care for their injured grandfather. He really had been injured when they had first arrived, but the artifact they had collected from the inverted tower had healed him. The original plan had been for Kendra and Seth to stay for a couple of weeks. Grandma and Grandpa had managed to extend that to over a month through telephone conversations-Kendra and Seth kept reporting how much fun they were having, and Grandma and Grandpa emphasized how helpful they were being.

After a month, Grandpa could tell that his son and daughter-in-law were truly getting impatient, so he invited them to visit for a week. Grandma and Grandpa had decided that the best solution would be to help them discover the truth about Fablehaven, so they could all openly discuss the danger that Kendra and Seth were in. But no matter how many clues they left or hints they offered, Scott and Maria refused to catch on. In the end, Tanu had fixed them a tea that left them open to suggestion, and Grandpa, wearing a phony cast, had secured another month for the kids to visit. Yet once again, their time was almost up.

"Tanu is coming back," Seth reminded them. "Maybe he can slip Dad some more of that tea."

"We need to get beyond temporary remedies," Grandma said. "The current threats could persist for years. Perhaps the Society of the Evening Star has lost interest in you now that the artifact is no longer at Fablehaven. But my instincts tell me otherwise."

"As do mine," Grandpa agreed, giving Kendra a significant stare.

"Can we force Mom and Dad to see through the illusion hiding the creatures here?" Kendra asked. "Just give them milk and point them toward the fairies? Take them into the barn to see Viola?"

Grandpa shook his head. "I'm not sure. Total unbelief is a powerful inhibitor. It can blind an individual to obvious truths, no matter what others do or say."

"The milk wouldn't work on them?" Seth asked.

"It might not," Grandpa said. "That is part of the reason I let people discover the secrets of Fablehaven through finding clues. First off, it gives them a choice about whether or not they want to know the truth about this place. And secondly, the curiosity wears down their unbelief. It doesn't require much belief for the milk to work, but complete unbelief can be tough to overcome."

"And you think Mom and Dad have no belief in them?"

Kendra asked.

"As to the possibility of mythical creatures actually existing, they appear to have none at all," Grandpa said. "I left them much more obvious clues than I provided for you and Seth."

"I even had a conversation with them where I all but told them the truth about Fablehaven and my role here," Grandma said. "I stopped once I could see they were gawking at me like I belonged in an asylum."

   
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