Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(4)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(4)
Author: Brandon Mull

"In some ways their unbelief is good for their safety,"

Grandpa said. "It can be a protection from the influence of dark magic."

Seth scowled. "Are you saying that magical creatures only exist if we believe in them?"

Grandpa dabbed at his lips with a napkin. "No. They exist independent of our belief. But usually some belief is necessary in order for us to interact with them. Furthermore, most magical creatures dislike unbelief enough to steer clear of it, in much the same way you or I might avoid an offensive odor. Unbelief is part of the reason many creatures chose to flee to these preserves."

"Would it be possible for any of us to stop believing in magical creatures?" Kendra wondered.

"Don't bother," Coulter huffed. "Nobody could try harder than I have. Most of us just make the best of it."

"Gets pretty hard to doubt once you've interacted with them," Dale agreed. "Belief hardens into knowledge."

"There are some who learn of this life and then flee it," Grandma said. "They avoid the preserves and substances like Viola's milk that can open their eyes. By turning their backs on all things magical, they let their knowledge lie dormant."

"Sounds like good sense to me," Coulter muttered.

"Your Grandma and Grandpa Larsen retired prematurely from their involvement with our secret society," Grandpa said. "Grandma and Grandpa Larsen knew about magical creatures?" Seth exclaimed.

"As much as we do or more," Grandma said. "They ended their involvement around the time Seth was born. We all had such high hopes for your parents. We introduced them to one another and quietly encouraged their courtship.

When Scott and Maria refused to show interest in oursecret, your Grandma and Grandpa Larsen seemed to lose their commitment."

"We had been friends with the Larsens since your parents were children," Grandpa mentioned.

"Wait a minute," Kendra said. "Did Grandma and Grandpa Larsen really die accidentally?"

"As far as we have ever been able to tell, yes," Grandma said.

"They had retired from our community ten years prior," Grandpa said. "It was simply a tragic mishap."

"I never guessed that they would have known about the secret preserves," Seth said. "They didn't seem like the type."

"They were very much the type," Grandma assured them. "But they were good at keeping secrets, and at playing roles. They did a fair amount of spying for our cause back in the day. Both were involved with the Knights of the Dawn."

Kendra had never considered the possibility that her deceased grandparents might have shared the secret knowledge held by the Sorensons. It made her miss them more than ever. It would have been so nice to share this amazing secret with them! Strange how two couples who knew the secret both had kids who refused to believe. "How will we ever convince Mom and Dad to let us stay here?" Kendra asked.

"Let your Grandpa and me keep working on that," Grandma promised with a wink. "We still have another week or so."

They finished the meal in silence. Everyone thanked Coulter for the meat loaf as they cleared the table together.

Grandpa led the way into the living room, where each of them found a seat. Kendra thumbed through an antique book of fairy tales. Before long, a key rattled and the front door opened. Tanu entered, a tall Samoan with heavy, sloping shoulders. One of his thickly muscled arms hung bandaged in a sling. A satchel bulging with odd shapes dangled from the potion master's opposite shoulder. Behind him came Warren, wearing a leather jacket, his chin stubbly with three-day whiskers.

"Tanu!" Seth ran up to the big Samoan. "What happened?"

"This?" Tanu asked, indicating the injured arm.


"Botched manicure," he said, dark eyes twinkling.

"I'm back too," Warren hinted.

"Sure, but you weren't sneaking onto a fallen preserve in South America," Seth told him dismissively.

"I had some close calls of my own," Warren mumbled. "Cool ones."

"We're glad you both made it back safely," Grandma said. Warren scanned the living room and leaned toward Tanu. "Looks like we arrived late for a meeting."

"We're dying to hear what you found out," Kendra said.

"How about a drink of water?" Warren sniffed. "A little help with our bags? A warm handshake? A guy could get the feeling you only want him for his information."

"Cut the theatrics and have a seat," Dale said. Warren scowled at his older brother.

Tanu and Seth entered the room and took seats next to each other. Warren plopped down on the sofa beside Kendra.

"I'm glad we're all here," Grandpa said. "We in this room represent the only persons aware of the accusation that the Sphinx may be a traitor. It is imperative that we keep it that way. Should the accusation prove true, his vast network of deliberate and inadvertent spies are everywhere. Should the accusation prove false, this is hardly the time to spread rumors that could provoke dissension. Given all we have been through together, I feel sure we can confide in one another."

"What new information have you uncovered?" Grandma asked.

"Not much," Tanu said. "I got onto the Brazilian preserve. Things are a mess there. A reptilian demon named Lycerna has overthrown all order. If Maddox found a good place to hole up, he may be all right, but I wasn't able to locate him. I did deliver the tub, and I placed some coded messages as to where I hid it. He knows how to use it."

"Good man," Coulter approved. "What tub?" Seth asked.

Coulter looked at Grandpa, who nodded. "An oversized, old-fashioned tin bathtub that happens to contain a shared transdimensional space linked to an identical tub in the attic."

"That meant nothing to me," Seth said.

"One moment," Coulter said, rising and going into the other room. He returned with a battered leather satchel. After rummaging in the satchel for a moment, he retrieved a pair of tin cans. "These function the same way as the tubs, on a smaller scale. I have used them to send messages. Take this one, have a look inside." He handed one of the tin cans to Seth.

"Empty," Seth reported after glancing into it.

"Correct," Coulter said. He removed a coin from his pocket and dropped it into the can he had retained. "Check again."

Seth looked into the can and saw a quarter resting on the bottom. "There's a quarter in here!" he exclaimed.

"Same quarter as I have in mine," Coulter explained. "The cans are linked. They share the same space."

"So now we have two quarters?" Seth asked.

"Only one quarter," Coulter corrected. "Take it out."

Seth dumped the quarter into his palm. Coulter held up his can. "See, my quarter is gone. You took it out of your can."

"Awesome," Seth breathed.

"Maddox can use the tub to get home, if he can find it," Coulter said. "The only catch is that somebody has to be on our end to pull him out. Without outside help, he can emerge only from the tub he enters."

"So if somebody was on the other end to help us out, we could get to the Brazilian preserve through an old bathtub in the attic?" Seth said.

Grandma raised her eyebrows. "If you wanted to risk getting devoured by a gargantuan serpentine demon, yes."

"Wait," Kendra said. "Why didn't Tanu just come home through the tub?"

Tanu chuckled. "The plan was for me to use the tub after I delivered it, but I was also trying to ascertain whether the artifact had been removed from the Brazilian preserve. Sadly, I failed to find where the artifact was hidden. Lycerna cut off my escape route to the tub. I was lucky to make it out over the wall."

"We're talking about your side of the attic, right?" Seth asked. "The secret side-not where we're sleeping."

"Safe guess," Grandma said.

"How'd you bust your arm?" Seth wondered.

"Honestly?" Tanu said sheepishly. "Dropping from the top of the wall to the ground."

"I thought maybe the demon chomped you," Seth sighed, looking a little disappointed.

Tanu gave a rueful smile. "I wouldn't be here if she had."

"Any evidence that could implicate the Sphinx as a cause for the fall of the Brazilian preserve?" Grandpa asked.

"I found nothing to indict him at the preserve," Tanu said. "He was in the area soon after the trouble started, but he always shows up when things go wrong. Whether he was there to help or hinder, I have no idea."

"How have you fared, Warren?" Grandpa asked. "Any news of the fifth secret preserve?"

"Still nothing. I keep hearing about the same four, the ones we already knew about. Australia. Brazil. Arizona. Connecticut. Nobody can give me a location for the fifth."

Grandpa nodded, appearing mildly disappointed but unsurprised. "What of the other matter?"

"The Sphinx knows how to cover his tracks," Warren said, his demeanor growing serious. "And he is not the sort of figure you ask questions about openly. Trying to discover his origin has felt like wandering through a maze full of dead ends. Every time I take a few steps in a new direction, I hit a new wall. I've been to New Zealand, Fiji, Ghana, Morocco, Greece, Iceland-the Sphinx has lived all over, and everywhere there are different theories about who he is and where he came from. Some say he is the avatar of a forgotten Egyptian god, some say he is a sea serpent cursed to roam dry land, some say he is an Arabian prince who won immortality by cheating the devil-every account is different, each more farfetched than the last. I've talked to caretakers, magical beings, historians, criminals, you name it. The guy is a ghost. The stories I've heard are too diverse. If you ask me, I'd say he started all the rumors himself to confuse the exact sort of investigation I've been trying to conduct."

"The Sphinx has always shrouded himself in secrecy, which leaves him vulnerable to the sort of accusation Vanessa made," Grandpa said. "Which Vanessa knew," Coulter pointed out. "He's an easy target for slander. It isn't the first time."

"Yes, but usually the accusations are the baseless ranting of the fearful," Grandma said. "This time, the circumstantial evidence is terrifying. Her explanation fit the events perfectly."

"There is a reason we don't convict people based on circumstantial evidence," Tanu said. "We know firsthand how devious Vanessa can be. She could easily have used the facts of the circumstances to weave a convincing lie."

"I have other news," Warren announced. "The Knights of the Dawn are having their first united gathering in over ten years. All Knights are required to attend."

Coulter sighed. "Never a good sign. The last united gathering I attended was when hard evidence came to light that the Society of the Evening Star was resurfacing."

"You're a Knight too?" Seth asked Coulter.

"Semi-retired. We're not generally supposed to reveal ourselves, but I figure if I can't trust you all, I can't trust anyone. Besides, I'll be in a grave before too long."

"There's more," Warren continued. "The Captain wants me to bring Kendra to the event."

"What?" Grandpa exclaimed. "Outrageous!"

"Only Knights are invited to the assemblies," Grandma said.

"I know, I know, don't shoot the messenger," Warren said. "They want to induct her."

"At her age!" Grandpa cried, his face reddening. "Are they recruiting at maternity wards these days?" "And we all know who the Captain is," Warren said, "though he never openly reveals himself."

"The Sphinx?" Kendra guessed.

Grandpa nodded thoughtfully, pinching his lower lip. "Have they offered a reason?"

"The Captain suggested that she has talents essential to us in weathering the coming storm," Warren said.

Grandpa buried his face in his hands. "What have I done?" he moaned. "It was my choice to introduce her to the Sphinx in the first place. Now, good or evil, he wants to exploit her abilities."

"We can't let her go," Grandma said adamantly. "If the Sphinx is also the leader of the Society, this is undoubtedly a trap. Who knows how many other Knights may be corrupt!"

"I have worked with many of the Knights," Tanu said. "I've seen lives risked and sacrificed. I would vouch that most are true protectors of the preserves. If the Knights are harming our cause, it's because they've been duped."

"You're a Knight too?" Seth asked.

"Like Warren, Tanu, Coulter, and Vanessa are all Knights of the Dawn," Grandpa said.

"Vanessa didn't turn out very well," Seth reminded them.

"Which is another good point," Grandma said. "Even if the Sphinx is honorable, Vanessa proves that the Knights have at least some traitors among them. A meeting where all the Knights are gathered could prove perilous for Kendra."

"Where will it be?" Grandpa asked.

Warren scratched the side of his head. "I'm not supposed to say, but half of us will have formal invitations by tomorrow, and the others have a right to know. Outside Atlanta, in the home of Wesley and Marion Fairbanks."

"Who are they?" Seth asked.

"Billionaire fairy enthusiasts," Grandma said. "They have a private collection of fairies and whirligigs."

"For which they paid handsomely," Grandpa added.

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