Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(8)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(8)
Author: Brandon Mull

Kendra took off the mask.

The Lieutenant nodded. "Welcome. You may proceed. We'll speak more shortly."

Kendra replaced her mask and exited the booth at the same time as Coulter left the other one. Together they followed Warren and Tanu down the extravagant hall, treading on a long red carpet edged with intricate embroidery. Tapestries hung from the walls and full suits of gleaming armor flanked the corridor. Warren and Tanu passed through white double doors into a spacious salon dominated by a tremendous chandelier. Robed figures stood about, most of them conversing in groups of two or three. Sofas, chairs, and divans were spaced around the room to allow for many separate groups to sit and chat in comfort. The outside of the home might look like a fortress, but inside it was definitely a mansion.

Tanu and Warren split up after entering the room.

Following their lead, Kendra wandered over to a corner on her own. A couple of masked figures nodded at her as she passed. She nodded back, terrified to say a word.

Finding a place where she could stand with her back to the wall, Kendra surveyed the crowd. She was a good height for her age, but in this room, she was on the short end of the spectrum. A few of the other Knights were unusually tall, a few were abnormally fat, several looked broad and burly, a decent number were obviously women, and one was small enough to be eight years old. All wore the same silver masks and similar robes. Kendra counted more than fifty Knights in total.

The nearest Knights were a group of three, talking and laughing. After a while, one of them turned and stared at Kendra. Kendra tilted her face away, but it was too late, the figure was already crossing to her. "And what are you doing here in the corner?" asked a teasing female voice with a heavy French accent.

Kendra had not identified the stranger as a woman until she spoke. A good answer refused to enter her mind-she felt much too self-conscious. "Just waiting for the meeting."

"But the small talk is part of the meeting!" the woman enthused. "Where have you been lately?"

A direct question. Should she lie? She settled on vagueness. "Here and there."

"I recently returned from the Dominican Republic," the woman said. "Absolutely perfect weather. I was tracking an alleged member of the Society, a man who was asking questions about acquiring a dullion." Kendra had seen a dullion before, made of straw, when she was fleeing her home earlier in the summer. Vanessa had explained that they were like golems, although not quite as powerful. "Rumor has it there is a warlock on the island who can create them. Can you imagine the implications if that art has survived? I have been unable to confirm the tale, so who knows. I don't recognize you, and you sound young, are you new?"

The woman spoke so frankly that Kendra felt considerable pressure to open up. Besides, it would be almost impossible for Kendra to disguise her youth. "I'm fairly young, yes."

"I started young myself, you know-"

"There you are," Warren interrupted. Beside him stood a tall figure in a silver mask with gold trim.

"If you will excuse us," the Lieutenant apologized to the Frenchwoman. "This young lady has an appointment with the Captain."

"I was about to guess she was a novice," the woman gushed. "So nice to meet you, hopefully we can work together sometime."

"Nice to meet you," Kendra replied as Warren took her elbow and guided her away.

The three of them exited the room and strode down the grandiose hallway to a smaller corridor. Some distance down the corridor, they stopped at a mahogany door. "Your presence is irregular," the Lieutenant informed Warren. "Inducting a minor is irregular as well," Warren said. "I promised her grandfather she wouldn't leave my sight."

"You know me, Warren," the Lieutenant said. "Where would the child be safer than here?"

"Again, the operative word is child," Warren insisted.

The Lieutenant gave a curt nod and opened the door. The three of them entered. Three people were already in the room. One stood over by a wide fireplace, wearing a silver robe and a golden mask. The other two people wore silver masks and robes like Kendra's.

"Warren?" asked the figure in the gold mask in a feminine Southern accent. "What are you doing here?"

"Captain, this candidate is a minor," Warren said. "I have been mandated by her guardian not to let her out of my sight. It is the condition of her attendance."

"Understandable," the figure in the golden mask said. "Very well, I suppose we are ready to begin."

Kendra leaned over to Warren. "How did she know who you-"

"You're curious how I knew it was Warren entering with you?" the Captain asked. She tapped her mask. "This golden mask sees through all the silver ones. I have to know all the Knights under my command. I hand select them, and I keep watch. In case any of you are wondering, no, this is not my real voice, it's another special feature of my mask. Lieutenant, shall we proceed?"

The Lieutenant removed his mask. He had bushy red hair and freckles on his broad brow. He looked oddly familiar, but Kendra could not place him. "You three novices are receiving knighthood today. Today's recruits have been assigned to the East, and so I am your Lieutenant, Dougan Fisk. You will know my face, and I yours. Please remove your masks."

Kendra looked to Warren. He nodded, taking off his own mask. Kendra pulled hers off as well.

One of the other people wearing a silver mask was shorter than Kendra. Without her mask, Kendra saw that she was quite elderly, probably older than Grandma, with a narrow, wrinkled face and steel gray hair pulled into a bun. The other person in the room was a boy a few inches taller than Kendra. He was slim, and could not be past his teenage years, nice-looking, with tan, flawless skin, thin lips, and dark eyes. He looked at Kendra and for a moment appeared absolutely awestruck, staring at her with such na**d admiration that she wanted to hide behind her mask before she blushed. After the initial stunned reaction, he managed to regulate his expression. He raised his eyebrows slightly, the corners of his mouth twitching toward an uncertain smile.

"The Captain almost always keeps the mask on," Dougan explained. "Our brotherhood exists mainly to combat a secretive and subtle organization, the Society of the Evening Star, and so secrecy is required on our part as well. We use checks and balances to monitor one another. The Captain knows all of the Knights. The four Lieutenants each know the Knights assigned to them, along with the identity of the Captain. Each Knight knows the Lieutenant he or she reports to, as you now know me. And each of the Knights knows some other Knights, as you are now meeting one another. Be most careful about revealing your membership in this brotherhood to others, even after they have reason to guess it."

"Wh-wh-wh-why are we East?" the teenage boy asked, tripping painfully over the first consonant.

"No good reason, just a tool of delegation," the Captain said. "Despite being called the Knights of the Dawn, this is not a military body. Titles like 'Captain' and 'Lieutenant' are strictly for organizational purposes. We compartmentalize information for the security of all. Your participation in this group is strictly voluntary. You can quit the brotherhood at any time. We do demand secrecy, however. If we did not trust that you could handle that requirement, you would not be here."

"As part of agreeing to be a Knight, you'll occasionally receive assignments specific to your area of expertise," Dougan said. "Generally, until you resign, by accepting membership in the brotherhood, you are committing to come when called and to serve where needed. All costs incurred will be reimbursed. In addition, you will receive a stipend to more than cover lost wages. If you betray secrets or perform in a manner that causes us unusual concern for the safety of the Knights, we reserve the right to expel you from the brotherhood."

"We are friends to all magical creatures and to the refuges where they dwell," the Captain said. "We are foes to all who seek to harm and exploit them. Have you any questions?" "D-d-don't you find it peculiar that we can't know who our leader is?" the teenage boy asked.

"Not ideal," the Captain admitted. "But, regrettably, necessary."

"The word that comes to mind is cowardly," the teenager said.

Kendra felt her pulse quicken. She would never have expected such boldness from a teenager with a stuttering problem. It made her feel simultaneously excited and uncomfortable. The Captain was about the right height to be the Sphinx. How would he react?

"I've been called worse," the Captain said, remaining friendly. "You are not the first Knight to suggest dispensing with the masks. But given a recent breech in security that I am not at liberty to discuss, compartmentalizing our information has become more crucial than ever."

"I get not sharing everything with everybody," the teenager said. "I j-j-j, j-j-j, I only wish I knew who was giving me assignments."

"I suspect, were our positions reversed, I would feel as you do, Gavin," the Captain said. "Have you paused to consider that perhaps behind this mask is a person known to the Society? Perhaps I wear this mask not for my benefit, but to protect the other Knights, to prevent the Society from using me to get to them?"

Gavin stared at his feet. "M-makes sense."

"Chin up, I called for questions. Are there any other concerns?" "I beg your pardon," said the older lady, "but aren't these two a little young for this kind of service?"

The Captain picked up a poker and jabbed a log in the fire, sending up a flurry of sparks. "Given these dangerous times, we've tightened our entry requirements more than ever. On top of a spotless background, and overwhelming evidence of reliable character, prospective Knights must also have unique strategic value. Kendra and Gavin both possess unusual talents that qualify them to lend highly specialized assistance. Not unlike your usefulness, Estelle, as a gifted archivist and researcher."

"Don't omit my world-renowned expertise with a broadsword," the elderly woman bragged. She winked at Kendra and Gavin. "That was a joke."

"Anything else?" the Captain asked, facing each of them in turn. None of them volunteered any further questions or comments. "Then I will formally induct you and leave you to mingle. Keep in mind, now as always, you are welcome to decline the invitation to join our community. If you wish to proceed, raise your right hand." The Captain raised his.

Kendra, Gavin, and Estelle lifted their hands.

"Repeat after me. I pledge to keep the secrets of the Knights of the Dawn, and to aid my fellow Knights in their worthy goals."

They repeated the words, and then lowered their hands.

"Congratulations," the Captain said. "Your knighthood is official. Glad to have you on our side. Take a few minutes to get acquainted before we begin the gathering." The Captain crossed to the door and exited the room. "Not so bad, was it?" Warren said over Kendra's shoulder, patting her on the back. "I'm Warren Burgess, by the way," he said to the other new Knights.

"Estelle Smith," the elderly woman said.

"Gavin Rose," the teenager said.

"Kendra Sorenson," Kendra said.

"Warren and I go way back," Dougan said.

"Since before you were a Lieutenant." Warren lowered his voice slightly. "Since we last spoke, you've seen the Captain without his mask. Just between the five of us, who is he?"

"You sure it's a he?" Dougan asked.

"Ninety percent. Manly build, manly walk."

"You've been out of touch for a while," Dougan said. "I thought you'd abandoned the cause."

"I'm still around," Warren said, not elaborating that he had spent the previous few years as a catatonic albino. "Kendra, you've met Dougan's brother."

"His brother?" Kendra asked. Then she realized why Dougan looked familiar. "Oh, Maddox! That's right, his last name was Fisk."

Dougan nodded. "He's not officially a Knight, hears his own drum beating too loudly for that, though he's helped us out on occasion."

"But here we are, monopolizing the conversation!" Warren apologized. "Gavin Rose, you say? Any relation to Chuck Rose?"

"M-m-my father." "No joke? I never knew Chuck had a kid. He's one of our best guys. Why isn't he here with you?"

"He died seven months ago," Gavin said. "Christmas day, in the Himalayas. One of the Seven Sanctuaries."

Warren's smile vanished. "I'm sorry to hear that. I've been out of the loop."

"P-p-p-people wonder why I want to follow in his footsteps," Gavin said, looking at the floor. "I never knew Mom. I have no siblings. Dad kept me a secret from all of you because he didn't want me to get involved, at least not until I was eighteen. But he shared what he did with me, taught me a lot. I have some natural aptitude for it."

"There's an understatement," Dougan chuckled. "Chuck's best friend, Arlin Santos, brought Gavin to our attention. You remember Arlin, don't you, Warren? He's here tonight. We had been hearing rumors for years that Chuck was secretly raising a child. Little did we know how much he took after his old man, and then some. We actually have assignments for Gavin and Kendra immediately following the gathering."

"An assignment she can do here?" Warren asked.

Dougan shook his head. "Going someplace. Tomorrow morning."

Warren scowled. "Not without me, and not unless I sign off. Dougan, she's fourteen."

"I'll fill you in," Dougan promised. "It's important. We'll keep her safe."

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