Home > Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(5)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven #3)(5)
Author: Brandon Mull

"The Fairbankses have no idea of the extent of our community. They've never seen a preserve. They're outsiders, useful for funds and connections."

"And they have a big mansion ideal for gatherings," Coulter said.

"But there hasn't been a gathering for ten years?" Kendra asked.

"No united gathering," Tanu said. "A united gathering means everybody is supposed to come, no excuses. Secrecy is important to the Knights, so such gatherings are rare. Normally we assemble in smaller groups. When we do meet in a large body, we wear disguises. Only the Captain knows the identity of all the members of the brotherhood."

"And he might be a traitor," Kendra said.

"Right," Warren agreed. "But I don't see how we can deny the request."

Grandpa stared at him, eyebrows raised. He motioned for Warren to explain further.

"The last thing we can afford to do, in case the Sphinx is actually an enemy, is show we are suspicious of him. Based on Vanessa's assertion, if he is evil, there can be no question of how he would retaliate if he knew we had uncovered his secret."

Grandpa nodded reluctantly. "If he were going to make a move against Kendra, it would probably not be when she is supposed to be under his protection. He knows that many assume he is the Captain of the Knights. I wonder why he is requesting her presence?"

"Perhaps he has a talisman that needs charging," Grandma proposed. "Her ability to recharge magical objects through touch is unique."

"Might even be the Brazilian artifact," Tanu murmured.

The implications made the room go silent.

"Or the Sphinx may be on our side," Coulter reminded everyone.

"When is the united gathering?" Grandpa asked.

"Three days," Warren said. "You know how they never tell anyone until the last minute, to help prevent sabotage."

"Are you a Knight too?" Seth asked Grandpa.

"I was," Grandpa said. "None of the caretakers are in the brotherhood."

"Will you be going?" Kendra asked him.

"The gatherings of the brotherhood are only for current members."

"Tanu, Warren, and I will be there," Coulter said. "I agree, regardless of the true intentions of the Sphinx, Kendra should attend. We'll stay at her side."

"Could we devise a plausible excuse for her absence?" Grandma asked.

Grandpa shook his head slowly. "If we had no doubts about the Sphinx, we would go out of our way to fulfill his request. Any excuse we offer might raise suspicion." He turned to Kendra. "What do you say?"

"Sounds like I'd better go," she said. "I've walked into more dangerous situations than this. The Sphinx would have to risk revealing himself in order to harm me. Besides, hopefully Vanessa is wrong. Do you think it might help to speak with her?"

"Help add to our confusion maybe," Coulter spat. "How can any of us trust a word she says? She's too dangerous. From my point of view, if we let her breathe fresh air, we'll be playing right into her hands. Whether the note is true or false, escaping the Quiet Box was surely her only goal in leaving it."

"I have to agree," Grandma said. "I think if she could have added further proof to her accusation, she would have done so in the message. It was plenty long."

"If her accusation proves valid, Vanessa may still be of great use," Grandpa said. "There may be others in her organization whom she could reveal. Once we offer her the opportunity, we can count on her trying to use such information as leverage to avoid returning to the Quiet Box, which is not a headache I care to endure at the moment. For now, I would rather seek out more evidence on our own. Perhaps the four of you can learn more at the united gathering."

"Then I'm going?" Kendra asked.

The adults in the room exchanged tacit glances before nodding. "Then we only have one problem left to discuss," Seth said.

Everyone turned to him.

"How do I get invited?"

Chapter Three

Sharing Discoveries

Kendra lay on her bed, perched on her elbows above an oversized journal, reading strong, slanted handwriting that looked like it belonged on the Declaration of Independence. The author of the journal was Patton Burgess, the former caretaker of Fablehaven, the man who had lured Lena the naiad out of her pond more than a hundred years ago. As she had scoured Patton's journals over the summer, Kendra had become more fascinated than ever by Lena's story.

Even though leaving the water had transformed the nymph to a mortal state, she had aged much more slowly than Patton. After Patton had succumbed to his years, Lena had traveled the world, eventually returning to Fablehaven to work with Kendra's grandparents. Kendra had met Lena the previous summer, and they had become fast friends. All of that had ended when Kendra had gotten help from the Fairy Queen to summon an army of giant fairies to stop a witch named Muriel and the demon she had freed. The fairies had defeated the demon, Bahumat, and imprisoned Muriel with him. Afterwards, they had repaired much of the hurt the witch had caused. They had changed Grandpa, Grandma, Seth, and Dale back from altered states, and rebuilt Hugo from scratch. They had also restored an unwilling Lena to her state as a naiad. Once back in the water, Lena had reverted to her former ways, and she had not seemed eager to return to dry land when Kendra had tried to offer help.

Kendra had good reason to study the journal entries. During her stay at Fablehaven, Vanessa had spent much of her time perusing the records of former caretakers. If, as a traitor, Vanessa had been so intent on examining the history contained in the journals, Kendra had decided the information must be valuable. No caretaker had kept a tenth as many records as Patton, and so Kendra had mostly found herself poring over his writings.

He was an intriguing man. He oversaw the construction of the new house and barn at Fablehaven, along with the stables, all still in use. He prevented the ogres from eradicating themselves by negotiating the end of an ancient feud. He helped erect the glass observation domes that served as safe rooms around the preserve. He mastered six of the languages spoken by magical beings, and used the knowledge to establish relationships with many of the most fearsome and elusive inhabitants of the preserve.

His interests were not limited to the upkeep and improvement of Fablehaven. Rather than staying rooted to the preserve, Patton traveled extensively in an era before airplanes made the globe feel small. Sometimes he was open about his visits to exotic locations like foreign preserves. Other times he omitted the destinations of his excursions. He was playfully boastful about his journeys, often referring to himself as the world's greatest adventurer.

In his writings, Patton was shameless about his ambition to woo Lena to be his bride. He detailed the gradual progress he made, playing music for her on his violin, writing her poems, beguiling her with stories, engaging her in conversation. It was clear that he obsessed over her. He knew what he wanted and never relented until she was his. Kendra was currently rereading the culminating entry of the romantic account:

Success! Victory! Jubilation! I should no longer be alive, though I have never felt more so! After the tiresome months, nay, years of waiting, of hoping, of striving, she reposes in a room in my home as I pen these exultant words. The truth of it refuses to settle in my mind. Never has a fairer maiden walked on dry land than my precious Lena. Never has a human heart felt more satisfied than mine.

I unwittingly put her affection to the test today. It shames me to confess my folly, but the disgrace is eclipsed by my elation. While adrift on the pond, I leaned too close to my love, and her wretched sisters promptly took advantage of my laxity and hauled me overboard. Tonight I should be slumbering in an aquatic grave. I was insignificant compared to them in the water. But mylove swam to my rescue. Lena was magnificent! She bettered nofewer than eight of the watery maids in order to wrest me fromtheir clutches and deliver me to the shore. To complete the miracle, she joined me on land, at long last accepting my invitationand renouncing her claim on immortality.

After all, what is immortality when confined to a sad little pond with such petty companions? I will unveil wonders to her that others of her kind have never imagined. She shall be my queen, and I her most ardent admirer and protector.

I suppose I should thank her spiteful sisters for endeavoring to steal my life. Had such a dire situation failed to arise, I might never have inspired Lena to action!

It has not eluded my attention that many around me have elected to mock and deride my adoration behind my back. They anticipate a recurrence of the calamitous escapade that ruined my uncle. If only they could somehow sample the authenticity of my affection! This is no paltry dalliance with a dryad, no trifling indiscretion swollen out of proportion. History will not be imitated; rather, a new standard of love shall be established for the ages. Time will certify my devotion! On this I would gladly stake my very soul!

No matter how many times Kendra read those words, they never failed to thrill her. She could not help wondering if one day a person might experience such strong feelings for her. Having already heard Lena's side of the story, Kendra knew that the adoration expressed by Patton had been reciprocated over a lifelong romance. She tried to prevent her thoughts from wandering to Warren. Sure, he was nice looking, and brave, and funny. But he was also way too old, and her distant cousin on top of it!

Kendra thumbed through the pages of the journal, enjoying the smell of the old paper, unable to avoid hoping that one day she would find someone like Patton Burgess.

An umite candle rested on the nightstand beside her bed. Vanessa had introduced Kendra to umite wax, a substance made by South American fairies dwelling in hivelike communities. When you wrote with an umite wax crayon, the words were invisible unless you read them by the light of a candle made from the same substance. Vanessa had used umite wax to scrawl her final message on the floor of her cell. And Kendra had discovered that Vanessa had taken notes using umite wax in the journals she had studied.

Whenever Kendra lit the candle, she found herself guided to key pieces of underlined information, accompanied by occasional notes scrawled in the margins. She had identified the notes that Vanessa had left while deducing that the grove with the revenant was the hiding place for the inverted tower. She also found several false trails Vanessa had followed referencing other dangerous areas of Fablehaven, including a haunted tar pit, a poisonous bog, and the lair of a demon named Graulas. Kendra could not make sense of all the observations Vanessa had jotted-some were in an indecipherable shorthand.

Kendra sat up and opened a drawer, planning to light a match and use the candle to scour more pages. She had to do something to keep her mind off of her impending trip to Atlanta!

"Are you missing the library again?" Seth asked, startling her as he walked into the room.

Kendra turned to face her brother. "You caught me," she congratulated him. "I'm reading."

"I bet the librarians back home are panicking. Summer vacation, and no Kendra Sorenson to keep them in business. Have they been sending you letters?"

"Might not hurt you to pick up a book, just as an experiment."

"Whatever. I looked up the definition for nerd in the dictionary. Know what it said?"

"I bet you'll tell me."

'"If you're reading this, you are one.'"

"You're a riot." Kendra turned back to the journal, flipping to a random page.

Seth took a seat on his bed across from her. "Kendra, seriously, I can sort of see reading a cool book for fun, but dusty old journals? Really? Has anybody told you there are magical creatures out there?" He pointed at the window.

"Has anybody told you some of those creatures can eat you?" Kendra responded. "I'm not reading these just for fun. They have good info."

"Like what? Patton and Lena smooching?"

Kendra rolled her eyes. "I'm not telling. You'll end up drowning in a tar pit."

"There's a tar pit?" he said, perking up. "Where?" "You're welcome to look it up yourself." She gestured at the huge stack of journals beside her bed.

"I'd rather drown," Seth admitted. "Smarter people than you have tried to trick me into reading." He sat still, staring at her.

"What's going on?" she asked. "Are you bored?"

"Not compared to you."

"I'm not bored," Kendra said smugly. "I'm going to Atlanta."

"That's below the belt!" Seth protested. "I can't believe they're making you a Knight and not me. How many revenants have you destroyed?"

"None. But I did help take down a demon, a witch, and a huge, winged, acid-breathing, three-headed panther."

"I'm still mad I missed seeing the panther," Seth muttered sourly. "Tanu and Coulter got their invitations today. Sounds like you guys are leaving tomorrow."

"I'd let you go in my place if I could," Kendra said. "I don't trust the Sphinx."

"You shouldn't," Seth said. "He let you win at Foosball. He pretty much told me. The guy is a pro."

"You're just saying that because he creamed you."

Seth shrugged. "Guess what? I have a secret."

"Not for long, now that you've said that much."

"You're never getting it out of me."

"Then I'll die unfulfilled," she said dryly, grabbing a new journal from the stack and opening it. She could feel Seth watching her as she pretended to read.

"Have you ever heard of nipsies?" Seth finally asked. "Nope."

"They're the smallest fairy people," Seth informed her. "They build little cities and stuff. They're about half an inch tall. The size of tiny bugs."

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