A/N: Yes, hello Fablehaven fandom! It's me again. I've missed you all dreadfully. Now, a few notes on the text:
1) The title was previously "The Joker". I decided I liked this better.
2) There will be some allusions to the companion fic of this story, The Evening Star's Final Revolution. That said, if you haven't read ESFR you won't be entirely lost so, please, keep reading!
3) Feel free to ridicule my attempt at giving them (you'll find out shortly to whom I'm referring) accents. I laughed while writing it, so I hope you laugh while reading it.
Also, I'm looking for a beta. If you're interested, PM me!
Disclaimer: It's safe to say that roughly 90% of the characters and settings in this story belong to Brandon Mull.
It all started when Seth was going through his 'normal' phase. Three months had passed since Bracken and Kendra had married.
"You're renting an apartment?" Kendra asked him for the second time, as if she hadn't heard him correctly. "And got a job? As a construction worker?"
"Yes," Seth verified in exasperation. "Why is that so crazy?"
"Because you're Seth. My little brother Seth, who believes that paying your electric bill equates to buying into a government scam. Getting an apartment and a real job is something a responsible guy in his early twenties might do."
"I'm a responsible guy in his early twenties!" Seth said indignantly.
Kendra pointedly ignored his comment. "And being a construction worker has never fallen on your infinitely long list of careers you've wanted to have."
"That's not true! There was a week - between the detective and the ninja stages - when I thought I'd look rather dashing in an orange vest. You don't remember it because you were away at camp."
Kendra eyed him doubtfully. "I thought you were going to see the world some more. You're Seth Sorenson, shadow charmer extraordinaire. What happened to your wanderlust?"
"It evaporated into wanderdust when the world decided to be boring," he mumbled sullenly.
Kendra wrinkled her nose at him. "What?"
"Nothing," he waved her off. Seth stood up from the kitchen table. For a moment he watched his sister bustle about preparing lunch. It was still weird to him to see Kendra taking care of the house at Fablehaven. She was managing really well with Bracken. Seth was a little more than slightly jealous that Fablehaven had been bequeathed to his sister, but, logically, he knew that his grandfather had made the right decision. Seth was stuck between being frustrated at not being able to find his place like everyone else and not wanting to find his place like everyone else.
Seth declined to tell his sister that, in light of recent events, he'd decided to fight fire with fire, so to speak. He was going to ward off a boring life by living a boring life.
"I've got to go," Seth announced.
"Go? You just got here!" Kendra frowned.
"I have to go," Seth repeated. "I just needed to stock back up on my milk." He gestured toward the glass bottles on the table.
"What's your rush?"
"I've got a date," he said offhandedly.
Kendra froze. And then she laughed. "A date? With a girl?"
"No, with a cross-dressing satyr," Seth deadpanned. Kendra took a moment to glare at him, though the corners of her mouth remained upturned.
"Yes, with a girl."
"What's she like?" Kendra asked, still smiling. "Where did you meet her? Do Mom and Dad know?"
"I met her at a coffee shop next to my apartment. No, Mom and Dad don't know yet. And she's... nice."
Kendra shook her head in disbelief. "An apartment, meeting a 'nice' girl at a coffee shop - Seth, are you feeling well?"
Seth felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Not because his sister was teasing him, but because she was looking at him with serious concern.
"Bye, Kendra," Seth stormed out of the house. He ignored her pleas to come back and halfhearted apologies.
Seth knew he wasn't really mad at Kendra. He was mad at what was happening to Kendra and to himself. He could feel the invisible pressure to do as she was doing - getting into the routine of things. Life was beginning to feel stale. It had been ever since the wedding. And he didn't like it.
He'd tried to walk down the opposite side of the hallway (as it were), searching for any sort of adventure. He even had tried staying with Kendra and Bracken, helping them out around the preserve. But he still felt bored. So he'd decided to take the opposite approach.
He'd gotten an apartment in a town near the preserve. The sign had been up advertising it on the lawn. It was a fully furnished down-town rental. Seth had called the real estate agent, signed the papers, and paid the first month's rent (he'd accumulated a significant amount of funds throughout his adventures). He'd spent the first day making his apartment more homey. Meaning, he stocked his cabinets with cereal and arranged his dirty laundry in decorative stacks up and down the hall.
The coffee shop was across the street from his new home. He'd walked over to get his daily dose of espresso, and he saw her. She was a tall, with a cute smile, brown hair and brown eyes - plain, but cute. Seth found himself 'accidentally bumping into her' and then asking her to meet him there again later.
Their date went over pretty well. Turned out she was the editor of the local newspaper, and was a big fan of fantasy books. She laughed at all of his jokes, and liked to listen to his "fantastical stories" (otherwise known as his real life adventures that he portrayed as a work of fiction he'd created for a series of novels he was working on). At the end of the date, he had her phone number and a promise for another date the next day.
And so Seth began the brief interlude known as his 'normal' phase. Which lasted for all of two weeks.
Seth had just stepped out of the shower. His clothes clung to his body where he had failed to properly dry himself. He had slept in and was late for work. A vibrating rumble emitted from his stomach, sending Seth scurrying to the kitchen.
His eyes scanned the room. A gleam caught his eye.
On the counter, atop a polished porcelain plate, sat a triangular scone. Next to the scone there was a yellow envelope, with a red seal, bearing Seth's name. Seth did a three-sixty turn.
Kylee - that was Seth's girlfriend's name - had been in the habit of coming over to Seth's apartment early in the morning. Typically, she brought him breakfast from the coffee shop.
"Kylee!" he called.
"Must've left the door open again," he muttered to the empty air. "Wonder why she didn't wake me..."
First, he inspected the envelope. "Is it Valentine's Day? I could have sworn it was January yesterday. Crap, she's going to kill me for forgetting," he groaned. The warm scents of vanilla and fresh blueberry filled the air. Seth felt a greater pang of guilt upon seeing that the scone was clearly homemade. He grabbed the letter absentmindedly, his mind already at work on how he would make it up to her.
Seth tore open the seal. While pulling out the letter, he grabbed the scone from the plate and brought it to his lips.
It was not the cliche, flirtatious poem he'd expected. There was only one line. A single question.
Will you help us?
"Us?" Seth wondered aloud, the scone a hair's breath away from his mouth. "Are we in trouble?"
He shrugged, feeling foolish. Had his and Kylee's relationship been on the decline, and he'd just not noticed? As much as hated to admit it, there was a distinct possibility that he'd been unconsciously distancing himself from his girlfriend. He couldn't help it. He was already bored with be boring.
Still, that didn't make it right for him to through away Kylee. She deserved better.
"Whatever it is, I'll make it right," he vowed, at last biting down on the scone.
He closed his eyes in unexpected pleasure, the delicious, sugary goodness dancing about in his mouth.
"Holy crap. This is the best scone ever!" he exclaimed as he opened his eyes. The 'best scone ever' fell from his hands onto the floor and was forgotten immediately.
Seth was no longer in his apartment kitchen. From best he could tell in the dim torchlight, he was in a underground room made entirely of dirt.
"Oh, jeez!" He jumped back against the wall.
A dozen yellow-eyed creatures stared back at Seth from around a dusty, circular table that appeared to be made of driftwood. The table rose to about Seth's hip; therefore, the creatures sitting in the high-backed, much-too-large-for-their-small-selves chairs would reach only to his knee. One chair, he noted, was empty. He was outnumbered, but at least he had height to his advantage.
What good that did him, Seth had yet to figure out.
The creatures were like something off of Sesame Street, with fuzzy, blue hair covering their bodies and standing straight up from their heads, making them look like they were triangles. The hair on their hands, feet, and faces more so resembled curly fur. They had bulbous noses and enormous eye-brows, under which their white-pupiled, creepy, yellow gazes were fixed on Seth.
"Waz' 'at?" shouted one of the little people.
"I think izza boy!"
One of the creatures quirked up an extremely large brow at the guy next to him. "As in, a 'uman boy?"
The one who had made the observation squinted in affirmation.
"'Umans are a'stinct. Everybody knows that," the one with the crazy brow nodded his head decisively, as if he'd settled the matter.
"'Umans ain't a'stinct! We seen'em last week when we helped the one with the lovely lady get the dragon thin'."
"Oh yeah!" All of the little blue creatures nodded in unison.
The one with the quirked brow sighed. "I'm too old to be 'memberin' 'iss stuff."
"No," One of them squinted up at Seth. "Look'a what he's got in his 'ands. Izza' a letter we sent! It's not a boy. It's the boy, the shadow charmer we sent for!"
"You sent this?" Seth held up the letter. "Is this what brought me here? I guess it works like a teleport? I thought my girlfriend sent this." Seth paused, looking away. His mouth formed an 'o' shape.
"This means I didn't forget Valentine's Day!" Seth pumped his fist in the air.
The blue creatures tilted their heads at him in confusion. "Talkin' nonsense, 'ee is."
"Not right, this one."
"I'm not talking nonsense," Seth said defensively, as he inched closer to the table. "I'm talking about... You know what? Nevermind." Seth shook his head. "Why am I here? Who are you? Where are we?"
"Too many questions!" one of the little men cried out. He put his hands over his hair, near where Seth suspected his ears might be, though he couldn't see any.
"Okay, I'll ask one at a time." Seth said slowly. "Who. Are. You?" He inserted a pause between each word.
"We're the S.C.O.N.E.S," two of the little men said in unison.
"Yes, I know you sent me a scone. By the way, it wasn't poisoned was it?" he glared down at the group suspiciously. They all shook their heads quickly.
"We don't 'urt, we 'elp!"
"Right. S.C.O.N.E.S. Stands for, Sideline Collective of 'Nonymous 'ElperS."
Seth drug a hand over his face. "There are just so many things. I can't even."
"We haven't always been the S.C.O.N.E.S," one said very matter-o'-factly.
"We used a'be F.O.O.D.S. Fools 'Ool 'Olways Do Something."
"And then we was J.E.L.O. Just 'Elping Lots Others."
"Actually, jello is spelled with two l's," Seth corrected.
The one who had made the comment burst into laughter. "Yea, yea, right! At's a good one."
"We's always food stuffs," one said thoughtfully.
"Ats 'cause the original name was sometin' 'bout food," another reminded him.
"But we forgot it," a third chimed in.
"So if we keep changing it we figure-" they said to Seth.
"We'll eventually get it right."
Seth crossed his arms. He didn't feel that he was in any immediate danger from this bunch. "What do you mean you're helpers?"
"You ever reach for somethin' in that moment and just when you think you are done for and your goose is cooked-"
"Cooked as can be."
"Actually, is pretty much burnt."
"Will you shut it?"
"When you look back, we go to work-" the first one continued.
"And you reach for your sword or for the crown or whatever it is, we're the one's who pushed it an inch in your direction so you could reach it."
Strangely, Seth actually knew what they meant. There were several times in his hero career that'd he could have sworn that the limb was just too high or the dagger just to far out of reach. If these guys were telling the truth, then he and a lot of other people he knew owed these weird creatures their lives.
"How could you possibly do that? Wouldn't you be seen? How come I've never heard of you?"
"We travel in the shadows."
"Like you!" A chorus of head nods followed this. They looked quite funny bobbing their heads, with no necks to speak of.
"Nobody knows about us."
"We's very secret."
"We's been here since the beginnin'!"
"And we'll be here at the end."
"We knew the molea when she was'a wee babe." This sent a few into fits of roaring laughter.
"Though she didn' know us." They all shook their heads again. A couple giggled.
Seth was having hard time processing this. "No one - not a single person - in the entire world knows about you guys? In the history of the entire world knows about you guys?"
They all shook their heads.
"Then why am I here? Why tell me? Why now?"
"We need your 'elp."
Suddenly, the room seemed to darken. The torches flickered and the little men became grim.
"The reason we have remained secret is because we are the only ones fluent in the languages of both Chaos and Creation."
Seth sucked in. An image flashed before his eyes of Kendra lying unconscious in his arms, ugly words seared onto the exposed skin of her chest.
"Only evil things speak that language," Seth observed somberly.
The blue man who had spoken shook his head once. "There are those who would say such of being a shadow charmer."
"We are like you, Seth Sorenson. We carry both light and dark within us."
"We's nece'sary for the continued egg'sistence of life."
"We's the balance."
An unpleasant thought came to the forefront of Seth's mind. "So does that mean," Seth clenched his fists at his sides. "That you hinder those as often as you help them?"
The room grew silent.
"No," said one at last. "We speak Chaos, but we do not enact it." He looked at Seth steadily.
"How do I know you're telling the truth?" Seth challenged him.
"You cain't make us say them words without a proper reason. It's bad."
Seth acquiesced thinking again of Kendra.
"We know what it is you 'member, Seth. You have seen how much damage a few words in Chaos can do."
"Yes," Seth shifted his weight uncomfortably. "And? What's the point here?"
"You see we're missing the one." They pointed to the chair. Seth nodded.
"We's lost 'em."
"And you want me to find him?" Seth demanded incredulously.
"Yea!" They brightened.
"Maybe he just wanted a vacation," Seth rolled his eyes. "I've only been around you for ten minutes and you're all already driving me nuts."
They squirmed in their seats.
"Actually, we think he may'ah gone rogue."
Seth stiffened. "What makes you say that?"
"A black wave," one said quietly, turning away in his chair so Seth couldn't see his face. "A black wave of Chaos."
A peculiar sense of dread settled upon Seth. He shivered, suddenly aware of the drafty, dampness of the underground room. "What's he talking about? What does he mean 'a black wave'?"
"We don't know," one said.
"Which is why we need you to find 'im."
"And bring 'im back to us."
"Why don't you go get him yourselves?"
"Ain't you been listenin'? We cain't interfere. Not directly. We work in the shadows."
"Well he's breaking the rules isn't he? Can't you break the rules because he did?"
They frowned at him. "That's faulty logic, that is."
"Okay," Seth massaged his temples. "Why would I help you guys?"
"You said you would."
"No, I didn't."
"You said, 'Whatever it is, I'll make it right'. And you ate the offering'."
Seth threw up in hands in exasperation. "I told you I thought it was from my girlfriend!"
"Believe us when we say t'is may be the most 'portant thin' you ever do."
"You think it's that bad?"
"We think it's worse."
Seth surveyed the hopeful faces around him. If he was being honest, he kind of liked the little guys. He wasn't sure that he completely trusted them, but they had kind faces. And then there was what the one had said about the black wave...
Seth thought about his life - the apartment, working construction from nine to five, movie marathons with Kylee - and he realized that he was going to have to say good-bye to his brief affair with normalcy.
The thought both saddened and excited him. More so excited really. Because, come on, a secret organization and a satanic blue muppet on the loose?
He clapped his hands loudly, the sound causing several of the S.C.O.N.E.S to jump. "Where do I sign?"