Hey all, here is chapter seven! I know I said it would only be a few weeks, but quite a lot has happened in the last month or so. I hope you can forgive me, and I hope you enjoy this next part! Read closely, this part is very important!
Seth whipped around to see a large black creature stepping out of the shadows of the trees, a troll, with shining scales and yellow accents, eyes narrowed and snout quivering.
"Nero." Seth could barely keep himself from wincing at his presence. The last time the two had met hadn't been the most ideal of circumstances, and Seth remembered in particular that he had Hugo launch the troll across the garden.
"Nero, explain your presence here." Dale took over, normally soft and mild voice loud and commanding. He and Warren moved in front of the others and behind them, Cassidy and Eli hovered with uncertainty.
"Is it a crime to simply be in one`s own territory?" Nero did an impressive job of acting like he didn't care. His eyes flicked from Dale to behind Seth. "Who are the visitors?"
"You're a cliff troll." Eli spoke up, his voice filled with curiosity, and not even a little bit of fear. Was he stupid or just inexperienced?
"Indeed, and what are you then human?" Nero`s voice tensed, pitching just a little lower.
"Cassidy, and this is Eli. We`re just here to help." Cassidy placed himself between his brother and the troll, perfectly calm and stoic.
"Well met." Nero`s attention focused back on Seth, seeming to dismiss Cassidy and Eli altogether. "Tell me Seth Sorenson, are you here to commune with the spirits of the dark marsh and make more false commands? What is it this time? Whose orders are you following for now?" Seth knew he was most definitely talking about the manor incident now.
"Look, you were the one that listened to me! And besides, you shouldn't have been sacking the manor anyway!" Seth fired back.
"You invoked the name of the demon Graulas masquerading as his servant!" Nero hissed, muscles bunching as he leaned over, taking on a more defensive position.
"To keep Fablehaven safe!"
"And betraying your own people in the process." Nero considered him. "After everything I've done for you…"
"Everything you've done for me?" Seth cried incredulously. "All you ever did was follow Graulas`s orders, I don't owe you anything!"
Suddenly, Seth felt a hand on his shoulder, a large, strong hand. Tanu. Seth released a breath from his body, not having realized how his body tensed up, and his hand crept to the sword by his side.
"Leave, now. You have no business here." Dale spoke flatly, even as Nero`s eyes narrowed at him.
"And who are you to make me, servant?" Nero sneered, and though Dale didn't move, Warren did, lurching forward, but before he could reach Nero, an arrow buried itself in the tree right beside Nero's head.
Nero hissed, dropping to the ground, as did the rest of them. The thumping tune of hooves interrupted the silence and Nero let out a sigh, getting to his feet.
"This isn't worth an encounter with those brutes. But," Nero paused eyes refocusing on Seth, "It seems to me that you won't be able to avoid one. Best of luck, Master Sorenson." Nero hurried into the woods, his reptilian body covering ground quickly.
"Who was that guy?" Cassidy asked, displeased as they all got to their feet. However, there was no time to answer his question because just then, a group of centaurs broke through the treeline, and Seth felt his stomach sink. Nero was, at best, an annoyance and one that he could deal with, but the centaurs truly hated him. They would put an arrow through his heart if they could, without any regrets at all, and even worse, Seth recognized them. Cloudwing was in the front, leading the group, and others he vaguely remembered to be Edgerunner, Fleetwood and Stormbrow, all part of the group he had dealt with after the preserve had fallen.
"Well isn't this just cozy? A meeting of old friends." Cloudwing spoke, focusing on Seth.
"This isn't your territory Cloudwing." Warren stepped forward warningly.
"This isn't any of your concern, human." Stormbrow snarled waving his mace.
"Then you wouldn't mind if I mentioned to Stan that the centaurs are having trouble remaining in their quite generous borders?" Dale, once again back to his mild tone, spoke up, and Seth was once again impressed that Dale could hold such status in the preserve that even the centaurs didn't dare cross him.
Cloudwing`s eyes rolled and he seemed to have trouble keeping his tone in check. "We were tracking that filthy troll. He has been testing our borders for the last week and we`ve had to chase him off. That is within our right isn't it? To defend our territory?"
"Of course," Dale responded. "As it is within our rights to visit all territories of the preserve on the caretaker`s orders."
"On the caretaker`s orders? Who then, are these strangers?"
"Friends. Ones that are welcome, especially in light of recent circumstances." This sparked a thought in Seth and before he could stop it, it came rushing out of his mouth.
"Quickstride, he went missing, right around here!" Seth could practically feel the glares from all sides and he winced, cursing his inability to keep his mouth shut.
"And why would that concern you? You have no care for anyone beside your own kind!" One of the other centaurs, Edgerunner spat back at him.
Seth narrowed his eyes, "Why do think that?"
Cloudwing rolled his eyes, "This talk isn't getting us anywhere. If you'll excuse us…" He and the others made to turn around.
"Wait! The centaur that went missing Quickstride, what was he doing here?" Eli called bringing the attention of the centaurs back to them. Seth could feel himself cringing as he recognized that this was probably what it was like putting up with him and his mouth.
Cloudwing considered him for a moment, seeming surprised by him and Cassidy, "I don't see how that concerns you." His voice was flat, but not hostile. He made to turn again before Warren interrupted him again.
"Cloudwing, we`re here to investigate the disappearances. Quickstride and Silene both were seen here and then vanished. If you know anything at all…"
"What is there to tell? Quickstride came here to chase off that troll and he never returned. I`ve never even met that nymph." He snapped, but his tone lost all the bite.
"Did you or any of your scouts ever encounter anything strange in the last few weeks?" Cassidy spoke up, quiet, intense voice drawing everyone`s focus.
Cloudwing gazed at him, "Nothing that is a cause for alarm."
"So there has been something?" Cassidy assumed.
"The dark marsh." The centaur behind Cloudwing, Fleetwood, the centaur who had yet to speak responded quietly, ignoring the looks his fellows shot him, stepping forward.
"It isn't far from here, it is only through the trees here. We never go near it, even when it touched our territory. About a week ago, Quickstride came back from border patrol and told me that he had entered the marsh in order to chase off the troll. He mentioned nothing about a hamadryad." Fleetwood finished, not faltering under the glares of the centaurs beside him. He turned to speak to his comrades directly.
"From birth we are taught to protect our own and only our own. We are not to entertain the thoughts or pleas of creatures that are below us. I have held to that philosophy for my entire life. But now, one of our own is missing. Our brother. I will not allow another to be lost to preserve silly rules." Fleetwood faced them once more and Seth felt his stare bore into him specifically. "I do not largely agree with most of the actions taken here at Fablehaven, but this is our home. My people, my tribe are here, and I will do anything to protect them. I will answer whatever questions I can, if it will help reveal the truth."
Rearing back on his hind legs, Stormbrow galloped forward in front of Fleetwood, yelling something at him in the language of the centaurs, which Fleetwood responded to in turn. The others chimed in, and sending the group a disgusted glare, Stormbrow and Edgerunner galloped off. Cloudwing however, stayed, staring at Fleetwood with something similar to betrayal. When Fleetwood spoke again, it was in English.
"Tell Graymane my decision if you wish. Advocate for my banishment if you wish, but do not, for one moment tell me that I am wrong for simply choosing my people and their well-being." His tone left no room for argument, and without another word, Cloudwing ran off, leaving them alone with Fleetwood.
"Thank you." Dale said quietly, and Fleetwood turned on them, fire in his eyes.
"I am not doing this for you. I am doing this for my brother, for Quickstride, for my people who could again fall victim to this tragedy. The centaurs have known nothing but loss and grief in their interactions with you humans, and I do not take any pleasure in interacting with those who would leave us for dead in a moment." Fleetwood met Seth`s eyes and he realized that it was indeed him the centaur referred to. He knew instantly what he was talking about and Seth had to resist the urge to get upset, reminding himself that if he screwed this up, they would have nothing.
"Broadhoof." Fleetwood`s gaze hardened and he gave a single nod in response. "He wasn't left for dead. He died a hero."
"He died with your sister on his back ripped apart by darkness and light. He was left abandoned by you to be consumed by the darkness." Seth felt his heart tug a little, remembering that day.
"He sacrificed himself for the good of Fablehaven. He was brave but in the end, he made his choice. You weren't the only ones who lost people that day." He fought to keep his voice even, as Lena`s face appeared in his mind.
Fleetwood raised his chin, something else in his expression. Was it pity? But without responding he turned to Warren and Dale.
"I can take you where he had been before and answer any questions you may have." Accepting, Dale motioned for him to lead and Fleetwood walked into the woods. They followed and as they walked, Cassidy and Eli caught up with Seth.
"What's with him?" Eli murmured.
"I don't exactly have the best relationship with the centaurs." Seth replied and in front of him, Tanu snorted.
"You could say that again." Tanu muttered and Seth rolled his eyes.
"Your welcome!" Tanu responded brightly, before speeding up to walk beside Dale and Warren.
"What was he talking about before? About that centaur Broadhoof?" Cassidy asked from his other side.
Seth closed his eyes briefly, preparing himself. It was still difficult to talk about the events that had transpired during the shadow plague, but he did his best. "A few years ago, there was this plague… thing at Fablehaven. It almost destroyed Fablehaven, but we were able to save it. Broadhoof was a centaur who helped us take down the source of the plague, but he died trying. He saved us."
"So you got along with him?"
Seth laughed to himself a little bit, "Not exactly. I actually challenged him to a duel so he would help us."
"Oh I bet that went well." Cassidy muttered, sounding suspiciously like Kendra.
"I was young and stupid. I never should have done it, but we were desperate. And without Broadhoof, we never would have succeeded." With that, the group broke through the tree-line. Fleetwood stopped to let the others pass and as Seth did, he noticed Fleetwood giving him a strange look.
"The dark marsh is over there." Fleetwood pointed to the far end of the clearing where a wooden walkway extended out into the shadows. "The troll often disappears into the marsh to hide from us. Quickstride said that he went as far as the boardwalk, but didn't go into the marsh."
Seth cast his eyes to the boardwalk, hidden mostly in shadows. "I guess this is the part where I come in?" He asked.
Warren glanced at Fleetwood and then at Tanu and Dale. "Seth are you sure you can do this?"
If Seth didn't know better, then he would have been offended by the hesitancy in his cousin`s voice. "Yeah, I`m good. Straight in, straight out, don't make deals with the evil things."
Eli grinned. "Simple enough." Seth appreciated the sarcasm in his voice, but Cassidy nudged him in the side, a gesture so universal that Seth could recognize it as him saying shut up.
"We'll wait here for you. Be careful." Dale said quietly. So, Seth turned and headed towards the boardwalk. As he approached, he could feel the darkness gathering around him, pressing in on his body, a slight chill entering the air. He stopped in front of the wooden walkway, looking out to the marsh. He had a feeling that he was being watched and he had to remind himself that everyone was depending on him. He tried to remember the lines that Grandpa had suggested for him to use as an opener.
"Spirits of the marsh, I am Seth Sorenson, here on behalf of the caretakers of this preserve. Hear my plea."
The dark water began to swirl under the wood, so much so it made his stomach churn, but the boardwalk remained steady and he forced himself to focus.
What is your business here shadow charmer? A high clear voice spoke in his head, almost hissing out the words.
"I have some questions for those of you who know anything about the disappearances of Quickstride the centaur and Silene the hamadryad. I understand they were both near here when they went missing." His words hung in the silence, no words reaching out to his mind in response.
"The one who spoke before, show yourself." Seth demanded, hoping that it would draw out the creature. No response, again. Now Seth was getting impatient.
"I order you to show yourselves! Now!" Seth knew he had made a mistake as the water began to swirl again, faster and violent. Some of it splashed onto the wood, against his shoes.
How dare you command us, child? We are the spirits of the Dark Marsh, ancient and powerful. The voice spoke, and his words struck Seth`s mind with a huge force.
"I'm a shadow charmer." Seth asserted, trying to reign in his uncertainty.
You are nothing but a mere child who pretends to walk in the darkness. Your status means nothing to us. The voice said with venom in its tone. It continued, You are a pathetic mortal boy, with no place to belong.
"Enough!" Seth didn't mean to shout, but he did. Blood rushed in his ears and he squeezed his hands into fists at his sides.
"I am a shadow charmer, made from the gifts of Graulas. I have commanded shades and wraiths and all dark creatures alike. I killed the great Nagi Luna and Graulas." Seth was shaking. "I will not be scolded by foolish creatures of the sludge. Show yourselves! Now!" This time, he barked out the words, refusing to take no for an answer. He worried that once again, the creature would simply laugh at him, but the water suddenly went still, until ripples began to rise from the water right in front of the boardwalk. Tiny rays of light that entered through the trees allowed him to see it. Three creatures, black and dripping. They wore cloaks with long hoods covering their heads and wrapped all the way around them.
They looked like wraiths, but something in his gut told him that these creatures were not that.
"What are you?"
You do not know, Wise One? As a shadow charmer…
Seth cut off the creature. "Yeah, yeah I get it, just answer the question. And speak aloud! I want to know which one of you is speaking."
"We are the grindylow. I speak for the three of us." The creature in the middle spoke from below the cloak.
"Alright," Seth took a deep breath. "I want to know about Quickstride and Silene."
"What is there to know? They were here. Now they are not." Seth rolled his eyes. Of course the grindylow was going to play coy, because nothing could ever be easy.
"Were they here, at the marsh?" Seth decided to go with direct questions, hoping that it would be harder for the grindylow to avoid the question.
The grindylow paused for a moment, considering the question. "Yes."
"Were they ever here before then?" Seth pressed. When the creature didn't respond, Seth took a step forward.
"Don't make this any harder than it has to be." Seth warned.
"They had… visited the marsh before."
"Can you be any more specific? Were they ever together? Why were they here?"
"We do not… know."
Seth had to fight the urge to stomp his foot in frustration.
"Okay let's take this slow then. Were Silene and Quickstride ever here, at the marsh together?"
"Do you know why?"
"The hamadryad was dared to walk on the boards. The centaur was chasing the troll, Nero."
"Did they both actually enter the marsh, like walk on the boards?"
"When was this?" Seth frowned a little. Didn't Fleetwood say that Quickstride never actually came into the marsh.
"Two months ago."
"Two months?" Seth asked, trying to remember if he had heard that before. "Were those the only two times they were here?"
Abruptly, without responding to his question, the grindylow began to sink beneath the water, speaking in his mind now. We have told you all that we can. Go in peace shadow charmer.
"Wait! I'm not done with you yet!" Seth shouted at the murky water that had once again become still. But it was no use, even after waiting a few minutes in the silence, there was no sign of anything present.
"Spirits of the marsh, I command any of you to tell me what you know!" Resisting a groan of frustration at the silence once more, Seth began to get the feeling that he was unwelcome. The air grew a little colder and he sensed a strong sense of foreboding, as if his senses were screaming at him to get out. Suddenly remembering his promise to his sister, he pushed back his curiosity which urged him to try again to reach the grindylow, Seth began backing off the boardwalk until he was standing on the grass again.
Then he turned and went back to the clearing of trees, noticing the sun beginning to set in the sky through the trees. How long had he been in the marsh? He could have sworn it had only been a few minutes, but it seemed that he had been gone longer than he thought. Seth continued until he saw his group, Cassidy and Eli sitting on the ground, fiddling with their backpacks. Tanu searching in his potion bag for something and Warren and Dale speaking to Fleetwood who finally looked a little less miserable.
Eli saw him first, calling a hello to him, scrambling to his feet. Cassidy followed suit and the others turned towards him.
"How was it?" Warren asked, and Seth could see that he looked a little concerned, but he wasn't sure why. Warren did worry a lot.
"Interesting. I talked to some grindylow."
"Grindylow are extremely solitary creatures, it's a miracle they spoke to you at all." Cassidy noted quietly.
"Well it wasn't exactly easy. They were pretty vague." Seth turned to Fleetwood. "They said that Quickstride and Silene both actually entered the marsh itself."
At this, Fleetwood actually looked surprised. "Are you certain?"
The centaur frowned, brow furrowing. "We are strictly forbidden from entering the dark marsh. It poses a danger to our entire community and Quickstride was not one to break rules."
"The grindylow said Quickstride was chasing Nero."
Fleetwood once again looked surprised, obviously musing over something.
Dale took over the questioning. "What else?"
"They seemed to be aware that they were both missing. They said something like 'they were here, now they're not', that Silene was dared to enter the marsh around two months ago, which is when Quickstride and Silene were here together. They said that the both of them were here yesterday but disappeared when I asked them about any other times they were here."
"Quickstride was not patrolling yesterday. He would have had no reason to come anywhere near here." Fleetwood interjected.
"Well that's what the grindylow said, and they know better than to lie to me." Seth volunteered. "Which must mean that Quickstride was lying to you."
Fleetwood's eyebrows knitted together. "Quickstride was not one to lie."
"Well he obviously did." Eli asserted, casting a quick glance at Fleetwood. "Uh, sorry, but we have to think about what would draw a centaur to this marsh after living an entire life right next to it, why now?"
"Something changed here." Seth replied, thinking fast. "Something set in motion months in advance. Why now? Why today?" Seth turned to Dale. "You know this preserve better than anyone. Did anything happen two months ago that you can remember?"
Dale sighed. "Nothing that I can think of. You know, I`ve been going over it in my mind. The dark marsh is one of the only places on Fablehaven that most creatures avoid. Not even the dark ones frequent it. But all of sudden, it's the center of our own set of disappearances."
Fleetwood heaved a sigh as well, "If we`re done here then, we should all be getting back. It is nearing nighttime."
Seth looked to the setting sun. Dale spoke up. "He's right. It isn't a good idea to be here at night. Let's get back to Hugo." Dale led the way and Fleetwood walked with them to Hugo who sat on the ground, picking at the grass on the ground.
"Hugo, we're going to go home now. Get ready please." Warren ordered and the golem lumbered to his feet. Seth went over to Hugo with Eli and Cassidy, leaving the others to talk with Fleetwood.
"Seth is okay?" While Hugo`s grammar left something to be desired, Seth couldn't help but smile at the golem`s concern.
"I'm fine. Everything went well enough."
"Good." Hugo picked up the handle of the cart and Eli turned to Seth.
"So, the whole shadow charmer thing? How did that happen?"
"Eli!" Cassidy dug his elbow into Eli`s side, shutting him up. He smiled at Seth apologetically, and Seth was once more reminded of Kendra. "My brother doesn't know when to shut up."
Seth grinned a little, "It's okay. I`m the same way. And it's a long, long story. Basically I pulled a nail from a revenant and a demon decided I was worth their attention."
Cassidy raised his eyebrows, looking intrigued, but once again, Eli jumped in. "The talisman was a nail? What did you do with it?"
Seth furrowed his brow. "Well… I dropped it. I got a little bit hurt."
"We intercept a lot of sales of those kinds of talismans. It never ends well." Cassidy added.
"Yeah well, it didn't really for us either." Seth admitted. "There was the whole shadow plague thing and then well…" Seth trailed off, remembering. Those few weeks were awful and it still stung to think about Lena and how it all ended.
"Yeah. Not good." Eli surmised, looking back at the others who were still deep in discussion with the centaur.
"So what do you think about all this, with the marsh?" Seth asked.
Cassidy and Eli exchanged glances. "Well, it's a lot of the same story we've heard before, at least with the disappearances. But with the rest of this, the fire at the school, and the guy, I haven't seen anything like this before."
Seth bit his lip, seeing Tanu, Warren and Dale heading back towards them. "Me neither. He looked so normal. I don't even know how he was able to exude that much magical fear."
"I've never been frozen like that before." Eli admitted.
"It's not fun." Seth agreed.
"Alright kids, let's get going!" Warren announced, walking over to the cart and boosting himself in. As Seth joined him along with the others, he thought of his sister, in another realm altogether. He couldn't help but wish she was still here, but he knew it wouldn't be the last time he and his sister would have to take their journey separately.
And there we go! I hope you all enjoyed that, I promise the next part will be coming sooner than later! I try to keep a few chapters ahead of this story, so for every chapter I post, I write and edit one more, and I was having major writers block.
Anyway, thank you to JaylaLovesReading, Yakall, Jesussavedevenme, IceSnowCream, By myself alone, NaoSa and more for all of your support! You guys are so incredibly sweet and supportive and you have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you for everything.
I promise you will see me in a few weeks! Bye!