If you’re new to the story, you can catch up on previous chapter with links on the House of Lies page. Enjoy!
Chapter 17—It’s a Deal
Zagan smiled at the offer. Lucas settled his weight evenly on both feet and shoved his hands in his pockets, giving Vanessa a hard look before concentrating again on Zagan. If he was going to bluff, he had to make sure the headmaster bought it.
“A deal?” Zagan wound his fingers together and looked at Lucas expectantly. The shadow creatures stirred restlessly behind him. “What can you offer me?”
Lucas found the tiger’s eye in his pocket and rolled it in his fingers. “I know where to find the Truth.” The lie had an immediate effect. Lucas’s shoulders slumped and he felt almost too tired to stand. Phil tugged on his pants, but Lucas focused all of his energy on staying upright.
Vanessa laughed, “You? I picked you up from a shabby project apartment yesterday. What do you know about the Truth?”
He ignored Vanessa and kept his eyes on Zagan. “Do you want it, or not?”
Playing with his thumbs, Zagan paced behind his desk, the creatures lined up in front of the window fidgeting their wings or tails.
One, two…Lucas counted heartbeats as Zagan stepped thoughtfully in one direction and then the other.
“Seriously?” Vanessa dropped her arms to her hips, the same way she had been standing before Lucas tripped over the dogsnake and fell into full view in the doorway. “Why are you listening to him? Look at him!” She waved her hand at Lucas. “He’s about to turn, anyway. I brought him here just in time.”
Zagan stopped, “Yes, but…” he unwound his fingers, crossed one arm across his chest, rubbed his chin with the other, and kept his intense blue eyes on Lucas. A large devil creature flicked his barbed tail behind Zagan’s shoulder. Lucas remembered him from that morning, a gray-skinned giant that blocked half of the window by himself. Zagan continued, “Either way I win.”
“How?” Phil asked. “If Lucas doesn’t really know where to find the Truth, then you are out of luck.” He looked rather smug, nearly formed and standing taller than Lucas’s knee if Lucas counted the horns that poked up through his curly black hair.
Raising an eyebrow, Zagan dropped his arms to his sides. “Your satyr speaks.”
“Yeah,” Lucas nodded, “too much.”
“From the look of the little goatman, I can see that you lied. I also know that you’re special, Lucas, and if your lie comes true, I get what I really want. If it doesn’t, I get you and your satyr.” He put his hands on the ornately carved chair behind his desk. Lucas had yet to see Zagan sit in it. “You see things that a lot of the others don’t. You would make a very good scout, Lucas.”
“What about me?” Vanessa’s voice raised a pitch.
Zagan ignored her. “Now for my side of the deal. If you bring me the Truth, Lucas, what do you want in return? Money? Power?”
Lucas ran his fingers through his bangs and held his eyes steady. “I want to go home.”
Zagan paced again, as if he had to carefully weigh the choice. Lucas knew it was just for show.
“This is ridiculous. You’re making a deal with a liar.” Vanessa threw up her hands, then stomped over to face Lucas in the doorway, her boots muffled by the thick carpet. “I’ll see you downstairs,” she growled at him, then pushed her way past him through the door. Lucas leaned on the doorframe, his body feeling heavy.
Zagan turned toward the window. The shadow creatures scattered to the sides, exposing the view of the city below. “When can I expect you to deliver your part of the deal?”
How long until my lie comes true? Based on how quickly Lucas felt the effect of the lie, he guessed, “By dark.”
The hallway was empty. Lucas stumbled along the wall, keeping his hand on it for support. Phil walked at his feet, his chest puffed out, and whistled.
The stairs were difficult, but Lucas managed, beginning to feel anxious about the deal. So, he had to find the Truth, and he still wasn’t sure what that meant. Vanessa had called Truth a ‘him,’ so maybe he was looking for a man?
She stood in the foyer, tapping her boot on the marble floor and staring at the Mendacium crest. She turned when Lucas grunted coming down off of the final step and glared at him.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes narrowing over her nose.
“Getting home. Remember? My pa is lying in a hospital bed, maybe dying? Not that you care.”
She stopped tapping and hugged her arms over her chest. Tears threatened in her black eyes. “I care more than you know. Zagan has my younger sister as one of those half-soul things, and he promised to set her free if I found the Truth for him.” She smoothed her hair back with one hand, her eyes wide. “If you find him instead, I’ll might not ever get her back.”
Lucas bit his lip and pulled his hair out of his eyes. “You’re sister is a half-soul?”
“Who is Zagan?”
She shrugged, her eyes glossy but dry. “Some kind of devil or demon, I think. That’s just what I’ve figured out, anyway. I always mean to ask, but when he’s looking at me with those intense blue eyes with all the shadow things behind him, I just don’t ask a lot of questions, you know?” The more she talked like a regular person and less like a demon-controlled social worker, the more she talked in the same rhythm as Mrs. Farnes.
A demon? That explains a lot about the shadows and the lies and the general creepiness.
“What would a demon want with the Truth?” Lucas thought out loud.
“I don’t know. I just said I don’t ask a lot of questions,” Vanessa said through gritted teeth.
A commotion came out of the rec room, led by Cassy. She walked like a model, placing one long leg in front of the other, her catsnake wriggling at her feet. Sandra and her zombie shadow followed, her blond pixie cut and suitcase bobbing in rhythm as she stepped on only the black marble tiles. Cassy ignored Vanessa and Lucas, pushing past them and heading up the stairs.
Brandon and Max trailed behind. Max stopped just inside of the foyer, leaning against the doorframe to the rec room, and folded his arms. His gryphon folded its wings and sat on its haunches on the floor, a somber look on every snake head of its mane.
“Hey, Vanessa!” Brandon smiled cheerfully as he came over by Lucas. He grinned and bobbed, his earbuds swinging out of the collar of his orange tee shirt. His dragon shadow flitted around Brandon’s feet, trying to catch the colorful dots of light from the chandelier as Brandon faced Lucas with a question. “Guess what?” he said loudly.
Lucas flinched. That last lie had given him a headache. “What?”
Brandon glanced at Vanessa, then leaned in close to whisper in Lucas’s ear. “Zombie Girl.”
“I know.” Lucas said quietly. “I saw her come in.” He nodded toward Vanessa.
Brandon looked over, his brows squeezing together, confused. “Vanessa…” his eyes grew, “I thought you were lying when you said Vanessa was going to be here.”
“But,” Brandon stood up and looked at something above Lucas’s head, “She’s here.”
“Yep. Right there.” Lucas pointed, then gave Vanessa a small wave.
She returned the wave with a glare. Brandon looked over and gave her a sheepish smile.
Lucas looked at the sketchpad under Brandon’s arm. “Can I see those sketches now?”
“I have a new sketch of Zombie Girl.” Brandon pulled the pad out from under his arm and flipped it open before handing it to Lucas. There was Sandra, holding her suitcase, half of the flesh missing from her arms and face.
“Cute,” Lucas scrunched up his nose as if something smelled bad. “But I meant the sketches of Ami and Tate.” He looked behind him at the doorway to the kitchen. If there was any daylight still coming in through the window above the sink, it wasn’t enough to make it to the foyer. Brandon’s intricate shading was mottled by the crystal rainbows of the light from the chandelier.
Vanessa glanced over at the two boys as Brandon flipped to a new page in the sketchpad, then returned her focus to the crest on the wall.
“Well, I made one of both of them, you know, since they’re always together. It’s pretty cool.” Brandon pulled his pencil out from behind his ear and scratched his nose.
At first glance, all Lucas could see was a jumble of limbs and feathers.
“Oops,” Brandon turned the sketch around so that it was right side up. “Sorry, man.”
Ami floated in the upper left corner, her long wavy hair falling in front of her shoulders, which flared out into a pair of delicately feathered wings each the size of the rest of her body. She seemed to glow while she hovered over Tate. Lucas didn’t think Tate could get much uglier, but here he was. Beyond ugly. He was tall and bald, a sinewy stretch of skin over long legs and arms, with bony knuckles and knobby feet. Three little evil things, resembling miniature elves with solid white eyes and pointy ears, climbed around Tate’s head and shoulders. As ugly as he was, his eyes were kind, even a little sad, and his mouth was open.
Singing? He was about to ask Brandon when Vanessa snatched the sketchpad from his hands. Her dark eyes went wide and she looked up at the crest on the wall, then back to the sketch. Lucas’s eyes followed hers.
“Seek the Truth.” Vanessa tapped her toe a few times then paused and looked at him, her eyebrows almost up to her hairline.
“Tate,” they breathed out at the same time.
A flash of light burst out of the rec room doorway, blinding them for a moment, then disappeared as quickly as it came.
“Whoah,” Brandon stood completely still and stared.
Vanessa slapped the sketchpad against Brandon’s orange tee shirt and ran through the rec room door. Blinking, Max slipped in behind her. Lucas waited for his eyes to focus, then followed them, Brandon right behind him.
His feet felt like lead weights. It took all his strength to drag them across the marble. Inside the rec room, the Triforce of Contention stood in a circle behind the set of medieval armor, a circle that grew as Vanessa, Max, and then Brandon joined it. Lucas trudged by the twins, glancing over as he passed them on their bean bag. Their two-headed rat shadow leaped off their laps as they shriveled into gray half-souls and climbed out of their clothes. The shadow creature looked at Lucas with all four black eyes and smiles on its rat faces before scurrying past him and out through the door to the foyer, the things that used to be the twins following slowly.
Lucas reached the group and leaned his hand on Brandon’s shoulder. Brandon moved over for Lucas to have space, everyone looking at the carpet with sober expressions. It looked burned, black lines streaking out from a human-sized center like a crooked starburst.