Chapter 18—Seek the Truth
“What…is…that?” Brandon ventured.
Devon looked up, still holding a pool stick. Lucas could tell because he wore blue shorts. “I don’t know. Just a flash of light and then ‘poof,’ Tate and Ami were gone and this was left.”
“It looks like when they have a dead person and they outline the body in chalk.” Tom drew in the air with his finger. His voice was higher pitched than Lucas would have expected, but it matched his baby cheeks. His fox shadow sniffed at the carpet, the scorpion tale twisting up against the feathers on its back.
“Except this is in black,” Vanessa looked at the short, red-headed kid.
“And there’s no dead person,” Max added. His gryphon sat on the floor behind him, perfectly still.
“That we know of,” Brandon finished. Everyone stared at him. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at his shoes, his little dragon shadow picking at his mismatched laces.
“It doesn’t smell like smoke,” the tall blond boy, Jayden, offered. His red basketball shorts rippled around his legs as he rocked his knees a little. “But it looks burnt.”
Max looked at Lucas while everyone else stared at the mark on the floor. “You don’t look so good.”
Lucas nodded, “I did an experiment.”
“You lied.” Max knew.
Now everyone looked at Lucas. “He’s right,” Tom agreed in his baby voice. “You look pretty gray.”
“Eat. Even if you’re not hungry, eating will make you feel a little better.” Max shrugged toward the kitchen, “Let’s all go. We need a plan.”
In the kitchen, they stood around the island and studied the sketch Brandon had made of Ami and Tate, their shadow creatures scattered nearby. Brandon had volunteered to get Cassy and Sandra, mentioning something about ‘Zombie Girl’ as he grabbed the banister and swung himself up the stairs.
Lucas stood at the corner, between the fridge and the sink. The others spread out around the kitchen island, Brandon and Sandra on the fridge side of him and Max on the sink side. Straight across from him was Cassy, who fixed her pony tail while the others leaned on the counter.
“So it’s a picture. So what?” Tom asked. He seemed annoyed that the situation was taking this long. The mark on the carpet was interesting, but he didn’t look like he cared much about artwork.
“It’s Ami and Tate, duh. Apparently they aren’t just stupid orphans like the rest of us.” Cassy folded her arms and gave Tom a mean look. He returned it by sticking out his tongue.
“It’s very good,” Sandra spoke quietly to Brandon. He blushed, turning pink above the collar of his orange v-neck.
Lucas looked down when something bumped his leg. Phil had his arms crossed, leaning against Lucas’s shin. The satyr rolled his eyes as Sandra’s zombie shadow started petting Brandon’s dragon.
Vanessa sighed, “Tate is something Zagan has been searching for, probably for a really long time.”
“Like how long?” Devon asked. He leaned on his pool stick. The giant shadow creatures that belonged to him and Jayden towered over the group, their horned heads nearly touching the ceiling.
“Like maybe thousands of years? I don’t know.” Vanessa rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find Tate and Ami and make sure Zagan doesn’t get what he wants.”
“Thousands of years?” Tom’s eyebrows went up. “That’s impossible.”
“Not if you’re a demon,” Max stated simply. His shadow gryphon leaped up on the counter next to the sink, his tail twitching as it dangled.
“Alright,” Brandon rubbed his hands together excitedly, “this is getting kind of cool.”
“Like being in the movies,” Sandra smiled at him.
“So you’re saying Zagan is a demon?” Cassy asked. Her catsnake climbed up her arm and coiled in front of her on the countertop.
“Who kidnapped Tate and has evil plans to take over the world?” Tom added. Lucas caught a glimpse of the scorpion tail from the red-headed boy’s foxlike shadow creature over the edge of the counter.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.” Max nodded again.
“What does that have to do with us?” Cassy waved one hand dramatically, barely missing Vanessa’s face. “Zagan has never bothered any of us. He just stays in his library all day, being headmastery and stuff.”
“Zagan is the demon prince of lying, or something like that. He needs us because we’re all liars, and when we lie enough, we free the evil half of our souls to join Zagan’s army.” Max’s voice was soft, as usual, but deadly serious.
“How do you know all of this?” Tom set the cue ball on the counter with a ‘pop’ and leaned forward, his cheeks flushed.
“I read,” Max answered.
“I’ve been here for a month, and I haven’t seen any books about demons and liars,” Cassy folded her long, skinny arms across her pony shirt, and her catsnake hissed.
Lucas couldn’t imagine Cassy reading anything other than her fashion magazine, but he had only really been at Mendacium for a day.
“What do you think Zagan keeps on his library shelves? Cartoons?” The gryphon’s black eyes shifted to Cassy and its tail continued to twitch.
“Maybe you would’ve noticed if you put down your mirror every once in a while,” Tom mimicked holding up a compact and making kissing faces.
Cassy punched him in the shoulder, and her catsnake swiped at the fox’s scorpion tail as it waved behind the counter.
Vanessa sighed. “Max is right. Zagan is a demon and he brought you here so that he could take your souls.” She straightened her suit jacket and played with one of the buttons. “And I’ve been helping him find you and bring you here.”
She’s not nearly as bad as I thought, Lucas took a bite of a rolled up tortilla sandwich that Max had helped him make.
“What are you doing here with us, anyway?” Cassy looked at the woman in the gray pantsuit. “It’s not like you’re one of us. What do you care what happens to a couple of kids?”
“She’s a social worker,” Devon said. “It’s her job.”
Vanessa leaned back from the counter and folded her arms, her eyes narrowed.
Lucas swallowed his bite of tortilla sandwich and cleared his throat. “Zagan has her sister.”
“Rough,” Brandon put his hands down, avoiding Vanessa’s stern face.
“Has her where?” Tom asked.
Max leaned back against the sink and folded his arms. The cathead on Cassy’s snake creature watched the gryphon’s tail as it twitched in front of the cupboards.
“She turned?” he asked Vanessa.
Vanessa nodded. “She came here a few months ago. She’s my half-sister, and our mom died when she was little. After I found out her dad died, I went to look for her and finally found her here.”
They all waited in silence, only the gryphon’s shadow tail moving.
“But when I got here,” Vanessa continued, “she had already turned into one of those…things.”
“A half-soul.” Max said.
“Yeah, a half-soul. Zagan said he’d turn her back if I found him the Truth.” Vanessa hugged her folded arms more tightly to her chest.
“And then what about us?” Cassy demanded, her full attention on the woman with the brown hair and black eyes.
Vanessa looked at the floor, avoiding Cassy’s stern gaze. “I don’t know.”
The girl backed away from the kitchen island toward the door to the foyer. “Well, then we have no reason to trust you. I have no reason to be here at all, listening to you make up stuff about demons and truth and—“
“Quaere Veritatem.” Brandon said loudly. Everyone looked at him, the room silent and still. “It’s on the crest when you walk in the front door. It’s here, too,” he pointed to the sketch.
Cassy wrinkled her nose and stuck her tongue out at Brandon for interrupting her. Brandon didn’t notice, but his dragon jerked his head up, as if he were looking for the catsnake he couldn’t quite see.
Squinting, Lucas made out the phrase woven into the gray shading on Tate’s sinewy chest, like the shadow of a tattoo. The others around the island pushed and pulled at the sketch pad until they had all had a look.
“You should see this,” Lucas invited Cassy back. They needed her, he needed her, to get back to Pa. He didn’t know what it took to fight a demon, but he was afraid that all of them together still wouldn’t be enough, even after they figured out what they were going to do.
She stood frozen, staring above Jayden and Devon, her jaw hanging. Lucas ran his fingers through his bangs and pulled them out of his eyes.
“What are those?” She pointed to the giant shadow creatures standing behind the tall boys.
“These guys?” Jayden threw a thumb over his shoulder.
Cassy closed her mouth and nodded.
Devon smiled, “We call them the ‘Bad Day Brothers.’”
“Yeah,” Jayden nodded. “They just started following us around one day, but they never do anything or say anything, just stand around looking mean.”
“They’re what Zagan wants from us,” Lucas explained. “They’re half of our souls, the bad half I guess, that we have because we lie. Is this the first time you’ve seen them?”
Cassy nodded. Her catsnake purred against her legs, one shade darker, and Cassy turned a slight shade grayer. The shift was subtle, but Lucas could see it easily now.
“You’re lying,” Lucas told her.
“No, I’m not,” Cassy shook her head. The change in color happened again.
“Cassy, every time you lie, the bad part of your soul gets stronger and you get weaker. You can’t lie, or you’ll end up with Zagan as a half-soul,” Lucas pleaded.
“And half-souls are very ugly,” Max added.
That seemed to get the message through to Cassy, because she swallowed and said, “Okay, I’ve noticed them, maybe, but I thought they were just hallucinations or weird day dreams or something.”
With that, Cassy’s color got better and the shadow catsnake faded just a little. She looked down at the creature at her legs, and then at Devon and Jayden with a smirk. “At least mine is kind of pretty.”
“Yeah,” Tom smirked back, ‘In an evil-suck-your-soul-from-your-body kind of way.”
Cassy inhaled, gathering herself for a comeback, then let it go, looking again at the giants behind Jayden and Devon. She came back to the island, her face thoughtful.
“Is the half-soul thing what happened to Dee?” Cassy looked down and played with the edge of the counter.
“And the twins,” Lucas said it as an answer. “It’s what will happen to all of us if we don’t find Tate.”
Max unfolded his arms and leaned in, bracing himself on his pale hands. “I think I know where to look.”
“But what do we do when we find him?” Tom threw up his hands. “Tell Zagan ‘Thanks for the fun’ and go out for pizza?”
Looking at Cassy, then her shadow creature twisting back onto the countertop in front of her, Lucas thought of the way their colors shifted when Cassy lied and then told the truth. Quaere Veritatem, Lucas’s bangs fell in front of his eyes as he looked down at the sketch. He pulled it closer to him, studying the little creatures crawling on Tate’s leathery body. They didn’t look evil so much as they looked strange and…pure. Their white eyes were clear, the opposite of the solid black eyes all of the shadow creatures and the half-souls had.
Seek the Truth.
“I have an idea,” he said.