Despite the circumstances, Silas had fallen asleep. When he woke, it was Tuesday morning and there was a faint glimmer of light under the door at the top of the stairs. Waters had been replaced by someone else, and the headache was blessedly gone. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, pushing his hair out of his face.
“What do they call you?” he asked the new guard.
The new guard didn’t answer. Silas took his watch from his coat pocket to check the time, but it had stopped. “I don’t suppose you have the time?”
Again, silence. Silas sighed and got up, stretching his arms, and leaned against the bars. “How long do you intend to keep me here? You can’t do this, you know… legally, that is.”
The new guard wasn’t even making eye contact with him. Silas frowned and tapped his fingers against his leg. “Look, here. I’d like to talk to someone – this Lord Carson, or anyone else in charge. Go tell them I want –”
The guard interrupted him by drawing and cocking a pistol. Silas held up his hands placatingly and sat back down on the cot.
The hours went by slowly and without knowing what time it was, it felt like days passed. They gave him something to eat later on, and it looked like leftovers from lunch. A couple times the guard let him out to use the water closet across the room, finger always on the trigger of a cocked pistol. Silas tried to talk to him again several times, all with the same result as the first try.
In the silence, he had all the time in the world to regret taking the book. Why hadn’t he told the man to keep it? Why hadn’t he gotten rid of it at the first sign of its strangeness? Surely any sane man would have – if not as soon as he noticed that the words kept shifting, then definitely when he saw his own name being written by an invisible hand. It was his blasted curiosity. It was going to be the death of him one day. And Faye… he only hoped by some miracle they would leave her out of it. Whatever ‘it’ was and whoever ‘they’ were.
At some point in the afternoon, the guard switched with another, but it still wasn’t Waters. Perhaps he’d gotten out of his month-long guard duty after all. The new guard wasn’t any more talkative than the first but was at least not as irritable. Silas asked several more times to see Carson, but each time, the guard answered with a cordial ‘no’.
The day passed excruciatingly slowly. Mostly he laid on the cot and stared at the ceiling. Sometimes he paced back and forth across the cell – four steps in either direction – but that helped very little. Eventually, they gave him dinner, the guard changed, and he fell asleep.
When he woke, the silent guard was back. Silas was careful not to say a word to him. He stared up at the ceiling, suddenly realizing it was Wednesday and he’d missed an entire day of classes. Faye would be a wreck. His father would likely have investigators out searching. But who would guess where he was? It made no sense, not even to him.
In the absence of anything to distract himself, he went over everything he remembered from the past few days, then he went over it again. And again. If Waters was to be believed, they thought he was part of this group called the Fellowship, and had purposefully arranged to retrieve the book from the violinist. So the real question was how best to convince them that he wasn’t. He could tell them about the violinist who gave him the book, and they might believe him then, but who knows what they would do to the man once they found him? He had obviously meant to give the book to someone else. If Silas said anything, it could land the poor man in a world of trouble. Though, according to Waters, the man was dangerous and should be in a world of trouble. Silas didn’t know what to believe.
At that moment, two men came down the stairs. They weren’t the men from Monday night but were similarly built and more than twice his size.
“Morning, Gaines,” said one of them. “Lord Carson wants him upstairs.”
Gaines, Silas made a mental note. The guard he didn’t like.
Gaines shrugged and twirled his pistol, tucking it back into its holster. He unlocked the cell door and jerked his head for Silas to come out.
Now that it came to it, Silas wasn’t at all sure he wanted to come out. But he had to tell Lord Carson something. He had to find something to say that would make him believe he wasn’t part of any Fellowship, and he had to decide what to say during the time it took to walk twenty steps up to the main level.
He clenched his hands into fists and tried to swallow. He stepped out and they walked up the stairs, one guard in front of him and the other behind. Upstairs, there was a grandfather clock against the wall. It was a little after noon. Silas took out his pocket watch and rewound it, setting it to the correct time as they stepped into the study, which he vaguely remembered from Monday, though everything was a little fuzzy after drinking the Alethia.
The study was dark and heavy velvet drapes were drawn across the windows. The only light came from the slits of day between the edges of the curtains and the three candles on the desk. Lord Carson wasn’t there.
“Sit there,” said one of the guards, pointing to a chair by the desk.
Silas couldn’t help but notice it was very old – Rococo style, beautifully carved from walnut, gilded with gold leaf, and lined with purple velvet. It must have cost a fortune. He’d only seen craftsmanship like this once or twice before in his life. It was a wonder he’d missed it the night before, though he had been a little preoccupied. He paused to study it. Sometimes you could tell just by the craftsmanship who the maker had been. One of the guards shoved him toward it and he gave a sigh and sat down. The guards stood directly behind him. He could almost feel their breath on the back of his head. If they were trying to unnerve him, it was certainly working.
Lord Carson walked in shortly after, followed by the silent guard, Gaines.
“Mr. Lawrence,” Lord Carson greeted him.
Silas didn’t reply.
“I’m sorry for such a long delay,” Lord Carson went on. “You see, I find myself in a difficult position.” He paused and walked to the desk, sitting on the edge of it and folding his arms. “I have a trustworthy man who claims he saw you and three others at the scene of Experiment 27 only minutes before it was sabotaged and blown to bits, and your alibi is unverifiable. You had in your possession a Dascyleum Text, which hasn’t been seen in over fifty years. But…” he rubbed his grey beard, “on the other hand, if you are a member of the Fellowship, you held up under the influence of the Aletheia better than should be possible, which I also find hard to believe, even for a Fellow.” He studied Silas with a piercing look. “You’re quite a puzzle to me.”
“It’s really more simple than you think,” Silas said, his mouth twitching into a forced smile. “I came across the book and was curious enough to keep it. I’d never heard about it, or this fellowship, before, and I certainly didn’t try to sabotage any experiment. Your man must be mistaken.”
“Waters says someone gave you the book.”
So Waters had relayed their conversation to Lord Carson. Silas should have known better. But it wasn’t like anything he said could incriminate him in a crime he didn’t commit.
“Tell me… who was it? And why did you take the book if it didn’t belong to you?”
Silas licked his lips. “I… don’t know who it was. A stranger I ran into at the symphony. It was after the concert. When he gave me the book, I assumed he wanted to sell it to me. I deal in antiquities on the side, and I didn’t think it was odd except he wouldn’t let me pay him for it.”
“And what did this man look like?”
Silas licked his lips again. “Ah… he was about my height… light hair and beard, and… em… middle aged. That’s all I remember.”
Lord Carson clicked his tongue. “Surely you remember more than that.”
Silas shook his head.
“Is it a hobby of yours to swap book covers, Mr. Lawrence?”
Silas swallowed. “I… ah… do sometimes dabble in bookbinding, yes.”
Lord Carson stared at him thoughtfully for a minute. “You’ll be interested to know your wife found the book you left her. We’ve had her under watch since yesterday, and she’s been running about town investigating. From that, we gather she doesn’t know what it is and is unaware of the Order.”
That was a relief.
“I’ve just sent a few men to bring her and the book here. Perhaps having her close by will help your memory?”
That was bad.
“Please,” Silas said. “She doesn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t even have anything to do with this. I don’t even know what this is.” He gestured with barely repressed frustration.
Lord Carson only sat there, staring at him. Silas thought hard. He could stick to his story, which would make it seem more credible, but then Faye would get involved. Or he could give Carson a made-up name. But Faye would still likely get involved. Like it or not, there was nothing he could say that would guarantee her safety. He was just going to have to hope she was smarter than him and didn’t get in any cabs with strangers.
“I don’t know who he was,” Silas repeated after a minute.
“Waters seemed to think differently.”
Silas winced. A curse on Waters, pretending to be friendly and gathering information all along. “Well, Waters must have heard wrong,” he said. “I ran into a stranger at the symphony and he gave me the book and I never saw him again. That’s all.”
Lord Carson sighed. “I am going to be honest. I believe you are a member of the Fellowship, but in order to comply with protocol, I am obligated to give you the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, I must inform you that this is a matter of universal importance. The experiment which the Fellowship is targeting is dangerous and if it falls into the wrong hands, it would be catastrophic for the entire world. I will ask again: who gave you the book?”
“Catastrophic?” Silas paused. “In what way?”
Carson fixed Silas with a cold stare and didn’t reply.
“Look,” Silas said quietly after a minute, rocking forward and rubbing his hands together. “I don’t know who you people are, or anything about this experiment, and I am frankly not sure who to trust. You can understand my hesitation.”
“The Fellowship is a fanatical group bent on world chaos,” Carson cocked his head. “They’ve started hundreds of wars through the centuries. They’ve assassinated good leaders, spread lies, and murdered countless innocents. They swallow snakes alive, maim themselves, and drink human blood in their rituals, thinking it will give them unnatural powers over the dead. We’ve been trying to eradicate their ideology for centuries. And now they are trying to get their hands on something that could destroy the world as we know it.”
Silas opened his mouth, but his throat had gone dry. He felt a shudder go down his spine, horrified he’d come into such close contact with a member of a cult. But then he remembered what the violinist had been like. He’d been nervous, but he hadn’t looked evil. Maybe he was evil, but there was no way to tell if Carson was telling the truth or feeding him lies. It wasn’t the first time a group had been demonized to make it easier to get rid of them.
Although, some groups deserved to be demonized.
“I don’t suppose you can prove any of this?” he asked.
“Here is the real difficulty of the situation, Mr. Lawrence,” Carson went on without answering, getting up and sitting behind the desk. “You don’t fit in one category or the other of our protocol. If you were simply a civilian, someone would have befriended you, gone out with you for a drink, and slipped you some Aletheia to get the information. It’s not as if civilians are trained to counteract the effect, after all. If you were one of us – part of the Order – we have a very strict protocol about this sort of thing. And then, if you were in fact a member of the Fellowship, we’ve always preferred… what you might call medieval methods of attaining information. You’re an educated man. I’m sure you understand the idea.”
“But unfortunately, we don’t have enough evidence to prove you’re a Fellow, you’re clearly not a civilian, and your family relations make it unwise to use any… strong methods.”
“What do you… my family… what?” Silas stuttered.
Lord Carson gave him a bemused look. “I’m not sure whether to be impressed by your tenacity at holding the ruse, or shocked by your complete naivety.”
It could hardly rival the shock Silas was experiencing.
“Either way, I’ve found a good compromise,” Lord Carson said, opening a drawer in his desk and taking out a metal prong not much larger than a pencil. “Technically, under the protocol for our highest-ranking members, in cases of suspected treason, the heretic’s fork is allowed for up to twenty hours during questioning. No one could complain about that.”
“We don’t have to do things this way,” Lord Carson said, unwrapping the leather thong from the fork. “If, as you say, you’re merely a civilian, this has nothing to do with you. Just tell me who he was, and you can be on your way with the knowledge that you helped save the world today. If you won’t… well, only a Fellow would refuse, isn’t that right?”
Silas’ mind raced. Carson was right – this had nothing to do with him and he ought to help them if the Fellowship was so dangerous. But were they really? What if they were good people? What if the violinist was innocent? What if he met a horrible death because Silas revealed who he was? There was no way to tell without more information.
At that moment, Silas felt a resolve settle. He couldn’t, in good conscience, reveal who the violinist was. Not until he knew for sure who he could trust. But he had to give Carson something…
“Mr. Lawrence, I needn’t tell you we are in a rush for this information.”
“It was…” he paused. “It was Waters.”
Carson sighed and raised a finger to the guards behind Silas, who grabbed his shoulders and pulled him out of the chair. That had obviously not been the right answer.
Silas twisted out of their grip, dodging the silent guard and darting for the door. He’d only gotten his hand on the knob, though, before one of them landed a heavy punch across his jaw that threw him to the floor. His vision went black and his ears rang. Before he could get his bearings, they’d tied his wrists and ankles together and were dragging him across the floor. They pulled him to his knees and left him in the corner of the study while Lord Carson approached, holding the heretic’s fork.
“Waters was with me all evening,” Carson said. “And I’m disappointed you didn’t put at least a little more thought into that.”
“Wait,” Silas said. “Fine. I… I’ll tell you. It was that man over there, Gaines, who gave it to me. He told me to give it to someone else on Thursday in the basement of Gore Hall.”
“He told you that?” Lord Carson glanced up at Gaines, who was standing there picking at his fingernails lazily.
Silas nodded, a sinking feeling in his stomach telling him this wasn’t going to work either.
“Gaines is completely mute, Mr. Lawrence. Perhaps you’d like to think a while about it. I’m sure you’ll remember something.”
“The… The instructions were written on a sheet. Inside the book.”
Lord Carson smiled. “Gaines is also completely illiterate.”
“Maybe someone else wrote it? I don’t know!” Silas tried to twist his hands out of the ropes as Lord Carson bent down. “No, he… em… s-signed it to me. I’m quite… quite fluent in sign language.”
Lord Carson wrenched his head back and wedged the fork between his chin and chest, tying the leather long around the back of his neck.
“You can tell me his name anytime and I’ll take it off,” Lord Carson said, walking back to the desk and sitting down to put his glasses on.
Silas sucked in a sharp breath. The sharp prongs on either end of the fork pierced deep into his skin and he tipped his head back, feeling the metal slide out of the wound. He winced and tried to tilt his head to the side to shift it away, but even that small movement pushed the prongs in deeper.
That had not gone well. He tried to swallow and the fork cut into his skin again. Any movement he made pressed it deeper. He craned his neck back as far as possible and in that position, it felt fine. Somewhat uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Perhaps he had overreacted.
After only five minutes, he was sure he hadn’t overreacted. Every muscle in his neck and back was burning like he’d been set on fire. His head was already starting to spin from the pain. He needed to think of a better idea. And fast.