Monday, near midnight
Silas woke with a pounding headache, a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach, and the song ‘A Farmer’s Wife I’ll Be’ stuck in his head.
“Blast it, George,” he groaned, closing his eyes. “You and your infernal music.”
He grimaced and tried to sit up, but it made his head pound so much he laid back down. It was too dark to tell where he was, but by the musty smell and the unfinished floorboards above him, it wasn’t difficult to guess he was in a basement. Somewhere.
“You’re awake,” said a voice behind him.
Silas gave a start and fell off the cot, stumbling to catch his feet. Sharp pain shot through his head, and he collapsed back to the ground, leaning against the cot behind him with a gasp. He groaned, pressing his forehead and squinting into the light. Everything was blurry and unfocused and all he could see was the shadow of the man who’d spoken.
“It’s quite a hangover, isn’t it?”
Silas closed his eyes and held his head until it stopped throbbing so much.
“What’s it made out of? This Aletheia?”
“You remember? Most people forget entire weeks after a dose like that.”
Silas paused. “Waters?”
“In the flesh.”
Silas frowned and turned away, stumbling back up to sit on the cot. He felt behind him with his hands and found the wall, shifting back to lean against it. He closed his eyes and tried to massage the headache away. It was the worst headache he’d ever had. He feared irrationally that his head would, quite literally, explode. He blinked his eyes, trying to rid them of the bleariness, but it didn’t help at all. Waters didn’t say anything more, which was good because Silas didn’t want to talk to him.
How could he have been so stupid? He should have been suspicious from the start, especially since the book had predicted the events almost exactly. He’d even half-believed it. Enough to swap the covers, at least. So why had he stopped his little experiment halfway through?
And three men to ask someone to identify a body? No one did that! It was a waste of resources when one man, or even a messenger, would do just as well. And Waters hadn’t even told him the supposed victim’s name. If anything should have alerted him, it was that. Fool.
But what did they want with him, of all people?
At first, he’d thought this Lord Carson figure was a raving madman, but either he was a raving madman with a great fortune and at least half a dozen presumably sane people willingly in his employ, or he was completely sane and something very strange was going on.
Or Silas had gone mad. It was an oddly comforting thought. If he was mad then none of this was real, and any moment now he might simply snap out of it.
He closed his eyes and gave up trying to rub the headache away. It was clearly going nowhere anytime soon.
“Here,” Waters said, and something metal clanged.
Silas turned, still squinting. Some of the blurriness had worn off. Like he’d suspected, they were in a basement, with an unfinished ceiling, bare pipes, and a dirt floor. Unlike most basements, this one was equipped with a jail cell. An iron bar door was bolted to the door of the room he was in, which wasn’t more than eight feet square. It had probably been a vegetable larder at one point.
Waters was sitting on a stool on the opposite side of the bars, scruffy and disheveled as if he’d been there all night, though he’d changed out of his police uniform. He was holding a cup in one hand. Silas glanced at it and turned away.
“Oh, now, look,” Waters said. “It’s just Fernet. It helps, it really does. I swear by it.”
Silas ignored him.
“It’s not the Aletheia. I promise. Here, see?” Waters drained the cup and poured another from the bottle on the floor by the stool.
“You could have had something else in there to drink first, knowing I wouldn’t fall for it.”
“It’s not… oh, hang it.” Waters downed the next cup too, blinking and shaking his head. He poured another. “You better drink this one ‘cause if I do, they’ll hang me from my toes and feed me to the spiders.”
“What?” Silas stiffened.
“I’m jokin’,” Waters chuckled. “Spiders. Wouldn’t that be something? You going to take this or not?”
Silas leaned forward and took the glass, smelling it. It was definitely strong, and there was only a shot or two of dark amber liquid in the glass. “Fernet?”
“It’s quite the thing in Frisco.”
Silas hesitated then drank the whole thing at once. He grimaced and forced himself to swallow. It definitely wasn’t Aletheia. “That is horrific,” he coughed. “People drink this?”
“It’s an acquired taste.”
“It would have to be.” He handed the glass back and leaned his head against the wall. He glanced sideways at Waters. “You’re being awfully friendly given the circumstances.”
“No reason not to be,” Waters shrugged.
“Oh, yes, of course not,” Silas gave a short laugh. “Well, being we’re such good friends, I don’t suppose you’d mind opening that door and giving me a ride back to Boston?”
Waters crossed his arms. “No can do, pal.”
“I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me why?” Silas sighed.
“Look, Mr. Lawrence, I don’t really know what’s going on more than you. I’m just doing my job like you were doing yours. No hard feelings, see?”
“My job? What is it exactly you think I do?”
“Well, you’re part of the Fellowship, so I imagine there’s a bit of plotting and destruction involved.”
“Fellowship?” Silas sighed.
“Come on, Mr. Lawrence,” Waters said, a little hurt. “I’m not that stupid.”
Silas looked him in the eyes. “Waters, I’ve never heard of any fellowship in my life, I swear, and I’m beginning to think the lot of you are completely insane.”
“Well,” Waters snorted. “For someone who’s never heard of the Fellowship before, it’s a strange twist of fate you own a copy of the Dascyleum Text.”
That’s right. That’s what they had been talking about before – one of them must have slipped the fake copy from the parlor when he left with them. Was it the book they wanted? If so, that was an easy solution. He’d get it for them and have done with the matter.
“If it’s the book you want, I only picked it up on Saturday at the symphony. I could go get it if you like.”
Waters raised his hands. “I’m not the one in charge. You’ll have to talk to Lord Carson.”
“Lord? Is he from England?”
Waters cocked his head, an eyebrow raised. “No.”
Silas felt a brief sense of déjà vu but couldn’t remember why. “What is the book, anyway?” he asked. “It sounds odd to say, but it wouldn’t… stay the same.”
Silas closed his eyes and rubbed his head.
“Hey, you would know better than me,” Waters laughed. It was beginning to get rather annoying, his laugh.
“Waters,” Silas snapped. “I don’t know anything. I don’t know who you think I am, or why you want the book, or what this fellowship is, but I have nothing to do with it! All I know is right now I’d be tempted to murder the man who gave me that book in the first place. Actually, I’d quite like to!”
Waters stared at him for a minute. “Damn,” he whistled. “That would explain a lot actually.”
Silas’s head was still pounding, despite the so-called miracle tonic, and he swung his feet onto the cot and laid back.
“I wondered why you were so careless with it, reading it in public places and keeping it in your rooms and what not. And of course, that would also explain why we thought the Aletheia didn’t work on you. That’s a relief to me, I’ll tell you, because I have the record for holding out under the influence. Five drops is what gets me, but I can make it three or four just fine.”
“How did you know I had it in our rooms?”
Waters raised an eyebrow.
Silas felt a child run down his spine. “You… you’ve been watching me?”
“Points for the genius.”
Silas bit his lip. If he’d been watching him, they would also know about Faye, and it was only a matter of time before they tried to find the book again… which he’d put back under her pillow. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
“They’re going to want to know who gave you the book.”
“And why would I tell them that?”
“Think about it, Mr. Lawrence. If it’s as you say and you have nothing to do with this whole situation here, this is someone else’s problem. You don’t want to take the fault for someone else’s problem, do you?”
Silas frowned and stared at the ceiling. “What exactly is this ‘problem’? Who are you people?”
“I’m really not supposed to say. Not if you’re a civilian.”
Fine. Silas was done talking to him, anyway. He crossed his arms. “You know it’s only a matter of time before the police find you, whoever you are.”
Waters laughed. “If you’re going to sit around waiting for the police, you’d best get comfortable. They won’t do you any good.”
“You must be very confident to feel they’re no threat,” Silas rolled his eyes.
“Ha!” Waters laughed. “They’re no threat because we are the police. Or at least, the Order controls them.”
Silas’s smile fell. “That’s not possible,” he whispered.
“Want to bet your life on it?” Waters tipped the stool back on two legs. “I probably shouldn’t have said that much. Drat. Do me a favor and forget everything I just told you?”
“You’re saying you’re a secret organization that no one knows about, who is controlling the police? But you couldn’t control them unless you… you also control the politicians?”
“Really probably shouldn’t have said anything.”
Silas paused. The implications of that were terrifying and Silas hoped even more so that he’d only gone mad and that this wasn’t reality at all.
“You talk a lot for someone in a secret organization.”
“One of my many vices. Now, tell me, who was the bloke who gave you the book in the first place?”
“Why are you here?”
“Here in the basement?” Waters asked. He gave a scowl and scuffed the dirt floor with his shoe. “Punishment. Guard duty for the next month on account of not being able to read. Carson was pretty annoyed I’d mixed up the books. As if it weren’t bad enough, your little cover swap jipped me out of 5 points.”
Silas didn’t respond.
“I suppose we could ask your wife about the book,” Waters went on. “She’d probably know. Her name is Faye, isn’t it? Lovely name. So unique.”
Silas felt his throat tighten. “Leave her out of this.”
“Gotta solve the mystery one way or the other, Mr. Lawrence. I’m only saying what they’ll say. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Silas went silent. He was feeling sick now, and he wasn’t sure if it was the aftereffects of the Aletheia or what Waters had just said, or everything combined into one. Within one evening, the whole world had managed to flip itself upside down and all he wanted was to find a dark hole to hide in and wait until it righted itself. Somehow, he didn’t think that was going to be a possibility.
“If I tell you who gave the book to me and retrieve it for you, you’ll let me go and leave us alone?”
“Well, sure,” Waters said.
“And what happens if you find the man who gave it to me?”
Waters paused. “I know you think we’re pure evil and all that, but you’ve gotten the wrong impression.”
“If you are who you say you are, this is all just a big misunderstanding. I don’t know why the Fellowship would have given you the book, but maybe it was an accident. It’s just that you can’t be too careful where Fellowship is concerned. They’re lunatics, every one of them, with unnatural, fanatic beliefs.”
“But what would they want with a book?”
“That book is sacred to them. It appears on its own once a century or so, and it’s incredibly dangerous. I’ve heard stories of men who read it and lost their minds so completely they drowned themselves. Bad magic, I tell you.”
“It didn’t seem like that…”
“You read it?”
“Well, you can consider yourself lucky.”
Silas shuddered. “What do they do with it?”
“In general? I don’t know. It hasn’t shown up in a century. Last time it came about, it almost turned the tides on the War for Independence. We’ve had to spend years rebuilding. They say if you know how to read it, it will give you the power of foretelling the future. That is, if you can keep from losing your mind in the process.”
“The War for Independence? What did that have to do with you?”
Water kicked himself. “Why am I telling you all this? Can you forget everything I just said, please?”
“Fine, but there’s no war right now. What would they want with it?”
“Beats me,” Waters shook his head. “But it can’t be good. The sooner we find the guy that gave it to you, the better. Who knows what they could be planning?”
“Then you should be out looking for him. I have nothing to do with any of this. I’ve told you all I know.”
Waters smiled sympathetically. “Give them a little more time. The whole situation is pretty unusual. You had a copy of the Text, and no one ever has a copy of the Text unless they’re a member of the Fellowship. But when they find the one who gave it to you, things will be straightened out in no time.”
Silas wasn’t sure about anything anymore and he had too much of a headache to try and puzzle it together. This was a mess. Oh, how he wished he’d never touched that book.
“So…” Waters said, nonchalantly, “who did give it to you?”
“Waters, this is a lot to take in.”
“Sure, I understand that.” Waters nodded.
Silas crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes again. The headache was fading, but not fast.
“You want more Fernet?” Waters asked, shuffling a pack of cards. “Got a whole bottle here.”
“Alright, if you say so. It’s here if you want it, though. I always keep some around here ‘cause the Mrs. don’t abide drink in the house and I gotta keep it somewhere. She’s a terror, the Mrs.” He gave a long sigh when Silas didn’t respond. “You want me to shut up. I get it. Can’t say I blame you. I remember the first time I learned about the Order…”
He started mumbling to himself and Silas blocked it out of his mind, trying desperately to snap out of it and regain his sanity.