The debriefing had been as painless as possible, or so Elijah had hoped. Mallory was frowning, and Galahad appeared to be in a daze. Elijah could feel his brother’s weariness, and the many questions that could be bubbling in the young boy’s head. He didn’t really care much at that instant if Galahad had not been his real brother all along. As far as he remembered, he and Galahad grew up together. Once upon a time, they were two peas in a pod. A revelation could not simply take that away from them.
“Eli,” Mallory said quietly. His voice tried not to sound too perturbed. “You can take Galahad to his quarters.”
“Sir,” Elijah responded, quick and snappy as always.
Galahad seemed oblivious to the presences around him. Elijah wondered that if he touched the boy, he would perhaps break. Elijah winced that maybe he and his parents may have shielded Galahad too much from the world. Galahad had lived his days in blissful ignorance, and now in more ways than one, with a home and a family and the cradle of Haven Lake. Elijah had tried to wean Galahad off his presence, which had been constant before he left for Interrogator training, and while Galahad took it surprisingly well, he knew that Galahad’s inner world had changed forever.
And it’s changing drastically now more than ever.
And he had himself partially to blame, what with all the events that have come to pass since Galahad’s birthday.
The organization had eyes on both Alarico boys from the beginning, starting, of course, with Elijah. Even as it wasn’t the custom or the policy for a trainee’s background to be thoroughly checked—as long as his or her potential was there—the fact that Lawrence Alarico, the boys’ grandfather had been an Interrogator before his passing (due to natural causes; he had been eighty-four years old) ballasted their chances to make it among the fold of Peacekeepers.
But that was as far as the background check went.
Whatever Galahad’s past had been before he entered the Alarico home, the organization themselves had little clue. If Lenore and Matthew decided to keep Galahad’s adoption a secret in the family which even Elijah himself had no knowledge about, they may have had their reasons. This was no time to play the blame game. His parents had not been lacking where it really mattered. Elijah had grown up contented and whole, and he was grateful enough for that.
Elijah walked up to Galahad; he risked laying a hand gently on his brother’s back. He was relieved when all that Galahad did was look at him suddenly, as though releasing himself from some sort of trance.
“I’m okay,” Galahad whispered. His bright blue eyes were glowing their usual intense hue. “I’ll be all right.”
For a tiny moment Elijah was tempted to cancel Galahad’s training and send him back to Mira, but that would be betraying his brother in some way, his brother who had allowed himself the trip to Solas and had whole-heartedly given in. He shook that notion away immediately. It was time to stop keeping Galahad in a protective bubble. While he didn’t want any harm come to Galahad, of course, part of training was have everything scream at you so loudly and still endure it with grace.
“Okay, kiddo,” Elijah returned. “Your room’s just across mine, so no need to panic, hear?” He patted his brother’s back twice, with a steady, almost pushing, force. This closeness wouldn’t last long. As soon as they got a mentor for his brother, they would then part ways once again, even as they would be on the same moon.
It was only the sound of their feet pattering on the dark carpeted and lighted hallways that led to the sleeping quarters.
Galahad spoke through the gloom. “Eli?”
“We could get our blood checked, you know. We’ll prove that we’re really brothers. Vita could be lying. She’s lying.”
Elijah kept his head clear. “Did you feel that she was lying, Gal?”
Galahad heaved a sigh. There was a gap of silence before he muttered, “No.”
Elijah prompted Galahad to stop their trek to their quarters for a while. He had his brother face him.
“You’re an Alarico, Gal. You’ll always be one, regardless of what blood’s in your veins. You’re my brother, nothing less.”
Galahad, at first, didn’t look convinced, but he had always been a transparent young boy. “Vita said that I was important. Think you could have my background checked? I mean, checked for real? For all we know, that could be part of the reason why I’m as important as Vita claims.”
Elijah tried to sound firm. “If that would ease your mind up, Gal, a background check can be arranged.”
“Yes, it would.”
A trickle of a smile ticked the side of Elijah’s lip. “And don’t go running to me or to Mom and Dad if you don’t like what we find.”
Galahad didn’t look amused. “Eli!” he groaned in exasperation.
They resumed walking, but as Elijah punched the code to Galahad’s room, which he had Galahad remember beforehand, Galahad dropped another question, and it was just one of the many questions he wished Galahad would not ask too soon.
But it was inevitable. There was urgency in the boy’s voice.
“You’re really going to execute her, aren’t you?”
It was Elijah’s turn to be exasperated. When the door to Galahad’ quarters hissed open, Elijah only lingered for a moment to tell his brother this: “What if we all go to bed and discuss this tomorrow instead?”
Elijah lightly shoved his younger brother through the threshold. He tried to make light of the situation. He had to admit; he knew what Galahad was about to suggest and he wasn’t up to deciding about it that night. He would need Mallory’s advice.
“Breakfast is at seven. Be there on the dot, or starve.”
“Goodnight, kiddo!” Elijah called, as he punched a code again so that the doors slid shut, cutting Galahad’s protest off.
Elijah stood there for a moment. While he still had his faculties composed, he felt that everything he had worked hard for during his Interrogator training—the self-control, the stoic tranquility that centered his being, the cool-headedness—all that will be tested, and tested heavily, in the days to come.
Galahad woke up to the sound of a shriek.
He forced his eyes open and jackknifed from where he lay, only to remember that he was no longer in his room on Haven Lake. He had been hoping it was nothing but a fire drill, which happened once when he visited a school library and borrowed discs for his holoreader. He even wondered if Solas had fire drills; he listened hard for a second.
He realized that the shrieking wasn’t coming from anywhere but inside his mind.
The shrieking was coming from Vita.
Their link had followed him all the way to his quiet hours, when he needed sleep.
Dumbfounded, Galahad tried to reach out to Vita, reach out to her if only to stop the shrieking. It rattled and echoed in his head, so much that it was almost painful.
And yes, that was when he felt it. Dull points of pain that throbbed in his chest, on his arms, to his feet.
VITA! His mind cried out.
The shrieking halted for an instant.
Galahad felt a lump in his throat. Are they hurting you? Are they hurting you, Vita?
Long moments passed before Galahad heard the reply, Vita’s chime-like voice, say, They can’t hurt me! They can never hurt me!
Galahad threw his mind-voice into the air. But they ARE!
When Vita no longer replied, that was when Galahad hurried to get dressed, and before he knew it, he was pounding the number code of Elijah’s own room doors.
He stopped short and looked around. His brother was no longer in the room. It even seemed that the bed had not been slept on. Everything was immaculate; all the mess that Elijah had made in his room back on Haven Lake had not found its way to Solas.
The only possession which indicated that this was Elijah’s room was the holoreader on the desk that had a tag stamped on it, which said: E.L. Alarico.
Galahad also stole a moment to check the luminescent numbers on the clock on the same table the holoreader was: it was not even six in the morning yet.
That was when Galahad hastened. He tapped into his instincts once again. He knew where his brother was. He knew where Mallory was, where everyone else could be.
The Glass Prison.
The card with his new citizen number gave him access to the passages he needed to traverse. He received some questioning looks of personnel who were already up at this hour: who was this teenage boy barely dressed for training running through the Facility corridors as though he knew the place like the back of his hand?
Galahad ignored those suppositions. He can no longer hear Vita in his head.
What if they had gone ahead and executed her?
Galahad didn’t know why he felt a mixture of panic and even anger surge within him. How could he feel like this? If they carried out the death sentence, it was only because a calculated decision was made for it to be seen through. These Peacekeepers knew what they were doing, right?
He found his way to the Glass Prison.
Just as he had surmised, Elijah and Greg Mallory were there, as well as and two more strangers whose backs were turned to him, and they belonged to another man and a woman.
Both Elijah and Mallory contained their surprise when Galahad walked through. Elijah locked his dark-eyed gaze at him for a moment, and that’s when Galahad knew that he had to look into the Glass Prison.
Through the layers of thick, special glass, yet so crystal clear a water drop would slide across it and look like a speckle of rain straight from the sky, he saw Vita once more manacled on a chair, but her head was down as though she were sleeping where she sat.
Galahad somehow felt the need for an explanation. He turned to Elijah, to Mallory, to the two other newcomers, to the dozen eyes that watched him via cameras.
“Did you kill her?”
Mallory’s face was taut. For a moment, Galahad thought that Elijah would stride up to him and lead him back to his quarters and have him nose out of their business until breakfast time, but his brother stayed where he was.
It was Mallory who spoke just as when Galahad was but a foot away from the semi-circle of four. His voice filled the expanse. “No, Galahad. We haven’t.”
“Were you going to kill her today?”
Mallory’s face changed, as though he found Galahad’s impudence rather amusing and strangely but easily forgiven. The man shook his head.
“We’re trying one more time,” the green-eyed man relayed.
Elijah filled the gap of silence. “To get her to talk.” He had a straight face on, ready to sweep away any judgment Galahad would throw at him.
Galahad knew he was painfully stating the obvious. “By torturing her? You said she’s immune to pain! You told me she won’t budge even if you tried to hurt her—“
Elijah’s voice had a hard edge. Galahad was sure that his brother was trying to sound detached, but the nature of his words brought a chill to him. “Galahad, you’ve got to tell us straight: did she threaten to kill you?”
Galahad was at loss. Elijah was straightforward about it. But how did they know? “I—“ He gulped. Lying was his weakest suit.
Yet, he couldn’t talk. He recalled Vita’s words. I’ll kill you. Don’t tell anyone, or I’ll kill Elijah too.
When Galahad stood frozen for long moments, Elijah gave a little nod. “She has, hasn’t she?”
Galahad decided not to answer. He stood there, fists clenched, he himself refusing to budge.
“Don’t force the boy,” said a new voice. Galahad looked up at the sound of it. It had a commanding bearing, and yet there was certain friendliness in it, which he couldn’t place. He couldn’t guess if the voice sounded young or old. It sounded ageless, but even Galahad found that description ridiculous.
It came from one of the newcomers whose backs were turned to him when he had first entered the Glass Prison chamber.
The first thing that Galahad noticed were the man’s astonishingly grey eyes, so startling as though they were made of pure, glistening silver. But that may be the nature of this man’s mixed heritage: he had skin darker than most, a light caramel brown. He had a lightly wrinkled face, but Galahad guessed the man’s age to be no older than Greg Mallory’s. His hair was of the deepest brown it was almost black; its real color showed through the light of the room, which was hot and bright.
The man smiled, a strange friendly smile. Galahad didn’t know how to react, not when he was placed in a situation like this, after Elijah had asked a critical question.
Mallory, however, stole the moment to make introductions. He cleared his throat. “Galahad, I’d like you to meet Saul Garrett. He’s to be your mentor.”
Galahad found himself staring at Saul Garrett’s silver eyes. They shone with a knowing kind of light, and Galahad knew that it would be even more difficult to keep secrets from this man, especially when he would have to spend his waking days with him, if Saul was indeed to be his mentor.
Galahad stepped closer to Saul Garrett.
“Sir,” Galahad croaked.
Saul made a noise through his nose. “That’s nice and polite, but I prefer to just be called Saul, Galahad. Now, you don’t have to answer them if you think it’s breaking any sort of pact you’ve made.” He shot a japing look at Mallory and Elijah, who had immediately deferred to him once he had started speaking, although they look rather unappreciative of Saul’s attempts at jesting, but not in a belligerent kind of way.
“I was to see you after breakfast,” Saul admitted. “But looks like we need some adjustments!”
Galahad then shot a look at the only woman among the group of three men, but immediately retrieved his gaze when the woman shifted a little in reaction to Galahad’s second-long scrutiny.
“Marianne Langley,” Greg Mallory introduced once more. The woman felt obliged to acknowledge Galahad with a small bow of her head. “She’s been sent by the high council of Peacekeepers to help oversee the Vita Ludwig case.”
Galahad’s head bobbed in reception. “Ma’am.”
Marianne Langley was young, perhaps in her mid-twenties. She had her chestnut brown hair tied up to a bun on her head, but it accented her face rather than made her look too stringent. She was lovely, and Galahad wondered if Elijah fancied a girl like her. Since he entered the room, he thought he saw Elijah steal a glance at her more than twice. It could be nothing, although Galahad found himself slightly entertained with those fleeting thoughts.
She also spoke with an accent, but it was pleasant to the ears. “I think your reputation precedes you, Galahad. The youngest trainee yet but with growing abilities of a full-fledged Interrogator.”
Was he really growing a reputation? Galahad felt rather uncomfortable with that sort of impression. He felt his ears grow hot, and he knew that he was blushing. He didn’t know what to say afterwards.
The introductions were being stretched. Galahad had a sneaky suspicion that they were diverting his attention from Vita Ludwig.
He found it rather unbelievable that they were having casual chatter as though they were in some kind of party while a young girl was strapped to a chair, and she was a little more than unconscious after being fed with bouts of torture.
Through the crystal-clear glass, he noted Vita’s quivery breaths. Galahad tried not to grimace.
It was Saul who noticed that Galahad had returned his attention to Vita. The boy immediately noted that Saul was a little more perceptive than his brother and Mallory combined.
“She’s a child, but she’s still a killer.” He spoke as though he were addressing Galahad as well as everyone in the chamber. “She came out of nowhere. All of a sudden she was there, making her series of murders, of assassinations, quiet like a shadow in the dark. She has skill, so much that at first we wondered if she were human. But she is. Vita Ludwig is a human girl, but she seems to have no human conscience.”
Galahad remembered how Vita mentioned about killing as though she were playing a little game of hopscotch under the sun. It was normal, it was natural, it was like breathing to her.
Marianne Langley’s soft accented voice followed next. “While her execution is certain, it may have to be held off indefinitely. We still understand and know so little about her. A threat so huge can not be left alive, but she still seems to be more useful alive than if we had carried the sentence the day she had been captured.”
Galahad had not taken his eyes off Vita, even as his body faced the four people in front of him. That was when he noticed Vita’s bright blonde head move a little.
He held his breath.
The others seemed to have noticed that tiny movement as well. The chamber was suddenly very silent.
Vita slowly raised her head, as though she were a puppet on a string. But she was doing it of her own accord; she then looked up, and her hazel eyes found their way to Galahad’s sapphire ones.
Why did he feel so little threat from her now? He should’ve quailed at her gaze, but somehow, he didn’t. All of a sudden, she was a fourteen-year-old girl again, alone, perhaps very cold, as she was only wearing a dull, plain shift. She could manipulate others into believing that she was sweet, she was helpless, but now, Galahad felt convinced that she was far from pretending.
Vita Ludwig, murderess, had began to plead with her eyes.
Her lips moved, cracked from being parched for too long.
Her voice was tiny, still chime-like, but there was palpable pain in it.
“Can I have some water, please?” she requested, so faint that Galahad had to strain to hear it, if not for the speakers that were attached to the enclosure which amplified what she spoke to fill the chamber.
Galahad could only imagine what was done to her as torture. He had heard of drugs that gave hallucinations, of high-pitched sounds so grating that it would drive anyone mad if it went on longer than a second. Perhaps they may not have touched Vita physically, and Interrogators steered clear from extreme methods of cruelty as long as information can be wheedled out of a subject through questioning alone—and yet Vita was there, and Galahad knew that she had been deprived of food and water for as long as she stayed on Solas. That was more than a week ago.
He shook his head mentally in disbelief. This was cruelty, and yet Vita endured this all. Perhaps it was about time that she gave in, when she hadn’t done so in any way before.
Elijah noted Galahad’s expression, and he knew the insinuations it held. “In this line of work, Gal, you’d have to stomach all sorts of brutality. She’s been asking for water for the past few hours.”
Galahad was a bit incredulous. “But… but why don’t you give her water?”
“She wasn’t giving the information we needed.”
Galahad tried not to feel querulous. “But what sort of information did you need?”
The boy broke his gaze from Vita’s piteous face, her slight form. He had directed it towards his brother. “Please—let me give her water.”
He at once observed the faces of Elijah, of Mallory, of Saul and Marianne as he made the request. He got a mixture of nervousness, of uncertainty, of disbelief. It was Saul, however, who had the least disagreeable reaction.
“We’ll shoot a crate through the prison,” Saul said. “Put the glass of water on the crate, Galahad.”
Saul seemed to be testing him, Galahad thought. Although it also seemed as well that this grey-eyed man understood him the most, a notch more than Elijah. Galahad didn’t know what to expect of Saul as a mentor, but he found himself rather looking forward to it, and even that surprised him.
He wondered if Saul would sense if he were reaching Galahad with his mind.
Vita, Galahad called.
Vita didn’t answer. She kept her hazel eyes on him; Galahad wondered if she had become too weak to hold a link with him.
When the water reached Vita, a hand-like machine brought the glass to her lips, suspended from the ceiling. Galahad guessed that the hand wasn’t there to do any sort if torture. It was just an extended mechanical limb for instances such as this one.
When the girl was done, she seemed so genuinely relieved. She licked her lips, the skin peeling from them.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice barely audible.
Galahad felt a prick in his heart. He wasn’t sure if it was wise to give in to it, and wondered if this was part of Vita’s elaborate plan, but overestimating an enemy, he thought, could nearly be just as bad as underestimating one. Vita could not be this cunning, this powerful. If she were human…
If there was any humanity left in her…
“Please,” Galahad began to speak. He faced Elijah and the rest once more, as though to make an appeal.
And he was about to make one.
“Don’t execute her.”
Marianne was the first to react. “I beg your pardon, Galahad?”
Galahad was determined to finish his plea before anyone else interrupted him.
“You don’t need to. You’ve held off her execution indefinitely because you wanted information from her. Why not hold it off entirely?”
The next reaction, of course, came from Elijah. “Gal—“
“Don’t kill her. Please. I’ll—“
Galahad could not believe his next words, but he knew that it came from himself and himself alone.
“I’ll make her stop killing. I can, and I will.”
Even as Mallory was shaking his head, even as Elijah was shooting him a look of alarm, even as Saul was eyeing him keenly—and he was hoping that Marianne was ready to report his next words.