Chapter Four

Age 16

"I would love to." He said, smiling at the girl with a doting expression.

She looked up and met those warm eyes that were still trained on her. She had never thought that he would agree to her ridiculous request, and when she blinked at him in confusion, he laughed lightly and brushed a wet tendril of hair away from her forehead. Did he even know how important this was to her? How dangerous it was? Was this boy not scared of death? She feared that the boy had reverted to his old self again; the one who caused so much harm to himself and everyone around him, that he was almost executed. When she glanced up at him, she was almost taken aback at what she saw. The look in his eyes told her that, yes, he did, and accompanied by the smile that competed in brilliance with the Cheshire Cat's, both spoke of his inner feelings. So he did understand. Amidst the downpour that had managed to soak them within a minute of their lives, they stared at each other until she averted her eyes to shiver slightly. A hand tugged on her's and pulled her towards north.

"Come on, we don't you catching your death, do we?"

How ironic it was that he was the one that fell sick that night, and she the one that fed him hot chicken soup. He tugged on her hand again when she refused to move. Turning back to see her, his brows knitted in confusion, the brilliant smile was starting to falter. She had hoped that she would not be so weak in front of him. He had his own demons to chase and here she was, burdening him with hers. She tried to apologise; she really did try, but no voice came out from her open mouth and she looked up at him in despair.

"It's alright, don't force yourself to do anything you don't want to." His voice was empathetic and thick with worry, belying his calm composure.

She nodded, feeling utterly ashamed and pathetic. He sighed and pulled on her arm, and this time, she obliged, falling into his warm embrace with her cheek right against the wet fabric of his dress shirt. She could hear the soft thump of his heart, and as fast as it was pulsing, it was certainly relaxing, and she let herself relax against the gentle thumping of the organ.

"It will be fine. I will protect you."

It could have been the voice that made her smile up at the boy whose gaze was so intense it could burn. It could have been the slight squeeze that he gave her that told her that he would definitely keep his promise that caused her to nod. Altogether, she knew, that despite the authenticity of his promise, he would never be able to. Not since they had entered this trade.

Age 13

"And the library," Chael informed as they walked through automatic glass doors into a large room that was filled with bookshelves that reached for the skies.

Above the towering bookshelves, skylights opened to let in fresh air and the blue sky that was cloudless.

"It is a nice day isn't it? We should go outside and I could show you the garden." Chael interrupted.

She did not realise that she had been staring at the sky outside, and when she turned to look at him, she gave no reply.

"You know, that expression really scares me, especially with those icy grey eyes of yours" He said, voice suddenly serious as he scrutinised her.

When she remained silent, he continued, the frown on his face deepening slowly, "That look... Like you don't care about anything at all. Like you wouldn't mind if you had to be a sacrifice for this organisation," The stress on the last word made her realise that he hated this place, "The Boss would delight in it. Definitely, with his forever 'we must strive to be the best of the best' attitude."

Here, he rearranged his features, and the slanted brows and narrowed eyes suddenly matched the intimidating man. The girl only then caught on, with a start, that the boy and the Boss could actually be related. They both had light brown hair, though the elder's was darker than the younger's.

"Why can't you understand the case? Simple as Hell!" Here, he raised his deeper voice an octave higher, narrowing his eyes further to the amusement of the girl. "It makes me wonder what pig-headed fool had allowed you into my Veritas. Leave my presence now before I am forced to throw this book at you!" He mimicked holding a book in the air precariously over her head.

She hadn't seen the Boss do that before, and turned a quizzical look to him. The demeanor that he had on right then was so similar to the Boss's that for a second, she felt as though she was looking at the younger version of the Boss himself. It was clear that Chael would make a wondrous leader; he had been greeted with many associates on their tour around Veritas, and he clearly had the attitude that made one wish to be closer to him. Either that, or he would follow in the path of his relative, the Boss.

The mien that he had around him dissipated immediately as he smiled sunnily at her, "How was that?"

Her apathetic features told that she did not give much thought to his mime, nor had she seen it before.

"I guess you haven't seen him say that before. Well, you would soon, either to you, or some hapless fool." He waved a hand around in the air.

The slight falter in his smile told her that she still had that look he 'so despised'. He stretched a hand towards her, which her eyes followed with slight fear, before the appendage stopped with a start. Withdrawing back to his side, the boy tweaked the golden ring that was on his middle finger. A bright golden band with a sapphire jewel that matched the colour of his eyes sat on the boy's left hand. He glanced down at the ground and then back up at her again.

"Alright, I think you've had a good enough look at the library," Whatever reaction he expected from her failed to arrive, and he continued, "so, to the garden?"

Wordlessly, she followed his retreating back, keeping a step behind him always. His constant chatter about things in the organisation went in one ear, and through the other. The lovely tones of his voice only created a background for her swirling thoughts about her past. She was afraid of it. And if the overly observant boy in front of her had not noticed, she was sure that she had done a good job in hiding it. Fear is only your enemy, the Boss had said that day when they had met. Along with that famous phrase, he had informed her that they were going to hold the examination tomorrow morning. And from then, she supposed that that would be her life. Didn't matter what the past was, as long as she had a future, however bleak it was.

"Stop thinking so much, it helps a lot." The tone was morose, and when she met the speaker, she was surprised to find the joyous boy with a frown on his face, and his eyes dazed as he stared at something in the distance as if he was staring at the past.

For a second, it was like looking at two different people that were housing the same body. One that was joyous and optimistic, and the other melancholic and pessimistic. A blink from said boy and those haunting eyes turned back to meet her's, the two still very much dazed and dark. They were violet, she noticed, and in the sun, they shone a magnificent violet like last night under the lamp. Another blink, and the happy version of Chael stared back at her, smiling once more. It unnerved her to try to decipher the cause of such a transformation.

"Stop frowning, sweetheart. Don't want to cause you any wrinkles, do we?" He joked.

They sat on the green grass under a shady tree for a while, her listening to his ramblings, and he babbling on about a particular book that he had read before. A sudden presence alerted the girl and she sat straighter against the trunk, looking around for the sign of an intruder.

"Lookin' for me?"

The voice that spoke close to her was immediately connected to the voice of the jovial man, Eric. And there he was in all his glory, soft pink hair shone in the sun as his dark eyes searched her. She remained silent as the males greeted each other with a clasp of the hands and a grunt as they bumped their chests against each other. Basically, what is commonly known as a bro-hug. The boy patted the grass next to him and offered him a seat.

"No, only came here to talk to Rae about something." The man declined.

It only took that sentence and tone for the boy to scuttle off with a brief smile thrown at her, before he met with another of his many friends; their laughter could be heard from even where they were sitting.

"If you looked at him now, you wouldn't have thought that that boy had been through so much." The man whispered, tone low enough so that only the two could hear.

Obviously he was trying to say something more but had tried to keep the air of mystery around him as he spoke. The girl forced her gaze to the floor to seem as though she couldn't be bothered listening to the man speak. The trick worked, for Eric leant against the trunk next to her.

"Chael isn't his real name, you know," She realised that a part of her had realised that already, and didn't seem too shocked about it. "you don't seem to be shocked. I guess Boss really did a good job in finding you. What's with that look, eh? Talk if you want to ask me something. No? Okay, then. Well, we have to be going, there isn't much time."

With that, he straightened himself and held out a hand, smiling at her softly, though knowing all the while that she would not accept his hand anyway. She stood up by herself and brushed off the grass from her skirt, now facing the man, she nodded, allowing him to lead her where he wished. The two headed back to the main building, which was part of the massive ground that was Veritas. The main building, she found out, was where lodging was, and where there were yards and yards of rooms. Outside, there was a large yard or garden area. To the south of the yard, there was another building, a little smaller than the main building, but longer in size. Chael had left it out in the brief introduction to Veritas, and she wondered what it housed. Corpses? That seemed likely with this organisation. Eric held the door open to her, and the buzzing of chatter that shot at her felt familiar to her ears. Strange to think that she was settling in so easily and fast although she had only been here for two days. It must have been because she could not remember a life before this.

"Alright, how was your day today, sweetheart?" Eric chimed, attempting to get the girl to speak.

If she wanted to, or could in the first place, she would have told the man to quit with the endearments and shut the constant yabbering that his mouth seemed so capable in doing. That, and a few other profanities.

The man chuckled next to her, startling her for a while as she turned grey - apparently scary - eyes at him.

"Are they that scary?" When the professionally arched brow of the girl's did not go down, he continued. "The endearments, are they really that annoying?"

How had he just known what she thought?

"I specialise in human behaviour. I was a professor teaching psychology before I was this," Here, he paused, trying to find a word to describe his current profession, finding no words, he continued. "I can read expressions easily. See, now, your's is one of disbelief. You must be thinking that I am insane, yet you know that what I am saying is true, which means to say that you are not all that believing with your mind. And that, girl, is not a good thing to do. No, no." He wagged his index finger at her, smiling all the while mock-sternly.

Her eyebrow remained raised and he laughed at her. "Girl, you gotta let looooose!" He skipped in his step and smiled at her when he twirled around, "Or else, darling, you won't get much out of life, and become a female version of Boss. And we can't have that, can we?"

How was he older than her? And even in this organisation that seemed to house only intelligent and or dexterous people. She supposed that his mind reading and human evaluating skills got him so far. She decided that his optimism scared her and was scarily infectious. She had to force her mouth to remain a grim line as she stared at the ridiculous sight of a grown man prancing around the crowded floor. It was only when they reached the second floor that he finally stopped to straighten his shirt and checked his hair was in place, before turning to check her's.

"Alright, darling, remain calm when you meet Boss, yeah?"

She nodded, seeing as there was no other reaction to do. Why was she to meet the Boss now? The test was tomorrow. They were facing a wall, what was he going to do with a wall?

"Good luck, dear. I know that you will ace that exam. Send the one who created it into shame! Yes? Now, good luck again, and come out alive. Some have died during the course of this test. Enjoy yourself." With a wink, he rapped on the wall twice.

The test? She turned steely eyes to him and he explained that there had been a slight change in plans. The look on his face scared her slightly, the slightly widened eyes spoke of perhaps death. Maybe the entrant had died during the test. Were they all that challenging?

"Code." The same robotic voice that spoke for the entrance door was heard from nowhere in particular. The girl was mildly surprised to find that she had not been fazed by the sudden voice.

"Ryder 09223." Eric whispered.

"Accepted. Please step through, Mr Eric Ryder." The voice remarked in its monotonous voice.

Eric gave a smile to the girl.

"Get back here alive, sweets, or I shall drag you out myself." He winked.

The girl frowned at him. Surely it cannot be that hard? She didn't care for her life, and if she had died like the hapless few, so be it. But if she had made it out alive, what would that make her? A member of the Veritas organisation? How amusing. She stepped in through the portal that had appeared when they were speaking. Really, it was a hole in the wall in the shape of an arch, the darkness that was seen on the other side was pitch black, and lent slight trepidation to her.

What the hell, it wasn't like she had anything to lose.