The lift took them smoothly up to the third floor where the doors opened onto a hallway similar to the one that led to McGordon’s office, only deliberately less impressive. They only had to walk a few feet before coming to a thick wooden door with a small control panel in the wall next to it.
Dekker motioned for Adelaide to do the honours and, stepping forward, she pressed her temporary card against the panel and waited. There was a small bleep followed by a click and the door opened.
“The Archives,” a tinny voice announced from somewhere overhead, “please enjoy your stay.”
“The damned doors here are always so polite,” Dekker sighed, leading the way, “it’s nauseating.”
Adelaide smiled up a Tristan, who shook his head as they followed. Amusement gave way to wonder, however, as the room opened up before her. Spanning the length of the building, as far as she could see, was row upon row of books and scrolls, punctuated every so often by large tinted windows that let in the perfect amount of light to see by and cast an ethereal, yellowish glow over everything. The ceiling opened up into the floor above which, from what was visible, was laid out in very much the same way. Wrought iron catwalks bridged the two sides of the upper floor without detracting from the beauty of the room. Desks were interspersed around the room in clusters and a small computer bank hummed away quietly beneath one of the windows. Display cabinets stood here and there filled with interesting artefacts such as pottery, bones, old tomes and even, though Adelaide couldn't really be sure, what looked like shrunken horned heads. A break in the bookcases on the upper floor revealed a richly coloured, detailed tapestry covered in dancing figures and all manner of woodland animals, encased behind a thick glass wall. She shivered in delight as she breathed it all in.
“Welcome to the Southern U.S of A Peacemaker Archives,” Dekker said in a mock-American accent, spreading her arms out, “the site of the largest collection of crypto-zoological literature on the American continents, north and south.”
“It’s incredible,” Adelaide breathed, hardly daring to do more than whisper.
“It is rather,” Dekker said, back to her normal accent. “They have everything here, from ancient Greek or Roman pottery and Mesoamerican carvings all the way through to newspaper clippings on the Highgate Vampire of the 1970s and the most excellent novels of Anne Rice. Big fan, not going to lie.”
“They have fiction too?” Adelaide asked, genuinely surprised. Dekker gave an exaggerated gasp and clutched at chest as though wounded.
“Be careful using the ‘f’ word around here,” Tristan advised. “A lot of what humans have disregarded as that is true and some species can be a bit touchy, especially werewolves, we get a bad rap.”
“So, are you telling me that Anne Rice’s stuff isn’t fic… it’s real?” Addy whispered, agog.
“Sadly,” Dekker sighed, “no. Though a girl can dream. An hour alone with Lestat du Lioncourt and I could die happy. Pretty much anything you could want to know about, well, anything can be found here. If we don’t have it, you don’t need to know it. Not to mention it’s all conveniently arranged according to continent of origin.”
“Are you here?” Adelaide asked. Dekker nodded.
“Far left in the European section, third bookcase from the wall,” Dekker reeled off, “starting from second shelf down, mythology of the Ancient Germanic tribes, Celts and Saxons. There’s a few different versions of my kind but we’re all pretty much the same. I’m even mentioned by name in a couple, though I don’t like to brag. It’s like the more impressive version of Googling oneself.”
“My kind are in pretty much every section,” Tristan whispered, “we’re a little bit more awesome.” Dekker pretended to scowl at him and Adelaide laughed.
“The archives are open around the clock,” Dekker advised, starting to walk towards a nearby bookcase and motioning for them to follow. “I suggest you use every chance you get to familiarise yourself with your new world. It can’t be easy, being thrown into it like this, but you have enough resources here to get you through. For now though,” she pulled a large book out from the third shelf down, shifting it in her arms to be able to carry it, “I suggest you start with this.” She put the book down heavily, earning her several glares and looks of disapproval from other archive users which she ignored. Adelaide sat down at the desk and looked at the front cover.
“’The Laws and Respective Penalties of the Aos Sí’,” Adelaide read slowly, “’As laid down by the Divine Council, Revised edition?” She phrased the last part as a question and looked from Dekker to Tristan and back again.
“Yeah,” Tristan shrugged, “they had to update it from the 1911 version after the internet came in. They didn’t realise how much of a difference it would make.”
“Although the oracles did warn them,” Dekker sighed, “but they didn’t listen. Poor Delphi was nearly in tears about it. Then again, she could have been in tears about the World Wars too, it was hard to tell at the time.”
“No way were you there,” Adelaide stated bluntly. She’d had to believe in a lot in a short space of time, but that was nearly too much, there was no way this woman was any older than 32 at a push. Dekker simply nodded.
“I’m immortal, more or less. Can’t die from age, disease or poisoning, though a severe enough wound will do it. The trick is to not let them get close enough, that’s why I’m such a good fighter.” The comment was off-hand, as though it were simply a statement of fact and Adelaide knew she wasn’t bragging. She turned to Tristan and scoured his face for lines.
“And I suppose you’re like 300 years old!” she exclaimed. Tristan laughed.
“Relax, I’m only 28,” he scoffed. “We have a human lifespan, though we are more resilient to disease. Your kind can be pretty long-lived too though, so you’d better get used to sticking around.”
“As a Peacemaker, you will be expected to know the vast majority of these laws,” Dekker instructed, ignoring the daunted look that lay across Addy’s face, “although not all of them. As a military member, however, you will be expected to know the punishments for the major crimes, listed near the front, as second nature. On rare occasions, leniency is granted but that is only on special dispensation from the Council of Representatives or the Divine Council and I mean, rare occasions.”
“Is there a copy I can take out, like in a library?” Adelaide asked, looking hopefully back at the shelf. Dekker walked over to a small rack of hand scanners situated by the door and, bringing one back, pulled out her ID card and scanned it. She then flipped open the front cover of the book and scanned along a bar code on the inside of the sleeve.
“All yours. You need to renew it in three weeks. It’s on my card so please don’t ruin, damage or deface it. You’ll cost me my loyalty points.” Adelaide couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not so decided to drop it. She looked down balefully at the huge book before her and turned the first page. “We’re going to leave you to it,” Dekker announced, making her look up from the tiny writing that covered the page. “Tristan and I are going to be down in the training room. If you need us, there’s a com-phone over there,” she motioned to a small white phone on the wall next to the scanners. “Page down to the first floor and Delores will get us.”
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Tristan said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. She opened her mouth to protest but it was too late, they were already leaving. Adelaide’s shoulders drooped as she turned from looking at their retreating backs to the daunting volume before her. Taking a deep breath to brace herself, she began to read.
The first few pages were simply an introduction, detailing the date, place and location of the creation of that book. It also made several references to other volumes where information could be found on the Divine Council and, noticing a small stack of notepads and pencils in the centre of the desk, Adelaide jotted these down in the interests of further reading.
She flicked through the apparent waffling of the author of this work, referring to himself as The High Scribe Thoth, and skimmed over the first paragraph of a foreword by someone called Jonathan Grey before skipping this too.
A small table of contents listed the crimes in order of severity, separating them into numbered sections, the higher numbers corresponding to apparently less severe crimes. Her curiosity now peaked, Addy turned the page to look at the Section 1 crimes. The introductory paragraph caught her eye and she read with increasing surprise.
‘By the excellent and ineffable wisdom of the Divine Council, as documented by the High Scribe Thoth, all crimes and indiscretions noted herein are to be categorised as severe and warrant thus the irrevocable penalty of death without chance of a trial, to be carried out by High Executioner of the Peacemakers’. A small symbol at the end of this sentence drew her attention to the footnotes on the page and what she saw there made her go cold.
‘The post of High Executioner at the time of publication, being the 28th day of April 2014, is held by Dekker Hjaldrsdottir, of the race of Valkyrie. Should this be no longer correct, please inform the Divine Council directly.’
“Dekker…” she breathed. “High Executioner.” She thought back to the cage fight she had seen earlier that day and her stomach lurched. I witnessed an execution, she thought. She looked back down at the page, trying to read more but she couldn’t focus. “Without chance of a trial,” she whispered to herself, the words sinking like knives into her chest. “What kind of barbaric world is this?”
Adelaide looked around her at the others in the archives, judging them all instinctively and hating each one of them. They wanted her to become a Peacemaker, to abide by these laws, even to enforce them. The thought make her sick to her stomach. She slammed the book shut and was about to stand when Daphne walked through the door and, spotting her, made for the table she was at, smiling warmly.
Her smile faded as she saw the severe look on Adelaide’s face.
“My dear Adelaide,” she started in her whispery, fluid voice, “whatever is the matter?”
“This,” Adelaide snapped, a little too loudly, motioning to the book in front of her. “You have a penalty of death without a trial? What kind of sick savages are you?” Daphne looked around frantically at the disapproving glances they were getting.
“Adelaide,” she said softly, pulling up a seat next to the young woman and taking her hand in her own, “there is a lot about our world that you have yet to understand.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand that,” Addy hissed. “I saw Dekker kill somebody today, now I find out he didn’t even have a fair trial or anything. What if he was innocent?”Daphne sighed and let go of Adelaide’s hands.
“Dekker is not perfect, by any means. She is cold, bloodthirsty and can be a real bitch, but she is not unjust. Neither are many of us. Yes, there are those whose wisdom should be questioned, but we are not as uncivilised as you think.”
Reaching forward, Daphne opened the book back onto the chapter that disgusted Addy.
“Before you judge, look at what the crimes are.” Adelaide sighed and forced herself to look back at the page. “Read them out,” Daphne instructed, seeing a look of confusion on her companion’s face.
“Treason,” Adelaide read, paraphrasing each crime as it was written. “Genocide, serial homicide, High Treason against the Divine Council… that’s it.”
“That’s it,” Daphne confirmed. “All other crimes require a trail, before a jury of peers in much the same way as you humans do. But those are considered the worst crimes as they draw attention to us and not only threaten us, but also threaten humans too. Do you understand?”
“So, the ogre today, he’d had a trial?” Daphne shook her head.
“He was responsible for massacring a family of humans out near Nacogdoches. It made the local papers, it was brutal. When they went to bring him in he resisted arrest, killed one of ours, a young werewolf from the Bayou, tore him clean in two. It took a specialised task force to bring him in, involving Dekker and Tristan. He admitted to it as well, in fact he seemed quite proud of it. Chancellor McGordon had no choice.”
“What about the police? Don’t they have to have some sort of cover story?”
“Of course,” Daphne nodded, “but that is what our diplomatic team is for. We have connections high up within the emergency services and the governments, we have to communicate with them and that way we live in peace. There’s no way in this day and age that we could go on undetected without those connections and alliances. Think of us as sort of United Nations, but for the supernatural world.”
“That sorta makes sense,” Adelaide conceded. “And the execution, I guess I understand. I just wish someone had mentioned something sooner. I don’t know if I can look at her in the same way now.”
“Which is probably why it wasn’t mentioned. You didn’t need to know until now. Trust me, it’s not exactly her favourite part of the job. Those fights put her in danger too, as today demonstrated.” She motioned to the part of her head where Dekker had been wounded earlier and Adelaide nodded. “Look, have a read through this, as much as you can and if you need me, I’ll be over on the computer desks, okay?” Adelaide nodded again and, with a warm smile, Daphne stood up and walked away.
Adelaide sighed deeply. This was a hell of a lot to take in. She hadn’t lied before, she did understand why that execution had happened, she just still struggled to get her head around the base brutality of it. Sure, humans had had public executions until fairly recently and death row was not a new concept to her, but still, it had all seemed so distant before, something that was consigned to history or that happened far away in a high security prison somewhere. But she had witnessed it today, seen someone or more accurately something be executed right in front of her. At the time her mind had been whirling with everything that she had learned and she was caught up in the excitement of the crowd. But here, now, alone in the library she began to feel nauseous.
She flicked through the pages slowly but she did not read a single word, instead images flashed through her mind of everything she had seen up to this point. Her world hadn’t just changed a bit, the floodgates had opened and there was no going back. Then there was the fact that her mother was somehow tangled up in all of this, that she and Dekker had once been friends.
Adelaide barely remembered her mother, only photos and the rare home video of her first Christmas reminded her of what she looked like or the sound of her voice and her father rarely spoke of her. She had always imagined her mother to be kind, loving and gentle but now to know that she was part of all this and, what’s more, a soldier for the Peacemakers made Adelaide second guess everything she believed about her.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the door nearby open, or see Tristan approach until he placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Adelaide,” he said, his voice low and urgent, “you have to come with me, now.” She looked up at him and his expression was serious, troubled almost. Nodding, she closed the book and went to pick it up. “Leave it,” he instructed, “I’ll get Daphne to bring it back with her, there’s no time. The Chancellor has summoned Dekker and I… and he wants you there too.”
Without another word he walked over to the door and held it open for her, signalling that they needed to hurry.