"I've got the dance on Saturday," I said apologetically. "And I think Sonya was going to take Jill to Clarence's tomorrow after school. Probably she can pick you up too."
"I suppose," he said. He sounded disappointed, but one day wasn't that long to wait for blood. Maybe he was afraid Sonya would recruit him for experiments again - which wouldn't be a bad thing, I thought. Suddenly, he straightened up from his slouch. "Speaking of Sonya... I was thinking of something earlier. Something Wolfe said."
"Why, Adrian. Were you paying attention after all?"
"Don't start, Sage," he warned. "Wolfe's crazy, and you know it. But when he was giving all his words of wisdom, he mentioned that stuff about not giving out personal info to strangers and how victims are often staked out in advance. Remember?"
"Yeah, I was there," I said. "Like, an hour ago."
"Right, so. Those guys who attacked you and Sonya seemed to know she was a vampire -
the wrong kind, but still. The fact that they showed up with a sword implies they did some research. I mean, it's possible they just noticed her on the street one day and were like,
'Ooh, vampire.' But maybe they've been watching her for a while." Noticed her on the street... I gasped as a million pieces fell into place in my mind at once.
"Adrian, you're a genius."
He flinched in surprise. "Wait. What?"
"The week before the attack. Sonya and I got dinner, and we were stopped by some random guy who claimed he knew her from Kentucky. She was pretty freaked out because she was a Strigoi the whole time she was there, and obviously, she didn't hang out with humans a lot back then."
Adrian took a few moments to turn this over in his mind. "So... you're saying they've been checking into her for a while."
"Actually, you're saying that."
"Right. Because I'm a genius." More silence as we both considered the implications of Sonya's situation. When Adrian spoke again, his tone wasn't nearly so light. "Sage... last night. You never acknowledged my comment about vampire hunters."
"The Alchemists have no records of modern vampire hunters," I said automatically. "My dad once said that occasionally, some random human discovers the truth. I'd figured her attack was something like that - not some huge organized group or conspiracy."
"Is it remotely possible that somehow, somewhere, the Alchemists might have missed something? And what do you mean by 'modern' exactly?"
Alchemist history had been drilled into me nearly as much as the philosophies that governed our actions. "A long time ago - like, back in the Middle Ages - when the Alchemists were forming, a lot of factions had different ideas on how to deal with vampires. Nobody thought humans should associate with them. Those who eventually formed my group decided the best way was to work with Moroi just enough to keep them separate from humans. But there were others who didn't take that approach. They thought the best way to keep humans free was to eradicate vampires - through any means." I was relying on facts again, my old armor.
If I reasoned away this argument, then I wouldn't have to acknowledge what it would mean if there were people actively hunting Moroi.
"Sounds like vampire hunters to me," Adrian pointed out.
"Yes, but they weren't successful. There were just too many vampires, Moroi and Strigoi, for a group like this to take out. The last records we have of them are from, oh, I'd say the Renaissance. Those hunters eventually faded away." Even I heard the uncertainty in my voice.
"You said that sword had alchemy symbols on it."
"Old enough to be from the time that splinter group was breaking away?" I sighed. "Yes. That old."
I wanted to close my eyes and sink into my seat. Cracks were appearing in my armor. I still wasn't entirely sure I could accept the idea of vampire hunters, but I could no longer rule out their possibility.
I could see Adrian studying me out of the corner of my eye. "Why the sigh?"
"Because this is all stuff I should have put together sooner." He seemed very pleased at the acknowledgment. "Well, you don't believe in vampire hunters. Makes it hard to really consider them an actual threat when you operate in a world of facts and data, huh? But then... how would they have stayed under your radar for so long?" Now that Adrian had given me the seeds, my mind was already working out the idea.
"Because they're only killing Strigoi - if these hunters exist. If some group were taking out Moroi, your people would notice. The Strigoi aren't organized the same way, and even if they noticed, it's not like they're going to report killings to us. Plus, Strigoi are killed all the time by Moroi and dhampirs. A few dead ones would just be written off to you guys - if anyone even found them. Toss a Strigoi out in the sun, and you'd never even know they'd been there." Relief poured through me at my conclusion. If a group like this did exist, they couldn't be killing Moroi. Strigoi-hunting was still dangerous, however. Only Alchemists could be trusted to deal with those fiends' deaths and keep them secret from average humans.
"Could you ask other Alchemists about hunters?" Adrian asked.
"No, not yet. I might be able to dig through some records, but I could never bring this up officially. They'd stick to my dad's theory - that it was just some random, weird group of humans.
Then they'd laugh me away."
"You know who wouldn't laugh you away?"
"Clarence," we both said in unison.
"Not a conversation I look forward to," I said wearily. "But he might really know something after all. And all his paranoia might pay off. All that home security? If this group really has it in their heads to come after Sonya, then she might be in even more danger than we realized."
"We need to tell Belikov. He excels at that protection thing. He won't sleep if we convince him she's in trouble - which seems likely after the sword attack." I noticed that this was the first time Adrian had ever spoken about Dimitri without bitterness. In fact, Adrian's words and praise sounded legitimate. He did believe in Dimitri's skill. I said nothing about my observation, though. If Adrian was going to get over his hatred of Dimitri, it needed to come gradually and without any outside "help."
I dropped Adrian off with plans to talk later. When I got back to Amberwood, I was immediately flagged down by Mrs. Weathers. What now? I was ready to hear that Angeline had set something on fire. Instead, Mrs. Weathers's face looked calm - pleasant, even - and I dared to hope for the best.