"Yes?" I asked.

"We need to talk to you, Alchemist," said the blond guy.

I didn't twitch a muscle in my face. "I think you've got me mixed up with someone else."

"No one else around here has a lily tattoo," said the other guy. He'd said his name was Jeff, but I wondered if he'd told the truth. "It'd be great if you could take a walk with us." My tattoo was covered up today, but something told me these guys had been following me for a while and didn't need to see the lily to know it was there.

"Absolutely not," I said. I didn't even need Wolfe's reminders to know that was a terrible idea. I was staying here in the safety of the crowd. "If you want to talk, you'd best take a seat.

Otherwise, go away."

I looked back down at my book, like I didn't have a care in the world. Meanwhile, my heart was pounding, and it took every ounce of control I had to keep my hands from shaking. A few moments later, I heard the sounds of metal scraping on concrete, and the two guys sat down opposite me. I looked back up at their impassive faces.

"You've got to go inside if you want coffee," I remarked. "They don't have service out here."

"We're not here to talk about the coffee," said Jeff. "We're here to talk about vampires."

"Why? Are you filming a movie or something?" I asked.

"We know you hang out with them," said Blond Hair. "Including that Strigoi, Sonya Karp." Part of my tattoo's magic was to prevent Alchemists from revealing information about the vampire world to outsiders. We literally couldn't do it. The magic would kick in and prevent it if we tried. Since these guys seemed to already know about vampires, the tattoo wasn't going to censor my words. Instead, I chose to censor myself of my own free will. Something told me ignorance was the best tactic here.

"Vampires aren't real," I said. "Look, if this is some kind of a joke - "

"We know what you do," continued Blond Hair. "You don't like them any more than we do.

So why are you helping them? How could your group have gotten so muddled and lost sight of our original vision? Centuries ago, we were one united group, determined to see all vampires wiped from the face of the earth in the name of the light. Your brethren betrayed that goal."

I had another protest ready, and then I noticed a glint of gold in Jeff's ear. He was wearing a tiny earring, a small golden sphere with a dark dot in the middle. I couldn't help myself.

"Your earring," I said. "It's the sun symbol - the symbol for gold." And, I realized, it was exactly the same symbol that had been on the hilt of the sword we'd retrieved from the alley.

He touched his earring and nodded. "We haven't forgotten the mission - or our original purpose. We serve the light. Not the darkness that hides vampires." I still refused to acknowledge anything they said about vampires. "You're the ones who attacked my friend and me in the alley last week." Neither one denied it.

"Your 'friend' is a creature of darkness," said Blond Hair. "I don't know how she's managed this current enchantment - making herself look like one of the other vampires - but you can't be fooled. She's evil. She'll kill you and countless others."

"You guys are crazy," I said. "None of this makes any sense."

"Just tell us where her main lair is," said Jeff. "We know it's not that apartment on the other side of downtown. We've been watching it and she hasn't returned since our last attempt to destroy her. If you won't actively help us, that information will be all we need to rid the world of her evil."

We've been watching it. Adrian's apartment. Chills ran through me. How long had they been spying on his place? And to what extent? Had they simply sat outside in a car, stakeout style? Did they have high tech surveillance equipment? Wolfe had warned against being stalked in parking lots, not in homes. The small comfort I had here was that they obviously didn't know about Clarence's. Their surveillance couldn't have been that thorough if no one had followed her yet. But had they followed me? Did they know where I went to school?

And with their own words, they were confirming the terrible reality I'd hardly dared speculate about. It was a reality that meant there were forces moving unseen beneath the Alchemists'

seemingly all-knowing vision, forces working against our goals.

Vampire hunters were real.

With that realization came a hundred more terrifying questions. What did this mean for the Moroi? Was Jill in danger?

Was Adrian?

"The only thing I'm going to do is call the police," I said. "I don't know who you guys are or why you're obsessed with my friend, but neither of us have done anything to you. You're even crazier than I first thought if you think I'm going to tell you where she is so that you can stalk her."

Then, by the sheerest luck, I saw a patrolling police officer walking down the street. The two guys at my table followed my gaze and undoubtedly could guess my thoughts. It would be very easy to call her over. We'd filed no report about the alley attack, but accusing these guys of a recent assault would certainly detain them. In sync, they both rose.

"You're making a terrible mistake," Jeff said. "We could have had this problem eradicated ages ago if our groups worked together. First the Strigoi, then the Moroi. Your misguided descent into their corruption has nearly ruined everything. Fortunately, we still walk the true path." The fact that he'd just named the two groups was particularly alarming. These guys were scary, certainly, but less so if they were just talking about vampires in shadowy, vague terms.

Using "Moroi" and "Strigoi" indicated extensive knowledge.

Blond Hair tossed down a small, homemade pamphlet. "Read this, and maybe you'll see the light. We'll be in touch."

"I wouldn't if I were you," I said. "Mess with me again, and I'll do a lot more than just have a pleasant chat." My words came out more fiercely than I'd expected. Maybe Dimitri and Wolfe were rubbing off on me.

Jeff laughed as the two of them began walking away. "Too bad you got so bogged down in books," he said. "You've got the spirit of a hunter."

Chapter 16

I WASTED NO TIME in getting the group together. This was big. I still didn't know the level of danger we were facing, but I refused to take any chances. I chose Clarence's house as a meeting spot, seeing as the hunters didn't know about it yet. It still made me nervous. I would've been nervous even if we'd been meeting in an Alchemist bunker.

And apparently, "hunters" wasn't even the right term. According to their low-quality pamphlet, they called themselves "The Warriors of Light." I wasn't sure they deserved that fancy title, especially since in their mission statement, they spelled "abyss" as "abiss." The pamphlet was really very sparse, simply stating that there was an evil walking among humanity and that the Warriors were the force there to destroy it. They urged their fellow humans to be ready and stay pure. None of the vampires were mentioned by name, for which I was glad.

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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