"Thanks again," Sonya told me. "I know how busy you must be."
"It's no problem. It's the weekend, and anyway this is what I'm here for - to help you guys."
She laughed softly to herself. Her recovery in the last couple of days had been remarkable, and she now looked as pretty and bright as usual. She wore her auburn hair down today, letting it fall in fiery waves around the delicate lines of her face. "True, but it seems like you keep having to go above and beyond your job description."
"I'm just glad you're okay," I said earnestly. I'd grown close to Sonya and was sad to see her go. "Back in that arena... well, it was kind of terrifying." Some of her amusement faded. "It was. I was out of it most of the time and not really able to process what was going on around me. But I do remember your words. You were pretty amazing, not to mention brave, to face down that crowd and defend me. I know how hard it must have been to be in opposition with your own kind."
"Those people are not my kind," I said adamantly. Some part of me wondered exactly who my kind were. "What's going to happen to your research now?"
"Oh, it'll continue back East. Dimitri will be returning soon too, and there are other researchers who can help us at Court. Having an objective spirit user like Adrian was extremely useful, and we've got plenty of data to keep us busy now, thanks to the blood samples and aura observations. We'll let Adrian continue with his art and get in touch later if we need him again."
I still couldn't shake the guilt over how my refusal to give more blood had indirectly resulted in Sonya's kidnapping. "Sonya, about my blood - "
"Don't worry about it," she interrupted. "You were right about me being pushy and also that we need to focus on Dimitri first. Besides, we might be making some headway with getting Alchemist help."
"Really?" Stanton had seemed pretty against it when we spoke. "They said yes?"
"No, but they said they'd get back to us."
I laughed. "With them, that's a pretty positive answer." I fell silent for a moment, wondering if this meant everyone would forget about my blood.
Between the Warriors and the potential of Alchemist aid, surely my blood was no longer important.
After all, initial study had found nothing special. No one had any reason to worry about my blood anymore. Except, the thing was... I was kind of worried. Because no matter how much I dreaded being experimented on, that nagging question wouldn't leave me alone: Why hadn't the Strigoi been able to drink my blood?
Sonya's earlier mention of auras reminded me of another burning question. "Sonya, what does purple mean in someone's aura? Adrian says he saw it in mine but won't tell me what it is."
"Typical," she said with a chuckle. "Purple... well, let's see. From what I've observed, it's a complex color. It's a spiritual but passionate color, tied to those who love deeply and also seek a higher calling. It's interesting in that it has such depth. White and true gold tend to be the colors associated with higher powers and metaphysics, just as red and orange are linked to love and baser instincts. Purple kind of has the best of all of those. I wish I could explain it more clearly."
"No, that makes sense," I said, pulling into the airport's circle driveway. "Kind of. It doesn't exactly sound like me, though."
"Well, it's hardly an exact science. And he's right - it's there in you. The thing is..." We'd stopped at the curb, and I saw her studying me carefully. "I've never noticed it before. I mean, I'm sure it's always been there, but whenever I looked at you, I just saw the yellow of most intellects.
Adrian isn't as adept at reading auras as I am, so I'm surprised he noticed what I missed."
She wasn't the only one. Spiritual, passionate... was I really those things? Did Adrian believe I was those things? The thought made me feel warm all over. Elated... and confused.
Sonya seemed like she was about to say more on the matter and then changed her mind.
She cleared her throat. "Well, then. Here we are. Thank you again for the ride."
"No problem," I said, my mind still swimming with visions of purple. "Have a safe trip." She opened the car door and then paused. "Oh, I have something for you. Clarence asked me to give it to you."
Sonya rustled through her purse and found an envelope. "Here you are. He was pretty adamant you get it - you know how he is when he gets worked up about something."
"I do. Thanks."
Sonya left with her luggage, and curiosity made me open the envelope before I drove away. Inside was a photograph, showing Clarence and a young guy, close to my age, who looked human. The two of them had their arms around each other and were smiling at the camera. The unknown guy had straight blond hair that just barely brushed his chin and stunning blue eyes that stood out against suntanned features. He was extremely handsome, and although his eyes mirrored his smile, I thought there was a little sadness too.
I was so caught up in his good looks that I didn't notice his tattoo right away. It was on his left cheek, an abstract design made of clustered crescents of various sizes and orientations, lying together so that they almost looked like a vine. It was exotic and beautiful; the rich indigo ink a near match for his eyes. Studying the design more closely, I noticed something familiar about its shape and swore I could see a faint glimmer of gold edging the blue lines. I nearly dropped the picture in shock. The crescents had been tattooed over an Alchemist lily. I flipped the picture over. One word was scrawled on it: Marcus.
Marcus Finch, whom the Warriors had claimed was an ex-Alchemist. Marcus Finch, whom the Alchemists had claimed didn't exist. The crazy thing was, unless someone locked away like Keith counted, there were no "ex-Alchemists." You were in it for life. You couldn't walk away. Yet, that obscured lily spoke for itself. Unless Marcus had had a name change that somehow eluded the Alchemists, Stanton and the others were lying to me about knowing who he was. But why? Had there been some rift? A week ago, I would have said it was impossible that Stanton wouldn't tell me the truth about him, but now, knowing how carefully information was parceled out - or not - I had to wonder.
I stared at the picture a few more moments, caught up in those haunting blue eyes. Then, I tucked it away and returned to Amberwood, resolved to keep the photograph a secret. If the Alchemists wanted to deny Marcus Finch's existence to me, I would let them continue until I figured out why. That meant my only lead was Clarence and the absent Warriors. Still, it was a start.