Something in my gut told me this was real. I hadn't forgotten the similarities in our rituals or how the Warriors had wanted our groups to merge. Maybe the Alchemists and the Warriors weren't best friends yet, but someone had at least humored Master Jameson with a meeting. The question was, what had happened at that meeting? Had the Alchemist in the footage sent Jameson packing? Were the two of them together right now?

Regardless of the outcome, this was undeniable proof that the Alchemists and Warriors were still in contact. Stanton had told me we merely kept an eye on them and had no interest in hearing them out.

Once again, I had been lied to.

Chapter Twenty-One

SOME PART OF ME BEGGED FOR there to be a mistake. I watched the footage three more times, tossing crazy theories around in my head. Maybe Master Jameson had a twin who wasn't a fanatic who hated vampires. No. The video didn't lie. Only the Alchemists did.

I couldn't ignore this. I couldn't wait. I needed to resolve this immediately. If not sooner.

I sent Marcus a text as soon as my plane was on the ground: We meet tonight. No games. No runaround. TONIGHT.

There was no response from him by the time I got back to my dorm. What was he doing? Reading Catcher in the Rye again? If I'd known what dive he was holed up in, I would've marched over there right then. There was nothing I could do but wait, so I called Ms. Terwilliger both as a distraction and to buy some freedom.

"Nothing to report," she told me when she answered. "We're still just watching and waiting - although, your extra charm is almost complete."

"That's not why I'm calling," I said. "I need you to get me a curfew extension tonight." I felt bad using her for something totally unrelated, but I had to do this.

"Oh? Are you paying me an unexpected visit?"

"Er - no. This is for something else."

She clearly thought that was funny. "Now you use my assistance for personal matters?"

"Don't you think I've earned it?" I countered.

She laughed, something I hadn't heard from her in a while. She agreed to my request and promised to call the dorm's front desk right away. As soon as we hung up, my phone chimed with the expected message from Marcus. All the text contained was an address that was a half hour away. Assuming he was ready for me now, I grabbed my messenger bag and got on the road.

In light of my past meetings with Marcus, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd led me to a department store or karaoke bar. Instead, I arrived at a vintage music shop, the kind that sold vinyl records. A large CLOSED sign hung on the door, emphasized by dark windows and an empty parking lot. I got out of my car and double-checked the address, wondering if my GPS had led me astray. My earlier zeal gave way to nervousness. How careless was this? One of Wolfe's first lessons was to avoid sketchy situations, yet here I was, exposing myself.

Then, from the shadows, I heard my name whispered. I turned toward the sound and saw Sabrina materialize out of the darkness, carrying a gun as usual. Maybe if I showed her the one in my glove compartment, we could have a bonding moment.

"Go around back," she said. "Knock on the door." Without another word, she returned to the shadows.

The back of the building looked like the kind of place that screamed mugging, and I wondered if Sabrina would come to my aid if needed. I knocked on the door, half expecting some kind of speakeasy situation where I'd be asked for a password like "rusted iguana." Instead, Marcus opened the door, ready with one of those smiles he kept hoping would win me over. Strangely, tonight it put me at ease.

"Hey, gorgeous, come on in."

I stepped past him and found we were in the store's back room, which was filled with tables, shelves, and boxes of records and cassette tapes. Wade and Amelia stood against a wall in mirrored stances, their arms crossed over their chests.

Marcus shut the door behind me and locked it. "Glad to see you back in one piece. Judging from your text - and your face - you found something."

All the rage I'd been holding in since my discovery came bursting out. I retrieved my laptop from my bag and had to resist the urge to slam it against a table. "Yes! I can't believe it. You were right. Your insane, far-fetched theory was right. The Alchemists have been lying! Or, well, some of them. I don't know. Half of them don't know what the other half's doing."

I expected some smug remark from Marcus or at least an "I told you so." But that handsome face was drawn and sad, reminding me of the picture I'd seen of him and Clarence. "Damn," he said softly. "I was kind of hoping you'd come back with a bunch of boring video. Amelia, go swap with Sabrina. I want her to see this."

Amelia looked disappointed to be sent away, but she didn't hesitate to obey his order. By the time Sabrina came back in, I had the video cued up to the correct time. They gathered around me. "Ready?" I asked. They nodded, and I could see a mix of emotions in all of them. Here it was, the conspiracy theory they'd all been waiting to prove. At the same time, the implications were staggering, and the three of them were well aware of how dangerous what they were about to see could be.

I played the video. It was only a few seconds long, but they were powerful ones as that bearded figure appeared on the screen. I heard an intake of breath from Sabrina.

"It's him. Master Jameson." She looked between all our faces. "That's really the Alchemist place? He's really there?"

"Yes," said Wade. "And that's Dale Hawthorne with him, one of the directors."

That triggered a memory. "I know that name. He's one of Stanton's peers, right?"

"Pretty much."

"Is it possible she wouldn't know about a visit like this?" I asked. "Even at her level?"

It was Marcus who answered. "Maybe. Although, walking him right in there - even to the secure level - is pretty ballsy. Even if she doesn't know about the meeting, it's a safe bet others do. If it were completely shady, Hawthorne would've met him off-site. Of course, the secure list means this wasn't out in the open either."

So, it was possible Stanton hadn't lied to me - well, at least not about the Alchemists being in contact with the Warriors. She'd certainly lied about the Alchemists knowing about Marcus since he'd said he was a notorious figure to most higher-ups. Even if she was ignorant about Master Jameson, it didn't change the fact that other Alchemists - important ones - were keeping some dangerous company. Maybe I didn't always like their procedures, but I'd desperately wanted to believe they were doing good in the world. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren't. I just didn't know anymore.

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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