The Indigo Spell

Page 37

I thought about my own experience. "That's certainly true."

"So that's when I walked. Or, well, ran. I could see the signs. I'd crossed a line and knew it was only a matter of time before I had a one-way ticket to re-education." Another new round started, and he gestured me forward. "Want to give it a try?"

I was still stunned enough by his earlier words that I stepped forward and took a ball. The Alchemists were logical, organized, and reasonable. I knew there were Alchemists who wished we could do more to fight the Strigoi, but there was no way our group would work with trigger-happy zealots. "Stanton told me we only tolerate the Warriors. That we're just keeping an eye on them."

"That's what I was told too." He watched me line up a shot. "There's kind of a learning curve to this, by the way. It may take you a few - "

I threw and hit the fifty-point ring. Marcus could only stare for a few seconds, his earlier smirk vanishing.

"You said you'd never played!" he exclaimed.

"I haven't." I threw another fifty pointer.

"Then how are you doing that?"

"I don't know." Fifty points again. "You just base your force on the ball's weight and distance to the ring. It's not that hard. This is kind of a boring game, really."

Marcus was still dumbstruck. "Are you some kind of super-athlete?"

I nearly scoffed. "You don't need to be an athlete to play this."

"But . . . no . . ." He looked at the rings, then at me, and then back to the rings. "That's impossible. I've been playing this since I was a kid! My dad and I used to go to our town's carnival over and over in the summer, and I'd spend at least an hour playing this each time."

"Maybe you should have made it two hours." I tossed another ball. "Now tell me more about the Warriors and the Alchemists. Did you ever get any proof?"

It took him several moments to tune back into the conversation. "No. I tried. I even got cozy with the Warriors for a while - that's how I met Clarence. My group has found a few dark secrets about the Alchemists and saved other Moroi from the Warriors, but we were never able to make a connection between the two groups." He paused dramatically. "Until now."

I picked up the next ball. This mundane activity was helping me analyze his startling words. "What happened?"

"It was a fluke, really. We've got a guy working with us now who just left the Alchemists and broke his tattoo," he explained. He said it like it was no big deal, but I still couldn't shake how uneasy "breaking the tattoo" made me feel. "He'd overheard something that matched up to something Sabrina uncovered. Now we've just got to get the evidence linking it all."

"How are you going to pull that off?"

"Actually, you're going to pull it off."

He spoke just as I was releasing another ball. My shot went wide, missed the rings and even the machine entirely. The ball bounced off the wall and landed at the feet of some startled girls. Marcus retrieved the ball and gave them an apologetic smile, which made them gush about how it was no problem at all. As soon as they were gone, I leaned toward Marcus.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me. You want to join our group? You want to break your tattoo?" He looked annoyingly smug. "Then this is all part of the process."

"I never said I wanted to do any of those things!" I hissed. "I just wanted to find out more about them."

"And I bet you'd really love to know if there are factions in the Alchemists working with the Warriors."

He was right. I did want to know that.

He caught hold of my hand. "Sydney, I know this is a lot to take in. I don't blame you for doubting, and that's exactly why we need you. You're smart. You're observant. You question. And just like me, those questions are going to get you in trouble - if they haven't already. Get out now while you can - on your own terms."

"I just met you! I'm not breaking away from the group that raised me." I pulled my hand back. "I was willing to hear you guys out, but now you've gone too far."

I turned and headed toward the door, unwilling to listen anymore. Yet as I walked away, his words crawled over me. Even though I'd been forgiven for my involvement with Rose, my record still probably had a black mark. And even though I hadn't pushed hard about Marcus Finch, had even bringing him up raised Stanton's suspicions? How long until little things added up?

I pushed open the doors and stepped out into bright sunlight. It chased away the darkness of what I'd just heard. Marcus was right behind me and touched my shoulder.

"Sydney I'm sorry. I'm not trying to scare you." That cocky attitude was gone. He was deadly earnest. "I just sense something about you . . . something that resonates with me. I think we're on the same side, that we want the same things. We've both gotten close to the Moroi. We want to help them - without being lied to or used."

I eyed him warily. "Go on."

"Please, hear us out."

"I thought I just did."

"You heard me out," he corrected. "I want you to meet the others and hear their stories. They'll tell you more about what they went through. They'll tell you about this." He tapped his tattoo. "And when you hear more about that task . . . well, I think you'll want to do it."

"Right. The big, mind-blowing thing that's going to unveil an Alchemist-Warrior conspiracy." He remained serious, which bothered me more than if he'd suddenly revealed this to be one big joke. "So, what? You're going to get the others, and we'll all have an arcade day?"

He shook his head. "Too dangerous. I'll gather them in some other place and then tell you where to meet us, but it's got to be last minute again. Can't risk detection."

"I can't go on some epic road trip," I warned. "No one cares much about LA trips, but traipsing all over the state is going to get that unwanted attention you were talking about."

"I know, I know. It'll be close. I just have to make sure it's secure." He was back to his excited, cheery self. "Will you do it? Come join us?"

In spite of myself, I was curious. Even though I refused to believe in any connection between the Warriors and the Alchemists, I wanted to find out what leads this group thought they had. I also just wanted to see this mysterious group of his, period. What had Adrian called them? Marcus's Merry Men? And, of course, there was the tattoo. Marcus kept alluding to its secrets but still hadn't given me the details.

"I'll do it," I said at last. "On one condition."

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