Disclaimer: I don't own Bloodlines.

Ch. 11 The Ex-Alchemist

I was soon seated across from Marcus Finch in Spencer's, with a vanilla latte sitting in front of me. I took a sip, wondering how I was supposed to even start with all the numerous questions floating around in my head.

A wry smile touched Marcus's face. "You must have a million questions for me, Sydney."

"How do you even know my name?" I demanded. How could he already know that when I hardly know anything about him?

"Clarence mentioned you when he asked me to come to Palm Springs," he said, taking a sip of his mocha. "A girl with a lily tattoo by the name of Sydney Sage."

"If you ran away from the Alchemists, then why did you come when you heard about me?" I asked warily. It seemed to me that if he had escaped the Alchemists, he wouldn't be too eager to run off towards Alchemists.

Marcus shrugged. "I had my reasons." There was a guarded look in his eyes.

I eyed him carefully. He seemed to be carrying lots of secrets – secrets I wasn't sure I wanted to know about. "Why did you come?" I repeated. "I don't think you'd be too keen on meeting Alchemists."

He shrugged. "True, but I just had the feeling you wouldn't turn me in to your superiors. You have too many questions for me. Especially concerning why I left the Alchemists."

"You can't just turn your back on the Alchemists," I said, although I longed to be able to break free deep down. "We're supposed to protect the rest of our kind-"

Marcus held up his free hand, a disgusted look in his blue eyes. "Spare me the Alchemist holier-than-thou crap. I've had enough of it. They must've brainwashed you too."

"Brainwashed?" I demanded as anger swept through me. "It's not brainwashing!"

"If you don't call them forcing you to believe what they believe and you blinding acceding to their beliefs brainwashing, then be my guest," Marcus said dryly.

But he was right. The Alchemists did brainwash us. We were forced to believe that all vampires, even the Moroi and dhampirs, were evil creatures of the night. None of the Alchemists had any reason to believe anything else since they rarely came in close contact with vampires, like I did now. I wondered what my superiors would think of me now if they knew how friendly I'd gotten with vampires and how I was doing things that were non-Alchemist business related. They'd call me a vamp-lover, I thought bitterly.

Marcus was watching me wrestle with my inner conflicts, and he nodded. "Yes. You realize that now."

I decided to make no comment. I wasn't about to add more fuel to the fire. "How did you even stay hidden from the Alchemists?" I asked, deciding on a question that didn't seem too personal and loaded. "I didn't even know it was possible for anyone to hide from them."

Marcus pointed at his cheek. "This hides me."

I looked more closely at the indigo tattoo on his cheek, and saw a faint flash of gold underneath. The Alchemist lily could never be removed, which was probably why he'd gone to so much trouble to hide it. "You're saying that tattoo hides you from Alchemists?" I asked doubtfully.

Marcus paused. "It's a concealment spell. I needed to hide my lily tattoo so I just had this tattooed over."

I frowned. Magic. Does this mean he can practice magic? "A concealment spell?"

He hesitated, and looked around. "I'll tell you more about it when we're somewhere not in public. But all I can say right now is that I know about magic. I can use some magic, but only very minor magic and some convenient spells. I can use this spell to hide from the Alchemists."

I wondered just how much "some" magic was, but then I'd have to reveal I could use magic myself. That wasn't exactly something you went around blurting out to strangers. I decided to save some of my questions for later. "So you're trying to say that you've been using that spell to hide from the Alchemists since…"

"For the past four years," Marcus said with a shrug.

Four years is a long time to hide from the Alchemists, I thought. And I doubted the Alchemists would easily let go anyone who had left. They must've been searching very hard for him while concealing his existence from everyone else.

"Why did you leave the Alchemists?" I asked. "And don't say you're not going to tell me. I don't know if I can trust you completely."

Marcus eyed me with a speculative look in his eyes. "I have the feeling you're not letting go until you get some answers. I suppose I at least owe you a few answers.

"As for why I left….I can't give you the entire story. I was being shipped off…to a Re-education Center for a reason. A 'good reason,' in the eyes of the Alchemists. When I got there…that place…" His voice was bleak, and his eyes were haunted by some unseen, dark memory. "I won't give you a description. It would scare you to death. I will say this much. They give you something to dream about your worst nightmares."

"What's that?" I asked, feeling scared. I hardly knew him, and yet, I got the feeling he was a pretty brave man. If he was refusing to tell me what the re-education center was like, I could only dimly imagine how it was truly like. My nightmare at Court flashed back through my mind, and I shivered.

"I didn't find this out until much later, long after I'd left," Marcus continued, his voice even. "They feed you pills. Sleeping pills that are embedded with a small amount of silver, but no one knows about that."

"Why silver?" I asked, feeling even colder than before. As far as I knew, no one could eat silver. Why would anyone put silver in pills?

"You know how silver can hold Moroi magic, right?" Marcus asked after a quick look around.

I nodded, and a sickening feeling twisted in my stomach. I had a feeling I knew where this was going, and it was not good. "Yes. That's why guardians use silver stakes – charmed with the four elements so that they can kill Strigoi. Silver holds magic." Of course, there was the fifth element spirit, but if Marcus didn't know, I didn't intend on filling him in about it.

"There's a fifth, psychic element," Marcus said, looking away, out at the windows. "It's called spirit. I don't understand much about it, but I understand it's tied into psychic powers." Adrian's face flashed through my mind, but I tried to focus on the present. "The Alchemists have some spirit users under their control at several of the re-education centers. They charm the silver pieces that go into the pills, specifically with compulsion."

Compulsion. It was the ability to make anyone see, do, or think what the person wanted. All Moroi could use it to a certain degree, but most Moroi couldn't use a lot. Spirit users – and Strigoi, from what I'd heard – could use incredible amounts of compulsion and get people to do what they wanted.

"Why compulsion?" I asked, trying to control my voice from shaking. I wasn't exactly scared of compulsion itself now – I was scared of the purpose it was being used for.

Marcus met my eyes, and that dead, haunted look was back in his own eyes. "To create a person's worst nightmare and inflict the worst pain they've ever felt in their life."

My eyes went wide, and horror swept through me. "The Alchemists…inflict pain and torture on those put in Re-education Centers?"

Marcus nodded, his expression and tone grave. "They also use traditional forms of torture, such as electroshock. No one knows what goes on at a Re-education Center. Those who have undergone such horrors are compelled to never speak of what happened to them."

I shuddered. This would explain the one Alchemist I'd met that had seemed half-dead after he'd returned from Re-education. And Keith…when I'd seen him last time, he'd been screaming, "Please! I'm serious. Whatever you want. I'll do anything. I'll say anything. I'll believe anything. Just please don't send me back there!" Now with the knowledge of what went on behind the walls of the Re-education Centers, I understood.

Anger swept through me. "That's just sick!" I shouted. A few patrons looked over at me in alarm, and I checked myself. "If we're supposed to be keeping our fellow humans 'safe' from vampires, using vampire compulsion negates that purpose."

"It is," Marcus agreed, "but don't forget, most Alchemists don't know what's in the pill. They only know that it brings horrible nightmares and terrible pain. I imagine only the top Alchemists know what's in the pills."

"And how can the pills be charmed to give people their worst nightmares?" I asked, feeling scared. "Everyone is different, and don't dream the same nightmares."

"Spirit is the key thing that creates those nightmares. It taps into your mind, and pulls out the worst nightmares, the things that you fear more than anything else in the world," Marcus explained.

My early fear of spirit…is that where it came from? The fear of horrible nightmares? I'd had no knowledge of the role spirit played in Re-education Centers. On a subconscious level, had I known that spirit could be used for horrible things? I shivered again.

"It's disgusting," I said. "How did you even receive that knowledge about spirit, the pills, and the Re-education Centers?"

"After I left the Alchemists, I eventually ran into a few Moroi that had used to… 'work' at those Re-education Centers," Marcus said. I could practically hear the quotes around the word "work," but had no opportunity to ask further. "They explained a little about spirit, and what they'd had to do while they were at the Re-education Centers."

"So much for staying away from those 'evil creatures of the night' if my superiors are secretly in conjunction with them to torture Alchemists," I said bitterly after drinking part of my latte.

"Believe me, the Moroi aren't doing it of their own free will," Marcus said flatly. "And another thing you should know. Most Alchemists are eventually released after their time, but they're never the same again. There are some that are permanently stuck at those centers. I was the only one to ever successfully escape from a Re-education Center."

My eyes widened. "You escaped from a Re-education Center?" My respect for him increased. This man had escaped a Re-education Center and successfully evaded the Alchemists for four years. I was pretty sure those were nearly impossible feats.

Marcus nodded. "But it wasn't easy to orchestrate my flight. I needed a lot of help. In the end, I managed to get out, but of course, I'll never be completely free from the Alchemists."

"Why?" I asked.

Marcus tapped the indigo tattoo on his cheek that obscured his lily. "You know how once you enter the Alchemists, you can never, ever leave, correct?"

If only you knew how many times I've told that to Adrian, I thought, but I nodded. "It's a way of life, protecting humans from discovering the existence of vampires."

"The Alchemists will never let me go if they found me. For me to turn my back on them, even for genuinely good reasons, makes me a traitor in their eyes. If I was to be caught, I would be sent to the harshest Re-education Center in existence for the rest of my life…or I would be killed."

I gasped. Killed?

He nodded. "You belong to the Alchemists for the rest of your life. If you don't believe every bit of propaganda they shove down your throat, you're a traitor to them and to the whole of humankind. This is why I have to take such precautions to hide from them. I could never be one of the Alchemists again, and I never want to be sent to a Re-education Center again…or killed."

Would I be hunted down and killed if I was to ever leave the Alchemists?

Then something occurred to me, and I frowned. "If you can hide with your tattoo, how is it that I can see you?" I couldn't help but wonder how exactly his tattoo worked, and how it concealed him. I'd never been able to use invisibility or concealment spells, and was a teeny bit jealous he could work more magic than me, if there was magic in that tattoo.

He put his head on his chin, studying me. "Do you know about or practice magic, by any chance?"

Oh no. Just great. Adrian knew that I could practice magic, but he was the only one who knew. Now I was supposed to blurt out this carefully kept secret to a complete stranger?

He had brought up magic in the first place, so obviously he won't think you're crazy if you bring that up, I assured myself. Still, it was a big step. I sat up straight and nodded. "I know about, and I practice magic."

Marcus's blue eyes went wide. "An Alchemist who practices magic…that's…unheard of," he breathed.

I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. "My teacher says that I have a natural affinity for magic."

He learned towards me. "This concealment spell is very powerful. Very few people can see through this. For an Alchemist who practices magic to be able to see through it…you are very gifted with magic, and it must be a legacy that runs in your blood."

"You're kidding," I snapped. "It doesn't run in my blood!"

I flashed back to when Sonya and Dimitri had still been in Palm Springs. She'd told me that researchers had felt a hum of magic in my blood and that there must've been something about that combination that kept Strigoi from drinking my blood. I'd said it was from my lily tattoo, which was probably partly true.

But was there some type of magic that wasn't from my lily tattoo that ran in my blood too?

Author's note: I think it was kind of lot to put into Sydney's first meeting/conversation with Marcus, but what do you guys think? And any ideas you'd like to see for more of why Marcus chose to leave the Alchemists? Drop some reviews/ideas! :)