We followed the crowd. Tears streamed down my face at the haze in the air. I couldn’t stop coughing, and neither could Stellan.
We burst into the next chamber just in time to hear someone scream.
“Merde,” Stellan said under his breath.
I ran into him, but I would have stopped still anyway. “No,” I whispered, panic swelling in my throat. “Please tell me this isn’t what it looks like.”
Despite everything, until this very moment I’d assumed this didn’t have to do with us. That it was a random terrorist attack—or even an accident. Cave-ins happened in old tunnels sometimes.
“This wasn’t just a bomb,” Stellan murmured.
At a glance, it might look like the girl had been injured by falling debris. Her face was bloodied, and she was limp. But there was another girl next to her, yelling. It was in English, so I could understand. “Elena!” she screamed. She turned to the rest of the tour group huddled around her. “She just started coughing blood, and then she collapsed!”
And if we needed more proof, on the other side of the cavern, a kid leaned over a man whose face was covered in red. Moments later, the son coughed, spraying blood across his father’s already-stained white shirt.
They hadn’t been hurt by the cave-in.
It flashed through my head again. My mom falling to her knees, coughing. The bloody tears seeping from her green eyes, faster and faster, staining the light carpet where she fell. It had happened so fast. It was real—it was too real—but now the images rolled through my head like a movie shot on old, scratched film. I wondered whether it really had happened at all. Whether this all could be just a recurring bad dream, and at some point, I’d figure out how to wake up. I dug one fingernail into my palm as hard as I could. I don’t think that worked in dreams, anyway.
Stellan put an arm around me and pulled me close, and I let him. “How?” I whispered. The only illumination came from the dim can lights illuminating the passageway, and those were dampened by the swirling yellow dust. My bare feet were covered in dirt, and it streaked my white robes. “They couldn’t have all eaten or drunk something.”
“Aerosol,” he said. “I wouldn’t have imagined the Saxons would have enough blood left to do it. But maybe it takes even less in this form.”
“Every Circle family was here,” I said, horror mounting. “The Saxons must have been trying to take them all out at once.”
Stellan rubbed his face, smearing a clean line through the dust yellowing his skin. “If it got out here, maybe it wasn’t directed into the ceremony chamber. Maybe they were just trying to scare the Circle. Or maybe they did it wrong.”
I coughed into Stellan’s shoulder, and then had another thought. “Do you think we can get it?”
“I hope not. I think it’s just whatever’s in the air. We need to get out of here, anyway.”
As we skirted past the dead and dying, I whispered, “Are these people Circle? Some of the people who died in Paris were second cousins or something, but . . .”
Stellan pulled me past the father and son now both on the ground, dead. “Maybe the Saxons mutated it. I don’t know.”
I didn’t take a wide enough berth, and my bare foot slipped on blood. I tried not to think about how cold and terrible it probably looked that we weren’t stopping to help. We were the only ones who knew there was nothing to be done.
We rounded a corner and there was a square of sunlight ahead. We joined a clamoring, crying group of people, and I took a huge breath of fresh air when we burst into the evening light. I could tell immediately we were nowhere near where we’d gone into the ceremony, and we had no phones to call Jack and Elodie.
“Do you think they would have stayed by where we went in?” I said. I refused to consider anything less than them making it out safely. “Ask somebody where that entrance is.”
As he did, I remembered the little box under my arm. Out here in the light, the strip of metal around the top of it was far more obvious. It was the most likely candidate for this “map” we were looking for. Just in case someone took the box back from us once we found the Circle again, I pried at it. One end popped off easily, and I yanked until the other came free. The back of the metal strip was bright gold, and it had writing etched into it. In spite of everything, my heart jumped.
Glancing around, I tucked the strip of metal into the sports bra I had on under the ceremonial robe.
Stellan pulled me out of the crowd. We were in some kind of alley, with tall, straight walls rising on either side and a stone street down the middle, cars parked on one side of it. It was hot, with a bit of a dry wind that flapped our robes. “The main entrance to the tunnels is in the plaza at the Western Wall, but I don’t think that’s where we went in.” He glanced down the alley, chewing his lip. “Elodie and Jack will be looking for us, too. Assuming—”
“They’re okay,” I said, suddenly feeling more nervous when I saw that he was nervous. “They have to be. Right?”
Stellan peered over my head, and then he stiffened. I wheeled around.
There was a machine gun pointed at my face.
The soldier on the other end of the gun barked something, and Stellan raised his hands over his head. I did the same. I saw a crowd of people behind him, one woman chattering excitedly, pointing at us. Two more soldiers joined the first.
Stellan argued with the soldier. He yelled something angry, gesturing with his gun.
“Turn around,” Stellan said quietly. “Hands on the wall.”
I guess I wasn’t quick enough, because I felt the barrel of a gun jabbing me in the middle of my back until I stumbled forward into the stone. I spread my dusty hands, one still holding the box, on either side of my head like Stellan had. “Don’t try anything,” he murmured as another soldier kicked my feet farther apart. “They will kill us. They think we did this.”