Stellan nodded. Our rendezvous point was a hotel near the Old City. We’d started choosing one everywhere we went, just in case we got separated and couldn’t return to where we’d been staying. “But I need to find a phone before we do anything else,” he said, looking up and down the alley and directing us to the far end.
“Our phones are back in the car at the initiation site.” We emerged on a major street and waited in a crowd of pedestrians for the light to change.
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I need to find one. Any phone. A pay phone. I need to call Anya’s nanny and tell her all of this. Tell her to lie low.”
Oh. That was probably half of why he’d been so on edge this whole time. “I don’t know if pay phones even exist anymore. There will be a phone at the hotel. It’ll be okay. I doubt they’re even thinking about Anya right now.”
He just nodded tightly and guided us down back streets, staying out of heavily trafficked areas. I watched the haunted faces of people going by. “If the Saxons did this here, they’ll do it elsewhere if they have enough of the virus left.”
Stellan nodded. “If I were betting, I’d say somewhere in the Emirs’ territory, to make it look to the world like a Middle East conflict. That would spread fear faster than random attacks.”
“We have to warn them, then.”
Stellan looked grim. “It’s unlikely anyone will believe us since they think we did it.”
We rounded a corner and the hotel appeared. We both stopped, looking up at it. Neither of us had mentioned Jack and Elodie and Luc since the hospital—on purpose, I was certain. We couldn’t afford to panic again. But as we’d made our way here, I’d been getting more and more nervous.
I folded my arms over the stiff khaki of my uniform shirt. “What if—” I said.
Stellan shook his head and started forward again. If they’re not here, my mind rationalized, it doesn’t have to mean the worst. The Circle could have taken them. Or maybe they were hurt—a broken wrist or something. Maybe—
The lobby door flew open, and Elodie rushed down the steps and crashed into our arms.
Merde, you two. Where have you been? I thought—I thought you—” She pulled away, still holding on to both of our shoulders. In the light spilling out from the hotel lobby, I could tell her face was red and blotchy.
She was okay. She was alive.
Then she pulled away and punched Stellan in the shoulder, hard. “Where were you? It’s been hours.”
I was peering behind her. The longer the doorway stood empty, the more times I glanced back at Elodie’s puffy eyes, the more my chest caved in on itself.
“Where’s Jack?” I interrupted. I grabbed her. “Elodie. Where is he?”
“He’s okay. He’s inside,” she said, and my bones turned to jelly. I sat down on the front steps of the hotel.
“Lucien?” Stellan said.
“He’s fine. I saw him just after, and texted with him a few minutes ago. He’s going to call when he can.”
Stellan sat down hard beside me, his head in his hands.
“Hello,” Elodie said. “I asked where you’ve been. We ran around to the other entrance looking for you and heard that the police were looking for a dark-haired girl in a white robe. We figured that was bad, so we didn’t go back to the Circle, but we’ve been searching all over this city. I’m assuming you didn’t join the army while you were gone, so what happened?”
We went inside as we told her about Lydia setting us up and about the hospital.
Jack threw open the hotel room door as we approached, and sagged with relief when he saw us. His black pants and shirt were so dusty, they were gray. So was his hair. “Took your time getting back here, didn’t you?” He wrapped me in his arms so hard, my feet came off the ground. I buried my face in his dirty shoulder.
“Are you okay?” I muttered against him.
He set me down and nodded, then looked over my shoulder at Stellan. They stared at each other for a second, then pulled each other into what I could tell was a bruisingly tight hug.
Stellan pulled away and smacked Jack on the side of the head, raising a cloud of dust from his hair. “There’s such a thing as a shower.”
Jack patted Stellan’s chest. “Sure thing, Officer.”
Stellan went immediately to call his sister. I sat down and shook my hair out from under my hat. The hotel we’d chosen as a rendezvous was a cheap, seedy one that no one would expect us to stay in, and I could see its lit sign buzzing and flickering out the window while Jack and Elodie told me what had happened after the explosion. All the Circle had made it out without getting sick.
“Did you hear that other people were infected, though?” I asked as Stellan came back into the room. “People died who weren’t Circle.”
Jack and Elodie looked at each other. “We did hear, and we had a thought,” Jack said. “It doesn’t look good.”
“The virus infects people with Circle blood,” Elodie cut in. “Until now, we’ve been thinking of it in terms of close relatives of the twelve families. Biologically, though, that’s not necessarily true. Circle blood has spread a lot farther than that in the past two thousand years.”
I didn’t understand for a second, but then coldness slipped over me. “Olympias meant the virus to kill the Circle—”
“But she was expecting to kill them in the first or second generation,” Stellan said, catching on at the same time. “Who knows how many people have some amount of Circle blood now? If a distant ancestor is all it takes . . .”
“That must have been what happened with my mom,” I said. I’d assumed she’d lied about being Circle. Maybe instead, she had enough of the blood to be killed by the virus, but not enough to know about it.
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