“Elodie.” Jack stood, his hands clenched at his sides, like he wasn’t sure whether to reach for a weapon. “You can’t actually be saying you’re part of a group that has sworn to destroy the Circle.”
“That’s not how it is. It’s been a long time since we used violence against the Circle at all.”
“The Order killed Oliver Saxon only a few years ago.”
“That wasn’t us.” Elodie had her arms crossed, her shoulders nearly at her ears. I’d never seen her look this uncomfortable. “I think that was actually an accident. Think about it, you two: Keepers are taught from the very beginning of their training to be on the lookout for the Order, but have you ever seen a confirmed Order attack? Since Alexander’s time, when we were known as the Order of Olympias, we’ve been charged with keeping the peace. That does mean reining in the Circle’s power at times, but it’s very rarely violent. In fact, every Circle member sees someone in the Order daily. We’re in every Circle household. Just like I am. Just like Avery’s mother was.”
Stellan was silent and rigid, staring blankly at a spot on the wall above Elodie’s head.
Jack wasn’t. “You’ve been lying to us since we met you, then?”
“We’re forced to hide our real identities.” Elodie looked at me meaningfully. “And Avery’s mom isn’t the only person you know who’s secretly in the Order.” She glanced up at Jack and looked genuinely sad. “Emerson Fitzpatrick was, too.”
“What?” Jack exploded. “Elodie, I don’t know where you’re getting this—”
Jack was still staring her down. “I can’t believe that,” he murmured. “Fitz was loyal. He was my friend—”
“All of that is still true as well,” Elodie said.
“You know what I don’t believe?” Stellan asked, interrupting the conversation. “That you’ve been keeping it from me our whole lives that you’re part of the group that killed my family.”
I’d forgotten about that. The fire that had killed Stellan’s mom and burned him and his sister nearly to death was started by the Order.
But Elodie was already shaking her head. “The Order didn’t kill your family.” She sounded softer than usual, speaking right to Stellan. “The Circle did.”
Stellan didn’t move. Jack started to protest, but I silenced him with a hand.
Elodie went on, “I know because they killed my family, too. That’s why I joined the Order in the first place.”
Stellan just stared. Elodie went on, like the two of them were the only ones in the room. And then she switched to Russian. Stellan straightened, alarmed.
“I said,” Elodie translated for us, “that I’m from Russia, too. I was never French.” She turned back to Stellan. “My mother was Mongolian, my father Russian. I spent the first years of my life in a tiny village near the border, and when my brothers were born, my father moved us to a small town outside Chelyabinsk. That’s where Stellan grew up, too,” she said to Jack and me.
Stellan sat down on the hard sofa and stared at her. “What do you mean it’s why you joined the Order?” he said flatly. It was like Jack and I weren’t even there.
“When I was a kid, there was a fire in my apartment building,” Elodie said. “The building exploded. I woke up lying outside in the snow, surrounded by my whole family: My mom. My dad. My two little brothers. All dead. Maybe I was just in shock, but for some reason, I kept thinking of a few weeks earlier, when another building nearby had burned. Our neighborhood wasn’t rich. Bad wiring, or someone building a fire inside on the coldest days . . . But two major fires so close together? And I knew my father had been rocking a lot of boats in the town.” She twisted her fingers. “I left the bodies of my family in the snow and I ran. As far as anyone knew, I died that night, too. I was burned all over, but the worst of it was the back of my head.”
She didn’t look up, but she pulled her hands through her hair—and took off her short platinum-blond wig.
Part of Elodie’s head was scarred and bald. The rest was covered in black hair, buzzed short. That was what I’d seen at her hairline. She slipped the wig back on, settling it into place over her real hair.
“When another apartment building a couple of neighborhoods away burned down, too,” she said, brushing her bangs back into place, “I watched the aftermath. I wondered if I was wrong and it was all a coincidence, but then I found out that some kids had survived that fire, too. A baby, and a boy about my age.”
Elodie’s face was oddly calm. Stellan’s breathing was labored. I realized I was holding my breath.
“I went to the hospital where you were,” Elodie whispered. “I watched you every day. You and Anya. You’d been burned much worse than I had, but you’d lived. And one day, a man came to see you. He wasn’t Russian, and he’d taken a particular interest in you. I could tell you didn’t want to, but you went with him because you had no other choice. I don’t know if it was because I knew somehow that you were connected to my family’s deaths or because I’d gotten attached to you, but I followed you. That’s how Fitz found me. He took pity on me, and brought me to France, too. Brought me into the Order.” Elodie finally looked up, studying Stellan for a long moment. When he didn’t respond, she turned to Jack and me. “I was planted in the Dauphin home to do various things, including watch out for Stellan, though I never really knew why until you all uncovered the thirteenth bloodline. Fitz never told me what he suspected. I don’t think he told anyone.”
I was still trying to wrap my head around any of it. Somehow, what came out of my mouth was, “Do you think the Dauphins killed your family?”
Elodie hadn’t put the wig on quite straight, and a bit of scar tissue peeked out. She looked vulnerable, which didn’t look right on her. “I don’t think so. I suspected the Vasilyevs at first, but Fitz didn’t think it was them. That’s one reason I agreed to be in the Order—so I could keep investigating. I’ve never really stopped, even though I haven’t found answers.”
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