At the top of the exposed steps we all paused, dripping and shivering, getting our weapons ready. We’d capture Lydia and Cole. We’d figure out what the cure was and give it to Elodie, just in case. Then we’d destroy the rest of whatever it was so Lydia and Cole had no chance of taking it.
“Don’t hurt them,” Jack whispered, warning. “We take them alive.”
He held up a hand, then pointed, and we all burst through the door.
The twins were standing on a raised platform with two boxes on it. They looked up, actual surprise registering on their faces. This was the first time I’d seen them in person since my mom died. My hands knotted into tight fists again.
There were lanterns at their feet, illuminating them and the box they were standing over—which I realized now had to be a casket—in a warm light that shined back from all sides. The entire inside of the pyramid was plated in gold.
“They’re getting smarter,” Lydia said to Cole.
“Hands up, Lydia.” Jack pointed his gun at them, and Elodie and Stellan did the same. “Both of you.”
Lydia smiled. “Though not that smart. We have the cure now, and you don’t.”
“Easily remedied, as soon as you’re dead.” I couldn’t tell whether Stellan was just threatening, or whether he’d decided to disobey Jack after all. I wasn’t sure which I hoped was true.
The twins kept their hands up as we came down the stairs. The gleaming gold on the walls and floor reflected our flashlights, giving the space an eerie, shuddering glow. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that the walls weren’t bare. They were covered with shelves. And the shelves were stacked with all kinds of things: pots, statues, cylinders that I guessed might contain scrolls. Next to me, Elodie had her gun on the twins, but kept glancing away to stare up at the walls in awe.
“I’d stop if I were you.” Lydia shook one of her hands, and for the first time, I realized she was holding something. “Cole,” she said, and my brother flicked a lighter. Whatever was in Lydia’s hand went up in flames. She dropped it on the floor. “There went the cure. Oops.”
Stellan cursed and ran down the stairs, but the piece of papyrus was already ash by the time he reached it.
The rest of us followed. The golden floor was slick underfoot, but perfectly dry, even though we had to be below water level now.
Lydia held out her hands. “Shoot us and you’ll never know what it said! It’s only in our heads now.”
I started to say some things I’d probably regret, but Jack cut me off. “What happened to you?” he said.
Lydia’s big, dark eyes shifted to him. She had her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, and she and Cole looked more alike than I remembered. “Excuse me?”
“How did you become these people?”
“Us?” Lydia asked incredulously. “The traitor is asking what happened to us?”
“Jack has always been loyal to you,” I protested. Even at the expense of his relationship with me. Somehow, that made me want to defend him more, even though I wasn’t sure why he’d chosen right now to bring it up.
Lydia ignored me, her eyes still on Jack. “I thought you might be coming back to the right side, but you weren’t. It was all for her in the end,” she said, inclining her head at me. “Of course it was. Everything revolves around her.”
Jack took a step closer, toward Lydia’s side of the casket, pulling her gaze with him. “Avery has nothing to do with you killing people.”
Cole was still peering into the casket, his hands still above his head like he was barely interested in the proceedings around him. I wondered not for the first time just how much of this he actually cared about, and how much was simply an excuse to blow things up and kill people. I suspected there was more of the latter than any of us wanted to know.
“What was it that made you into this?” Jack said again, holding Lydia’s gaze, his gun trained on her forehead.
There was a subtle movement from the other direction, and suddenly, I understood. Jack hadn’t just picked this moment to point out the twins’ moral failings because he was upset. He was distracting them. Without a word passing between them, he and Stellan had made a plan.
“I’ve defended you for so long because I thought that, despite everything, you were a good person,” Jack went on. I wondered how much he believed what he was saying. I didn’t think he was this good an actor. “I wanted you to be a good person.”
Lydia’s shoulders fell, just a little, and she gave Jack a sad smile. “No, you didn’t. You never actually cared.”
Just then, there was a scuffle and Stellan was holding Cole, one arm around his neck, the other pointing a gun at his head.
Lydia whipped around. “No!” she screeched. “Cole!”
“Tell us about the cure or he dies,” Stellan said. “I think you know I will have no problem at all shooting this idiot.”
“How do we know you’ll let me go once we tell you?” Cole choked out over Stellan’s arm.
“My word,” Jack said, and then looked at Stellan. “You will let him go. We’re Circle. It means something. It means we’re not them. We don’t kill our own.”
Lydia’s eyes were glued to Jack’s. I thought I saw tears in them. “I believe him,” she whispered.
Stellan shoved the gun harder into Cole’s head. “Then what is it?”
“It’s her,” Lydia blurted out, gesturing to me. “Avery, the cure is you.”
I scowled at her. “You mean I’m the virus. My blood. We already know that.”
“No.” She started to lower her hands, but a gesture with Jack’s gun made her change her mind. “The virus, as we know, is both of you, together.” She glanced between Stellan and me. “But your blood alone is the cure.”