“And they have the cure for themselves in case of disaster, negating that logical argument against releasing it,” said a man with a thick beard.
Elodie nodded. “Exactly. And now they know it infects more than direct Circle. If they release it on a larger scale, it could not only cause mass casualties, but throw the world into even more chaos. Of course, there’s always the possibility they’ll just kill the Circle directly, too.”
“We’d love to eliminate the virus,” Nisha said. “But since it is in their bodies, and there is therefore no way to destroy it directly, we’ve been attempting to find a way to make it inactive in their blood. Without success . . . so far.”
“And if it continues to be, these two will have to disappear, and hope they can stay out of the Circle’s clutches for the rest of their lives,” the Order man said. “Or to be even more safe—”
“Yes,” Fitz cut in sharply, not letting him so much as voice the other possibility. “One idea is that Avery and Stellan would stay on the run from the Circle. From the Saxons and their allies.”
Stellan’s foot pressed into mine again. I pressed back.
“I have to ask,” Hanna said, “is there a reason why there hasn’t been a targeted attack on the Saxon family to remove that threat?”
I glanced at Jack, who was looking at his hands folded on the table. Elodie reminded everyone that the Circle’s code was very clear on what happened to anyone who attacked a member of another family, and that’s why we had decided not to kill Lydia and Cole in Egypt. Jack squeezed his hands together so tightly that his knuckles went white. We still didn’t know what the Circle would do about his killing Cole. The anxious knots in my stomach tightened even more.
“If an Order member were the one to commit the assassination, you’d get around that,” Hanna was saying.
“The Saxons have not been easy to find,” Elodie said, “probably for that exact reason. Our contact inside their home hasn’t actually seen any of the family members for weeks.”
“And,” Fitz said, “we know they have allies. Evil has wide roots. Taking out Alistair and Lydia is no guarantee of safety.”
“So why not go wider?” Hanna asked. “The Order does not generally use violence, but I think we can all agree these are extreme circumstances.”
Across the table, Jack’s mouth pressed into a hard line. Any statement that started with We don’t usually, but was suspect.
“It’s certainly something to consider,” Fitz agreed. “Sacrifice a few for the good of the world.”
“With this virus,” Hanna said, “it could be a targeted strike. Cleaner than bombings or assassinations—the world is already afraid of the virus. A string of ‘accidental’ infections, and then we claim we found the cure and it’s all over.”
I leaned forward, cutting them off. “If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re suggesting we kill the whole Circle? That’s exactly the opposite of what we’ve been trying to do.”
“Sweetheart, no, of course it wouldn’t be the first choice,” Fitz said. “We’re simply running through our options.”
This was exactly what we’d been afraid of when we’d found out Elodie was Order. I glanced across the table at her. She was inspecting her hands, but the crease between her brows said she wasn’t behind this plan, either.
We weren’t just being naive, were we? Was this something we should be considering?
“Maybe we wouldn’t have to eliminate all of the Circle,” another man across the table said diplomatically. “I’m sure you have some allies you’d want to keep safe.”
“So we base our tactical engagements on who’s nice to these kids?” Hanna said. “That’s a slippery slope.”
I tried not to think about every fantasy I’d had about a knife in Cole’s chest. In Lydia’s heart. I felt no remorse about Cole’s death, and I was probably a terrible person for that. But as much as I wanted revenge, I couldn’t imagine playing God and doing a preemptive strike against anyone who could eventually be a problem.
I’d let myself hope the Order would have real solutions. Not just another set of evil schemes.
I pushed my chair back from the table with a scrape. “I’m sorry. I need a few minutes.”
I went up the stairs from the lower deck to the open upper deck and found a bench along the railing. We went under a bridge, and the Eiffel Tower appeared, reaching high into the cloudy sky. I took deep breaths of the summer afternoon air, and I didn’t turn around when I heard footsteps behind me.
“So it appears the Order would like to either get rid of us or use our blood to murder people. That sounds oddly familiar . . .” Stellan settled beside me.
I propped my feet on the railing and watched the wake come off the boat. “So maybe we will have to leave all this behind. If we haven’t been able to do anything and this is the only alternative the Order can think of . . .”
I shuddered, but before I could even tense up too much, I felt Stellan’s fingers pull through the tips of my hair.
“We could all go,” I said. “Elodie and Jack, too.”
Stellan paused, working through a tangle. “The thing is . . . if we’re leaving the Circle to keep them from using our blood, we couldn’t be in the same place, could we? You and I couldn’t, at least. It would defeat the purpose.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t realized that. I wasn’t sure why it made me this much more tense. “Right.”
Our boat rocked in the wake of a passing, nearly empty tourist boat. I glanced downstairs, where the Order were still talking. Earlier, I’d been excited for this meeting. Now I didn’t want to go back down there.
Another set of footsteps came up the stairs, and Jack poked his head onto the upper deck. “Mind some company?”
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