I didn’t think my father was evil. My mom never would have fallen for him if he was, and Fitz’s story had confirmed it. But he’d broken a long time ago, and had never put himself back together. Maybe it should have made me feel sorry for him, but it just made me angry. He might not be evil, but he was allowing evil things to happen because of his weaknesses, and that was just as bad.

   “Avery.” Lydia smiled, but there was no emotion behind it at all. It hit me who she reminded me of. She looked as vacant as I’d felt in the weeks after my mom died. I remembered exactly how little I cared about anything then, and how dangerous that was. “If we had known all it took was a council meeting to make you turn yourselves in, we would have done it long ago.”

   “Take their weapons,” my father said.

   We’d expected that, too. We let two men I recognized as a Saxon Keeper and one of Rocco’s old cronies search us and set our weapons at the far end of the room. The guns on us slowly lowered, but the atmosphere didn’t grow any more welcoming.

   “We’re not here to turn ourselves in,” I said. Stellan and I ignored the murmurs of disapproval and made our way confidently around the room to the head of the table, where the Saxons sat. Jack and Elodie followed us at a distance. This was part of the plan, too. Tonight, we’d be what the Circle had wanted us to be all along.

   Ryo Mikado stood. “You have no right.”

   Most of the table nodded, angrily or warily. Even kind Arjun Rajesh looked disappointed in us—if disappointed was the right word when someone thought we’d been trying to bring down the whole world.

   “You initiated us,” I said. We’d decided I’d do most of the talking. The Circle were intrigued by Stellan, but I was more familiar to them. I held up my wrist. “And we completed the tattoo ceremony with the Dauphin family as witnesses. We’re official. What’s more, when you initiated us, you did so knowing we’d technically be the Circle’s leaders. So yes, we do have the right to be here. But we’re not here to exercise our rule. We’ve come here tonight to tell you the truth.”

   “The only thing you’ve done by coming here is allow us to punish you as we see fit,” Lydia interrupted. “The only question will be who to terminate first. The two of you, or the Keeper who murdered my brother.” Her eyes flashed at Jack.

   My father held up his hands. “Once all the treaties are signed and witnessed, we can discuss the fate of the thirteenth family. Until then, please stay on task.”

   No one else protested. Instead, they picked up their pens reluctantly. They were too afraid of the Saxons. I’d been wrong to believe they didn’t care about their people—they cared so much, they were going to ruin their own lives to save them. And they didn’t want to speak up and take any chances.

   Instead, we were taking the chance for them. This was the moment we could be sentencing the world to die. Or maybe the Circle. Or maybe ourselves.

   “Don’t sign the treaties,” I said.

   A few people with pens in their hands paused, but most just frowned up at me warily.

   “Releasing the virus won’t work.” I was impressed with how confident I sounded about the lie. “That’s what we’ve come here to tell you. We have a vaccine for the virus and we’ve distributed it in your territories. Your people won’t die. You don’t have to sign the treaty to save them.”

 

 

CHAPTER 29

 

There were murmurs around the table. My father turned in his chair to face me. A set of massive doors with curtains pulled partway across them opened to a balcony behind us. It looked out on St. Peter’s Square below, full of people as far as I could see. We must be in the room connected to the balcony where the pope always addressed the square.

   “She’s lying.” Lydia got her phone out of her pocket. She must have had the trigger to release the virus programmed.

   “We’re not.” Every head at the table swung from Lydia to me as though they were watching a tennis match. “We tried to tell you about the vaccine, but no one would listen. You should listen now, and not just because of the treaty—but because if you sign it, the Saxons plan to release the virus in this room.”

   It took a second for that to sink in, and then the table erupted with protests.

   “What do you mean by that?” Mr. Wang demanded.

   “They’re having you sign over everything you have,” I said over the din. “And then they’ll kill you so your families will be too destroyed to fight back. But we have the vaccine, and you should all take it.” I nodded at Colette. She pulled a bag full of small vials out of her purse, and began to hand them out.

   “Don’t be stupid.” Lydia’s bored indifference cracked just a tiny bit. “They’re obviously infecting you.”

   My father squinted at the vial in front of him quizzically.

   “Why should we believe any of this?” Ryo Mikado said, but I noticed he’d pushed his paper away.

   Arjun Rajesh opened the vial and sniffed it.

   Outside, the wailing and chanting was growing louder as the sun went down.

   “Because I vouch that it’s true.” Luc stood up at the center of the table.

   Lydia laughed. “They killed Hugo and Celine Dauphin and left Lucien alive because he’s in on their schemes. That means nothing.”

   Colette set her bag down. She stepped up to the table. “Lucien is right.” Every head turned to her. “I’ve seen it all. There’s no way I’d be siding with people who killed Liam, or who killed my aunt and uncle. Those of you who have also lost someone, ask yourselves whether you think I’m telling the truth. And if you don’t believe that, believe this. I’ve taken the vaccine already.” She walked around the table to Stellan and me. She opened a small pocketknife. I held out my arm, and Stellan did, too. She cut me and wiped a bead of my blood on her hand, then cut Stellan and mixed our blood together.

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