“Colette!” Mr. Frederick cried out, slamming both hands on the table. Colette must have been like family to him. She’d dated his nephew Liam Blackstone for years.
“I’m doing this for Liam’s memory,” she said. “He would never have wanted to see you die over this. Any of you. Now you’ll have to believe us.” She put her hand to her mouth.
Mr. Frederick looked at her with wide eyes. Mr. Emir’s mouth fell open. Zara Koning, whom I’d talked to at the party in Jerusalem, gasped from her place behind her father.
As the entire Circle stared in shocked silence, Colette wiped a tiny bit of blood daintily off her lip.
“More lies, more manipulation,” Lydia said, but no one was listening to her. All eyes were on Colette, watching for any sign of the virus taking hold as she made her way back around the table to the seat behind Luc.
Elodie was right. “Alive” was a pretty low bar, but in this case, it was all we needed.
“Take the vaccine,” I said again.
“It’s a trick,” my father said, but even he sounded uncertain.
Stellan’s hand came over mine. “Mr. Saxon,” he said, cutting through the murmurs building in the room. “You brought Avery into this against her will. You tried to marry her off. You used her own blood to kill her mother and made her watch, and then you ruined the world with it and blamed that on her, too. And somehow she’s managed to stay good and kind and care that the Circle would fall.” He turned to the table. “She is the one who convinced us you were worth saving. Let her do it.”
I was still watching Lydia’s finger poised over her phone. While Stellan was speaking, she turned it off and put it back in her pocket, and I loosened my grip on the edge of the table. Maybe she believed us about the vaccine getting out. Or maybe she could see the tides turning against her.
And then she gestured to one of her minions. The guy trained a gun on Stellan. “Who votes to terminate the ex-Keeper now?” Lydia said.
“What? No,” I said. Arms came roughly around me from behind, dragging me back from the table. On my other side, two more men seized Jack and Elodie. Stellan backed slowly away from the table, his hands spread warily.
“He’s a Circle member,” I protested, clamping down the panic in my voice. “It’s forbidden to terminate a Circle member without a trial.”
Lydia ignored me. “He’s responsible for killing members of over half the Circle families. All in favor of termination?”
Around the table, David Melech’s hand went up, Mr. Hersch’s, and, of course, my father’s.
“You heard the recording,” I protested. “Lydia admitted they did all those things. Not us.”
The hands remained in the air. I remembered what Stellan said earlier—some of the Circle didn’t like him. They weren’t going to let an ex-Keeper be one of them no matter what. I struggled harder.
“You can’t do this.” Luc stalked toward Lydia until another of her guards pointed a gun at him. He stopped and turned to the table. “He’s technically your leader. It has to be a three-fourths majority for termination even of a distant family member.”
“I have to agree with Lucien,” said a worried-sounding Arjun Rajesh. “What if they’re telling the truth? Even if they’re not, this is against code.”
“He’s right,” George Frederick spoke up. “I’m not against a trial, but—”
“We’re not voting on Avery now,” Lydia coaxed, ignoring them. “This one was a Keeper who turned on us. It was a mutiny. Even if he does have the mystical powers it seems like he does, it’s in his entire bloodline. There are plenty more in the world who can fill that place.”
Two more hands went up hesitantly. Slowly, Mr. Koning put his hand in the air. Zara met Luc’s eyes across the table. “Father, no,” she said, low, but he ignored her.
“That’s a majority,” Lydia said.
“No!” I screamed.
I didn’t even stop to think. My elbow connected with the Keeper’s stomach and I wrenched out of his arms, throwing myself between Stellan and the gun. “Kuklachka, get out of the way,” he growled.
“Stop!” my father yelled, pushing back from the table. The guard with the gun paused. “Don’t shoot her! We don’t want her dead.”
Behind us, the chants and prayers of the crowd outside had turned into a frenzied wall of sound. A warm breeze swirled in from the balcony.
“Just let them both die,” Daniel Melech said. “Most of this is her fault, anyway, and we’ll take all the blood we can from her as she bleeds out. All in favor?”
“Now hold on one minute,” my father said, leaping from his chair, but some of the same hands went up as had voted to kill Stellan. Even with the incentive of the virus and the vaccine, the rest of the Circle had none of the vague attachment to me my own family seemed to have.
Daniel didn’t even stop to count. “Do it,” he snapped to his Keeper.
The Keeper raised his gun, aiming right at my head.
I hardly had time to suck in a quick breath and start to duck before the gun went off.
Then I was being tackled to the ground. Screams echoed in my ears.
I was on the floor, half on the balcony. My father was lying across me, a pool of blood spreading under him.
She dropped to the ground by Alistair’s head. Stellan was there immediately, pulling me from under my father’s body. I stared at Alistair’s blank face. He’d saved me. After everything, my father had given his life for mine.
Lydia was sobbing, huddled over him, digging through his pockets. She came out with his phone, her bloody fingers sliding clumsily across the screen. It could be a city she was about to infect, but I was willing to bet her focus had narrowed. Stellan and I started toward her, but with the hand not holding the phone, she pulled a gun out of her coat. “Stay back!”
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