Fitz walked right past me and swung the smoke near Lydia and the guards on the balcony.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“You were doing the right thing for your family all along,” Fitz said to Lydia. “I wish you’d been able to finish it. I wanted that for you. At least you can know your family is at peace.”
Across the room, someone coughed. Fitz pushed past me back into the room and tossed the ball in the middle of the conference table. The smoke was coming out more quickly now.
I took a step back, staring warily at him. “What’s going on?” Stellan said at my elbow.
“I don’t know—”
“Oh God,” Lydia said. She was staring at Fitz, wide-eyed. And then a drop of blood fell from her left eye.
I heard a cough and wheeled around. At the far end of the room, David Melech was leaned over, hands on his knees, racked with coughing. So was Daniel next to him.
That smoke. It was not the vaccine. It was killing them. That meant—
I turned back to Lydia just as she downed the contents of a small vial from her pocket—not the one we’d brought, but one she already had. The “cure,” I was certain. She looked up at Fitz accusingly. “It was you?” she choked.
The understanding that had been trying to break through finally hit me like a punch.
Fitz had come in here spreading the virus. Fitz had talked to Lydia like he knew her. Like he’d given her orders she hadn’t followed through on. Lydia had been under the command of some mystery person, directing her in her efforts to take down the whole Circle for the “good” of her family.
It was Fitz. All this time, it was Fitz.
He’d conned the Saxons into doing all of this, throwing the Circle into the kind of chaos it hadn’t seen for two thousand years.
Now he stood, calmly, right in the middle of the chaos. “Take the vaccine,” I said, and I could barely hear myself, like I was underwater. “Take the vaccine!” I yelled to the room. “The smoke is the virus! Take it now!”
But it was too late. Mr. Koning opened the vial and tossed the contents down his throat, but it came right back up in a cough and a spout of blood.
I turned back to Fitz. “How?” I sputtered. “Why?”
“So for the first time since the Circle came into existence, the world could go back to peace.” He took me by the arm, trying to steer me out of the room, but Elodie smacked his hand away.
“What the hell?” she said.
Jack was still standing next to us, speechless.
“You’ve been guiding Lydia since the very first assassinations to stir the Circle into turning on each other?” I said. “Did you get kidnapped on purpose to get closer to her?”
“That was not originally part of the plan, no. I’ll tell you everything, Avery. And you too, Charlie, Elodie. But we have to leave now. All of us do. It also wasn’t part of the plan for some of them to survive this.”
There was more coughing around the room, more screams. At the end of the table closest to us, Jakob Hersch collapsed, blood streaming down his face. Colette ran from person to person, trying to help, but it was no use.
“We were your pawns all along?” I said. “I was your pawn?”
“This was for you,” Fitz pleaded. “For the future. For the world, but mostly for you, Avery. The Circle has taken so much from us. My research was always about giving you back what you should have had. So was this.”
“The cure’s not working!” the Melech Keeper yelled. Daniel Melech was holding a vial like Lydia had, laboring for breath, and his father, David, was choking, spraying blood across the table.
I heard a whimper, and turned to find Lydia trying to stand, blood running down her face.
Fitz tried to pull me toward the door again, but Jack grabbed him. I dropped beside my sister. Even though there was enough blood in Lydia’s eyes that I couldn’t see the expression in them, I could tell by the way her head darted around that she was terrified.
“Lydia,” I said. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Sit. Come here.”
Her head whipped around, her blind eyes trying to find me. “Avery,” she choked. I was the only family she had left. She grabbed for my hand. “Avery. It was a lie. It’s only in a few cities. Paris. Tokyo. Moscow. Mumbai. We didn’t have enough of your blood. I didn’t want to do it.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I knew some people would have to die. I didn’t want to kill kids, whole families. I didn’t want—”
She coughed. Blood painted her teeth red. “He said everything would be better if we— I believed him—”
She started coughing and she couldn’t stop. I knew what would come next. She’d keep bleeding. Her lungs would collapse, and she’d die choking on her own blood. I saw my mom, her blond hair matted with red, her eyes going from frantic to dull and dead, but not before a lot of blood and pain.
I should let the same happen to Lydia. There couldn’t be a more fitting revenge.
I reached into my top and found the new knife Elodie had given me.
Lydia whimpered and tried to pull herself to standing, not giving up even now. Behind her, over the top of the stone balcony, I could see the crowd losing its composure. There were screams, pointing up at us, some parts of the crowd moving, running, making it look like one huge living thing. At the back of the square, something was on fire.
“Lydia, try to relax. You’ll be fine,” I lied as soothingly as I could. I gathered her to me, her blood soaking my shirt.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I lost Oliver. I lost you. Then I lost Cole. I thought if I did this—”
I felt unexpected tears fill my own eyes. I opened the knife.