The edges of my vision turned red, and I dug my nails into my palms. That was mine. But there was nothing I could do that wouldn’t announce my presence to them both, so I sat back on my heels and seethed. If I’d had any doubts whether or not she was the spy, seeing Scotia touch my necklace and kiss Mercer in thanks was enough to dissolve them completely.
“Come inside where it’s warm,” said Mercer. “Hannah’s asleep.”
Scotia shook her head. “Not tonight, not after what Williams pulled. One of the girls might need me.”
Mercer began to protest, but Scotia kissed him again, effectively shutting him up. He relaxed, and when she pulled away, he sighed again. “I’ll have a little chat with him. Make sure he knows what he cost me.”
“You do that,” said Scotia, and she slid her hand over his backside and squeezed. Disgusting. “If all of my girls survive tomorrow, then I’ll see about staying the night.”
With one last kiss, they broke apart, and Mercer walked through the gate and back up the drive to the manor. Scotia watched him go, and it wasn’t until he’d disappeared into the darkness that she finally began to trudge back to the bunkhouse.
I trailed after her, trying to ignore the barrage of questions that flooded my mind, but there was only so much I could do to keep them at bay. Why did Scotia sound surprised the guards had searched the bunkhouse if she’d been the one to snitch on Chelsea? And why had Mercer insinuated that he had orders to protect me? None of the Harts or the Ministers of the Union had any interest in keeping me alive, unless Daxton intended on hunting me himself when the time came. But if that were the case, then why wouldn’t he have just thrown me into the hunting grounds to start instead of wasting time by sending me to Section X?
Did Knox’s sudden presence here have anything to do with it? No—he was only the son of a Minister for now, not the Minister himself, and he didn’t have the power to give those kinds of orders. He was here to watch me die, not to save my life when he was the one who’d put me here in the first place.
Lost in my thoughts, I turned onto the street that led to the bunkhouse. I would find out eventually one way or the other, but until then—
A hand clamped over my mouth. “Scream, and you’re dead,” whispered a harsh voice in my ear, and my entire body went cold.
Scotia shoved me against the side of a gray building, and the back of my head cracked against the bricks. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she whispered harshly. She must have been convinced I wasn’t going to scream, because she dropped her hand from my mouth.
I gulped in a deep breath of cold air. “You’re the one who told them about Chelsea, weren’t you?” I said. “You’re the snitch.”
Scotia rolled her eyes and grabbed my shoulder, steering me away from the wall. I tried to fight her, but my wet boots had frozen in the cold, and my feet were numb. “Stop trying to think for yourself, Lila. You’ll get wrinkles.”
She pushed me into a narrow alleyway between two gray buildings, away from the bunkhouse. “Where are we going?” I said.
“Someplace where you can’t get us killed,” she said, taking another sharp turn. “Now shut up and walk before I decide to gag you.”
I trudged on, debating whether or not it was worth trying to take her out. I was still injured and almost too cold to walk, let alone fight Scotia and live, and it was a maze back here, even more so than the wider streets of Elsewhere. Within minutes, I was completely lost. If I wanted any hope of returning to the bunkhouse without running across a guard, I had no choice but to stick with Scotia.
At last we arrived at a nondescript door in an alley behind a large building that smelled vaguely like grease. The dining hall. Scotia pushed it open and shoved me inside. “Watch your step,” she said, and once the door closed securely behind us, she flipped on a light switch.
We stood at the top of a stairway that led down below the dining hall. I frowned, and Scotia nudged me forward. “We don’t have all night.”
“What’re you going to do, kill me and serve me with tomorrow’s lunch?” I said.
She snorted. “Please, like you have enough meat on your bones to make a sandwich, let alone feed everyone. Now either you can walk down those stairs, or I can push you. Your choice.”
Reluctantly I descended the steps, taking them one at a time so I didn’t trip over my numb feet. Wherever we were going, it was the last place I wanted to be right now, but I refused to let my fear show. I was Kitty Doe, not Lila Hart. I wasn’t a coward.
At the bottom of the narrow staircase was a single metal door. Scotia reached around me and punched a series of numbers into the keypad beside it, and a lock clicked. “In you go,” she said, turning the knob and pushing it open.
I didn’t know what I expected, but a small crowd of several dozen prisoners wasn’t it. No, not just prisoners—among the red and orange jumpsuits, I also spotted a few black uniforms. Guards. And scattered across every surface were dozens upon dozens of weapons. Guns, knives, bows and arrows, grenades—things no upstanding citizen could get their hands on, let alone prisoners.
“What’s going on?” I said nervously, and every pair of eyes in that room turned to look at me. Most of them were older, in their twenties and thirties, but in the corner stood a handful of boys who looked barely old enough to take their test, and seated around a rickety table were half a dozen grizzled men and women. Two of them I recognized from the dining hall at dinner.