“Whether or not the rebellion succeeds or fails, it won’t have anything to do with me,” I said. “And I’m not going to help someone who turns on the people she claims to protect. The only difference between you and Daxton Hart is that he has an entire country behind him, and you have a few dozen supporters who haven’t yet realized you’ll only care about them as long as they can do something for you.” I backed away. “Keep the necklace. I hope every time you look at it, you see Maya’s face, and Poppy’s, and Chelsea’s. And I hope you remember that the only reason they died is because you snitched on them for a chance to give Mercer your dignity.”
I turned away and stalked down the street toward the bunkhouse. I couldn’t do this, not again—I couldn’t hope only to see it all burn. But even as I slipped into the bunk and curled up underneath my thin blanket, my mind whirled with plans and possibilities, leaving me staring into the darkness and wondering if maybe I had one last try left in me after all.
The morning bell rang at sunrise, and unlike in the group home where I’d been raised, not a single girl grumbled or complained as they pulled themselves out of bed and trudged into the communal bathroom. I joined them, remaining on the fringes while they went through their routines and whispered to one another, doing everything they could to avoid meeting my eyes. Only Noelle acknowledged me with a squeeze of my elbow and a friendly smile.
I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when a familiar voice boomed through the bunkhouse. “Lineup!”
Williams, the guard who had shot Chelsea the night before. I nearly dropped my toothbrush. “Lineup?” I said, my mouth full of toothpaste. “For what?”
Noelle paled. “No one knows,” she said, her voice trembling. “They choose as many as they want. When you’re taken, you never come back.”
I started to ask who they were, but she and the other girls hurried into the bunk room, and I rinsed my mouth and followed them. Like the night before, each stood in front of their bunk bed, hands hanging at their sides as they looked straight ahead. Even Scotia stood in front of her curtain, her stance wide and her hands behind her back. Our eyes met, and her cold glare made it clear that if I got another girl killed this morning, I would be next.
My heart pounded as I took my place in front of my bunk. Williams burst through the door, and a handful of other guards joined him, crowding the small space. His gaze found mine, and he smirked. I stared back, refusing to flinch.
I waited for him to say something, but instead he remained silent. As the seconds passed, my chest tightened, and I dug my nails into my palms. The other girls all shifted nervously, some hanging their heads so their hair obscured their faces. I glanced at Noelle. She raised her chin as if she wanted them to see her.
Half a minute passed. At last heavy boots echoed against the steps that led to the front door, and Mercer stepped inside the bunkhouse. Towering over us, he scanned each face, his eyes lingering only on mine. To my surprise, he smiled. I didn’t smile back.
“I think you’ll like your pick here,” said Mercer, and at first I thought he was talking to Williams—until a second set of footsteps clunked against the stairs, and Knox walked through the door, his black wool coat dusted with snow.
My entire body tensed. Rage burned through me, setting me on fire, and it took everything I had to remain still. Standing at the head of the aisle, Knox was less than an arm’s length from me. Close enough for me to see the stubble forming on his jaw. Close enough for me to smell his soap. Close enough for me to reach out and snap his neck in the seconds before every single guard put a bullet in me.
My fingers twitched. It would be worth it if I knew I could do it, but I didn’t have the upper body strength Knox did, and I was still sore and bruised from the day before. If I killed him—when I killed him—I would need to be alone with him if I wanted any chance of succeeding.
“A great selection,” said Knox quietly. He strode slowly up the aisle, eyeing each girl as he passed. “They’re strong?”
“The strongest Elsewhere,” said Mercer. “Fast runners, too, I’d imagine. They’ll be the challenge you’re looking for.”
My stomach turned, and if I had eaten anything the day before, I had no doubt I would’ve been sick all over Mercer’s shoes.
Knox was going hunting.
“This one,” he said, tapping a redheaded girl on the shoulder. “And this one.”
The black girl beside her let out a strange choking sound, and I turned away, biting my tongue to keep myself from blurting out something that would only get more killed.
“One more, I think,” said Knox as he leisurely meandered back up the aisle toward me, now examining each girl on my side of the room. I would be the last.
I forced myself to relax and accept what was coming. My building hadn’t been chosen at random; Knox was here for one person and one person only. Me. This was how he would finally kill me.
Let him try. If I was going down, I was taking him with me.
Knox stopped in front of me exactly as I expected him to, and our eyes met. I saw no hint of familiarity in his—no indication that we knew each other at all, much less that he regretted how things had come to pass.
For a moment I wondered if he, too, had been Masked. I wouldn’t have put it past Daxton, especially if he had discovered the role Knox played in the Blackcoats. It would have been a perfect in into the rebellion. And it would have explained why Knox suddenly seemed to have no desire to keep a single promise he had made to me.