“There’s nothing you can do or say that will save me from the Mercers. I know.” I looked at him—really looked at him for the first time since I’d arrived Elsewhere. Our eyes met, his so dark they appeared to have no irises at all, and I smiled faintly. “But it’s not the dying that matters, remember? It’s how we choose to live.”
“I mean it,” he said, frowning. “Everyone here still thinks you’re Lila Hart. You can help us in a way no one else can, and I need to know you’re safe. That’s why I brought you here in the first place.”
“Directly into the line of fire? How thoughtful of you.”
“To a place where I can protect you. The war isn’t over, Kitty. It hasn’t even begun. And when it does, the Blackcoats are going to need you. Benjy’s going to need you, Celia’s going to need you—I’m going to need you. Promise me you won’t try to find those codes.”
I scowled. “Fine. I promise.”
Knox eyed me as if he didn’t believe me, and I held his stare, silently daring him to challenge me. At last he relented. “All right. Come on, back to your room. Unless—”
“I am not sleeping in here with you,” I said. Even the Augusta Suite was better than that. I stood, taking the blanket with me. “Good night, Knox.”
“Good night, Kitty.”
He followed me to the door, but he stayed there as I trekked back down the hallway. Now that I’d had time to compose myself, I slipped into my room without any fluttering panic. Augusta had lived her life, and she’d made her choices. I wouldn’t let her ghost haunt me when I knew I was doing the right thing.
I sat on the soft bed for hours, staring at the picture of Benjy and replaying the memory of that afternoon in my head over and over again, until I could feel the weight of his arms around me and the warmth of his breath tickling my cheek. It wouldn’t be the last time he held me. And if for no other reason than that, I knew I was doing the right thing. For Benjy, for our future, for the happiness we both deserved. Now that I had him back, I wasn’t going to lose him again, and if the Blackcoats failed, that was exactly what would happen.
Scotia and Knox had had their chance to get the codes. Now it was my turn.
When the clock struck two in the morning, I slipped out of the bedroom and crept down the hall. I paused in front of Knox’s room, listening for any sign he was awake, but I heard nothing. Relieved, I headed to the grand staircase, taking two at a time. Once again I paused at the bottom, waiting for a cough or soft footsteps to indicate I wasn’t alone.
Mercer’s office door creaked as I slid it open, and I held my breath, waiting for someone to appear. No one did. My luck wouldn’t last forever, though, and I fumbled to unclasp my necklace. Corner drawer, black folder. I could do this.
There had to be two dozen drawers lining Mercer’s back wall, but there were only four corners. I started at the bottom right. The lock wasn’t a standard one—there was something strange about it that made it much harder to pick, and I had to use all three lock picks on the necklace before I managed. As quickly as I could, I flipped through the folders, but they were all manila. No black in sight.
Muttering a soft curse, I ducked over to the other corner, making quick work of the lock now that I knew how to do it. But to my dismay, there was no black folder in that one, either.
That left the two drawers in the top corners. I wouldn’t be able to reach either on my own, and I carried Mercer’s chair over instead, careful not to make a sound. I climbed up and undid the third lock, and once again, it was full of manila folders.
“You better be it,” I muttered as I dragged the chair over to the fourth and final drawer. Close up, I could see that this one was different. Over the spot where the lock had been for the other drawers, there was a shiny black square exactly big enough for a fingerprint.
I mentally kicked myself for not noticing earlier, and without hesitation, I passed the silver disk over the drawer. A light beside the square turned green, and the lock clicked.
Butterflies fluttered in the pit of my stomach, and I pulled the drawer open. It was lighter than the others, and I immediately saw why. Only one thing lay inside: a single black folder.
I opened it. Inside was a small strip of paper no bigger than a name tag, with a series of symbols I couldn’t make sense of. This had to be it. I carefully folded the paper, and, realizing too late that I had no pockets, I slipped it snugly under the waistband of my underwear instead. Good enough.
Returning the black folder to the drawer, I closed it and climbed down. I moved the chair back into place, but just as I took my hands off it, something clicked.
Light flooded the room, causing a stabbing pain in my eyes, and instinctively I ducked underneath the desk. But it was too late. Unless the dark figure in the doorway was blind, he had already seen me.
“Lila?” said a familiar voice, and I exhaled. Knox.
“What are you—” I began to straighten, but as soon as he came into view, I froze.
Knox stood in the doorway, holding a glass of amber liquid, and he wasn’t alone.
Standing beside him was Mercer.
“What are you doing here?” said Mercer, his voice harsh and his words slurred. The glass of alcohol in his hand clearly wasn’t his first.
“I—” I glanced at Knox, silently begging him to say something, but his expression remained stony. “I got lost—”