“I know what a terrible person she was,” I said. “I’m the one who killed her.”

She paused long enough to twist around and eye me. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Thought you said we didn’t have a lot of time.”

“We don’t.” She yanked on something, and suddenly a square piece of wall swung out, revealing some kind of trapdoor. It was large enough for a man to crawl through, and darkness permeated the space beyond it. “Long story short, we had a baby. And even though she was born here, Daxton made a deal with his mother and found her a place to grow up out in the world.”

My mouth went dry, and a block of ice formed in my stomach. “No. Whatever it is you’re trying to say—”

She pushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes and stepped back from the opening. “He sent me updates—pictures, reports, that kind of thing. Took care of me even after she was gone. Introduced me to the Mercers, and they took a liking to me.” She shook her head. “Anyway. I wasn’t supposed to know Victor replaced him. No one was. But I’m not stupid—and when Daxton came to visit Elsewhere a month after Victor died, it was obvious. He wasn’t my Daxton, and I recognized the way he was looking at me. And when he threatened to hurt you, I knew it wasn’t him.”

The cellar spun around me. I had to lean against the old cabinet to keep my balance, and a splinter slid into my palm. “You’re not my mother. Daxton—Daxton isn’t my father. I’m not your kid.”

“You’re not,” she agreed. “But that girl in the picture, Kitty—she is.”

A knot formed in my throat, making it impossible for me to speak. I’d never known my parents—I’d assumed I was an Extra like the others in my group home, because that’s what we were. I was nobody. Nothing until I earned my rank and proved I was worth something to the rest of them.

But I had the Hart eyes. I had Hannah’s hair. And even though the thought of being biologically connected to Daxton Hart made me sick to my stomach, Hannah had no reason to lie. She had no reason to risk her own life helping me, either, unless I meant something to her.

Unless I was her daughter.

“You—you’re sure?” I said in a choked voice. Hannah fished a gold chain out from under her nightgown, and at the end dangled a tiny locket. She pushed a button, and it flipped open, revealing two pictures: one of a baby with bright blue eyes, and one I recognized as me on my fifteenth birthday.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know until now.” Her eyes grew glassy, and she tucked the locket back underneath her nightgown. “When Knox showed me that picture, I thought it was a prank. But it’s really you, isn’t it?”

I nodded wordlessly, and the room tilted around me, nearly taking me with it. I had a mother. I had family.

Greyson was really my brother. Lila was my cousin.

I really was a Hart.

And Knox had known.

“I need—I need—” I gestured helplessly at the tunnel. Hannah stepped aside.

“Of course.” She hesitated and briefly wrapped her arms around me. She was warm, and for a split second, I let myself imagine what it would have been like to grow up with a mother. “There’s a flashlight attached to the wall a few feet inside. Run. I’ll distract Mercer for as long as I can.”

“Thank you. For everything,” I said.

Neither of us managed anything more. I slipped inside and waited on the rough concrete while she sealed the tunnel again, watching as the last sliver of light took her from me.

Once I was surrounded by darkness, I took a deep breath, forcing myself to calm down. This changed nothing. I still had to get out of there before Mercer figured out what she had done, and if he took it out on her—

No. Hannah was capable of taking care of herself. If I showed my face to protect her, it would only make things worse for both of us. She was smart, and she knew Mercer better than I ever would. She would figure something out.

I groped around until I found the flashlight, and light flooded a long tunnel that curved out of sight. At first it was concrete, but after only ten minutes of walking, it shifted to dirt. I gulped in the stale air. I was fine. There had to be an end to the tunnel, and when I found it, I would join Knox and the Blackcoats and make damn sure they got to Mercer before Mercer could hurt Benjy and Hannah—or worse.

Everything would be fine.

I stopped suddenly. It wouldn’t be, not without the codes. If the Blackcoats couldn’t get into the armory, they didn’t stand a chance. And I was the only one who knew where they were.

I touched the waistband of my underwear, relieved when I felt the paper crinkle against my skin. I still had it. And if I wanted the Blackcoats to have any chance at all, I needed to get it to them.

But Hannah had said the tunnel ran for miles. There was a chance no one would be there when I got there, or even if they were, they might not be able to communicate with the people inside Elsewhere, where the armory was hidden.

I silently cursed. My life or the lives of millions.

Once again, Knox was right.

I turned around and darted back down the tunnel, the beam of light from the flashlight swinging in time with my strides. When I reached the concrete, I flipped the light off in case Mercer had sent a guard down to see if this was where I’d gone, but as I crept back to the cellar, it was as dark as ever.

I stopped at the entrance into Mercer Manor, crouching beside the opening and holding my breath, listening for any signs of Hannah or Mercer on the other side. My legs began to ache, and soon my feet grew numb as I waited. Eventually I lost all sense of time in the darkness, and instead I began to count my heartbeats.


Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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