My stomach dropped. A dozen men and women dressed in jumpsuits knelt in the slush, each blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. I scanned them, looking for any familiar features. My gaze fell on the figure kneeling in front of Mercer. She raised her chin in defiance, and even from a distance, her sleek ponytail was unmistakable.
A strange buzzing rang in my ears, growing louder as the seconds ticked by, and my head pounded. This couldn’t be happening. I had to do something.
“Countless are dead because of you,” said Mercer, and while his voice carried through the street, he looked down at Scotia. I tried to map out a path closer to the gate, but it was all open space. “The snow is red with innocent blood, and now we have no choice but to punish the entire section, all because you decided to have a little fun. You were never going to win.” He gestured to the sky. “I have the might of the American government behind me, and all you have are a few criminals, bastards, and useless invalids.”
The buzzing grew louder, and I looked up through the branches. Helicopters. My heart sank. No matter how many weapons the Blackcoats had, there was no way they would be able to fight off the entire military. And there was no way I could sneak across the open lawn without someone seeing me before I had a chance to help. But there had to be a way—there had to be.
Despite everything, Scotia held her head high. She was blindfolded like the others, but she seemed to be staring straight at Mercer. “I would rather die beside my people than live with yours.”
He scoffed. “As you wish. I hope it was worth it.”
“It was,” she said. “And I’d do it all again for a chance to kill you.”
“Unfortunately you’ll never have that opportunity. Enjoy hell.”
“I’ll see you there,” said Scotia.
Before I could move, before I could think, Mercer pressed the barrel of a gun against her forehead, and he pulled the trigger.
A shot rang out, and she crumpled to the ground. I swallowed a scream. A chorus of gunshots followed, and the other prisoners joined her one by one, until none were left.
The buzzing of helicopters grew louder, the wind whipping up a frenzy by now, and my chest tightened. Mercer kicked Scotia’s body hard enough for the crack of bone to echo over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears, and bile rose in my throat.
“Round up the others,” he called. “Search the bunks, the buildings, the dining hall—everywhere they could possibly hide, and don’t come back until you’ve found—”
A shout of alarm cut off Mercer’s speech. The sound of unrelenting gunfire rang in my ears, close enough to turn the ache in my head into a roar, and suddenly a spray of bullets rained down upon the platform. The guards standing with Mercer collapsed in one fell swoop, and Mercer threw himself off the platform, into the small space beside the gate.
I gasped and crouched down beside the tree. The branches waved as if we were in the middle of a hurricane, and they parted enough for me to see more than a dozen black helicopters hovering above us in the cloudy sky. Like the first, each bore the Prime Minister’s seal, but they continued to shoot into the crowd of guards, mowing them down unmercifully. It wasn’t the military after all.
The Blackcoats had arrived.
I hid behind the tree, not daring to step out into the open. Several men shouted, and one by one, soldiers dressed in black dropped to the ground, carrying weapons that made the guards’ rifles look like toys. Some lingered, but most headed off down the streets and away from the manor, and I briefly considered darting back inside. Before I could move, however, I spotted a familiar figure in the middle of a group of soldiers, the silver lining in his uniform making him stand out.
Knox. He’d come back after all.
I opened my mouth to call out to him, but instead a movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. Only twenty feet from where I stood, Mercer climbed up the hill toward the house, limping and holding his stomach.
I crouched down again and watched him pass. No doubt where he was going this time—the tunnel was his only way out. A potential ambush there was better than an absolute death here, and as he slipped inside Mercer Manor, I gathered my courage and raced after him.
Part of me expected gunshots to follow my path, but either no one in the sky saw me, or they didn’t care. I skidded into the foyer, gun drawn and ready to shoot, but once again, it was empty.
Inwardly I cursed. Where—
“We need backup.” Mercer’s voice, laced with desperation and hysteria, filtered toward me from his office. “The rebels hijacked the helicopters and raided the armory. Elsewhere is falling. I repeat, Elsewhere is falling.”
I pushed open the door with my foot. He stood at his desk, hunched over a monitor. Minister Bradley looked back at him, his bushy mustache hiding his mouth from view.
“We’re sending troops to assist you,” he assured him, but Mercer wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. Instead we stared at each other, his eyes locked on mine.
“Make it the entire army,” said Mercer in a deadened tone. He switched off the monitor and straightened as much as his injuries would allow. The middle of his white uniform was stained scarlet with his own blood, and he held his hand to his stomach as if he were holding his innards in place. For all I knew, he was.
“Put your weapon on the desk, and walk toward me slowly,” I said, keeping my voice as steady as I could. Through some small miracle, my hand didn’t shake.