“You didn’t think the Blackcoats only existed out there, did you?” said Scotia, hovering over me. I gaped at her.
“This is a Blackcoat meeting?”
“Isn’t that what I just said?” She nodded to a stack of old wooden crates near the door. A machine gun leaned against it casually, as if someone had left it there and would be back for it at any moment. “Sit down, Lila, and let the adults do the talking.”
I gingerly moved the gun so it leaned against the wall, and then I took a seat and glanced around the gathered crowd. Several of them stared back, but most refocused their gaze on Scotia, who moved to the center of the room. It took me several seconds to realize what I was looking for—rather, who.
Knox. And he wasn’t there.
“We have two days,” said Scotia in a voice that seemed to permeate every corner of the room. “Two days until everything we’ve worked for will be for nothing. I don’t need to tell you what will happen if we don’t get the codes, and we are teetering dangerously close to failure.”
“Even if we were suicidal, we’d have no chance of sneaking in anymore,” said a man dressed in a guard uniform. His blond hair was long and tied back in a ponytail, and his fingers tapped out a faint rhythm on the wall he leaned against. “Security’s been raised now that Minister Creed’s son has decided to go cherry-picking.”
Several of the women shifted uncomfortably and glanced at one another. I frowned. “Cherry-picking?” I said.
The guard gestured to the crowd gathered. “Anyone he wants, for any purpose. They mostly have their fun and only stick around for a night or two, but a few of them have some twisted tastes.” He tugged his collar down, revealing the start of a thick red scar that ran down his chest. “On the plus side, if you pretend to enjoy it and survive, they’ll usually give you a uniform.”
I stared at him in horror. No matter how much I hated Knox, I couldn’t imagine him ever being that cruel. But the other Ministers...
“Rivers, stop it,” said Scotia sharply. “The princess has had enough of a dose of reality for one day.”
“I’m not a princess,” I said, even though she was right. Elsewhere had been bad enough when I’d thought it was just a hunting ground, but the more layers I saw, the more I wished Knox had put a bullet in me like he’d promised. One more reason to enjoy watching the life drain from his eyes when I had the chance.
But even amidst the dizzying horror swirling in my mind, one thing became crystal clear: they had no idea Knox was one of the leaders of the Blackcoats. Or if they did, they didn’t trust him.
“Has he chosen someone yet?” said a man whose face I couldn’t see.
“Not that I know of,” said Rivers, and his clear blue gaze settled on me. “Can’t imagine who he might set his sights on.”
“Enough,” said Scotia, sharper this time. “Just because security’s been raised doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We have two days, people. Start getting creative.”
“I’ve searched Mercer’s office high and low on my cleaning rounds,” said one of the elderly women, whose white hair was twisted up into a braided bun. “If the codes are hidden in there, they’re behind lock and key.”
“That might be, but your eyesight’s shit, too,” said Scotia. The older woman sank into her seat and averted her gaze, folding her gnarled hands. “I can’t do everything myself, people.”
“You’ll have to eventually if you keep treating everyone like that,” I said before I could stop myself. Scotia turned slowly to face me, her mouth set in a thin line.
“If you’re so eager to help, then why don’t you take the Mercers up on their offer?” she said. “You can’t be completely useless.”
“What offer?” said Rivers, and his tapping abruptly stopped. Once again, all eyes in the room turned toward me.
“The offer for her to stay in Mercer Manor as their guest,” said Scotia. I gritted my teeth.
“Did Mercer tell you that before or after you shoved your tongue down his throat?” I said.
The news of her affair with Mercer didn’t seem to surprise anyone in the room, and Scotia shrugged. “Does it matter? If we don’t get the codes in two days—”
“What codes?” I said. “What are you talking about?”
Dead silence. Several prisoners exchanged nervous looks, and Rivers sighed, resting his head against the wall. Scotia, in the meantime, narrowed her eyes. “I’m not in the mood for games.”
“Neither am I,” I snapped. “If there’s some conspiracy or plot going on, I’m not aware of it.”
“How could you not be?” she said, and for the first time since I’d met her, Isabel Scotia looked stunned and confused. “Isn’t that why you’re here? To make sure the plan goes through?”
“I’m here because Daxton caught me breaking into his office, not because of some plan.” But even as I said it, the pieces clicked into place. This was what Sampson and the others had been plotting. “What are the codes to?”
Scotia frowned. “If the higher-ups didn’t tell you—”
“The central armory,” said Rivers. She shot him a warning look.
“You’re sleeping with him, and you still can’t get the codes,” he said. “She might be our last shot.”