“I prefer to drive like a motherfucker,” she said with a wink.
The kids would be safe at the new Haven they’d established until we sorted out if there might be families looking for them. I worried about doubling the number of kids there in one night, but at least with Harry and his mom still there, Liam’s hands wouldn’t be quite so full.
I followed after Priyanka as she ran back into the building, her feet sliding through the loose rubble on the ground. I followed a step behind her, desperate to keep up as we raced down the hallway, back to Mercer’s office.
She kicked the door open, fumbling with the flashlight. The remains of servers and his computer were scattered across the floor, and his shelves had been overturned in the search for hidden files or flash drives.
Priyanka felt along the walls frantically, searching for some kind of gap or hidden door. I stood still, feeling my heart hammer all through my body as I released that silver thread from my mind.
It found our comms, two blips of power compared to the electricity moving through the nearby buildings and streetlamps.
I forced myself to take a deep breath, hands curling into fists at my sides.
And there, like the soft brush of a finger against my cheek, was a ripple of power. Weak, but there. Hidden.
I surged forward toward the desk. “Help me!”
Priyanka’s breath was labored as she helped me shove Mercer’s imposing metal-and-wood desk toward the wall. Our hands ripped at the rug, tossing it back to reveal an armored door and electronic lock.
“Holy shit,” Priyanka breathed out.
I gripped the lock, but she was faster, her mind hacking the combination. The numbers appeared on its small digital screen one by one, ticking my pulse up with each new one that appeared.
With a last electronic beep, the lock clicked, releasing. Together, we hauled up the door, letting it crash down against the floor.
Lana’s pale face stared up at us. She shielded her eyes against the flashlight’s beam. Priyanka sucked in a sharp breath, her expression moving through shock and relief and fear. By the way her throat was working and her eyes were glimmering, it didn’t seem like she could speak.
“Where is he?” I asked, instead.
“Here,” Lana croaked out. One of her hands was on the ladder built into the hidden room’s wall; the other gestured to a part of it we couldn’t see. “Hurt.”
Priyanka flattened onto her stomach, casting the flashlight’s beam into the room, and in the direction Lana had pointed. A figure was curled up on his side, his bruised and bloodied back to us.
Lana stepped out of the way as I jumped down, followed closely by Priyanka. “What happened?” I asked her as I knelt beside him. “Roman? Roman, can you hear me?”
“Hurt,” Lana said, backing into the corner. She turned her face away from us, but even in the dim light I could see her hands shaking. Priyanka looked torn between going to her and staying where she was, kneeling by Roman’s side.
I turned to truly take in what they’d been subjected to and immediately wished I hadn’t. The half-rotten food and crude buckets explained the horrible smell that permeated the lightless space. It was boiling hot down here, and they had nothing in the way of bedding or water.
“Roman?” Priyanka said, giving him a hard shake. “Ro, can you hear me?”
We turned him onto his back, but with his face so bruised and swollen he was almost unrecognizable. My body was gripped with horror at the sight of it.
Alive, I reminded myself. He’s alive.
“Didn’t want to…I didn’t want to leave him,” Lana mumbled. “He hurt him. He said he wouldn’t. He said…it was…”
“Are you all right?” I asked her.
Lana couldn’t stand to look at us. She turned and faced the corner, and began to cry.
“Roman!” Priyanka was practically shouting now. She cast a helpless look my way. “We’re going to have to carry him out—”
I put a hand on her arm, stilling her. “Wait. Let me try something.”
I only needed the smallest thread of power, just one shock to bring him back to consciousness. I pulled the comm out of my ear, clenching it in one hand and pressing my other palm against his chest.
“What are you doing—?”
The power pushed through him, rippling out through his body. One heartbeat he was still, and the next—
Roman gasped, his upper body rising off the ground as his eyes opened wide. His hand gripped mine as he took another unsteady, sharp breath, his gaze bewildered.
“Easy, easy,” Priyanka told him, her voice breaking. “It’s all right, it’s just us. We’re going to get you out of here.”
Roman’s eyes landed on me, and even battered and swollen, I could see the amazement there, the wondering disbelief as he tried to catch his breath. I leaned down, pressing my forehead to his.
“You’re okay,” I breathed out. “You’re okay. But we have to go. We have to go now.”
He shifted his hand, moving it to his right shoulder. His throat bobbed with the unspoken word. Okay.
Somehow, Priyanka and I managed to get him propped up enough to half drag, half carry him over to the ladder. Before he would take hold of the closest rung, he turned back to Lana, reaching out for her.
“Come on,” he rasped out.
Lana shrank back—but this time, it wasn’t in defiance. It was in shame.
“You can stay here,” Priyanka told her, her voice steady. “Or you can come with us. It’s your choice. It’s—” She cut herself off with a shake of her head, then repeated, “It’s your choice.”
After the last few weeks spent trapped in a cycle of hope and fear, I knew what those words must have cost her. But Priyanka was right. Lana needed to choose. If they forced her to come with us now, it would only deepen the confusion and resentment Mercer had planted in her.
“Please,” Roman whispered.
“The kids…” Lana began.
“They’re safe,” I told her. “They’re already out.”
This time she looked to Priyanka and held out her hand. As their fingers brushed, she began to tremble, but, finally, she nodded. Priyanka held on to her and didn’t let go, not even as they climbed up the ladder after Roman and me.
After helping him to his feet, I looped his arm over my shoulder and absorbed as much of his weight as I could. Priyanka led Lana forward into the smoke still lingering in the hallway. Roman’s grip on me tightened as the headquarters’ collapsed wall came into view, revealing the dark street beyond it.
Every muscle in his body seemed to vibrate with the longing and need to escape this place. I helped him navigate through the remains of the bunk beds and cinder blocks and steadied him as we stepped out onto the street. My reward was feeling his chest expand with a long, deep breath.
We rounded the corner at a limping gait, but his steps seemed to be growing steadier, and quicker, the farther we moved away from that place and the memory of what had happened there.
I slowed us only long enough to reach into my jacket pocket for the burner phone, and hit SEND on the message I’d composed before we’d stormed the complex.
ALL CLEAR. RELEASE THE PACKAGE.
We’d bundled all the records and photos we’d found on Ruby’s flash drive, along with all the other footage we’d collected. I’d sat in front of another camera and stared into its dark eye, explaining everything Mercer and Moore and all of their associates had done in killing innocents and selling children. Chubs and Vida still thought there was a way forward inside the system, but I knew, as soon as I said those first words, I was burning my only bridge back.
My name is Suzume Kimura, and I’m the leader of the Psion Ring. But everything else you’ve heard about me is a lie.
Chubs had a list of contacts in the government and media that could fill miles of open road, and all of them were about to receive the footage. The only question for me was who would care enough to try to do something
But instead of confirming receipt, Chubs sent something else. A photo of a frail figure with a shaved head, wrapped in blankets and sitting up in bed. Her face was turned away from the phone’s camera as she looked out the window, the smallest hint of a smile on her face. To anyone who had seen her photo in the papers or on the news, she would have been unrecognizable. But not to me.
“You ready for this?” Priyanka asked as we caught up to her and Lana.
I looked into the darkness ahead, sparks gathering in my heart. “Beyond.”
Then we were running, shadows racing the night.
WHEN I FINISHED IN THE Afterlight, I knew there was a chance I’d want to return to the world of the Darkest Minds one day—it was only a matter of finding the right story, and the right character to tell it. In the years between then and now, I’ve been lucky enough to travel and meet so many new people. Every now and then, I’d think of the cast of characters and wonder what they were up to, and what adventures they’d gone on in the meantime. When an idea finally clicked into place, and I sat down to write the opening chapters of what would become The Darkest Legacy, it felt like coming home and reuniting with friends.
First, I have to thank you, wonderful reader. Whether you’re new to the series, or returning to it after years away, it’s a joy and a privilege to tell you stories. To the readers who stuck with this series from the beginning, you helped to keep these characters alive in my heart and mind. I would never have been able to write this book without your incredible support, and I hope I’ve delivered a story that brought you both joy and plot twists aplenty. If there’s one message I wanted to convey with this book, it’s that there’s power in our voices: never be afraid to use them to ask for what you deserve, and to fight for the rights of others and what you believe in.
The Darkest Legacy would still be an idea floating around my brain if not for my incredible publisher, Hyperion. It still amazes me that we’ve been publishing books together now for seven years! (Where has the time gone?!) Thanks, as always, go to Emily Meehan and Hannah Allaman, who not only helped me shape this book into something special, but also kept us on track during some truly crazy deadlines. You guys are magnificent captains of this ship! To Seale Ballenger—you are one of the best souls in this world, and the kindness you’ve shown me over the years has made such a difference in my life. And Marci Senders? You retain your title as Cover Queen! Thanks for designing a cover that truly lets Zu shine.