Deliverance Page 11

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“Enough!” the tracker barks at Willow as the men holding her pull her to a stop right in front of him.

Panic surges through me at the way he studies her. He might not kill her, but he’s going to punish her, and I don’t think I can stop it.

“We’re cooperating,” I say, and walk faster, half dragging the tracker who grips my arms as I struggle to catch up to Willow. “We’ll do whatever you say.”

The head tracker doesn’t look at me. The torchlight gleams against his shaved head as he bends his neck to stare at Willow. The men holding her shove her to her knees. She keeps her head held high and glares.

“I told you that if you fought me, I would start cutting off body parts.” The head tracker’s voice is cold.

“She didn’t fight you.” I try to move closer to Willow, to somehow put myself between her body and the sword that points steadily at her heart, but the man holding me jerks me to the side. My shoulder slams into the stone wall of the corridor. “She didn’t. She’s ready to show you where she hid the controller. She’s ready to go to Rowansmark if you want her to.”

I try to sound calm, but my words come out too fast. Too desperate.

I can’t stop him from hurting Willow, and everyone in the dungeon knows it.

The head tracker glances at me. “She kicked Jefferson in the throat,” he says.

“Jefferson deserved it.” Willow’s voice is as proud as the tilt of her chin. “It’s one thing to take me into custody for simply obeying my leader. It’s another to insult me and get away with it.”

The man nods slowly, and I draw one shaky breath of relief before his next words rip that away from me. “He behaved dishonorably, but it was a small infraction. You admitted to killing a tracker—”

“I make it a habit to kill those who are trying to kill me.”

“—and then you tried to kill Jefferson for merely insulting you.” His sword wavers as he looks Willow over as if trying to choose where to make his first cut. “I’m a man of honor, and I am responsible for my people.” His eyes flash to hers. “I pay my debts.”

Her lips peel back from her teeth in a snarl. “So do I.”

“Take me!” I blurt the words before the thought has finished forming. “Punish me instead. I’ll pay her debt.”

The head tracker frowns. “Only family members are allowed to assume the pain atonement for each other, and that’s only when the offending member is either too young or too infirm to satisfy the debt owed.”

Willow glares at me. “I can take whatever he gives me and then some.”

“I know.” I hold her gaze. “I know you can, but you shouldn’t have to. You’re only here because I asked you to hide the device. It’s my fault. All of this. My fault.” I look at the tracker again. “She’s my family now. And I deserve to take her punishment.”

“Don’t be stupid, Logan,” Willow snaps.

The door at the end of the corridor groans as more trackers enter the dungeon. At this point, there must be at least a dozen hovering near the exit, waiting for us. One of them, a tall woman with narrow shoulders and a pointy chin, calls out, “Sir? We’re ready.”

I push away from the wall and drop to my knees. The tracker holding me adjusts his grip but doesn’t let go.

“We’re wasting time,” I say. “You want to get the controller and be on your way to Rowansmark before the army outside this city realizes you’re gone, don’t you? Then punish me.”

“Logan, don’t you dare—”

“Punish me!” I raise my voice to drown out Willow’s protest, and the head tracker smiles slyly as if he’s only been waiting for an excuse to hurt me.

“Grab his hand.” One of the trackers holding Willow lets go to reach for me.

“Don’t release her, you fool! Didn’t you learn anything from watching Jefferson nearly get his throat crushed?” The head tracker steps closer to me while behind him, another man rushes toward me.

“Logan McEntire, if you do this, I will never forgive you.” Willow’s voice shakes. She twists against the men holding her but can’t get any leverage.

Before the man can reach me, I lay my left hand on the rough, cold stone beneath me. If I have to lose a hand, better to make it the one I don’t use to hold a sword. My mouth goes dry as the tracker grabs my wrist, anchors my palm to the floor, and spreads my fingers wide.

“Don’t touch him!” Willow’s voice echoes through the dungeon, silencing the trackers at the exit.

“It’s okay, Willow.” I meet her eyes and try to speak like it isn’t taking every ounce of stubbornness I have to keep from trembling. “I’m responsible.”

She curses, her eyes glistening in the torchlight as the head tracker raises his sword. Her voice is full of violent promise as she says, “I swear to you if you hurt him, nothing—not your stupid trackers, your precious technology, or your army—will be enough to keep you safe from me.”

The head tracker swings his sword.

The blade slices through skin, muscle, and bone and slams into the stone floor. My little finger rolls away from my hand, and blood pours from the wound. For a second, I can’t feel anything. I stare at my finger as if trying to force the sight of it lying separate from my body to somehow make sense to me. Then pain hits hard, searing my entire left arm with fire. Sweat beads along my skin, and I feel like throwing up. Passing out. Both.

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