Deliverance Page 114

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The staff has long since been swallowed up by one of the cracks in the ground, and we can no longer feel the thunderous pulse of its sonic frequency, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The beasts are here, and they aren’t going away until they destroy everything.

The creatures roar and lash their tails, sending other beasts crashing into the buildings around them. Iron balconies tear apart, brick crumbles, and decorative pillars tumble to the ground, where they explode into piles of white dust. The noise is unrelenting—a fierce, predatory snarl that shakes the air. But beyond that, another roar is building. A wet, wild rumble of noise that rushes closer with every second.

I grip Quinn’s hand tighter.

“What is that? What else have you done?” Rowan yells.

The tanniyn closest to us whip their snouts toward Rowan, gray smoke pouring from their nostrils. Quinn pulls me against his side, and we cling to each other as the beasts slither toward us.

I drag in a shaky breath and force myself to think.

If the creatures strafe James Rowan with fire, we’ll be hit too.

I don’t want to die.

There’s a jagged seam the width of a wagon to the right of us and the crumbling brick building tipping slowly toward an enormous hole to the left.

I don’t want to die.

The floodgates are open. Which will hit us first—the tanniyn’s fire or the river’s water?

I don’t want to die.

Rowan raises his whip like he means to slash it at the tanniyn. I spin Quinn toward the wagon-sized crack to the right while behind us, footsteps stomp through the ruined building, coming closer by the second. I don’t have time to wonder who it is because in front of us, a trio of the creatures lash their tails, sending a hail of debris onto our heads, and then cough an unending stream of fire straight toward us.

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

LOGAN

“Rachel!” I yell her name as the tanniyn spew fire at Rachel, Quinn, and Rowan.

Quinn and Rachel dive to the ground and slide down a hole beneath the unsteady building. Frankie shoulders his way through the building’s door and throws himself toward the place where I last saw Quinn and Rachel.

James Rowan doesn’t move fast enough to evade the tanniyn’s fire. It hits him, pushing him against the brick wall behind him. He screams—a wail of terrible anguish—as he is consumed. When the flames die, a charred, smoking heap is all that’s left of the man who thought he could control the monsters beneath our feet and use them as weapons.

I sprint toward the building, frantically looking for any sign of Rachel, Frankie, and Quinn, my heart pounding, my mouth dry, but before I can get there, a wall of water as high as two horses stacked on top of each other explodes into the city.

The water rushes through the streets, banking off buildings and splashing onto the second-floor balconies. I stumble over a crack in the ground and go down hard.

Where are my people? Where is Rachel?

Desperately, I get to my feet and run for the leaning brick building as the tanniyn shriek and bellow, clawing over one another to get out of the water’s way. I skid toward the bottom of the grassy hill and see Nola trapped at the edge of the square, a crack on one side of her and a pile of debris on the other. Smithson is climbing over the debris pile, trying to get to her in time.

I reach the building as the wall of water bursts into the square, sweeping the beasts in front of it. They shriek, and then the water plunges down the holes that opened up to let the tanniyn out of their nests.

“Rachel! Quinn!” My breath tears through my chest in sobs as I pull myself onto the porch. Frankie, one hand wrapped around Rachel’s wrist and the other around Quinn’s while the two dangle over the gaping pit of emptiness that leads down to the tanniyn’s nests, digs his heels into the ground and heaves himself backward.

Sprinting, I dive over the smoldering remains of James Rowan, slide on my stomach, and then slam my boots into the ground to stop myself. Wrapping my hands around Rachel’s arm, I pull her out of the hole while Frankie does the same for Quinn. Then Frankie tosses Quinn at the single remaining stable pillar supporting the building’s upper-level balcony and barks, “Hold your breath!”

Rachel and I run for the pillar as well, and drag in a deep breath as the water slams into us. It’s like being hit by a stone wall. Rachel spins away from the pillar, caught in the current. I snatch her tunic with one hand and wrap the other around the pillar. The force of the water tears at me, and my grip begins to falter while gallons of water pour over my head until I’m convinced I’ll never take another breath.

I try to hold fast to Rachel and to the pillar, but I know I can’t keep my grip much longer. I have to make a choice. It’s the easiest decision I’ve ever made. No worst case scenarios. No contingencies or backup plans. Just the one best case scenario that has been the foundation of every decision I’ve made in the last few months—keep Rachel safe.

Using the last of my strength, I shove Rachel toward the pillar so that she can wrap her arms around it. She latches on, and I try to recover my grip, but it’s too late. The vicious strength of the water is my undoing.

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

LOGAN

The water flings me away from Rachel, but then something jerks me to a stop and holds me in place.

I twist my head and see Frankie, his face red with exertion, gripping the back of my tunic with one meaty hand while he hooks the other arm around the pillar.

My lungs are burning, aching for air, as the initial rush of water subsides, sinking into the long underground tunnels made by the tanniyn and leaving us to collapse, gasping and choking.

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