Deliverance Page 13

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“Fight harder!” A cruel voice chops the words into sharp pieces as the Commander steps into the doorway, his dark eyes lit with a predatory gleam while the scar that bisects the left side of his face pulls his mouth into a lopsided grimace. “I want the boy.”

Two more guards flank the Commander and rush into battle. There are so many fighting in the small confines of the corridor that it’s impossible to see the action clearly. But even in the confusion, I can see that Rowansmark is winning.

The Commander sees it, too. With a roar of fury, he draws his sword and steps toward the closest tracker.

He’s seventy-five if he’s a day. There’s no way he can best a tracker. Not for long. He’ll die, killed by the certainty that no one is his equal, and without the Commander’s credibility with the northern city-states, I’ll be left with no way to convince them to commit troops against Rowansmark. No way to keep my promises.

No way to save Rachel.

This time the bile at the back of my throat has nothing to do with my injury. I want the Commander dead. I’ve wanted it since the moment my mother bled to death and left me to fend for myself on the streets of Baalboden. I used to warm myself on freezing winter nights with the fantasy of one day climbing the fence around the Commander’s compound, sneaking into his bedroom, and driving a knife through his heart. The events of the last few months have only added fuel to the flames of my hatred. I want him dead, but if he dies, so does my chance to rescue Rachel.

I meet Willow’s eyes for a split second, hoping she can read my expression, and then I moan and go limp like I’m losing consciousness. The tracker to my left loses his grip. I bend at the waist as if I’m about to be sick, then plant my feet and come up fast. My fist plows into the tracker gripping my right arm. His head snaps back, and our momentum carries us into the wall. I wrap my hands around his neck and use him for leverage as I slam my boots into the chest of the other man. He stumbles into the trackers who hold Willow. One of them goes down, and she bursts into action.

The tracker I’m holding brings his arms up fast, breaks my choke hold, and punches my kidney so hard I nearly double over from the pain. I pull my injured hand close to my body to minimize the tracker’s opportunity to use my wound against me, and we trade blow for blow.

I don’t have time for this. Even now, the Commander could be dead.

I also don’t have the stamina. I’m woozy from blood loss, and one good hit to my left hand will incapacitate me with pain.

“Logan, down!”

I drop, landing hard on the dungeon floor, and Willow leaps over the top of me. The tracker I’m fighting braces himself, but instead of crashing into him, Willow lands in a forward roll, snatches his dagger from his boot, and drives it into his inner thigh as she stands.

The tracker goes on the offensive, but he’s off-balance and losing blood. Willow lands a blow on his collarbone and then digs her thumb into the soft spot behind his ear. His eyes roll into the back of his head, and he drops.

I turn and find the other three trackers who were holding on to us sprawled on the dungeon floor, unconscious.

“Look at that. Four trackers taken down by a Tree Person,” Willow says, a feral gleam in her eyes.

I get to my feet and see that the Commander is still standing. Still fighting. I suspect that has nothing to do with his prowess and everything to do with the fact that the surviving members of the Brute Squad have converged to stand like a shield between their leader and the remaining seven trackers.

What’s left of the dead trackers is nothing but a mist of bone and blood smeared across the dungeon, all that remains after each body explodes once the heart stops beating. I can’t tell how many of the Commander’s men litter the dungeon floor, but only five remain standing. Seven trackers. Five Brute Squad guards. And us.

“We need to distract—”

My words die as an arrow flies past me and buries itself in the throat of the closest tracker. I turn to see Willow holding a bow while she tugs another arrow free of the quiver strapped to the back of an unconscious man. She grins.

“Nice of Rowansmark to come down here all weaponed up and ready to travel.” The arrow zings past me, and another tracker goes down. The first man lies on the floor, his eyes staring at nothing. Seconds later, his body explodes, sending bone and blood flying. The head tracker, who’d been facing away from us as he engaged the Commander’s men in battle, whips around.

Surveying the scene, the head tracker locks eyes with me. Anger coats his words as he shouts his orders. “Monroe, Thristan, and Ella to the door. Kill anyone who stands in your way. Lysford, with me. I want the prisoners alive, but I don’t need them pretty.”

I grab the dagger that still protrudes from the unconscious tracker’s thigh and brace myself. Willow is still trying to pull another arrow free when Lysford and the head tracker reach us.

“Willow!”

She flips to her right, narrowly avoiding Lysford’s sword. I lose sight of her then because the leader swings his blade at me. I leap back, and he attacks. He holds a dagger in one fist, his sword in the other, and he moves with efficient, lethal power. I block one blow with my right arm and am forced to use my left as well when he quickly parries.

He drops his sword and grabs my injured hand instead. Pain screams up my nerve endings, and brilliant sparks flash across my vision. He pins my left arm, effectively blocking my ability to retaliate, and crushes my charred flesh against his palm. I’d kick him, but my knees suddenly feel like they won’t hold me.

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