Deliverance Page 36

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Grief shadows his eyes, but he gives me a tiny smile. “Using my own words against me is low.”

“You know I’m right.”

“I know you’re convinced you’re right.” He glances again at the men who swim toward us with sure, steady strokes. “And I know that it’s your choice.”

Turning back to me, he meets my gaze. “And this is my choice. I’m going with you. I’m going to get on the boat while you distract them. You’re right—it isn’t enough to warn Logan. The tech still has to be destroyed, and we’re going to do it. You can be a warrior, Rachel, but you don’t have to do it alone.”

His fingers squeeze my wrist once more, and then he sinks below the surface of the river and lets me go. Instantly, I splash my way toward one of the pillars, plaster myself against it like I’m terrified that if I let go I’ll drown, and start yelling for help.

Boots crash against the planks above. The trackers already swimming toward the dock aim for me. Seconds later, hands grasp my arms and pull me onto the dock. I lie there, shivering and coughing as if I’ve swallowed too much water. Two of the men who are still dry kneel down, flip me to my side, and pound my back. The trackers who were in the water heave themselves onto the dock, panting.

I don’t look for Quinn as the trackers who were pounding on my back hoist me onto their shoulders and carry me up the ramp. I don’t look for him as the rest of the trackers make their way onto the dock, leading the donkeys, carrying salvaged supplies, and pulling Heidi on a narrow wheeled bed that belongs to the boat’s medical bay.

But after we’ve set sail—after the steam whistles shriek and the giant paddle wheel at the back of the boat begins churning the water—as the last faint drops of sunlight gleam fiery orange against the Wasteland, I lean against the railing on the lower deck and take comfort in the fact that even though I’m at the mercy of my enemies, I’m not truly alone.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

LOGAN

“What’s taking her so long?” Adam asks as he spreads pine needles to cushion the ground beneath his bedroll. “The light is almost gone. If she doesn’t hurry, she could get lost. Or hurt. Or both.”

We’ve stopped for the day on a flat circle of land sheltered on one side by the sagging, moss-covered remains of a farmhouse and ringed by tall pines and clusters of flowering bushes. The Commander, along with Peter and Gregory, are staking out the perimeter, choosing the best sites to set up the evening’s watch. Orion, the third guard, is busy setting up the Commander’s small tent in the center of the camp. My people are scattered around, setting up their bedrolls, foraging for food, or, in Willow’s case, backtracking through the treetops, searching for signs that the trackers who’ve been following us on foot are close enough to be dangerous tonight.

The horses are tethered on a small patch of grass to the west of the farmhouse, their saddles lying ready a short distance away in case we need to flee. Not that most of us can saddle a horse quickly, but we’re faster at it now than we were four days ago when we began the northwest trek toward Hodenswald.

Adam lays his bedroll on the pine needles and then stands beside me, his fingers tapping a jerky rhythm against his leg. His nervous energy is spilling over onto me, and I carefully examine the trees around us, though I know there’s no point. Willow will return when she returns.

“It takes time to search for signs left by trackers,” I say quietly while I spread my own bedroll out and then grimace as Connor flaps his bedding, catches it on a shrub, and yanks it free, snapping off a small piece of the bush.

“Four days of travel and Mr. Big Words still doesn’t know how to lay a blanket on the ground without announcing our presence to the trackers behind us. Thanks for that.” Orion, the short, burly guard whose face still bears a bruise from our encounter in the Lankenshire tunnels, shoves Connor as he walks past us, sending the boy crashing into the bush.

“Idiot,” Adam snaps at Orion. “Now you’ve broken half of the branches. The little piece might have been overlooked, but this? This is a red flag.”

Orion turns toward Adam, a scowl on his face, and I thrust myself between the two before another fistfight—their third in the past four days of travel—can break out between them.

“That’s enough.” I keep my voice calm and measured. Adam takes a step back, but Orion sneers.

“Look at these people taking orders from you like a pack of trained sheep. What else do you have them do for you, Logan?” His eyes wander past us to land on Nola, who is gently cleaning her father’s wound while Drake leans his head against a tree, his eyes screwed shut against the pain. Nola was able to find plants to disinfect the arrow wound in his leg, and another plant to help promote healing, but we don’t have anything that can dull the pain. Nola used the plants on my stub of a finger, too, but there was nothing left to clean. The cauterized flesh is a lumpy, blackened scar that aches so often, I’ve willed myself to ignore it because it’s a problem I can’t solve.

Drake suffers the pain of his own wound without complaining, though his face is pale and sweaty every time he has to climb up and down from the horse he shares with Nola, and he can’t put weight on his leg without the help of the crutch Frankie fashioned from a thick oak branch.

I’d offer him the use of Melkin’s walking staff, but if he were to drive the tip too deeply into the ground, it would set off an infrasonic signal to call the tanniyn. Not only am I anxious to avoid the fire-breathing beasts, the staff is the one piece of tech I have that the Commander doesn’t know about. Melkin told Rachel the staff was a gift, and there’s no way the Commander would possess tech with the power to call the tanniyn and then give that tech to someone else. Melkin was tasked with a trip to Rowansmark after Jared’s disappearance. It’s possible that my father, desperate to rescue me once he realized his original device never made it back to the Commander, gave Baalboden’s new courier the staff instead.

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