Deliverance Page 62

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His finger digs into me. “You weren’t the cause. You hear me? We make our own choices. We’re responsible for those choices and nothing more. And speaking of choices, you aren’t the only one in this fight. You don’t have to figure out how to watch the Commander, take down Rowansmark, and rescue Rachel by yourself. Why on earth do you think the six of us joined you and Willow in the Wasteland? You think we just wanted a tour of the northern city-states? We’re here because we’re in this together.”

He drops his hand, and waits. When I don’t respond, he says, “Are you just going to sit there looking like you got all the sense knocked out of you, or are you going to say something?”

I swallow and pick up the transmitter he dropped. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Sure you do. You just overthink everything all the time.” There’s a smile in Drake’s voice.

Frankie smacks his hand against my knee. “It’s actually pretty simple. The Commander and James Rowan got into a pissing match, Ian lost his mind, and the rest of us got caught in the middle. And now we’re going to fix it or die trying.”

Warmth fills me, loosening the ever-present knot of tension at the base of my neck. I might have a series of nearly impossible tasks in front of me, and I might have ruins lying behind me, but I’m not alone. “What would I do without the two of you?”

Frankie snorts. “Flounder around with nothing but half-baked nonsense in your head.” He smacks my shoulder affectionately, and I shake my head even as I smile.

“Frankie and I can help you keep an eye on the Commander. We’ll split up our guard shift so that one of us is always awake,” Drake says. “As for your fears about Rachel . . . I can’t tell you not to worry. If it was Nola, I’d be sick over it.” His voice is quiet.

“That’s hardly a pep talk.” Frankie glares at him.

“It’s reality.” Drake’s voice is calm and measured. “Rachel’s in tremendous danger, but then again, so is Ian. Rachel knows how to fight, and she’s got plenty of reasons to want Ian dead. We have to believe that Ian really does need her alive to compel you to bring the device to Rowansmark, and failing that, we have to bet on our girl to know how to defend herself and take him down.”

“She’s strong, even though she’s badly injured,” Frankie says.

“Now who’s screwing up the pep talk?” Drake smacks Frankie’s back.

“It’s okay.” It isn’t, but I don’t want to talk about Rachel. I don’t want to imagine all the ways Ian could be torturing her. I don’t want to think of her facing him down alone.

Drake gives me a gentle smile. “We’ll do everything we can to get to Rowansmark in time to rescue her.”

“And then what?” I ask.

“Then we show Ian what happens when you mess with the people of Baalboden.” Frankie’s voice is grim.

I nod like I agree with him, but that wasn’t what I meant. What happens when this is over? When we defeat Rowansmark, destroy the tech, and punish Ian and the Commander for their crimes?

When all is quiet, and there are no enemies left to face, when it’s just Rachel and me, will we be able to pick up the pieces of our lives and make them fit together?

I’m still wrestling with that question as the rest of our group returns, eats dinner, and settles in for the night. Still wrestling as Drake leaves his bedroll to join Gregory for a shift guarding the horses, while Nola, Willow, and Jodi take advantage of the darkness to bathe in the stream without worrying about one of the Commander’s men leering at them.

Still wrestling when the first scream pierces the air.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

LOGAN

I’m out of my bedroll, my sword in my hand, and running toward the stream before the echo of the scream dies. Behind me, Frankie, Smithson, and Adam stumble to their feet, cursing and grabbing for their weapons. Connor isn’t far behind. I race past the Commander’s tent as he lunges out of the flap.

“The stream!” I call as I race forward. Another scream splits the air, followed by a litany of vitriolic cursing that can only be one person.

“Willow!” I skid down the slippery bank and launch myself into the water. The horses tethered beside the stream throw their heads into the air and stomp their feet as I scan its dark, glittering surface.

I can’t find Nola, Willow, or Jodi.

Fear pours through me. Where are they? I splash farther into the stream, and hoofbeats thunder behind me.

“Logan, down!” the Commander yells behind me.

I throw myself to the side as a horse gallops through the water, narrowly missing my body. A glimpse of the rider makes my pulse pound. Bearded face, clothing patched together, and a belt full of weapons.

Highwaymen.

I twist away from the horse as its rider doubles back, aiming for me again. Onshore, I hear the clash of steel against steel and more hoofbeats as highwaymen pour out of the trees and charge toward us. Highwaymen on horseback streak through camp, chasing down those of us who were standing guard around the horses, while other highwaymen slash through the tethers and steal our mounts.

“Protect the horses!” The Commander’s voice cuts through the melee, but I turn away. Let them fight for the horses. I’m going to find the girls.

After I take care of the highwayman currently yanking his horse around to face me again.

He spurs the animal forward, and I dodge to the left. Planting a boot in my chest, he sends me sprawling into the water. My sword spins out of my grasp, and I don’t have time to find it. The horse is lunging for me again while its rider raises his voice in a sharp, high-pitched war cry.

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