Deliverance Page 7

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I broke when the Commander killed Oliver in front of me. Lost myself when I found my father’s grave in the Wasteland. Slipped into a silence that cut me off from the grief and misery I couldn’t stand to face after I killed Melkin. And shattered completely when my best friend, Sylph, died of the poison Ian injected in her bloodstream as part of his pain atonement vendetta against Logan.

It wasn’t until Quinn found me trying to feel something—anything—by ripping apart the wound in my arm that I understood what it would take to heal. Quinn told me that healing takes the courage to face the things that hurt me. I still have a lot of grief inside of me, but I’m no longer the mess Ian seems to think he can destroy so easily.

I’m a survivor. If Ian thinks the burn on my arm—something he caused when he lit white phosphorous fires around our campsite outside Lankenshire—is going to break me, he’s as stupid as he is crazy.

Turning away from Ian, I take a second to get my bearings as shadows swim in front of my eyes. I can’t afford to pass out from pain and exhaustion. It’s one thing to sleep on my own inside the wagon. It’s another to be unconscious while the trackers might search me and find that I have a knife hidden in my boot. A knife Quinn risked his life to give me.

“We’re stopping for the night,” Ian says. “Make yourself useful, or you don’t eat.”

“Going to be kind of hard keeping me alive all the way to Rowansmark if you don’t feed me,” I say. The tracker who awakened me pulls me away from the wagon before Ian can reply.

“Best not to antagonize,” the tracker says in a soft, controlled voice that reminds me a little of Quinn. I look into his dark eyes and find no malice. No murderous rage. Just steady confidence that he can face anything and survive to tell the story.

“I’m not very good at not antagonizing people.”

“Learn.” He helps me step over a fallen log, and though I want to shake off his hand on principle, I don’t. It’s been less than twenty-four hours since I woke up in Lankenshire from a three-day coma thanks to Ian’s nasty white phosphorous firebombs. My chest burns when I breathe. My arm aches in sharp throbs. And my head feels only distantly connected to my body. Without the tracker’s support, there’s a very good chance I’ll fall on my face and be unable to get back up.

I cradle my injured arm against my stomach and scan my surroundings. A faint road carves a path through slender tree trunks and clumps of ferns. Moss clings to the base of the trees, and glossy green leaves block out most of the sky. The light that filters through looks more orange than gold.

Sunset.

The crumbled gray rock and beaten-down grass that make up the road slice through the forest east to west, and the wagon is facing the fiery orange light bathing the canopy above us.

We’re heading west.

I frown as the tracker nudges a slender stick my way and says, “We’re gathering firewood.”

Rowansmark is south. Why are we moving west? Even knowing that Ian obviously needs a way to move a wagon through the Wasteland, it makes no sense. There are roads that lead north to south. Surely in the few hours that I spent dozing in the back of the wagon he could’ve found one.

I bend to pick up the stick, and my head spins as my pulse pounds painfully against my skull. I need sleep, but I’m not going to get it. Not when Ian wants to use me as his personal punching bag in place of Logan.

And not when I have my own secrets to protect.

The knife hidden inside my boot presses against my leg as I lean forward to grab another stick. The tracker squats beside me and scoops up a few thick branches that lie beneath the trees.

“Why are we heading west?” I ask quietly.

He casts an appraising glance at me. “How did you know that?”

“The sun is setting in the same direction we’ve been traveling.” Does he think I’m an idiot? Anyone could figure that out. “Rowansmark is south. Why are we going west?”

“Oh, we’ll go south soon enough,” the tracker says as he places another handful of twigs in my arms, careful to avoid my wound.

I try to stand, and the forest lurches sideways. Gasping, I reach for something solid to lean on and find the tracker already there, his hand cupping my elbow as he holds me steady.

“You should just sit and tend the fire,” he says. “And keep quiet. You’re in no shape to take more punishment tonight.”

I blink away the brilliant lights that dart at the edge of my vision, and take a deep breath. “Thank you.”

Three months ago, I could never have dreamed of a situation where I would not only willingly lean against a Rowansmark tracker as he helped me navigate the forest floor, but thank him for his trouble.

Of course, three months ago my family was still alive, my city was intact, and I was still confident that my first impression of anyone was absolutely right. Now I know that sometimes, for better or for worse, people aren’t who they seem to be. Sometimes the thing you think will fix everything ruins it instead. And sometimes what hurts you has to tear you apart before it makes you stronger.

I’ve also learned that a little deception goes a long way toward lulling your enemies into a false sense of security. Ian taught me that lesson, and I don’t plan to forget it.

I let my shoulders slump and make sure to stumble twice as the tracker helps me back toward the wagon.

“I’m not sure I’m up to eating.” I make my voice as small as I possibly can.

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