Deliverance Page 73

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“I’ll take three horses, three weapons, and all three girls.”

Rufus laughs. “You think you can handle all three of these ladies for the night?” He points toward Willow. “That one alone is more than you can take on by yourself.”

I hold his gaze. “Not for the night. For good. I want to walk out of this camp with all three of the girls, along with a horse and a weapon for each of them.”

Rufus’s laughter dies. “One old man and the hope that I’ll get paid handsomely at the end of a very long journey isn’t nearly enough for that kind of trade.”

“That’s why I also brought the tech that was stolen from Rowansmark.”

His smile is predatory. “Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s see it.”

I pull the device from my cloak pocket, careful not to loosen the wires attaching it to the transmitters.

“What is it?” Rufus asks.

“A weapon. If you have a practice range around here, I can give you a demonstration.”

Rufus smiles slowly. “Or, my men kill you and we take both the tech and the old man.” He steps closer. “I confiscated your weapons. Surrounded you with my crew. I hold all the advantages, my friend. You’re holding nothing but an old man and a weird-looking flute. Why should I bother trading?”

“Because you’re smart enough to want me as a repeat customer.” I hope. “Why don’t we step outside? Bring the girls and have one of your men go pick me out three horses. And while they’re doing that, I’ll give you a demonstration of the tech so you can assess its value. If you don’t think it’s worth my terms, I’ll walk away.”

“Counteroffer. You give me a demonstration. If it’s worth your terms, you walk away with the girls, the weapons, and the horses. If you’ve wasted my time, I keep the old man, and you get nothing.”

“Deal.” I reach out and shake his hand while one of his men cuts through the rope that binds the girls to the wall. I notice the man is careful to avoid coming too close to Willow.

“Weapons,” I say, and jerk my chin toward my sword and a stack of crossbows, daggers, and spears that line one wall in the room beside the front door.

“Three, like you said. Try to use them against us or run off with them before you’ve demonstrated how to use that tech, and my men will drop you where you stand.” Rufus nods to the man who smells like vinegar, and he quickly moves toward the daggers.

“My choice.” I speak firmly, thankful that my voice doesn’t shake as the realization of what I’m about to do crashes into me. “Return my sword to me, and get me two daggers and”—I glance at Willow—“a crossbow.”

The man looks at Rufus, receives a nod of permission, and hastens to grab what I’ve asked for. As we follow Rufus’s men down the narrow stairs and out onto the street, I consider my options. I don’t trust the Commander to watch out for the girls while I’m trying to control the tanniyn. Plus, I promised he could stick close to me and learn how to use the device. I need the girls to be free of the city before I call the beasts, but Rufus isn’t going to release them until I give him a demonstration.

I’ll have to simply call the tanniyn and use the distraction of its impending arrival to my advantage.

Sliding my sword into its sheath, I gesture for the girls to precede me out the door and to the middle of the street and then hand them their weapons. Willow’s hand instantly tightens on the bow, and I breathe, “Not yet.”

Her grip doesn’t lessen, but she doesn’t whip the bow up and start shooting either.

Rufus laughs, though he doesn’t sound amused. “If I were you, mate, I wouldn’t give that girl anything she can use to hurt you. Not until you break her spirit a bit.”

I hold Rufus’s gaze for a long moment, my jaw clenched against my anger, while his crew brings three horses to stand nearby, waiting to see if I can deliver on the terms of our deal.

“Well then, get on with it.” Rufus gestures toward a line of targets bolted to a building fifty yards away. “Show me what this tech can do.”

I meet Willow’s eyes and mouth, “Run,” and slam my finger down on the button that will call the tanniyn.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

LOGAN

Before I have time to wonder if the additional transmitters will make a difference, the ground beneath my feet trembles. Rufus backs away from the Commander and me, his hands out in front of him as if to ward off whatever the device has just done, while the girls race for the horses. One of the highwaymen holding their bridles pulls a sword as if to stop the girls from taking their mounts. Willow sends an arrow into his chest, yanks the reins from his hands, and vaults into the saddle. Nola and Jodi scramble onto their horses seconds after her.

“What did you do? What is that?” Rufus asks as dust begins sifting from the rooftops around us and the few panes of glass that remain rattle in their berths.

The Commander turns a vicious smile toward Rufus. “That is the sound of unlimited power.”

The ground heaves, and jagged cracks begin forming a web around our feet. Highwaymen scramble for the relative security of the buildings, but I know they won’t find safety there. The only way to avoid what’s coming is to be in control of the beasts or to be out of range.

“Logan?” Jodi calls to me as her horse dances nervously.

“Go!” I shout as I run toward the side of the street while behind me chunks of the road crumble and slide into the ever-widening maw that is opening in the ground.

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