Deliverance Page 94

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“And I bet you think you’re here to kill me, but you aren’t.” I speak softly, trying to keep Marcus from overhearing.

Ian laughs, but there’s no humor in it. Instead, he sounds impossibly tired. “We heard from Lankenshire. Logan isn’t coming. He went north instead, and now you’re of no use to us. I have to finish this. I have to restore my family’s honor. You can’t talk me out of this, Rachel. Don’t even try.”

“Maybe I can’t talk you out of taking another life, but I know someone who can.”

Ian swallows hard, and something that looks like regret flashes briefly in his eyes before the light inside of them winks out, replaced by dull purpose. “Samuel already tried, but he isn’t my leader. He isn’t the one who can restore my father’s name.” He draws his sword and steps closer. “I want you to know that even though I think you deserve this, it won’t bring me any pleasure.”

“James Rowan is a liar,” I say, holding Ian’s gaze while behind me, Marcus whispers Julia’s name over and over again. “He’s a liar who made you do his dirty work. Who convinced you that getting blood on your hands was somehow justice, when really it was a way to destroy the Commander’s people so he could become the unrivaled leader of the city-states.”

He shakes his head sharply, his eyes glowing pits of misery. “Justice requires—”

“Sacrifice. I know. But who was really sacrificed here? The only person who did anything wrong was the Commander, when he stole Logan and blackmailed your father. Every person after that has been an innocent caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Including you and me.”

I move closer to him. He tightens his stance as if I’m going to attack him, but I keep my hands down at my sides and say quietly, “Tell me, Ian, would you have killed anyone if your father had survived his pain atonement?”

“Don’t you dare speak of my father to me.” His chest heaves as if he’s been running, and bright spots of color darken his cheeks. “I did what was just.” He raises his sword, his expression desperate. “I did what—”

“You did what James Rowan wanted you to do because he made you believe you’d lost everything. That you had nothing left except the faint hope that with enough Baalboden blood on your hands, your father’s death wouldn’t be in vain.”

“Stop talking about my father!” He lunges toward me.

“Ian!” I scream his name, and Marcus falls silent for a second as Ian aims his blade at my heart.

“Ian? Son. My son? Mine? Ian!” Marcus’s voice cuts through the space between Ian and me, a wavering knife of anguished hope.

Ian freezes, his sword hand shaking, and looks at the wall behind me. “Who is that? Who’s in there?”

“James Rowan lied to you.” I step to the side so that Ian can see his father’s bright-blue eye blinking through the crack in the wall. “Your father is still alive.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

RACHEL

Ian’s sword hits the stone floor of my cell with a clatter. He stands frozen in place, his mouth open, though no sound comes out.

“Ian? Mine? Ian?” Marcus sounds like he’s begging.

“That’s not . . . it’s not possible.” Ian’s voice shakes.

“Go to him,” I say. Go to him and leave your sword behind and the cell door wide open. Please.

“It’s not . . .” Ian lowers himself to the cell floor in unsteady increments. “It can’t be. I saw him fall. He didn’t get up. James pronounced him dead. I saw—”

“You saw what James Rowan wanted you to see so that you would be so ruined inside, you’d do anything he told you.” I take a tiny step back from him, but he doesn’t notice. He’s staring at the strips of scar tissue covering what used to be Marcus’s nose.

“Ian? Please? Ian?” Marcus presses his face against the wall, his gaze locked on his son.

Ian’s fists clench, and he leans closer to the crack, his entire body trembling. “Dad?” His voice breaks, and he reaches one hand toward the wall.

“Ian. Ian? Mine.” Marcus sounds buoyant and upbeat for the first time since I’ve been listening to him speak. “Good. My son. Good boy. Good.”

Ian’s chest heaves as he presses his palm to the crack in the wall. A long wail of pent-up anguish rips its way past his lips, and he sobs while Marcus croons over and over that Ian, his son, is good.

“No, Dad.” Ian sounds desperate. “I’m not good. I’ve . . . done things. I hurt you. And then James sent me to Baalboden to deliver a message of pain atonement to the Commander and his people, and I did it. I . . .” He lays his head on the dungeon floor and cries.

I bend down and try to pick up Ian’s sword. The weight of it sends stabs of white-hot pain through my back, and I drop the weapon. It hits the floor with a harsh clang, but Ian is too caught up to notice.

“Okay. Okay? Ian.” Marcus tries to reach his hand through the crack, but there’s only room for his fingers. “Okay, Ian.”

“It’s not okay!” Ian shouts. “It will never be okay. I’ve done terrible things in the name of justice, because you were dead, and it was all I had left, but it was a lie. Everything was a lie.”

Ian has a dagger. I see the hilt peeking out of the boot closest to me. I may not be able to pick up his sword, but I can handle a dagger. I move swiftly, closing the short distance between us and ignoring the painful sting of scabs pulling against healthy skin as I crouch down and reach for the dagger.

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