Deliverance Page 22


“What happened to your face?” the blond guard asks as the torchlight shows a trail of blood leaking from Orion’s cheek and a bruise swelling around his left eye.

“Nothing. Mind your own business, Peter.” Orion wipes the blood away and glares at me. I guess he doesn’t feel like admitting that he took on the shackled prisoner and lost.

Willow steps off the ladder and looks at Orion. “Looks like your face ran into a wall. Don’t worry, it’s an improvement.”

He gives her a look of pure hatred, and she laughs as she brushes past him to stand next to me. Moments later, the Commander, the Lankenshire boy, and the last guard, a rail-thin man with sharp cheekbones and a torch of his own, join us in the tunnel. The thin guard, a man called Gregory, lights a spare torch and hands it to the Lankenshire boy. The Commander sends Peter, the blond guard, back to the waiting army of Carrington soldiers and Baalboden guards, and then we begin moving toward the northeast exit.

The Lankenshire boy leads, followed closely by Willow and me. The Commander walks behind us, and Orion and Gregory bring up the rear. Walking with my back to the Commander makes me feel exposed, but I don’t have much choice in the matter. Not if I want this uneasy alliance to hold.

The tunnel is just wide enough to allow Willow and me to walk side by side without touching. The air is dry and warm enough that my cloak is beginning to be uncomfortable. Here and there, the stone ceiling becomes a square of wood with another ladder leading up into Lankenshire, but the tunnel we’re in twists and turns so much, I’ve lost track of what part of the city we’re currently under.

“I’m curious as to our planned route once we exit the tunnel.” The boy breaks the silence as he leads us around a sharp right corner, his torch illuminating yet another long length of craggy gray-white stone.

“You’re returning to your city once we exit the tunnel,” the Commander says.

“Actually, I’m escorting you to Hodenswald as Lankenshire’s official emissary.” The boy’s voice is calm, though his words tumble out too fast. I don’t blame him. Correcting the Commander is a good way to get killed.

“I never agreed to that.”

The boy gives a small, one-shouldered shrug as if to apologize. “The triumvirate intended for my presence to assist you in gaining support at Hodenswald. Our alliance with them is strong.”

The Commander grunts and falls back a few steps, his only concession that the boy can continue on with us.

The boy waits until the Commander is closer to his guards than he is to us, and then says, “The triumvirate is under the belief that you’re capable of dispatching our difficulty with Rowansmark.”

“You talk like a character in an old book,” Willow says.

The boy rubs the nape of his neck and casts a sideways glance at her. “Perhaps because I prefer spending most of my time with old books.”

“Why?” Willow asks.

“Books are nicer than most people. I suppose that makes me appear weak to someone who can fight off a Rowansmark tracker.” He squares his shoulders as if waiting for her judgment.

“My brother loves books, too—poetry mostly—and he’s the best warrior I know,” Willow says. “And this one”—she points to me—“thinks mathematical equations are better than kissing, and he’s anything but weak. Worrying about what others think of you is a waste of time.”

The boy flashes a smile. “I’m Connor. You’ve already met my mother, Clarissa the Great. And my sister, Cassidy the Soon-to-Be-Great.”

Willow laughs. “Does that make you Connor the Also-Great?”

“Not exactly.”

“I’m Logan, and this is Willow. And for the record, I don’t think mathematical equations are better than kissing,” I say as we turn yet another corner. The air is cooler in this portion of the tunnel. I wonder if that means we’re closing in on an exit.

Connor grins. “I’d imagine it would depend on whom you were kissing.”

I return his smile, but my heart isn’t in it. My heart is somewhere in the Wasteland with Rachel. The last time we were separated, I was worried that Melkin would try to kill her on the Commander’s orders. I was scared that she’d be forced to kill him instead. And I was kicking myself for not realizing earlier that Rachel—fierce, loyal, reckless, intelligent, beautiful Rachel—was the one person I couldn’t bear to live without.

This time, I know what loving Rachel and being loved in return feels like. But instead of holding on to that like a lifeline, I’m shackled to the thought that Rachel’s father knew who I was. That Oliver did too. That no one trusted me enough to tell me the truth, and all the respect I thought I’d earned, all the love I thought they’d had for me, was a lie. I sift through my memories of Oliver and Jared, and nothing feels like a lie, but feelings aren’t the same as facts.

The fact is that I was the Commander’s investment, stolen from Rowansmark with the intention to coerce my father into giving tech capable of weaponizing the tanniyn to the Commander.

The fact is that my Baalboden mother wasn’t my real mother.

The fact is that Oliver took care of me, but so did the woman who pretended to be my mother. If she did so on the Commander’s orders, maybe Oliver did too.

The fact is that Jared brought reports of my well-being to my father every six months. Every time Jared treated me like a son—every bit of training, every shared dinner, every moment I spent with him—was simply so that he would have something truthful to report.

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