Deliverance Page 21

Willow lifts her chin, her long hair floating behind her as she moves to stand toe to toe with the Commander. “My name is Willow Runningbrook, and you don’t scare me.”

The Commander’s face twitches as if she’d slapped him, and I step forward, my chain links clinking softly. “We’re wasting time. We need to move.”

“I concur,” the boy says. “The longer we debate amongst ourselves, the greater the chance of discovery by our mutual enemy Rowansmark.”

His voice is both lyrical and precise, like a mathematician reciting poetry. I’ve never heard someone close to my age speak so formally, but now isn’t the time to try to figure him out.

I nod toward Willow, and she says, “We need to exit northeast of the city.”

The Commander turns to the blond guard who’d waited outside the dungeon. “Once we get into the tunnels, return to camp. Take Alford, Vale, and Roland along with extra horses and supplies. Meet us at the northeast tunnel exit.”

The guard frowns. “I don’t know where the northeast tunnel exit is.”

“Do you know where northeast is?” the Commander asks, his tone biting.

“Of course.”

The Commander chops his words up, each piece covered in scorn. “Then simply walk around Lankenshire’s wall until you reach the northeast side and wait until you see us.”

The Lankenshire boy leads us through the corridor until we come to a short, curved hallway that ends in a windowless brick wall. Without hesitating, the boy hurries down it and stops just near the end. Beneath his feet is a square of tile with a small iron ring set into its center. He crouches beside it and lifts it free. It opens on silent hinges, revealing a thick iron ladder that leads to the tunnels below.

“You first, Orion.” The Commander gestures toward a short guard with a thick beard that completely covers the lower half of his face. “If either Logan or the girl tries to escape, hurt them.”

Orion’s dark eyes flick over me and settle on Willow. The speculative way he runs his gaze over her body makes me want to punch him.

“Show some respect,” I snap.

Orion laughs. “Says the outcast to the Brute Squad guard.”

“Or you could continue to disrespect her, and I’ll show you how fast an outcast can beat you senseless.” I step forward, and heft my chains. He takes a small step back. Maybe he’s heard about the way I used the chains in the Commander’s dungeon to attack his guards. Or maybe he’s just a bully who doesn’t know what to do when someone isn’t afraid of him. Either way, he won’t treat Willow the way guards in Baalboden were allowed to treat women. Not while I’m still alive.

“Stop talking to my guard as if he’s your equal,” the Commander says. He pauses as if waiting for a response from me, but I just glare at him. It isn’t very satisfying, but I’m in chains, surrounded by guards, and I need the Commander’s cooperation if I’m going to keep my promise to destroy Rowansmark’s tech. Seeing that I don’t plan to respond, the Commander turns away and says, “Orion, get down that ladder.”

As Orion hurries to obey, Willow moves to my side and says quietly, “I can defend myself. I know how to take care of men like him.”

My chest burns as I imagine the kind of things Willow endured at the hands of her father. She won’t talk about her past beyond explaining the significance of the feather she wears on her ear cuff, but I see the weight of it when she doesn’t think I’m looking.

“I know you can,” I say as we move closer to the tunnel’s entrance. “I’m not defending you because I doubt your skills, Willow.”

“Then why?”

“Because we’re family now. And because he shouldn’t treat women like objects put here for him to use however he wants. I can’t be the person I want to be if I let that pass.”

The Commander grabs my shoulder and shoves me forward. “A useless sentiment clung to by those too weak to take what they want. Get into the tunnel.”

My chains clang sharply against the ladder as I make my way down each rung. The second my boots touch the tunnel floor, Orion grabs my cloak and shoves me face-first against the stone wall.

“Still think it’s a good idea to tell me what to do?” he asks, his breath hot against the side of my face.

I tense and roll to the balls of my feet, but remain silent. Above us, the blond guard begins carefully descending the ladder, his torch held aloft.

“I’m talking to you.” Orion shoves me harder.

I lift my hands to my chest as if trying to protect myself from the wall, but refuse to answer. He curses, and digs his fingers into my cloak.

“I asked you a question,” he snaps.

When I still don’t answer, he jerks me around. I plant my right foot and raise my fists as I spin toward him. The length of chain that dangles from my wrists whips out and lashes him across the face. His head snaps back. I raise my hands and pound the bulk of the iron shackles against his skull like I’m hammering a nail.

He stumbles back, but I don’t follow him. The blond guard is nearly at the base of the ladder, the glow from his torch illuminating the craggy white-gray stone of the tunnel. Willow is climbing down above him. I don’t need either of them trying to intervene. Besides, Orion has learned what I needed to teach him: I’m not a helpless outcast cowering in the shadow of the almighty Baalboden guards anymore, and anyone who wants to disrespect those I care about will have to go through me to do it.

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