Page 20

 C.J. Redwine

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A week ago, I would’ve welcomed the fight with Ian, despite the overwhelming odds against me. Maybe because of the overwhelming odds against me. A week ago—before the fire, before Eloise had Melkin’s baby girl, before I cried over Sylph and started to feel real again inside—I didn’t care if I lived or died.
I care now.
I’m not going to deliver myself to Ian on a silver platter. I’m going to do what Willow and Logan kept urging me to do as we traveled through the Wasteland—I’m going to be smart about this. I’m going to have a plan and an exit strategy. And I’m going to have to come up with it fast, because it won’t be long before the trackers notice I’m no longer lying by the campfire’s ashes.
Should I head east toward Lankenshire and hope to stumble into Quinn? Go north and then cut east after a few hours? Find a river or a creek to wade in so that I don’t leave a trail? If I can just find Quinn, we can join up with Logan again. We can face all of this—Ian, Rowansmark, and the Commander—together. Logan will have a plan with five hundred backup scenarios just in case. We’ll have tech and weapons. And I won’t be going up against a madman with nothing but my left hand and a knife.
I’m pretty sure Logan would approve of this exit strategy.
I ease back, but freeze when Heidi says, “Maybe James Rowan would be satisfied knowing that Logan will return the device. And that he can expect the Commander and Carrington’s forces to follow the device straight to Rowansmark. We can give him that information, and it might be enough. But we can’t predict if Logan will come alone, or if he’ll bring troops. James Rowan is going to want Rachel as a bargaining chip in case Logan has an army of his own.”
Ian’s laugh is ugly. “It doesn’t matter how many troops show up. Weren’t you listening? The tech was finished just before we left Rowansmark. By now, it will be installed around the city’s perimeter. Let Logan bring an army. The Commander, too. In fact, let every single city-state show up at our wall. We’ll destroy them in the time it takes to push a single button.”
My throat goes dry, and my hands tremble as I press my fingers into the dirt to keep my balance.
“If the tech works, yes, but—”
“It works. My father and I designed it.” Ian’s voice is proud. “One button, Heidi. That’s all James Rowan has to push, and he can call an entire army of tanniyn to surface just outside our wall. Those who dare to march against us will be annihilated before they’ve had time to realize their mistake.”
My heart knocks against my chest in quick, hard thumps as the escape plan I hatched sinks beneath a bloody vision of Logan, Baalboden survivors, and Lankenshire troops all decimated in seconds by an entire army of Cursed Ones. Until we arrived in Lankenshire, I didn’t realize there was more than one beast still alive, much less enough to surround the city of Rowansmark, but I don’t doubt the absolute confidence in Ian’s voice.
The tech exists. The tanniyn exist. And Logan has no idea that the trap he’s walking into is far more dangerous than a single modified piece of Rowansmark tech can handle. Even if I escaped to warn him, what could we do? The only way to give us a fighting chance to break Rowansmark’s tyranny is to get inside the city.
Forget escaping. Forget being afraid to die at Ian’s hands. I’m going into Rowansmark, and I’m going to find that tech and destroy it before it takes the last of my family from me.
Ian can try to kill me, but he’s going to fail.
Pushing my hands against the dirt, I start crawling backward, intent on returning to the campsite and pretending to be asleep before anyone realizes I’m gone. I’ve moved a little over fifteen yards when someone grabs the back of my cloak and hauls me roughly to my feet.
“Got you,” Ian says.
I open my mouth to answer, but his fist slams into my face. Tiny lights explode across my vision, and then everything goes black.
Another Brute Squad guard, a blond man with freckled skin and eyebrows so pale they look nearly transparent in the torchlight, waits outside the dungeon’s doorway as Willow and I walk out. A boy who looks to be about Rachel’s age stands apart from the guard, his eyes wide as he stares at Willow’s bloodstained tunic and the chains that bind my wrists. Something about the boy’s dark eyes and hair, about the line of his jaw and the set of his shoulders, reminds me of Clarissa. A glance at the gold emblem that pins back his green travel cloak confirms that the boy is an emissary of Lankenshire. Probably the one who approached the Commander to lay out the terms of my “escape.”
The Commander strides past me and stops in front of the boy. “Get us out of here.”
The boy nods quickly. “The tunnel entrance is relatively close. I can return you to your army in about an hour.”
The Commander grabs the boy’s shoulder before he can turn to lead us down the hall. “We aren’t going back to the army. We’re going to retrieve something from the Wasteland.” He gestures roughly toward Willow. “The girl will tell you which direction to lead us.”
“I have a name,” Willow says, her eyes challenging as she meets the Commander’s gaze. “And it isn’t ‘the girl.’”
The Commander steps closer to her and says with quiet menace, “You are nothing more than a tool I’m using to get what I want. I don’t care about your name, your city of birth, your reasons for getting mixed up with Logan, or anything else you feel like sharing. Tell the boy where to take us.”