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I tracked her down once. I can do it again.
Best Case Scenario: The risky plan I’ve put in motion works.
Worst Case Scenario: The Commander tries to kill me before I’m ready for him, the northern city-states won’t commit troops against Rowansmark, or I fail to find Ian and Rachel.
None of those are options I can accept. If I have to grovel before the Commander, if I have to wear chains, if I have to pretend to be nothing but the investment he wants me to be, I’ll do it. Nothing is going to stop me from keeping my promises.
I wake to the jostling of the moving wagon. My mouth is dry, and my cheekbone aches where Ian punched me. I’m lying on my back in the wagon bed. Every bump of the wheels sends my head careening into something hard. In the few seconds it takes for my brain to convince my body that it’s time to wake up and get moving, my face smacks against it three more times.
“Ouch.” I force my eyes open and immediately wish I hadn’t.
Ian sits near me, his hands clasped in his lap while he stares at me in the weak light of early morning. How long have I been unconscious? A few hours? A day? Are we still heading west? The wagon shudders again as the wheels roll across the crumbling road beneath us, and my head slams into a crate of supplies that rests under the bench to my left.
I dig my elbows into my bedroll and try to sit up, but I can’t pull my legs into position. Something is wrapped around my ankles.
“I tied you to one of the posts on the back of the wagon.” A ghost of his charming smile flits across Ian’s face, though his eyes are hard.
“Good for you.”
“You should see your face.” He reaches out as if to touch my cheek, and I bare my teeth. He laughs, but there’s no amusement in it. “I told Heidi and Samuel I want you tied up in the wagon because you’ll try to escape, but they don’t know you like I do.” He leans closer. “You aren’t the type who runs away, even when you should. I think you were eavesdropping instead. Learn anything interesting?”
The conversation between Ian and Heidi flashes through my mind in rapid snatches. Ian’s desire to kill me as soon as possible. Heidi’s careless attitude toward what she believes is my certain death.
And the tech that waits for Logan at Rowansmark. Tech that can summon an entire army of tanniyn to annihilate Rowansmark’s enemies in moments. Tech that will set a trap even Logan can’t plan his way out of.
Which is why, even though I want to pull the knife out of my boot, sever the rope that binds me, and escape at my first opportunity, I’m not going to do it. I’m going inside Rowansmark, because that’s my best chance at disabling the tech before Logan arrives.
“Samuel and Heidi were right,” I say as I rub my fingers against the dull ache that throbs along my bruised cheekbone. “I was trying to escape.”
Ian’s jaw muscles bunch. “You never try to escape. You run headlong toward whatever is most dangerous. Courageous stupidity. That’s you.”
I ignore him and scoot closer to the wagon’s entrance so that I can sit with my knees pressed against my chest. A length of rope wraps three times around my ankles in a figure eight and then disappears out of the canvas flap that covers the entrance. I shuffle my boots against my bedroll as if I’m trying to get comfortable, and feel a surge of satisfaction when my knife moves slightly against my left ankle.
Ian must have searched me for weapons when he knocked me unconscious and took me from Lankenshire, and he’s confident he doesn’t need to search me again. It’s the only explanation for why he hasn’t discovered the stolen blade I carry. It doesn’t explain why he let me keep the lightweight armored vest I wear under my tunic, but maybe he figured as long as he knows about it, my advantage is lost.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says.
I look at him, at his sharp profile, his close-cut hair, his eyes burning with miserable hate when he watches me. “What doesn’t matter?”
“Whatever you overheard. Whatever you think you know. You can’t escape your fate, Rachel.” Ian leans forward and tugs on the rope that binds my ankles. It barely moves.
He shakes his head. “Look at you. You can’t use your right arm. Your lungs whistle when you breathe. You just slept through me hauling you into the wagon and tying you up because your body doesn’t have what it takes to keep going. The only reason you’re still making threats is because you don’t know how to give up when you’re beaten.”
I want to argue with him. Tell him he doesn’t have what it takes to beat me, not on his best day, but the truth is he’s right. I’m in no shape to fight him physically, and I can’t risk inciting the rage that fuels him. I have to make it to Rowansmark alive.
“I guess you have me all figured out,” I say, my voice quiet.
The skin between his brows puckers as he studies me. I look away. Let him think I’m cowering. I don’t care. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay alive long enough to get into Rowansmark. After that . . . well, after that I don’t know. I’ll have to figure out how to escape. And how to hide from every tracker inside the city’s wall. And how to find and disable tech even though I understand tech about as well as I understand how to properly host a fancy dinner party.