As soon as we crossed the Barren and through the trap doors leading to the underground tunnels, Sawyer woke up. We didn’t know he was conscious until Stanner got too close and earned a kick in the face. Sawyer scrambled to his feet and dashed for the ladder that would lead to the surface, but I was quick to catch him. I shot out my arm like a clothesline and caught him across the chest. Sawyer’s body flipped back and landed on the hard earth. He groaned.
“I’d say that was a nice shot,” he rasped. He coughed to clear his voice. “But it hurts to breathe now.”
I stifled a laugh. I hooked my arms under his and dragged him to his feet, spinning him so his back was to me.
I honestly didn’t mean to put him directly in the path of Stanner’s fist.
Sawyer’s head snapped back so hard it almost bashed into mine.
“You cheap-shot bastard!” Another punch slammed into Sawyer’s stomach, doubling him over.
“Calm down, Stanner,” I barked. “It’s your own fault. You didn’t pay attention.”
The Stray Dog gave me a murderous look. If his eyes had been blades, I would have been a flayed piece of meat by now.
“Relax, Stan,” assured Dylan, hauling up one of the crates and one of the sacks. “We’ll let Ryland see him first,” his smile was wicked, “and then we’ll make him bleed.”
That morbid promise soothed Stanner, and unsettled me. But there was nothing I could do. That was the way things were with the marauders. Nearly being wiped out by the Hellions didn’t change what they were. What they would always be.
What I was trying not to become.
Stanner and Dylan lifted the crates and continued down the tunnel, the shadows cast by the dim light bulbs all but swallowing them whole. Sawyer finished gasping and regained his breath. He exhaled painfully as he found his footing. I started pushing him forward.
“Don’t suppose I can ask you to untie me and let me go,” he mumbled, raising his rope-bound wrists.
“Probably better if you don’t.”
Sawyer sighed. “Shame. You seem like a sympathizer.”
I was glad he couldn’t see the way I gritted my teeth, or the guilt that burned my cheeks. “Do yourself a favour,” I advised. “Don’t talk back to Ryland.”
Sawyer chuckled at that. “Thanks. Now do me a favour.”
He turned his head slightly, just enough to catch my eye. A crooked smile crossed his face. “Don’t give me useless advice.”
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