Defiance is book one in an addictive new series from Atom. A thrilling blend of fantasy and dystopia, this is the book to read if you like Trudi Canavan, or loved The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and are wondering what to read next!
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DEFIANCE: CHAPTER ONE
The weight of their pity is like a stone tied about my neck. I feelit in the little side glances, the puckered skin between frowning brows, the hushed whispers that carry across the purple-gray dusk of twilight like tiny daggers drawing blood. He isn’t coming home.
It’s hard to ignore the few citizens still milling about the gate leading out into the Wasteland, the guards who flank the opening, and Oliver’s solid, reassuring bulk by my side, but I have to. I can’t bear to let one sliver of doubt cut into me.
Peering out into the forest that presses against the fifty-yard perimeter of scorched ground that we keep around the city to prevent any threats from approaching our Wall undetected, I look for movement. The Wasteland is a tangle of trees, undergrowth, and the husks of the cities that once were, all coated in the bright, slippery green growth of early spring and the drifting piles of silvery ash that remind us of our fragility. Somewhere in its depths, bands of lawless highwaymen pillage for goods they can trade at the city-states. Somewhere beneath it, the Cursed One roams, seeking to devour what little remains of a once great civilization.
I don’t care about any of that. I just want Dad to make it home in time.
“Rachel-girl,” Oliver says, his brown, flour-stained fingers wrapping gently around my arm as if to prepare me for what he wants to say. “He’s coming.”
“I don’t think—” “He is.” I dig my nails into my palms and strain to see movement in the thickening twilight, as if by the force of my will I can bring him home.
Oliver squeezes my arm, but says nothing. I know he thinks Dad is dead. Everyone thinks so. Everyone but me. The thought that I stand alone in my conviction sends a bright, hard shaft
of pain through me, and suddenly I need Oliver to understand. To agree.
“He’s not just a courier, you know.”
I glance at Oliver’s broad shoulders, which carve a deep shadow into the ground beneath him, and wish for the days when I was little enough to perch on his back, feeling the rumble of his voice through my skin as we walked to the gate to meet Dad after yet another successful trip.
“He’s also a tracker. The Commander’s best. There’s no way he got caught unaware in the Wasteland.”
Oliver’s voice is steady as he says, “He is good at his job, Rachel-girl. But something must have . . . held him up. He isn’t coming home in time.”
I turn away, trying to see where the perimeter ends and the Wasteland begins, but the sun is nothing but a fiery mirage below the tree line now, and the shadows have taken over.
“Last call!” one of the guards shouts, his shoulders flexing beneath the dark blue of his uniform as he reaches for the iron handle beside him and begins tugging the gate inward. I flinch as it slams shut with a harsh metallic clang. The guards weave thick, gleaming chains through the frame, securing it until the guards on the morning shift return with the key.
For a moment, we stand staring at the now-closed gate. Then Oliver wraps an arm around me and says, “It’s time.”
Tears sting my eyes, and I clench my jaw so hard my teeth grind together. I’m not going to cry. Not now. Later, after Dad has been officially declared dead, and my Protectorship has transferred to Oliver, I’ll let myself feel the pain of being the only one left who’s willing to believe that Jared Adams, Baalboden’s best tracker, is still alive.
I use the wooden step box to climb into the wagon that waits for us, and reach a hand back to help Oliver hoist himself up as well. As the wagon sways and lurches over the cobblestone streets to the Commander’s compound, I wrap my fists in my cloak and try to ignore the way my stomach burns with every rotation of the wheels. Oliver reaches out and unravels my cloak from my right hand. His palm swallows mine, his skin warm, the maple-raisin scent of his baking comforting me. I lean into him, pressing my cheek against the scratchy linen of his tunic.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly.
For a moment, I want to burrow in. Soak up the comfort he offers and pretend he can make it better. Instead, I sit up, back straight, just the way Dad taught me. “He didn’t come back today, but that doesn’t mean he won’t come home at all. If anyone knows how to survive the Wasteland, it’s Dad.”
My voice catches on a sudden surge of grief—a dark, secret fear that my faith in Dad’s skills will be proven wrong, and I’ll be left alone.
“It isn’t fair that he has to be declared dead.”
“It’s probably my job to tell you life isn’t fair, but I figure you already know that.” His voice is steady, but his eyes look sad. “So instead, I’ll tell you that hope is precious, and you’re right not to give it up.”
I look him in the eye, daring him to feed me a lie and tell me he still believes. “Even when it looks like everyone else already has?”
“Especially when it looks like everyone else already has.” He pats my hand as the wagon grinds to a halt, its bed swaying long after the wheels have stopped. The driver hops down, walks toward the back of the wagon, and jerks the canvas flap aside. I climb down and watch anxiously as Oliver follows. Though only faint creases mar the brown skin of his face, his hair is more gray than black, and he moves with the careful precision of age. Reaching for him, I slide my arm through his as he navigates his way off the heavy wooden step box.
Together, we turn to face the compound. Like the Wall surrounding the city of Baalboden, the
compound is a massive expanse of weather-stained gray stone bolstered by ribbons of steel. Darkened windows are cut into the bulky exterior like lidless, unblinking eyes, and the roof holds
several turrets manned with guards whose sole job it is to cut down any intruders before they’ve gone twenty paces.
Not that any citizen of Baalboden would be stupid enough to defy the man who rules us with a ferocity rivaled only by what waits for us out in the Wasteland.
Before the guard manning the spiked iron gate can open it, another wagon rumbles to a stop behind ours. I glance over my shoulder and heat stings my cheeks as Logan McEntire strides
toward us, the dying sun painting his dark-blond hair gold. I will my pale skin not to betray me and do my best to pretend I don’t see him. I’ve spent so much time today hoping Dad
would finally return from the Wasteland, I neglected to consider that any reading of his will would naturally include his apprentice.
Which is fine. As long as I don’t have to speak to him.
“Oliver. Rachel,” Logan says as he comes to stand beside us.
His voice is its usual calm, I-bet-I-can-find-an-algorithm-to-fixthis tone, and I have a sudden desire to pick a fight with him. Except that would make it look like I care that he’s here.
And I don’t.
His presence won’t change anything. My Protectorship will be given to Oliver, Logan will take over Dad’s courier duties, and I’ll keep checking off the days until Dad comes home again, and life can go back to normal.
Oliver reaches out to clap his free hand on Logan’s shoulder.
“Good of you to come,” he says. As if Logan had a choice. As if any of us have a choice.
“It feels too soon,” Logan says softly as the guard opens the gate and waves us forward. “Jared’s tough. We should give him more than sixty days past his return date before we’re forced to
declare him dead.”
I glance at Logan in surprise, and find his dark blue eyes on mine, the fierce conviction in them a perfect match for what burns in me. My lips curve into a small smile before I remember I’m not going to act like I care about him. I’ve had enough firsthand experience with caring about Logan McEntire to last me a lifetime.
I look away and walk into the compound without another word.
Oliver and Logan follow on my heels. A steward, dressed in black, leads us into a box of a room and quietly excuses himself, shutting the door behind him.
Straight-back wooden chairs surround a long polished table, and six torches rest in black iron brackets against stark white walls. The air feels smoky and closed off, but I don’t know if the
choked feeling in my throat is from lack of oxygen or from the fact that facing us at the end of the table is Commander Jason Chase, ruler of Baalboden.
The torchlight skims the gold braid on his crisp blue military jacket, scrapes over the twin furrows of the scar that twists a path from his left temple to his mouth, and dies in the unremitting
darkness of his eyes.
“Sit,” he says.
We obey. Our chairs drag against the stone floor, a high pitched squeal of distress. Two men sit on either side of the Commander’s chair. One worries a stack of parchment lying in front of him with nervous fingers. The other wears a studious expression on the doughy folds of his face and holds a quill poised over an inkwell, a sheet of blank parchment unfurled before him.
The Commander examines each of us in turn before sitting in his chair, his spine held at rigid attention. Without sparing a glance for the two men beside him, he says, “Oliver James Reece,
Logan McEntire, and Rachel Elizabeth Adams, you have been called here today to deal with the matter of the death of Jared Nathaniel Adams.”