The Rose Shield is my WIP targeted for release in March-ish.
You’ve met Raker, the man who hears voices in the fog
Catling, a six-year-old with a rose birthmark around her eye
Whitt, the boy battling crajeks in the swamp
Gannon, captive in the belly of the Wandering Swan
What of Vianne, an Influencer capable to manipulating love and fear, pain and pleasure, life and death with a mere thought? Is she a villain or hero?
When Vianne returned to his cell, her face wore a frown of reluctance, green eyes heavy with regret. The weariness in her countenance added years. The ivory clothes, flawless skin, and silver in her cinnamon hair deceived the eye. Upon first glance, she appeared innocent, gentle and graceful, her voice touched with kindness. Yet, the set of her jaw told him he’d find no quarter with her. She planned to torture him.
The latch clicked as the guards locked her in, and she assumed her seat by his cot. “I’ve returned for the truth, Gannon, and I have little time. Tell me how you blocked Qeyon’s influence. He has assured me, beyond question, of your gui…power.”
“You were about to say ‘guilt.’” He caught her eyes as her back stiffened. “Do you execute the guilty?”
The woman sighed. “Only if your pigheadedness forces my hand.”
“Torture away,” he said, turning his face to the wall and shutting his mouth. Fear wormed into his consciousness, the muscles and sinews of his body contracting.
Rising from her chair, she strode to the door and knocked. Two guards entered, carrying a strip of cloth with a bulky knot in the middle. Gannon clenched his teeth as the guards descended on him. One held his head while the other tried to force the gag into his mouth. A sharp blast of pain ripped through his chest, and he gasped. The guard crammed the balled knot into his mouth. He cried out as they twisted his head and secured the cloth. Glaring at the woman, he shouted, his oaths muffled by the gag.
The guards rose and stood by the door. “Anything else, Vianne-Ava?”
“Ignore us,” she replied. They nodded and left.
Vianne strode to the foot of his cot, her voice soft. “Block me.”
He shook his head, steeling himself. Pain flared as an invisible vise closed on his chest. His hands wrenched against his restraints as he squeezed his eyes shut and bit on the gag. The agony expanded, thrusting spears of steel into his arms and legs. As quickly, she released him, and his breath shuddered from his lungs.
“It’s going to get worse, Gannon,” she said. “Block me.”
The pressure returned, the sensation mounting. He screamed into the gag, writhed against the pain of his cracking ribs, his heart exploding in his chest. Torment scoured his veins, shooting into his joints. “Aaah. Naah. Aaaah.” He heard his own muffled bawling.
“Block me!” Vianne demanded.
“Aaaah cahn’t. Aaaah,” he howled. His head pounded, nerves sparking, skin on fire. Needled daggers ground into this bones. “Naaah. Cahn’t.”
“Block me!” she shouted.
She flayed the skin from his body. His joints twisted, bones crushed. Fear exploded in his head, smashing into the fragile barriers of sanity, incinerating the shredded remains of any resistance. The woman’s commands barked, unintelligible. All he could do was scream.
Then the pain vanished.
He panted, shaking, the muscles in his body rigid. The memory of pain bathed him in sweat, quaking through him like a virulent fever. He gulped air, body heaving and trembling.
“You couldn’t block me,” she said, her voice bewildered.
He shook his head, eyes closed. The terrible fear subsided. “Sick,” he mumbled through the gag. He heard the rustle of her jacket and felt her fingers worry the knot behind his head. When it fell away, he vomited on his shoulder and hair. He dropped his head back and groaned, uncaring.
“You couldn’t block me,” she repeated. “No one could endure… It’s not you.”
Gannon shook his head. “No.”
“But you know who it is.” She grimaced at the miasma of smells permeating the small room. “Don’t make me do that again, Gannon. Don’t force me. You must realize I haven’t a choice.”
“Who’s your master?” he asked, turning to read her face.
“The realm.” She paced between the dim walls. “You must have an inkling of how this power might be wielded in the wrong hands. Or why else would you resist me.” She pivoted on her heel to face him. “Yet, in the right hands, it can cut through subversive agendas. It might prevent influence from being used to usurp authority, incite war, and harm the future of Ellegeance.”
“I thought the influencers’ oath was to the realm.”
“It is.” She paused to study him. “Yet, we are human beings and subject to temptation after all.”
“You could just let me go,” he whispered. “It’s over anyway.”
“Tell me who it is, and I swear to you that I’ll spare your life.”
“No, you won’t. I know too much.”
“I want the name.” She resumed her pacing and then halted. “It’s the girl, isn’t it? Qeyon said she was with you in the alley.”
When he didn’t answer, ripples of pain danced behind his eyes. His stomach knotted and fear engulfed him, whether his own or influenced, he couldn’t say and it scarcely mattered. She knew. “Yes.”
She sat beside him, green eyes eager. Her hand touched his wrist, and his body began to warm and relax. The lingering pain of his previous injuries eased, replaced with sensations of physical pleasure and relief. An awareness of gratitude for his torturer tickled his thoughts. It was subtle and would have been imperceptible if it hadn’t felt so illogical.
Vianne leaned toward him. “That little girl is in grave danger, Gannon. You understand, don’t you? Algar’s no fool, and from what Qeyon said, she made a spectacle of herself in the market. I can protect her, here in Ava-Grea. You must tell me who she is and where to find her before she and everyone she knows is dead.”
Due out in Marchish