Soul Swallower – new series WIP

I think that’s the name of the series. I like the alliteration anyway. Better than Soul Gulper.

Perhaps you remember the character Raze from one of Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts. Well, he’s back with a series of his own.

I don’t have too much to share yet, but here’s a brief peek at the act of swallowing a soul:

***

When the others retired, Raze sat by the hearth, its flames dwindling to scarlet embers. His grief for Briyon unearthed old ghosts, his mother among them, an ageless portrait suspended in the gallery of his mind. Not so his memories of Mirelle. Those lingered with infinite fluidity, entangled with visions of the past and dreams of a future that would never be.

Six years had shuffled by since her death, five since he’d joined Briyon at the freehold, and no lever had proved long or strong enough to pry her from his heart. Loneliness invaded his body so deeply it punched the breath from his lungs and sapped the strength from his back, and no hoping and wishing could bring those people back. A twenty-one he was master of the freehold, a tired soul, angry at a world he couldn’t control.

He turned the pendant over in his hand, keenly aware of its delicate beauty. The white soulstone had transformed, no longer solid but translucent with pale wisps of color swirling like morning mist. Copper wire the breadth of a strand of hair coiled around it, holding a round sliver of peridot in place with a final twist of two tiny leaves. It glowed with a soft light, indicating the presence of a soul. A soul he loved.

With great care, he unhooked the copper leaves, unwound the wire, and removed the green gem that capped a small hole. Inside, an iridescent sphere resembling a pearl shone with a brilliance that startled him. Were all souls so bright? He didn’t know; this was his first. He rolled it into his hand. Would he swallow it? Did he want what Briyon offered? Was there anything to fear?

The pearl of light glowed in his palm, offering no insight. He placed it back into the pendant. No need to choose; no decision pressed him to act with haste. The round gem refitted, he coiled the wires, paused, and then uncoiled them. In one fluid motion, he uncapped the pendant, tipped the sphere into his mouth, and swallowed.

A rush of heat streamed from his belly, up through his heart into his head and down his limbs to his fingers and toes. His body trembled, the sensation alien, but not frightening, and not long lived, for it subsided as quickly as it had overtaken him. Eyes closed, he accepted Briyon’s soul. In the quiet of night, he exhaled a long breath, crept to bed, and dreamed another man’s dreams.

Inside-out #writephoto

“You will wed Nallea,” Lord Rydan commanded. “It is already agreed. This is not a lad’s game.”

“She’s seven!”

“In eight years, she will be fifteen. I will not argue this with you.”

“I don’t know her. I have no idea who she will be!”

“That is of no consequence, Raze. You will be Lord of Vestrelle. You bear responsibilities, duties to the land, a future in the kingdom. Do you think these puny provinces will remain under separate rule? Do you believe our rivals will idle contentedly within their walls?”

Raze curled his fingers in silence, any reply wasted breath. “What about love?”

Rydan’s eyes tightened into pale slits, and he faced his son. “Love will follow.”

“Did you love my mother? Did she love you?” The questions had barbs, and Raze would use them to pull his father’s heart inside out. “Was your marriage forced upon you against your will?”

The Lord waved away his argument, but his jaw softened. “No, it was not.”

“Did you wed her for love?” Raze would force an answer. Even if it made no difference, his father would acknowledge the unfairness of his demand.

Rydan retreated to the window that peered over the rose garden pruned and dripping in the squalling rain. Its glory had turned brown and brittle during the bitter months of snow, love’s blooms reduced to thorny canes with sharp tips. A corner of his father’s heart had remained faithful to his mother, tenderly caring for her roses, his affection for the delicate petals a stoic confession of love and longing.

Four years ago, she’d drowned on the winter sea, and though they’d all, more or less, moved on with their lives, they each saved a sacred place for her. She had carried a piece of their hearts with her when she died, and the wounds had yet to heal.

“Yes, we wed for love,” Rydan said. “There is your answer.”

***

Thanks for Sue Vincent for her Thursday #writephoto prompt.
Check out her site and join in the fun.

The Rose Shield – Vianne

vianne

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?

Vianne

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

The Rose Shield – Gannon

Rose Shield Gannon

You’ve met a few characters from my WIP, The Rose Shield, which I’m delighted to say is back in play after 6 solid months of editing other books. Here are some links to previous excerpts:

Catling, my six-yr-old protagonist on Hanging Day.
Whitt, her adopted brother, battling crajeks in the swamp.
Raker, the half-mad rafter who kicks off the series.

This is an intro to Gannon. He’s having a bad day.

Excerpt: The Rose Shield

Gannon woke in a cargo hold, his ankle manacled to an eyebolt in the rocking floor, his body weak as a feathered hatchling. He lay on his back, deep in a ship’s bowels, the vessel a seafaring hulk by the creaking and groaning as it smashed through the waves. Distant voices teased his ears along with a chorus of clanking metal and squabbling seawings.

The hold was dark, but not lightless. Crates and rough sacks crammed timber berths, strapped down with camgras ropes. Oily barrels perched in wooden frames to keep them from rolling. He needed food and water, and he stank to the stars.

He’d been captive in a ship’s hold before. Memories of his torture after the ambush in Mur-Vallis flooded his head. Panic broke out on his skin in a lurid sweat, and his heart leapt into a gallop. “Gah! Help! Ah. Get me out of here! Help! Let me go!” He thrashed the chain, kicked at a convenient crate, and shouted until a hatch cracked open and a spear of sunlight nearly blinded him.

A sturdy woman with chopped hair and a pickaxe nose climbed down the ladder. A scar wrinkled her upper lip, and her eyes shone in the dim light like chips of flint. She wore a black bodice and leggings, snugly fit and bordering on transparent. For ease of movement, a slit parted the front of her calf-length skirt, and her wide belt sported an assortment of bone-handled blades, none of them friendly. Though older than he and far from beautiful, she exuded an alluring confidence.

She was also Cull Tarr; he was shackled in a Cull Tarr ship.

Her hand dropped to her hip and she held up a key. “I won the wager.”

“Unchain me,” he demanded and shook his leg, clanking the chain. “Get this thing off me.”

“You might be dangerous.” Her eyes narrowed, lips turned up in a mocking smile.

“You’re delusional if you think I can slay you all and seize the ship?”

“Probably so. Still, why risk it?”

His heartbeat slowed its pace, and he stopped rattling his irons. “I give you my oath.”

“Ellegeans break oaths. They broke faith with the Founders.” She considered the key. “However, I’ll accept your word. If you break it, I’ll slice you up and feed you to the sea.”

He didn’t doubt she would. She knelt by his ankle and unbolted the lock.

“What wager did you win?” he asked, rubbing his ankle.

“I gambled on your life.” She hung the key on a nail “We found a sack of poisons on your boat. The others figured you for dead. If you didn’t wake up today, we planned to toss you overboard.”

“I’m glad you won.” He sat up and almost fell over. “I need food and a bath.”

“I’ll feed and water you, and give you a bucket.” She stood up and offered him a hand. “Maybe a fresh pair of trousers. You stink like a grounder’s shithole.”

He grabbed her hand, grateful for the help and unsteady on his feet. The ship’s roll did nothing to pacify the queasy swill in his stomach. “My respects.” He held onto the corner of a crate and managed a crooked bow. “I’m Gannon.”

“No fancy little surname?”

He shook his head. “Just Gannon.”

“A pity.” She shrugged and swung toward the ladder. “I’d hoped to ransom you. We’ll talk when you smell better.”

“Who are you?” He staggered after her.

“Emer Tilkon of the Wandering Swan. Shipmaster to the likes of you.”

Lookout #Writephoto

lookout

This submission is for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo weekly prompt. I can’t resist these.

Without a choice, Kael crept through the sheeting rain toward the garden, the baby heavy in his arms. His other sister, Gitta, hid behind the trellis, paralyzed by the terrible stridency of murder. He took a step closer and ducked back, squatted and held his breath, stroking Clover’s cheek to keep her quiet.

A guard in a black cloak stood at the corner of the shed, a loaded crossbow resting in his hands. He squinted in the rain as he scanned the garden, pens, and moor. Gitta didn’t seem aware of the man’s presence, and Kael begged her to stay as if his will alone could bind her limbs and silence her tongue. “Stay there, Gitta. Please, stay there.”

The guard spit and wiped the rain from his forehead with a sleeve before walking toward the pens. Kael tossed a stone into the garden. Gitta spun and he beckoned. As she ran toward him, he retreated into the heath. “We’re going to hide in the old cairn,” he told her. “You lead, quiet as a mouse.”

Gitta nodded, eyes like winter pools, her body soaked and shaking. She set off and Kael followed. They squeezed through the gap into the stone hollow. Kael opened Clover’s blanket and wrapped it around both sisters. They sat near the back, snuggled together, the tight quarters offering shelter from the storm.

“No talking,” Kael whispered when words formed on Gitta’s lips. She nodded and pointed at his shoulder. He gave his bloodied sleeve a peek and shrugged, then placed a finger to his lips.

Heather broke beneath quiet footfalls. Gitta pinched her eyes closed and Clover pressed her face into Kael’s arm as the shadow of a man blocked the gray light. Kael looked out, meeting the dark eyes. The stocky guard combed thick fingers through his wild beard.

“Niall?” another voice called.

“Just taking a piss,” the bearded man yelled into the rain. He gestured for Kael to stay before he trudged away. “No sign of them. I’ll stay on the moor and keep an eye out.”

Kael swallowed a sob, motionless, listening. The autumn skies brought premature darkness, the rain falling in rustling gales. Clover slept in his arms and Gitta dozed, emitting small sleep-filled cries that grated his raw nerves. The wind keened, and rain-dampened calls kept him vigilant, the hunters still on the prowl. Sorrow pressed down with the unbearable weight of the old stones.

The Rose Shield – Whitt

Whitt

The Rose Shield is my current WIP.  I’ve introduced a couple characters with a bit of a snippet: Raker (Here) and my main character Catling (Here). Whitt is Catling’s adopted brother. When his search for her fails, this is where he ends up…

A Snippet of Whitt

Whitt crouched at the water’s edge where tangled roots rose in smooth arches, tall and wide as doorways. He’d wrapped his feet and shins in camgras cloth to discourage leeches and protect his skin from curious razorgills. There were fiercer predators in the swamp, though less stealthy and readily avoided.

Sheer veils of fog drifted above the water. He shifted his weight, spear comfortable in his grip and poised to thrust. Though the Kull Sea lay hundreds of leagues south, its tides altered the waterways in Ava-Grea’s swamps no less than the Fangwold snowmelt. Nearly two years after entering the world of the Fenfolk, Whitt navigated the changing landscape with minimal need to drag his raft through the mud.

A pair of reptilian nostrils peeked from the luminescence, two black holes in a sheet of liquid light. Fire-winged blackbirds shrilled warnings through the vaulted branches. Whitt needed to cross the waterway, and the crajek epitomized patience, content to wait a week for a human meal.

With his free hand, he unhooked the snared river rats from his belt. He’d caught the scaled rodents for supper, but at this point, his need to cross the channel outweighed his hunger. Holding the end of the lead, he dipped them in the water not far from his perch and dragged them from side to side. Razorgills surfaced from below and nibbled at the dead flesh. The lethargic crajek sank from sight, a good sign.

He braced himself in the roots, eyes peeled for movement in the channel around the rats. Waterspiders skimmed the surface. The razorgills flashed and fled as the dark shape neared. Whitt licked his lips, steadied, and when the crajek snapped, he rammed the spear’s sharpened point into the rear of the spiked head. The animal whipped around, dislodging the weapon. Jaws still clamped on the rats, it dove, yanking the lead in Whitt’s hand and ripping him from his roost. He splashed into the water up to his knees and froze. The line floated, slack. His spear cocked at his shoulder, he searched for ripples or bubbles, anything to indicate the creature’s location.

At the center of the channel, two wide-set nostrils surfaced, a second larger monster. Whitt retreated a step. The water erupted at his side as a set of jagged teeth gaped and the first crajek leapt at his leg. Whitt slammed the spear into its head. The point scraped over the thick skull and sank through its eye. Splashing backward, he yanked the spear from the body, without any idea where the second creature had gone.

“Foul!” He tripped blindly on the tree’s roots and fell on his ass through an arched gap. His feet flipped out of the water as the second crajek burst from the swamp and clamped its steel jaws on a flailing razorgill. Whitt crabbed backward as the crajek chewed on the spiny fish no more than a foot from his right toes.

The creature ogled him as if contemplating his next course.

(Spring 2017 – I hope)

The Rose Shield – Catling

Rose Shield 2
The Rose Shield is my current WIP. A month ago, I introduced Raker  (Here). He’s half mad, but has sparks of unexpected wisdom if you can get over the fact that he converses with the river fog. My main character is Catling, and here’s the start of her story:

Chapter One Excerpt

Hanging Day.

Catling clutched the back of her mother’s wool skirt as Keela picked a path through the market crowd. Head down, she kept her eyes on the bare heels slapping the pavers ahead of her, afraid of a swat if she let go.

“Stop tugging on my dress and tramping on my heels,” Keela said without a glance back. She wrenched her skirt free. “And keep up.”

Catling flinched and scurried to catch up. At six, she was a scrawny thing and easily buffeted by the larger bodies that failed to see her. The market was all shoving and yelling heads off on hanging day, and she wouldn’t have minded if Keela weren’t in such a hurry.

She spotted a split-copper and darted from safety to pinch it from the crack between two pavers. A pair of scampering boys dodged around her as she ducked back behind her mother with a crooked grin. She slid the coin into her pocket beside her carved waterdragon and considered where she might hide it. All over the warrens, she kept secret stashes of split and clipped-coppers, stowed into crevasses and holes and buried under stones. She was rich and someday she’d collect them in a sack and ride a ferry to the sea.

“Always big crowds Summertide hanging day,” Keela said over her shoulder. “The weather’s kind enough and food’s plenty. Maybe we’ll share a meat tart and catch a couple neck-stretchers.”

The mere thought of a tart set Catling’s stomach growling. During Summertide, the market circled almost all the way around the warrens. Tables, carts, stalls, crates, and planks balancing on rickety chairs were set up haphazard like river rocks that people flowed around. Servants from the tiers sauntered down with their guards and pockets of clipped silver to spend however they pleased.

Riverfolk sold fish and eels by the pier. Glassy-eyed twitchers lolled against a stone wall, begging for anything they could sell for a taste. Smelters and smiths hawked pieces of metal shaped into knives and tools. She passed other guilds peddling rag-cloth and rope, trinkets and baubles, lye soap and tallow candles, and just about everything else she could imagine. Cull Tarr preachers traded promises for prayers, and tradesmen from far off Lim-Mistral decorated tables with smooth glass bottles for nighttime luminescence. She caught her reflection in a standing mirror and winced at the sight, the ugly red halo on her face like a permanent bruised eye.