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       Tortured, p.4

           Caragh M. O'Brien
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  “Mlass Gaia?” the Matrarc said, waiting. “Say it.”

  “Yes,” Gaia said. “My sister would be dead.”

  The Matrarc eased back slightly. “Then from now on, we will consider your sister to be a gift to Sylum. A small and precious gift. What’s more, in light of your gift, and depending on your compliance during your probation, we may pardon your crime.”

  “My crime?”

  “You knowingly, deliberately put your sister in deadly harm.”

  “You’re implying I tried to kill her,” Gaia said, rising stiffly in alarm. “I didn’t! I’ve done everything I could to keep her alive.”

  “You admitted yourself she would be dead without our intervention,” the Matrarc said. “You have forfeited any claim to the child. Your sister, the one you cared for, is dead. The only baby that’s alive is the one Chardo saved, and right now, she needs stable care and a new mother.”

  Gaia had a terrifying glimpse of what it must have been like for the mothers when she herself had taken their babies to be advanced to the Enclave. “Oh, please. Let me see her,” Gaia begged. “She could be dying right now. I need to hold her.”

  The Matrarc turned slightly, tapping her cane once on the wooden planks. “I’m sorry for your loss, of course. It’s terrible to lose a child.”

  She was speaking as if Maya were already dead. Dead to Gaia.

  “You can’t do this!” Gaia said, horrified. “You don’t know what we’ve been through. I’ve lost everyone I care for.” Gaia impulsively grabbed the Matrarc’s cane, jerking it in protest. “You can’t steal my sister!”

  The Matrarc released her cane and lifted her hands, stepping back. “Take her.”

  Gaia was grabbed from behind and instantly dragged down the stairs. The cane fell rattling to the floorboards. Gaia’s arms were wrenched behind her while half a dozen men sprang between her and the Matrarc.

  “She’s my family!” Gaia shouted, struggling to break free. “I can’t lose her!”

  The Matrarc smoothed the tendril of her hair back again and then held out her right hand, palm up, in a silent request. One of the men put the handle of her cane in her hand, and Gaia watched the Matrarc grip it with steely fingers.

  “I want her all the way down,” the Matrarc said.

  Gaia was pushed down so fast that her knees hit the ground hard, and she had to catch herself with her hands in the dirt. It was humiliating. Her chin was millimeters from the dusty ground. She was so weak that it didn’t take much for a guard’s heavy hand to keep her there, physically, while inside she screamed in defiance.

  “She’s down,” said Chardo, and she realized he was the one holding her there. She struggled once more, unbelieving. He’d been so gentle with her before, but now he had the force of stone block.

  “You’ll listen to me, Mlass Gaia,” the Matrarc said, and her voice had dropped to a honey-smooth alto. “There is only one leader here. One. And I speak for everyone. You will learn to obey our rules, or you will be sent back to the wasteland to die.”

  “What would my grandmother think of the way you’re treating me?” Gaia demanded.

  “Mlady Danni would be the first to support me,” the Matrarc said. “She taught me everything I know. Chardo,” she called.

  “Yes, Mlady,” he said.

  “Where’s Munsch?”

  “I left him back at our camp. There wasn’t time to circle back to him.”

  “Return to him as soon as you can get a fresh horse. And keep an eye out for her brother or anyone else. I’ll send out extra patrols. I don’t for a minute believe she’s the only one out there. Something must have happened down south.”

  “Yes, Mlady,” he said.

  “Gaia Stone, are you ready to cooperate?” the Matrarc asked.

  Gaia ground her teeth. She would get her sister back, whatever it took. Groveling included.

  “Yes, Mlady,” she said, parroting Chardo’s words.

  “Bring her up, then,” the Matrarc said.

  At the first indication his grip was loosening, Gaia jerked free and staggered to her feet. She flashed a scathing gaze at Chardo. “You rescued me for this?”

  The outrider met her gaze without flinching, as if he wasn’t sorry at all. “It was the right thing to do.”

  The right thing. He’d known all along that the Matrarc would take her sister.

  Sylum was as bad as the Enclave. But the women were running it.

  Read the first two books in

  The Birthmarked Trilogy

  by Caragh M. O’Brien

  * * *


  Book One

  In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the wall and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. Gaia has always believed it is her duty, with her mother, to hand over a small quota of babies to the Enclave. But when Gaia’s mother and father are arrested by the very people they so dutifully serve, Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught to believe. Gaia’s choice is now simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

  * * *

  * * *


  Book Two

  Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, Gaia survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

  * * *

  Table of Contents

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  Caragh M. O'Brien, Tortured



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