This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.
New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
“Are you alright?”
Artie rolled to her feet and staggered back from the voice, fists raised. The shadowed figure that owned the voice raised both hands, palms out, placating, and stepped forward into a patch of moonlight.
Artie blinked. The man didn’t seem much older than she was. Wavy brown hair brushed around his collar. His eyes, large and soft, meandered curiously over her as his mouth curved into the beginnings of an easy smile. His features weren’t skewed and sharp like those of the fox-faced man, but they weren’t quite human features either.
“What are you?”
He stretched out his right hand towards her in a familiar gesture.
“What’s that?” Artie backed away from his offered hand. “What’s a Gorth?”
She glanced all around rapidly, looking for escape or help. Surprise caught her mid-step and she stopped. She wasn’t in the woods anymore. There were trees around, but further apart; grassy meadow undulated in the open spaces. They were stood beneath the spread of a large oak. Beyond Artie could see the sky, a different sky to the one she was used to. It was more alive: the stars were closer, the moon brighter, and no clouds obscured the view.
“Gorth is the name that people call me,” the man said. “And what do the call you?”
Artie swallowed. “Artie.” She wet her lips. “Um, Artemi–”
“Don’t.” Gorth forestalled her with a raised hand. He shook his head. “Don’t tell me, or anyone here, your full name. Rule one. It can be used against you.”
He smiled. “Just Artie is fine. Nice to meet you Artie.”
Gorth held out his hand again; this time Artie took it, and they shook.
“Where’s here?” Artie said.
Gorth stretched out his hands in an expansive motion that took in the whole horizon. “Faerie.”
“Faerie?” Artie felt her face contract in disbelief. “Like fairyland? Bullshit. And you’re a–”
“A faerie. Yup.”
“Shit.” Artie rubbed her upper arms. “Well you’re not human, that’s for damn sure.”
“I’m a tree faerie. A dryad, I guess you’d call me.”
“I know what I dryad is. I thought they were all girls though.”
“Male tree spirits are rarer and much less pretty. Which is probably why we get much less publicity in your realm.”
Artie raised a palm to her forehead.
“look. I’d love to continue this bizarre cultural exchange, but I need to find my brother and get him home, OK?”
“OK.” Gorth shrugged and looked around. “Where is your brother? Maybe I can help.”
“I don’t know. I was with him. We got separated.”
Artie told Gorth about Alex’s sleepwalking and described what had happened to them in the woods and after.
Gorth pursed his lips. “You were cast adrift in the Shadows like that and still made it through. You should count yourself lucky.”
Artie blew air between her teeth. “Yes, yes, I’m very lucky.” Gorth didn’t seem to notice her sarcasm. Artie felt an itch of guilt for being rude to this man who was trying to help her. “What are the Shadow?” she asked. “Is that where Alex is?”
“Questions. Questions.” Gorth turned and walked away.
Anger and fear lanced through Artie.
“Wait. I thought you said that you would help me.”
Gorth turned and grinned at Artie; he carried on walking backwards away from her.
“I will. But I have an appointment I cannot be late for. Walk with me and I’ll answer all your questions and help you find your brother.”
With that he turned away from her again. Artie stared after him. Was there any reason for her to trust him or follow him. He seemed nice enough, but – she though with a twist of her mouth – that was suspicious enough in itself. Why would he offer to help her? On the other hand, what the hell else could she do?
Gorth was almost fifty feet in front of her. Artie had to jog to catch up with him. He shot a smile across at her as she fell into step alongside him, making sure to keep two arms’ lengths between them.
“The Shadows are the places between worlds.” Gorth picked up the thread of their conversation as if it had never been dropped. “They keep your realm and mine from scraping against each other.”
“Like oil on engine parts?” Artie asked.
Gorth nodded. “Dimensional lubrication. Indeed. And you have to cross through the Shadows to get from here to the nearest there. Or if you are very talented from here to some other here or some distant there or–”
Artie cut across him. “Is Alex there? In the Shadows?”
“No.” Gorth halted at the top of a rise. He pointed. “Unless I am very much mistaken, your brother is there.”