Heartweed: Chapter 24

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.

Chapter 24

The rain had started. It was the dismal kind that didn’t really fall, just hung in the air and crept down the back of Artie’s neck. Gorth turned his collar up and strolled away up the cobbled street. Artie followed, almost having to trot to keep up with his long-legged gait.
“What do you want, Artie?”
Gorth’s voice was soft and Artie wasn’t sure that she had heard him right.
“I told you: vengeance.” The needle-sharp fury stirred within Artie; she saw March’s gleeful face rise behind her eyelids.
Gorth nodded. “Vengeance.” He drew her into the shelter of a shop doorway. “You’re sure?”
The fury pushed out a stab of anger towards Gorth. “You said you could make me strong enough to kill March. Were you lying?”
Gorth frowned. “No. I wasn’t.”
“Then let’s do this. You said it would cost me. How much?”
Artie reached into her pocket and pulled out the wedge of notes. Gorth waved it away.
“Let’s talk price later. Once I’ve told you what you’ll be letting yourself in for.” He looked down at Artie, his face a careful blank. “I’ve recently come into possession of an object that can confer upon someone almost unlimited speed, strength and magical power.”
Artie chewed her lips. “What’s the catch?”
“It will transform you into something that isn’t human. And you will never be human again.” He paused. “And it will likely kill you.”
Artie shivered at the chill in his voice and the words it spoke. “How likely?”
“Only a handful have survived for more than a year after the procedure.”
“But even if it does kill me – I could have a year to get to March.”
“You could.”
Artie thought of her mum and dad, of Sam and James and ROb. March had threatened them all. They had been drawn into danger just because they knew her. She thought of Alex – laughing carefree Alex – and March’s face as he snuffed out her brother’s life. Her own life was a price worth paying. What else was she going to do with it?
“That’s fine,” she said.
“OK then.” Gorth straightened and pushed himslef out into the street.
“So how much will this cost?” Artie nervously fingered the money in her pocket. “You said rare and valuable.”
“It is.” He smiled back at her. The smile had something in it that made Artie blink, then it was gone. “More than money can buy.”
“What does that mean?”
“That I want something as rare and valuable in exchange.”
“What?”
“Are you a virgin?” Gorth tossed the words over his shoulder.  Artie stopped dead in the middle of the street.
“What?”
Gorth turned. “Have you had sex?”
Artie thought of Saturday night’s awkward grappling with Rob; she flushed. “No. I haven’t what business is it of yours?”
“It is relevant to our discussions.”
Artie felt her upper lip curl. “So the price is my virginity?”
“No – the price is your heart. A virgin’s heart.”
“Is that metaphorical?” Artie shivered. “Like I have to fall in love with you or something?”
Gorth stepped close to her. The smile was gone and his face was unreadable and as inhuman as if he had been wearing his faerie features. “Actually it is extremely literal. To affect the transformation I have to implant the object, the seed, within your chest.”
Artie stomach churned at the image, and the implications. Gorth continued. “Something goes in; something else must come out – your heart.”
Her voice was hoarse. “Wouldn’t that kill me straight away?”
“The seed’s magic would keep you alive.”
“The seed?”
“The object is a seed for a parasitic plant. You share your body with it, it shares its power with you.”
Artie took a faltering step backwards. She raised her hands as if to ward Gorth off. “This has just taken a turn for the way too surreal and terrifying. You want to take out my heart and replace it with a plant and I’ll still be alive?”
“And powerful and strong and fast.”
“And dying?”
“And dying.”
Artie laughed. A loud, jagged sound that tore at the inside of her throat. Gorth regarded her with an unblinking stare.
Artie closed her eyes. The image of Alex stepping into the road rose in her mind. Like it did again and again and always. He stepped into the road. She saw the flash of a car coming towards him. She screamed. Then it was all a blur. Except that this time it wasn’t a blur. She saw clearly. Each instant played out in excruciating slowness. The glaze fell from Alex’s eyes. Realisation, and fear, flooded into them instead. He saw her, opened his mouth to say her name. Then the impact – his body flying through the air.
She choked on a breath. It stuck in the middle of her chest. A sharp thing sticking into her heart. Opening her eyes she met Gorth’s stare. His soft eyes, pinched around the edges.
“My heart,” Artie said. A broken thing.
“That is the price. Are you sure that you can pay it?”
Artie nodded once, her bitten lips pressed together.
 

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