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.
An unfamiliar face leaned over her. A man – definitely human, with light brown hair and a square jaw – held her down onto a hard surface by the upper arms. A woman was leaning in to inject something into Artie’s arm. It burnt like acid in her veins. Artie clamped her teeth together.
The long red hair brushed back from the woman’s face as she straightened. A faerie. Artie thrashed; the man’s hands came loose. She leapt up and ran for the door. He grabbed at her and she turned and pushed him. She pushed at him; something uncoiled within her arm muscles like a whip snap. He flew across the room and crashed into the table Artie had been laid on.
Amazement brought Artie to a halt. She had thrown that guy across the room. The pure mechanical power she had felt channeling through her… She guessed she’d got her money’s worth.
A second man, the suited one who had followed her from the bar to the cellar, stepped towards her. He blocked the way to the door.
Artie’s eyes raked the room, searching for another way out. The room she was in, bare but for the table that she had been laid on, seemed like a room in any normal house. Behind her double-width, glass patio doors lead through into a conservatory choked with greenery, they stood half open but the faerie woman was blocking that exit. The door behind the suited guy lead into an equally bare room. A bay window at the end of that room gave Artie a view onto a quiet street. There would be a front door somewhere there too. That was her way out.
She looked up into the cold, near-black eyes of the man in the suit. She would just have to go through him. Artie tensed all of her muscles and felt the peculiar, wiry additions that stretched through her coiling as tight as an overwound spring.
Artie began to leap. Weakness washed over her. A slithering slackness stupefied her limbs. Then the pain started. A fire in her chest that sent pulses of agony through her. Her knees buckled.
“I think you overdid it,” the man behind her said.
“Trial and error.” The faerie woman’s voice was cool.
Artie, on her knees, swayed forwards. She had no strength to raise her arms and was sure she would have landed on her face on the floor if the suited man had not caught her by the shoulder.
He crouched lithely beside her and lifted her in his arms like she weighed nothing at all. He laid her back on the bare table in the middle of the room. Artie’s limbs felt like sacks full of damp flour. She struggled to roll her head to the side to watch the strange trio.
“Where am I? Who are you? And what did you do to me?” He voice quivered at the last sentence and Artie clamped her jaw shut on it.
The square-faced man came to her side. He picked up her hand from teh table and held it. Artie felt a wave of irritation and wanted to shake it off.
“I’m Matthew.” He smiled, a soothing smile that didn’t touch his worried eyes. “And you’re in a house in York. Blue’s house.” He nodded his head towards the other man, now leaning against the wall. “We are trying to save your life.”
As Artie stared at him she could see the swirling overlays creeping back into her vision. She fought to relax into the vision and concentrate on it at the same time. The swirls flowed towards the tall, suited man against the wall. They crawled all over his short black hair, so dark a black as to appear almost blue, and over the fine, strongly defined lines of his face. Artie concentrated harder on the wriggling shapes and with a thought seemed to brush them away. The reality beneath the glamour caused her to scramble back along the table’s surface.
The alien eyes, the knife-sharp cheekbones and jawline, and hair the deep blue of a peacock’s chest hanging straight down to his waist. Gentry.
“You’re the faerie from March’s party.” Artie spat. “You work for him.”
She kept her eyes on him as she pushed herself towards the edge of the table. The Gentry man – Blue, Matthew had called him – neither moved nor spoke. She could see the sword now, still sheathed at his hip. Time to try the other escape route, through the back.
Artie started to push herself off the edge of the table, to stand, but a dizzy wave of vertigo washed through her. She squeezed her eyes closed against it and gripped the hard lip of the table. She felt firm hands on her upper arms and heard the voice of the man, Matthew, trying for soothing tones:
“It’s OK. He doesn’t work for March… I’m certain.”
“Fascinating.” The faerie woman’s cool, clear voice pierced into Artie like a lancet. “She can already see through glamours. What else can you do?”
Artie opened her eyes. The red-haired woman was staring at her, her eyes sharp with interest. Artie met them with a glare.
“I can see that you’re a faerie. A dryad, like Gorth.”
“Correct, but not difficult as I am not glamoured.” She lifted a soft, white hand towards Matthew. “And him?”
Artie turned towards Matthew. He stepped back and spread his arms wide as if to show off a new shirt.
“Human. No…” Something tickled at the edge of Artie’s vision, not an overlaid image, but a flicker of something watching from the man’s shadow. She squinted. A flash of amber eyes, graphite fur. “Wolf. Werewolf?”
Matthew grinned. “Nearly. Shaman and shapeshifter. Though wolf is my preferred form.”
The dryad spoke across the two of them to Blue.
“Her condition is much more advanced than I would have expected. Especially in a human and in the human realm. Probably as a result of the direct implantation.”
She eyed Artie again with an interest that was almost hungry. Something inside Artie snapped.
“Just you shut up. I’m not your bloody science experiment.”
“No.” Blue’s voice was like liquid metal. “You are a reckless fool who has placed herself and possibly many others in considerable danger.” He met her angry gaze with hard eyes. “For what? What did Gorth promise you? Magic? Power? Beauty? Immortality?”
Artie stared into his face, unreadable and immobile. She tried to look past the Gentry features, but all she could see was a creature like the one who killed her brother.
“Vengeance,” she whispered.
A shadow crossed Blue’s face and his well-water eyes filled with anguish; Artie realised, with surprise, he looked nothing like March. “It is never worth it.” The words carried a hollow echo.
Then the shadow dissipated and his tone became brisk. “The violinist?”
Artie nodded. “My brother. March killed him.”
Matthew put his hand on her arm again. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” Artie blinked. She took a deep breath and shook her shoulders. “So tell me who you are and what the hell is going on.”
She looked up at Blue. “You say you don’t work for March. And you’re obviously not friends of Gorth or you wouldn’t have attacked him. So who do you work for and what do you want with me?”
“I work for the Queen of Faerie,” Blue said. A disbelieving laugh rushed to Artie’s throat, but Blue’s serious face quelled it. She remembered that Gorth had also mentioned a queen. Blue continued, gesturing at the red-haired dryad. “Birtta is here in a consulting capacity. Matthew–”
“I don’t work for anyone. I’m human, independent and on your side here.” He fixed her with his sincere eyes. She recognised the almost parental worry in them. “I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.”
“Too late.” Blue’s words were chill.
Matthew flared. “If you hadn’t got in my way–”
“The blame is shared.” Blue raised his hands, palms out, and stepped closer. He turned to Artie. “Our respective investigations into Gorth’s activities clashed in the alley on Tuesday night. By the time we formed an understanding it was too late to save you.”
Artie stared back and forth between the two men. Irritation pinched her face. “I don’t need saving.”
Matthew gave her a look that begged to differ; her irritation turned to fury.
“I don’t. I volunteered for this. March killed my brother. He’s going to kill my parents and my friends. This way I can kill him first. Make them safe.”
“By letting someone you barely know perform amateur heart surgery on you?” Matthew said.
Artie shrugged and Matthew threw up his hands. He turned away from her, trying and failing to hide his loss of temper from her.
“Gorth lied to you.” Blue said softly.
“What?” Artie turned to him. “About what?”
“About what the parasite would do to you.”
“No.” Artie gave a single shake of her head. “He said it would make me strong, strong enough to kill March. And it did. I threw him across the room.” She lifted her chin in challenge at the Gentry fae. “You made me weak when you injected me. I think you’re the one who’s lying.”
The words hung in the room like smoke. Artie and Blue stared at each other. Or at least she glared at him and he met her glare with a dispassionate regard.
Birtta broke the silence.
“You are strong. And fast. And magical. But you would have never been able to use these skills against Lord March. What Gorth neglected to tell you is that if Blue,” she paused, “and Matthew, had not got to you in time, the parasite would have taken over your mind and body completely, and driven you insane.”