Heartweed: Chapter 29

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 29

Artie pulled on her trousers. They were splattered with her blood around the waistband. The long shirt she had been dressed in fell to mid-thigh and covered most of it.
Her boots and socks lay beneath the trousers. There was no sign of her jacket, t-shirt or bra. Artie guessed that they still lay where she’d left them in Gorth’s cellar. She pulled on her socks and laced her boots.
She could hear Birtta moving in the conservatory. Artie leaned backwards and peered around the double doors. The light spilling into the glass-walled room was stained green by its filtering through the leaves of the many clambering plants that competed for space.
A long bench stood against the far side. Glassware and metalware that looked like parts of a chemistry set – or maybe an alchemy set, judging from its weightiness and irregularity – clustered on the bench. There was no pattern to them, they hadn’t yet been configured into a meaningful structure.  A brown liquid lurked in a flask alone in the centre of the bench. More of the tincture Birttta had given her?
Artie glanced at the brown bottle on the table near her and then back to where Birtta was working. She let her hand drift to take the bottle and pushed it to the bottom of the deep pocket on the outside of her thigh. She wet her lips and stepped backwards softly into the archway between the back room and the front.
The front room of the house was just as bare as the one she had left. To her right another door opened onto the hallway and through it she could see the start of the stairs and the heavy front door with its stained glass panel.
With one more glance back at the engrossed Birtta, Artie turned and swiftly made her way to the front door.
She twisted the brass knob and the door clicked easily and swung open. She felt the parasite in her stir and respond to the warm touch of the afternoon sunshine. Beyond the short front garden was a quiet street, but Artie could hear the sounds both of the river and of traffic on a nearby road.
“Where are you going?”
Artie spun to see Blue, back in his businessman glamour, at the top of the stairs staring down at her. She backed across the threshold of the door.
“Going to finish what I started.”
Blue advanced slowly down the stairs. “That is a bad idea. March will kill you, if the heartweed parasite does not consume you first.”
Behind her the gate creaked, Artie turned to see Matthew coming up the path, carrier bags in both hands.
“What’s going on?” He looked between Artie and Blue.
“Do not allow her to leave.”
Matthew looked at Artie. His stance wavered and he glanced again between Blue and Artie.
“Please.” Matthew spread his arms farther apart, as if to corral her. “You shouldn’t go until we’ve figured out–”
Artie heard the whisper of Blue’s clothes as he moved from almost the top of the stairs to behind her within the space of a breath. The sound snapped her indecision. She grabbed Matthew by his lapels and thrust him past her back into the house. He flew faster and harder than she intended; she was just learning this new strength. Artie heard the dull thump of bodies colliding and glanced over her shoulder to see Blue and Matthew  sprawled backwards together onto the floor. Then she ran.
Artie ran and she loved it. The speed, the power – she had never felt anything like this before. She had tapped into a boundless energy and felt that she could run until the shoes wore from her feet and not be tired. The parasite stretched out, its non-physical presence extending far beyond the confines of her body. It lashed out behind her – pushing her on. It reached out in front of her – grasping at the world and pulling her forwards.
She was aware of a couple on the pavement turning to gape as she hared past them, flowing around them without checking her stride. Her change in direction causing no change in her pace. She raced across a busy road, the sounds of horns and squealing brakes already left far behind her.
There was a path between two houses and Artie darted along it. It came out opposite a stone wall topped with tall iron railings. At this sight Artie transitioned from a sprint to a stop without a judder. She wasn’t even out of breath.
The walls enclosed the cemetery, its high gates now locked for the evening. Artie measured the height of the gates with her eyes. She flexed her feet, rolling from her toes to her heels and then back again. Her knees bent only a little, but she could feel the tremendous potential energy within herself.
She sprang, releasing it all in a burst that carried her up high over the gates. Artie laughed. She reached the pinnacle of her jump and for a second it felt like she would just keep on going, carried like a kite on the wind.
She landed and began to run again, zigzagging from the path, dodging between trees and brambles and the grave.
Despite everything that had happened over the past weeks she felt a rising joy. A joy in her pure speed and strength. A joy which turned her mouth dry in terror, because it was not her joy. These feelings belonged to it. To the thing inside her. The heartweed. The parasite. It was feeling, and she could feel its feelings.
The thought made her lose concentration; she tripped and sprawled heavily onto ground, narrowly missing mashing her face into the wide trunk of a beech tree. Artie lay face down on the dank, sun-starved earth. Her breathing was ragged, but she knew it was with fear, not exertion. She concentrated on steeling her mind against the parasite. The misty glass barrier that Birtta’s potion had set in place still stood fast between her and it. The parasite had made no attempts to break through. Yet she was aware of the glow of its giddy happiness, and also of a diffuse sense of curiosity, a tentative reaching.
Let’s see what else we can do.
Artie was almost sure that the thought was hers. She was fast and she was strong – everything that Gorth had promised her. She could walk right up to March and snap him in two. But she had to find him first.
She pushed herself back into a kneeling position and looked around. The area under the beech tree was cool and still, surrounded on three sides by twisted coils of blackberry and on the other by ivy-swamped headstones. She let her eyes drift out of focus and searched for the currents of magic that she had seen before.
For minutes the world faced her looking nothing but normal, then – as if she had been seeing it all along without really noticing – the overlaying swirls of power became clear to her. She could see the cracks between the reality of matter that they seeped in and out of. She reached out with the unreal, parasite part of herself and pushed it into a crack.
With a groan it split wider. She saw the shadowy maelstrom through the gap and beyond – a bright something. The parasite brought sensations back to her that her mind translated as taste – grainy and sweet and moreish. Artie swayed towards the gap.
She heard the patter of four swift feet; the low sun cast a long, lupine shadow on the ground beside her. Artie looked up in time to see two-legged Matthew step towards her between the gravestones.
“Back off,” Artie said, holding her voice low.
Matthew held his hands up and stopped. He squinted at the patch of reality Artie had broken open. Then blinked, shook his head and turned back to face her.  Could he see it, Artie wondered.
“Please, don’t go. Don’t go to Faerie – Birtta said it could destroy you.”
“If I get to kill the creature that killed my brother first then I would consider it a fair trade.”
Matthew’s eyes slid back towards the area of disturbance. He frowned again, confused. He couldn’t see it, Artie realised. He could tell that something was there, but he couldn’t see the way reality fit together, r could be pulled apart. Not the was she could.
“Come back to Blue’s house with me. Please. We can help you get March.”
Artie made a dismissive noise. “Help me kill him, would you?”
Matthew grimaced. “Well, no. Not in cold-blood.” He hurried on when Artie’s lips curled. “But we could bring him to some sort of justice. As I understand it, that’s what Blue does. He polices the interactions between faeries and humans. Officially. With authority from the Queen of Faerie. He could bring March to her for punishment.”
Artie only half heard Matthew’s words. The parasite nagged for her attention. Its tendrils spread through the shadows. She followed them with her mind, groping her way towards what it wanted her to see – the place where the shadows grew thinner, where the bright flickers showed. She saw the suggestion of some other thing beneath them, like a familiar shape beneath a dark, draped fabric.
“So how about it?” Matthew continued. “Come back. We’ll have that pizza and figure out what to do.”
“How about no. If your friend Blue was any good, he would have stopped March from kidnapping and killing my brother.” Matthew opened his mouth, but Artie ploughed on, not wanting to give him a chance to speak. “”He was ther. He saw, he knew what was happening.”
Matthew shut his mouth, his teeth gave a hollow snap when they connected.
The parasite was nagging her again. She could feel it pushing its way through the shadows. The shape at the other end was more familiar now. March’s house. Yes., Artie thought. The pulse of her assent travelled down the outstretched tendrils of the parasite. When it arrived at the farthest end it gave the final push that allowed the parasite to break through from the shadows and into Faerie.
Nectar.
Artie’s lips slipped apart. She felt her eyes widen. Her breath caught in her throat. The taste. It tasted so good.
She saw concern cross Matthew’s face and he took a step towards her, hand outstretched. But she was already going. The parasite pulled at her. A child tugging at its parent’s hand – eagerness turning to insistence. She felt its glee and its need. Its cravings wracked her body like they were her own. She closed her eyes and fell into the sensations coming from the parasite. The hunger. It gorged on the brightness. She could see the shape of March’s house floating behind her eyelids. The parasite pleaded and pulled; with her mind fixed on March’s manor, Artie agreed. The parasite poured itself through the shadows; Artie flung herself after it; surrendering to the feeling of falling.

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