Heartweed: Chapter 32

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 32

When Artie emerged into consciousness she found herself once again laying on a stone floor. This floor felt dirty and scratchy against her face. She could smell moisture in the air. Artie cracked her eyes open. She faced a dimly lit earthen wall. A heavy weight hung at her wrists, glancing towards them she saw thick shackles of a dark brown metal. A chain trailed from them to a hoop bolted to the ground.
Artie felt a twitching in her chest. The parasite was stirring. It slowly uncurled a fresh sprout from its cold, gnarled centre. It reached out tentatively, but flinched back when it felt her attention on it. The parasite was weak and so was she. Artie knew it would be a struggle to move and she didn’t want to try until she knew what was going on. Murmuring voices came from behind her. She  turned her concentration outwards and listened.
“If someone is creating an army of heartweeds, I must know who.”
This voice was March’s. The second voice was papery thin, but with the kind of edge that reminded Artie how much a papercut stung.
“It would not take an army. With a mere dozen of these creatures coupled with the means to control them one could take and hold the whole of Faerie. But they are dangerous. If this human is indeed host to one she should be destroyed now while she is weak.”
“So there is a means to control her?” March sounded eager.
“A combination of spells and drugs can compel the parasite to do your bidding.” The second voice rasped. “There is no point dealing with the hosts. They become only gibbering shells.”
“We should make our weapon, my Lord Threat.”
“Fool, we should kill her now.”
Lord Threat. Artie remembered what Gorth had told her. This was Lady March’s father.
The long tendrils that the parasite had stretched through her body quivered and wakened. Strength surged back into her. Yes. Artie damped a smile, trying to remain unmoving. The parasite sensed her eagerness and stretched out its feelers towards her mind. Immediately Artie imagined the fire. The body, not the mind. The body, not the mind. She chanted inside her head. Could it understand her? Did it think like that? Did it even think?
“You have never seen an active heartweed – I have.” Threat’s hissing whisper intruded on her thoughts. She strove to keep up her defenses and to listen. He took a deep ragged breath. “I was a child then. Lady Jacinth brought and army of fifty thousand against the King and Queen. My father and his vassals went to that war on the side of the royalty. I rode at his side, to learn about taking life.
“We crushed them, drove them back. At the last Jacinth took fourteen of the Gentry officers in her army, all of them her lovers or so it was said, she took them and she fed them the heartweed seeds. Only two survived the transition.”
Artie held her breath, she could feel March doing the same behind her. Threat continued.”
“They laid waste. Within weeks the land was desolate and we were running. They destroyed everything in their path. They sucked the life and the magic from everything. Tore the land and the buildings and the people into shreds.
“It was terrifying and it was incredible.” Threat’s tone was wistful. “A bitter victory for us when we eventually defeated them. A century to fully recover” His voice hardened into cold anger. “And now she is here: new, infected and mobile. And you want to keep her alive? We should destroy her now.”
March’s voice rose to match. “She is weak. She must have only just ingested it. Now is the time to question her, to find out who created her and to bind her to our will.”
“You are a fool, March.”
“This could give us what we want. My son, your grandson on the throne of Faerie.”
“Tangle with heartweeds and you will not live long enough to father a child on my imbecilic daughter.”
The parasite reached out again and again Artie repulsed it. Instead of attempting to breach her mind again the parasite withdrew its wiry tendrils from her limbs, taking with it the strength she had felt. It stretched outside of her and began to feed on the magic around them. This wasn’t the hedonistic gluttony they had shared when they first emerged into Faerie. This was a slow sipping, like an invalid with their first bowl of broth. She must have damaged it quite badly with the combination of the potion and flames of her anger.
A thought of uncertain origin floated through her mind. I can wait. Maybe it could, but Artie couldn’t. Soon March and  Threat would decide what to do with her, whether it was ‘kill’ or ‘torture for information’ or ‘take control of’. She wanted nothing to do with any of those options. But with the parasite sulking and feeding, refusing to take her body without her mind, she would not be strong enough to stop them – let alone kill March.
At the thought of March’s death her mind flooded with images: blood-stained pictures of March’s body, broken and torn. And an offer: trade.
Artie heard steps coming towards her. She closed her eyes. Threat’s voice was soft and close.
“You said you could taste the heartweed in her blood. If that is the case she is infected enough to be dangerous. Dangerous and hard to destroy.” He spoke as if to himself. “Cutting the parasite from her chest and burning it or administering certain poisons. These are the only sure ways to destroy one. Other than that they are nearly impossible to harm. They heal damage to their hosts rapidly,”
Access, not control. The thought was there in her mind and at the same time whispered in her ears on a rustling of leaves. We will kill him together. Could she trust it? Could she afford not to?
Agreed.
Artie dropped the wall of flames around her mind. The parasite pounced. Its tendrils plunged once again throughout her body. Her aches and weakness vanished. Every cell throbbed with life and energy. Her cheek burned hot, and she realised that the parasite was healing the cut March had made to her face.
The parasite’s feelers probed deep into her mind and she was choked on a tumbling kaleidoscopes of memories. Submerged in each of them – as if they were all happening again, all at once. She struggled to pull both of their attentions back to March and Threat, but it was as much use as trying to lasso a tornado.
Artie felt cold fingers turn her face upwards.
“The damage to her cheek has already healed. Kill it. Kill it now, March.”
Artie eyes popped open. She found herself almost nose to nose with Lord Threat. His dank eyes filled with horror and he staggered back from her, scrabbling for the handle of the long sword sheathed at his waist.
The mental, physical and magical cacophony focused itself with vertigo-inducing speed into a laser point of intent. Artie and the parasite sat up. They licked her cracked lips and smiled.

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