Heartweed: Chapter 33

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 33

They rose effortlessly to standing. Threat still scrabbled with his sword. A step brought Artie and the parasite to within reach of him. One hand gripped his wrist and twisted. The other took him by the throat. The sword clattered to the floor.
Artie met March’s eyes over his father-in-law’s shoulder. The parasite stretched out to him hungrily. March backed away up the stairs. They turned their attentions back to Threat.
The old faerie’s skin was as papery and translucent as an insect’s wing. His pulse fluttered against her fingers like a butterfly. The parasite flexed and their grip tightened. Threat’s eyes bulged.
The tendrils of the parasite stretched out beyond the limits of Artie’s body. They curled around behind Threat. Artie couldn’t just feel them, she could almost see them, encasing them in a cage of vines. The parasite’s glee pushed a smile onto her face.
They thrust out more feeder roots – directly into Threat’s chest. He gasped. What little colour his skin had held drained away. The parasite’s vision overlaid Artie’s and they could see the bright magic beneath Threat’s skin swirling into them through their roots.
They heard the clatter of March’s feet as he fled up the stairs. Threat’s magic diminished as it was sucked out of him and into them. Filling them to Artie’s skin. They rejoiced in the feeling and the taste of what they were taking. Then it was all gone. Threat was empty of power. He blinked his eyes slowly; he was still alive.
The flavour changed. It took on a richer, more complex vintage. Threat’s magic was used up – they began to drink his life. It soaked out of him and into Artie and into the parasite, and on into Artie. The sense of it made Artie lick her teeth. The taste of Threat’s life was all his. The sharpness of cruelty, the heavy sweetness of hedonism, the robust strength of ambition.
Every life would taste different.
The thought shocked Artie. It shook her loose from the parasite’s gluttony. Every life. How many was she planning to take? How many would the parasite take through her.
Artie pulled herself back from the feeding. Separated her thoughts from the parasite’s. She watched from a distance as the light began to fade from Threat’s eyes.Every throb of ecstasy from the parasite filled her with disgust.
Artie felt the moment when the last drop of life was consumed. Bile rose in the back of her throat. She dropped the husk that had been Lord Threat to the floor.
Never again. Artie pinched her eyes shut and shook her head. Never again. She’d kill March, but not that way. Not with that thirst and lust for it. To delight in bringing death would make her no better than him.
Footfalls rang out on the stairs. Three of March’s guards, weapons ready, hurried into the cellar. The parasite reached out hungrily towards them.
Come. Touch.
The thoughts nagged at her. Artie took an involuntary step forwards. Her hand lifted towards the leading grey-shirt – a tall faerie woman with two short sword. She slashed at Artie’s hand with a blade. It wasn’t there. The parasite’s near instantaneous reflexes had pulled it back.
Come. Touch.
Artie realised that she had begun to reach again. The parasite needed her to make skin to skin contact to feed on the faeries. Artie hardened her jaw. She wouldn’t let it have that.
The faeries spread out. The leftmost sidestepped, circling to try and get behind her. Artie lashed out with her foot. Her heel snapped past his guard and struck him on the solar plexus. She heard a crunch and the faerie flew backwards. His body struck the earthen wall and crumpled to the ground in a shower of dirt and stones.
A sword sliced through the point where Artie had just been stood, but she was already moving, ducking and twisting. Sliding through the spaces between the guards and their whirling blades, she came up behind the tall woman. Artie grabbed the faerie’s skull, a palm pressed to each cheek. The parasite pounced, thrusting its feeder roots into the woman. Artie wrenched the woman’s head to one side. Her neck snapped and the body went limp.
The parasite snarled in irritation as the life was extinguished before it could draw any into itself. Artie felt the magic and life that had been contained in the faerie guard’s body dissipate into the background.
The last of the grey-clad fae kept a wary distance from Artie his sword point low and intent. One of the female faerie’s short swords lay by Artie’s foot where it had dropped from its owner’s hand. Artie hooked her foot under the  cross guard and kicked upwards. The hilt leaped into her hand. The tip of the faerie’s sword wavered.
Artie raised her blade. A flick of her wrist and it knocked the guard’s sword flying from his hand. She tossed the short sword into a reverse grip and hurled it. The blade buried itself to the hilt in the faerie’s chest.
Maybe fifteen seconds had passed since that first kick. In those seconds Artie had taken three lives. She had done it, not the parasite. A shudder rippled under her skin. In response the parasite squirmed, radiating discontent and disappointment at the waste.
Artie distanced herself quite deliberately from the sensations. She focussed her mind. Eye on the prize, and the prize was March’s head. Once she killed him, she could let it all be over.
Her eyes averted from the corpses that she had made, Artie strode to the stairs and ran up them. The parasite thrust its feelers ahead of her, no doubt seeking its next meal – March. Artie chased after the prehensile feelers out into a long, stone corridor. She recognised it from the night of the party. At one end a curtained archway opened onto the main hall. At the other end the door to March’s bedroom stood ajar. Artie could hear noises from within and see the shadows of movement across the gap.

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