Heartweed: Chapter 34

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 week. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading. 

Chapter 34

Artie ran on silent feet to the door and kicked it open. March jumped at the sound of the door slamming into the wall. He looked up at Artie with horror in his eyes. She felt a flicker of gratification at his fear. Then she leaped, her outstretched hands shaped to lock around his throat. Too late she saw the shifting pattern of magic through the parasite’s senses. As the image of March disintegrated in front of her, a stripe of white hot pain blazed across her back.
Her momentum carried her through the vanished glamour and to the floor. She half-rolled, half-slid across the stones. her injured back slammed into the thick, wooden leg of the bed. A shriek of pain burst from her lips.
She heard the sound of a blade parting the air and pushed herself to the side. March’s sword struck the stone floor beside her face. He raised the blade again. He was close, almost above her. Artie kicked out at March’s shin. She heard a wet crack and he lurched his weight onto the other leg. The descending sword came down into her shoulder instead of her skull. Metal grated on bone.
Ignoring the agony in her shoulder, Artie reared up and grabbed March by the wrist before he could withdraw his sword. The parasite plunged its spectral roots into him. March’s jaw went slack as the parasite began to drink. His fingers loosed around the grip of his sword and it dropped, riving Artie’s shoulder further as it fell from her flesh.
Keeping her grip on March’s wrist, Artie stood. Warm blood gushed down her front. The whole left side of Matthew’s once-white shirt was now red. A throb of pain sent a grey mist across her vision and she thought she would pass out. But that gush of blood had been the last. Artie’s vision cleared as March’s magic flowed into the parasite and the parasite poured it into repairing its host. She was dimly aware of the itchy, chilli-pepper heat of the healing, but more than that she was aware of power. So much power.
If Threat was a gourmet meal, March was a three-day banquet. The old faerie had been full to the brim of magic, but he had been old and the years had diluted him. March was in his prime.
They had already taken so much from him – enough for her to fully heal, enough that she felt stretched by it – and he still had more for them to drink. March stood frozen. His face was ashen and Artie wondered what it must feel like to be drained dry. The pain of the wound and the discomfort of the healing had abated. Now Artie was alone in her body with the torrent of sensations from the parasite. Glee. Gluttony. Ecstasy. She swayed into them. It was so easy to give herself up to it. As she once again joined with the parasite they felt the stream of magic from March swell into a flood.
It fed their bodies. The parasite’s core, nestled deep in place of Artie’s heart, pulled in more and more magic, concentrating as dense as a neutron star. Just a little more, they thought. They were so very close. Soon they would have enough power to break free of this flesh. The ethereal feeder roots, now swollen, teetered on the brink of becoming corporeal.
The parasite’s intention permeated the small pocket of consciousness that was still distinctly Artemisia Jacobs. An image. Her body, so small inside a tangle of vines and branches that pushed out through her skin. The feeder roots, manifest on the physical plane and no longer restricted to taking magic from the air or using her as their conduit, delved down through the earth, seeking to tap the wellspring of all magic.
The horror of this vision split Artie’s thoughts from the parasite’s and gave her the strength to thrust it from her mind. The last few drops of magic dribble from March and the parasite writhed in anticipation of consuming that elixir.
No. Not like this.
Artie remembered the taste of Threat’s life rolling on her tongue. She didn’t want to experience that of March. If she drank him in, he would be part of her. She would be soiled by him.
Not like this, Artie thought. I’ll kill him, but it will be me killing him, not you. She addressed the gnarled knot of wood and magic in her chest. She peeled her hand away from March’s skin. His arm dropped to his side.
March stood a head and shoulders taller than her, but he looked small and fragile to her eyes now. Without the magic, without the power and the arrogance of invincibility, he was just a fleshy bag of bones and blood. Just like Artie had once been.
She stepped close to March and he made no move to stop her, just shook his head slowly from side to side, his eyes clouded in bemusement. His lips moved, making not-quite-words. Artie put her palms flat on his chest and shoved him backwards. His injured leg gave way beneath him and he sprawled on the floor, the unearthly faerie grace entirely gone.
Artie bent down to retrieve March’s sword from the floor. Gleams of reflected candlelight played across the blade, picking out the intricate etchings in the metal. The hilt was a satisfying weight in her hand. She rested the end of the blade against March’s throat. He stared up at her: lips parted, eyes lost.
“No. Not like this,” he whispered, his words echoing Artie’s earlier thought. “This is not how it ends for me. Not here. Not you.”
Artie licked her lips and smiled. She imagined March’s head rolling across the floor and with both hands lifted the sword.
In the depths of her mind she heard the parasite howl in disappointment. It forced its way into her thoughts, bombarding her with images of Alex’s death. All of the moments that it had learned from her it poured back in. Artie quavered, he body wracked with sorrow as she experienced her horror and grief at the instant of Alex’s death again and again.
Artie howled.
She flung the sword away from her and dropped to her knees astride March’s body. She seized March’s face. The parasite pierced him. Together they sucked the life from him, drop by exquisite drop. The parasite’s joy and Artie’s vengeful satisfaction blended and merged and enhanced each other in a neverending feedback loop. There was no disgust this time. Artie stared into March’s eyes as the mist of death crept across them.
The very last drop was the sweetest.

More.
More. Please.
Artie rose slowly to her feet. She felt heavy, sated – but the parasite was still hungry. It’s feeder roots wormed their way towards the corner of the room.
More.
Artie looked. She could see the concentrated swirls of magic that were the signs of a glamour. Her stare penetrated them. Lady March stood against the wall. Her hands rested neatly in front of her, one inside the other. Still and quiet, yet she thrummed with life and magic. Food.

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