This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.
Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
Artie ducked from the tourist-crammed street into the alley. She pulled the broken lock from the iron gate and slipped through it, replacing the lock to keep up appearances. A glance around told her that she was safe from curious eyes. Eyes that would doubt themselves if they saw her disappear through the glamoured door.
Artie clattered down the stairs into the cellar where it had all begun. Her footsteps echoed in the empty stone chamber. Gorth and come back at some point after Matthew and Blue’s attack and removed his mysterious boxes.
He had come back for his merchandise, but he hadn’t responded to any of her emails. And why should he? Their deal was concluded. His interest in her had been only business. But every day when she checked her inbox at the cafe a lump of hope formed in her chest, right above the place where her heart should be.
He had left the camp bed. Artie crossed the room to sit on the edge of it. She had turned the mattress over before sleeping on it. The side that was brown and stiff with her blood faced the floor. Artie tossed a handful of change – the last of her cash – on the floor next to the empty brown bottle.
Out of magic potion. Out of defenses. Out of time.
She fished a heavy, green plastic bottle from a carrier bag and stared at it. The dry-dust voice of Lord Threat echoed through her head.
Cutting the parasite from her chest and burning it or administering certain poisons. These are the only sure ways to destroy one.
Weedkiller would probably do the trick. At that thought the parasite squirmed; Artie slapped it down reflexively. Slowly she unscrewed the safety cap from teh bottle. Her eyes lingering on the dark branching shapes growing under the bare skin of her arms and hands.
The harsh smell of the chemical made her stomach clench. The parasite squealed, but the sound was distant and tinny – coming in over a bad connection. She raised the bottle to her lips. One quick motion would send the murderous liquid burning its way to her stomach.
Her hand began to shake. Tears of frustration formed in the corners of her eyes. She could do this. She had to. She woke screaming from dreams of what it had been like when the parasite had completely taken her over. She wouldn’t go back to that again.
Artie closed her eyes. “Three… Two… One… Go.”
She couldn’t make her hand move. Artie howled in anger. Part of her wanted to blame her inability to drink the poison on the parasite’s influence. The rest of her knew the truth: she was a coward.
She just didn’t want to die.
Artie rocked backwards and forwards, her eyes fixed on the wall opposite, trying to work up the mental momentum to go through with it. Something moved on the wall. She blinked, frowning. Her rocking stopped.
“I can see you, you arsehole.”
Artie flung the bottle at the wall. It turned end over end, painting viscous streaks of green over the stone floor, before striking the wall next to Blue’s head. He didn’t flinch.
“How long have you been there?”
Blue stepped out of his glamour of invisibility. “I have been popping in and out over the past couple of weeks – to keep an eye on you.”
Artie made a face. “That’s creepy.”
“I thought you might see me and speak to me.”
“I don’t see magic stuff very well any more.” Artie shook her head. “It helps keep the parasite down if I don’t use any of its abilities. So no visuals unless I concentrate.”
“And no strength unless you need to break a lock. And no speed unless you need to steal something.”Artie could swear she saw a smile on the tall faerie’s face, if only for a moment. “Also even if you had seen me you would not have asked for help, because you are stubborn to the point of idiocy.”
Artie gaped. His words roused so much anger in her that it choked her, preventing her from retorting.
“You knew we had more of this.” Blue’s voice took a softer tone. He crouched in front of her and picked up the empty brown bottle. “In fact, Birtta has been working on an improved formula. Why did you not come to us for help?”
His peculiar face was close to hers. his eyes were deep wells, but, unlike before, the water at the bottom seemed warm. Artie found herself unable to meet those eyes. She shrugged.
“Come back with me now.”
“So you can look after me? Make it all OK? Isn’t it Matthew’s job to make that offer?”
Blue’s face broke into a real smile. “Maybe Matthew is tired of you throwing him across the room every time he tries to talk to you. But he will be there. He has agreed to work with Birtta and me towards our mutual goal.”
“What’s that?” Artie chuffed. “Faerie crime-fighting?”
“Yes. I would like you to join us.”
Artie’s head snapped up; Blue’s face was utterly serious.
“Are you not, in the parlance of your culture, a superhero?”
“Me?” Artie’s laugh was strong and bitter. “I’m… I’m terrified. I’m broken. I’m going insane or dying or both.”
Blue stood. “As I said, Birtta has an improved drug to keep the heartweed subdued. She is eager to work on a cure for you. Until that comes we can keep you stable”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then I will do for you what you are afraid to do for yourself.” Blue stretched out his hand. “Or are you too in love with the idea of being a martyr to your brother? It is easier than living with your choices.”
Artie glared up at Blue with slitted eyes. He looked calmly back.
“Are you at the end of your story or the beginning?”
Artie reached up and gripped the offered hand. She pulled herself upright and squared her jaw at Blue.
“OK. Count me in.”