Heartweed: Chapter 27

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 27

An unfamiliar face leaned over her. A man – definitely human, with light brown hair and a square jaw – held her down onto a hard surface by the upper arms. A woman was leaning in to inject something into Artie’s arm. It burnt like acid in her veins. Artie clamped her teeth together.
The long red hair brushed back from the woman’s face as she straightened. A faerie. Artie thrashed; the man’s hands came loose. She leapt up and ran for the door. He grabbed at her and she turned and pushed him. She pushed at him; something uncoiled within her arm muscles like a whip snap. He flew across the room and crashed into the table Artie had been laid on.
Amazement brought Artie to a halt. She had thrown that guy across the room. The pure mechanical power she had felt channeling through her… She guessed she’d got her money’s worth.
A second man, the suited one who had followed her from the bar to the cellar, stepped towards her. He blocked the way to the door.
Artie’s eyes raked the room, searching for another way out. The room she was in, bare but for the table that she had been laid on, seemed like a room in any normal house. Behind her double-width, glass patio doors lead through into a conservatory choked with greenery, they stood half open but the faerie woman was blocking that exit. The door behind the suited guy lead into an equally bare room. A bay window at the end of that room gave Artie a view onto a quiet street. There would be a front door somewhere there too. That was her way out.
She looked up into the cold, near-black eyes of the man in the suit. She would just have to go through him. Artie tensed all of her muscles and felt the peculiar, wiry additions that stretched through her coiling as tight as an overwound spring.
Artie began to leap. Weakness washed over her. A slithering slackness stupefied her limbs. Then the pain started. A fire in her chest that sent pulses of agony through her. Her knees buckled.
“I think you overdid it,” the man behind her said.
“Trial and error.” The faerie woman’s voice was cool.
Artie, on her knees, swayed forwards. She had no strength to raise her arms and was sure she would have landed on her face on the floor if the suited man had not caught her by the shoulder.
He crouched lithely beside her and lifted her in his arms like she weighed nothing at all. He laid her back on the bare table in the middle of the room. Artie’s limbs felt like sacks full of damp flour. She struggled to roll her head to the side to watch the strange trio.
“Where am I? Who are you? And what did you do to me?” He voice quivered at the last sentence and Artie clamped her jaw shut on it.
The square-faced man came to her side. He picked up her hand from teh table and held it. Artie felt a wave of irritation and wanted to shake it off.
“I’m Matthew.” He smiled, a soothing smile that didn’t touch his worried eyes. “And you’re in a house in York. Blue’s house.” He nodded his head towards the other man, now leaning against the wall. “We are trying to save your life.”
As Artie stared at him she could see the swirling overlays creeping back into her vision. She fought to relax into the vision and concentrate on it at the same time. The swirls flowed towards the tall, suited man against the wall. They crawled all over his short black hair, so dark a black as to appear almost blue, and over the fine, strongly defined lines of his face. Artie concentrated harder on the wriggling shapes and with a thought seemed to brush them away. The reality beneath the glamour caused her to scramble back along the table’s surface.
The alien eyes, the knife-sharp cheekbones and jawline, and hair the deep blue of a peacock’s chest hanging straight down to his waist. Gentry.
“You’re the faerie from March’s party.” Artie spat. “You work for him.”
She kept her eyes on him as she pushed herself towards the edge of the table. The Gentry man – Blue, Matthew had called him – neither moved nor spoke. She could see the sword now, still sheathed at his hip. Time to try the other escape route, through the back.
Artie started to push herself off the edge of the table, to stand, but a dizzy wave of vertigo washed through her. She squeezed her eyes closed against it and gripped the hard lip of the table. She felt firm hands on her upper arms and heard the voice of the man, Matthew, trying for soothing tones:
“It’s OK. He doesn’t work for March… I’m certain.”
Artie grunted.
“Fascinating.” The faerie woman’s cool, clear voice pierced into Artie like a lancet. “She can already see through glamours. What else can you do?”
Artie opened her eyes. The red-haired woman was staring at her, her eyes sharp with interest. Artie met them with a glare.
“I can see that you’re a faerie. A dryad, like Gorth.”
“Correct, but not difficult as I am not glamoured.” She lifted a soft, white hand towards Matthew. “And him?”
Artie turned towards Matthew. He stepped back and spread his arms wide as if to show off a new shirt.
“Human. No…” Something tickled at the edge of Artie’s vision, not an overlaid image, but a flicker of something watching from the man’s shadow. She squinted. A flash of amber eyes, graphite fur. “Wolf. Werewolf?”
Matthew grinned. “Nearly. Shaman and shapeshifter. Though wolf is my preferred form.”
The dryad spoke across the two of them to Blue.
“Her condition is much more advanced than I would have expected. Especially in a human and in the human realm. Probably as a result of the direct implantation.”
She eyed Artie again with an interest that was almost hungry. Something inside Artie snapped.
“Just you shut up. I’m not your bloody science experiment.”
“No.” Blue’s voice was like liquid metal. “You are a reckless fool who has placed herself and possibly many others in considerable danger.” He met her angry gaze with hard eyes. “For what? What did Gorth promise you? Magic? Power? Beauty? Immortality?”
Artie stared into his face, unreadable and immobile. She tried to look past the Gentry features, but all she could see was a creature like the one who killed her brother.
“Vengeance,” she whispered.
A shadow crossed Blue’s face and his well-water eyes filled with anguish; Artie realised, with surprise, he looked nothing like March. “It is never worth it.” The words carried a hollow echo.
Then the shadow dissipated and his tone became brisk. “The violinist?”
Artie nodded. “My brother. March killed him.”
Matthew put his hand on her arm again. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” Artie blinked. She took a deep breath and shook her shoulders. “So tell me who you are and what the hell is going on.”
She looked up at Blue. “You say you don’t work for March. And you’re obviously not friends of Gorth or you wouldn’t have attacked him. So who do you work for and what do you want with me?”
“I work for the Queen of Faerie,” Blue said. A disbelieving laugh rushed to Artie’s throat, but Blue’s serious face quelled it. She remembered that Gorth had also mentioned a queen. Blue continued, gesturing at the red-haired dryad. “Birtta is here in a consulting capacity. Matthew–”
“I don’t work for anyone. I’m human, independent and on your side here.” He fixed her with his sincere eyes. She recognised the almost parental worry in them. “I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.”
“Too late.” Blue’s words were chill.
Matthew flared. “If you hadn’t got in my way–”
“The blame is shared.” Blue raised his hands, palms out, and stepped closer. He turned to Artie. “Our respective investigations into Gorth’s activities clashed in the alley on Tuesday night. By the time we formed an understanding it was too late to save you.”
Artie stared back and forth between the two men. Irritation pinched her face. “I don’t need saving.”
Matthew gave her a look that begged to differ; her irritation turned to fury.
“I don’t. I volunteered for this. March killed my brother. He’s going to kill my parents and my friends. This way I can kill him first. Make them safe.”
“By letting someone you barely know perform amateur heart surgery on you?” Matthew said.
Artie shrugged and Matthew threw up his hands. He turned away from her, trying and failing to hide his loss of temper from her.
“Gorth lied to you.” Blue said softly.
“What?” Artie turned to him. “About what?”
“About what the parasite would do to you.”
“No.” Artie gave a single shake of her head. “He said it would make me strong, strong enough to kill March. And it did. I threw him across the room.” She lifted her chin in challenge at the Gentry fae. “You made me weak when you injected me. I think you’re the one who’s lying.”
The words hung in the room like smoke. Artie and Blue stared at each other. Or at least she glared at him and he met her glare with a dispassionate regard.
Birtta broke the silence.
“You are strong. And fast. And magical. But you would have never been able to use these skills against Lord March. What Gorth neglected to tell you is that if Blue,” she paused, “and Matthew, had not got to you in time, the parasite would have taken over your mind and body completely, and driven you insane.”

Heartweed: Chapter 26

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 26

The dream began in darkness. Artie floated in a soundless void. Her skin prickled, then a flood of sensations poured over her: hot, sharp, silken, electric, rough, soothing, cold. She stretched her fingertips wide, she stretched more, stretched further, stretched beyond her fingertips.
She was more than she had been. Long tendrils of her lashed out into the darkness, seeking something. Artie concentrated and drew those tendrils in; she curled and uncurled them like a fist.
She became aware of a low growling noise that grew higher and louder until she wanted to throw her hands over her ears and scream for it to stop. The sound dropped away back to the low sound like the slow grate of stone over stone, like the sound of the world moving and shifting around her.
The darkness split open into a light so bright that she tried to snap her eyes closed. In this dream she had no eyelids. The light modulated through the spectrum and from bright to dim and back again.
Calibrating.
The light fixed at normal levels and Artie saw Gorth in front of her. He had a drink in his hand. She was back in the cocktail bar. Artie looked around – it was as crammed and lively as it had been earlier, but silent. The only noise was the persistent scraping.
Gorth’s mouth moved as he leaned in to speak to her; no sound came out. Artie watched his lips; he was asking her if she wanted a drink. She looked around. Gorth continued to turn to the bartender as if she had answered him. This had all happened before. A memory. But why was she reliving this memory? And without the surround sound?
Flickers of a deep non-colour writhed over the scene in front of her. Like the floaty things she sometimes saw in her eyes – but millions of them, and they were aware, moving with purpose.
The swarming fragments outlined Gorth’s cheeks and eyes. Something snapped into focus and she could see, overlaid on his human face, the subtly different faerie face that he had worn when they met. She could see through his glamour. And the flickering shreds that swarmed around him – that was magic. She could see magic.
The supermodel-thin woman sauntered into the memory. Artie watched, fascinated, as the reality emerged from beneath the glamour. She wouldn’t have thought it possible but the woman was even thinner. Her arms had two elbows each and the curling mouth spread from ear to ear, but the eyes were the same.
The dream pulled her out of this memory and sent her spinning through the scenes of her life in no sensible order. Each memory crawled with magic, some thicker than others. Artie delved into those magic saturated memories. There was so much she hadn’t seen. For her whole life. There was so much that no one saw. She submerged herself into the memory of March’s faerie ball; she almost swooned. So much here. Such rich food. Magic so thick that she could swim through it.
Artie felt a lurch in her chest, like there was something in there tearing to get out, reaching out to bask, to feed. It pushed outwards through her skin. The long tendrils she had noticed earlier strained out of her command. They reached deep into this well of power.
Blackness. Silence. Everything vanished. There was only the feeling of the power flowing in. Into the hard cold thing in her chest, which swelled and pulsed. A rough, sour taste rose in Artie’s mouth: grainy and rich, like soil. It choked her.
Voices emerged through the blanket of silence. She felt the pressure of hands on her arms.
Artie snapped awake.

Heartweed: Chapter 25

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 25

Artie lay in the low camp bed, drifting. The vaulted stone ceiling of the cellar Gorth had brought her to spun in and out of focus. She was coming apart. Whatever Gorth had injected her with was causing her to decohere. Her mind was spreading out through the room like a mist.
Artie struggled to concentrate, to hold herself in one piece. So difficult. If she let go, would she just keep on dissipating, through the walls, through the streets of York. Stretching further and becoming more thinly spread.
She saw a bright flash in the dim light of the cellar. A knife – the blade so often sharpened that it curved inwards. Gorth brough the knife down to her chest. He moved the blade through her skin – quick and deep. She howled, except that she didn’t, couldn’t. Her body was frozen. Her dispersed consciousness howled and screamed and battered itself against the walls.
She felt her dry lips peel away from each other and fall apart. Gorth had said that the pain would be excruciating. It was. Her heart raced. Every breath in brought sharp pain. Every breath out gurgled wet and brought the taste of blood onto her tongue.
He was killing her.
Gorth was killing her.
She stared up at him. His face looked carved from pale wood and a smear of blood crossed his jawline. His eyes were intent. He glanced up; saw her  looking.
“Almost over,” he said.
The sound of footsteps clattered on the stairs. Gorth turned to the doorway. The black-eyed man Gorth had sent out to keep watch lurched into the room.
“We’ve got company.”
Gorth’s face contorted into an angry snarl. “Stall them.” He turned back to Artie. How had she thought that face kind and handsome? It was cold – all business. The black-eyed man darted back through the door way.
He reached into her and the pain wracked her again. Her heart sped to the frequency of a hummingbird’s wings. Then the feeling was gone. So was the pain. A rough, ice-cold sensation hunkered at the centre of her. Her consciousness drained from the room back into the receptacle of her body.
Gorth loomed above her. His arms were drenched to the elbows in blood. In his hands a hunk of flesh trembled and fluttered. Her heart. The fluttering turned into a thump; spurts of blood squeezed out. It thumped again. The heart was still beating.
The black-eyed man fell heavily backwards through the door. A large dog sprang through after him and landed on the man’s chest; its muzzle peeled back from sharp teeth. The dog, or was it a wolf,  snapped at the man’s flailing arms. Gorth stood up, his face twisted in annoyance.
Artie was fading or the world was fading around her. She raised her head and blinked rapidly, trying to stay conscious. A man came through the door; he leapt nimbly over the struggling flesh and fur. It was the disapproving businessman from the bar, carrying a long, thin sword. He glanced between her and Gorth, his eyes widening as he saw her looking back at him.
He turned his attention back to Gorth and the sword point with it. The suited man stepped forwards. Dark shapes rushed from all over the room towards Gorth and enveloped him. He vanished away like March and Alex had. This time Artie could see the ripples in reality that he left behind. Not radiating, but awkward and fractal. Tantalising. She wanted to reach out with her hand – not her hand – and tear them wider.
A different kind of darkness rushed towards Artie. The last thing she saw was the suited man stepping towards her, then the world flickered out like a blown candle.

Heartweed: Chapter 24

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 24

The rain had started. It was the dismal kind that didn’t really fall, just hung in the air and crept down the back of Artie’s neck. Gorth turned his collar up and strolled away up the cobbled street. Artie followed, almost having to trot to keep up with his long-legged gait.
“What do you want, Artie?”
Gorth’s voice was soft and Artie wasn’t sure that she had heard him right.
“I told you: vengeance.” The needle-sharp fury stirred within Artie; she saw March’s gleeful face rise behind her eyelids.
Gorth nodded. “Vengeance.” He drew her into the shelter of a shop doorway. “You’re sure?”
The fury pushed out a stab of anger towards Gorth. “You said you could make me strong enough to kill March. Were you lying?”
Gorth frowned. “No. I wasn’t.”
“Then let’s do this. You said it would cost me. How much?”
Artie reached into her pocket and pulled out the wedge of notes. Gorth waved it away.
“Let’s talk price later. Once I’ve told you what you’ll be letting yourself in for.” He looked down at Artie, his face a careful blank. “I’ve recently come into possession of an object that can confer upon someone almost unlimited speed, strength and magical power.”
Artie chewed her lips. “What’s the catch?”
“It will transform you into something that isn’t human. And you will never be human again.” He paused. “And it will likely kill you.”
Artie shivered at the chill in his voice and the words it spoke. “How likely?”
“Only a handful have survived for more than a year after the procedure.”
“But even if it does kill me – I could have a year to get to March.”
“You could.”
Artie thought of her mum and dad, of Sam and James and ROb. March had threatened them all. They had been drawn into danger just because they knew her. She thought of Alex – laughing carefree Alex – and March’s face as he snuffed out her brother’s life. Her own life was a price worth paying. What else was she going to do with it?
“That’s fine,” she said.
“OK then.” Gorth straightened and pushed himslef out into the street.
“So how much will this cost?” Artie nervously fingered the money in her pocket. “You said rare and valuable.”
“It is.” He smiled back at her. The smile had something in it that made Artie blink, then it was gone. “More than money can buy.”
“What does that mean?”
“That I want something as rare and valuable in exchange.”
“What?”
“Are you a virgin?” Gorth tossed the words over his shoulder.  Artie stopped dead in the middle of the street.
“What?”
Gorth turned. “Have you had sex?”
Artie thought of Saturday night’s awkward grappling with Rob; she flushed. “No. I haven’t what business is it of yours?”
“It is relevant to our discussions.”
Artie felt her upper lip curl. “So the price is my virginity?”
“No – the price is your heart. A virgin’s heart.”
“Is that metaphorical?” Artie shivered. “Like I have to fall in love with you or something?”
Gorth stepped close to her. The smile was gone and his face was unreadable and as inhuman as if he had been wearing his faerie features. “Actually it is extremely literal. To affect the transformation I have to implant the object, the seed, within your chest.”
Artie stomach churned at the image, and the implications. Gorth continued. “Something goes in; something else must come out – your heart.”
Her voice was hoarse. “Wouldn’t that kill me straight away?”
“The seed’s magic would keep you alive.”
“The seed?”
“The object is a seed for a parasitic plant. You share your body with it, it shares its power with you.”
Artie took a faltering step backwards. She raised her hands as if to ward Gorth off. “This has just taken a turn for the way too surreal and terrifying. You want to take out my heart and replace it with a plant and I’ll still be alive?”
“And powerful and strong and fast.”
“And dying?”
“And dying.”
Artie laughed. A loud, jagged sound that tore at the inside of her throat. Gorth regarded her with an unblinking stare.
Artie closed her eyes. The image of Alex stepping into the road rose in her mind. Like it did again and again and always. He stepped into the road. She saw the flash of a car coming towards him. She screamed. Then it was all a blur. Except that this time it wasn’t a blur. She saw clearly. Each instant played out in excruciating slowness. The glaze fell from Alex’s eyes. Realisation, and fear, flooded into them instead. He saw her, opened his mouth to say her name. Then the impact – his body flying through the air.
She choked on a breath. It stuck in the middle of her chest. A sharp thing sticking into her heart. Opening her eyes she met Gorth’s stare. His soft eyes, pinched around the edges.
“My heart,” Artie said. A broken thing.
“That is the price. Are you sure that you can pay it?”
Artie nodded once, her bitten lips pressed together.
 

Heartweed: Chapter 23

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 23

Artie stepped off the 416 bus in York. The evening was grim; the threat of rain hung in the air. She pulled her jacket tighter around her and hunched her shoulders. Almost eight o’clock. She was supposed to meet Gorth at nine.
The past two days at college had been a special kind of hell. By the time she had turned up on Monday morning everyone had heard the story. How she’d freaked out on Rob and tried to stab him, then run into the garden to slit her wrists. Or so everyone was saying.
In the morning she had ignored it. In the afternoon she had walked around with her sleeves rolled up so they wouldn’t have to strain themselves to see. On Tuesday she had been tempted not to even turn up.
She’d kept her head down and stuck close to Sam and James – which hadn’t been difficult, they’d obviously made a pact between them to keep an eye on her. Artie was only a little irritated by this. Them keeping an eye on her had made it easier for her to keep an eye on them. Since March had made his threats she had been seeing him out of the corners of her eyes everywhere. Watching her with her parents. Spying on her eating lunch with Sam and James. Lounging against the wall of the corridor where she bumped into Rob – an excruciatingly awkward moment that ended with them avoiding each other’s eyes and hustling in opposite directions.
Toying with her is what he was doing. And part of her was glad for it. The longer he spun this out, the more time she had to do something about it. Even so, waiting for him to make his next move was wearing at her. Her stomach was in constant knots, wrung out like a dishtowel. But it would be over soon she hoped.
Her phone vibrated furiously. ‘Home’ flashed on the screen. Artie pushed the call to her voicemail. Five seconds later it rang again; she let it ring out this time. Two texts came in quick succession: one told her she had a voicemail, the other was from her mum.
“Where are you? Said you were going to Sam’s. We called. Not there. Phone us please.”
Artie switched the phone off.
She could have arranged an alibi with Sam, but she figured that with the way things were at the moment Sam would have just turned around and grassed Artie up to her parents. Everyone wanted to look after her. Like she couldn’t take care of herself. Like she wasn’t taking care of all of them. She bit her lip. Maybe they were right. It wasn’t like she had done a very good job of taking care of Alex.
Her phone banged against her leg as she walked – a guilty weight in her pocket. She paused and switched it back on. Another text announced another voicemail. Artie tapped out a quick text to her mum.
“Sorry. Got to sort something out. Don’t know hwen I’ll be back.”
She paused, the added:
“Love you.”
She sent the text and switched the phone back off before they had a chance to respond.
When would she be back? Gorth had said that he could make her powerful. By magic. Was he offering her a power that had to be worked for, training with some faerie sensei for months or years? Or would he make her strong enough to kill March tonight, as easily and offhandedly as he had killed Alex? Could she turn up back at home tomorrow and tell her parents – what? That she had killed the creature that they had never believed to have killed their son?
Either way Gorth had said that she would be changed forever. She couldn’t imagine what that would mean. Forever powerful – not bad. But you never get something for nothing. There was going to be a catch. Gorth had said that there would be a price, but not what that price would be. She didn’t think he was talking about the kind of price with a pound sign in front of it, or at least not only that.
She stopped at the cashpoint on the corner and withdrew the maximum: £300. She added the wedge of notes to the same amount that she had withdrawn yesterday. Six months of scanning shopping at the supermarket and hoarding her pocket money. Saving for a better computer. She hoped it would be enough. What was the going rate for magical powers?
Her heavy boots clattered on the stone streets as she crossed the city centre, heading for the bar where she was to meet Gorth. She hadn’t given it much thought until now, but a bar was a rubbish place to meet. With the height and build of a 12-year-old she’d never get past a bouncer. She hoped they checked ID at the bar and not on the door.
The streets were quiet. The cold and clammy kept everyone inside. Artie turned onto the narrow cobbled street where the bar was. The entrance to the bar was garishly lit with multicoloured fluorescent tubes. Artie slipped through the unguarded doorway into the crowded and noisy bar.
The crowd was made up mostly of uni students. There was no sign of Gorth, but she was over half an hour early. Artie shoved her way down the long room, using a well-judge elbow every now and then. The crush of people reminded her of March’s party. A bitter chill went through her despite the sticky heat of packed bodies; she looked around to reassure herself of the humanity.
The blue-haired gentry? Artie jolted to a stop and stared around again. She had thought she’d caught a glimpse of him standing in the shadows by the wall, but there was only a lone man in a suit there. As she stared up at him he met her eyes; disapproval smeared over his face. Like he never drank underage. Artie scowled back and turned away.
Ahead of her she saw Gorth leaning against the bar. He looked both exactly the same and different. His features were smoothed and dulled. A glamour to make him look human. He caught her eye and beckoned.
Artie slid through the crowd to his side. Gorth leaned down to her ear and shouted: “What will you have?”
“Orange juice.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Nothing stronger? Sure I can’t tempt you to a cocktail?”
Artie shook her head. “They won’t serve me alcohol, trust me.”
Gorth shrugged and turned to capture the bartender’s attention. Artie shifted her feet. What she had said was partly the truth. If she tried to get served alcohol she’d run a strong risk of getting ID’d and maybe asked to leave. But a bigger slice of truth was that getting drunk around handsome, confident guys wasn’t working out so well for her this month.
And he was handsome. She hadn’t noticed it before – too shocked at finding herself in a place that couldn’t exist, too worried for Alex – but Gorth was very good-looking. Even more with his features morphed into the more human shapes that she was used to.
He  turned and handed her a glass a smile crinkling around the corners of his soft brown eyes.
“So what’s the deal?” Artie asked.
Gorth shook his head. “Not here. Too noisy. I’m just waiting for another valued client. Then we can go somewhere to talk. OK?”
“OK.”
Gorth leaned back against the bar, his eyes sweeping the crowd. Artie sipped her orange juice.
A woman sliced through the crowd towards them. Artie gaped – she could have been a supermodel. Tall and slender – the woman defined the word statuesque. Her black hair was woven in elaborate ropes and her orange dress looked sprayed on. Artie felt every heterosexual male’s eye swivel to follow her across the room. The disapproving businessman was appraising the woman in minute detail.
The supermodel stopped beside Gorth and Artie, she towered over both of them. Artie felt a twinge of guilty hatred for this beautiful woman. She felt like a lump of wood in comparison. The woman pulled a folded piece of paper out of the top of her dress. She rolled her wrist over towards Gorth and he plucked the paper from between her fingertips. He read it. Nodded.
“Tomorrow?”
The woman nodded. Gorth pulled a roll of twenty pound notes from his pocket and unwrapped ten from the roll. He handed them to the woman and they vanished into the top of the dress. Artie sneaked a look around the bar. Nobody appeared to notice the dodgy-looking deal happening right under their noses. Even the horny gazes had been deflected. Were the three of them inside a glamour?
The woman’s eyes slid towards Artie. Artie blinked in surprise. The woman’s eyes were a luminous amber with thin horizontal leaf-shaped pupils. Artie realised that she was staring and shut her mouth.
“Um. Nice contacts.”
A lazy smile stretched across the woman’s face and she sashayed away. Artie turned to Gorth, he was grinning.
“Not contacts?”
Gorth shook his head. “Nope.” He drained his drink and jerked his head towards the door.
“Let’s talk.”
Artie put down her half-finished drink on the bar and followed him.

Heartweed: Chapter 22

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 22

Sam found her there a few minutes or an eternity later. She peeled Artie’s hand a finger at a time from around the knife handle and passed it to James. She muttered to him to call Artie’s parents. He slipped back into the house, past the clutch of curious in the doorway.
Sam was murmuring soothing words and stroking Artie’s upper arms, trying to catch Artie’s eye. Artie sat, aware of it all, but at the same time outside of herself. Her rage and terror had been spent, leaving her numb from the outside in.
I will see you again. Soon. March would come back. Who would he take from her next time? Her mum? Her dad? Sam? Rob? James? And all in the name of a game. Just for fun.
Artie felt the anger inside begin to kindle again. She remembered the glee in March’s eyes as Alex stepped under the speeding car. He had liked Alex, or at least found him useful. His wife’s favourite. But that hadn’t held him back from an act of deliberate cruelty.
James came back out in to the garden. He crouched down beside Sam.
“Her parents are on the way,” he murmured. “Let’s get her inside.”
Artie let them guide her to her feet and marshal her past the muttering group at the door. Chloe’s face stood out among the others – eager and greedy for scandal. Her eyes roved over Artie’s arms. It would have made a better story if she’d come out here to slit her wrists. Thought she doubted that lack of evidence would stop Chloe spreading the most outrageous version of events.
Sam stored her in the dining room, away from the party, until her dad arrived. There were murmured words at the door and concerned glances. Then she was helped to the car. Her dad drove her home in silence.

Artie closed her bedroom door. It cut down, but didn’t cut out the sound of her parent’s voices. She knew they were talking about her. Everyone was worried. Everyone was speaking in low voices around her.
Artie stripped for bed. She was surprised to find herself without a bra. It was probably still on the floor of Sam’s bedroom. Her mind flashed over what had happened with Rob, but she couldn’t really bring herself to care.
The alcohol-induced numbness had washed out of her, leaving a core of brittle and bright fury. For the first time since Alex’s death she felt clear and unconfused. The fury was clearer than grief, purer than plain anger, and it burned towards a since purpose: March’s death.
She sat with her laptop. Gorth had replied to her email.

I think I can give you something for vengeance.

A magic that will make you powerful enough to travel between the worlds and kill March yourself. There’s a price though. It will change you and there will be no going back.

Artie hammered her response in:

Whatever it takes.

Heartweed: Chapter 21

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 21

Artie was empty. In fact, she felt like she had gone past empty into whatever lay beyond. She’d thrown up until there was nothing left inside her except for the taste – sharp, slick and impossible to get rid of, no matter how much she spat.
Rob had rattled the door a couple of times. She’d told him to go away. Now Sam was there, giving off clouds off worry that permeated the door. Artie leaned her cheek against the chill tile surrounding the bath.
“I’m fine,” she said again. She wasn’t fine. Nowhere near. She wasn’t even on the same planet as fine.
Artie heard Sam move away from the door, murmuring to someone else. She drew herself to her feet and opened the frosted glass window. The cold air was like a slap in the face.
March smiled up at her from the garden. He beckoned, his long, white fingers coiling and uncoiling, and turned to disappear back into the shadows of the garden.
Artie’s own fingers released the window edge. They were numb and stiff; she hadn’t realised that she had been gripping that hard. She fumbled to fasten the rest of the buttons of her shirt. The landing was empty. Artie hurried downstairs. She could hear the sound of laughter and voices in the lounge, where the remainder of the party sounded like it had ended up.
The kitchen was almost empty. Chloe and her friend were leaning against the counter, their conversation had turned into alcohol-laced proclamations. Artie ignored them and they ignored her as she rooted through a drawer.
She stepped out into the still night. March wasn’t there. Artie strained her eyes into the shadows, waiting for them to adapt, and took a cautious step deeper into the garden.
“Cold iron.”
The liquid hiss came from behind her; Artie spun towards the voice, raising the serrated steak knife. She pointed it towards March’s heart. The faerie lolled against the sagging fence. Like spider-silk, his hair stirred in air currents that Artie couldn’t even feel. His loose clothes merged with the darkness. He gestured at the knife.
“A sensible, but useless, precaution.” His eyes bored into Artie’s. They were bottomless; they pulled her in and down. Artie came back to herself with a heart-stopping jerk, like waking from a falling dream, to find the knife reversed in her hand – the tip over her own heart.
“Do you see what I mean?” March said.
Artie blinked and focussed her eyes on a point beyond March’s right shoulder. She turned the knife away from herself and dropped the hand gripping it to waist height, holding it there stiffly, not trusting it.
“Murderer.” The acid in the word burned Artie’s tongue. “I’m going to kill you.”
She didn’t see him move, but he was in front of her, so close that the floating strands of his hair stroked her face. He gripped her wrist and leaned even closer. His breath was hot on Artie’s face as he whispered: “Are you sure of that?”
Artie started to twist away. March pushed his thumb deep into the tendons on the inside of her wrist; the pain froze her. March laughed and flung her arm away with such force that she staggered back, struggling to keep her feet.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” Artie almost sobbed.
A rictus smile. “Why, to ruin your fun – the way that you ruined mine.” The smile transformed into a snarl. “I don’t forgive such impertinences.”
“So you killed Alex, what?” Her voice felt hollow, “To spite me? To hurt… me?”
March’s shoulders rose and fell like a sea swell. “You do not seem to be very hurt over your brother’s death. Already throwing yourself into that handsome youth.” His lips curled. “I wonder if my wife would like him as a replacement for Alex. She was quite addicted to your brother. No other tidbits I have brought for her cut through her vapid melancholy quite the way he did.”
Artie screamed and lunged, the knife in her fist. March sidestepped deftly and she tripped on the edge of the flowerbed. Her shoulder slammed into the fence. She sprawled face down at his feet in the dirt.
“You know what I think?” Artie glared up at him and spat earth from her mouth. “I think you just killed Alex because he was better at giving it to your wife than you are.” She tensed for the kick or the blow, but neither came. March went still.
“Perhaps.” He crouched down. “But your brother is dead and no longer interesting. You are interesting.” He reached a hand to touch her face. Artie slashed at him with the knife – and missed, again.
“So are you going to kill me now?”
“No,” March stood. “I am going to tear you apart. Those you love – the blonde girl, the tall boy, your lover, your mother, your father – I will kill them, and anyone else you allow into your heart, instead. One at a time. I might even take years to do it, but be assured I will take them all from you in the most painful ways possible.”
He straightened the cuffs of his shirt,
“This has been most amusing. I will see you again. Soon.”
The shadows roils around him and he vanished. Artie stared through the space he had left for a long moment, then put her face back down into the soft soil. Tears streamed from her eyes.

Heartweed: Chapter 20

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.

Warning – this chapter contains mild sexual content.

Chapter 20

Sam’s room, with its single bed, was the only empty one. Artie strode in. She snapped on the desk lamp. She turned to see Rob lingering in the doorway, his posture a mixture of eager and reluctant.
“Are you sure about this?”
She nodded and held out her left hand towards him. Her right brought the bottle of blue to her lips. As a magic potion the alcohol was failing her. It dulled everything but the grief and had brought the things she wanted to forget into sharper focus, which the real world blurred away.
“I mean, you’ve had a lot to drink.” Rob hadn’t left the doorway. Artie laughed and put the empty down on Sam’s desk.
“So have you.”
Rob shrugged. “I just don’t want you to do anything you’ll despise me for tomorrow.”
He wasn’t going to start this. And she didn’t really know how to. Artie felt a wave of irritation followed by one of embarrassment. Maybe he didn’t want her. Maybe he was just watching out for her, on Sam’s or James’s orders.
Then he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Artie let out the breath she had been holding. She reached behind him and twisted the lock closed, pressing her body against his. He did want her. She could feel his erection digging into her stomach through the layers of their clothing. It seemed disconcertingly large and thick. Artie felt a flutter of panic in the pit of her stomach. Was that normal? Was that good? Would it hurt?
With the door closed Artie felt like she was in an oven. Her skin felt hot, like her blood was simmering beneath its surface. Their alcohol-fumed breath created a close cocoon of hot, sticky air around them. Artie swayed against Rob; he put firm arms around her to steady her and the flutter of panic in her stomach sweetened into anticipation. She put her hand on his face nad pulled his mouth down to hers.
Artie had kissed boys before. A boy. On holiday. She had been drunk then, but then again she was drunk now. The kiss felt clumsy and she felt like she was just pretending to know what to do. Maybe Rob would call the whole thing off. But he didn’t seem to mind. His reluctance had vanished and he was working hard to push as much of their bodies together as he could. He pushed his lips and tongue into hers. His hands slipped between her shirt and jeans and ran up he bare back.
Artie didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her own hands. Right now they were tangled in his hair, closed to his neck. She tightened them, pulling at his hair, and Rob grunted into her lips. His hands clamped on her hips. She gasped with surprise as lifted her up. Their kiss broke. Without thinking about it she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Rob carried her to the window and sat her on the edge of the high sill. She put her hands down to steady herself. His face was millimetres from hers, his breath heavy and rapid, his trousers straining. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a foil square – a condom.
“You sure you want to?”
Artie swallowed and wetted her lips. She looked up into his eyes. He had such nice eyes, like syrup. Eyes she could drown in, could drown her sorrows in. She nodded. Something still held him back. She reached for the waistband of his trousers. The skin beneath it was so hot it scorched her. She snapped the top button open and this snapped his hesitation. He kissed her again with bruising strength. His crotch ground into hers and she reacted by tightening her legs around his waist. This left her hands no room to continue undoing his fly. Artie tried to crush the glimmer of relief at that fact and lose herself in Rob’s kiss, in the physical sensations.
Rob fumbled her shirt open. His hands were on her body, pushing up under her bra, kneading and rubbing into her flesh.. His lips broke away from hers and moved down her throat. She tipped her head back and away to the side to make room for his damp kisses.
At the side of her vision she could see the dark space outside of the window. She looked away and quickly looked back. There was someone out there. The light spilling from the kitchen window into the garden illuminated only his feet, but Artie knew that whoever it was was watching them.
Rob was working his way back to her lips. She turned to meet the kiss and was almost swallowed by it. Let them bloody well watch, Artie thought with a giddy release. She reached up and pushed her shirt off her shoulders; after a half second of hesitation she unfastened her bra and dropped it to the floor.
Rob stepped back, his hands on her waist. Her skin prickled as his eyes roved over her. The memory of the ‘no tits’ comment rushed to the front of her mind and she felt colour rushing to her cheeks. Rob’s face was in shadow and hard to read.
“You’re amazing,” he said, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. Artie let her eyes and then her fingers trail down his chest. It was lightly muscled; the patch of hair in its centre, soft.
Rob’s burning hot hands moved to her waistband and started to unfasten her jeans. His mouth dropped to one of her breasts. In his eagerness he pushed Artie back into the window. She shivered; the cold glass on the skin of her back working against the heat of Rob’s lips and tongue on her nipple in a way that drove all thoughts from her mind. Artie heard herself moan.
A rough chill swept through Artie that had nothing to do with the cold glass at her back. The icy blade of someone’s attention stabbed into the back of her skull. The watcher in the garden? Somehow she could feel his eyes slicing into her.
Artie stiffened, causing Rob to stop his fumblings at her zipper. A swollen, sick feeling rolled around her stomach. She turned away from Rob to stare out into the garden again. The figure was still there. It stepped forwards into the light and Artie saw the face that she had expected to see. March. His black shark-eyes fixed on her. His face twisted in amusement.
The sick feeling grew until it filled her up and raced up her throat. Artie gagged. She shoved Rob back away from her. Ignoring his bewildered concern, she slid from the sill to the floor.  She snatched up her shirt from the floor and bolted towards the bathroom, the shirt clutched to her bare chest.

Heartweed: Chapter 19

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 19

The windows of Sam’s house were all open. Music thumped out carrying with it waves of laughter and conversation – the advantage of living in the middle of nowhere. Sam had only one neighbour and their house stood dark and empty.
Artie hesitated at the foot of the path. Just like the pub after Alex’s funeral. Part of her wanted to be in there, in the warmth; part of her wanted to run far away.
“Artie?”
She recognised the voice, one that usually sent shivers through her.
“Hi Rob.” Artie turned. The slight breeze brushed his fine hair across her forehead. He slouched, hands in pockets. His eyes were watchful.
“You going in?”
“In a second.” The words came out slowly, but easily. She was always so tongue-tied in front of Rob, but today she couldn’t muster enough of herself to care what he thought of her. “I just need a minute.”
“OK. Do you want me to wait for you?”
If he went in alone now, she could bet he would tell Sam that she was lurking out here, that she needed looking after.
“Yes. Please.”She flashed an automatic smile up at him. It drained from her face as soon as she looked away. Rob scuffed his feet. He cleared his throat.
“So how are things with your family? How are you all coping?”
Artie lips twisted again, this time into something that was nothing like a smile.
“Badly. And one day at a time.”
“Mmm.” Rob put his hands in his pockets and glanced around. The awkwardness of the moment was palpable, and strangely restful. Artie took a deep breath.
“Shall we go in?”
“You ready?”
As I’ll ever be, Artie thought. “Yeah. I need to drink and to dance and to just forget about things for a while.”
She started down the path. Rob’s crunching footsteps followed her. At the door he overtook her and reached for the handle.
“If you think that’s a good idea, then let me buy you a drink.”
He gave her his best smile, the one that crinkled the corners of his eyes and introduced the suggestion of wickedness into his expression. Artie found herself smiling back a real smile. Rob swept the door open for her and she walked past him into the party.

The kitchen table couldn’t be seen under the forest of bottles. Alcopops of all colours and types were crammed tightly together. The garish colours in teh bright halogen spotlights made them look like witches’ brews.
Potions to dull grief. Potions of forgetting. Artie smirked. There was no need for Gorth’s faerie magic for that.
“What can I get you?” Rob gestured at the table.
“I think I’ll start at red.” Artie pointed, then meandered her finger around the table. “And work my way through the rainbow to purple.”
Rob grabbed two bottles of postbox red booze. He knocked the caps off on the table edge and handed on to Artie. She raised it to her lips and swallowed. Too sweet. She swallowed again, a bigger gulp this time, then backed off coughing.
“Steady,” Rob said. His own drink was untouched. He held the bottle neck out and an angle towards Artie.
“Here’s to Alex.”
Artie clinked necks with him. Yeah, here’s to my fool of a brother, getting himself killed for a pretty face, she thought. Getting killed and abandoning me. Artie drained the bottle in a serious of messy gulps that left a trail of the sticky drink down the side of her chin. Rob reached up and wiped it off. She moved a backwards, only a centimetre or so.
“Orange now,” she said, in an effort to cover the prickling confusion that the simple touch had raised in her. Rob hesitated before handing her the next bottle. She couldn’t read what was in his eyes.
“Rob. Artemisia.”
Artie turned to see Chloe Smith. Hanging just behind Chloe’s shoulder was a bottle-blonde girl whose name Artie didn’t know. She’d seen them both at Alex’s funeral. They both hung out with the football team. Artie thought she remembered Chloe and Alex hooking up at one of these parties, unless it had been one of her almost identically styled friends. None of them ever had any time for Artie. So she had to fight to keep her lip from curling when Chloe gushed at her: “Artie. I’m so, so sorry about Alex. He was just wonderful.”
“Um. Thanks.”
“It’s so sad.” Chloe turned from Artie to Rob. “It’s just so sad, isn’t it.” Her shoulder neatly cut in between Artie and Rob. The nameless friend circled Artie to cut in at the other side.
The movements seemed perfectly choreographed and, with the benefit of a bottle and a half of alcohol in her, hilarious to Artie. Clever girls, she thought and felt the urge to giggle. Bottle-blonde turned her black-ringed, mock-soulful eyes on Artie.
“It really is a tragedy. Alex was so handsome and popular.”
So it would have been OK if he was ugly and unpopular? Artie hid her sneer behind another swig of the neon orange drink. I bet if it had been me, you lot wouldn’t be calling it a tragedy, just talking about how I was a bit weird and probably threw myself in front of the car.
“Excuse me,” Artie said to the girl, who simpered and whipped around to talk to Rob so quickly that Artie barely saw her move.
She banged her second empty bottle down on the table and reached for a yellow one. Rob caught her eye around Chloe and frowned. She waved vaguely at him and gestured that she was leaving.
Artie drifted on the eddies of the party until she found herself in the lounge. Sam was there, sat on Aaron Burke’s knee, her face and his so shoved together that they might have been one piece of flesh. James sat at ease on a sofa. He was devoting his energies to making a slight, curly-haired lad laugh. Artie caught his eye and waved her bottle at him. He bent forward, interrupting the boy next to him to beckon Artie over. The curly-haired boy shot Artie a cold look.
Artie paused near them, but didn’t sit.
“Hey. Good to see you…” James waved a tipsy hand around the room.
“Out and about?” Artie finished.
“Yeah.”
“Glad to be of service,” Artie muttered.
James turned to the guy sitting next to him. “This is Alex’s sister. Artie, this is Eric.”
Alex’s sister. She was still defined by him, even though he was dead. She took a mouthful from the bottle.
“Hi.”
The coldness on Eric’s face had been replaced by that uncomfortable sympathetic look that Artie was becoming familiar with seeing.
“Sorry for you loss,” Eric said.
“Did you know my brother?”
Eric shrugged. “I saw him around.”
Artie nodded. “Well thank you for your condolences.”
Another awkward silence. Artie felt like she was becoming a connoisseur of them. She filled the silence with the rest of the yellow bottle.
“I’m empty. Do you guys want me to fetch you another drink?”
They shook their heads and Artie left them to whatever she had interrupted. That was the cliche, wasn’t it, she thought as she passed the still entangled Sam and Aaron: death made everyone want to get laid.

Green. Poison green. Artie leaned against the wall in the hallway. She stared at the photograph on the opposite wall. A photo of Sam all dressed up for the end of high school ball. Alex was behind her his arms around he waist. He would have looked suave if not for his enormous grin. Instead he just looked happy. His life ahead of him. So much for that. The photo was not yet a year old.
Alex looked so grownup and handsome in his ball picture. In hers she had just looked gawky. Big eyes, long hair. A little kid in her big sister’s clothes. She was alone in her photo. She and James had come stag together.
The day after she saw her photo she had cut her waist length brown waves back to the last two inches. Her mum had gone spare.
Artie drifted into the bottleneck. Her face felt numb.
“Saw you take the green. Thought I’d better get your next lined up before they’re all gone.”
A blurry Rob, two bottles of glacier blue alcohol in hand, stood beside her. Artie blinked him into focus. She lifted the bottle of green in front of her, considered the remaining third – necked it.
“Thanks.” She reached for the offered bottle.
“He was a good bloke.” Rob gestured at the picture.
“Despite the fact he punched you in the face?”
“You heard about that.” Rob leaned against the wall beside her. “Yeah, well I deserved it.” Artie could hear the slight slurring in his words. He lowered his voice. “Did he tell you why he hit me?”
Artie rolled her head to the side to look up into Rob’s eyes. She nodded.
“Oh.” He caught his lip for a second between his teeth. “Well I’m sorry, it was a stupid thing to say. I didn’t mean it.”
His breath felt warm on her face. She said, “Which part?”
His forehead puckered in slow confusion. Artie pushed herself in closer to him. Now she could feel the warmth coming off his whole body. It wouldn’t be a cliche if it wasn’t true. She pushed herself onto her tiptoes and put her lips to his briefly. They were sticky and sweet.
“Do you want to go upstairs with me?”
Something sparked in his eyes: eagerness coloured around the edges with apprehension. Artie turned and swayed towards the stairs. She was halfway up them when she heard him follow.

Heartweed: Chapter 18

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 18

Bzzzt. Bzzzt.
Artie peeled her sleep-glued eyes open a crack. Her mobile phone jigged about on her bedside table. Sam, registered the display, and in the bar at the top of the screen: 10.05. 10.05 on a Saturday, ugh.
Artie pushed herself up in bed and reached for the phone. The buzzing stopped. She sucked her upper lip, staring at the phone. The return phone call could wait until she was more awake. The unfurled acorn laying beside the phone pricked at her memory. Her laptop skulked under the bed where she had left it. Artie dragged it out and kicked it out of hibernate. She drummed her fingers while she waited for the old machine to creak to life. She’d been hoping for a Mac. Unrealistic, but there had been a glimmer of hope. This refurbed machine served her needs. Eventually.
The laptop woke up enough to connect to the internet. Artie browsed to her webmail account. The inbox was empty: no reply from Gorth. Her phone buzzed again.
“Hello.”
“Hi hon.” Sam’s bright voice jangled out of the speaker. It softened into the required careful tone to ask the question: “How are you doing?”
Artie shrugged before realising that more was needed from her over the phone. “Better. It’s… hard.”
“Yeah.”
Silence settled like a heavy blanket. Artie cast about for something to say; Sam saved her the trouble.
“So the reason I’m calling is… well… the party, the pre-exam party that I organised, is, was, tonight.”
Artie’s browser refreshed. An unread email flickered to the top of her inbox. “Mmm hmm, OK,” she murmured, staring at the email. It was from Gorth. The subject line read ‘How can I help?’
She realised that an expectant silence was hanging on the line. Sam was waiting for her to speak. Artie blinked. “What?”
“So is that OK?” Sam said.
“Yeah, it’s fine. I mean, I had forgotten about it what with…” The unspoken words were like a punch to the heart. “…everything. But I’ll still come.”
“Um, good. It’ll do you good to get out.” Sam paused. “I guess what I meant is whether it’s OK to have the party so soon after Alex’s death. I mean, it’s only been a week.”
Nine days, thought Artie. She said, “He wouldn’t have wanted everyone else’s life to stop.” It wasn’t a lie. Alex had been the heart of their parties. Laughing and joking, making up stupid drinking games, a new one every time, for everyone to play. “In fact it would be more disrespectful to his memory not to have it.” Artie smiled: a tight, fleeting movement of her mouth.
“That’s what I thought.” Artie heard the tension unwind from Sam’s voice. “So, see you tonight?”
“Yeah.” Artie stared at the email at the top of her inbox. “Look I have to go now. See you later, OK?”
“Later.”
Artie dropped the phone on the duvet and clicked the email open.

Sorry to hear about your brother. What do you need? Potions of forgetting? Something to dull the grief?

What do I need? Artie hit reply. Deliberately she typed in the words.

Vengeance. March dead.

The reply came almost instantly.

That might be more difficult. Let me look into it and get back to you. G.

Artie clicked the lid of the laptop closed and slumped back on the bed. She stared at the ceiling and listened to the swift beating of her heart.

Continue reading.