The Poison Garden

In the dead of night a girl flees all she's ever known, fearing for her life and seeking to save that of her brother.
Far into the forest, beyond yew trees grown on human flesh, she seeks the Serpent, a small community of individuals secretly thriving away from the pious eyes of the Garden.
If she's lucky, their interests might just align.

Follow Henbane, Bluebottle, Mistletoe and others as they seek to tear down their old lives in order to build them anew.

(Cover by WinterSoldier)

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29. Chapter 28 - Artemis

It took a few hours before real despair set it.

A few days.

But it’s here now. It’s in me. It fills the room. It’s everywhere.

One week.

One week.

“Fuck.” I spit, and hiss at the sound of metal on bone. “Agh, fuck.”

Then the pain sets in.

If the blade comes out, blood will come with it.

Best to leave it in.

Just for a few minutes.

“What am I doing?” I breathe.

One week.

No, less than a week. How many days?

Four days.

Four days. I grip the blade tighter. Might as well be now.

I start to pull it loose.

I’m stopped.

 

“Not yet.” He says.

I didn’t hear him enter.

I’m almost ashamed to look like this in front of him.

Then I recall enough to forget that feeling.

Not to be angry, though.

“Why not?” I sigh, and sit back. He holds onto the knife as I release it.

“I have to talk to you first.” He says, and sets something down in front of me.

A book.

My eyes widen.

“My book! I’ve been looking… Why do you…?”

“I found it.”

“And you took it?” I demand, but I’m so tired there’s no force to my voice. “So… you’ve read it, then.”

He pauses, brushing his fingers across the binding, and then looks back at me with his steel-coloured eyes.

“Yeah.” He confesses. He tries to meet my eyes. I look at the book.

“Where have you been with my book?” I ask, instead, tapping it.

He smiles at that, and brushes his tea-coloured hair back out with a hand. He looks to the ceiling in thought.

“Everywhere.”

“Everywhere?” I frown.

“Well, not everywhere. But all over the place.” He turns back to me, I look away again. “I went south, to the ocean. There are boats that still go between the bottom of this country and the top of the next. They wouldn’t take me, though. I went north. If you think it’s cold here, try going there!

Where else? Oh, I found other towns up north. Just a few. There are a few people living in small settlements between, too. Nowhere really as big as the Garden, though. You’d think that would make the Garden important, but the only importance it has is in how much hate it produces.”

“That figures…” I mumble. My eyelids want to close.

I realise I’d forgotten about the blade, just for a moment.

“Not yet.” He places a hand on my shoulder to bring my attention back to him. “I haven’t told you everything yet.”

“Hurry up, then.” I breathe out heavily. My lungs feel like they’re falling asleep.

His smile grows sad.

“I… uh… I went one other place.” He rubs at his shoulder with one hand, “The Old City. It’s a dangerous place.”

With purpose, he puts more pressure into his rubbing, so as to reveal the skin around his neck and shoulders.

There, in swirling patterns, like scars on his skin – vines.

“You…?”

I start to reach out, to touch it, because maybe I’m dreaming.

Maybe I’m already asleep.

Or dead.

Because we thought he was dead.

But then, maybe he was…

He wouldn’t be the first to come back.

My elbow twinges and I pull my hand back with a pained grunt.

I grab the knife again.

“When…?”

“I think it’s been five years. Thereabouts. Maybe.” He shrugs, “It’s difficult to think of time when you suddenly realise you have all of it.”

“I’m jealous.” I laugh, “I’ve almost got none of it.”

I stop laughing as quickly as I started.

I bite my lip, try to not cry, but I can’t.

“Damn it, I’m jealous.

“I’m sorry.”

“What?”

That’s strange. He was never one to apologise before.

“I am.” He insists, but his cheeks flush slightly pink. “It’s still difficult for me to say, but I really am sorry that you have… so little…”

He fingers the markings on his shoulders.

“Oh, because you…” I lean back. “It’s not your fault. I never said I wanted all the time. Just enough of it, and I threw away my chance at that.”

Silence.

“Still.” He whispers.

“Did you come for a visit, or did you have something more important to say?”

He’s taken aback.

I don’t have time for patience. I’m tired. I want to pull the knife out.

But only because it’s in there.

I wish I’d never put it in. I wish I hadn’t wriggled it up and town and tried to turn it, because when it comes out it’s bringing a lot of me out with it, and what if it does kill me?

For the first time, I meet his eyes.

This time, he looks away.

How must I look?

“There’s a plan being formed in secret on the inside.” He puts a hand on top of one of mine. “A few Roses, a few people from the Hand who want freedom for the prisoners there.”

What?” And there’s a warmth inside my stomach, swirling and growing. “Who?”

“Best not to say. But when the Serpent strikes, we’ll strike with it.”

“We…?”

He holds up his wrist, indicating a blue strip of cloth tied there.

“You’ll know.” He tucks the cloth away under his sleeve. “Anyway, by the time…”

He gestures to the knife in my arm.

I swallow. Alongside the warmth, there’s fear.

“By the time you wake up…” He readjusts his shirt and hair, and motions vaguely, but I know what he means.

He turns to leave.

I don’t want him to go…

Maybe he could…

Maybe.

He starts to open the door.

“Wait!” I call after him. He turns, eyebrow raised in question. “Will you come back and see me? And-”

“I came back this time. I’ll come back again.”

“Good.”

I sit back again, breathing a sigh of relief.

He leaves.

One breath in.

Two.

Five slow breaths.

I grab the knife.

And pull it out.

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