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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1. Prologue

“Far, far into the forest,” she whispered to herself, clutching her skirt in one hand and her shoes in the other, so afraid of dropping them that her knuckles had gone white under the tension. “Far, far, until you feel the world bearing down on you.”

The words were not a comfort – she knew their source lay bloodied and broken in the Hand, wounds going deeper than skin could ever tell.

“Push through the weight and follow the yew trees.” She muttered, breath hitching as she drew to a stop, briefly, ears sharp for a sound she may have heard behind her in the Chapel.

The silence keened into her head, but still she listened as best she could around the clutter of her thoughts.

“Then you will find the Serpent’s Nest.” She finished, continuing once more on her path, using the words to block the maelstrom of her mind.

The great door lay two hundred metres ahead, like a pale white moon in the dark sky of the Hall of Repent, but it was not to that that she hurried.

Before the guards – repurposed Pesticide officers – could even see her through the pitch black of the over-large grey foyer, she dove into an alcove and through the much smaller set of doors within.

In great trips she fell down the stairs beyond – booming, rattling steps ringing out in the darkness.

Behind her the door slammed shut – a beast after blood betraying her presence.

She thought of the demons, of her brother still sleeping peacefully and the evils in his mind, equally cruel, equally bloodthirsty.

She flushed white-hot with panic before the first guard even called out, and began to run again, dropping her shoes by the stairs to get a better grip of her long skirt.

If the foyer had been the darkest night, the dim light of the passage lit her way to The Waste and the Stranger’s arms.

Heavy boots slapped angrily down the stairs in pursuit of her bare steps, led by every crack underfoot – basket and twig and bone.

She suppressed a desire to scream at the pain in her feet as loose stone drew grazes in her soft skin. She could imagine the ears in the walls, waiting for her to cry out, and pushed herself harder, regretting the years she'd spent idle.

She wished she’d trained her body, wished she’d run so hard even once before. Her breath was already too little in her lungs, her lips growing dry as sweat poured from her skin.

There was no time to rest.

If there was, she would not choose this place; here the ears may be too focused to hear her tiny steps, but the mouths, the voices, were endless.

The deeper she got, the more they echoed – the screams, the tears, up through the walls. The pale grey of the ancient concrete could not express the rawness of those outbursts.

She saw herself within them, as though it could easily have been she down there, and not the petty criminals who were trapped there now.

But she would not have been there. She was not set for imprisonment, but for a destiny more final, she knew that much.

She could hear them coming for her, trying to catch her, too.

A yelp escaped her lips as splints shot into her shins, great nails that made her legs feel heavy and stiff, and knew they must have managed to touch her.

But she could not stop, could not let them take hold.

There was the door, so close-

She reached out her hands-

Threw off the blocking timber in a spur of adrenaline-strength-

Placed her fingers on the door where the lock should be…

The lock! The lock! Where was the padlock?!

The footsteps were getting closer, voices down the hall, screaming up the walls and all the time they grew closer as well, screaming in the voices of strangers, in her own voice, yelling, yelling, yelling-

“They’re going to kill you!”

Grating cold under her fingers!

She jammed in the key slipped earlier from her chamber guard’s keyring, hands shaking frustratingly.

Too long! It was taking too long!

“Come on! Please…” Tears welling in her eyes, blurring her vision, making everything so much more difficult.

Turn… Click!

An elated gasp burst forth from her throat. With a shoulder she rocketed into the door and out into the street.

She couldn’t have said where she emerged, bursting into the humid air of a damp summer night, only that their voices had faded, and the forest seemed so close

But so did the guards.

“The forest!” She gasped, leaping from cobblestone to cobblestone as cautiously as her urgency would allow, “The yew trees!”

The guards began to call, voices bumping with their bounds.

“Miss Solana!” They cried, in hot pursuit, feigning concern, but the fear ran cold in their voices – fear of the consequences of failure, but she couldn’t think of their safety, couldn’t think of anything but her own.

“Miss Henbane!”

She did not listen, could not respond.

The forest was so close. The nearest tree no more than a hundred paces… Seventy… Fifty… Twenty…

Five..!

She vanished into the throng of trees in a whoosh of leaves.

But even still she could not stop, not until she reached it.

If she could not live safely in the town where she was raised, she would find somewhere else.

She would find them, and she would figure out a way to save her brother, too.

She had to find the Serpent.

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