Chrystal Heart

Chrystal Heart Front Cover - Small 

Chrystal is a 188-year-old, bisexual cyborg vampire. Apart from that, she’s just your average Steampunk.

In 1851, a young Victorian lady is stabbed and left for dead, but rescued by a group of Tibetans who came to London for the Great Exhibition. They replace her damaged heart with the Chrystal Vitalis, a gem believed to have life-giving properties. This not only saves her life, but prolongs it to the point that she is still alive in the 21st Century where she passes as a Steampunk to explain her idiosyncratic taste in clothing and old-fashioned speech. Educated in steam power, clockwork and what modern science would dismiss as “ætheric mysticism”, she addresses the challenges of our world in a very different way to the oil-based culture that has evolved over the last 160 years.

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Released on 13/3/13, this is Meg Kingston’s first published novel. Register with us for news, updates and special offers.

Chrystal Heart
because Steampunk can be more than whimsy

Meg Kingston

October, 1851
Philomena Mercedes Carstairs slipped away from the crowds leaving Hyde Park, straightening the hat pinned over her neat chignon. She twitched her short cape into place over her tight, grey jacket and turned into an unlit side street, away from the throngs of merrymakers flooding towards purveyors of refreshments on more fashionable streets. Although the coffee houses claimed to welcome ladies as well as gentlemen, she knew from experience that the more popular ones would not serve a woman on her own. Especially when more rewarding customers were queuing for places at their tables. She would avoid the crowds, following the back streets to her lodging-house and brew coffee on the stove there.
Unbeknown to Philomena, her passage did not go unnoticed. Three shadows detached themselves from the heavy darkness beneath an overhanging wooden building. One figure turned down an alleyway, hurrying to get ahead of her, whilst two wraith-like others slid silently in her wake, careful to prevent her discovering them.
” ‘Scuse me, Missus,” said a voice in the darkness beside her.
“Oh,” Philomena stopped, her hand rising to her chest where her heart thudded against her corset.
” ‘M sorry, Miss. Didn’t mean to startle ya,” said the man.
Now that Philomena had turned, she could see the man more clearly. He would have been almost as tall as her, had he not stooped so. His coat was well-cut but worn at the cuffs and stained in many places, while his rough accent spoke of life in the murkier parts of the city. She gathered her scattered wits enough to smile at the stranger.
“Can I help you, Sir?” she enquired.
“Wondered if you might spare a few coppers for an ex-army man down on his luck?” said the man, moving closer.
“Oh, of course,” Philomena lifted her bag for her coin purse. A sudden sound from behind made her turn. Seeing another figure reaching for her, she ducked and spun about, backing away until the back of her bell-skirted dress touched the dirty brick wall, her bosom heaving with fear.
Footpads. And I let them trap me, she thought. Someone tore the velvet cape off her shoulders. A hand reached for her bag and she grabbed the wrist, twisting to throw her slender weight against it. She heard a satisfying yelp and released the damaged limb, looking around for the second assailant. He blocked her escape but made no attempt to engage. As she looked for an opportunity to break past, a third figure came running and Philomena found herself, once again, backed against the wall with her two opponents facing her more warily this time. The man whose wrist she had injured was pulling himself to his feet, a knife in his left hand.
Made of stern stuff, these bandits, she thought as she searched for a way to evade their tightening circle. She pulled the purse from her bag and threw it behind the men, where it fell with a loud rattle.
“That is all I have. Take it and be damned,” she shouted.
The nearer two men hesitated, glancing towards the purse, but the injured one never took his eyes off hers.
“I think we’ll take more than yer purse, Missus,” he said.
“I have nothing further!”
None of the men spoke, but the knifeman moved in, the other two flanking him and thwarting any possible egress for her. He lunged with the blade and she barely managed to knock it away with her right arm. There was a loud crack, her frilled sleeve tore and blood spurted as she ducked under their advancing hands, trying for the open street. A fist struck her shoulder, throwing her towards the man in the centre. Shouts and running footsteps sounded as if they were several miles away and she got a clear view of the attacker’s face as his knife penetrated her ribs. Her knees buckled and her vision failed as she heard a group of men attacking the thieves who’d struck her down. There were shouts from the robbers and softer words in a foreign language and then nothing but blackness.

Several voices were talking in sing-song tones; a language of short sounds bubbling over each other, rising and falling in odd ways. Philomena opened her eyes and saw richly-coloured cloth hanging a few inches above her face. The air was thick with sweet-smelling smoke and she found it oddly hard to focus her eyes. The haze made her cough, and a young man’s face came into view. He lifted his hand away from her chest and she saw blood trickling from a neat wound below his thumb. Philomena swallowed hard, trying not to look and instead focused on his curious, embroidered hat, as bright as the cloth hanging. Everything felt distant, dreamy, and she had the strangest feeling that she’d seen his weathered, brown visage somewhere before.
“You speak Engliss, Lady?” he asked, his words so heavily accented she could barely comprehend his meaning.
“Y-yes,” her voice came out as little more than a whisper. “Yes, I speak English. Where am I?”
“You in our lodging,” he replied. “You badly hurt.”
“The footpads!” Philomena tried to sit up, but he pushed her shoulders back onto the bed.
“No, you mus’ not spill,” he said. Confused, she subsided and another figure moved beside the bed, with a thurible that spilled green, sickly smoke over her.
“You need to go sleep,” he said. “We leaf you now. Here you safe.”
“But, but…” unable to think of an argument, Philomena stopped trying to say anything.
“You mus’ remember,” he went on, holding up his hand so she could see the dripping cut more clearly. “The Chrystal need blood. Human blood.”
“What?” She thought about sitting up, but her body was becoming heavy and lethargic again. “What crystal?”
“Not crystal, Chrystal!” he corrected, a guttural sound. “We go soon, but the Chrystal keep you alive. Remember, Chrystal need…”
“Blood. I remember, but I do not understand,” replied Philomena. She realised her words were slurring but couldn’t bring herself to try again as the world went hazy once more.

Philomena woke with a parched throat and a terrible headache. The heavy, colourful cloth still hung near to her face and she pushed its embroidered weight aside to sit up, feeling lightheaded. After a moment, the world stopped spinning and she looked around. An ornately-engraved carafe sat on a small table, a glass over its mouth and a towel neatly folded beside it. She had barely noticed the metal bucket on the floor before a wave of nausea washed over her and she doubled up.
Laying the soiled towel on the floor beside the bucket, she rinsed her mouth out and stood carefully. The world wavered a little before it settled enough for her to take stock of her situation; she was dressed in an unbleached cotton shift, whilst her own clothes were nowhere to be seen. Dress, new jacket and even her corset had all disappeared. Her right forearm was bandaged, feeling heavy and awkward. She staggered her way to the window, opened it one-handed and flung back the shutters, revealing nothing but an empty alleyway. Fresher air rushed in, making her head spin again and she leant on the wall for a moment until it passed. In the sunlight, she could see that the room was largely empty, save for the cot she had lain in, the fabric draped like a tent on a framework above, the little table and a small dresser against the wall. Closer inspection of this revealed a bowl of water covered with another length of the embroidered cloth and a large looking-glass. She bent to look at her reflection and gasped.
What has happened to me? Her dark blond hair hung in greasy rats’ tails. Her face was gaunt, comprising of shadow-filled hollows crossed by sharp planes. Her lips were so pale as to be almost invisible against her white skin and the green eyes that stared back at her looked a thousand years old and darkly underlined with shadows. The silver-backed glass reflected something white on her chest and she looked down. The wound! She slipped out of the shift-dress and began pulling at the bandages, gently lifting each layer, half fascinated, half terrified of what she might see.
I will not faint like some helpless milksop, she muttered when the strange vertigo threatened to overwhelm her again. She steeled herself to look and eased away the final wad of bloodied dressing, craning her neck to see the wound that she thought had killed her. It took a moment for her mind to register that yes, there was a partly-healed wound; but there was something else. Embedded in the centre of her chest sat a metal structure of intricately-engraved brass-coloured pipes and what looked like valves. And in the middle of this was a crystal, almost as large as her fist, faceted like an uncut gemstone. As she stared, the crystal brightened to a clear, bright green and then dimmed again, just like the pulse of a heart.
This time, she did faint.

Philomena came round slowly, the discomfort of her limbs increasing as she dragged her mind back to consciousness. Disoriented, she watched a blur of bright colours wavering across her vision. She blinked, rubbed her eyes and the embroidered cloth came into focus. As her memory flooded back, she pulled herself to her feet and fingered the metal construction buried in her chest. It hadn’t vanished, as she’d half-expected. Her skin appeared to have grown back over the metal frame, but not completely over the stone in the centre. She stared at it for a moment, watching its slow rhythm. Tentatively, she pressed the fingers of her left hand into her right wrist, searching for the heart-pulse. She found it as the crystal brightened. Lub-dub. She held her breath, counting silently, one elephant, two elephant, three elephant. Lub-dub. The pulse in her wrist came exactly as the crystal brightened. Philomena picked up the mirror and stared at her emaciated visage, thinking, What have they done to me?
Her wide-eyed gaze focused on the bandages on her heavy right forearm and she remembered the wound she’d received trying to deflect the knife. Hesitantly, she began to untie the dressing.

© Meg Kingston, 2013

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