Authors: Claire C. Riley
Odium III The Dead Saga
Copyright © 2015
Published by Breakwater Harbor Books
Written by Claire C. Riley
Edited by Amy Jackson
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.
For anyone who is prepared to stand up for the people with no voice. For those who are willing to fight for what they believe in, and to hell with the consequences. Because somebody
to believe that we can make a change in the world. After all, our humanity is what separates us from the
Be real. Be truthful and be heard.
For my street team
Little Red’s Deads.
Thank you for your constant encouragement, for your sweet and often equally hilarious messages, but mostly, thank you for being so fucking cool. I feel deeply privileged to know each and every one of you.
Thank you to all my beta readers, my editor and the amazing girls in my Bad Ass CP’s writers group, you all rock so much, and I don’t know what I would do without you all.
Life is crazy. It’s unpredictable and confusing, but most of all it’s hard.
It’s hard to lose people you love, and it’s even harder to see them become monsters. But that’s the way of the world now, what we’ve had to grow to accept. I don’t think the world is ready for the apocalypse. It’s never been ready. I know I’m not.
A great man once said that ‘
to fight evil, you must pluck it from its root
—to destroy that evil at its source, before it has time to grow and spread, killing or infecting everything around it. And when you’ve done that, life and love will spring free from where the bad once grew, and they will flourish.
That’s the only way to survive this apocalypse.
We must end the evil—behead those demons, both alive and not—and let humanity breathe again. Because we’re fucking suffocating right now.
There must be sacrifices—to save the ones we love, to protect those that need protecting. We must love freely, forgive quickly, and keep pushing onwards, because you never know when it will be too late.
There are some deaths that slip you by. Like the breath of air that leaves your lungs, they’re gone before you even thought to realize it. Other deaths strike your soul. They gut you, stripping you bare of everything you ever were because of their profoundness.
You don’t recover from those deaths.
You don’t forget them, or move on.
These deaths stay with you, a part of you. Forever.
The crackling of the fire was seducing me, leading me to believe that we were safe. Staring into the flames, watching them dance and flicker, one would believe that there was nothing left to fear in this world. That the days and nights were as calm and peaceful as the sandy coast of an island.
But it was all a lie—a twisted illusion of reality—because in this life everything was to fear. Beneath those crystal blue waters lurked monsters and evil. You didn’t always see the danger, but it was always there.
“Tell me something.”
I glanced away from the flames with a heavy sigh and looked across at Nova. A cigarette was stuck firmly between her lips, and I raised an eyebrow to tell her to continue.
“Why did you really come on this suicide mission?”
I rolled my eyes at her but she pressed on. “I know you said all that caring bullshit,” she waved a dismissive hand around, “but it’s more than that. Who in their right mind would risk their life for people that they’ve never met and are more than likely dead?”
“You did,” I said dryly and stared at her with conviction, but she only grinned slyly before pointing a finger at me.
“Listen, I did this for personal reasons. My sister caused all this shit, so it’s my duty to sort her mess out.” She shrugged and took a long drag on her cigarette, burning it right down to the butt. “I’m just doing my sisterly duties, bitch.” She grinned again but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Oh come on.” I snorted in irritation and shook my head. I stared back into the flames once more, throwing on another handful of small branches as I did. My argument was useless.
We were enclosed within a scrapyard on the outskirts of an old town. The place had been practically empty of the dead, which was lucky for us, because we were exhausted from traveling, fighting, and driving. We’d set off three days before from base camp to hunt out a woman named Hilary, who might or might not have been impregnated with deader spawn. Everything had been going well until we had to stop for gas and someone had tried to hijack us.
Of course those fools didn’t know who they were messing with; they saw two women and assumed us both feeble and helpless, when we were anything but. It didn’t matter now—they were dead and wouldn’t be bothering anyone for a long while. However, our truck had been surrounded by the dead, and all of our gear with it.
We had hung back for a couple of hours, waiting for them to leave, but when the day turned to night and they were still there, we had to hightail it to somewhere more secure since the little garage was compromised, and there was no way I was staying in the woods after nightfall.
Thus bringing us to our current location. After walking miles and slashing and stabbing our way free from a large horde of deaders that took us by surprise, we found ourselves in an abandoned scrapyard. We cleared what little of the walking damned was here, and locked ourselves in for the night.
“Well?” she pressed, not giving up the discussion so easily.
I glanced back up at Nova, looking upon her dirty, pale face—a face scarred and grazed through the years of hell she had suffered through since this all began, yet beneath all the grime, her features were still sharp and beautiful. I huffed to show my unhappiness at answering the stupid question, but she shrugged again and took a swig of something alcoholic that she had found stashed in one of the office drawers. Her red hair hung low down her back, inch long roots and grease clinging to the long tresses.
“Back in the walled city, we were all terrified,” I began, my stomach rolling at the memories. “Of the dead, of what would happen in the future, for our families, and selfishly, for ourselves. As time passed and we realized that this wasn’t a small problem that was going to go away, not anytime soon, anyway—we grew to accept the new way of life.” I swallowed down the lump in my throat and frowned. “I was mourning my husband and the loss of everything I had known—my entire life was gone. I was feeling lost and confused, but we were safe there—at least until the government or the army or someone ended the war with the dead. I mean, we were fed. And we felt relatively protected. But more people were turning up every day, and things were getting crowded. One day there was a small outbreak and someone turned, killing many of the people inside. Strict rules were quickly put in place, and when anyone new arrived they were stripped and checked for bites and diseases, any signs of illness. It was all going so well, considering, but I should have known when things starting getting like that. I should have known it was all going to go to shit.”
I stood up and stretched out my back. Looking toward the tall iron-and-wood gate that we had locked shut, my hands now firmly shoved in my cargo pockets, I let out a heavy sigh. This place reminded me of the walled cities in a lot of ways: tall, protective fences, imposing gates. It was a false sanctuary.
I looked back to Nova and continued. “When things started to go wrong, and more and more rules were brought in to supposedly keep us safe, people started to be punished for things, whipped for not doing things correctly, or beaten for talking back. The first time we were all in shock, not quite believing what had just happened. I couldn’t understand why no one was helping them or stopping what was happening—even me.” I looked down at my feet. “I never knew that I would have so much fear,” I murmured quietly, but I knew she had heard me.
Nova stood up but didn’t do the typical girly thing and try to hug me. Neither of us were that type of woman, at least not anymore. Instead she thrust her bottle toward me. I took it, drinking down a quick swig—because the physical pain of burning alcohol in my gut was a far better one to handle than the pain of remembering.
I wiped my hand across my mouth. “We began to starve, slowly, but surely. The men in charge didn’t care. Once people got so weak and at risk from dying, they were thrown over the walls. And there was nothing anyone could do then. It was too late to try to stop what had already begun. If you wanted to eat, you begged, borrowed, and bartered. Begging generally got you nowhere, borrowing was only good if you had a skillset, which I didn’t, so I was left to barter for my food. Only problem was, I had nothing to barter with.” I looked at her and this time it was my turn to shrug.
A deep frown etched across her forehead, and there was a silent understanding between us on what I bartered with. She shook her head and looked away as if embarrassed for me.
“Back behind the walls I was a nothing—a nobody. No one cared if I lived or died, no one stood up for me, no one ever tried to help me. It was like I was already dead,” I stated simply.
I began to walk away; I needed space and air. My mind felt full of too many old memories that I’d sooner forget than remember. The memories haunted me. The screams that echoed in my mind late at night. The small bite mark on my inner thigh that still throbbed whenever I ran—and not a deader bite mark, a human one. It was all too much. What happened when I was captured by the Forgotten should have been worse. The experience was just as brutal but over a shorter period. But it wasn’t worse, because by then I had hardened to brutality, adjusted and become able to blot it out—at least for the most part.
My time behind the walls would never leave me, though.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Nova said to my retreating back.
I turned to look at her. “I’m going on this suicide mission because I know I’m not nothing anymore. I’m not dead, and I won’t let fear and cowardice stop me from living. Because I can’t stand by and watch people die and do nothing about it anymore. If I die trying to save one person’s life, then it’s a better death than if I was dying for no other reason than fear.”
Nova stalked toward me, and for a minute I thought that she was going to punch me in the face, but she didn’t. She stopped, standing toe to toe with me, and she smiled. “Fear only wins if you let it rule your heart, darlin’.” She gave me a small nod.
I gave her a crooked smile. “Exactly.”
“When I met you I thought you were a total asshole,” she said with a laugh.
“I was,” I laughed back. “Hell, I still am. Don’t go ruining my reputation.” The dark atmosphere lifted as we chuckled, and I was glad that it was her that came with me on this stupid mission and not someone else. Mostly I was glad that I wasn’t on my own.
“But seriously, you don’t seem like the same person I met way back.” She waves an arm around like we’ve known each other for years and years and not months. The apocalypse did that to you, each day seeming longer than they used to, making a week seem like a month.
It was my turn to shrug. “I guess I’m not. I came away from the city feeling angry, bitter, and full of hate. Like the world owed me something. I had to learn to adapt to the world again—to people that cared—and to start to care again. For three years I had only known pain and anger. You begin to get accustomed to that crap after a while. It gets in your head and it owns you, if you let it. But I feel better now—stronger, more emotionally and physically ready for this world. Let’s just hope I live to experience some of it.”
“You’re still a moody bitch,” she said with a laugh.
“Of course I am.” I grinned. “Not all scars can heal so quickly. Plus, I guess some of the moodiness is just who I am.”
She slapped me on the shoulder and smiled broadly. “I’m going to piss.” She passed by me, and then it was her turn to stop and turn back around. “And Mikey?” she asked with a yawn. She was trying to be casual in her questioning, subtle almost, but she was about as subtle as a brick to the face.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I was just trying to help. Maybe I should have told him what happened with Rachael on our mission. But as much as I think your brother is an ass—because he is so very much of an ass—those people need him. I was too afraid if he left that if he left because of me, and anything happened that got people killed, that it would be my fault.” I sighed, my heart feeling full. “I can’t have another death on my conscience.”
She nodded in agreement. “For the record, I thought you two were great together.”
I pursed my lips. “Thanks, me too. But he didn’t trust me, and this life is built on trust. If he can’t trust me, then what’s the point, you know?”
We lapsed back into silence as we both stared off into different directions, thinking our own morbid thoughts. When I looked back at her, she had started walking away again, and I shrugged and headed in a different direction to find more wood for the fire.
There wasn’t much to burn—it was, after all, a junkyard full of old cars and trucks, all piled high, and all unusable. I heard a noise off to my left and immediately pulled out my katana. I stalked past a beat-up old Ford and crouched down low, and as I turned the corner I could see something moving in between the rows. From its jerky movements, I knew it was a deader we had missed.