Read The Third Chapter Free Online Now!

So I gave you guys chapter two, A Visitation, of Forgiving Zander yesterday and today I’m giving you chapter three! That means you get one more chapters after this one until release day (Friday the 17th)!

And, of course, I have to advise that you read Breaking Cadence first as that is the first part of the trilogy.


Coming Apart

“You have the cure?” The question was half laughter half anger. He didn’t believe me.

I watched the arachnid from beyond the net curtain. My injured shoulder burned, red essence trickling down my arm and onto the floor. I could feel it dribbling in between my fingers. It was a signal that I was still alive. I suppose that was something.

“You have the cure, Cadence?” The laughter was gone, but the anger remained in the stillness of his voice, simmering.

The spider was picking up the zombies and devouring them. Its pincers and eyes moved fast, ravenous. I took a quiet breath and stepped away from the curtains. Watching it demolish those bodies, despite the fact that they barely retained any traces of humanity, made my stomach turn. I’d always thought that one day that could have been me. Now I knew it never would.

“Yes,” I answered finally. Quietly. “I have the cure.”

Kitty hung back in the shadows, watching the scene play out. Her hands glistened, pink from her scrubbing. She kept away from Alex, his anger bubbling in the air around us. It didn’t take long for him to lash out, tongue a fiery whip.

“So you’ve made us stay in this godforsaken place waiting for that selfish bastard when you’re the one who has it! Why?!”

“There are people who would do terrible things with it.”

“What are you talking about?!” he snarled, fists clenched.

I passed him, finding an old cloth to begin to tie around my shoulder, stemming the flow of blood. It flourished crimson. The tightness hurt, but I needed to slow the blood flow so the cut could clot better, something that would take a while considering how little true nourishment I’d had recently. That was when I noticed the basket of fish waiting on the table.

It should have been on the floor beside me when I woke. Who’d moved it? Had anyone moved it? My heart trembled. What if Zander was dead and his ghost was haunting me? Or maybe it was the madness. I tried to focus on Alex’s question, dragging my gaze away from the fish.

“It’s in my blood. The cure is in my blood.”

“So you lied to me.” The words were cold and hard. But he didn’t know that I was still lying. That I wasn’t the only person in the room who had blood that could cure the Infection. “You lied to me?! And you made me lie to Kitty! How many lies are there?”

“You… lied to me?” Kitty whispered. Her eyes were round again, fingers shaking as they unconsciously skated over skin that had been rubbed raw. “What did you lie to me about?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

Everything was unravelling. I was unravelling.

“She slashed your mum’s throat and killed her. Just one more body, eh, Cady?”

I swallowed and continued to watch Kitty’s face. Part of me expected her to crumple, but she didn’t. Her lips went thin, frown lines creasing her brow as she brushed her hands back through her blonde hair. I half thought she’d reveal the truth about Alex’s blood now in a show of spite, yet she remained silent. Instead, she seated herself carefully, chair back pressed against the table where Zander and I had first made love so long ago.

Memories danced in the dust. I knew it had been a mistake coming here, but where else could we have gone?

“How many people have you killed now?” Alex urged, ignoring Kitty’s internal plight.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered, eyes downcast from Kitty’s face. How many people? I couldn’t count. I didn’t know. There were more before but they’d never really mattered in Wasteland skirmishes. None of them had really mattered until I’d shot Zander.

“You’re sorry?” He thought I was still talking to him. He continued to rail, pacing and throwing his arms into the air. “You’ve lied to us from the start! If Zander isn’t hiding with the cure then where is he? And why haven’t you gone to these scientists that he was talking about? Why haven’t you helped get rid of the Infection? You’re so damn selfish!”

I wish I could say that his words made me feel guilty. I wish I could. But I can’t.

I didn’t care for the people that had fallen from the Infection. I cared about Alex and Kitty and keeping them safe. And that was the only reason why I wouldn’t tell him that he had the cure in his veins too. He would get himself into trouble, allowing people to use him, and thinking he was making good for the greater populace. And in the end, they’d kill him.

If I had to, I would take that bullet for him. He was all I had.

“You disgust me.”

“Oh stop being a child, Alex,” I murmured. The lies blossomed, thick and fast on my tired lips. “Zander was supposed to meet us and take us somewhere safe from Xanthia. She’s not interested in using a cure for anything other than selling it to Wastelanders for extortionate prices. She wants power. If she had a cure, it would give her that.”

“But what about saving people?!” he blustered.

Who wanted to save people? My whole life had taught me nothing but how vile the human race was. As a whole, they deserved everything they got. The only people worth protecting were the people that you loved. Heaven help the rest.

I glanced at the window where the Infected were being eaten by the giant spider. If they really were part of Xanthia’s entourage then that meant she couldn’t be too far away, which put us further in danger. She knew Alex’s blood was filled with the cure, too, even if he didn’t.

In fact, when we’d last met, she’d told me her whole plan, boasting about how she was going to kill me and use my brother as a valuable commodity. The Infection had driven her mad. It was a wonder she was still functioning but Zander had found a way to keep her alive. Blood. She’d been drinking that scarlet essence from her soldiers and escorts to stop her devolution into a crazed mass of decomposing flesh.

I don’t pretend to understand how it worked, but I knew it was working. She’d survived too long without becoming like one of the normal Infected that this crazy course had to be real. Only, it made her think she was immortal. Immortal… I could think of a better word.

Insane.

She’d thought I was a threat to her relationship with Zander at first, but that had all changed, too. The crazed bitch had given up on him, thinking he was trying to cure her by getting her to drink my blood to make her less powerful. She’d had no intention of saving herself, though. Instead, she’d tried to have me killed.

I swallowed as I regarded the creatures beyond the window pane. Somehow, it seemed unlikely that Xanthia would give up her notion of murdering me and enslaving my brother in the two short months that had passed since our last meeting.

“Zander said something about scientists somewhere that could help us,” I lied, his name burning a hole through my tongue. I tried to push away the thought that he was haunting me, hanging around the building, and trying to send me insane like Xanthia, but the notion wouldn’t shift. “They’d know what to do about manufacturing a cure instead of just pumping my blood.”

I nearly said ‘our blood’, inwardly flinching at the almost mistake.

Alex didn’t notice. “Is that where he’s gone?”

Kitty glanced at the door, the sound of hands scraping against the outer wood. A screeching followed with the high pitched chirps from the oversized arachnid devouring its prey. Alex’s face faded to grey.

I had to get them out of here. We’d stayed too long. I knew that now.

“I think so. I’m not sure. He was supposed to meet us here, but if something spooked him he might have moved on.”

“But wouldn’t he have left a sign?” Alex snapped. His eyes flicked from me to the door in an anxious relay, the sounds continuing.

At least the sand spider was having fun.

“Maybe that’s what the map you found was. Maybe he was telling us where to go.” I was clutching at straws, trying to find anything that would convince him. How many more lies did I need to tell?

“It wasn’t there before, though!”

“Shh!” I hissed. “Keep your voice down with those things outside. After that monster’s finished it will go after the next thing it thinks is worth eating.” A good diversionary tactic for all of us. I couldn’t spend time considering where that map had come from.

Alex swallowed and hushed. Kitty still hadn’t moved, she held her hands quietly in her lap. Words of comfort felt like cotton balls in my mouth. What good would they do anyway? I ignored them and tailored to practicality.

“We should gather everything together and get ready to go tonight.” The instructions fell from my lips like an experienced commander. Like Xanthia. Like Maurice. Was I as bad as them? Two pairs of eyes stared back, both heads nodding in affirmation. Had I broken these kids too? Had I stolen their lives as mine had been stolen?

“What about the spider?” Kitty asked, finally breaking her silence.

I checked the makeshift bandage on my arm. Scarlet had fissured through the material ripples. “We’ll deal with that when it comes to it. You two start getting things ready. I’m going to wash this off and apply something fresh to it while you make a start.”

Alex nodded, catching Kitty’s elbow to propel her from her chair. “I’m glad you’ve decided to help the scientists generate a proper cure. I’m proud of you for doing the right thing,” he muttered and then hurried Kitty up the stairs.

Was he really that naïve? Did he really think that I was doing this to save everyone else?

No. As usual, I was doing it to save his hide. That’s all I’d been doing for years now.

I moved across to the barrel of water that Kitty had been washing her hands in, dipping a washcloth into it to soak as I peeled the bloodied material from my arm. It wasn’t too bad. Scarlet and cream. I pulled the sodden cloth from the water, carefully washing away the crimson as my breath hissed through my teeth.

The water sluiced into the waiting barrel turning it a deeper shade. I tried to ignore the pain even as my heart clenched. Tears threatened, but the creak of the bottom step held them in place.

A quick turn revealed that Kitty had snuck back down. She waited meekly by the door.

I edged back to the water, hiding her back from my own sight as I tentatively dried off the sore skin and fixed a fresh bandage in place from some old shirts nearby. She rocked on the balls of her feet and then took a step closer.

“How did she die?”

My eyes closed involuntarily. Wilma’s face danced before my gaze, the slash of realisation as her throat spliced, smattering me with blood. She was still alive when she dropped to the floor, gushing, trying to scream and trying to breathe.

I didn’t regret it. I would never regret it.

“It was quick,” I murmured. “I had to do it.”

“I know.” I turned to look at her, confusion burgeoning across my brow. She glanced away. “I mean, I know you wouldn’t have done it unless you had to. I just… I had to know.”

“Okay.” A pause. Stiffness. “I’m sorry.”

A half laugh. “No you’re not.” She shook her head, this survivor that I had once mistaken for a silly, mousey girl, and spoke with unflinching words. “No you’re not, Cadence. You hated her.”

“You’re right. I hated her.”

“It was necessary, though, right?”

She was looking at me again, expectant, like I was in control, like I could only ever do the right thing. “Yes,” I choked softly. “Yes, it was necessary.” Was I destroying her too?

“Okay,” she murmured. “That’s okay. I just needed to know.” Another pause. She turned, highlighted in the soft grey light on the steps, one hand poised on the bannister. Her face kept closed from mine. “I’ll go finish packing now.”

“Okay,” I whispered into the silence, her figure already vanished from the stair.

—–

Check out chapter four, The Spot, tomorrow! And don’t forget to join the event on:

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