A Heart-Wrenching Excerpt From Celia McMahon's Uncaged.
To celebrate the newly revealed cover for Unleashed, the last installment in Celia McMahon's Unspoken trilogy, have a sneak peek at Uncaged: Celia's highly anticipated sophomore novel, which picks up where Unspoken left off.
After escaping Stormwall, Izzy and Fray have finally crossed through the Archway and into The Old Kingdom in search of allies. But finding a place within Fray’s former pack is harder than they imagined. When Izzy’s father warred with the Gwylis, it made a lifelong enemy of the Rowan name. Fray’s betrayal of siding with Aquarius in the war makes him no less an enemy to the pack.
Come closer. Let me look upon you. Oh, yes, I know you. Word has reached my ears. You are a legend. The princess who became a wolf. Now tell me, what could possess you to do such a thing? Oh, is he standing right behind you? Come closer. Let me look upon your face.
Light pierced through my eyelids as I stirred awake. I groaned and turned, shaking the dream-voice from my head. The smell of the fire from the night before burned my nostrils, igniting the remainder of my senses. The whistle of the wind. The taste of rabbit on my tongue. The battering of my panicked heart against my ribs.
I sat up as the slow steady rise of the sun lit the forest. My blanket froze overnight, so I shook it out and laid it over a nearby tree branch.
I should go and find food, but my muscles ached and my head felt light. Instead, I sat against a tree in the snow, looking out at the mountains that encased me, and watched helplessly as a new day pulled me in.
We’d traveled for eight days through the Archway and into the mountains, leaving behind my old home of Stormwall, where, by now, Dal Paratheon and his son, Ashe, had taken the throne alongside the Voiceless Gwylis—cursed people of the Old Kingdom. Wolves. Where my mother fit into all of this remained to be seen. She had been alive when I last saw her, knocked unconscious by my own hand. My father died by my teeth. I never thought about him. I still didn’t. But I did remember.
I wished I could forget them. When I’d gone to Wargrave—the skanky shop owner of the Barge—I’d hoped that when I became a wolf, my past would be erased. As if everything up until the moment Aquarius bit me would have been nothing but a bad dream. But just looking at my reflection made it impossible to push the memories aside. And the dreams got worse as the days went on.
It was always the same. I’m walking through a deep cave and there’s a pool of water and the voice—the voice says the same thing over and over again, and I can’t make it stop. I see shadows lurking in the corners of my vision—quick and gone before I turn my head. Before my cousin Lulu died, she told me that she’d had the very same dream.
Only it never finished for her. I wondered how long it would be before I heard everything the woman’s voice had to say.
I swallowed, sniffed the air, and watched the sun rise. Despite my muscles’ objections, I pushed to my feet and headed into the woods. The snow was about knee-deep in some places and took a bit of effort to push through. I went slow. There were predators out there. Bears. Wildcats. Even wolves. But it didn’t matter anymore. Back in my old Wildcats. Even wolves. But it didn’t matter anymore. Back in my old life, it would matter, but now it was different. Now they were afraid of me.
“Lulu,” I said into the frosty morning air. “Henry.”
The names of my cousin and brother brought life when life was no longer there. I was afraid that if I didn’t say it often enough, they would fade away, lost in time and memory.
I wished I could forget.
But I couldn’t. Somewhere out in the Old Kingdom, Henry took his last breath, both as a human and a Gwylis. He may have showed me what our father had done, but I had to know how my brother had come to the decision of betraying his flesh and blood. There was so much I didn’t know.
My boots crunched along the ground. Henry’s old wrapped boots. I clutched the emerald necklace at my neck, letting the familiarity of my brother’s gift calm my nerves. I walked until I came to a spot by a river that cut horizontally through the range of mountains. Fray was there, bent over our doused fire, watching the smoke rise into the trees. I noticed our horse was already packed and saddled. Fray looked tired. With my mind as scattered as it was, he’d done more than pull my weight alongside his own.
I took in the moment of Fray, unaware of my presence until I remembered what he was. His clear blue eyes locked onto mine, and I instantly drowned.
“Izzy,” he said. Still a man of few words.
Fray Castor used to be a Voiceless, but because of Pyrus’ cure, he’d Fray Castor used to be a Voiceless, but because of Pyrus’ cure, he’d regained his voice. Each and every day since, it still made my heart skip a beat. My name on his lips was like honey. When he looked at me, I was reminded of the tiny vials in my pack. One cured an affliction. One took a life.
I smiled, took his face in my hands, and pushed aside strands of hair from his eyes and the bridge of his nose. His hair had grown unruly— he refused to let me properly comb it out—and a shadow of stubble ran the length of his jawline and upper lip. I kissed him, and a warmth ran through my body. He pulled me closer, locking me in his arms. The tightness in my chest loosened. When I was with him, everything felt all right. He took away the voices, if only for a little while.
“How are you?” he asked when we pulled apart. His words were smoke in the chill air. He looked into my eyes, but I couldn’t seem to meet his. “Dreams again?”
“I don’t really understand it,” I told him. I watched the river take an old log downstream and swallowed the lump building in my throat. I wished he’d never asked. “It’s like it’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t get it.” I shrugged. “That’s it. I don’t get it.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I knew what he meant. It was more than a simple question with a simple answer. What he wanted to know was what I’d seen painted across his face the very moment I’d climbed the stage where he was to be executed. What he wanted to know was how I had created the barrier that surrounded us—that ultimately saved us from the barrage of arrows set to kill the man I loved.
I had used magic; I knew this well. But it was a magic that seemed to I had used magic; I knew this well. But it was a magic that seemed to scare Fray and, in turn, scare me.
I pondered day after day how to talk about it, how to tell Fray about Aquarius and how I’d come to know the old wolf that Wargrave kept in his cellar. But that would mean I would have to talk about Wargrave, which led to my dear cousin Lulu and all the things that hurt my heart to remember. To speak of the life before we’d crossed through the Archway was speaking of a world that no longer existed. My life was stitched together with a hundred memories of things I wanted to forget. Though I knew the time would come, today was not that day.
Fray waited for me to answer as long as he could. Eventually he dropped his eyes, pressing his lips together like he was holding in something he wanted to say.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. Shame burned my cheeks. How many times had I done this—made Fray feel as though I was as fragile as glass so that he felt like he had to sidestep around my feelings? “I promise when we settle, I will tell you everything I know,” I said, “and we can figure out the things I don’t.”
“Maybe when we get closer to my home, we can find out.”
Closer to Fray’s home meant cutting through some dangerous terrain, avoiding the main roads, some of which my father and his men had taken. Some of which may still be occupied by Mirosa’s army. But traveling the woods was easy. I felt at home in them, more so now than ever before.
Somewhere deep in the mountains was Fray’s old pack. They lived in a place Fray called the Den, which Fray described as an area that overlooked a large crystalline lake where everybody knew each other’s overlooked a large crystalline lake where everybody knew each other’s names. I smiled at that last bit. It seemed like a good place to put down roots. He mentioned in passing how unreachable it was by human feet, especially during this time of year, when the snow piled on inches almost every day. The sun would melt it and more would come, and some days there wasn’t any sun at all, leaving the ground high and frozen. Not at all treacherous for wolf paws, though I preferred to stay in my human form. I knew there were still Mirosian armies out there who hadn’t yet heard of what happened. Better safe than sorry.
I wondered if Fray feared the Den was no longer standing. His reluctance to even answer direct questions about his home led to more silences than necessary. I wished I could take some of his burden and add it to my own, since it weighed me down anyway. The unknown path that lay ahead of me branched out a hundred different directions.
One wrong choice, and I’d lose everything. But when I felt that tang of fear, I remembered that Henry had come through this land. If he could do it, so could I.
“Are you hungry?"
I shook my head and felt his arms wrap around my body. A soft voice in my ear said, “Liar. You’re always hungry.”
He had a point. I’d probably kill for some of the palace’s baked delights, but as with all things, I forced myself to forget them. Maybe the Den would have bakers just as good, but for now, I would stick to eating campfire meat. Maybe as a wolf, I’d find the taste of undercooked meat a little more satiable. But I wasn’t ready to try. Fray held me tighter, and all thoughts of my former life vanished.
“We’re going to get through it,” he said.
I held him to that.
Uncaged releases on February 11th, 2020 from The Parliament House Press. Loved this sneak peek? Don't forget to add it to your Goodreads list. And check out the cover for the final installment on Instagram!