READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Unleashed by Celia McMahon
I will claim my victory with claws and teeth and steel.
In the wake of her battle to protect the Den, Izzy has crossed back into Stormwall to enact her plan with the former prince, Ashe, to retake the kingdom from within. Only weeks go by with no word from the prince and Izzy is faced once again with Ashe’s betrayal. She is forced to make alternate plans with a group of rebels to kill both king and prince.
But the world has always bent at odd angles for the wolf-princess. On the day of their battle, things don’t go as planned and Izzy finds herself once again fighting for her life and friends. In the chaos that follows, Izzy and her rebels lose Stormwall into the hands of the Gwylis.
Read the first two chapters to get a sneak peak into Celia McMahon’s riviteting third chapter of the Unspoken Series, Unleashed—out Tuesday, November seventeenth!
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I could almost taste his blood on my tongue.
I rose to my knees and peered over the roof of the Old Hen tavern. He was walking away—or rather, stumbling away, most likely wasted from ale and exhaustion. The sight of him elicited a growl from deep in my throat.
I’ve been waiting for you.
The sky was blue-black: a full moon with a light shower that plas tered my short hair to my forehead. I wiped the water drops from my eyelashes and stood. I found level footing and leapt onto the roof of the next building, landing feather soft. When the man turned to look my way, I crouched and pinned my hood closed across my face, hoping for the cover of night. I heard him cough, and spit something thick onto the street. I dared a look to be sure.
Archibald Grayson Apatimi looked more pathetic now than he had been a few months ago, his pock-marked face even more cavernous with eyes so unfocused, it was on my luck alone that he now walked in the right direction. He had been Ashe’s captain of his personal guard and a traitor to Mirosa. He was thinner and sickly. And yet, despite the man’s fragile state, I felt no pity. Branch, the older wolf from the Den who taught me to fight, was a voice in the back of my head. Don’t be fooled. Even injured or sick wolves can bite.
The sight of the traitor dragged me into memories I’d rather have forgotten. If I could, I’d have chalked them up to nothing but a long and horrible dream. But being here in Stormwall made that impossi ble. Not only was I forced to remember, but also see with my own eyes what I’d done to my kingdom.
I could feel the pain coming off the city, like a sentient thing gath ering under my skin. A sudden, ferocious pain made me struggle for breath. The loss of life during Dal Paratheon’s invasion swirled around like a blackened cloud. How many more had died since? It was difficult to discern, with every one of Stormwall’s people moving through the destruction of their home.
Every one of my people.
Their fear was a palpable thing, invading every inch of space in this city. If not for the storm of Peek Island soldiers and Gwylis, but for the shockingly large amount of missing children; posters begging for their return nailed to buildings and walls all around the city. This terror permeated the air, the earth, in the very breath of the lungs of the people I should have protected.
This regret panged in every rise and fall of my chest. My people deserved a better ruler.
I drew in a long breath and leapt to the next roof, following Archibald’s solitary path through the city. He turned down an alley and stopped to piss. I cringed against the scent of urine. I could kill him now, though this close to the main square, it would be entirely too reckless. All my killings were lured from the city and, sometimes, to the privacy of a bedroom.
But before I could stop myself, I crouched and sprang from the rooftop.
I didn’t land as softly as I intended. Archibald finished pissing and looked over his shoulder, seemingly unconcerned of the woman standing behind him, watching him soil the brick of the wall. The rest of his body followed until he faced me, a grin spreading across his gruesome face. “The whore returns, after all.”
In my former life, I’d be distracted by the insult. Often, it would send my temper flaring and soaring with reckless abandon, doing anything and everything to defend myself. But now, I had demon magic inside of me. It flared there now, in the hollow of my stomach like an inextinguishable fire.
I met the former guard’s eyes and matched his grin. “You know who I am.”
He held my gaze. “Don’t think for one moment, the shadows of my past do not come calling at one point or another.”
I ground my teeth together. “I am no shadow.”
“Could have fooled me.”
I drew in a sharp breath. No time for arguing. “Where is Prince Ashe?”
Archibald threw his head back and laughed. “No wonder you’re covering the city in red.” He casually anchored a hand on his hip. “I don’t know anything about the prince. As far I know, he’s dead.”
My eyes widened. For weeks, I’d lured and tortured soldiers and guards alike for information from behind the palace walls. I’d taken a knife to my face, healing, and then repeating it every evening. For weeks, I’d sunk into a blood-red fury only the threat of daylight could stop. If Dal Paratheon’s own traitorous fiend didn’t know where Ashe was, what hope was there in finding him?
Ashe should have sent word. A crow. Anything. But I waited for days before donning the hood and stalking the city under the cover of night. I hunted men as they came out of taverns, loose and drunk. I tempted them into inns, I took them beyond the city boundaries, and for what? I didn’t know how many I’d killed, or which ones still churned around in my belly. I did not regret the killing, because the demons did not allow me to feel shame or guilt. I only regretted the time wasted.
But I refused to believe him, gritting out the words, “You’re lying.”
“Are you sure?” Archibald asked. “I’ve been in the palace, and there’s been no one-armed prince strutting the halls. As far as everyone knows, he died during the Battle for Stormwall.”
I scoffed at the ridiculous name. It sounded like my father and his forces even had a chance at keeping the throne. They didn’t. “So, you wish to die for your lies.”
“I’m going to die either way, Princess. Best by your claws than the king’s noose.”
He was right. If he went back and reported me, Dal would certainly kill him for not taking me back there with him. Dead or alive. He was better off dead, and better for my conscience.
Wargave would tell me how I was wasting my time and effort. No news would come from the palace, especially not anything useful and convenient for myself. He’d said those exact words just days ago when I’d come crashing into his little shop bucking like a wild horse, angry that I could not find what I needed. The world doesn’t bend for you, Isabelle Rowan. Stop thinking it will.
Suspicious shopkeepers with fake eyes shouldn’t speak like wizened old men. There was nothing more unnerving. “You ruined everything for me, bringing your traitor king to my kingdom,” I said. He blinked at the last word, clearly misinterpreting my absence. As much as I thought I’d left the New Kingdom behind, it was always there waiting for me, very much mine by blood and rights. “It didn’t have to happen the way it did.”
Before I finished speaking, I moved. Changing into a wolf here would only attract attention, as it did in a bedroom for example, but my strength as a human matched the bite of my teeth. I grabbed Archibald’s arm and slammed him against the opposite wall. He went for his weapon—a dagger, perhaps—but I knocked it away too quickly. He tried to drive a fist into my belly, but I sidestepped, knocking him off-balance. I drove a fist into his neck and a knee into his midsection, sending the older man crashing onto his knees.
This cat and mouse game was fun, and only for the truly sadistic. I was playing with my food.
Archibald heaved. “Your mother wasn’t quite so feisty. Where did you get such fire?”
I drew my dagger. “You slept with her, didn’t you?” Images of their shameful flirting across the table flashed before me. I’d first spoken to Ashe that night. Lulu had been gushing the entire night.
“Like mother, like daughter, slumming with the palace scum,” Archibald spat. “Some likeness after all.”
My pulse kicked up a violent rhythm as the darkness pressed on me, my fire lashing out from beneath my skin, sizzling the very air between me and the guard.
“What was the boy’s name? Fray Castor?”
I thought hearing his name would freeze me to the spot and flood with my mind with all the things I’d done to him—the things he never deserved. The full weight of it should have subdued me, but the demons reacted with a hiss and a whisper: Forget about him. You never needed him.
“Shut up,” I snapped, addressing both the Uncanny and Archibald. “You don’t know him, and you don’t know me.”
This only made the man smile wider. “Oh, I know women like you. The sick kind of females who lust after monsters because it reflects what they are deep down inside.”
My hand trembled. Don’t think about him. Don’t. “I said, shut up!” “They talk about you, you know. They call you a monster.” I lunged for him, but blinding anger made me careless. He grabbed
hold of the necklace holding the jewels and ripping it from my neck. I barely heard them fall to the ground, back against the alleyway, before my vision flashed with shadows.
My throat went bone-dry, my tongue leaden in my mouth. The feeling of being filled up like a wave and then like a deluge. I swear the ground tipped beneath my feet. My hands curled into a fist around my dagger hilt. My control over my magic slowly shattered.
I am not a monster.
A burning sensation swamped me. Flames licked my fingertips. Embers sprouted from every hair on my body. But I did not burn. This magic was from demons, born of choice and desperation. Yes, you are.
An inky black figure came into view to my left. I knew what it was, I did not have to ask. And I was too weak to fight against it. Fire, wrath, and hatred.
Shadows drank up the enormity of the scene, and in one swift motion, I drew a straight line across Archibald’s neck. The scent of blood soaked the air; a familiar scent, and a good one at that. Archibald’s head rolled to the side, his eyes still wide, as if death came as a surprise.
I picked up my necklace and tucked it into my pants pocket. The demons shrank away, but not entirely. They danced in my peripheral, awaiting the next call.
Another smell hit me right away. Not Voiceless, but not the typical Gwylis scent either. Something earthy, like a kindling fire and cheap bracelets. The sound of jewelry clacked and bounced off the light of the moon as she approached and dipped her head to the guard’s body. “I see you couldn’t stay away long. What mess have you dredged up now?”
I swiped my blade across my pants and sheathed it. “That’s none of your concern, soothsayer.”
Abiyaya laughed. She stepped further into the street to gain sight of me, but I kept putting space between us until there wasn’t any more. “Visit me,” she said and turned her back. “The stars are bright tonight.”
Finished talking, the old soothsayer disappeared down the cobble stone street and out of sight. I held up my hands in defeat and looked back in the direction of the Barge and then in the direction of impov erished homes where Abiyaya lived—where I ultimately made my destination.
I kept a slow pace beside the soothsayer, winding down the city streets until we approached the poor section of
A voice cracked the air moments later. “TOBIAS!”
I craned my neck over a small grouping of people. There, I found a Peek Island guard restraining the screaming woman while the rest watched helplessly.
Panic assailed me, fueled by the silver fish upon the guard’s breast plate. From what I could tell, Dal Paratheon cared very little for the people of Mirosa. This could end in tragedy.
The woman screamed, her eyes bloodshot, her body going limp as she sobbed for a name. Tobias. Who was Tobias?
I leaned into Abiyaya, keeping my face hidden in my hood. “What is happening over there?”
Abiyaya took a moment to listen. “She cries for her son, Tobias. He was seven years old. Taken, probably.”
I turned back to the woman, who was now out of the guard’s arms and on the ground in a heap. I watched as a man, a commoner, low born in a threadbare cloak came and lifted her, looking vulnerable and apologetic to the onlooking guard.
“I’ll take her inside,” he said, his tone rushed. “She will cause no more noise, I promise you. Don’t kill her. She is only grieving.” Grief took hold of my body. Familiar grief. “The missing kids,” I whispered. At first, I’d thought they were being smuggled out of the city, but the missing posters and now this; I could no longer deny something far more sinister was happening. People were getting hurt. More than I could save.
Abiyaya met my fraught expression. “Twenty-two children.” I loosed a breath. Twenty-two children, vanished. This had to do with Dal Paratheon, I knew it. But what would he want with children? Was he punishing people? Surely not this woman. She was not a palace worker. She hardly looked like a business owner, and by the state of her clothing, she did not have much money. What would Dal want with her son?
There was something there, but I filed it away for when I had more information.
We neared the soothsayer’s home and I let all of questions drift away.
“Come. Sit.” Abiyaya motioned to one of two chairs at the table where I’d once dropped my blood into a dish; it had turned black as tar. It was only at this moment, I finally understood why.
I wanted to say, “I’m not your dog,” but instead, I stayed silent and took the seat.
When enough time had passed, Abiyaya came out with it. “So, you went ahead and became the thing your family hated.” She smirked, and her deep wrinkles wrinkled further. “That’s quite the achievement.”
Yes, quite. I folded my hands on the table. The dish sitting on the table in front of me dredged up memories of the first time I’d come to the soothsayer’s house. “You called me beautiful and cruel.” “And you called me a witch.”
I curled my lip, smirking. “Well, you made predictions that came true. That makes you a witch.”
“You speak of things you know nothing about.”
I looked up at the soothsayer, to her scarred hand. “Are you a Gwylis?”
Abiyaya kept her mouth in a thin line and slowly raised her powder-white eyebrows. “Do I smell like a Gwylis to you?” I’d be able to smell her some distance away, but I sniffed the air anyway for good measure. It stunk of damp earth and something I could not identify as either pleasant or offensive. “No. But you smell like you crawled from the center of the world.”
She laughed at this. “Maybe so. Maybe so.” She gestured to the dish. “Another go?”
I snorted. “Why, so you can tell me my heart is a shriveled carcass roasting in the summer heat?”
“That’s why you came, isn’t it?”
“I came because I thought you’d have information for me.” Abiyaya cocked her head. “Information is what you need?” I smirked and gestured to the room. “That’s why I’m here.” Abiyaya sat back in her seat. “Why are you really here?” she asked.
“It is to kill Dal Paratheon’s soldiers, is it not?”
“Because my home was threatened, and good people died.” I blocked my mind from conjuring Ghetee. I couldn’t show weakness. Not now.
“This home was threatened. What did you do to stop it?” She waited for an answer, but I kept silent. “You ran is what you did. You ran to a place you thought was better.” She leaned forward, her eyes locked onto mine. “Was it better?”
“It was led by a someone unfit to rule who deserved to die.” I nodded. “I suppose not.”
An infinitesimal smile crawled across her lips. She knew of Rixon’s death. Of course, she did. “And who should rule?”
“I will rule. This is my kingdom.”
“You wish to be queen?” Her words ignited my skin, sending a jolt into my head and I let the feeling ride.
I am Isabelle Victoria Rowan, and I would be Queen of Mirosa. Gone were the days of running from my problems. I would no longer let usurper kings invade my land. I would defend it with my life.
“I am the only answer,” I said simply. “I am the right answer.” Abiyaya weighed my words, but remained neutral. She pulled her lips together and said, “The dead are reflected in your eyes. This grief will kill you.”
I stood up. “If you’re done, I have places to be.”
Traitors to kill.
Abiyaya stopped me with one quick hand to my forearm. “I will tell you of the prince if you amuse me just this last time.” She motioned to the dish once again.
My gaze jerked back to the soothsayer, my breathing erratic, my mind swirling with images of the one-armed Ashe Paratheon. Once a prince. Always a traitor. “You know of Ashe?” I hated the desperation in my voice.
“You two had a plan, did you not? Did it ever occur to you maybe that plan did not go the way you wanted it to? Maybe the prince betrayed you. Again.”
Yes, the thought crossed my mind, more times than I liked. It kept me up at night and rattled me in the day. I could still hear his words. “I can get him to trust me again and then I’ll kill him,” he’d said. He knew as well as I did the only way to destroy Dal Paratheon was from within.
We did not have the forces yet, and Dal seemed to conjure them from thin air.
Are you listening?
How could I deny the determination in such words? Ashe looked as though he could destroy the world from its core if he had the chance.
The one-armed human prince with the heart of a beast. I now lived in a world where enemies lurked in every corner. I’d left my allies in another world, far past the Archway. My throat tight ened. I was alone, but I’d done it to myself. This loneliness, like two fists squeezing my neck, evaded only by hunting down soldiers and guards throughout the city and letting death become my own companion.
Well, other than the demons living inside of me. Not many people could say that.
I shook the thought away, forcing myself to focus. I had nothing left now but to trust the prince, and to see him back safely. “Fine.” I thrust out my hand. She ignored it, and suddenly, she was moving so fast, she might as well have been a blur. She unsheathed my dagger and pressed the tip of the blade into my skin. The demons recoiled, spouting poisonous words with voices mingling like a chorus.
Gwylis Queen, why do you let the bitch hurt us?
I gritted my teeth until Abiyaya withdrew the steel from my finger. “Aquarius won’t speak with you yet, will he?” Abiyaya asked as she squeezed my blood into her dish. I watched a drop, two, three, and then she released my hand. I caught my breath as the demons still cursed into my ears.
“That’s none of your concern.” Aquarius did refuse to speak; not because of who I was, but merely because he needed time to think, I assumed. Wargrave undoubtedly informed him of the happening back at the Den. But each day passed, and I waited, sitting on rooftops, and with each day I grew more anxious. Nothing got done. And I made excuses for the Gwylis king when he might be a filthy coward like my father.
Questions wracked my brain. How long until the Den pack came for me? How long until I’d get into the castle and shred apart Dal Paratheon for all he’d done? What of Pyrus? Crim? I shook my head. This is too much.
I shouldn’t have come alone.
I didn’t think I’d be alone. I thought Aquarius would stir from his depression—from his cramped and hidden life in Wargrave’s cellar. I’d expected too much too soon.
The world does not bend for you, Princess.
“This dagger will subdue the demons,” Abiyaya said.
I knew this, of course; I’d used it to kill Rixon and her very own evil inhabitants. But I never thought of stabbing myself to shut them up.
“The necklace too,” she added.
My fingers curled into the emerald and ruby necklace resting in the hollow of my neck, heavy and warm against my skin. I had to find the last gem to call upon the heavens to fight the Uncanny and break the Gwylis curse. It sounded simple enough until I said it aloud to the skanky shop owner, Wargrave. He laughed and laughed, but offered no insight. It was all right anyhow. I didn’t need him. I needed Aquarius.
Both Henry’s dagger and the gems did nothing but delay the inevitable. I could not control the demons, and sometimes, I did not want to. Not when brute force took precedence over polite conversation.
“What of the boy?” Abiyaya asked, pouring the strange liquid from a bottle she produced. She mixed it with my blood and stirred it with her finger. “Was this all worth it?”
I bared my teeth, but said nothing. There wasn’t anything to say. I’d done what I’d done and there was no taking it back. Don’t think about him.
“You can say his name, you know,” Abiyaya said. “Your heart may be bleeding, but it’s not emptied yet.”
Do you think you could love me the way I love you?
I could hear the question, spoken by someone who used his words only when needed. Only when his heart told him to speak. I’d nodded to his question as the ball continued without me outside those hedges.
He’d come back for me, risking his own life. The cure had worked, and he used his first words on me. Let me save you, Izzy. His words had purpose.
No, I didn’t think it possible now; the saving and the loving part. Not after killing his own mother. Not after putting everything else before him. I saw him through a looking glass, turned the opposite direction. So, so far away.
He was better off nameless, or else I would break.
“Our paths have split,” I said, keeping my voice steady. “Love has no place in war. It’s for the best.”
I flicked my eyes away, suppressing the sting of tears those last words threatened to set free. Stop thinking about him! “You see war.” I kept my voice as steady as possible.
Abiyaya stirred the dish with a noncommittal sound. “I see the same things I saw before, but…”
As she trailed off, she stood. With the dish in her hands, she turned her back to me. “You love too strongly, too fiercely, and it will be your downfall.”
“Will I still bring nothing but death?”
Abiyaya turned, her eyes foggy with…tears? “Yes, but most of it will be your enemy.”
I drew breath into my lungs, the relief crashing into me like a wave. “And Ashe?”
Abiyaya set down the dish and took a breath. “The only thing I’ve heard about the prince is that he is here in Stormwall and he is alive.” A small tear made its way down my cheek, but I only allowed one. I wiped it away and sat up straighter. Steeled myself. “But you don’t know what will become of him?”
The soothsayer shook her head. “Do you trust him?”
I said nothing.
Abiyaya scoffed. “He is human. Incapable of trust.”
I shook my head, but no words came.
She nodded. “But you want to trust him?”
I did. Every part of me wanted to know that he would not side with his father again. But would the promise of power deem too much for him? Would he succumb to the weight of a crown? Men were weak when presented with the choice of power. But Ashe was alive, and that was something.
I stood to leave. “I have to send another crow.”
Abiyaya clucked her tongue. “How many would that be? No crow will reach him. He is beyond your reach.”
I tilted my chin to my chest and sagged into my chair. Humans, incapable of trust, had let me down before. If the gods were listening, they would have heard my prayers. I would have known Ashe was still with me, that he was still on my side. But as the days wore on, those prayers faded, and along with them, my hope.
“I do secret coding in my messages,” I said, finding my voice. “I take precautions, so even if they were intercepted…they’d be…all right.” My breathless words didn’t make sense. They sounded far away and weak. When did words become so worthless?
“I have often been wrong,” Abiyaya said, rousing me from my thoughts. “Even I’m not perfect.”
My posture slumped. I killed Archibald tonight, but I may have lost Ashe. Why must it be that when my best intentions were fulfilled, the world deemed to punish me? Death surrounded me like a storm cloud, thundering its way into my life, cascading floods into every thing I held dear.
Hope was an ember in the back of my mind. All could be well if I held on a bit longer. But how long?
I did know why they came to me now, but I recalled the words Abiyaya said back in the alley while Archibald bled out atop his own urine.
The stars are bright tonight.
The phrase sounded familiar. I’d heard it three days after I’d arrived in Stormwall. The fact that they were spoken in the daytime should have alerted me to something amiss, but at the time, I was stalking a soldier and had no time to dwell on something insignificant. Now, those words did not seem so pointless.
“What did you mean by saying the stars were bright tonight?” I asked. “Is it code for something?”
Abiyaya smiled and her eyes brightened. “That, my girl, is why you will never be alone.” She bowed her head. “But also, why you need to get through to Aquarius. There can be no revolution without a leader. There are those who defy the king, those who can be stirred with the right motivation. You know as well as I do Gwylis hide within this city and beyond, but they will not last long if you waste time waiting on the prince. You must take matters into your own hands.”
“I need to get to Hassara.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Do you know anything about that city?” “City?” The question hung there, but she did not elaborate. Time crushed me, and I did not have time to poke and prod this old sooth sayer. I had things to do.
After a while, she finally said, “But you cannot make the journey alone.”