Have you read the outstanding UNTAMED series by Madeline Dyer? I discovered the first book back in summer 2016 and instantly fell in love. It was followed quickly by FRAGMENTED and DIVIDED, both even better than the last. The author’s most recent release is set in the same world, but takes place before the first book: and follows a different POV character, Keelie.
Today, as part of the blog tour, I’m sharing the prologue with you! Enjoy!
LOVE WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE EASY…
All her life, Keelie Lin-Sykes has known what she wants: to protect her brother and sisters by killing as many of the soulless Enhanced Ones as she can. Oh, and to have fun while she’s doing it. After all, hiding in a secret Untamed community, while the group’s Seer warns them of danger, shouldn’t mean that life can only be serious, right?
But, when a face from her past suddenly–and secretly–shows up, Keelie’s catapulted back into the very world she’s been trying to escape from for the last ten years: a world full of guilt, lies, and…love. And the deeper Keelie gets into this world, the bigger the risks become.
Now, Keelie must deceive those she values most in order to protect them, even though her actions will destroy everything she knows and haunt her family forever. But she can’t ignore her feelings–not again. And Keelie will do anything to be with the man she loves.
TEN YEARS EARLIER
First, I hear them in my dreams.
Long, drawn-out screams. Screams that grab and burn, like fire; sounds that never let go. Sounds that—
I open my eyes, heart pounding, and see a figure looming over me. My father—short, red-faced, worried. He grabs my arm, pulls me up. The screams continue, still scorching me.
For a moment, I think it’s the Turning. That it’s the spirits screaming, that they’re reverting to their most dangerous of temperaments, and it’s a good job we’re inside, else they’ll kill us. But then I realize. The screams are human. They’re us.
“Keelie! Come on—we’ve got to go, got to leave. Now.” My father hands me several layers of clothes. “Pack everything quickly. Like we practiced.”
Behind him, my mother’s shoving everything she can get her hands on into the only suitcase we have. Her hands move so fast. “Owen, get the weapons!” she yells.
Nearby, there’s sharp movement—hands and arms reaching for things. Heavy, quick breathing. Bea, my older sister, scoops the baby out of the cot, holds Mila close to her chest just as the infant starts crying. I see the look on Bea’s face—how she’s trying to stay in control and not panic.
My body jolts; it’s happening. Actually happening.
They’re out there.
They’re coming for us.
Outside, someone shouts. I think it’s Red’s voice, but I’m not sure—it’s distorted by the heavy clog of the engines, the shouts, the screams.
A thousand emotions drive through my body, clash with each other, start to do battle. I know I should be afraid—the fear should be palpable—but I’m not. My body hums with energy. This is it.
I fight to stop a smile erupting across my face. There are times and places when smiling is appropriate. This is not one of them.
An engine rumbles outside, and then my father’s crossing the hut. Clanking sounds follow, and I know he’s getting the knives.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Bea whispers to Mila. But the baby can’t understand, and we all know Bea’s saying it to herself. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
I pull on clothes—a shirt, a hoody, an outer coat, and dark jeans—straight over my pajamas, then find my shoes, put them on. Then I grab my rucksack, start stuffing things inside. My blanket, spare shoes, a book. A second passes, then I grab my teddy bear—even though I know I’m too old for him now.
I fold Bea’s blanket hastily and stuff it into the top of my bag.
“Keelie, take these.” My mother thrusts several items into my arms: a compass, a pack of energy bars, water purification tablets, a tub of Vaseline, a bottle of insect repellent, and some antiseptic cream. “Put them in your bag; we’ve got no room in ours. And be quick. Bea, Mila’s food is in Gwen’s hut. Grab what you can, and then go—we’ll meet you in the woods, by Eighth Branch. Get Mila away before she starts crying. And where’s Elf?” She turns away, her face red with the heat, and flaps her hands around her head for a moment.
“Here.” The curtain to my right moves, and then my brother’s in front of me, reaching for the bottles of water, just as our father hands them to him.
Bea heads out of the hut, her arms wrapped tightly around our baby sister. An empty tote bag hangs from her shoulder.
“Be careful!” I call after her, but I don’t know if my words are loud enough, and I wonder if that’s the last time I’ll see my sisters. My heart clenches.
No, stop it.
I need to stay calm. Gwen’s hut isn’t far. It’s the nearest one to ours, and a lot of Mila’s things are in there because Gwen looks after the baby when my mother’s hunting and Bea’s gathering.
Heart thudding, I squash the new items into the rucksack, realize they won’t all fit, and pull the teddy bear back out, place him on my bed.
“Hurry up,” Caia-Lu whispers. I look up, see her old, gaunt face. “We have to go now. They’re getting closer to this hut.”
“Keelie—keep packing!” my mother shouts at me, her words fraught. And then she’s yelling more and more stuff, but her words are too loud, and I can’t make them out. I stare at her hands, the way they move next to her head. She spins around a couple of times, like she doesn’t know where to go next.
“We haven’t got time!” Caia-Lu grabs the Watcher Doll from the table and squeezes it hard between her palms as if the red paint on it will imprint onto her skin if she holds it tightly enough.
She’s calling upon the spirits to help us, even though she’s not an active Seer right now—she doesn’t get called to the Dream Land or given Seeing dreams put together by good spirits and the Gods and Goddesses. I pray that the spirits will still help, because we’re Untamed, but I know that’s no guarantee. They’re mostly on our side, but they still ripped my uncle to shreds and then altered time so that the scene played over and over for hours and hours. Some of them just want to torment everyone—whether they’re Enhanced or not.
The cries outside get louder. The screams.
“We have to go now!” Caia-Lu yells, and then she’s gone, and the Watcher Doll’s gone too.
I start to go, to follow her. Wisps of early morning light peak through the window, and I freeze as I see the shapes and—
“Keelie! Pack that stuff, grab the other bag—the one under there, yes. Elf, give me a hand with this.”
I shake as I reach for the next bag—as I realize this is real. Very real. Outside, I hear voices, close to our hut. Caia-Lu’s and Gregory’s.
“Where’s the torch?” Elf barges past me, then grabs it from the side counter, spilling a bowl of dried leaves.
“No—don’t turn it on,” my mother hisses. “They could be right out there. Keelie, look from the doorway. See if Ramna and Sara are ready to go. Be careful. Don’t go outside, not without me.”
I follow my mother’s words, and, a second later, I stand in the doorway, holding back the heavy curtain with my arm. It’s lighter outside than in our hut—there’s a full moon along with the dawn light, but it mainly illuminates the mist—and it takes my eyes several seconds to adjust.
Caia-Lu stands by Gwen’s hut, ten yards from me, her head in her hands. She turns slowly, lifting her face, and, despite the haze, I see the haunted look in her eyes.
“Run, child. Running is the only way out,” she shouts.
My chest tightens. I scan the rest of the area, but I can’t see far because of the early morning fog billowing out of the semi-darkness. There’s another hut behind Gwen’s—Nina’s—but I can’t even see its shape. Nor can I see my aunts, Ramna and Sara. But I wouldn’t from here. Their hut is on the other side of the village and—
A scream sends chills through my body.
My mother tries to grab hold of me, but I’m too quick. I move into the half-darkness—toward the Enhanced, are they here now?—and I run, run toward the scream, toward Bea.
Footsteps pound behind me, and energy resounds through my whole body.
“That way!” Red yells, emerging from the dark, the mist, and he grabs my hand tightly, pulls me to the left.
I skid and slam into him, my best friend. We nearly lose our balance, but somehow we slip on the mud, and our weight propels us to the side. I grip his hand tighter, run faster, my eyes blinking furiously, trying to see ahead.
The trees are there; I can make out their outline. And—
And I see them.
Bea and—and the woman.
Red and I falter, stop. I feel his body jolt, and then he squeezes my hand, hard. He’s shaking.
They’re here. The Enhanced are here.
We’re too late.
Caia-Lu told you to run!
Bea’s crying, trying to cover her ears and hold the baby at the same time, while she rocks on the balls of her feet. She shakes her head over and over again. Mila starts wailing, and Bea trembles, then tries to make herself smaller, crouches down. I see her eyes shut as she nestles the baby into her lap, then she moves one hand up, covers her left ear.
“It’s all right, dear,” the woman says, reaching down to Bea with a long-fingered hand.
“No! Don’t touch her,” I yell. She doesn’t like being touched by strangers.
The woman turns to me—mirror eyes taunting—and I gulp. She takes a step toward me. And I’m sure she’s going to kill one of us. Me? Bea? Red?
But no, everything I know about them tells me that’s wrong. The Enhanced Ones don’t kill us. They’re not violent people, not murderers—that’s what they say. Any deaths in conversion attacks are accidents because the Enhanced Ones are programmed to want to save us all.
Yet, whether intentionally violent or not, they are still armed. And I don’t believe Dad when he says their guns are only for sport. They’re going to use them on us, sooner or later.
“It’s all right, children,” the woman says. “Don’t be scared. I’ve come to save you, my dears. We Chosen Ones will save you all.” She smiles brightly and looks toward Bea. “There, there. Don’t cry, my darlings. You too can live your lives free from negativities.”
Red lets go of my hand and steps toward Bea and the woman. “Bea! Come over here, now.”
But Bea isn’t looking at Red, and I don’t think she hears his words. She’s overstimulated; everything will be an overwhelming blur to her.
I dart forward. Mud splatters over my legs, cold and thick and clammy on my jeans, like it’s trying to draw me back, stop me going.
“Good girl,” the Enhanced woman whispers as I run at them. I don’t know how I hear her words—I just do—and she reaches for me.
I duck under her arm as I enter her thick cloud of perfume, nearly gagging. My eyes water.
“Bea!” I hesitate, know that I need to grab her. But she doesn’t like being touched a lot of the time, even if she knows the person. “Bea! Come on!”
I look around, and then the woman’s reaching toward me, and I ignore the voice in my head and pull Bea up. My sister’s arms are locked around Mila, and Bea stares at me for a moment. I push her to my left as hard as I can, and we’re moving, my two sisters in front of me.
“Red—” I turn, but I can’t see him. “Bea, run!” I shout, but my voice is strained, and it’s suddenly got darker—clouds over the moon and—
Warm fingers close around my wrist.
I twist, see myself reflected in the Enhanced One’s eyes, see myself captured.
For a second, I freeze. Then I spring into action. I slam my fist into the woman’s face, kick out at the same time, turning so I can throw off her center of gravity. But she’s strong—too strong—and her grip doesn’t weaken. If anything it gets stronger. She pulls me closer, and I turn again, kicking out, adrenaline pumping through me.
Her arm snaps around my body, like a lock. And—
“Let us save you!”
Suddenly, there are more. More people, more mirror eyes. I scream at them, try to frighten them, even though I know it’s impossible—they only feel what they want to.
I twist against her body, manage to unlatch her arm from me, and duck as a flash of something gold flies toward me in the half-light. An augmenter? My mouth dries.
I can’t take the poison that will steal my soul, fill me with artificiality, and never let me be the same again.
I turn, got to keep moving—but there are so many of them. They work in packs.
The scream comes from behind me, and I try to turn—think I see a figure and—
A gun goes off.
I gasp as something big and heavy hits me, and I fall forward, pulled down with one of them. I hit the ground hard and roll over, freeing myself from the Enhanced One’s weight. Pain flashes through me.
My head jerks up, and I taste blood on the roof of my mouth. My tongue feels too big.
Red has the gun—one of the elders’ guns. He stands there, with Bea screaming behind him. She’s cradling Mila, still trying to cover her ears. She shouts at me, tells me to get up. Red holds the weapon. At thirteen years old, he knows how to use it. We’re taught as soon as we’re responsible enough. He learned at the age of eight, and, two years later, on my own eighth birthday, I was old enough too.
I duck just in time to avoid his second shot.
My heart pounds. The ground pounds. Everything pounds, and I feel something building up within me—momentum, as if the world is suddenly going to stop, but I’ll go crashing forward. I cover my head with my arms, try to hunker down so I’m invisible. Coldness seeps into my body.
They fall around me—the Enhanced Ones. I see them, even though my left eye is pressed against the ground, blurring my vision.
Something wet splashes over me.
I stay still. Listening. Scared.
The screams are louder now. More of them. More of us?
It’s all right, I tell myself. It’ll be all right. It’ll be over soon.
And it will end in blood and tears. That’s what Caia-Lu has always said; suddenly, I see her face in front of me. Her eyes are haunted, and they’re sinking into their sockets, being drawn back, until they’re gone. Until there’s nothing there.
“Run!” a voice screams. Another voice—my father’s. “Run!”
I lift my head, move my arms slightly, try to see. But there’s—the air isn’t…it’s smoke. Smoke billows toward me. And there’s no one else, Bea and Red have gone. Disappeared. Something hisses loudly, crackles, up in the sky and—
I catapult forward, but I don’t know which way I’m going now, only that I’ve got to get out. Something’s on fire, and the vehicles are too close. The engines are running, but why haven’t people moved them, driven off? I turn to the left, look toward the hut where we store fuel, see the flames.
My legs plow into action before I consciously make the decision. I pull myself forward; gritty air scratches my throat. My eyes smart as I try to see—try to see where people are…my family… I’ve lost them. Where are Bea and Mila? And Elf—is he in the hut still?
And what about Red?
A woman ahead of me stumbles, but I can’t see whether she’s one of them or one of us. The air’s too thick. It’s hiding stuff, making it harder—trying to protect us?
Another gunshot goes off, and I duck, freeze. Every part of my body throbs.
Keep going. Don’t stop.
I run again, and then I’m at the woman’s side. I see her green shawl, recognize it—my aunt Ramna’s shawl. I reach for her hand, and she turns. Blood pours down her face. My stomach squeezes.
“Go!” she wheezes, pointing to the right. “Go!”
I stare at her. Can’t. Can’t go, can’t—
I see the Enhanced Ones looming. Two men with eyes that are too reflective.
Aunt Ramna pushes me, and my legs jump into action as if they’re not mine, as if she’s governing me with ancient magic. I dart to the nearest hut, pull myself behind it, lean against it, breathing hard. Its hide covering feels rough against the side of my face.
I hunker down, feel the fear in my body, feel it trying to take over.
No. You’ve got to stay in control.
You’ve got to run! You’ve got to go!
I nod, then I peer back out.
More smoke—black smoke. Figures are moving, but I can’t tell who they are. My people? Or not? My eyes aren’t working properly. They’re stinging, stinging too much—there’s something in them.
I rub them, but I get more dirt in them, feel my panic rising. A weapon. I need a weapon. I grope about in the dirt, mud hiking under my nails. My fingers grapple at something—a stick. I pull it toward me, but it’s flimsy. Still, it’s all I’ve got and—
I hear his scream. I turn, and I see him fall, see it like he falls in slow motion. My friend. My best friend.
His eyes roll back for a second, but, then they return, and they’re on me.
Help me, his eyes say.
I see the blood around his body, notice the way it fans out so perfectly. A beautiful circle.
My body jolts.
Nails of ice pierce my soul.
A shadow falls over me.
Your death is already written in the silk of time. You cannot escape it.
I look up and scream.