Book Three in the Untamed Series
by Madeline Dyer
I play dead as the Enhanced Ones’ leader checks on me.
His steps are light as he treads around my body. A second later, something nudges my arm. His foot, probably. I grit my teeth and try not to move. Mustn’t move, because then the pain will start. And then he’ll know. He’ll know he’s winning, know that part of me—the tiniest part—wants the augmenters he’s holding. I can picture them now, those tiny vials. Pale blue liquids. Pastel oranges. Deep pinks, with the subtlest hint of silver accentuated by the light.
It’s been so long since that first concoction wore off… Too long. Saliva pools under the left side of my tongue and against my cheek. My chest feels strange, light, as if my lungs are floating away and I need to breathe deeper, stronger, to keep them. Sweat breaks out across my forehead; I feel it, like a shoal of tiny, slimy fish, wriggling and plunging into my soul.
You need them, Seven.
A sour taste fills my mouth.
I squeeze my already-tight fists harder, clench them as much as I can. Pain leaks through my bruised, aching knuckles. But my fingers are stronger now than before, than after Manning broke them and Jed set them as best as he could. Someone here must’ve fixed them, or partially fixed them, when I was unconscious, because I know if I unclench my fists, each finger will be straight and perfect again. I shudder, and the scratchy fabric of the strappy top I’m wearing catches on a sore bit on my back. Thinking about the clothes makes something inside me tighten; I had on a white dress when I was caught. Someone changed me when I was unconscious. My new clothes—the top and a pair of dark leggings—feel wrong.
“You’re running lean, Shania.” Raleigh’s voice is brisk, business-like. He’s standing over me; I can sense him. “It’s been nearly eight hours since Tomas gave you those augmenters. And I was so disappointed when Amara told me you forcibly resisted a top-up an hour ago…after all this too. Come on. Open your eyes and take them willingly. I’d rather not force them into you like Tomas did.”
Three. My brother’s name is Three.
My hands start to shake. I try to push them more firmly against my sides, but the movement stirs a stronger angle of the yearning within me. I can smell the augmenters, smell them. My stomach tightens. Mustn’t take any more. Need to remain in control, need to feel my own emotions, not what Raleigh wants me to feel.
But it felt good…and you were calm earlier, when you arrived here….
Raleigh’s clothing rustles as he bends down. A second passes, then his breath brushes the side of my face, too close. Every part of me screams to run away. But I don’t move, I won’t open my eyes.
“You do understand that I own your soul now, Shania?” Raleigh whispers, and the whisper crawls over me, the words bloated and heavy. “Shall I tell you how this works? Is that a yes? Excellent. These Promise Marks on your body—”
He touches my jaw. I shriek. My eyes spring open. Raleigh’s face looms over me. I see myself in his eyes: my own fading mirrors blink back at me, and—
My gaze jerks to the augmenters in his hands, so close. They’re in a small, wooden rack, and the vials poke upward like spring shoots bringing new life. Bright green. No Calmness this time. My stomach twists. The intensity of the color hurts my eyes.
Don’t look at them, Seven. Just get away. You have to get away, save everyone while you can. While you still have the chance.
And I know the voice is right. Raleigh mustn’t make me use my powers, mustn’t make me end the Untamed.
Raleigh smiles; his lips peel back to reveal perfect teeth that are too big, too white, too bright. “These marks, here,” he says, touching my jaw slowly and deliberately, “are the result of your soul being delivered to me. Your soul is connected to your body in life, just as your Seer powers are anchored to your soul. These beautiful Promise Marks are inscribed on your soul and all it controls—your body, your Seer powers. My stamp on you. If I have your soul, I can control your body and your powers. And I do have your soul.” He blinks slowly. “Do not underestimate my power, Shania. You may be the special Seer, but I am powerful.”
My heart pounds, and I struggle to turn my head away—mustn’t look at the augmenters, or his eyes, or me in them—but pain flares across my temples the moment my gaze falls on the opposite wall, red bricks. His touch gets hotter.
“No, I don’t want you to look away from me.”
His voice creeps through me, and I’m forced to look up at him. More pain dives through me, and there’s so much of it. Raleigh smiles, and his fingers curl around my jaw for a long second, then he removes his hand and brushes his fingers off on his jacket.
“I can make you do anything.” He looks back at me. “I can control your body and your Seer powers whenever I want to—they are bound together and to me, and if you resist my control, I’ll burn your soul. You’ll feel it through your whole body. It will hurt you a lot. Unbearable pain. And you don’t want that, do you? Pain is bad. Isn’t it, Shania?” The words are loaded.
My breathing speeds up. This is different to the first time the Enhanced had me, a couple of months ago. Then, they wanted to seem nice, because they knew they’d have to let me go so I could become the Seer the augury speaks of, and if I wanted to join them again, on my own accord, it would make their job in converting me a second time easier.
Everything at the compound was so pleasant then.
But Raleigh’s not wearing pale blue now—none of them have been—and there’s no sweet smell of honey in the air. No bed either, no teddy bear. No food. Just a toilet bucket. Because they’ve got me. Raleigh owns me, he’s got what he’s always wanted. And for a people supposedly concerned with equality and being happy, Raleigh doesn’t seem to care how I’m treated. I’m just an object now. His property. His weapon.
Maybe once he’s used me to wipe out the Untamed, he’ll treat me nicer, like a person.
But you won’t be alive then. You’ll die when the war ends.
I try to look behind him, to where the door is, but invisible hands grab my chin, stop me from moving my head.
“My darling butterfly, just accept the fact: you are going to save everyone. And that’s a fantastic thing to do.”
My stomach hardens. Converting the Untamed into humanity-less automatons who only feel positive emotions is not saving them. And killing the ones we can’t convert isn’t saving them either.
The Promise Marks over my body burn, along with the memories. I try to ignore the gold splashes, pretend they aren’t there, that my dark skin isn’t covered with them—but it’s impossible. And they keep moving, faster at times, then slower at others. I watched one earlier—a gold mark on my arm that looked a bit like an avenging eagle—watched it swoop down my arm and grow into a bigger blob, before it merged with another, then stretched out to meet the fingers of new splash. My very own lava lamp.
Raleigh clicks his tongue. “Shania, just take the augmenters. The longer you stall, the longer those poor Untamed creatures will suffer. And you know it’s right. Deep down. You made your decision the moment you gave yourself to us.”
I clench my jaw even tighter, until my gums throb. That’s not what happened.
My hand goes to my chest, reaching for my mother’s pendant—the Seer pendant—but my fingers slap bare skin.
It’s not there.
My body tightens. I clench my fists as I sit up, force Raleigh and the augmenters to retreat a few inches. I try not to look at him, or the glass vials.
“Where is it?” My voice is blunt.
“Where’s what, Shania?” He smiles in a way that’s supposed to be sweet and endearing, a look that, in reality, is anything but.
“My Seer pendant—my mother’s pendant.”
He snorts, then sets the augmenters at my feet. The glass vials make a chink-chink sound against each other in the wooden rack. “Oh, Shania. You won’t need that here. No chance of getting lost in the Dream Land. That’s another reason why being a Chosen One is so much safer.”
I grit my teeth, feel sweat drip down the back of my neck. “I need it.”
“You don’t need it, my darling. You need these. Look how aggressive you are without them.” He takes an augmenter out of the rack, waits for me to grasp it.
I shiver, pull my hands together, clench them, try to stop them shaking. My head pounds.
“Shania, my dear. You’re running far too lean. Pain and unease are written all over your face. Don’t you want those feelings to go? Don’t you want to be happy?”
I stare at him. He asks the questions, yet it’s him who’s keeping me in a prison cell. Raleigh only wants me to be happy when I’ve agreed to make his life easier.
He encases my hands with one of his before I have a chance to react. With his other hand, he presses the vial into my palms, then makes my fingers curl around it. It’s cold.
My gaze drops to the augmenter. Harlequin green. The ache in my chest gets bigger, stronger, pulls right through me, a ragged cavern widening. I force myself to look away.
“I want my pendant back.” My hands shake against the glass vial, and Raleigh holds my fingers around it tighter, exerts pressure. My eyes narrow. “I don’t care if it’s useless here. I want my pendant back.”
I need it back.
It’s my connection to the Dream Land.
The Dream Land that the Gods and Goddesses banished me from, believing I ignored Seeing dreams…when really it was Jed. It was all him. Raleigh’s son. Heat swipes across my neck as I think of him, of what he did.
I must get back to the Dream Land. I need the Gods and Goddesses to know what really happened, not what it looked like. If I have my pendant, then somehow I can contact Death, and the other Gods and Goddesses, and this can all get sorted out: they can reverse Raleigh’s control over my soul. I just need my pendant.
Raleigh shakes his head, then inclines it slightly. “Only wild Untamed Ones have Seer pendants.”
I swallow hard, feel sicker, then jerk my hands from Raleigh’s. The augmenter slides away from my touch. I shake my head, catch a glimpse of the door. My eyes linger on it. Raleigh’s not controlling where I look now. The door’s behind him. Locked—I heard him lock it. I try to think: the key, he’s got to have the key on him…his pocket? Can I grab it, run, open the door, get out and—
But you wouldn’t get very far, would you? Not when Raleigh can command your soul, your actions, your body, control you…like how he will when he makes you convert or kill the rest of your people who are still out there.
I shake my head again. The gold marks on my arms flash in my peripheral vision. I resisted him before, temporarily. I managed to run away from him for a short time, while out on the mountainside. I hold onto that. I have to believe there’s still a way. That I can still fight him.
But I was Untamed then…and now I’m not. Am I? I don’t even know. One augmenter is enough to start the conversion—but it finishes with the mind-conversion, when the person completely discards their old life and identity.
I haven’t done that, but the tail-end allure of the augmenters is inside me still, and it’s a spark that will grow and take over if it’s fed.
And I can’t fight the augmenters and him and me.
“Very well,” Raleigh says. He unscrews the augmenter’s lid and holds up the open vial. With his other hand, he pulls out a radio. “You know, your boyfriend is about to be taken to one of our conversion chambers. These poor Untamed, we’re having to queue them up to be saved. But your boyfriend will soon be happy—don’t worry, Shania. Mervin is just waiting for my instruction as to the level of his conversion treatment.”
My breath catches on my teeth, makes a whistling sound.
Raleigh smiles. “Drink this, and I’ll let you see him.”
The augmenter flashes in the light.
“Before he’s converted?” My head whirls, and ideas of quick plans of escape fill my mind. If we’re together, it will be better. We’ll have more of a chance then….
But he’ll have still had an augmenter or two—they’d have injected him when they caught him. Their first priority is always planting the addiction to their augmenters, because it makes the conversion of our minds easier, if we’re already experiencing the positive effects. And no one is really the same after an augmenter, even if they escape before they’re completely and fully converted—which can take days for the strongest of Untamed.
Raleigh presses the vial to my lips. Sweetness. Feathers under my nostrils.
Phantom fingers massage my scalp.
“Yes. You can see him before he’s converted. See? Don’t say I’m not kind to you,” Raleigh croons. “Don’t call me the monster. You can even watch his conversion. Be there for him, welcome him after. But you have to drink this now, Shania. You have to do something for me if I’m going to do something for you.”
His fingernail taps the vial, makes it vibrate against my bottom lip. I don’t like the feeling of it, but I know Raleigh could just force my mouth open and tip the augmenter up, make me drink it.
But he’s not. Not yet. And that seems important. He’s still being nice. For the moment.
“Can’t he stay Untamed?” I barely say the words, keep my sounds to the smallest of movements for fear of upsetting the vial. I know I sound desperate, and I know Corin will have had at least one augmenter anyway. “You’ve already got me. Just…just let Corin—and the rest of them—go and—”
Raleigh cuts me off with a crude laugh. “Shania, my dear butterfly. You are caught in the web, aren’t you?”
Mock-sympathy fills his face. “What sort of person would I be if I did not save those poor people, but let them continue to suffer?” He shakes his head. “No. I cannot allow that. Suffering must end. Drink this, and I’ll let you see your little boyfriend. We will go right away, as soon as you top up again. You’re running far too lean, you’re not thinking straight. You’re letting the darkness of the Untamed life taint your vision. Come on, drink up, and then you can see him and be there when he’s converted, make it easier for him.”
I eye the closed door again, wonder if I’ve got time to run—and how fast Raleigh would be in stopping me…either physically or through my soul.
“Don’t try anything.” His voice is restrained. “The longer I have to hold this augmenter before you drink it, the more painful your little boyfriend’s conversion will be.”
My ears crackle, and, at first, I’m sure I can’t have heard him correctly. He can’t have said that because the Enhanced don’t like violence or pain or….
But they tortured me. During my conversion at New Kimearo, they tortured me as they tried to convert my mind to their way of thinking. Told me it would stop if I accepted their way of life. I close my eyes for a second, feel ice in my blood.
And they are violent. They kill people. They—
“Level two conversion… Level three….” Raleigh whispers. He points at the radio, and a drop of the green liquid splashes onto the floor. My eyes follow it. “They’re just waiting for me to instruct them. Don’t make me make it more painful than is necessary. Drink that augmenter willingly.”
I stare at him, my mind frantic.
“Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind.”
My heart thumps against my chest.
“Level four,” Raleigh whispers.
My stomach twists. Corin can’t go through a level four conversion. Not when it stays with you, and—
I snatch the augmenter, drink it. The sickliness coats the back of my front teeth like a thick syrup. I shudder, feel sick at what I’ve done.
But I can resist. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it now. And I’ll see Corin—and I will make myself think like an Untamed—and he’ll be resisting too. I know he will. He’s strong.
And somehow, Corin and I will escape and purge the augmenters from our bodies.
But you won’t be the same. He won’t be the same.
I inhale sharply, nausea increasing, and—
My mother’s face flashes into my mind. For a second, she’s here—all I can see.
Then she’s gone.
I start to gag, but the feeling passes. I wait for the euphoria to rise, or whatever positive emotion will now control me.
“Good girl.” Raleigh smiles. “Level one,” he says into the radio.
Level one? I breathe hard, know I should feel relieved. But I don’t. I feel cheated. Again. I wipe the back of my hand across my mouth, try to get rid of the saccharine taste of the augmenter.
“Administer another round of Calmness and Tranquility to Corin Eriksen,” Raleigh continues. The radio hums, and he pushes his jacket sleeve up, looks at his watch. It’s small and silver. “The new augmenter shipment should have arrived five minutes ago. Give him a blend before moving him to the conversion chamber as he’ll be running lean again, and we don’t want trouble in the corridors.”
Oh Gods. No. No. No. My heart pounds. Corin won’t be running lean…and neither will I… Escaping will be harder. And what if I’m wrong, assuming that he can resist? What if he can’t? It happens sometimes… The weaker Untamed can’t resist augmenters, and, after just one taste, the visit to a conversion chamber is practically unnecessary—though most often still done. And it won’t just be one augmenter in his system… They’ll have been filling him with them as much as they can, trying to make the conversion easier for them.
But Corin’s not weak. He will fight. I know that, and I hold onto it.
Raleigh turns back to me and smiles as he presses a button on the radio. It stops humming. “It was always going to be a level one, Shania. The Enhanced don’t believe in unnecessary violence, or unnecessary pain, suffering. We’re good people. We’re—”
I retch with no warning. Coughing and spluttering, I fall forward, end up on my hands and knees. A string of saliva flies from my mouth, hits the opposite wall.
Raleigh jumps back. “What are you doing? You can’t vomit an augmenter, especially not Loyalty.”
Loyalty? I feel like I’ve been slapped. He’s increasing my loyalty to the Enhanced…making me….
Unless it increases my natural loyalty—to the Untamed?
I shake my head, try to clear it so I can think properly. My throat burns from the augmenter, doesn’t feel nice at all.
“Come on.” Raleigh pulls me up, then marches me out of the room and into the corridor.
My head feels strange, my limbs heavier. The Promise Marks on my back burn and make my top feel like it’s scorching metal. I look at Raleigh, see the way his face pinches together. He’s controlling my soul right now. I can see the effort it’s taking him, and I understand why he wants me to at least take the augmenters willingly—to save him some energy. And knowing this, understanding what it’s costing him, is important, I know that—can I use it against him? Resist his control so much that, overall, it weakens him? Then I could escape and….
To the left, I see a new door. I try to resist Raleigh’s control, step toward it, put every ounce of my energy into moving to it. But I march straight past.
The room he takes me to is clinical. Bright light, one window, white walls, a ceramic floor. A counter with various instruments on it. I see a scalpel; it reminds me of a nightmare I had, one where Raleigh carved my eyes out. Or tried to. The details seem foggy now. A part of me wonders whether he’s still using my eyes, using that tracker he previously put on me to see everything I see. But he doesn’t need that now, does he? Not now he’s got me.
“He’ll be here in a minute,” Raleigh says. “I’m sure he will be delighted to see you. My men say he’s been shouting for you a lot… Come and sit down.”
He pulls me to a hard, wooden chair, presses me into it. I can’t do a thing.
On the other side of the room, there’s a door and a bed. A hospital-style bed, only it has restraining straps as well. I cringe as I imagine Corin lying there, with mirror eyes, strapped in, yelling, fighting as they convert him, as they try to destroy the last seeds of the Untamed within him, so they can never grow again. They tortured me. Said I was too strong, that I needed it.
But what’s a level one conversion? A milder torture?
Two Enhanced men appear in the room and walk over, until they’re standing either side of me. Neither looks me in the eye.
My breathing gets a little shallower as I try to watch both of them at the same time.
“Bring him in,” Raleigh says loudly, and the men turn to look at the door as it opens. Two more Enhanced enter, and between them, fighting and struggling, is a man in dark jeans, scuffed shoes, and a disheveled button-up shirt that’s too bright a blue for him to have chosen it himself.
A hardness, like iron, settles in my stomach. And I look at him, want him to be a clone. They can’t really have Corin. Not my Corin.
But then Corin shouts, and I know. I just know. It’s him. No Enhanced would swear like that—or describe in such gruesome detail exactly what he’s going to do to Raleigh and the Enhanced. It’s him all right. Corin. They’ve got him too, and—
His eyes. Untamed—his eyes are Untamed.
Those beautiful dark brown eyes.
My eyes widen, and I stare, try to see him better. The mirrors? Have they faded? But there’d still be signs, wouldn’t there?
Unless he hasn’t had any? Wasn’t given any augmenters when the Zharat were captured…eight hours ago… My mind whirls. And the more I look at him, the more I’m sure he hasn’t had any, that he managed to avoid them completely. But how?
Corin shouts, his face reddening as he tries to twist around. Then he sees me.
His Untamed eyes meet mine—my mirror eyes—and I feel a bolt of something in my chest. He stops struggling, stares at me, and the men lead him forward. He doesn’t resist. Why isn’t he resisting? He needs to fight, not stand still, staring at me.
“Why hasn’t he been given augmenters?” Raleigh demands, his voice cold. He points at Corin.
“Because I’m never joining you,” Corin snarls.
Raleigh growls and points to one of the Enhanced. “I said administer them before leading him here, before—”
“There were none left in the stock cupboard on the fourth floor,” the Enhanced says. “One of those Zharat women was proving problematic—you know, the blond one who bit Ian and Amara. She needed eight vials of Calmness and four of Tranquility before we could restrain her. I strongly suggest her conversion is next, Raleigh, because her fire is burning through our augmenters. We cannot waste our supplies like this.”
Raleigh mutters something under his breath, then looks at Corin. “Stand him there.” He points to a pale yellow circle on the floor. “We’ll do it all in one go. First taste and the conversion.”
“Sev,” Corin yells, twisting against the Enhanced holding him. “Fight him! Fight this. You did it before, we can—”
“No talking,” Raleigh says, and then he leans closer to me, his head next to mine. I shudder, and—
Raleigh’s tongue swipes down the left side of my face.
My body stiffens into stone. I feel sick. Something inside me moves.
Corin swears loudly, and, in my peripheral vision, I see him struggling with the Enhanced men again, kicking and punching.
“Don’t talk to her, Corin,” Raleigh says, his voice loud, but he’s looking at me. He’s so close I can see the slight line that goes around each iris, separating it from the sclera. But it’s all just a mirror still, as if a pencil line has been drawn on. “If you talk to her, I’ll do that again.” He pauses, and his lips twitch. “I’ll do more than that.”
More than that.
I try not to react, but I start shaking, feel sick, horrible. Am I part of Corin’s conversion? Getting him to agree to become Enhanced if he thinks he’s saving me from Raleigh?
Raleigh steps back, away from me. I let out a shaky breath, watch him walk to Corin. Raleigh plucks something from the counter on his way. An augmenter.
My breath catches in my throat, and then my eyes are directed to the counter. And I see them. I see all the augmenters. Twenty of them. Orange, blue, yellow, green, black. And I lean forward, expecting to feel a strong pull.
But I don’t. It’s not like before. It’s nothing like before. If anything, I feel sicker than before. And I’m not supposed to feel sick, not when I look at augmenters, not when I’ve got them in my system. I’m supposed to only feel good stuff.
Raleigh places his hand on Corin’s shoulder, and Corin tries to get away, but the Enhanced men hold him. Raleigh turns, looks at me. In his other hand is the vial, the augmenter. It’s black, unfamiliar.
My breathing quickens. Oh Gods. I need to get out. I can’t watch this. Can’t… Oh Gods. No. No. No.
I gulp, feel myself sweating.
Corin’s eyes are on the vial. “Get that away from me.” But his voice is quieter. I can almost hear his heart rate jumping, getting faster, faster. He looks at me. “Sev, help me. Fight him. Fight the augmenters, fight them! We can get out of this.”
“You can’t.” Raleigh smiles, and he steps away from Corin, nears me.
For a second, I’m sure he’s going to lick me again, and I try to move, but my legs burn, held in place against the legs of the chair by Raleigh’s command. Sweat breaks out across my face, around my neck, down my spine. I try to swallow, but can’t. I can’t do anything. Saliva trickles down my throat, my eyes water.
I try to move, but invisible hands squeeze me, hold me in place. I try again—but Raleigh’s too strong.
“Oh, Corin, it doesn’t look like she wants to help you,” Raleigh says, then lets out a small laugh.
“No!” I scream. “He’s got me—Corin, Raleigh’s got control of me, my soul, my body. I can’t—”
“What?” Corin’s head turns toward Raleigh, and then the Enhanced around him move, and I can’t see him.
“It’s Raleigh!” I yell. “It’s—”
Pain lashes around my neck, like a whip. I shriek, head falling forward. My chin hits my chest, hard, winds me. I cry out, and I’m trying to move, trying to move forward, but I can’t. The hands are stopping me, invisible hands. I can’t move my arms, my legs. I’m just…suspended here, and—
“Run!” he yells, twisting around. His eyes meet mine for the briefest of seconds, then he punches the Enhanced next to him. The man falls like a doll, and then Corin’s going for the next one.
Raleigh shouts something, and I start to stand, start to move—but pain lashes through me, winds me. I fall back against the chair, miss what Corin does next, and then an Enhanced man flies toward me. I see myself in his eye-mirrors, and—
And my head jolts up, and I see him, Corin. Standing there, free.
Then Corin runs.
And, at first, I think he’s just going to the right because Raleigh’s on his other side, and I’m sure he’s going to circle back. That he’s going to come for me.
But he doesn’t.
He looks back, just for a second. His Untamed eyes meet mine—my Enhanced ones, my mirrors. His lips tighten, press together. A slight line appears between his eyebrows as he frowns—as he thinks. Just for a split second though. But I know that look.
The bridge between us shatters.
Corin runs, sprints out of the open doorway.
I try to follow, but I can’t.
He’s gone. Left me.
And I know—just know—I won’t see Corin again.