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Kingdom of the Feared
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

 

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Once, the Prophecy of the Feared was thought a myth, a story of divine vengeance passed down through the centuries. It served as a warning of the chaos and destruction that Death and Fury could bring if unleashed. A tale two enemies should have recalled well before they cursed each other in a fit of rage. On that fateful night, two powerful magics converged, binding each party from uttering—or sometimes even remembering—the full truth. The curses had even greater consequences none had predicted. For years, demons and witches tensely awaited the day when all would finally be revealed. When that midnight hour arrives, it’s advised to stock the home with ambrosia and nectar and pray to the goddess for mercy.


—Notes from the secret di Carlo grimoire

 

 

TWENTY YEARS BEFORE


Coven elders seldom agreed on anything, save for two matters considered to be their highest of laws: The devil should never be summoned. And, under no circumstance, were black mirrors ever to be used for scrying.

As one of the best seers on the island, Sofia Santorini believed some rules were meant to be broken, especially when her newest visions kept whispering troubling tales in her ear. It was those insistent murmurs about the dangerous prophecy connected to their curse that finally convinced Sofia to steal the first book of spells: the only grimoire that outlined how to scry with dark magic. The fate of the coven might very well depend on her actions, sanctioned or not.

Though, at the last meeting, the council hadn’t sounded quite so grim. They didn’t need to. Sofia had sensed the shift of magic the way birds felt the turning of the season, listening to that innate warning to fly away, to survive. A violent storm was gathering on the horizon. She had no wings, and even if she did, Sofia refused to flee without her family.

Breaking two rules to potentially save dozens of witches seemed like the right thing to do. Any information Sofia could gather about the curse before either the Wicked or the Feared took their revenge would only benefit their coven. Surely the elders would understand.

Placing the black mirror on the floor in Death’s temple along with the foil-stamped spell book, she gathered her skirts and knelt before the objects. A shudder went through her that had nothing to do with the cold stone seeping through her thin muslin layers. She stared into the forbidden mirror, its inky surface reminding her of the still waters of a lake she’d once visited to collect freshwater stones for her spells.

Except this surface didn’t have any soothing moonlight shining overhead, blessing her path. In fact, it seemed to devour any light that dared to touch it. Any manner of demon might be lurking below the unknown depths, waiting to strike.

She exhaled the fear away. It was time to do what she’d come to do, then go home to her family. Removing the slim dagger from her skirt pocket, she held the point to her fingertip and pressed until a bead of blood welled up, red as the devil’s eyes.

Rising back to her feet, Sofia walked to the altar in the center of the room. One didn’t perform magic in a goddess’s temple without first paying tribute.

On either side of the altar, fire crackled in the offering bowls she’d lit earlier, the tendrils of smoke curling through the air, as if beckoning her to step into the underworld. She swore she felt eyes on her, watching from the shadows, waiting to see if she was bold enough to cross that forbidden boundary. Sofia’s gaze swept around the quiet chamber, falling on the two human skulls she’d stolen from the monastery. Dark days called for even darker deeds. She’d not falter now.

Holding her pricked finger over the first of the two offering bowls, she watched blood droplets sizzle then steam as they met the flames. Sofia quickly moved to the other side of the altar and repeated the gesture with the second bowl.

Satisfied she’d paid enough for the goddess to grant protection, she turned and retrieved the skulls, ignoring the bloody fingerprint she left on the bone. Kneeling once again, skulls placed on the north and south points of the mirror, she opened the spell book and began chanting.

For a few tense beats, the mirror remained unchanged. Then smoke started swirling within its surface. Slowly at first, then picking up speed like the hell winds she’d heard gusted through some demon circles, confusing the poor souls unlucky enough to find themselves there.

“Goddess, protect me.”

Sofia leaned closer to the mirror, anxious to learn all she could about their enemies. Any information might prove valuable, especially since all their memories were slowly being consumed by the curse with each passing full moon. While she stared at the mirror, a window to the underworld cracked open, giving Sofia her first glimpse of the demon realm.

“Show me how to break our curse.”

The mirror pulsed as if the magic acknowledged her request and agreed to grant her wish. In place of the smoke, strange images began flickering over the darkened glass, and Sofia quickly realized she was being shown a story through a series of still pictures. She let out a quiet breath. Thus far, despite the forbidden magic she’d used, it was similar to her usual visions.

The magic propelled the images to leave the mirror and swirl around her as if she were standing there the moment they happened. She saw a dark throne room, a furious demon.

Bits and pieces of the familiar appeared, but the magic must not have been working. Certain images weren’t aligning with their history or what Sofia knew of the prophecy. She watched as a witch, who must be the First Witch, cursed that demon. Her vengeance and hate were so powerful Sofia could practically feel it through the illusion.

Next she saw a strange well with crystals—memory stones, thousands of them. The scene abruptly shifted again, this time to a small cottage overlooking the sea. A young witch—one she knew well—gripped a memory stone in one hand and a dagger in the other. The First Witch had been there, too, handing the witch the stone that would take away whatever she wished to forget. The images faded, needing more magic to fuel them.

“Wait!” Sofia cried out. Desperate to learn more, she gripped the skull resting on the south point and whispered a spell that made it shatter, scattering bone shards across the dark surface, hoping the mirror would use them to fuel more images. And it did. Except once more they weren’t quite what she’d expected. Sophia saw her island, then flickers of other unfamiliar cities and times bleeding in and taking over. The images had to be wrong. Yet… if they weren’t, then everything the coven elders had told them had been a lie. Including where they were from.

It was so preposterous; there was no way that could be true. Determined to figure out the mystery, she reached for the last skull. This one had rubies in its eyes, an added gift for the goddess who ruled over the dead. Sofia shattered the skull and was immediately thrust into another time, one where that same young witch from earlier appeared to be… a rough hand came down on Sophia’s shoulder, shaking her from the vision. Heart thundering, Sofia blinked until Death’s temple came back into focus. Fearful of what—or who—had torn her from the vision, she snatched her dagger and shot to her feet, her attention landing on the person who’d interrupted. The robed figure tossed back the hood on her cloak, revealing a familiar, stern face.

Sofia’s shoulders slumped forward as she lowered the blade. For one frightening moment, she thought she’d summoned an enemy. “Thank the goddess it’s you. I’ve learned something incredible about our curse and our city. I know who the First Witch’s daughter is, at least I think I do. You’ll never believe this discovery.”

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