Home > Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(2)

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(2)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“The Wicked,” Vittoria whispered, her tone almost reverent.

“The Malvagi are demon princes who stalk the night, searching for souls to steal for their king, the devil, their hunger ravenous and unyielding, until dawn chases them away,” Nonna continued, slowly rocking in her chair. The wood creaked, covering the sound of the storm. She nodded toward their tasks, making sure they held up their end of the bargain. The girls settled into their work. “The seven princes are so corrupted by sin, that when they cross into our world, they can’t bear being in the light and are cursed to only venture out when it’s dark. It was a punishment sent from La Prima Strega, many years ago. Well before man roamed the earth.”

“Where is the First Witch now?” Emilia asked, an edge of skepticism creeping into her little voice. “Why hasn’t she been seen?”

Nonna thought carefully. “She has her reasons. We must respect them.”

“What do the demon princes look like?” Vittoria asked, though she must have had this part memorized by now.

“They appear human but their ebony eyes are tinged red, and their skin is hard as stone. Whatever you do, you must never speak to the Wicked. If you see them, hide. Once you’ve caught a demon prince’s attention, he’ll stop at nothing to claim you. They are midnight creatures, born of darkness and moonlight. And they seek only to destroy. Guard your hearts; if given the chance they’ll rip them from your chests and guzzle your blood as it steams in the night.”

No matter that they were soulless creatures who belonged to the devil, or they’d kill them on sight, the twins were enchanted by these dark and mysterious princes of Hell.

One more so than the other, as fate would have it.

“But how will we know when we meet one?” Vittoria asked. “What if we can’t see their eyes?”

Nonna hesitated. They’d already heard so much, and if the ancient prophecy held true, she feared the worst was yet to come. “You just will.”

Steeped in family tradition, Nonna Maria taught them magical ways of hiding from both humans and the midnight creatures. Each year on their birthday, they gathered herbs from the tiny garden behind their home and made charms of protection.

They wore amulets blessed in holy water, freshly turned grave dirt, and sparkling shafts of moonlight. They recited words of protection and never spoke of the Malvagi when the moon was full. More importantly, they were never without their amulets.

Emilia’s cornicello was made of silver, and Vittoria’s gold. The girls weren’t allowed to bring them together, or something terrible would happen. According to Nonna it would be like forcing the sun and moon to share the sky, bringing the world into an eternal twilight. There, the princes of Hell could escape their prison of fire for good, murdering and stealing souls of the innocent until the human world turned to ash—like their nightmare realm.

After they devoured their dinner and cake, the twins’ mamma and papa kissed them good night. Tomorrow they’d begin helping in the family restaurant’s busy kitchen, their first real dinner service. Too excited for sleep, Emilia and Vittoria giggled on their shared mattress, swinging their horn amulets at each other like tiny fairy swords, pretending to fight the Malvagi.

“When I grow up, I want to be a green witch,” Emilia said later, cradled in the nook of her sister’s arms. “I’ll grow all kinds of herbs. And have my own trattoria. My menu will be crafted of magic and moonlight. Like Nonna.”

“Yours will be even better.” Vittoria’s grip tightened in comfort. “By then I will be Queen, and I’ll make sure you have whatever you like.”

One night they decided to be brave. Nearly a month had passed since their eighth birthday and Nonna Maria’s dire warnings seemed a lifetime ago. Vittoria thrust her amulet at her sister, her face determined. “Here,” she commanded, “take it.”

Emilia hesitated only a minute before clasping the golden horn in her palm.

A shimmering lavender-black light exploded from their amulets, startling Emilia enough that she dropped her sister’s necklace. Vittoria swiftly fastened it back where it belonged, brown eyes wide as the glittering light abruptly faded. Both girls remained silent. Whether in fear or fascination, they couldn’t be sure. Emilia flexed her hand, trying to work out the pin-prickling sensation crawling under her skin. Vittoria watched; her face hidden in shadow.

Nearby a hellhound howled up at the moon, though later they’d convince themselves it was only the wind snarling through the cramped streets of their quarter. They never told anyone what they’d done, and never spoke of the strange inky-purple light.

Not even to each other. And especially not to Nonna Maria.

Since they pretended the incident away, Emilia didn’t tell her sister she’d been irrevocably changed—from that evening forward, whenever she held her cornicello and concentrated, she saw what she’d call luccicare. A faint shimmer or aura surrounding a person.

The only exceptions being herself and her twin.

If Vittoria also possessed this new talent, she never admitted so. It was the first of many secrets the twins would keep from each other. And would prove deadly for one.

 

 

ONE


Ten years later

Nonna Maria buzzed around the kitchen like she’d guzzled every drop of espresso in our restaurant. Her mood was downright frantic. My twin was late for dinner service and our grandmother saw it as a portent of doom, especially since Vittoria was out the night before a holy day. Goddess forbid.

The fact that the moon was not only full, but also a putrid shade of yellow had Nonna muttering the kind of warnings that normally made my father bolt the doors. Thankfully he and Uncle Nino were in the dining room with a frosty bottle of limoncello, pouring after-dinner drinks for our customers. No one left Sea & Vine without sipping the dessert liqueur and feeling the utter satisfaction and bliss that followed a good meal.

“Mock me all you like, but it’s not safe. Demons are prowling the streets, searching for souls to steal.” Nonna chopped cloves of garlic for the scampi, her knife flying across the worn cutting board. If she wasn’t careful, she’d lose a finger. “Your sister is foolish to be out.” She stopped, immediately shifting her attention to the little horn-shaped amulet around my neck. Worry lines carved a deep path around her eyes and mouth. “Did you see if she was wearing her cornicello, Emilia?”

I didn’t bother responding. We never took our amulets off, not even while bathing. My sister broke every rule except that one. Especially after what happened when we were eight.… I briefly closed my eyes, willing the memory away. Nonna still didn’t know about the luccicare I could see shimmering around humans while holding my amulet, and I hoped she never would.

“Mamma, please.” My mother raised her gaze to the ceiling as if the goddess of sky might send an answer to her prayers in the form of a lightning bolt. I wasn’t sure if the bolt was meant for Nonna, or my mother. “Let’s get through dinner service before worrying about the Wicked. We have more pressing problems at the moment.” She nodded to the sauté pan. “The garlic is starting to burn.”

Nonna mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “So will their souls in Hell if we don’t save them, Nicoletta,” and I bit my lip to keep from smiling.

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