Home > Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(5)

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(5)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

We entered the room where kitchen supplies were kept, and I tucked those thoughts into my mental recipe folder and focused on the task at hand. I removed two cutting boards and a large bowl from the cupboard, and laid everything out on the tiny table.

“I’ll dice the tomatoes, you cube the mozzarella.”

“As you command, signorina.” We both reached inside the basket I’d brought and Antonio’s fingers brushed mine. I quickly yanked the tomatoes out and pretended a little thrill hadn’t shot through me at the unexpected contact.

Cooking alone with Antonio—in a darkened chamber in a near-forgotten section of the building—was not a bad way to pass the time. If he hadn’t turned his life over to the lord, this might have been the beginning of something between us.

Now, unbeknownst to him, we were enemies.

He belonged to the church and I was a witch. And not just a human strega using folk magic against the evil eye and praying to Catholic saints. My family was something other, something not entirely human. Our power was feared, not respected. Along with twelve other witch families living secretly in Palermo, we were true Daughters of the Moon. Descendants of an actual goddess. There were more families scattered across the island, but for everyone’s safety, we didn’t interact with each other.

Our magic was a peculiar thing. While it only passed down the matriarchal line, it didn’t manifest in all women. My witch-born mother didn’t possess any supernatural abilities. Unless her baking could be counted, which I fully believed it could. Only someone goddess-blessed could craft desserts the way my mother did.

At one time there’d been a council made up of the eldest member of each witch family. Nonna had been the leader in Palermo, but the coven disbanded soon after Vittoria and I were born. Stories were a little murky on the exact cause of the coven’s collapse, but from what I’d gathered, old Sofia Santorini had invoked the dark arts and something went very wrong, leaving her mind fragmented. Some said she used a human skull during a scrying session. Others claimed it was a black mirror. All agreed on the end result: her mind was now trapped between realms.

Humans grew suspicious of what they deemed sudden madness. Whispers of the devil followed. Soon our world became too dangerous for real witches to meet, even secretly after that. So the thirteen families of Palermo adopted a strict code of silence and stuck to themselves.

Man had a funny way of blaming the devil for things he didn’t like. It was strange that we were called evil when humans were the ones who enjoyed watching us burn.

“So aside from the demons invading our city, how are you?” Antonio didn’t even try to hide his grin. “Good thing you’ve got a member of the holy brotherhood watching out for your trembling soul.”

“You’re terrible.”

“True, but you don’t really think so.” His dark eyes glittered as I tossed a diced tomato at him, my face flaming. He dodged it with ease. “Or, at least I hope you don’t.”

“I’ll never tell.” I dropped my attention to the plump tomato I was dicing. Once, when we were younger, I’d used a truth spell on him to see if he’d returned my feelings. Much to my delight, he had and it felt like the world rejoiced with the discovery. When I told Nonna what I’d done, she made me scrub the kitchen from top to bottom by myself for a month.

It hadn’t exactly been the reaction I’d expected.

Nonna said truth spells—while not explicitly part of the dark arts—should never be used on humans because they were part of Il Proibito. The Forbidden were few, but held severe consequences.

Free will was one of the most basic laws of nature in this world, beyond notions of light or dark magic, and should never be trifled with, which was why truth spells were off-limits. She used old Sofia Santorini as a cautionary tale whenever we questioned her strict rules.

Not every witch in our community shared the same views as Nonna, though. When the coven disbanded, some families—like my friend Claudia’s—openly turned to the dark arts. They believed magic was magic and could—and should—be used however a witch wanted to use it. Blood, bones; practitioners of the dark arts said all were viable tools. Vittoria tried using that logic on Nonna when we were fifteen, and ended up being the toilet chambermaid for a solid week.

“Are you planning on sneaking away from the restaurant to celebrate tomorrow?” Antonio finished cubing the mozzarella and dutifully started chopping fresh basil.

“Maybe. It depends on how many customers we have and how late it gets. Honestly, I might just go home and try out some new recipes, or read.”

“Ah. Such a pious young woman, reading the Good Book.”

“Mmh.” I smiled down at my cutting board. The novel I was in the middle of was a good book, it just wasn’t the Good Book. I refrained from telling him about the last chapter I read—the one where the hero expressed his love in many colorful and physically astounding ways. I supposed, technically, his stamina could be considered miraculous. I’d certainly become a believer of impossible expectations. “Do you have any fun activities planned with the brotherhood?”

“Fun is subjective. We’ll probably be somewhere near the float, doing very serious and holy things.”

I didn’t doubt that. After Antonio’s mother died suddenly last summer, he’d surprised everyone when he left home and started his religious life. Focusing on strict rules helped him grieve. He was doing much better now, and I was glad for him, even if it meant we would never be.

“Here.” I handed him the loaf of bread. “You slice this and I’ll season the food.”

I scraped the diced tomatoes into a bowl and added the mozzarella and basil. A hit of olive oil, some minced garlic, and a pinch of sea salt all followed in rapid succession. Since the bread wasn’t toasted and the brotherhood wouldn’t be eating right away, I added a tiny bit of my balsamic and stirred everything together. It wasn’t exactly the presentation I’d choose, but it was more important for the food to taste good and not let the bread get soggy.

“How was your trip?” I asked. “I heard you had to quell rumors of shape-shifters.”

“Ah yes, the heretics who came here from the Friuli district after the Inquisition are telling some interesting tales. Mighty warriors—whose spirits leave their bodies in animal form—to protect crops from malevolent forces have indeed returned.” He snorted. “At least that’s the story we were told in the village I was assigned to. They’re convinced there’s a spirit assembly where a goddess is teaching them ways to protect themselves from evil. It’s hard breaking old beliefs.” He met my gaze and a world of trouble brewed in his eyes. “Your nonna isn’t the only one who thinks demons have arrived.”

“I—”

A voice sounded in the corridor, too low to make out words clearly. Antonio held a finger to his lips. Whoever it was spoke again, a little louder. I still couldn’t understand what they’d said, but they did not sound friendly. I fumbled for a knife. A hooded figure stepped into the chamber from the shadows, and slowly extended its arms toward us. “Heathens-s-s.”

Goose bumps rose like an army of the undead across my body. Nonna’s cries of demons were replaced by my true fear of witch hunters. They’d found me. And there was no way I could use magic in front of them, or Antonio, without giving myself away.

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