IT IS TIME. CHAPTER 2 OF KINGDOM OF THE FEARED IS HERE.
Note: you can read chapter one here!
Chapter 2 of Kingdom of the Feared
“Bite your tongue or I’ll remove it.” Domenico stepped forward, claws extending and quietly snarling at the threat I posed, but Vittoria raised her hand, stalling him. I was too furious to be surprised at how quickly he backed down from the simple, unspoken command.
“Have you not become more powerful? More . . . bold?” Vittoria asked, cocking a brow. “You’ve finally stepped out of the safe little hole you’ve been hiding in, only to live a life now worthy of a bard’s pen. Do they sing ballads of boring witches, wiling away their time in hot kitchens, pining after equally boring holy men like Antonio? I would imagine a grand romance with the king of demons is something much more interesting. Especially in the bedchamber. For the sake of the Great Divine above, Emilia. The
death of your former life is something you should thank me for. Antonio, Sea & Vine, you and I were always meant for bigger things.”
“Boring?” Anger lanced through me. “I loved my life and our kitchen. Apologies if what I consider fun, or who I found attractive, is so repulsive to you. And since when do you hate Sea & Vine? You loved our family and our time cooking together, too. Or have you forgotten us? In your quest for . . . whatever it is you’re after. How could you do that to us, to me?”
My voice broke on the last question, and I yanked hard on my fury again, centering myself. Vittoria watched me closely. “I did what had to be done for us. It might not seem like it, but I swear this has all been for you and me. The curse—”
She bit down on whatever she wished to say but couldn’t.
“Oh, yes, the curse.” I swatted the air as if the curse were a bothersome housefly. “The bloody, fucking curse that no one can speak of. I’m finished with this fickle magic and every hexed being involved! Why did you fake your murder? How was that in any way helpful to me?”
She seemed to choose her next words carefully. “Even the most volatile fuel requires a spark to cause flames.”
Cryptic as always when the curse was at play. “Why could you possibly need so much fire?”
Her gaze turned into a hard, glittering gem of hatred. For a second, it wasn’t lavender that flashed from her irises, but a deep ruby red. “To watch our enemies burn. To reclaim what is ours by might and birth. And to break the final chains that bind us once and for all.”
“And our family? Are they your enemies? Did they deserve to bury you in that crypt? To believe you were rotting away with our ancestors?”
“Yes. Though I highly doubt they believed I was rotting away. That little lie was something I imagined they fed to you, their favored one. Or should I say, the most feared.” Vittoria’s admission fell between us, heavy under the weight of the truth she believed it to be. “And they aren’t the only ones who will come to fear us. I have adopted one bit of advice from our dear family. Keep your acquaintances close, but your enemies closer.”
I looked at the stranger who wore my sister’s face. There was hardness in this Vittoria, darkness where light had once shined brightly. My sister had been playful, friendly. Capable of making friends and dancing for hours on end. A quality I’d always admired and wished to possess. This harsh version of her was difficult to reconcile.
“What if I don’t want to be feared?” I asked.
Vittoria’s smile was a quick flash of teeth, razor-sharp and threatening. “A bird without wings is still a bird, sister mine.”
“Have you been speaking to the Prince of Envy?” I heaved a sigh. “I swear you sound exactly like him after he’s had too much truth-spelled demonberry wine.”
“Envy?” Her gaze flickered inward with a memory. “I rode his pet vampire just to watch those green eyes flame with his favorite sin when he caught us. Vampires make exquisite lovers, being creatures of the night and all. They are masters of mixing pleasure with a bite of pain. Once you finish playing with your
demon, you ought to visit the vampire court and give one or two a ride. I recently called upon their prince and was not at all disappointed. The things he could do with those fangs . . .”
Domenico growled, and my twin shot him a placating look. Clearly he hadn’t known his— whatever my sister was to him— had cavorted with some of his mortal enemies. I was unaware there was a vampire court, and for the time being, it wasn’t a priority to ask. Unless it suddenly became an issue, it was the least of my concerns now.
“I . . .” I wanted to purge the thought of my twin bedding that particular vampire from my mind. I’d had the misfortune of meeting him once, and Alexei had been frightening. And not in a forbidden, dark fantasy type of way. He’d looked ready to rip out a heart to drink it dry for sport. “Why are you here now? I thought we were supposed to meet tomorrow on the Shifting Isles.”
Vittoria lifted a shoulder, suddenly not meeting my gaze. “I wanted to deliver the message myself in case you didn’t get the skull.”
I didn’t believe her but didn’t call her on the obvious lie. My sister was keeping another secret, and it likely had something to do with the Shadow Realm since we were here. Perhaps it had been a test to see if Domenico could bring me here without any issues. Which meant our time was probably limited and I needed answers. “How did you fake removing your heart?”
“I saw the blood. The gaping hole in your chest. Obviously, it was some magic or illusion, unless you no longer require a heart to live. Don’t stand here and keep lying to my face. You’ve done quite enough of that over the last several months. I deserve to know the truth, Vittoria.”
The temperature abruptly dropped, ice crystals snaking up the walls and crackling like frozen flames as they rapidly spread. The candle flickered in the sudden breeze before blowing out, leaving us in the dark. A thin ribbon of smoke curled through the air, the scent of sulfur permeating the coldness; an omen sent from a ferocious hell god. One I knew well.
Domenico stepped forward, wrapping a hand around my twin’s upper arm, and tugged her near. “Time to go. He’s breached the Shadow’s wards.”
My heart thrummed. I knew exactly who he was. Wrath had come for my soul, charging across the barrier of the spirit realm, his namesake sin powerful enough to make even the ground here tremble at his approach. I palpably felt his fury, and it did something peculiar to me in this realm. I suddenly wasn’t thinking of my twin’s betrayal or feeling hurt. Heat crept over me where the cold had previously sunk its teeth. Wrath’s sin made me feel alive, buzzing. It also made me want to shed civility and become an elemental force fueled by baser instincts.
Vittoria’s lips lifted in a half smirk. “Remember, sister. Enjoy the sausage all you like, but don’t purchase the pig. It’s the only warning I can offer.”
“Why should I listen to you?”
“I’m your blood.” Domenico half-dragged her across the chamber, then waved his hand until a glittering portal opened before them. Vittoria paused, glancing back at me. “Some bonds can never be broken, Emilia. And some choices have consequences akin to death, take it from someone who knows all too well what that’s like.”
Chills danced down my spine from the first part of her warning. Wrath had once said something similar to me on the night I discovered the truth of why he’d given me his royal Mark.
My fingers absently brushed against the nearly invisible S on my neck, the magic causing a slight, pleasant tingle that traveled down my nonbody.
“What does that mean?” I demanded. “No more games, Vittoria.”
“Choose him and you’ll give up part of yourself,” she said, offering an answer that only raised more questions. “See you tomorrow. Don’t be late.”
“Stop! Why must we meet on the Shifting Isles?” I asked. “Why not tell me what you need here?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see.” Vittoria blew me a kiss, then stepped through the portal with the werewolf on her heels. Apparently, Domenico, an alpha in his own right, knew a bigger threat had entered his territory. Retreat was the smart option. Or perhaps he’d only choked on his pride to save my twin. I wasn’t sure how I felt after our encounter; too many emotions were warring against each other, but I was grateful she had a loyal ally. She needed one.
Wrath strode into the chamber a moment later, his body humming with the threat of an impending war. A battle he was bringing to our enemies. He glared at the closing portal, the swept his attention over me, sharp as the blade in his fist and promising the same level of violence on anyone who’d hurt me. I glanced down, noticing the shadow robe had also abandoned its post at his arrival. Once again I stood nude, but not cowed.
“Did they harm you?” His voice was clipped, as if he was saving all his energy for the fight. Domenico might have escaped, but Wrath would hunt him down. The cold, unforgiving look on his face promised nothing but pain and torment.
I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak the partial lie. Harm wasn’t always inflicted physically. “It was my sister. She wanted to make sure I received her message about tomorrow. Where are the Shifting Isles?”
“Just outside the mainland.” The demon’s gaze methodically took in each inch of the chamber before coming to rest on the manacles. In a flash, his blade was gone and he was in front of me, gently bringing my wrists up for closer inspection. Red splotches that would turn into nasty bruises had Wrath’s anger flaring impossibly higher. His voice was now laced with deadly promise, and the air turned so frigid my teeth began to chatter. “If anyone chains you again, I will become every nightmare mortals have ever had of me and then some.”
Ice shot up the walls and coated the ceiling as the temperature continued to plummet. Chunks of stone cracked and fell to the ground. If he didn’t rein in his temper soon, we’d both be encapsulated in ice or buried under stone.
“What if I ask you to tie me up?”
The harsh expression on Wrath’s face faltered as he blinked down at me. He hadn’t expected that. Good. Perhaps we’d make it out of this realm before we turned into ice sculptures. I disentangled myself from his light grasp and wrapped my arms around his middle, listening to his heart beat faster from the embrace. Almost immediately, I felt warmer.
“Simply saying ‘I love you; I’m pleased you’re all right’ would have sufficed, too.”
A beat of silence passed, and I could practically feel Wrath straining to leash himself. Only his iron will would cage the immense power struggling to break out, to attack. I couldn’t imagine the discipline, the absolute control he had over his namesake sin, to finally wrangle his wrath into submission. The air warmed a fraction, though it was still deathly frigid.
He held me a little closer, as if comforting himself that I was safe and secure. “Torturing and disemboweling your enemies would be an act of love.”
“No one can deny you are a demon of action.” I snorted and drew back enough to see mirth entering his eyes in place of the icy rage, though there was still something haunted in his expression that wasn’t as quick to disappear. “Take me home, please. It’s been a long night. I need a warm bath and an entire bottle of demonberry wine.”
And, no matter what had just happened or the warning Vittoria tried imparting, I still wanted to claim my king in the flesh. That more than anything else, would soothe me, mind, body, and cursed soul.
Wrath magicked us back to his bedchamber, reuniting our souls with our physical forms, and I blinked at a room encapsulated in ice. The ceiling, walls, fireplace— everything except the bed—were frozen, the ice so thick it gave off a bluish tint. I thought the Shadow Realm had been bad, but this was extreme.
I gingerly pushed myself up from where I’d been lying and raised a questioning brow. Wrath ran a hand through his hair, the action drawing my attention to cuts on his knuckles I hadn’t noticed before.
“Did you have to fight wolves?” I asked, beckoning him to come closer. “Please. Let me see that.” Reluctantly he did, offering me his injured hand. “Why isn’t this healing?”
“I punched through the realms.”
His expression was coolly aristocratic, and if I hadn’t come to know him these months, I might have missed the subtle signs that he was still churning with emotion. His sensual mouth was set in a hard line, his chiseled jaw strained. There was a ruthless flicker in his gaze— an unyielding promise to commit terrible acts of violence— that gave away how close he’d just come to ripping the realm apart. A shiver rolled down my spine, and whatever dark place he’d been in disappeared.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Easily fixable.”
“I don’t care about the state of the room. Are you all right?”
The demon prince gave me a tight smile. “I am now.”
I’d never seen him lose his temper with such a massive showing of his power and wondered at the severity of his reaction. At what he might not be able to tell me or might not wish to tell me. I sensed he needed time to sort through it all and gave him a small smile in return. “As long as you’re certain.”
“I am.” He magically set the room to rights and had just called for the tub to be filled when there was a knock at the door. If I could have hexed someone right then, I would have.
“Don’t answer it,” I half-groaned. “I beg you.”
Wrath looked torn but heeded my request. After casting a ward to keep everyone away from entering his private quarters, he swept my legs out from under me and walked us into his bathing chamber, kicking the door shut behind us.
I hadn’t seen this room before and took in its elegant beauty. Slate-colored floors, black marble walls with gold veining, candles dripping ebony wax, faucets and fixtures in gleaming gold, and a massive claw-foot bathtub that could fit several people in the center of the room.
An oversized black crystal chandelier hung low over the tub, completing the look. The room was dark, sensual, and utterly relaxing. Just what I needed after my stressful evening.
The prince carefully deposited me into the bath, then returned with a chilled glass of demonberry wine, the silver seeds sparkling like miniature stars in the candlelight. For the first time in what felt like hours, I exhaled, feeling peaceful.
Wrath drew a stool over to the tub and sat, watching me sip my drink and submerge myself to my shoulders in the perfectly warmed water. “Do you want to talk about your sister?”
“Not particularly.” I sighed. “I still don’t understand why she wants to meet on the Shifting Isles. It would be much easier to simply talk here. Is there any reason why that you can think of?”
Wrath didn’t respond right away. “Maybe she has something there she wants you to see.”
“You’re probably right. But she could also simply tell me that. I don’t understand all the cloak-and-dagger theatrics. Though I suppose that is very Vittoria in a way. Maybe one of the only familiar aspects about her.” I took another sip of wine, savoring the bright flavors that burst over my tongue. “How did you punch your way into the Shadow Realm?”
“I’m the king of the underworld. The spirit realm is under my domain. And even if it wasn’t, do you really believe a lone werewolf would stop me from getting to you?”
“I’m not sure anything could stop you. What’s it like to be invincible?” I teased.
Wrath’s expression turned contemplative as he pulled a linen cloth from a tray near the tub and dunked it into the water. He upended a glass bottle of soap over it, then motioned for me to spin around. “Lift your hair.”
I happily obliged his request to pamper me. He dragged the soapy linen across my shoulders, gently washing my body before dipping it back into the water. Wrath, the mighty demon of war, was giving me a sponge bath. And it felt positively divine.
For someone who’d just frozen his entire bedchamber in a rage, he certainly could be warm and kind. At least where I was concerned. I doubted anyone else ever saw this side of the demon. Which made me appreciate his actions all the more.
Goose bumps rose along the careful lines he made from my neck, following the curve of my spine down to my bottom. He tenderly lifted one arm at a time, paying special care to my sore wrists. Slight coolness nipped at the air, and I realized he must be exercising an enormous amount of restraint to not have his anger overwhelm the temperature again.
Once he thoroughly saw to my back and arms, he slowly moved to my sides, skimming the underside of my breasts, causing my nipples to harden as he drifted closer to them. I didn’t think he was intentionally attempting to seduce me, but that didn’t stop my body from reacting to his ministrations. Heat pooled between my thighs, and my thoughts immediately shifted to where he’d drag that cloth next. If my luck had finally turned this evening, perhaps he’d use his fingers instead of the linen. I leaned back, granting him better access to that particular place . . .
“There is a hexed blade that can kill me.”
A chill descended, erasing the pleasant feeling at once. I sat up, twisting around, the sudden movement splashing water onto the pristine floor. “What?”
“Your so‑called First Witch created hexed objects. Our records indicate three, but the actual number was never confirmed. Only one was ever found to be truly dangerous to a prince of Hell, the Blade of Ruination.”
As if that made it better. “Please tell me you are in possession of it.”
Wrath held my gaze, the strength and power of it meant to fortify my nerves. It had the opposite effect. The prince sighed. “None of the objects have been recovered. They disappeared when the witch and her spies did.”
“You can be killed.”
He offered a slight incline of his head in confirmation. The thought of someone extinguishing his flame had panic irrationally seizing me. All these months we’d spent arguing, fighting each other and our attraction. And it could be gone. Some selfish, hateful creature could take him from me. I thought he was invincible, and this one hexed blade made him too vulnerable for my liking. Made every little thing except cherishing our time together insignificant. With the rival demon House daggers, he could be injured, but not killed.
Perhaps it was my sister’s reemergence in my life, the fact that she was capable of anything, including faking her own murder, that had me coming undone. Or maybe it was whatever she’d been testing tonight by bringing me to that realm. Maybe they wanted to see how long it would take for Wrath to track me there.
I had no idea if he could be harmed in that realm with his soul detached from his body. One thing I was certain of: I couldn’t trust my sister.
If Vittoria got her hands on that blade, she’d probably attack Wrath. She’d warned me not to complete our marriage bond; I could see her ensuring that never happened. I had no idea who her enemies were, but I knew she’d go to impossible lengths to destroy them. If she believed my marriage to Wrath would in any way force me to give up part of myself that she needed for her plans, he would definitely become an enemy in her eyes.
With strength that seemed to catch the demon off guard, I yanked Wrath forward, pulling him off the stool and into the tub, clothes and all. I needed to feel him. Alive and breathing and solid beneath me. I leapt onto his lap and tugged his wet shirt open, buttons flying across the floor and bouncing into the tub as I pressed my hand to his heart, my own beating rapidly.
If anyone took him from me . . . my magic surged up, ready to incinerate this realm and every other one that possibly existed. That ancient, rumbling power I’d felt once before cracked an eye deep in my center. Whatever that monster was, it was growing more ravenous the longer it remained awake. It wanted to be set free, to ravage and destroy. And I barely held it at bay.
Buds of rose-gold flame burst into the air above us, the fiery flowers unfurling along with burning roots and stems with thorns. It was a garden made from embers and flames. And I suddenly couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed; all I saw was a rose-gold haze as my rage took magical form. I breathed in a ragged breath and exhaled, half-convinced flames and smoke would follow. Vines with sharp, oversized thorns twisted up around the tub, crept up the walls; in moments, we’d be overtaken by them . . .
Strong, powerful hands slid down my body, the sensation grounding me as the maelstrom within calmed a fraction. I swallowed hard, my throat parched, as I inhaled deeply and dragged my attention to the demon. Wrath gave me a bemused look but didn’t stop lightly caressing me, like he knew I was still half under the spell of my fury. My attention followed the careful path his hands traveled, my breathing evening out with each long, slow stroke.
My rage simmered, then sputtered out, taking the swell of magic with it. The burning flowers slowly returned to embers, then charred, the ash drifting away on a magical wind Wrath must have summoned. The vines also receded back to wherever I’d wrenched them from. I hadn’t even known that was something I could do, but Wrath didn’t appear surprised.
I watched in silence as the room returned to normal, though inside my emotions were still churning like the sea after a particularly brutal storm. Wrath’s caresses slowed, then stopped, his hands now resting on my waist. We stared at each other, not acknowledging I’d lost control.
“I thought my death would no longer excite you as it once would have.” His tone was light and teasing, but I detected an undercurrent of tension. “Should I be worried?”
Should I be? I glanced down, noticing that I’d somehow straddled him and that my hands were fisted in his half-torn-off clothing. I very much appeared to be on the verge of savagery.
Maybe he should worry. I could barely contain myself once I entered that dark place filled with rage. It was like all humanity had been stripped away and I was nothing but an elemental force meant to destroy.
Though, upon closer inspection, the rock-hard bulge nestled against my apex said Wrath enjoyed my rough handling. I eased my death grip on his clothing. “I want to find this blade.”
The smile that had been tugging at the corners of his lips formed into a wicked grin. “While I admitted to being fond of knife play, I’m afraid this one is off-limits. We can play with my dagger. The magic imbued in it won’t hurt me.”
“Don’t make light of this. If Vittoria gets that hexed blade first . . .”
“She’ll have to get in a very long line of demons searching for it. Envy’s spies, for one, are always listening for whispers of it across the realm. If it’s in the Seven Circles, he’ll find it.”
“Because Envy—of all demons— is precisely who I’d trust with a blade that can kill you.”
I silently counted to ten. How quickly the princes forgot stabbing and gutting one another. A thousand centuries could pass and I’d never forget the way Wrath’s blood had coated my hands after Envy had sunk his House dagger into him.
“My brother is many things, but a murderer he is not.” Wrath tucked a damp strand of hair behind my ear. While he could make that claim with certainty, I couldn’t. My sister would slay our family if it served her ultimate goal. I seemed to be exempt from her vengeance, which meant she needed me for her plan. For now, at least. “When the blade is close, I can sense its magical imprint. I’m not entirely without defense, my lady. Most would think twice before attacking me.”
Unless they were confident the weapon they had could put him down.
“How close?” I caught the slight wince he wasn’t quick enough to hide, and dread filled me again. “I see. So it has to be extremely close for you to sense it. Wonderful.”
I stood up, bathwater running down my body in rivulets as I stepped out of the tub. The idea of relaxing was no longer appealing. I wanted to tear this realm apart, inch by inch, and find this hexed blade. Wrath arched a brow but didn’t say a word as I bypassed the towel and strode toward his bedchamber, dripping
all over his immaculate tile.
My clean clothes were in the next chamber, and without thinking, I opened the door to the corridor that connected our rooms. The man standing on the other side dropped the fist he’d been about to knock with, his tawny skin going scarlet.
“Devil’s blood, Em.” Anir cringed. “Warn someone before you march around like”— he waved a hand at me—“that.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “Have you ever seen a naked woman before?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“What about men? Have you seen a man bathing or strutting around without a stitch of clothing on? Considering where we live, I imagine you’ve seen much more than that.”
“I have, but—”
“Then kindly step aside and stop blushing like a boy in his small clothes.”
Wrath’s human second‑in‑command glanced up at the ceiling, as if requesting divine assistance. When he brought his attention back down, he stared at a point over my shoulder. The prickle of heat indicated Wrath had come up behind me.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, draping a robe around my shoulders.
“Yes, your majesty.” Anir was no longer blushing. “House Greed has requested your presence at once.”
A terrible feeling skittered across my skin like a horde of spiders as I cinched the robe around my waist. “What’s happened?”
“Greed’s circle has been breached.” Anir glanced between me and the demon at my back, his expression grim. “There’s been a murder.”