Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(9)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(9)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

As I pulled my cloak on, I recalled Nonna’s warnings about the Wicked—how once someone caught a demon prince’s attention he’d stop at nothing to claim them.

The way Wrath had looked at me made me think those stories were true. And despite his earlier proclamation about me being the last creature in all the realms he would want, and the fact I was now promised to his brother, something undeniably had just changed.

Goddess help us both.

 

 

Morning kicked and screamed its way toward noon as if it were a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. Snow squalls appeared, fierce and howling, and left as quickly as they’d arrived. When I thought the weather had finally turned moderate, ice pelted us.

Frozen strands of dark hair stuck to my face, and my cloak suctioned to my body like a second skin. I was cold and miserable in ways I’d never experienced at home on my warm island. Various body parts either burned or stung from the ice, and I’d long since lost sensation in my feet. I hoped I wouldn’t lose a toe or three to frostbite.

Whenever I felt the first tinges of hopelessness creeping in, I gritted my teeth and pushed on, head down, as the gusting wind continued to snap at me. I refused to succumb to the elements this early on in my mission. My sister would never give up on me.

It would take far worse than ice to stop me now.

Perhaps this corridor did more than simply test for sins; perhaps battling such vicious elements was a test of grit. Of determination. And uncovering how far one was willing to go for the ones they loved. Both the demons and this realm would discover that answer soon enough.

Wrath either enacted a glamour, or the elements didn’t dare to mess with his princely self. His hair was unaffected, and his clothing remained dry. If his cavalier attitude regarding the journey didn’t annoy me enough already, the way the weather bent to his will was enough to irk me into an early grave. It was wholly unfair that he should look so damnably good while I looked similar to a sodden wreck that washed ashore after several long, hard months at sea.

The few times it wasn’t snowing or hailing or some terrible combination of the two, a thick, chilly mist hung over us like an omen from a nasty winter god. I was starting to think there was a higher power out there who enjoyed toying with travelers.

Time stretched on and on, though the sun never quite made an appearance. There were only various shades of gray tinging the sky. Wrath and I barely spoke after our morning conversation, and I was perfectly fine with that. Soon enough I’d be at House Pride.

After what I estimated to be another hour or two into our journey, I began trembling uncontrollably. The more I tried forcing my muscles to still, the more they rebelled.

Nonna always told us to find the positive in any situation, and now that I was so emotionally and physically drained by the frosty elements, I was spared from being tested by the Sin Corridor.

My shivers quickly grew loud enough to draw Wrath’s attention. He ran a calculating gaze over me, mouth tightening, and walked faster. He barked at me to keep moving. To hurry up. To lift my feet. Higher, faster, move, go, now. He was the mighty general of war and I could easily imagine how much his soldiers hated him for the drills he ran them through.

When painful pins and needles started pricking my body all over, I distracted myself with a new game. Perhaps it was the Sin Corridor encouraging me, but I envisioned all the ways Wrath could slip over a cliff and splatter himself on craggy rocks. I saw it all so clearly…

… I’d race after him, pulse pounding as I followed the broken branches and destruction left in his wake, his big body crashing violently into everything on its way down. Once I caught up to him, I’d drop to my knees, frantically searching for a pulse. Then I’d swirl my fingers through his warm blood, drawing little hearts and stars in the gore.

He glanced over his shoulder, brows tugged close. “What are you smirking at?”

“I’m fantasizing about painting the world with your blood.”

“Explains the overly indulgent look.” The twisted heathen grinned and the Sin Corridor swiftly ceased pushing me from gluttony to wrath. Before I unleashed myself, he said, casually, “Have I ever told you your anger is like my own personal aphrodisiac?”

No, he had not. But of course the demon ruling over war would be aroused by conflict. I inhaled deeply, attempting to cool my temper and the wrath I was still being prodded toward. “If you wish to keep your favorite appendage intact, I suggest not speaking.”

“Once you finish thinking about my impressive appendage, I suggest moving faster. We’ve got a long way to travel. And you look half-dead as it stands.”

“Your talent for making a woman swoon is second only to your charm, Prince Wrath.”

His nostrils flared and I did an abysmal job keeping the amusement from my face. Which only made his scowl deepen. Wrath didn’t taunt me again for another few hours, but it wasn’t from brooding. He was driven, tense. I had a strong suspicion he was more worried than he let on. I did my best to keep up with him, concentrating on the end goal instead of the miserable present. We worked our way down the treacherous pass, time moving in excruciatingly slower increments. I started slipping more, catching myself right before I tumbled over the edge.

Wrath glared at me, rallying my anger enough to press on if only to spite him. I wasn’t sure how long it took for me to notice, but awareness tingled at the back of my muddled senses. Wrath had scouted a good distance ahead, ensuring the terrain was passable, when I’d felt the slight prickle of unease turn into a steady prodding I could no longer ignore.

I stopped walking, and the sound of snow crunching continued for a good half-beat after before falling eerily quiet. I slowly swept my gaze around. Evergreens lined this part of the pass, the branches weighted and bowed from thick snow, making it impossible to see past them into the darker section of woods. Overtaxed tree limbs creaked and groaned. More snow crunched.

I exhaled, my breath mingling with the mist. The haunted atmosphere was caused by the sound of broken branches falling. I turned back around and froze.

A giant, three-headed doglike creature gazed at me, heads tilted, and three sets of ears perked. Its fur was as white as the falling snow and its eyes were glacier blue. Those strange eyes stared into mine, its pupils dilating then contracting.

I didn’t so much as breathe too deeply for fear of inciting an attack. Its fangs were twice the size of dinner knives, and they appeared just as sharp. The creature snuffed the air, its wet nose nearly touching my throat as it brought its middle head near.

I swallowed a scream as it took a step closer, those icy eyes lighting with…

Before I could cry out for help, each set of its jaws snapped open and shut as if it wanted to bite me, but changed its mind, much to its shock and mine. It shook its heads, eyes glazed, and stepped away. A predator acknowledging a larger threat. I fell into the embankment and stared, dumbstruck as it slunk backward into the woods, its gaze never leaving mine as it softly snarled.

I didn’t breathe again until it disappeared from sight. So much for making a fearless impression on the underworld. “Blood and bones. What was that?”

“If you’re finished playing with the puppy, I’d like to continue our journey.”

“Puppy?”

I swiveled my head in the demon’s direction. Wrath stood a few paces away, his powerful arms crossed and an annoying smirk on his face. No assistance, no offer of help. Only mockery at a situation that could have turned ugly very rapidly. Typical demon.

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