Sunrays streamed through the tiny bars of the prison window. The other prisoners rushed toward the light, bathing in its warmth and gazing longingly out the window and onto the azure sea that surrounded Snake Island.
I didn’t join them. Instead, I remained in my position on the cold stone floor and pulled out my magic mirror from my enchanted bag, which was invisible to everyone but me. Focusing on the mirror, a keepsake from my dead mother, I willed it to show me what was happening at Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Austrian emperor and his daughter, Crown Princess Clara. Painfully slow seconds trickled by as the mirror continued to show me my own reflection until, finally, the surface rippled like waves in the ocean. My face disappeared to be replaced by her face.
I consciously loosened my jaw before my teeth grinding ended with a chipped tooth. I hated her. I hated everything about my stepsister. I hated Clara’s oval face that looked more refined than my square one. Her blue eyes that were so much brighter than my gray ones could ever be. Her long, gold-brown tresses that were thick and voluminous and never hung limply on her shoulders, unlike my dull, ash brown hair. She was wearing a satin gown tied at her back, revealing her feminine curves, curves that my flat body lacked. The dress wouldn’t suit me, and yet, I longed to rip it off her, put it on, and stuff her in my brown, stained prison garb.
I should have been living in the palace, walking around in beautiful dresses. Instead, I had been banished to Snake Island a month after I had turned eight because of Clara. If she hadn’t run her stupid mouth and told my stepfather, the king, that I had dark magic that allowed me to shift into a mouse, he would’ve never banished me. I would’ve continued being his stepdaughter, and Mother would still be alive and ruling by his side.
Because of Clara, I was stuck here while she frolicked in the palace. Watching my stepsister running down the stone corridor and chitchatting with the help made disgust rise in me. She shouldn’t be talking to the servants. She should be in the study, crafting war strategies and arranging allegiances, making the kingdom stronger as a real crown princess would. Clara didn’t deserve the title. It should be mine, and soon it would be.
From underneath my cloak, I pulled out the white-bearded nutcracker dressed in a red-and-black soldier uniform, black boots, a tall hat, and a silver sword attached to his belt. After working on him for the last year, the time had come to use him.
As if on cue, Clara exclaimed, “Really, my fairy godmother is coming as well? How wonderful!” She clapped her hands together, as if she were still seven and not seventeen, and I had to subdue my gag reflex.
The nutcracker in my hands had been a gift to Clara from her dead mother, and the only item I had been able to swipe before I had been banned from the palace and forced to live on this forsaken island. At first, I had wanted to destroy the wooden doll, but fortunately I had resisted. Now, the nutcracker would become the tool to facilitate my revenge and help me reclaim my kingdom.
In addition to mouse shifting, my mother had passed on the ability to perform dark spells, which had manifested a year ago when I had turned seventeen. For a year, I had been working on a spell for the nutcracker, and finally, it was ready. I touched the wooden figure, not worried that I would unleash the curse I had placed within. The curse wouldn’t attach itself to just anyone—it was specifically designed for Clara. Unfortunately, like all curses, the Nutcracker Curse wasn’t infallible. Magic required that each curse could be solved. However, the solution to the curse was nearly impossible to obtain, and I wasn’t worried about Clara or anyone else from the dimwitted Austrian Empire succeeding.
I examined the figurine one last time, then checked on the fist-sized, blue-lit orb. The circular light was a portal, crafted by a talented witch who had secretly copied the main portal in the chief of the guards’ office. Both portals connected our island to the various kingdoms we had been banished from. The portal was only big enough to allow small items, such as letters to pass through. I had tried before to shift into my mouse form and slip through the passage, but it had sensed my presence and that I was a being, not a thing, and rejected me.
Each day for a year now, I had been using my dark magic on the portal, making it less resistant. It was still too strong and unyielding to permit me passage; however, in less than forty-eight hours and with a final boost of magic from me, it would let through an inanimate object bigger and heavier than a letter—the nutcracker.
Using my powers for both the curse within the figurine and to widen the portal had cost me a lot of energy and depleted my dark magic reserves for the foreseeable future. Not ideal, but a necessary sacrifice. Because once the nutcracker traveled through the portal, it would end up in Schönbrunn palace and eventually find its way into Clara’s curious hands, making her pay for revealing me as a shifter to the emperor.
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