Excerpt Reveal: Foul Days by Genoveva Dimova




Excerpt Reveal: Foul Days by Genoveva Dimova

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foul days by genoveva dimova

The Witcher meets Naomi Novik in this fast-paced fantasy rooted in Slavic folklore, from an assured new voice in genre fiction.

As a witch in the walled city of Chernograd, Kosara has plenty of practice treating lycanthrope bites, bargaining with kikimoras, and slaying bloodsucking upirs. There’s only one monster she can’t defeat: her ex, the Zmey, known as the Tsar of Monsters. She’s defied him one too many times and now he’s hunting her. Betrayed by someone close to her, Kosara’s only choice is to trade her shadow—the source of her powers—for a quick escape.

Unfortunately, Kosara soon develops the deadly sickness that plagues shadowless witches—and only reclaiming her magic can cure her. To find it, she’s forced to team up with a suspiciously honorable detective. Even worse, all the clues point in a single direction: To get her shadow back, Kosara will have to face the Foul Days’ biggest threats without it. And she’s only got twelve days.

But in a city where everyone is out for themselves, who can Kosara trust to assist her in outwitting the biggest monster from her past?

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Foul Days by Genoveva Dimova, on sale 6/25/24

Chapter 2

Earlier that day, Kosara took out a lock of the Zmey’s hair, carefully pressed between two sheets of paper in an old spell book. She’d kept it on her bedside table all year, worried that if she let it out of her sight for too long, it might disappear.

It hadn’t been easy to obtain. Kosara and the Zmey had developed an annual ritual in the last seven years, ever since she’d left his palace. Every year, she did her best to avoid him. Every year, he found her. He’d smile his handsome smile and ask in his sweetest voice, “How about a game of cards?”

The wager? A lock of hair.

It wasn’t simply a sentimental keepsake. For a witch, a lock of hair had power. It meant that if she won, Kosara would finally have a weapon she could use against him. Not strong enough to hurt him, but perhaps strong enough to keep him away.

Which was why the Zmey enjoyed the game so much. He always won—until last year.

Kosara walked downstairs to the kitchen and hung her cauldron over the hearth. The room was aglow with the light of the fire, reflecting in the copper pots and pans hanging on the walls. The brighter it grew, the darker the shadows became, her own swirling and whirling around them.

Sweat beaded on Kosara’s skin, the droplets mirroring the flames, as if she were covered in hundreds of small fires. She’d stripped down to her underwear, and her chemise clung to her wet skin. Instead of subduing the hearth, she stoked it. She needed all the power she could get.

It wasn’t as if anyone else was around to complain about the heat. Kosara lived alone.

There was a loud bang from one of the upstairs bedrooms.

It wasn’t as if anyone else alive was around, Kosara corrected herself. The ghost of her sister haunted a bedroom upstairs.

A few more bangs followed. Strange, Nevena wasn’t this active usually. Perhaps she could feel the heat after all, or the magic Kosara wielded.

“Nevena!” Kosara shouted. “Will you please stop it? I’m trying to concentrate.”

The banging continued. Kosara sighed. No point trying to reason with kikimoras.

First, Kosara fished inside a bucket of salty water for two rusalka ink sacs. She pierced them with her knife, letting the dark liquid drip into the cauldron, hissing as it hit the copper surface.

Then, she rummaged for the rest of the ingredients among the many jars and bottles scattered around the kitchen. Aspen tree sap served as a binder, a rusty nail used to kill a karakonjul as a mordant, thyme oil and soda ash as preservatives. Finally, she threw the lock of the Zmey’s hair into the cauldron.

The mixture came to a boil fast, large bubbles rising to the surface and popping, splattering the walls with sticky black liquid.

As she watched it, Kosara wondered if she was making a mistake. What if her attempt to keep the Zmey away angered him too much?

He’d told her before that if she ever tried to defy him again, he’d take more than a lock of her hair. He’d take her. He’d force her back under his control. He liked her knowing that her freedom was conditional on his goodwill.

No, she decided. She was toeing the line, but she wasn’t crossing it. He’d see this as a challenge—a part of their game of cat and mouse. Next year, he’d arrive prepared to fight her spell, but by then, Kosara would have devised a different one to throw at him.

Or maybe her spell wouldn’t be strong enough to stop him. He’d laugh that annoyingly pleasant laugh of his, like hundreds of chiming bells, and then she’d have to sit through another card game. She’d squirm under his icy stare for hours, as he threw stronger and stronger cards on the table. Finally, she’d chop off a lock of hair to give him, and the missing chunk would remind her of him whenever she looked at herself in the mirror.

Kosara sighed. She had to make sure her spell would hold. She’d spent all year preparing it: a ward strong enough to keep the Zmey out. She’d read every book on the subject she could get her hands on. She’d practised all the runes. It would hold.

Unless someone invited the Zmey in, that was. But who would do that?

At last, Kosara took the cauldron off the fire and emptied the liquid into a glass vial. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Then, she put out the fire with a click of her fingers.

The kitchen went dark, only the flickering of the gas lamps remained. The cold from outside immediately began to seep through the walls.

Kosara got dressed: black woollen trousers, a warm sweater, her long coat, leather boots she’d worn so often the soles were starting to rub through. She couldn’t do the spell in her house—it would be the first place the Zmey would look for her after he arrived at midnight.

“Bye, Nevena!” Kosara shouted.

The ghost remained silent. Sometimes, Kosara wondered if Nevena could even understand her.

Most ghosts were little different from the people they’d been while still alive. But Nevena wasn’t like most ghosts. She was a kikimora: a wraith who rose from the blood spilled after a murder. All that was left of the sister Kosara remembered was her pain and her anger.

Kosara sighed and opened the front door. She braced herself against the winter wind, burying her chin in the neckline of her sweater. After the warmth of the kitchen, stepping outside felt like diving into a cold swimming pool.

She stumbled through the muddy snowdrifts, past dark houses and snow-covered gardens, gripping the vial of inky liquid in her pocket. Her bag hung heavy on her shoulder, filled with notes and sketches copied from spell books.

Granite spires rose high above, icicles hanging off their elaborately carved buttresses. Their grand shapes were a reminder of Chernograd’s more prosperous past before the Wall was built. Now, their stonework was black with dirt and soot, and their arches were crumbling.

In the distance, magic factories coughed dark smoke out of their long chimneys, contrasting against the white streets and the pale sky. Most of them manufactured medicine, cosmetics, or perfumes for export over the Wall to Belograd. Ironically, few in Chernograd could afford their products.

People in dark clothes passed Kosara, their grim faces peeking over ugly hand-knitted scarves and even uglier hand-knitted jumpers. Their coats were more like patchwork blankets, sewn together so they’d last another winter. Occasionally, a horse-drawn carriage flew past, spraying muddy water over the pavements. The swearing of the now-soaked pedestrians was drowned out by the drumming of the horse’s hooves.

Kosara elbowed her way through the crowds gathered in front of the Main Street shops. It was the last day of the year: the last chance to stock up on holy water and aspen stakes in peace, to melt any remaining family heirlooms into silver bullets, to hire a witch to draw a protective ward around the house’s doors and windows. Customers and merchants bargained quietly, in tense whispers, as if shouting would break whatever fragile peace they still had until midnight. Some of them clutched steaming cups of coffee, brown and thick as mud, and others were already well into their wine, their breath coming out in pungent plumes.

Finally, Kosara reached the pub. The barkeep, Bayan, waited for her in front of it, only a thin sliver of his face visible between his karakonjul fur hat and his scarf. He narrowed his eyes at her in question.

Kosara nodded at him, and he unlocked the door.

She went to her knees on the icy ground. Then, she unscrewed the lid from her vial, dipped her finger in it, and began drawing.

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

“Kosara!” a familiar voice called outside the bar, just after midnight. He didn’t shout, but his words nevertheless carried over the wind’s howling, the monsters’ cries, and the people’s screams. “Kosara!”

The blood rushed to Kosara’s head. Her nails left crescents in the soft skin of her palms.

He was here already. How the hell had he found her so fast?

She looked down at the ward she’d drawn. Half of it was visible on the floor inside, arching around the door and windows: a series of runes drawn in black ink. The other half was outside. If Kosara had done her job right, no amount of snow or hail or rubbing of shoes would erase it for the next twelve days.

She’d hoped to have an hour or two to test it on lesser monsters, like the karakonjuls. To recharge it if needed, or maybe try a different recipe if this one proved too weak—but the Zmey was here already.

“Kosara!” His voice came closer and closer. It sent shivers down her spine.

Calm down, for God’s sake. It would be the same as every year. He’d come, he’d make her feel small, weak, and helpless, and then he’d leave.

But, for some reason, this time it felt different. There was something in his voice—something she hadn’t heard in a long time. Something taut like a guitar string.



His shadow ran past the window. He wiped the frost away with his palm and peeked inside.

His eyes were the bright blue only found in the centre of a flame, and his hair was like molten gold. When his gaze fell on the mirror above the bar, it shattered.

“Here you are.”

The doorknob rattled.

Kosara inhaled sharply. She watched, petrified, as the lines of her ward twisted and strained under the pressure, but they didn’t break. For now.

Copyright © 2024 from Genoveva Dimova

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