He was human looking enough, but was the physical embodiment of a nightmare.
Blood drinking, soul stealing, immortal creature of the night. I fought the urge to jump away from the circle and held his gaze instead. A storm raged within those eyes. It was like standing on the edge of a darkened shore, watching lightning dance closer across the sea. A lick of fear trailed down my spine as he defiantly stared back. I had never been more grateful that I’d also bound him to protect. Instinctually I reached up and held my cornicello for comfort.
He looked ready to—sweet goddess of fury. His luccicare was black and gold. I’d only ever seen that once before. Recognition slammed into me, and I immediately dropped my cornicello and snatched my dagger from the floor. His dagger.
The hilt was as cool as the icy rage now rushing through my veins.
“I’m going to kill you,” I snarled, then lunged for him.
Bones scattered as I attacked. The blade arced down, slicing a long, thin line across his hard chest. It should have pierced his heart. And it would have, if he hadn’t maneuvered back so swiftly. A strange, searing pain erupted under my skin. I didn’t want to consider what it meant—that maybe the mixture of our blood on the strange blade created a charm of its own. Or maybe the protection incantation also prevented me from striking him with a killing blow.
He yanked the dagger away with ease and tossed it on the ground.
I balled my hand into a fist and aimed for his center. It was like hitting a rock wall.
The demon stood there, allowing my assault to continue. While I exhausted myself with kicks and punches, he calmly looked around the chamber, enraging me more with his nonchalance. The demon didn’t seem too worried, and I wondered how many times he’d been summoned and subsequently attacked. He studied the circle and his attention jerked down toward me, immediately narrowing in on the fresh cut on my arm. A slow frown formed before he hid it.
“Why. Won’t. You. Bleed? Monster!” I was feral as I kicked and punched. My hatred and wrath so strong I almost got drunk on the intensity of it.
I glanced up in time to see him close his eyes, like he was enjoying those dark feelings, too. Nonna said demons pulled emotions to them, allowing them to wriggle and writhe around theirs. From the expression on his face, I was beginning to think that was true.
Disgusted, I stopped punching him and took a moment to catch my breath and regroup. Blood slipped down my arm and dripped to the ground. It wasn’t his, though. It was from the cut I’d made to summon him. I didn’t care if I bled myself dry if I took him to Hell with me.
“Bit of advice, witch. Yelling, ‘I’m going to kill you’ takes the surprise out of the attack.” He grunted as I landed a swift blow to his stomach. My punches were slowing and he didn’t look any worse for the wear. “You won’t succeed in killing me, but it would be a vast improvement in skill.”
“Maybe I can’t kill you, but I’ll find other ways to make you suffer.”
“Trust me, your very presence is accomplishing that.” Blood drops hissed within the circle. That strange searing under my skin was growing unbearable, but I was too mad to pay attention. “What spell did you use, witch?”
I stopped, breathing hard. “Vaffanculo a chi t’è morto.”
I wasn’t sure if he knew exactly what the curse meant, but he must have deduced it had something to do with fornicating with dead family members. He looked ready to drag me back to Hell now. He suddenly staggered away, cursing. “What spell did you use?”
“Well, considering you’re standing here, angry and unable to attack, I’d guess summoning spell, demon.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “And one for protection.”
Out of nowhere, gold light flashed over my arm before disintegrating into pale lavender. A tattoo in the same shade of purple—twin crescent moons laying sideways within a ring of stars—appeared on my outer forearm, burning almost as violently as my wrath.
I stood there, panting, until the searing in my arm finally ceased. I watched as he looked down at his own arm and gritted his teeth. Apparently he was also experiencing that awful pain.
“You demon-blooded witch. You marked me.”
A pale tattoo had appeared on his formerly bare left forearm. Double crescent moons laying in a circle of stars. For a moment, he looked like he could hardly comprehend that I’d managed something so impossible. Honestly, I wasn’t sure why he and I now had matching tattoos, either, but would rather die than admit that to him.
It must be the cost of the dark magic I’d used to summon him. I almost laughed. When Carolina told me the spells would summon a lesser demon, I’d had a hard enough time believing her. I wondered if I was having a nightmare—there was no way I’d actually summoned a prince of Hell. It would take more magic than I possessed to control a creature like him for any good length of time.
“This is impossible.”
“On that much we can agree.” He thrust his arm at me. “Tell me the exact phrasing of this spell. We need to reverse it before it’s too late. There’s only precious minutes left.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done. I need to know the exact phrasing. Now, witch.”
I was pretty sure what I did, aside from royally annoy him, was ensure neither of us ended up dead by the other’s hand. The tattoos likely acted as a magical bond of sorts. Unbinding us so he could rip out my heart like he’d done to my sister was the last thing I’d do.
“Unbelievable,” I scoffed. “Demanding things when you’re not the one with the power here.” His expression was one of pure disgust. I hoped it mirrored my own. “I need to know who you are and why you killed my sister. Since you can’t go back to your Hell dimension without me allowing it, I suggest playing by my rules.”
I couldn’t be sure, but there was a shift in the atmosphere around us, and I had the strangest impression his power slithered out, circled me, then slunk away. His nostrils flared. He was raging against the magical leash I’d put on him, straining to snap free. I watched, a small spiteful smile curving my lips. If he didn’t hate me before, I’d accomplished that tenfold now. Perfect. It seemed we finally understood each other.
“One day I’m going to be free of this bond. Think very carefully about that.”
I stepped close to him, angling my face up. “One day, I’m going to find a way to kill you. Think very carefully about that. Now, tell me who you are and why you wanted Vittoria dead.”
He offered me a smile that probably made men piss themselves; I refused to give in to fear. “Very well. Since you only have minimal time to hold me here, and have already wasted precious minutes with your poor excuse of an assassination attempt, I’ll play your game. I am the Prince of Wrath, general of war, and one of the feared Seven.”
Before I could blink, he trailed a finger down my throat, pausing at the vein that throbbed beneath my skin. Undiluted dread shot through me. I shoved his hand away, and stepped out of the summoning circle. I noticed the scattered bones and scrambled to put them back in place.
His grin turned into something sharp and wicked.
“Congratulations, witch. You’ve succeeded in getting my full attention. I hope you’re prepared for the consequences.”
Arrogance dripped off him. Only a fool wouldn’t be terrified of the beast I sensed lurking beneath his skin. He radiated power—vast and ancient. I had little doubt he could end my life with nary a thought.
All the same, the corner of my lips twitched.
Then, without warning, I bent over and began laughing. The sound bounced off the walls of the cave, magnifying until I wanted to plug my ears. I clutched my stomach, practically heaving from my outburst. Perhaps I was going insane. This night had gone from bad to worse faster than I could have ever imagined. I couldn’t believe I’d summoned a prince of Hell. I couldn’t believe royal demons existed. The world was downside up and upside down.
“I’m glad imminent death is so amusing,” he snapped. “It’ll make it all the more satisfying to slaughter you. And I promise your death will not be quick. I will glory in the kill.”
I waved him off like he was no more fearsome than a housefly. I could practically feel anger vibrating off him and winding its way into me. Even still, I had a feeling he was holding himself back. A lot. It was unsettling.
“Why, pray tell, are you laughing so hard?”
I straightened and wiped the corners of my eyes. “What, exactly, should I call you? Your highness? Oh, Feared and Mighty Seven? General Commander of Hell? Or Prince Wrath?”
A muscle in his jaw strained as he held my gaze.
“One day you’ll call me Death. For now, Wrath will do.”
A prince of Hell will never give their true name to their enemies. They can only be summoned through an object that belongs to them along with a powerful emotion. Their powers are tied to the sins they represent. Beware, for they are selfish beings who wish to use you for their gain.
—Notes from the di Carlo grimoire
“Wrath?” I didn’t bother hiding my incredulous tone. Setting aside the extremely melodramatic “you’ll call me Death” line, the whole obscene night ceased being funny in the this-can’t-be-happening-cruel-fate kind of way. First, I’d been convinced he was a witch hunter and had murdered Vittoria because of what she was, only to discover he was one of the creatures we’d been hiding from our whole lives. Then, to have the demon who killed my sister within my grasp and not be able to harm him . . .
I must have really annoyed some goddess to be punished this horribly. His stupid name and all of his titles were the least of my concerns, but the anger pouring off him as I laughed made me inclined to torment him over it.
“That’s ridiculous. I’m not calling you by an emotion. What’s your true name?”
He pinned me with a cold stare as I retrieved his dagger. “My true name doesn’t concern you. Address me by my House title. Unless you’d like to call me His Royal Highness of Undeniable Desire. That’s always an acceptable option. If you want to bow, I wouldn’t mind that, either. A little groveling goes a long way. I may grant you a boon and make your death swift.”