Especially when they made him spitting mad. Nonna told us the Malvagi couldn’t stand sunlight, so I planned to be back before nightfall just in case my spell hadn’t worked, or he’d somehow broken it.
Nonna set her rolling pin aside and handed the platter of flattened chicken to my mother to drench in flour. She watched me slice more mushrooms as she uncorked a bottle of marsala and splashed it into a hot pan, and I pretended not to notice.
“Distractions in the kitchen lead to accidents, Emilia.” She wiped her hands and tossed the towel over her shoulder. “Do you need to sit down?”
I glanced up, pausing my assault on the mushrooms. “I’m fine, Nonna. Just tired.”
And more than a little anxious about the last twenty-four hours. It was hard to grasp the fact that the monsters from my childhood stories were real. They didn’t have red eyes, or claw-tipped fingers, or horns. The creatures from Hell were elegant, regal, well mannered. It upended my idea of how evil was supposed to present itself to the world. Wrath was supposed to be fang-toothed and drooling, not a shirtless wonder any artist would dream of painting.
“Nicoletta, do you have some advice for your daughter?”
Nonna turned to my mother for help, but Mamma was lost in her own sadness today. She placed a piece of chicken in a bowl of flour seasoned with salt and pepper, shook it free, then dropped it into a waiting skillet. Butter crackled and spit, pleased with the offering.
My mother took another piece of chicken and repeated the motion. All body memory, no conscious thought. I quickly looked away.
Nonna grabbed my chin, forcing me to meet her unflinching gaze. “Whatever trouble you’ve been seeking ends tonight, Emilia. The moon is almost full and it’s no time to be playing with forces you have no hope of controlling. Capisce?”
“I haven’t been searching for trouble, Nonna.” I’d only summoned it to me. “Everything is fine. I’m fine, I promise.”
Nonna released my face and walked away, shaking her head. “Nothing is fine, child. Hasn’t been for a month and I imagine it won’t be for many more to come. Vittoria is gone. Nothing will ever bring her back. It’s harsh, but it’s true. You need to accept it and grieve. Let go of your vengeance, or it will curse us all.”
“You want how much for this shirt?” I scowled at Salvatore, the thief parading as a vendor. I shook the offending garment at him. “We are both speaking about this one, right? The one that’s practically threadbare in the elbows?”
“It’s a fair price.” He held up his hands and slowly backed behind his table of goods. “Carolina is selling hers for a good bit more. See?”
Sal nodded to the stall across the alley. He had a point, but everyone around here knew—and admired—Claudia’s aunt Carolina as “the schemer.” Only wealthy people who enjoyed a stroll through the crowded marketplace paid her inflated prices, though. I imagined it had more to do with the fact she’d spelled the items to be irresistible to certain clientele. I fought the urge to look toward her booth, just in case she called me over to ask how my demon summoning went.
Even practitioners of the dark arts feared the Wicked.
I handed Sal the coins and shoved the shirt into my sack, grumbling the entire time. As much as I’d love to stay and haggle over the poor excuse for clothing, the sun would slip past the horizon soon, and I needed to make sure the demon was still trapped in the circle.
I hurried through the rush of the early evening crowd, ignoring people calling out for me to sample cheese, try their street food, or buy a lovely set of earrings. Unless they could sell me a demon spell to unlock my sister’s diary, I wasn’t interested.
I halted at the end of the street that eventually turned into the steep, winding path of the abandoned cavern. Maybe I’d imagined her voice. I closed my eyes, praying I had. I wasn’t ready for this meeting and even if I was, I was running out of daylight. Wicked creatures came out in the dark, and I knew at least one who wanted to slip his leash.
“Emilia! It is you, thank the stars. I’ve been hoping to see you here.”
I took a deep breath and pivoted to face my friend. “Hi, Claudia. How—”
She crushed me in a hug, her sudden tears soaking my collar. “It’s been a whole month and I still can’t believe it. Even after seeing her laid to rest.” Claudia stepped back and shook her dark curls. Her hair was shorter than the last time I’d seen her. It looked good. “I’ve had the strangest . . . dreams lately. My aunt thinks they’re urgent messages.”
We both scanned the street, but no one was near enough to overhear us. By “dreams” my friend meant “visions.” Claudia’s magic worked best with scrying. Sometimes her visions were more than visions. And other times they weren’t. The trouble was, we could never tell which was a gift from the goddess of sight and premonitions and which was purely her imagination.
I hated that I’d left her alone to worry over potential meanings. Vittoria used to jot notes and ask a hundred different questions. I desperately wished she were by my side now.
“What did you see?”
Claudia glanced around. “It’s more a warning than a true vision, I think.”
And whatever it was, it clearly terrified her. My friend looked ready to jump out of her skin. I reached over and gripped her hand in mine. “What is it?”
“I don’t know . . . I saw black wings and an empty pitcher being filled and emptied. It was all very strange. I think some terrible darkness is coming,” she said. “Or it’s already here.”
Goose bumps rose across my body in waves. I swallowed my shame. I had no doubt Claudia had seen me summoning Wrath. Dragging a prince of Hell from the underworld was a huge feat—I couldn’t imagine the kind of magical tremors it must have set off. I’d disrupted the natural order of this world. I brought forth that which didn’t belong. It was the darkest sort of magic, and I wasn’t surprised a dark witch sensed it.
“Maybe it’s just the way your mind is explaining away Vittoria’s . . .”
“You’re probably right,” she agreed quickly. “Domenico is a mess, too. He visits the monastery at least twice a week to pray.”
I was happy we’d steered the conversation away from the Great Big Evil I’d invited into our world, though thinking of my sister laying in the monastery brought on its own awful feelings. I tried not to focus on Claudia’s tear-stained face. The last thing I wanted was to start crying and show up red-eyed and splotchy when I confronted Wrath. I wanted to project fearlessness and ferocity, not a sobbing, snotty mess.
It was the only thought that kept me from breaking down. Well, that and hearing my sister’s secret lover had been praying so often. With my grief and then the desire to unlock her diary, I’d forgotten all about him. “I didn’t know they were publicly . . .”
I wasn’t sure what to call it. Not a courtship, because Domenico hadn’t spoken to my father and Vittoria certainly hadn’t mentioned him. If I hadn’t seen his name scrawled in her diary, we wouldn’t know she liked him at all. That thought ached, so I shoved it deep down where it couldn’t hurt me, with the other unpleasant feelings I’d been storing lately.
“What else has Domenico said?”
“I’m not sure. He hasn’t talked to me about anything. He mostly locks himself in one of the empty chambers, and lights prayer candles until after midnight. I think he’s there now, actually. He always looks so sad.”
I wanted to speak with him and knew I should, but didn’t feel ready to just yet. I reasoned it might be cruel to show up, looking like the mirror image of his murdered lover. The truth was, I wasn’t ready to confront one of my sister’s secrets without my heart breaking the rest of the way.
Claudia looped her arm through mine and guided us off the main road. “Fratello Antonio is worried about you. Since you were the one who . . .” She swallowed hard. “Now that he’s back from his travels putting rumors of shape-shifters to rest, it might be good to speak with him. Just to help find solace.”
Solace was the furthest thing from vengeance and I wanted nothing to do with it. The brotherhood would advise me to say prayers and light candles like Domenico. Neither of which would help avenge my sister, or break the spell on her diary. Even if I confessed the darkest desires in my heart, there wasn’t anything Antonio could do to help me. He was just a human.
I mustered up a smile, knowing Claudia was coming from a place of love. And she had enough to worry about with her own unsettling visions. “I will talk to him. Soon. I promise.”
Claudia studied my face. “Make sure you visit me while you’re there, too. I miss you. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but you’re only alone if you choose to be, Emilia. Please don’t forget that you’re still living and are loved. And, if you let me, I can help.”
I pictured confirming her fears about her dream, telling her all about what I did last night; about the demon I’d plucked from the underworld and stashed away in ours. And not just any demon, but if he was to be believed, a prince of war. A demon so vicious and mighty he was the living embodiment of wrath.
If Claudia knew what I was planning next, I wondered if she’d still be willing to help.
I took one look at the determination in her eyes and decided she might.
“I . . .” I inhaled deeply. I didn’t trust Wrath with this secret, and Carolina couldn’t help, but maybe Claudia could. I pulled my sister’s diary from my satchel. “There’s a spell on this I can’t break. Your aunt said the magic wasn’t from this realm. It’s possibly demonic in origin.”
Claudia’s eyes widened as she brushed her fingers over the cover. “It’s . . . ancient.”
“Do you think you could find out what sort of magic was used?”
She nodded vigorously. “I can certainly try.”