I had little doubt that Envy would love nothing more than to take his deadly blade to my skin and slowly peel away the layers, discovering what exactly made me a shadow witch.
Whatever that was.
Knowing a little of their rigid, well-mannered ways, I didn’t want to anger him by declining too soon. After what felt like an entire millennium had passed of me pretending to consider his offer, I finally said, “Not at this time, thank you.”
He seemed on the verge of arguing his point, but suddenly inclined his head as if in deference. His gaze tracked back to the tattoo on my arm.
“Very well. Even we princes of Hell don’t know what the future may hold. You may change your mind, or alter your views yet. I will still accept you when and if you choose my House over my brother’s.” The demon turned and headed for the opposite end of the street, pausing at the crossroad to glance back. “Be warned; the others grow weary. If they haven’t already started hunting, they will come for you soon. Let this serve as your warning, and as a boon from House Envy. Pick a House to align yourself with, or the decision will be made for you.”
Nearby, fire crackled. Smoke followed soon after, slithering through the air like a fleeing serpent. When I first saw the Prince of Wrath in the monastery, I’d heard a similar sound. Maybe fire and smoke had something to do with how demons traveled between realms.
Now that Envy was gone, my breaths were coming hard and fast, almost matching the frantic pounding of my heart. Eighteen years of hiding from the Malvagi, and I’d just been trapped with one who’d used his powers on me. And I survived. I wanted to either laugh or vomit. Before I managed either, I needed to convince my knees to stop quaking.
Holy goddess, that was the most harrowing experience I’d ever had. If my sister had gotten involved with the Wicked, unraveling her secrets while remaining safe just got harder. I wasn’t sure I’d be so lucky the next time I met a prince of Hell alone. They altered the very space around them. And it didn’t look like it had taken much energy—if any at all—for Envy to do that. I glanced down the street. It was still blessedly empty. Before Envy showed up, I’d been on my way to the monastery. Claudia mentioned Domenico was there, and I thought it might be time to ask him if he knew what—
Fear gripped me until I could hardly breathe. Envy said I had something he wanted. Besides my cornicello, which I’d tucked inside my bodice where he couldn’t see it, and Wrath’s dagger, I didn’t have anything on me. But Claudia had my sister’s diary, and if the Malvagi could truly sense it, then Envy might already be hunting her down this very moment.
If anything happened to her . . .
I took off toward her home, running so fast I almost lost my sandals as my feet pounded uneven stones. I ran harder, focusing solely on getting to Claudia’s house before the demon did. I jumped over baskets laid out, past chamber pots and chickens that ran through the side streets. I dodged laundry lines and managed to only bump into one unpleasant fisherman as I skidded to a halt outside Claudia’s door.
I grabbed the iron knocker and pounded until a candle flared to life upstairs. Claudia poked her head out from the window on the second story.
“Emilia? Blood and bones. You scared me! Hang on.”
I whipped around, scanning the dark street. There was no sign I’d been followed. I also didn’t feel any sort of presence watching, and I hoped that meant Envy was somewhere far away.
A moment later, the bolt slid loudly and the door swung open. Claudia motioned for me to come inside. I rushed in and slammed the door behind me, breathing hard.
“What the devil is wrong, Emilia?”
“Is your aunt home?”
“Not yet. She stayed a little later at the booth tonight. What happened?” She held up her candle, searching my face. “You look terrible.”
I blew out a shaky breath. “Did you find anything out about the spell on the diary?”
“Not really. The magic is old, definitely not of this realm. But there’s something else that’s strange about it. I need more time to really—”
“No!” I reached over and gently squeezed her shoulder to soften the blow of my words. “I want you to forget all about the spell and the diary. Please. It’s too dangerous.”
Claudia narrowed her eyes. “Does whatever happened have to do with the vision I had?”
“Maybe.” I rubbed my temples. A giant headache was starting. “Listen, I—I’m not sure what happened tonight, but the Wicked are here. And I think their arrival has something to do with Vittoria’s diary. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to draw any attention to the book. Or you.”
“Did you speak with one of them?”
I nodded. “The Prince of Envy and I just had a lovely conversation. It started with me almost carving out my heart.”
I expected a sharp intake of breath, or some indication that my friend was completely terrified that the Wicked were indeed roaming around Sicily. Maybe she thought I’d hit my head. She calmly went to the cupboard and pulled out a bottle of herbal spirits she’d made. She poured us each a mouthful and set my glass in front of me.
“Sit.” She pointed to one of the wooden chairs. “Drink this. It’ll calm your nerves.”
I plopped into the seat and brought the glass to my nose. It was mint and something citrusy. Maybe lime. I tossed it back, relishing the sharp flavor. “Grazie.”
Claudia drank hers down, and put the bottle away.
“You don’t seem surprised,” I said. “Did you know they were here?”
“I suspected.” She pressed her hip against the table and sighed. “When the murders started and the hearts were stolen, I immediately thought of the curse.”
“You mean the blood debt between the First Witch and the devil?”
“No,” she said slowly, “I mean the curse.”
I drew my brows together. Wrath said the devil wanted to break a curse. “Was the curse placed on witches, or someone else?”
“That’s just the thing.” Claudia moved around the table and dropped her voice. “No one knows for sure. Dark witches believe it was the price La Prima paid for the vengeance spell she cast on the devil.”
That was plausible. Dark magic demanded payment. But casting a spell on the devil . . . I shuddered despite the sweltering summer heat. I vaguely recalled Nonna mentioning it, but she didn’t seem convinced of its validity. “Why did she curse the devil?”
“Old stories claim he stole her firstborn’s soul. From that day forward the devil was trapped in Hell for eternity. His brothers could travel between realms within reason, typically the days before and after a full moon, but he would never set foot outside the underworld. And that wasn’t all. Supposedly he’d only retain his full powers if a witch sat on the throne beside him, wearing the Horn of Hades to keep the balance between realms.”
“The Horn of Hades? Is that a crown?”
“There’s no written documentation on what it is, or how it works exactly. My aunt thinks part of the curse included removing or blocking our memories. She also believes that’s what really happened to old Sofia Santorini; that her scrying session unveiled something about the curse it wanted forgotten.”
“By ‘it’ you mean the curse? Like it’s its own entity?”
Claudia nodded. “It’s strange that no one recalls certain details. Everyone has a slightly different myth or legend, but no one knows the truth.”
“Nonna never mentioned any of this.”
“Not surprising. My aunt said witches of the light don’t believe La Prima would cast such a dangerous spell. It goes against their image of what it means to be goddess blessed. Who knows?” Claudia lifted a shoulder. “Stories twist each time they’re told. Maybe it’s all fiction now. The only way anyone might know the truth is if they had the first book of spells created by La Prima. And I’ve heard tales that the Wicked are searching for it. There may be a spell in it that will allow the devil to break the curse and travel between realms again without needing a witch queen.”
Unease crept through me as I thought about the strange grimoire sheets Vittoria had hidden away under the floorboards. There was no way my sister had found La Prima’s missing spell book.
And yet . . . there was the ancient magic binding her diary that wasn’t of this realm. Was the secret location of the first book of spells written within those pages? I’d think it was impossible, but I’d been learning that impossible was another figment of the imagination.
So if it was true, then how in the world did my twin find it?
I scooted my chair back from the table and stood. Until I figured out the answers to all of my questions, I didn’t want anyone else near Vittoria’s diary. If it had a spell the devil was after that could release him from Hell, it was more dangerous than I’d originally feared.
“Will you get the diary for me?”
That night I found the first clue hidden beneath the floorboards in my room. As with most seemingly insignificant details, I’d overlooked the gambling chip when I’d first seen it. I’d been too preoccupied with the diary and strange grimoire sheets to pay much attention to another trinket my sister had collected. Especially something as small and unimportant as a gambling chip.
I carefully flipped the trinket over and read the Latin etched lightly on the back: avaritia. Greed. I set the chip down, and stared at the crowned frog stamped onto the front. A month ago I wouldn’t have thought much of the crown or the Latin. Now I’d had the misfortune of meeting two of the seven deadly princes of Hell, and I couldn’t escape the nagging suspicion that the owner of this gambling chip was another terrifying creature I’d like to avoid.
If he was anything like Envy, I couldn’t fathom seeking him out. There was no telling what kind of horror he might try inflicting on me. But . . . Vittoria must have encountered him if she held on to this chip. Whatever the connection between them, it was important if she left a small piece of him for someone to find. So far, while I hadn’t entirely ruled out the possibility of witch hunters being responsible for the murders, I also hadn’t come across any solid evidence pointing to them.