For now, I needed to concentrate on this clue and set my other suspicions aside.
I glanced toward my window at the stars winking in and out of the darkness as clouds swept past them. I wished my twin had trusted me with her secrets. But wishes wouldn’t get either of us anywhere now—action would. I pulled a piece of parchment out from our shared nightstand and sat with a pen and pot of ink. Writing out things to research more might help reveal another thread for me to pull. The Wicked were a promising lead, but I had a nagging feeling I was missing something.
There had to be a connection tying everything together.
Spelled diary—what magic did Vittoria really use to seal it? how did she find it?
Deal with the devil—why did she agree to become his bride? does it have to do with the curse Claudia mentioned? or did she think she could break it and remain here?
First book of spells—if it belongs to La Prima, how can the Wicked sense it?
Horn of Hades—what is it?a crown? how powerful is it?
Witch hunters—are they involved? if so, are they watching the Wicked, or is there a connection between them and the devil’s bargain?
I scanned the notes, nothing stood out. Except . . . I thought back to when Vittoria first started acting strangely. It had been roughly three weeks before she died. Right around the time of our eighteenth birthday. I’d assumed it had to do with her secret affair with Domenico, but it seemed more likely now that that was when she’d started summoning demons.
One week later, the first murder occurred in Sciacca. Then the first witch in Palermo died a few days after that. Within a week from the second murder, my twin was killed. I didn’t know if Wrath would share any detailed information with me about the bargains, but there was a strong possibility that my sister’s first summoning correlated to the devil’s sudden desire to break the curse.
Maybe her use of demon magic awakened something in the underworld that had long been slumbering. If she’d managed to summon a prince of Hell, anything was possible. Or maybe none of that was true. If she didn’t summon a demon or find the first book of spells, maybe she found the Horn of Hades and its discovery set everything into motion.
I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the theory I’d started with. Witch hunters. They were human, but humans used folk magic as part of their religion throughout the Kingdom of Italy. Perhaps they had some way of being alerted to that kind of dark magic.
I sighed. The witch hunter theory still didn’t quite fit, no matter how hard I tried making sense of it. It did, however, look more probable that there was a link between the demons being summoned, the devil’s bargain, and the murders that followed. I’d summoned a prince of Hell, so it was likely Vittoria had accomplished the impossible, too. Which still begged the question of where she’d gotten the summoning spells to begin with. I scribbled another note.
Grimoire sheets—was Vittoria summoning a demon to control, or did one of them give her these summoning spells? if so, who and why?
I stopped writing and carefully considered the last point. What if Vittoria didn’t summon a demon first . . . maybe one was already here, like Wrath. If that demon prince gave my sister the grimoire sheets, did that mean he’d convinced her to help in some wicked scheme? What could a demon prince possibly gain by angering the devil, and slaying his brides? Was it a bid for the dark throne? No matter what secrets my sister kept, I knew with utter certainty that she’d never help someone if they murdered witches.
I picked up the gambling chip, wondering if it wasn’t something Vittoria had taken, but something that was gifted to her. Maybe it was a token of good faith, or . . . I needed to stop speculating and start hunting. I had a new plan for the morning, and it made my stomach twist.
“Have you seen this before?” I flashed the gambling chip at Salvatore. He may have been a mediocre clothing vendor, but he was an extraordinary source of knowledge. I’d gotten up with the sun and rushed out of the house before Nonna interrogated me about the devil again. He might not be chasing me yet, but I was certainly trying to find him and his wretched brothers.
A bead of sweat rolled down my neck after my brisk jog to the market, and I probably looked a little wild with my loose, damp curls. Hopefully Sal wouldn’t scrutinize me too closely when there was something much more interesting to pay attention to. Out of anyone in the city, Salvatore was the most reliable gossip.
And the most likely to share every detail he knew with anyone who asked.
“Is that . . .” He leaned across a pile of folded shirts, squinting. “That’s it! That’s the club everyone’s talking about these days. It’s real mysterious. No name, just the crowned frog stamped onto the door. I hear it changes locations and you need one of those chips to get in.” He rummaged through a pile of clothes, and held up a pretty crimson dress. It was one of the finer garments in his stall. I immediately became suspicious. “Trade? I’ll give you this for that. It’s a real bargain.”
“Grazie. But I’m going to hang on to it for a while.” I stuck the gambling chip down the front of my bodice. “Do you know the last location of the gambling den?”
“Somewhere near the cathedral, but that was days ago. It’s probably long gone by now. If you don’t have any luck there, ask old man Giovanni, who sells granita near the front entrance. He likes to gamble.”
I decided to try my luck with the cathedral first. I spent a good thirty minutes walking down each alley and side street. I stumbled across a man urinating near a palm tree, but the mysterious gambling den remained hidden. I searched for a few more minutes before seeking out old man Giovanni. A sign on his granita stand was flipped to closed.
Of course. He was probably at the gambling den.
I was about to give up and try my luck elsewhere when I felt the sudden urge to clutch my amulet. Maybe the goddess of death and fury was still guiding my path, or maybe, buried some place deep down where I didn’t want to examine too closely, I sensed the slight lure of demon magic.
I could have sworn I heard a faint humming, guiding my path. I didn’t know if I was losing myself to phantoms, or if it was a latent skill that was emerging each time I held my cornicello and concentrated. I didn’t care what the reason was, I only needed to let my instincts guide me.
After a few minutes of wandering down side roads that spiderwebbed away from the cathedral, I stopped in front of a door with a crowned frog burned onto it. I’d done it!
And now I felt a little queasy. I dropped my amulet, and considered my next move. I could turn back, go to Sea & Vine, and forget this nightmare. Leave princes of Hell to someone better equipped with dealing with them. Or I could try to be a little more like Vittoria.
I pulled the gambling chip out from my bodice and held it against the door, praying I wasn’t following a little too closely in my sister’s footsteps.
For spells of courage, anoint a red candle with the following items during a waxing moon and burn until flame extinguishes: one part cayenne pepper, one part clove, twice-blessed oil, and a heaping tablespoon of crushed charcoal.
—Notes from the di Carlo grimoire
The door swung open, and I traveled down a creaking set of stairs before entering a subterranean lair. Based on the grimy dead-end entrance, I thought the inside of Greed’s den of sin would be dark and derelict. Which was only partly the case. The overcrowded room was indeed dark—brick walls, a gleaming ebony bar that spanned the length of the room, and several velvet-topped tables in deep burgundy dotted the tiled floor.
Each table featured different card games. One colorful round of scopa drew the most attention. Men and women gathered, their gazes fixed on what they hoped was their winning hand. I had a feeling the only true winner was the demon prince in residence.
The gambling den oozed with the promise of riches. Desire for wealth and power was so potent, it almost took physical form. I pictured it reaching for my throat, squeezing until I drew breath in greedy drabs. My attention darted from one sinful tableau to the next.
Greed in its many forms made an appearance. There was greed for power, wealth, attention—excess was the poison of choice here, and patrons couldn’t seem to get their fill. I wondered if they knew what time it was, that the sun had just risen and beckoned to them to step outside, to live. Some were haggard, tired, as if they’d been up for days, addicted to whatever their chosen form of greed was. There was also an edge of violence lurking in the atmosphere, like a simple want or desire could twist into something deadly at any moment. It wasn’t hard to imagine someone knifing their competition, and taking what they wanted by force.
Sharp gazes cut around the room and I followed the stares. In one corner a man held court with dozens of expensive liquor bottles, doling out drinks to those who luxuriated in his presence. On the opposite end of the room, men and women slowly removed layers of clothing, swaying their near-naked bodies in hopes of capturing the greedy gazes of those content with watching. Attention was their vice, and, even though it felt wrong to participate in something that was surely enhancing Greed’s power, I couldn’t stop from indulging in their sultry show.
I shook myself from the trance, and looked for the demon I suspected was around.
A door along the far wall was flanked by scowling guards in fine clothes. I’d wager anything I’d find Greed there. If I could make it through the crowded room. There were so many patrons that I had to tread carefully. I tried weaving around groups of people standing behind card players, but barely squeezed through immoveable bodies. Servers carried silver trays overflowing with food and drink, making the progression more difficult than it already was. I managed to shoot between a line of people topping off prosecco glasses before a fight broke out behind me.
Cheers and jeers erupted at the nearest table. I stood on tiptoes and peered past a crowd of people who’d moved in to see what had drawn such a reaction. The door was still impossibly far.
I debated hopping up onto the tables, and running across them when I heard her name—it was a blade to my heart.