“Go ahead and kill me. I won’t tell you anything.” Francesco’s head cracked against the wall when Wrath slammed him back. Blood dribbled from the human’s mouth as he laughed, delighting in the violence. He smiled, teeth stained red with blood. “I hope you all rot in Hell.”
I felt Wrath’s rage turn from a simmer into a full boil. Soon, whether he meant to or not, he’d kill Francesco. And we’d lose our biggest chance at discovering who murdered my twin. I heard both Nonna’s and Wrath’s warnings singing through my head, but it didn’t matter.
We were out of options and the anger raging around us was growing intense enough to burn. Wrath was about to snap. I pulled his emotions to me, using them as fuel for my truth spell as I clutched my sister’s amulet.
“Did you open the letter?” I asked, my voice laced with magical command. Wrath’s attention snapped to me and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think fear entered his features.
Francesco nodded before answering. “Y-yes.”
“Did anyone pay you to do it?”
“Who paid you, Francesco? Greed?”
“Tell me who paid you then.”
“I do not know his name.”
“Is he human?”
He lifted a shoulder. “He wore a hood. I didn’t see his face.”
“Did you tell him where Giulia would be the night she was murdered?”
He swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“Did you meet with him today?”
My anger flared up. “What information did you give him?”
“A-a-another address. And a time to meet. I didn’t have a name this time, I swear!”
“What time and address did you give him, Francesco?”
“Th-th-th-the Piazza Vigliena. M-m-midnight.”
I looked at Wrath for further instruction, but he shook his head. The truth spell was nearly up. Blood spilled from the human’s nose, and his eyes had turned glassy. If I pushed any more, he’d die. I glanced down, noticing my whole body trembled. Wrath stepped close to him.
“If you ever share my secrets again, I’ll cut out your tongue. Then I’ll carve out your heart. Have I made myself clear?” He gave Wrath the barest hint of a nod, careful to not slice his own throat. Sweat dampened his hairline. He really didn’t look well. “Next time you’re tasked with carrying a message for me, don’t let curiosity or greed get the better of you. Those conditions often prove deadly.”
I couldn’t help but notice the trickle of urine streaming down the man’s leg as the demon let his weapon drop. He stared from Wrath to me, a deep crease forming in his brow. He blinked slowly as if awakening from a dream. Or a nightmare.
“Who . . . who are you? Why am I here? P-please . . . don’t hurt me. If you’re looking for money, I don’t have any.” He turned out his pockets. There was nothing but lint. “See?”
My nausea from earlier was back and almost had me doubling over. I’d invaded his mind, and must have destroyed his recent memories. Dark magic demanded a price. And it didn’t always come in the form someone expected. Guilt swirled through me. Just because I had power, didn’t mean I should abuse it. “You’re—”
Wrath flashed me a warning look. “You’re Francesco Parelli Senior, and you’re on your way home. You had too much to drink. You better hurry before Angelica gets mad again. Do you remember the way?”
Francesco swiped at a tear and shook his head. He seemed so fragile now, so lost. And I’d done that to him. Not some demon, or horrible creature from Hell. Me. I’d broken the most important rule of this world. I’d taken his free will, and I’d bent it to mine.
Wrath turned Francesco toward the cathedral, handed him a coin purse, and whispered in his ear.
I stared at the demon’s back, heart racing. Wrath could’ve easily left the man alone in his new hell, but didn’t. Just like he could have easily demanded I trade my soul in exchange for justice for my twin. He knew what I wanted and what I’d be willing to give up for it, and had asked for nothing. I didn’t think there was mercy in Hell. But maybe I was wrong.
Wrath gritted his teeth. “What?”
“You could have killed him.”
“Don’t. I beat him and you stole his freedom of choice. His memories will eventually return, but that piece of your soul will not. I would have gotten our information without magic. There’s an old saying about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. From now on, I suggest you heed the warning. Come on.” He walked deeper into the shadows. “We need to get to Quattro Canti.”
If he didn’t want to discuss the forbidden magic I used to get our information, that was fine with me. I already felt like my skin was crawling with grave worms. “Why?”
“The real messenger is waiting for us there.”
Before we waltzed into the middle of the baroque square, Wrath situated us in another crammed alley. He claimed it was to get a better idea of the layout, and any traps other demons—like Greed or Envy—might have set. He politely asked me to wait while he strode over to a young man with a scar carving a path through his right cheek. Since he asked nicely, I decided to agree . . . temporarily. Letting him go ahead afforded me an opportunity to observe him, and the new messenger, on my own.
The human was intriguing. His stunning combination of dark features and upswept eyes hinted at North African and Asian ancestry. He hadn’t noticed me peering from the shadows nearby, but I saw him clearly enough.
He leaned against a building, digging imaginary dirt from shorn nails with a deadly looking blade. He projected a sense of boredom, but his gaze tracked the movements of everything around him with a predator’s focus. Even the demon prince.
Wrath marched over without hesitation, and I was unfortunately a little too far away to make out their conversation. Judging from the amount of eye-rolling the human was doing, I imagined Wrath was lecturing about something. I quietly drifted closer.
“. . . suspects the truth, Anir. I’m sure the others will in time, too.”
“Too late for regrets now,” the human, Anir, said. His voice was familiar, I just couldn’t place it. “With everything going on . . . it might be a good thing. I mean, you chose to do the ritual. Right? Is it really that bad?”
“She’s a demon-blooded damned witch. What do you think?”
Were they talking about me? I curled my hands into fists, my nails creating little crescent moons in my palms. He was a high-handed, arrogant, no-good demon from Hell. But I wasn’t harping on his less-than-appealing qualities, was I? No. I was mature enough to set them aside to work together to stop a murderer from slaughtering any more witches.
“Sounds like a lovely girl. Will you be properly introducing us? You’ve only got—”
Wrath yanked Anir up by his collar, his feet swinging a good inch or two off the ground. I sucked in a quiet breath. It didn’t look like lifting a grown man caused any strain for the demon prince at all. “Finish that sentence, and I’ll give the other side of your face a scar, too.”
“Apologies. Did I strike a nerve?” Anir held up his hands in mock surrender, not bothering to hide his grin. It held no fear and little humor. I decided if I wasn’t so aggravated, I might like him. He was either very brave or very foolish to taunt the demon of war. “Don’t get pissy. Right now it’s only temporary. And she’s—”
“Behind us.” Wrath dropped the human and he gracefully caught himself from stumbling. “Emilia, this is Anir, my most trusted associate. He knows who agreed to marry Pride next.”
I slipped out from the shadows and inspected the young man. “You were there the night I was attacked by the Viperidae.”
“Yes.” Anir seemed unsure of what else he could or couldn’t share.
I turned to Wrath. “He’s human.”
“You’re very astute.”
I took a deep breath and counted until the urge to send him back to the bone circle passed. “What I meant is, if you have a human as your associate, why can’t he be your anchor? If something were to happen to me, you’d be all right.”
Wrath opened his mouth, then shut it. I raised a brow, waiting.
“Anir no longer claims the human world as his, therefore, he cannot provide the same . . . benefits you can.”
Anir snorted, and quickly tried to choke the rest of his laughter down when Wrath turned his blazing glare on him. “That’s certainly one way of looking at it.”
“What’s he talking about?” I asked, staring hard at the demon. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Wrath gave me a look that said “a good many things,” but didn’t bother answering aloud. Instead he said, “Anir was just leaving. He was waiting to see if the robed figure arrived, but they never showed up. Now he’s got House business to tend to back home.”
“Who’s the poor girl?”
My whole body went numb as I let that information sink in. Valentina was Claudia’s cousin. If anyone would want to readily agree to become the Queen of Hell, Valentina would take up that shadowy mantle with pride. She wasn’t bad; she just seemed regal and meant for a role larger than a weaver on our little island. I wasn’t surprised she’d be intrigued by a deal with the devil.
I started for her neighborhood. We had to warn her before it was too late.
Wrath stepped into my path, halting my steps. “What?”
“I know her.”
“And?” he pressed.
“I’m wondering why he’s choosing witches with ties to dark magic.”
“Well,” Anir said, “that’s because the—”
Wrath cut him off. “Time to go.”
As he glanced between the demon prince and me, Anir’s smile was that of a wolf who’d found a squiggling snack it wanted to shove down its throat. “Actually, I’d rather stay here for a while. Demon weddings are not for the faint of heart. Plus, you’ll need some extra eyes and ears when you speak to the girl. Maybe the robed figure will follow us.”