“By Envy’s blade?” I rubbed at the place on my neck where he’d pressed his dagger. “I didn’t think he’d cut me that deeply.”
“No, bambina. You’ve been Marked by a prince of the underworld in a different way. It’s supposedly a high honor among their ruling Houses. Very few are given them.”
She had to be mistaken. Instead of arguing, I headed into our little bathing chamber. I moved my hair to the side, and leaned in. I didn’t notice anything unusual, let alone a special mark.
“See?” Nonna appeared behind me and traced the area. She must have used some spell because suddenly a tiny, shimmering S gleamed back at me. I squinted. Or was that a snake?
I stood there, unmoving. It was the place Wrath’s tongue moved across me the night I’d almost died in the Viperidae attack. He’d also traced it again earlier tonight. I tentatively reached up and brushed my fingers across it. Coolness bit into my skin. I frowned. “What does it do?”
Nonna didn’t seem at all pleased. “It allows you to summon the demon who placed it there without the use of an object that belongs to him. As long as the prince of Hell draws breath, nothing will prevent him from answering the summoning.”
“You mean . . . I can just summon him without his dagger?”
Nonna nodded slowly. She seemed on the verge of a lecture, so I quickly let my hair fall back down. “It’s a dangerous thing, Emilia. Who placed that on you?”
There was no point in lying. “The Prince of Wrath.”
“Are you certain?” she asked. I nodded. Wrath had been the only one who’d touched me. I tried not to think about his lips on my neck earlier tonight. Or how it had made me feel. Nonna just stared for another minute. “I suppose there’s no denying it now.”
“The prophecy. Back when I was a young woman, I was entrusted with being one of the keepers of the Horn of Hades.”
I was at a loss for words. I replayed her confession and somehow managed to formulate a few decent questions. “Keepers?” I asked. “How many are there? And what prophecy?”
“Patience. I’ll get to that, bambina.”
My hand moved to my sister’s amulet. “Did you ever wear them?”
“No, never. Each generation, dating back from when La Prima first handed them off, a witch was chosen to guard them. We were told of an ancient prophecy involving twin witches. When they were born, on the night of a terrible storm, only then could the amulets be worn.”
I took a deep breath. It was a lot to absorb at once. “How do you know Vittoria and I are the subjects? Maybe there are other twins . . .”
“No other twin witches, both with magic, have been born into this line.”
“Ever?” I asked. Nonna shook her head. “What exactly was the prophecy about?”
Nonna took another long pull on her wine, her expression sad. “The twins would signal the end of the devil’s curse, and would be forced to make great sacrifices to keep the gates of Hell intact. If they choose to do nothing, Hell will reign on earth. The twins are meant to bring balance to both realms. As above, so below.”
My heart thrummed. There was something about that phrase, something buried deep . . . I’d heard it before, twice. The first time when I was under Lust’s influence. And then when I was recovering afterward with Wrath. “What does that part mean, exactly?”
“No one knows for certain,” Nonna said, her attention shifting to where my parents were now stirring. “It has been a constant argument among the thirteen witch families of Palermo. Some believe it refers to the use of light and dark magic. Few think it means a prince will fall in love with a witch. Others believe it means one twin will rule in Hell to stop this world from being destroyed. And then there are others who think both twins are meant to sacrifice themselves to save both realms. One to heaven, and the other to Hell.”
“How does being Marked fit in with—”
“If the prophecy holds true, there’s not much time left. The gates are breaking.” Nonna suddenly pushed me out of the small room and down the corridor. “You must run, Emilia. Leave us here and go. We’ll wait a day or so and then go into hiding as well. We will find a way to meet again one day. For now, you must leave here and do not draw another prince of Hell’s attention. Do you understand? Do not trust them, any of them. We will find a way to temporarily spell the gates. You concentrate on staying hidden.”
“You will. You will because you must. Leave here before that demon returns. We will find a way to stop the prophecy, we just need some time.” Nonna cupped my face tenderly, her brown eyes watering. “Love is the most powerful magic. Above all else, remember that. It will always guide you where you need to go.” She dropped her hands and stepped back. “Now go, bambina. Go be brave. Your heart will conquer darkness. Trust in that.”
I stumbled out of our house and into the street. Dawn painted streaks of red and gold across the sky. I stared up at it, trying to orient myself to my new reality. The world was the same as it had always been, but felt irrevocably changed. A prophecy foretelling disaster . . . I dragged in another breath. I couldn’t believe no one told us about it before. Knowing my very existence might signal the end of Earth’s days was kind of a big secret to keep, especially if there wasn’t much time left before the gates of Hell crashed open.
I also could not believe Nonna had taken on a prince of Hell, and won. And being Marked by Wrath . . . Everything was happening much too quickly. I could barely process it all. I glanced over my shoulder at my home, hearing the slight murmur of voices. My parents were fully awake. Thank the goddess. I rushed back up the stairs and halted, hand hovering above the knob. I wanted more than anything to go in and hug my parents, to tell them I loved them, but couldn’t. Tears stung my eyes as I hurried away. I didn’t want to leave them, but if what Nonna said about the prophecy was true, everyone would be safer without me.
I quickly walked through the streets, trying to figure out a plan. I wondered if my sister had found out about the prophecy. If she had, it explained why she thought accepting the devil’s bargain was necessary. Maybe she’d been trying to save me. Between the gates of Hell crumbling and the prophecy, the choices were dwindling on how to stop more chaos from arriving.
I walked past the marketplace, avoiding the stalls of vendors I knew, skirted the edge of the crowds, and ended up on a steep street that faced the sea.
I was thinking a lot about what Nonna said. About love being the most powerful magic. I wasn’t sure if that was true in the literal sense, but love for my twin had made me stronger. In the months following Vittoria’s murder, I’d left my comfort behind in favor of helping give her peace.
I’d summoned a demon and encountered four princes of Hell. I’d fought a giant snakelike demon, been chased and almost bitten by another, and had survived it all. I tricked information out of Greed, I learned cunning from Wrath. I didn’t know I was a fighter before all this. Now I knew I could and would do anything for the people I loved.
I reached for Vittoria’s amulet, wanting to feel connected to her. I wished she could have seen Nonna fighting off a demon prince. As my fingers clasped it, some tiny detail surfaced. I don’t know how the connection was made, but suddenly there it was.
Fennel. Nonna had used dried fennel on Envy. And it wasn’t the first time I saw fennel in connection with something related to fighting the Wicked. Wrath had pointed out that the image painted on the door to that old fisherman’s storage building had a paw holding a stalk of fennel, not wheat like I’d originally thought.
Which meant . . . My pulse raced. I thought about more stories from our childhood. I knew that symbol—it wasn’t in Vittoria’s diary and it didn’t belong to any demon prince, either. Quite the opposite. I hadn’t thought about the legends since the night in the monastery when Antonio mentioned them, but it symbolized an ancient order of shape-shifters who were said to battle evil.
Almost everyone in the Kingdom of Italy had heard stories of the mighty shape-shifters growing up. Talk eventually turned them into myths, but that didn’t mean they weren’t real and still around. The villagers Antonio had spoken to seemed to think they were very much alive and well and gathering again. Excitement thrummed through me. If an ancient sect of warriors was living in Palermo, maybe it was time to see if they’d like to help rid the city of the demons invading it.
Regardless of anything, I’d felt something supernatural in that room with the fishing gear. And now I was going to find out exactly what I’d sensed.
Inside the abandoned building with the painted shape-shifter symbol, all was eerily still and quiet; like the room itself was waiting, breath held, for its secrets to be discovered. There was something in here I needed to find. I knew it. I felt it.
Now I scanned the miscellaneous items carefully, dragging my attention over each floorboard, each corner, and every last item I could see. Fishing nets and tackle still lay in the same heaps. This time, however, I decided to see if my luccicare would locate the magical object the way my sister was able to hear them quietly whispering to her.
I held on to Vittoria’s cornicello and concentrated hard on my talent, trying to force the lavender aura to manifest. That didn’t happen, but something strange did. The more I tried to focus on the luccicare, the more attuned I became to sounds. I closed my eyes, listening to a slight humming that called to me. There was something familiar about it I couldn’t quite place.
I let go of rational thinking, and gave myself over to my senses completely.
I stepped to my right and the sound faded. I inhaled deeply, recentered my focus, and moved left. The humming came back. I inched toward it, pausing and refocusing each time it started to fade. The closer I got, the louder and steadier it became.
I took a final step forward, then stopped.
I opened my eyes. I’d been guided to the far wall where the fishing hooks were hung up in neat rows. I recalled scanning it the day Wrath and I had ventured inside. I’d been drawn to it then, but hadn’t trusted my instincts. I ran my fingers over the hooks. Some were shiny, others dulled by use and rust. I came to the end of the wall and paused. One very ordinary-looking hook seemed to hum the closer I drew to it. I backed up and the sound disappeared.