A group of robed figures was gathered in the courtyard. Tension was as thick as the summer heat among the brotherhood. One of their members was missing, and several young women were dead. I wasn’t surprised they were blaming the devil. I hid near the edge of the main building and my gaze swept around the crowd, searching for one member I knew I wouldn’t find.
Brother Carmine stood at the center, his hand punching the sky with each impassioned word that left his mouth. Apparently I’d arrived at the apex of his speech.
“Our God is a mighty God, and will not tolerate an infestation of evil,” he said. “We must lead by His example in these dark and troubling times. The hour of judgment is upon us. We must stop the devil before he sows the seeds of his wicked ways! Come, let us speak the Good Word to our fellow man. Let us lead them into their Salvation.”
“Amen!” they all yelled in unison.
The crowd disbanded toward the city, off to save human souls. I inched around the corner and released a tight breath. Brother Carmine wasn’t talking about the devil breaking the curse, but what he said was a little alarming in its accuracy. For once, human souls really were in danger. My suspicion of him deepened. If a mysterious group of witch hunters had formed, it was very, very likely I’d just located them. I was contemplating whether or not I should follow him when I felt the call of magic coming from within the monastery. It was just like the night I’d found Vittoria’s body.
If not more powerful.
Maybe I was just better at sensing it now. Or perhaps it had something to do with the full set of horns in my possession. I removed my sister’s cornicello from where I’d hidden it in my dress and held it up. Even for a non-human witch it seemed sacrilegious to wear the devil’s horns into a holy space. But there was no way I’d go inside without protection. I slipped her cornicello on along with the one I already wore, feeling a prickle of magic in my veins.
Before I slipped inside, I cast one final look around. All was quiet now. The brotherhood was gone. I crossed the small courtyard and pushed the door open. As I hurried past the mummies in an otherwise empty corridor, I felt . . . something watching.
I turned in place, and scanned the hallway that used to cause my heart to speed and my hands to shake. This time, when my pulse raced, it wasn’t because I was afraid of what I’d find. I wanted someone to try and attack me.
Unlike in the novels Vittoria loved reading, no villain emerged with a dark chuckle to wax poetic over its master’s evil plans. No one emerged at all. I was truly alone. I closed my eyes, grabbed the Horn of Hades, breathed in deeply, and centered myself. When I looked down the seemingly empty corridor of the dead again, I heard faint whispers.
They weren’t of this world.
I shut out everything else except the sound of hushed voices. I followed it, traveling deeper into the catacombs. I noted each turn and new hallway I entered, hoping I’d find my way back out again if I had to run. I’d never been this far into the monastery before; I didn’t even know there were so many labyrinthine corridors that twisted and turned deep, deep into the center of the earth.
As I continued on silently, the hum of voices grew louder. My nerves tingled. Something magical was close. And it was powerful. Part of me wanted to ignore it and run. But too much was at stake. I pressed on, forcing myself to face my fears.
Several minutes later, I stopped in a dank hallway carved of limestone with a lone torch set into a sconce. Light flickered menacingly, like an annoyed cat’s tail. I didn’t need the sign from the goddess to know something dangerous was close by. I couldn’t tell if my stomach twisted in trepidation or anticipation. One way or another, something was about to happen.
A door near the end of the hallway was slightly cracked open in invitation. I took the last few steps and paused beside it. It very well could be a trap, but the whispers had turned frantic now.
I needed to see what was in there. I inched closer, pulse pounding, and pushed the door a bit wider. From the outside, the room looked empty. Looks were often deceiving. Before I entered it, I peered around just to be sure it wasn’t a trap. Dust motes spun in circles. All was quiet. Illusions were deceptively easy magic—they often projected what you expected to find.
I should have known better.