- 31 -

30.6K 2K 163

A sneeze ripped through me, and I winced at the sudden sting lighting along my side wound. Grumbling, I opened my purse to find my orange prescription bottle, picked out a little white pill, and popped it into my mouth. I sneezed again, then began cursing softly into my hand.

I sat at my desk in IMOR's quiet, sun-warmed lobby. The woman currently at my partition was covered in a ghastly cloud of perfume and the flowery scent was burning my eyes. She was filling out paperwork for the advertisement department and I was waiting for the document in question so I could deliver it to Martha—as unpleasant as that task sounded. I tried to retain a professional mien but the sneezing was persistent and I quickly became annoyed when the woman wrote the wrong information into the blanks and had to ask for another form to start again. I think her perfume had honeysuckle in it. My allergies were in full riot.

I hadn't spoken to Darius after returning from Baba Yaga's, but I did leave the address on the table with a coaster holding it in place, and this morning the receipt had been gone, so I knew Darius had found it and was undoubtedly checking the viability of the possible lead. I settled into my squeaky chair, cracking the chalky pill between my molars as I shoved a wad of tissues under my nose to block out the smell. I could only theorize the Sin's reaction if Saule's information proved helpful. Darius would want to know where I had gotten it, and he wouldn't be happy.

My mood was sour. My mother had called not twenty minutes after I arrived at IMOR. The first words out of her mouth had been questions about Tara, and if I had heard from her. Bitter and heartbroken, I had lied. I told her I had heard from my sister, that she was out of the country completing part of her residency in a disadvantaged town. The lie was crude and wouldn't hold up to scrutiny, but my mother had bought it. I had hung up after we exchanged terse goodbyes.

Dante's book was splayed open by the keyboard, loose pages twitching in the A/C drafts. A notebook was propped next to it, held by a fresh rubber band with a pen hooked through it. Impatient, I snapped the band, but the woman didn't notice, flipping to another page as she fiddled with the pen in her hand. I sneezed again.

I was rereading the book from a different perspective, considering the small details of Dante's interactions with the demons of the inferno with revived fascination and a critical eye. In the third canto, Dante wrote of the Gate of Hell, of the way into the weeping city, into the eternal pain, a way among the lost souls. A gate is a way through, a metaphoric beginning—perhaps even a herald. As I scratched out Italian verse in my notebook and considered the stanzas, my eye was again and again drawn to the line "Nothing before me but the eternal things, and I eternally last."

I thought of broken, fallen angels who stepped into our world from veils of black flame. Men—and women—who wore the monikers of sin and heralded certain doom for the souls they bound in their contracts. They could whisper your desires into being and work wonders for your dreams—but your demise was sealed. Your end was assured. There was no hope for life once you entered a contract.

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate. Abandon all hope, you who enter here.

A clatter of feminine heels brought my head up, and I hastily hid my bundle of tissues in my lap. When I caught sight of Amoroth storming the building with her black-suited bodyguards manning the entrance, anxiety scoured thoughts of Dante from my head.

The Sin of Lust was outwardly impeccable as ever—but her anger and frustration rode before her on a gust of unseasonably chilly air. The woman at the counted blinked and looked around as well, startled by the abrupt draft. The Sin's violet gaze was fixed solely on me.

"Leave and forget my face," Amoroth snarled at the woman, throwing a hand toward the doors beyond her. The woman abandoned her partially completed form and fled in a cloud of putrid honeysuckle, her arms and legs jerking awkwardly at the fiercely given command until she was out of sight. That left me utterly alone with the Sin of Lust.

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now