20.2 | Demons Before Dawn

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Dante Azzara didn't know which was worse—Tatiana's competence or sanity. Both, of course, were lacking, and that spelled trouble for the whole pack.

During the strange time that was neither night nor morning, she returned from her visit with the hedgewitch, covered in the blood of Inferni and spewing Romanian like a malevolent ghost.

Trouble indeed, Dante thought while entering Alpha Capello's tent. Especially when she'd interrupted his beauty sleep.

"What's going on?"

Standing near the entrance of Capello's humble quarters, he studied the trio before him. Alpha, Tatiana, and one of the betas who'd been sent to keep an eye on her. Where was the other?

The witch whirled around and hissed at Dante in her mother language. Her teeth were coated in blood.

"What took you so long?" Capello barked. "Seal the tent."

He obeyed. Alpha—or Uncle, as Dante preferred to call him—hadn't even risen from his cot. Sitting on the edge of it, bear-chested and half-asleep, he appeared to be very close to snapping Tatiana's neck.

Yet he managed to remain calm while raising something between two fingers. A quick assessment and Dante identified it as the Hekatolith ring. The talisman that housed the power of their dreadful curse.

"Enjoy the hope while it lasts," Capello said dryly. "We have a problem."

And so Dante listened as they relayed the events of the past few hours. It wasn't the kind of news he enjoyed learning at two in the morning, though things regarding Tatiana weren't pleasant at almost any time. But his curiosity was heightened tonight at the mentioning of Nika Dimitrovich.

"She ripped it right off me," Tatiana growled. "We need to find her, take it back!"

"Be quiet," said Sam, the beta who was all but bleeding out on the carpet. "You'll wake up the whole pack."

There was a note of grief in his gaze—probably for his fallen friend. Their encounter with the Inferni had been random, by the sound of it, and they'd supposedly killed two of the attackers. But not before the other beta had been stolen away for demon dinner.

Tatiana ignored Sam's warning as she paced in front of the alpha. "...can't let him be destroyed..." Her head snapped up. "If we go now, we can catch her."

"No," Dante and Capello said in unison.

It was too risky. Nika and that keeper might have already called for backup, and assembling a strong enough team and plan to steal back the pendant was impossible with such little time.

Dante didn't know why it even mattered. It was just a silly trinket.

"Then tomorrow!"

Tatiana's eyes bulged. She was a true madwoman with her torn-up gown and bloodied hands. Dante couldn't exactly blame her, though. Anyone with her history would have gone insane, himself included.

After a moment of consideration, Capello sighed. "I might be able to get inside headquarters tomorrow. Maybe the day after. It depends on how my contact cooperates."

Dante knew who he was talking about—the agent and secret weapon they'd fixed for themselves within the Vigil. But the conditions of the spy's agreement with them had been...compromised, to say the least. It would require a particular type of persuasion for Capello to get what he wanted.

"Uncle," Dante warned. "We shouldn't do anything rash."

Alpha dismissed him with a wave. "Is it truly more important than our plans?" he asked Tatiana.

"Our? The only reason I'm helping you is so—"

With a curt cough, Capello silenced her. His gaze sliced to Sam, who seemed too distracted by the gash in his thigh to be listening. Dante's hair stood on end, but he pretended to be as oblivious as the other beta.

"By the time Nika Dimitrovich gets back to headquarters," said his uncle, "she might not be in possession of the necklace anymore. So if I bring her to you, will that be enough?"

Tatiana nodded eagerly. "Yes."

"Wait a minute," said Dante. He didn't like where this was going. "We've already kidnapped one teenager. Now we're going to do it again?"

Capello said nothing, didn't even glance at him.

"Are you forgetting the promise you made Luiza? Nika can't be harmed."

Capello bared his teeth. "Luiza isn't going to learn a damned thing about any of this. Is that clear?"

Panic was not a feeling Dante had grown accustomed to, and as it settled inside him like a skin beneath the skin, he found himself saying, "Please don't do this." The words tasted sour.

"The Dimitrovich girl is of no use to us. As long as Luiza stays ignorant, we'll be fine."

"But what if Nika could be useful someday?"

Capello squinted. "Do you know something I don't, nephew?"

Dante recognized that look. It rarely—or never—led to sunshine and rainbows.

So he said, "Of course not. But it would be wise to consider this plan a little more. Don't underestimate the Halfblood Bastard's value."

A scoff. "She's the Halfblood Bastard. The Ministry hates her just as much as they hate us."

"Exactly. And the enemy of my enemy—"

"Is the cocky little bitch who took my amulet," Tatiana hissed. "And she's going to pay for it."

While stalking out of the alpha's tent, she declared, "You have two days. If you fail, I'll march into headquarters and retrieve the pendant myself." 

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