Adallasia has pustules under her arms and between her thighs. Beatrisia has seen these many times before, on the dying. Adallasia is dying. Adallasia has a week at most before she dies a painful death.
Not everyone dies, though. What keeps some alive?
Prayer and God's will, the priest says. The same priest who has seen the death of many of those he prayed for the lives of. The same priest so fond of expounding upon the tale of Theophilus of Adana as evidence that the intercession of the Virgin Mary is necessary for salvation. Theophilus of Adana, who asked that intercession to break his deal with the devil. Theophilus of Adana, who made that deal to keep an incompetent out of the position Theophilus hadn't taken when it was offered.
Theophilus of Adana, who sold his soul for a bishopric.
Surely one life—three, there's Lucia and Clara to think of, after all—is worth less than a bishopric. Beatrisia's soul may be worth less than Theophilus of Adana's, but surely it's worth Adallasia's life.
What is a soul, after all?
If the soul is the seat of emotion, of intellect, it is damaged by what is done to the body. Beatrisia's husband suffered a blow to the head years ago and has never been the same since. The body is damaged irreparably by death; so, therefore, is the soul. Beatrisia then is one of those followers of Epicurus whom Dante places in a dark corner of the morgue of wrath, great fires raised around the wall of every tomb. She doesn't care.
Adallasia is dying.
Theophilus visited a necromancer, who led him at midnight to a place where four crossroads met, and there conjured up Satan. Beatrisia has heard of a witch in a town outside Naples, two days' ride away; she leaves Lucia to care for Adallasia and makes the ride between moonrise and moonrise. The witch, Sabatina, shows Beatrisia how to summon a demon: dirt hastily retrieved from a graveyard, a black cat's bone, a lock of hair, a crossroads at midnight. By this time Beatrisia is nearly falling over from exhaustion, but Adallasia's life is worth it.
The demon is called Teeraal, and Beatrisia has ten years to live. Ten years to serve Teeraal and ten years to learn from her and ten years to teach her daughters all she knows to protect them from the Black Death.
When Beatrisia returns home, Clara is ill and Adallasia is dead.
Teeraal's first lesson is what causes the Black Death. Tiny living creatures, far too small to see, carried by rats. Teeraal's second lesson is what kills the Black Death creatures. It's an extract from a fungus that grows in dirt containing chicken shit and cow shit. The third lesson is how to use magic to produce that extract; the fourth how to shape a hollow needle to carry the extract from a bag to Clara's bloodstream. Another needle to bring the extract to guard against the creatures invading Lucia's body, and a third for Beatrisia; that's the fourth lesson, cleanliness.
Lucia never falls ill.
The hellhounds come for Beatrisia.
In hell, Beatrisia is reforged. Dante is right about some things: what Nature gives someone Fortune must nourish, and Lucia and Clara could have been so much more had they not the misfortune to be born in a world that tramples its women. Even before Beatrisia's husband's injury, Lucia and Clara were both so much more intelligent than he.
Paimon wears men sometimes, but she prefers women, having been born one, and Paimon proved in life that women could be so much more than wives and mothers. So she says. Beatrisia doesn't believe that Paimon is Aliénor d'Aquitaine, that Aliénor sold her soul for the money to ransom Richard from the Holy Roman Emperor, but it isn't impossible.
In hell, Beatrisia learns that Prometheus in the Greek story is Lucifer. Fire, curiosity, the chicken shit fungus, these are all gifts from Lucifer.
Beatrisia dies, somewhere in the sixth circle of a hell that is nothing like Dante's. What is left, like iron smelted from a meteorite, could not achieve what she has done by wish alone. She is one of many bright souls polished by hell, like a little ruby in the sky.
The thing about hell is, hellfire burns. It's not like heat, it's not like acid, it's not like sunburn, it's not like anything Ruby's felt, and she's felt them all.
Ruby knows what the power is, where it comes from—it's a gift from Lucifer; it's his own power, radiating from his cage—but it still hurts to use. Ruby is long since hardened to it, all the dross melted out of her and left behind, but that doesn't mean she likes it.
When she frees Lucifer from his cage, he will be grateful to her. Grateful enough, she prays, to grant her her own power, or the ability to borrow his without pain.
To get there, though, that's going to take quite a lot of pain. This demon was happy to serve Teeraal and is infuriated at her death, and blames Ruby for it because it was her knife, though it was Dean Winchester who killed Teeraal after she ended the last of her little coven. That demon was fond of Greed and blames Ruby for her death, more reasonably, because Ruby killed her. (Apparently going to find a new-made demon whose sin was greed and training her to be Greed is out of the question. Why, Ruby isn't sure, because Lilith assures her that's how all the Seven Deadly demons got their start. Pride probably forgot he was human before he was a personification. The others probably remember.)
So, because Lilith has things to do other than deal with Ruby's supposed transgressions, and because the list of demons wanting a piece of Ruby is quite long, between now and freeing Lucifer is a great deal of screaming.
Alastair comes by for a visit. Ruby's surprised. Everything she's heard says Alastair is quite preoccupied with his latest shiny. Alastair is as devoted to the cause as she is, so nothing should be swaying him from breaking Dean Winchester. But apparently inflicting a little—okay, a great deal—of pain on a traitor trumps breaking Dean, for a little while.
Ruby asks, putting a little of what she feels for that approaching painless day into her voice. Alastair laughs, assuming, as he's meant to, that the emotion is for Dean. He shows her: Dean's feeling starvation, has been for a week, will be for a couple months yet, just to get the full effect. Ruby isn't feeling sorry for Dean, now is she? Alastair asks. That would be bad for her, he says. That would be very, very bad.
Of course she's not. But Alastair doesn't need to know that. Alastair doesn't need to know anything except that Ruby's not as good a liar as she thinks she is.
Sometimes Ruby's head spins.
Dean is important to Sam. Sam is important to Lucifer. Lucifer is important to Ruby. Therefore Dean is important to Ruby. So it's the truth, in the end.
The truth will set her free.