Notes: I'm really sorry this took forever to get up, but I will spare you all the sob story of the adventure I've had the past few weeks in trying to write this chapter. The next chapter will take some time to get written and posted, but I will try to have it up by the end of March.

Shimon Arc notes: The flashback in Chapter 308 where Giotto and Cozart meet takes place just prior to this interlude, and the flashback of Chapter 313 takes place sometime after the first scene. As for the ages, Giotto and G are about 13 years old, Ugetsu is about 16, Knuckle 22, Lampo 11, and Alaude 21 years old.

Thank you for your patience, and I hope you enjoy!


"Lampo, could I talk to you for a minute?"

The young lord in question had just popped a big, juicy purple grape into his mouth and was about to wave the intruder away, but he thought better of it. Giotto had saved his life once. Though Lampo barely remembered that night, before his father passed away he told and retold Lampo the story every time he demanded his shiny green ring back.

Since the funeral, Lampo had ordered the servants to search the house high and low for the ring but they had not succeeded yet. Needless to say, when Giotto had asked about it the day after he and his strange passé of companions showed up at his doorstep three months ago, Lampo had been plenty embarrassed though he refused to let the older boy know it. He hoped that he had distracted Giotto enough with the gift his father left for him in his will; Giotto never did ask about it again.

"Of course, Giotto. Anything you need."

Giotto nodded and moved to take a seat on the chair across from the soft, cushioned sofa where Lampo lounged. He wore simple clothes, Lampo noted, despite his offer of much nicer garbs to look more like he lodged with a lord and less like a peasant boy. He did not wear the gifts Lampo's father had given him save for the sky blue ring, but Lampo supposed that despite the rainclouds rolling over the estate it was much too warm and impractical to wear a cloak and gloves indoors. Besides, the maids knew better than to let the villa grow too cold.

"When G and I were in town yesterday, we heard some rumors, and we were wondering if they were true or not." Giotto paused as if to ask Lampo permission to continue. Lampo shrugged and reached for another grape. "Is it… is it true that the Trissino Family is mafia?"

Lampo dropped the grape. It hit his chin and rolled to the floor. Then he composed himself. That matter had been taken care of a long time ago. His father had seen to it; Lampo just had to keep up his family's end of the bargain.

"They're nothing to worry about."

"Mafia is always something to worry about, Lampo."

"I'm taking care of it."

"How?"

"Papa used to pay them. It's up to me to continue that. If I do, they won't bother me or the farmers or townspeople."

Giotto took this in for a moment. "It's just like G and Cozart said, then. Lampo, they're not just taking your money but the money of all the farmers and the townspeople who are struggling just to eat. G and… a friend of ours told me of some of the other things they're having the poorer people do. They're not leaving your people alone."

Lampo rolled his eyes. "I'm doing all I can, Giotto. What else do you want me to do? Fight them?"

"Can't you?" Lampo shook his head. "What about your ring?"

So those gloves had not been enough to distract Giotto away from the topic after all. But what about his ring? It was just a shiny bauble, somehow important enough for not only his father to keep from him since nearly getting kidnapped but for Giotto to keep asking about. Though it was strange that the loud priest had one nearly identical to it, Lampo had to admit.

"What about yours? You're the one who saved my life, remember?"

Giotto frowned. "Lampo, that's not how that night went at all. You saved yourself, and your father, and G and me, with your ring."

"That's not how Papa told it."

"But how do you remember it?"

"I don't, nor do I see any reason to."

Giotto's eyes flashed in a manner that terrified Lampo into believing that indeed, Giotto really had to have been the one to kill those kidnappers three years ago. "So you're not going to do anything about the Trissino then?"

Lampo swallowed back his fear. "I am doing something. Weren't you listening?"

Giotto stood and headed out of the room. "You're not doing enough."

The older boy took no care to shut the door shut behind him, letting the exotic melodies of the strange foreigner's flute float into the room. Lampo sighed and leaned further back into the plump couch cushion. He preferred silence, but the songs weren't so bad that he felt the need to get up and close the door himself. If need be, he'd just call on one of his servants to take care of it.


Two months later...

Knuckle had seen him lurking in the back of the church over the past month. The strange blonde-haired man never took a seat in any of the pews but instead leaned against the back wall with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face to rival G's, but with an air of apathy that the boy could never master. He stayed the entire service, murmuring along to the prayers and making the Sign of the Cross when appropriate. He was always the last to arrive, the last to take communion, and the first to leave.

And so, when he stayed glued to his spot near the doors at the end of Mass as the rest of the parishioners filed out, Knuckle supposed he should have been more surprised.

Everybody gave the man wary glances and moved out of their way so they would not come too close, as though they knew something about this man that Knuckle did not. This piqued Knuckle's curiosity. He had only come to Tuoni five months ago, when Giotto and G decided to take Ugetsu out to explore the town, but he still felt as though he knew everything there was to know about the people here since taking over for the old priest who now laid on his deathbed. Clearly, either Knuckle did not know everyone, or this man was a newcomer that nobody dared to speak of.

As soon as the last of the faithful closed the church doors behind him, the man approached the altar with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his long, dark overcoat and his blue eyes cold and hard. Immediately, Knuckle realized why the townspeople reacted so cautiously to the man. Something about his aura seemed extremely dangerous and bloodthirsty, not unlike the mafia back in Solntse.

He remembered the murmurings of the people of Tuoni about a family called the Trissino, and Knuckle wondered if perhaps this man was one of them. After all, the first day Knuckle saw him was the day of the funeral of a merchant who had been killed in a fire started by the Trissino. Was this man Franco's murderer?

No, Knuckle reprimanded himself. He shall not make such judgments. Just because the man seemed dangerous did not necessarily mean he was.

"Father," said the man simply in greeting. Before Knuckle could respond, he continued. "You seem a little young to be a priest."

Knuckle grinned. "I can't be younger than you."

"That's the problem. But you are a man of God. As am I."

The man pulled out a metallic beaded rosary from his pocket. On the cross, a simply elegant phrase spelled out in Italian, For God, We Serve. Knuckle recalled his mentor, Father Andrei, telling him about this symbol once. Consequently, those words were the first Italian words Knuckle ever learned.

He held back a sigh of relief. This man was not Trissino, and he did not kill Franco.

"You work for the Vatican. A secret service, correct?"

The man nodded, and Knuckle noticed a flash of purple on his finger as he slipped the rosary back into his pocket. "Then you know you are to cooperate with me fully. The guard in this town are useless, as you've probably noticed. If you do not give me what I want, I will have to beat it out of you. You realize it is my right and my duty."

Knuckle saw, then, that while this man was not part of the local mafia, he was still indeed extremely dangerous and extremely bloodthirsty. Surely the Vatican would not condone having this man as one of their agents, but Knuckle knew there was much he did not know about how the inner workings of the church worked; Father Andrei said he was better off not knowing. Still, this could not be God's way.

Regardless, Father Andrei warned Knuckle that if he came across someone with such a rosary that he must cooperate, just like the man said. So Knuckle smiled and responded, "Of course, I will help you in any way that I can."

The man nodded. "Good."

"Can I know your name, first?"

"I am in no habit of giving that out."

Knuckle held back a laugh; what a curious man. "Very well, then."

The man narrowed his eyes, but Knuckle did not wince under his scrutinizing gaze. From one of God's servants to another, there was nothing to hide. And indeed, the man knew it, for he finally said, "You may call me Alaude. You will be seeing enough of me that it's worth you knowing. Now tell me all you know about the Trissino Family."

God was good; He had answered the prayers of the Tuoni townspeople by sending an agent of the Vatican to their aid.

"They are mafia. They have been terrorizing the people of Tuoni for some time, to the extreme: exploiting them, murdering them, and many other extremely bad things. As far as I know, they do not come to church so I could not point out who any of them are specifically."

Alaude pursed his lips. "Then what do you know of the Vongola?"

Knuckle started. Giotto? What did Giotto have to do with the Trissino? "He is just a child."

"From what I hear, there's more than one of them."

G, too, then. Of course. "They are both just children. They are not Trissino, I extremely promise you. They would never harm an innocent. If anything, they protect them."

Alaude's eyes flashed. "So you do know them."

"I traveled with them extensively, and so I know. I have seen with my own eyes that when an innocent is being threatened, they step in to stop it at the risk of their own safety and any regard for the laws and customs of the country we were in, to the extreme," said Knuckle, recalling both Solntse and Nagasaki. Then it dawned on Knuckle what they had to do with the Trissino. "They are not the criminals you are looking for. They are your allies."

"You misunderstand me, Father. I am not looking for them because of what they do to help or hurt weak little sheep. But I will warn you that it is unwise for you to protect them."

"They are not in trouble with the Vatican, are they?"

"The Vatican doesn't know about them. Yet."

Knuckle frowned. "So, then, why bother with two harmless children? The Trissino are who you are after, aren't they? They are the ones hurting Tuoni."

"Do not presume to tell me what my job is, Father," Alaude growled. "My business is none of yours. Your job is to answer my questions and tell me what I need to know. Not to protect two little brats interfering with a Vatican agent's work."

Knuckle realized that his patience and temper both were wearing thin by this man. He took a deep breath before answering, "I protect the innocent. That is my job, to the extreme. I thought it was also yours."

For a long moment, the two stared at each other with hard, determined looks, neither one of them backing down from the unspoken challenge that drifted between them. Alaude's eyes were unreadable and his stance more intimidating than when he first approached Knuckle. For a moment, Knuckle wondered if perhaps this man was not above striking a priest and if this secret Vatican agency was actually no better than the mafia. Father Andrei always had had an air of fear and caution when he spoke of this group, after all. Still, Knuckle kept his gaze steady and his head high.

Alaude said, "I misjudged you, Father. You are not weak. But you will be seeing me again."

He turned on his heel and marched out of the church. Knuckle waited until the door closed behind him before letting out a sigh.

He needed to return to Lord Lampo's villa tonight. First, he needed to warn Giotto and G about this man, and then he needed to find out what they had done to warrant his attention in the first place.


Two weeks later...

Ugetsu woke to a loud crash. He reached for the short sword by his bedside and hopped to his feet, nearly tripping as he realized that he had a healthy distance between the mattress and the floor. That brought him a moment of thought: perhaps the noise was just nothing?

He had been in this strange country for nearing half a year now and still little sounds of the night jerked him awake. The bed Lampo offered him was softer than anything he had ever experienced, and so drifting to sleep proved difficult to begin with. He slept lightly, a habit picked up while traveling the wilderness westward to Italy to help the fellow caravaners keep an ear open for any approaching bandits, though he would not have been of any use after that. It was only within the past couple of months did Giotto place his swords on an inconspicuous shelf in his room, after all.

But the noises that permeated the large house, both within and without, were so unlike the noises of Nagasaki that Ugetsu still had trouble placing what was suspicious and what was normal. Ugetsu wondered if he had heard the noise correctly: it certainly sounded like breaking glass, but he could not be sure. It also sounded like it had come from G's room right next door, so maybe it was nothing. Every so often G broke something around Lampo's house in a fit.

Still, Ugetsu figured he ought to check. If it was just G being G, he needed to make sure that nothing was wrong. If it was something else, he needed to make sure that G was okay.

As Ugetsu stepped out into the hall, his eyes caught sight of a light green head of hair peering from the large bedroom door at the end of the hall. "Lampo-dono?"

The young lord slowly stuck the rest of his head out. "You heard that, too?" he asked shakily.

Ugetsu nodded. "It sounds like it came from G-dono's room."

Lampo made a face but visibly relaxed. "Oh, if that's it then, tell him to quit destroying vases and what not. They're not cheap to replace." And then he vanished back into his room.

Ugetsu chuckled and made his way to G's bedroom. Perhaps Lampo was right. Still, G rarely did something so destructive without reason, no matter how petty those reasons were. And to do it in the middle of the night like this, there had to be a good cause for it.

He slowly opened the door to the room. It was dark and only low murmurings rumbled gently across the floor. Ugetsu took a step inside and saw two shadows by the window, one of the panes shattered. That was the noise, then. The two figures huddled beneath it, frantic but familiar.

"G-dono?" he called out softly.

The pair jumped to their feet, and the taller of the two drew what looked to be a silhouette of an elegant bow. He did not arm an arrow into it, however, pausing just briefly enough to realize he was in no company of an enemy.

"Ugetsu?"

Ugetsu's eyes adjusted with the aid of the moonlight. Both Giotto and G stood against the window, seeming both panicked and relieved. G regained composure first, scowling and dropping the bow in his hand. Giotto followed suit with a nervous smile, his cloak draping over him like a phantom.

"I'm sorry, Ugetsu. Did we wake you?" Giotto asked.

Ugetsu shook his head. "No, Giotto-dono. I was already awake anyway." It was not quite the truth, but his restlessness had not gone unnoticed by any of his three companions, none of whom seemed eager to take their eyes off him yet. Giotto nodded, believing him. "But what happened here? Why is G-dono's window broken?"

And why did he have a bow of all things on his person, but Ugetsu decided that the question was irrelevant at the moment. Surely G would tell him later.

Giotto and G exchanged glances. G offered a characteristically unhelpful shrug. Giotto sighed and dropped his head, but then a look of a thousand thoughts speeding through his mind crossed his face. Ugetsu knew, then, that he would not hear the full truth and that Knuckle had every right to be as worried as he had been the past fortnight.

"We were, ah, walking. Taking a walk," said Giotto. "It's a beautiful night, and we couldn't sleep, so…"

"The door was locked and so we couldn't get back in," G supplemented with a nonchalant wave of his hand. While G was much better at lying than Giotto was, Ugetsu had a feeling that this, at least, was the truth. "We thought that maybe we could sneak into the mansion through my bedroom window but…"

He glared at Giotto, who laughed sheepishly in response. "Well, we got in."

"Not unnoticed, which was the point of not knocking at the door to begin with!"

Despite himself, Ugetsu could not help but to laugh. "But why did you not want to be noticed? Is it—" He paused, wondering how to best say it. "—is it a sin to be out so late?"

"N-no, nothing like that," said Giotto, rubbing the back of his head and again glancing at G for help. "We just didn't want to worry anybody or get anyone into trouble. That's all."

There. That one simple sentence had the complete truth. However, Ugetsu for the life of him could not decipher that truth immediately. From the expressions on both Giotto's and G's faces, Ugetsu knew that questioning them further would bear no fruit; they had no intentions telling anybody what they were really up to. What Giotto said was the reason why.

Ugetsu hoped that whatever they were doing was nothing as bad as Nagasaki, but if they were sneaking around at night like this…

"If you ever need assistance, you know all you have to do is ask, Giotto-dono," Ugetsu found himself saying. "I can help. You know I can."

Giotto stared at Ugetsu, his mouth open ajar and his eyes conflicted. "I—" he started. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. "I know, Ugetsu. Thank you."

"Giotto?" asked G, concerned.

The smaller boy smiled. "But it's nothing. So please don't worry. We'll be fine. I'm going to head back to my room now. I will see you both in the morning. Ugetsu, you better be getting some rest, too. I'll see if one of the maids can't fix you a cup of tea to help with that."

Without looking either Ugetsu or G in the eye, Giotto left the room. Ugetsu stared after him, frowning, before turning to G.

G stowed the bow underneath his bed and, while still kneeling by the bedside, sighed and said, "I know, I know, he's a terrible liar. If that idiota of a priest can see right through that, I expect you did, too. But he's right. You shouldn't worry. We know what we're doing."

"And that is…?"

G hesitated. "I really shouldn't say."

"G-dono, please."

"I really can't say. Ugetsu, believe me when I say that it's for your own good, and the Father's and Lampo's, that you don't know what we're really doing. There's more at work here than we thought."

Ugetsu narrowed his eyes. "G-dono, please do not be so cryptic and expect me to just accept it."

G pursed his lips. "I don't expect you to accept it. But it's what Giotto wants. We'll be fine. I promise."

He mustered a confident smirk and stood. Ugetsu sighed. He did not like this, but G's demeanor was still the same; Ugetsu had learned little more and will not learn anything more, at least not tonight.

"Very well, G-dono," he said as he turned on his heel. He knew not if the anger seeping through his words was not only intentional but desired. "Good night."


One week later...

They were here.

Alaude stared down the long, red-carpeted corridor. Unconscious bodies littered the trail towards the center of the Trissino holdings. Every other body had one or two wounds from an arrowhead, but the arrows had been dutifully collected as they had in all the other missed encounters with the Guinizelli boys. The rest of the bodies were merely bruised with minor burns, another trait of these street rats that had plagued Alaude for the past three years.

No more. Alaude planned to corner them once and for all tonight. The trap had been simple enough to lay out: after overhearing talk among stray Trissino agents, who had been immediately disposed of, Alaude had gone to the priest with a bit of information that he knew the Father could not ignore. It had not been difficult to piece together that Lord Lampo was the common denominator between the priest and the so-called "Vongola" boys, and Alaude knew that the Trissino plans to take him out once and for all to have full control over Tuoni was the perfect way to get them to act in the most predictable manner.

He followed the sounds of distant fighting. As he stepped over the unconscious men, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his handcuffs, readjusting the purple stone ring on his finger as he did so. Alaude had never seen the need to become attached to any material object, but once he discovered the secrets of the ring and that it would only react to one pair of handcuffs in the entirety of the Vatican, he refused to let either of them go.

The discovery had been purely on accident while sitting in his office in Rome. Alaude had seen little reason to turn the rings over to the Church with three missing, but he had been curious for what the big fuss among the bishops had been about. So he had slipped on one of the rings and found that it had reacted in a warm burst of a violet cloud. Initially, he shrugged it off as merely a nifty little trick until he grabbed the pair of handcuffs on his desk.

After a few sessions of experimentation, Alaude learned how to manipulate the flame and the handcuffs to his will. He knew that this was only a temporary fling; as soon as he discovered the location of the other three rings, he had to finish the job. And yet, Alaude wondered what use they could possibly make of these rings. He had no reason to defy the Vatican but if the rings were merely to be shoved away in a vault…

Alaude stood in front of wooden double doors and heard the battle within. He could worry about the fate of the rings later. He had the boys exactly where he wanted them now.

He ignited the ring and pushed the doors open, taking a moment to absorb the scene around him. Yes, there were the boys from three years ago, older now, but still too familiar. The blonde had orange fire emanating from his forehead and eyes of a crazed madman as he swiftly moved between the Trissino. They still had the coveted bullets, but now it seemed the boy had found clothing that could withstand the power of the flames, for now he was clad in a dark mantle and gloves. The gloves radiated an orange glow, but it was significantly weaker than the one on the boy's forehead. Still, it seemed to be enough to do the trick to neutralize the attacking mafia.

The insolent redhead, the long lost Guinizelli heir, stood a distance away from the midst of the fighting, a group of knocked out Trissino at his feet. The boy drew arrows into the bow in his hands and fired at any men the blonde could not react to in time. Alaude pitied his aim. He was always just shy of the men's hearts.

Alaude then narrowed his eyes at the weapon in Giovanni's hand, recognizing the markings. That bow was another item on the list of treasures the Vatican wanted in their possession. No matter; soon, Alaude would achieve that objective, as well.

The flame on the blonde's forehead vanished. In that instant, his eyes widened as he saw the oncoming fist of one of the Trissino aiming straight for him. He did not see or sense the others circle around him. Giovanni cried out, "Giotto!" while frantically grabbing at his hip for the gun that was snugly tucked in the waistband of his pants.

He would not make it in time, Alaude knew, but that was not why he twirled the handcuffs on his finger, letting the purple flames coat it, and sent the enlarged ring flying towards the group of men surrounding the boy. Alaude had no patience for mercy as the ring tightened around them; the boy had cowered at their feet, and so only the Trissino were caught in the cuffs, the life squeezed out of them.

Alaude released the death grip on the men and returned the handcuffs to their original form. The two boys gaped at him, familiarity dawning in their eyes.

"You!" Giovanni snarled as he drew another arrow into the bow.

Alaude covered the handcuffs in the purple flames again. "Boy, do not be a fool. You saw what I just did to the Trissino and I will not hesitate to do the same to you or your friend."

The Guinizelli heir hesitated but did not back down. "You killed my Family, you Medici bastard."

"I am not Medici," said Alaude, annoyed. Were these boys so naïve that they could not tell a Vatican agent when they saw one? "And I had nothing to do with your Family's deaths. I would not throw around accusations so lightly when someone is about to arrest you."

"Arrest…?" said Giovanni, weighing Alaude's words behind his eyes. He raised the bow. "I don't believe you."

"G, wait," said the blonde as he appeared by the heir's side. Giotto, was it? "I think he's telling the truth."

Exasperated, Giovanni rolled his eyes. "Just like that, you're going to believe him?"

"Well, I know I don't know too much about the mafia, but somehow I don't think that the Medici would send just one person into another mafia's hideout to pretend to be a cop—"

"It's a trap, Giotto. He's not going to take us to jail. He's going to take us straight to the Medici and—"

Alaude cut them off. "If by the Medici you mean that offshoot mafia Family, the boss and his elite were arrested and executed three years ago. That mafia no longer exists. Just like yours, Giovanni Guinizelli. Though everyone assumes you are dead and everyone in Tuoni believes you to be a 'Vongola,' I know better. I am very good at my job."

Giovanni glared. "Your job? And what's that?"

Then realization crept in Giotto's eyes. "You're the Vatican agent Knuckle warned us about, aren't you?"

"If by Knuckle, you mean the priest, then yes," said Alaude with a thin smile. "Now, are you two going to come quietly or do I have to beat you into a pulp first?"

"We're not going anywhere," said Giovanni, aiming the arrow at Alaude. "So don't even try."

"I have little interest in repeating my threats," said Alaude. "And your puny arrows won't have any effect on me as long as your aim is that terrible."

He held up the handcuffs, still infused with the flames. Giotto's eyes widened. "Stop it. G, stand down."

"He won't let us out of here without a fight," snarled Giovanni.

"But he has the same kind of ring as Knuckle and Lampo and—"

Alaude snapped his attention to the blonde. "Ring?" He gently nudged the side of his with his finger. "What do you know about the rings?"

Giotto hesitated. "We—well… we came across them while traveling. One of our friends has a green one that shoots out lightning whenever he gets upset, and another friend has a yellow one that can heal people."

"Did you say that the priest and Lord Lampo were in possession of them?"

If the boy had any inclination to answer, Giovanni did not let him. "It doesn't matter if he has a ring, too. Just because that idiot priest thinks that the rings are some sort of sign from God doesn't mean that he is our ally. Don't be so trusting, Giotto."

"Yes, but… he's not Medici."

"He's going to arrest us."

"It was a risk we knew we were taking when we became vigilantes, G."

Alaude rolled his eyes; he had quite enough of this talk. He would visit the lord and the priest later to retrieve two of the remaining three rings; for now, he had two impertinent children to take in.

Before he could enlarge the handcuffs, a gunshot resonated through the room. Giovanni fell forward, eyes wide in shock and tinged with pain. Giotto cried out for his friend. Alaude gazed past the boys to see the illusive Trissino boss standing at the doorway, cigar hanging in his smirking mouth and a smoking gun in his hand.

"Well, well, this is quite the unusual situation," said the boss smoothly. "The two brats interrupting all my operations working with an out-of-town cop. I didn't know the police forces of Italy were so desperate for help."

"Don't misunderstand," snapped Alaude. "These two are admitted vigilantes and they will be brought in for taking the law into their own hands. But more importantly, you are a menace that caught the attention of the Vatican and for that, only God will have mercy on your soul."

The boss shrugged. "I am not ready to face His judgment yet. In any case, I have two children to dispose of first. I'll deal with you later."

"No!" cried Giotto. Orange flames burst from the boy's gloved hands and upon his temple. His eyes were not the crazed mania of before but a deadly calm that made Alaude's spine shiver with anticipation.

Surely no bullet did this. Giovanni laid on the ground with blood flowing from his shoulder as he writhed in pain. His gun remained tucked in the waistband of his pants. He did not issue a shot to have done this. No gunshot had resonated, so nobody lurking in the shadows, a possibility Alaude refused to rule out, could have been the culprit as well. How could this have happened?

"You will not hurt G more," said the boy in a dangerously low and calm voice. Alaude felt the corner of his mouth tug up. "And you will not hurt the people of Tuoni anymore."

The baffled look on the Trissino's face crinkled into smug disgust. "Do you really think—"

But Giotto did not let him finish. He charged forward, powered by his flames. The boss retaliated with gunshot after gunshot that ricocheted off of the boy's mantle, slowing him none. Alaude raised his eyebrows; what was that cloth made of?

Before he could speculate further, Giotto came within arm's distance of the mafioso and landed blow for blow upon his body. The villain, unable to fight back, quickly fell unconscious to the floor, barely bloodied but heavily bruised.

The flames disappeared from Giotto's person, and he stood over the Trissino's body, shaking and panting. Alaude frowned—that battle had not been one at all—and went to Giovanni's side to inspect the wound in his back. It was like any other he had seen before: not untreatable, so long as Tuoni's prison had a doctor. It would do little good to throw a corpse into jail, after all.

As Alaude reached for a pair of dud handcuffs, the ones sensitive to the ring's flames must be used on Giotto, the smaller boy ran to his friend's side.

"G! G!" he cried as he gently nudged him. Giovanni groaned and mumbled slurred words that did not relieve Giotto any. "Come on, we have to get you to Knuckle—"

"You are not going anywhere but to jail," snapped Alaude as he presented both pairs of handcuffs. "You are both under arrest. I thought I made that very clear before. If it makes you feel any better, I will be arresting that priest as well."

"But G might die!"

"That is of little concern to me."

Giotto fell into a despaired silence. As Alaude lit the handcuffs once again, eying Giotto to make sure he did not fall into the same state he had defeated the Trissino boss in, the boy hardened his eyes and said firmly, "You want the rings, don't you? I know where another one is. Take me and G to the church, to where Knuckle is, and not only will I tell you where it is but I'll convince Knuckle and Lampo to give you theirs. And don't arrest any of us! Just the Trissino!"

Alaude snorted. "I will not agree to those terms."

"Then you won't find the third ring."

"I could simply beat it out of you."

Giotto fell into a fighting stance, a flicker of orange appearing where the flames had been before. "Try," he challenged.

Alaude narrowed his eyes and considered taking up the boy on the offer. He was rather curious as to how strong he actually was, and he cared little for the protocol that the Vatican dictated in situations such as these. On the other hand, Alaude had a feeling that if this exchange resulted in Giotto's loss, the boy still would not disclose the location of the final ring, if he was indeed telling the truth about it. For that reason alone, he knew he ought to acquiesce to the boy's deal, though he was loath to leave both boys to continue their vigilante ways.

He sighed. "I have little interest in fighting a child. Very well, then. I will help you get Giovanni to the priest, and I will wait in the church until dawn for you to return with all three rings. Then and only then will I not arrest any of you. Is that very clear?"

Giotto calmed and smiled. "Consider it done."