Once again, thank you for waiting/sorry for the wait, and I hope this provides some resolution.


Seated in the small conference room's chair, not cheap but normal, as elegantly as in an armchair, Sparda asked, "Why would killing Mundus create a power vacuum?" Sparda wondered, confused by Lucia's report, before he remembered. "Ah, the population increase, but even if power is now several times more plentiful, it shouldn't have changed the demographics that quickly… except Mundus did manage to revive himself. He must have ordered them to spend that power on creating new troops for him, instead of demanding they hand over their existing forces." Meaning that the Underworld still had enough troops to go to war even after they'd defeated Mundus' forces, and older demons and devils than the ones they'd faced?

Lucia nodded and adjusted her braid. All of them looked out of place in this room except for Vergil, who had dressed in a pale blue-grey with clear intentions to face into the metaphorical woodwork, but since she wasn't on duty it looked like Lucia had decided to dress to fit in outside Vie du Marli. The jeans, boots and brown leather jacket over a white satin top looked a bit cowboyish, but they were fairly normal street clothes. When the conference was split between people wearing suits and hunters wearing their full combat gear because some demon attacking was an inevitability, that very normalcy turned around and made her outfit look as abnormal as some drug-induced runway fashion creation. At least the long knives helped. "With more humans to generate more power for the underworld, it became more peaceful," she knew from Matier's stories.

"Border disputes are inevitable because despite careful management, every demesne is aware that they could suddenly find themselves without enough energy to sustain themselves, which would force them to go to war, and their neighbors are aware of this. It wouldn't have occurred them to take advantage of a temporary windfall to build up their forces, when that would mean starvation when power levels returned to normal. A hundred years is still quite temporary for our kind. I knew they would be storing that energy, and that when Mundus returned, that meant his supporters could use it to make the invasion possible. Trying to make sure the human population remained this high would have given those who regained de facto independence in the Emperor's absence a reason to support him again willingly."

"We were afraid our population would wipe us out, if we didn't wipe ourselves out with nuclear bombs," Eva agreed, leaning back and putting her hands on the conference table itself next to the chair her husband had claimed and turned to face away from the table when Lucia came with her message from Matier. "If we went extinct, what's the worst-case scenario?" she asked her husband.

"There are sources of energy in the demon world other than what comes from humanity, of course, but the development of sentient life was rather like when humans discovered agriculture. Instead of having to comb the vast wilderness, there were stable supplies that could support large numbers of people staying put in one place, and costlier, more permanent constructions. I'm not certain how many of the elders Mundus eliminated, but during my youth, I was told that more than half of devils remembered those times. One of my creators posing as a fertility goddess and helping develop agriculture was why their demesne could comfortably afford to support nestlings that soon after the two of them created it. Before agriculture, it would have taken at least twenty thousand years, and before the early forms of humanity appeared, at least forty times that long."

"If children are so rare and expensive, then why would you have them in twos?" Lady asked. Wouldn't that mean having to save up for twice as long?

"Because they are that rare and expensive," Sparda told her. "Not that different demesnes and lines didn't come up with different strategies for ensuring the survival of young devils. A great deal of power is released when a devil is killed. An inexperienced one is incredibly valuable and presumably easy prey. That's part of how Mundus was able to decapitate so many demesnes by issuing personal challenges. His prior victories should have been a warning that he was dangerous, but those same victories meant that he'd accumulated a fantastic amount of power. Very few devils could afford to turn down the chance to take it for their demesne. Mundus gave portions of that power to those who placed themselves under his authority not out of generosity, but as a tactic. Unifying the underworld meant that demesnes would no longer have to squander resources on unintelligent border guards. Taking earth would have meant an end to the fear of starvation for the entire Underworld. To the young, he promised the opportunity to grow strong, when strength is survival. To the elders, he promised security. A Pax Mundus that failed to completely fall apart in his absence because it was just that beneficial. However, now that he is dead instead of temporarily absent, he can't hold anyone's loyalty, and all those sworn to him need somewhere to go. And the demesnes can't afford to take them in, because they're well aware that would inevitably cause their neighbors to attack them to preempt future strife. So they are in want of an Emperor."

"Not it," said Dante, leaning back in his chair at the head of the table with his boots up. He would have preferred to be flippant, but it needed to be said too much for him to brush it off as a joke. What a waste. "Is there a reason your god hasn't taken the top spot?" he asked Lucia.

"Our God is not concerned with such matters."

"The Despair is rather alien," Sparda told him. "While there is a great variation among devils, there are certain things that all agree on, to the extent that they are considered almost natural law. The Despair does not care one way or another that I betrayed Mundus. Such indifference can only indicate that its mindset is very different from that of the majority of devils. If it does not understand the laws that make it possible for devils to ally with each other and work together, then I doubt it could organize an alliance, even if it had any wish to do so."

"The God of Time?" Vergil suggested quietly.

Sparda looked almost alarmed, which was a rather worrying expression on his face. "While the God of Time is a source of stability, that is because they are trusted to remain neutral and not pursue any agenda other than enabling trade. Making any sort of play for more power would remove their ability to play that role. Destroying the Underworld's economic system would only make the demesnes more desperate for some, any kind of security."

"I thought devils liked fighting," Lady pointed out.

"Yes," Sparda agreed. "We enjoy fighting: testing our strength is important to us. We hate fear. Fear is weakness. Uncertainty begets fear. If a devil goes to war, there are several possible outcomes and they would have considered them. At the absolute worst, they will become a devil arm, not truly die. My treason threatened that security, and so they hate me. War in the Underworld has rules, just like war in the human world. Lawlessness would destroy us because we enjoy fighting so much."

"I wake up and the Cold War's over…" And young people didn't get it. Of course, Eva mused, their experience with warfare was fighting demons, so they didn't have much experience what a difference following or not following the Geneva Convention made. In WWII, for example. "There's a difference between border skirmishes and staring the end of the world in the face."

Yes, she had it exactly right. "Going from a proud civilization to scavenging survivors is not a pleasing thing to contemplate. Humanity is very lucky that the Underworld remained completely oblivious to the Cold War and its possible outcomes." Sparda had helped that along by eliminating the devils interfering in human affairs who might have paid enough attention to humans and their politics to understand what was going on and take it seriously. The fact that humans had been talking about the world ending for ridiculous, clearly wrong reasons for millennia was their salvation. Of course Mammon hadn't taken it seriously.

"It's almost a shame I broke Mundus' devil arm," Vergil said, looking away at a corner of the room.

"He broke you first," Dante said firmly. "I would have defeated you and taken it from you if you hasn't."

"…So he's not disqualified?" Leaning against the wall, Lady turned her head to the right to look at Trish. "The only person eligible to take Mundus' place…" was Vergil?