(In which everyone in re-introduced and there is gratuitous demon slaying.)
Trish appeared in that way she did in the corner of his peripheral, hovering so he couldn't really ignore her and was forced by habit to look at her. Not, the distinction must be made, that looking at Trish was a chore on his part. Having determined herself deserving of a break, she'd elected to swap into low-rider jeans and a T-shirt that ended a bit sooner than it should have if endeavored to reach to waistline. It was her relaxation outfit, reserved for the days she didn't feel like getting demon gore under her fingernails and picking blood clots from her long platinum hair. She sidled around to seat herself on the edge of his desk, crossing her legs and leaning back languid and lazy, the pale flat of her belly stretched up under the loose hem of her shirt in a decidedly distracting way.
He tried to focus on his reading material with a greater resolve. Trish nudged his knee with her bare toes, did so until he was forced to glance briefly up at her, meeting those frosty baby-blues and profaning a little because she was wearing her sweetly cloying smile – the one meant to decimate resistance and bend souls to her will. He hated it when she got it in her head to be forcefully helpful as he rarely understood her reasoning for it. Long as he'd known her, it was still sometimes difficult to discern her motivational mechanizations. He'd yet to decide if that was just a disparity between their sexes or a failure on his part to pay attention to what the hell was going on. She brushed as bit of lint off her shirt, casual as you please.
"Have you heard from the kid lately?"
Now that was a funny way to start the conversation. Dante was prompted to put his magazine down and give her his full attention; a risky strategy for sure, but it wasn't like she was asking him to take the trash out. He supposed it was a danger he could bear. Nero was not, after all, a household item to be brought up without occasion. He propped his chin in the heel of his hand and tilted his head curiously at his capricious lady companion.
"And why the sudden interest?"
She smiled knowingly. "You're not paying attention, sweetie-kins. Nero's been busy." She handed him a small scribbled card with the words 'cinnamon burn' and a phone number scribbled in hasty ball point pen. He held it up neutrally questioning.
"Ah, what's this?"
"His business card, sugar-lips." She smirked as he scowled. "It's the password system we use. Nothing official, but he's opened shop as it were."
Dante chuckled. "Devil hunter, huh?" He shook his head with a longsuffering sigh. "Figures that punk would try to muscle in on my rack."
"From what I can tell, he's mostly a charity organization. Infestation elimination free of charge."
"Ha ha!" He thumped his heel on the desk, making the phone rattle. "All that good religious upbringing; makes 'em so damn chivalrous. Only true saints blow the brains out of demons for free. Good for him. He'll starve, but that's sweet.
"Oh no, muffin-lips. You didn't let me finish," admonished Trish, voice saturated by the sugar of her mockery. "He does private devil-hunting free of charge, but the city of Fortuna actually has him hired as a full time hunter. In other words, he's state funded, honey-kins. He's making more money than we do."
Still recovering from 'honey-kins,' Dante didn't have the energy to be offended by the jab at their poverty. He just sighed. "Not to sound asshole-ish or anything, but why is that important to me?"
She arched a slender golden brow. "You're not going to talk to him? Offer a couple pointers for beginners? He is carrying the Yamato."
He kicked his boots up on the desk. "He can handle it. S'just a sword, Trish, don't worry. It won't open the true Hell Gate while he's in the can or something."
"That sword," she pointed out, "has on two occasions come inches from doing just that. Sweet as he is with that Devil Bringer of his, Nero's still a child, Dante. I'm just suggesting that since you've handed him such a dangerous toy I think it still warrants some suspicion, don't you?"
"S'just a sword."
"That can rip open the walls between dimensions."
"Just a sword," he sing-songed. "Goddamn, Trish, you're more paranoid that usual. Have some faith. No desperate calls from the panicking public as of yet, so I think he's doing pretty well. Don't you?" He readjusted his magazine and leafed back to his place to resume his appraisal of the centerfold. "'Sides, he knows it's not demons he'll have to worry on if he loses my brother's sword. I'll kick his ass before they do."
Obviously unconvinced, Trish arched the other brow up to join its partner in incredulity. Dante endured this for about twenty seconds of intense silence, frowning determinedly at his magazine in an effort to be unmoved by his partner's force of personality – a force, it should be noted, that could move even the most resilient of mountains when she wanted it to do so. After nearly the half-minute mark he sighed and tossed the smut mag on the table and picked up the phone. The woman smiled a little and recrossed her legs triumphantly. Dante propped the phone under his chin and dialed a little peevishly.
"Hell, Trish. I never thought you were the sort to get maternal."
She smiled. "Say that again and I'll make you a lot less of a man, Son of Sparda."
"Ahh, okay. I'm calling him. Jeez, women…"
"Goddammit you mother-fucker! Just stay –!" Crunch! "Down!" Hack! "And!" Bang-bang-bang! "Die!"
Nero finished, delivering a final devastating drop-kick that shattered the armored face plating of a stubborn Assault demon. It rewarded his efforts by exploding into sulfurous smoke and crystalline red energy; its brothers left shrieking and pissed in the wake of its demise. Having loss all capacity for patience – which, mind, wasn't much of a capacity to begin – the ex-Knight endeavored to speed this engagement by unloading Blue Rose into the screaming throng, blowing apart the bony forearms guards of the first two, missing the third as it dove into the soft muck of the floor and burrowed out of sight. The other two scattered up the walls and scrambled nastily to all corners of the room, hissing and flaring membranous throat frills in fits of ire.
Exceedingly over this fight already, the Devil Bringer arm lashed out in what first appeared to be a vague, wishful grabbing motion toward the nearest demon. The massive ethereal blue fist that burst into physical reality over it, however, that did reach the startled Assault, grabbed it skull and crushed it repeatedly into the wall behind it. Nero continued to bang it face into the wall with great persistence until it ceased to thrash and claw. A full clip from Blue Rose kept the other two at bay until his finished pulping the monster's skull, then he caught and dragged another to him by the tail and proceeded to swing the roaring devil-kin like a bolo, whipping it back and forth into the walls, floor, ceiling, the third Assault's ribcage.
By the time his living bludgeon surrendered its living essence to smoke and sulfur, the third demon had already been half-crushed by its whirling brethren. Nero dispatched it with a single shot through the soft gel of its eye and wished like hell he'd never taken this job.
Grumbling to himself, he slapped ineffectively at his jacket. When and where he'd acquired the black stains he couldn't say particularly, but he suspected it had something to do with having to crawl down the fucking sewer manhole half a mile back and slogging through shit to find the infestation because his client couldn't be bothered to remember addresses when running screaming from a couple pesky demon-kin.
Honestly. You'd think he had nothing better to do…
This particular job only irritated him because he'd taken it on the side, as a favor and it wasn't supposed to be this troublesome. He knew, somewhere in the back of his head where common sense didn't beat the hell out of his nobility, that he was genuinely helping people by destroying the nest. A prowl left unattended had habits of breeding and inevitably exploding into a messy visceral feeding frenzy, which tended to include families in the residential districts. Basically, it was the 'right' thing to do and he'd feel better about himself later…hopefully. Right now he was pissed. He hated taking his jacket in to get cleaned – the kind of stains he brought in tended to get him peculiar looks from the seamstresses.
Something was buzzing. It took the devil hunter a second to register the sound he was hearing and answer the cell phone in his pocket. Briefly he wondered that it got reception ten meters under concrete, holstered Blue Rose, and flipped his cell open.
"Have you finished up?" Even through the phone Kyrie's voice had in it some of the music she used when singing.
"Yeah," he said, climbing onto an iron-rung ladder in the far wall. "I'm on my way to work now."
"Well I smell like hell, but I'm otherwise unscathed." He pushed the manhole cover out of its place with a clatter and boosted himself up. Several people passing by stopped to watch. "I honestly don't know why they call me anymore," he went on, kicking the metal disk back into place. "We still have the other former Holy Knights lurking around. They could call them if they wanted to get this stuff handled officially but I guess I'm cheaper than – Hey, if you take a picture it lasts longer, granny."
The woman staring at him hurried along and Nero sighed heavily.
He felt her smiling on the other end, could hear the curve of her mouth in her words. "Well, then get back and get cleaned up. I'm not eating dinner by myself."
"Jeez," he sighed, tossing his head in false impatience. "I'll get there when I get there. I've still got an evening patrol at the dockyards. Show some compassion, huh?"
"Rosemary chicken is compassion. Hurry up."
Goddammit, he loved that girl. He hung up and went to work.
"You're late, Nero my boy."
"Oh go blow yourself," Nero spat, stalking past the other Knights.
The other men exchanged unstubtle looks of disapproval, but the moment Nero might have used to care he'd dedicated pretty exclusively to being in a bad mood. The other men assigned to the day's patrol had already assembled in the street some twenty minutes earlier than him and were giving him looks to suggest he should have been among them. Apparently, they'd seen fit to delay everything and wait for him to show up. It was a courtesy he did not appreciate overly, as it did very little besides give everyone a reason to be justifiably irritated with him. As he was rarely assigned to anything but solo extermination runs, he didn't really see why it was necessary for the entire damn squad to loiter around until he arrived.
"Aww, someone's cranky," chortled Captain Delano. "The little miss make you sleep on the couch?"
"Fuck you with a chainsaw," replied Nero and leapt up the side of a building.
He did not have the damn patience for cheerier-than-thou-and-most-of-the-planet Lieutenant Captain Delano. The man was a ranking member of the Holy Knights, one of the straight and narrows who'd worked under Credo before he, his Holiness and Order of the Sword went ape shit and tried to bash open a door between dimension. With Credo and many other Knights dead or demonized, there had been leeway for upward movement in the promotional ranks and Delano had been one of those lucky assholes to get a foothold in the hegemony. The reorganization had allowed them to legitimate the devil-hunting business, but it also had the irritating effect of placing the grinning, rotund old man above Nero in rank.
"Call in when you finish clearing the eastern docking yards!" bellowed Delano; unfazed by his subordinate's violently surly demeanor.
Nero flipped his captain the bird and vanished over the top of the roof toward the docking yards. In the back of his mind he wondered if the man hadn't gotten senior rank on the basis of having a personality so unflappable even Nero's inflammatory insubordination couldn't irk him to rage.
It was a given that the Order of the Sword was kaput. After your religious leader creates an eighty story stone monstrosity and tries to crack open a hole to hell, it tends to have a negative affect on church attendance – a lot, given that a good chunk of the congregation was gutted, beheaded or eaten during the chaos. However, the fall of the Order did not necessarily mean a fall off in demon activity. What with the hell gates having been open so long the streets still crawled with whatever malcontented devils managed to come through. It made rebuilding the city difficult when your construction workers kept getting plucked off the building site and devoured horribly by satanic abominations.
For Nero, it meant he wasn't out of a job.
The docking yards were quarantined still, having suffered an extreme of demonic infestation after the Hellgate opened half a year back. Nero and the other Knights had flushed most of the monsters out of the residential districts and into the surrounding industrial zones, temporarily making all sea-side markets impossible to continue. Financially, this was an issue and the city had him hired on full-time destroying and securing the area. Nero was aiming to have the marina cleaned out by next week so the harbor could open up again. It was a little important. Kyrie had her heart set on a seaside wedding after all and that couldn't very well happen until the wharf was demon free.
A buzzing warmth shifted through his right arm and – sure enough – a substantial prowl of Scarcrows came tumbling and clattering around the corner of a warehouse. Following habit, he rolled his jacket up to his right elbow and snapped Red Queen out of its holster between his shoulders. After giving the blade a perfunctory once over, checking the fuel levels and mechanical nuances of the subtle engine inside the hilt, he slung it over his shoulder, rolled his neck until it cracked satisfactorily, and threw himself onto the nearest Arm.
Thirty seconds in, he'd hacked his way through most of the burlap and Trypoxlus puppets, ripping through their cloth and insect animated bodies and incinerating them in a wash of Red Queen's gasoline ignition fluid. The happy purring growl the blade in his hand seemed to shake loose some of the tension built into his shoulders. The neat whirling blows sliced and bit through demonic bodies with a satisfying smoothness, pulling him easily into the comforting fluidity of battle. He was just getting into a comfortable rhythm – thrust, twist, spin. Parry, counter, hit the accelerator and light up the creeper sneaking in at his right – when his cell started ringing.
"Dammit." He tugged Red Queen the rest of the way through a Scarecrow's head, spraying Trypoxlus ooze across the street. He dug his cell from his pocket and flipped it open against his ear. "Whaddya want? I'm kinda busy."
"Hell, kid, are you this charming all the time or does that Kyrie girl like 'em uncultured and rude?"
Nero snorted in surprise. "Dante?" He ducked a decapitating blow from the Scarcrow Leg and hacked it in half with a waist-line sweep. "The hell are you calling me for?"
There was a reciprocal snort from the other end. "Love and kisses to you to, knee-high. Heard you started up your own hunting business. Just thought I'd drop a line, see how's that working out for yu. Yu' know, in case you need me to bail you outta trouble again."
"Hey Dante, go fuck yourself."
"So business is good?"
"Yeah. If you can call this shit business," he said, tucking the phone under his ear and mowing through a new gaggle of angry Scarecrows, obviously alerted to his presence by the death of their brothers. "Nothing but damn milk-runs and minor manifestations not even worth getting out of bed for." He paused a moment and slammed Red Queen through the last stubborn member of the pack, blowing it apart with a single changed rev from the accelerator. He sighed and tossed the blade – now burned clean – across his shoulder again. "How'd you get my number?"
"How is Trish?"
"Same as she was last time you saw her. How's Kyrie?"
"She's good. Bought me a cell phone made by NASA last month. This thing gets reception in the weirdest fucking places..."
"Cell phone? What the hell do you need a cell phone for?"
"Uhh… to call people? What do you do, grandpa? Still use the phone with a rotary dial?"
There was an extended silence.
"I called because Trish is concerned as to what you're doing with my brother's blade." Nero imagined the devil-hunter's tone was a shade defensive and felt a little better about his day.
"Not using it, that's for fucking sure," he retorted. "Nothing worth the trouble. Mostly it just sits in its sheath and looks pretty."
"Good. That thing shouldn't be in play unless you need it. Bad. It does have a history of almost opening hell gates you know."
"Gee, pops. Thanks for the warning."
There was muttering from the other end, muffled. "I called him. The little jerk's just fine. Happy?" Then more clearly: "Just trying to help the new generation. Impart my endless wisdom. You know the drill."
"Well, I'll be sure to not open any hell gates if they happen to pop up."
The line went dead and Nero pocketed the phone with a huff followed closely by a grin. The older devil-hunter wasn't someone he talked to often but it did stoke the ego to be in the same circles that the Son of Sparda ran in. The hunter had, after all, saved the planet on several occasions and – little as he liked to admit it – the old man could hand him his ass, had done so several times before. In retrospect it wasn't really surprising. Ultimately Nero had to confess his battle strategies consisted primarily of hitting shit 'till it stopped moving. Dante, on the other hand, had enough tricks up his sleeve to provide him ample leeway for flash, finesse, and fucking around with his opponent… which wasn't to say he didn't have an ample reserve of brute force at his command. Fucking cocky theatrical son of a bitch that he was, the half-demon ranked right up there with mid-range natural disasters for sheer force of power.
Though, apparently, he wasn't beyond fretting a little over a family heirloom.
A vague burn of warm crawling fire rippled beneath the armored plating of his right arm and blue light bloomed out from the centre of his palm, strands of pale brightness shifting and twisting themselves into the slender matte black arc of the Yamato's sheathe. With a soft final flash, the Devil Bringer dropped its familiar weight into his waiting fingers and he was holding the blade once used to seal the demonic realm centuries before.
The Yamato looked delicate for a weapon; it weighed nearly nothing in the limitless strength of his Devil Bringer grasp. Styled in the fashion of Japanese long katana, it didn't appear capable of the devastation that it could unleash – rip the walls of the realms asunder, blow the world wide open. The sheathe bore no runic symbols of death and destruction, the hilt was a simple woven diamond pattern of white and black tapered into the featureless copper ring of the hand guard. The blade was two edged silver bright, nothing more. Nothing at all like the usual Gothic grotesqueries of most devil arms – too simple, too plain, too ordinary and it despite everything it felt the most natural thing in the world to wield it.
It was strange, but somehow his Devil Bringer, when holding the Yamato, ceased to feel like a foreign deviation of his body and become – finally – a part of him. To not be at odds with a part of himself was strange. More than that, it was comforting.
Nero bounced the blade thoughtfully against his boot.
"Well…" He flicked the katana loose and exposing a clean silver band of the blade. "Couldn't hurt to keep in practice."
Coincidentally, he got off work early that night.
"Shoes!" Kyrie yelled from the kitchen. From the foyer there was the sound of soft complaints and the thunk of heavy boots hitting the floor. "Thank you!"
Nero appeared from the hallway, filthy jacket in hand, looking disheveled. To see him standing in the kitchen without his jacket or shoes on made her smile a little. A private pleasure of hers was her special privilege in Nero's various states of domestic undress. It was a side of the sardonic devil hunter seen by no one outside their two-person family circle and she collected these intimate details like one secreted rare coins. It was with a kind of happy amusement she watched him grumble something vaguely profane and rifle through the freezer, throwing his damp trench coat over the back of a chair and slamming the icebox door. He was eating frozen Kit-Kat bars – a sure sign of trouble. He devoured junk food only when irate.
Kyrie lifted her brows. "Good day?"
"Fuck everything," he replied furiously.
"Ah, I see."
"Mother of God."
"Son of a cantankerous whore."
"Are you through?"
"Yes. Thank you," he said, candy wrapper crinkling in his fist. "Just had a weird night." He looked her up and down with interest. "That a new dress?"
She stood up and spun a little, letting green cloth swish and ripple around her ankles. "Mother Bakeman gave me a fabric this morning so I finished it."
"Looks good on you," he replied fondly.
"Thank you. I thought so too," she said, moving to open the oven. "Hand me the oven mitts?"
He reached over her shoulder and removed the pan with his impervious right hand, setting it down on the counter with a clatter. The chicken steamed fragrantly, hot juices still boiling in the bottom of the 200 degree glass container. She remembered the first time he'd done that – forgetting that she'd never seen him reach into a hot oven and grab red-hot cookware before – she'd screamed and knocked the cookie tray out of his hand, which actually flipped the contents into his lap where it did, in fact, still burn. Nowadays she refrained from swatting things out of Nero's hand, presuming he knew what he was doing.
After he closed the oven, she caught his wrist before he could secret it away under his sleeve; something he always did after revealing it in any fashion. She took a moment touch the bed of his palm gingerly, fingers tracing the luminous blue lines of his devil hand in search of the heat that was not there. He watched her with something like amusement. Pale blue eyes trained on the path her hands took, following the road of incandescent flesh from his wrist to the dark red angles of the armored segments. He waited until she relinquished his hand before tugging his sleeve down.
She sighed. "Couldn't just hand me an oven mitt?"
"I told you." He gave her a wry look of everlasting patience. "I don't know where you keep those things."
She turned the oven off and swatted him out of the way, pulling a drawer open by his hip and producing two hot mitts. "Honestly," she sighed, picking up the pan and taking it to the other side of the kitchen island. She took plates out of the cupboards while Nero tracked the silverware down in the drawer by the sink. "Stop eating candy and sit down," she ordered, dishing chicken and rice in generous portions. "I'm actually good at cooking this meal so come here and eat it. Then I can feel good about myself."
He obeyed with a roll of the eyes. "What are you talking about?" he demanded, handing her a fork and knife. "You can cook."
"You are poor judge of quality food, Nero." She sat down beside him and pushed a plate toward him. "Always have been."
"Whatever. Tastes fine to me."
"Yes, see. That's the problem." She leaned over and kissed his temple. "You're a bottomless pit."
He smirked. "I just crawled out of the sewers, Kyrie. I'm not very clean right now."
She considered this information seriously, studying her beloved's crooked smile, the particular enticing shape of it, and determined it was a risk she could stand to take. She leaned in a second time and endeavored see how that smirk fit her own. She discovered that, as usual, it suited her perfectly.
How long had it been? This, he felt, was the first and most primary question that needed answering. The query of time first, followed then closely by the mystery of events: What had happened? Where had he been and who was responsible for placing him there – blame falling upon another, or himself? The initial awakening had come over him like a trickle of sea water, a cool saline drip sliding into the back of his awareness making him aware of his own thoughts in a way he'd not been for – he realized – a long time. Like coming awake after an unintended slumber, he found himself leaping suddenly from complacent somnolence to a needle and pins jag of hot panic-like state of wanting.
He wanted to know where he was. Wanted to remember how he'd come to his place. Wanted to tear free of this amnesiac dream-state of cognitive suspension and remember what the hell had happened to him and under what events had he slipped – or been forced? – into this condition of indecipherably smeared memory. Who and what had taken his thoughts and rent them, blurring them into fleeting half understood impressions of sensation and sentience?
In and out of awareness, he fell; in and out of cognition as if it were so delicate a state as sanity, tumbling suddenly and uncontrollably into locked hibernation only to come out of it again, aware that he'd – once more – lost time to some undetermined force. Some archaic tangle of binding and bent restrictive forces that wrapped and wound him in chains of nightmare and sleep, holding him in static, fixing him in this black cocoon of silence. A tomb of air and darkness pressing his mind until the madness of claustrophobia and solitude threatened to drive him to the brink of insanity – and suddenly he knew.
This place was an incorporeal jail. A cage with his mind chained at the centre.
Someone had put him – had put him – in a fucking cage.
And suddenly his madness was not the sort of lunacy, but of psychopathic, all consuming hatred that ran a thread so deep through his thoughts he could not breathe or move or think straight for want of it. He wanted someone to fucking pay! Long and loud and on their knees. He wanted out. The mechanizations of spiritual bindings were not something he was wont to working with, but he knew enough to know that the primary contract holder – the brazen spawn of a Pit-bitch that had bound him – had lost their hold.
How, he could not be certain. He had only a fleeting impression of it – of being wholly bound, body and soul, his mind striated by red-hot puppeteer's wires that drove him, drove him, forced him beyond reason to move for the stratagem of his jailor. His arms remembered the impact of battle, the pressure of swordplay, the hot chemical joy of physical confrontation, but not the events. Who had he fought and for what reason? All his memory had fallen out of context and chronology. There was a single splinter of memory, a sound byte of his brother's voice in the dark, throaty and mocking: "A man with guts and honor. I like that."
After that, he lost the time again. Some part of the spell shattered, freeing him and like a marionette, strings severed by a razor, he plunged into a wasteland of shadows and knew nothing. How long he stagnated there, he had no way of knowing. Gradually, awareness returned to him.
And she was there.
He started running then. Running like he hadn't since a snowy night in December, ages and ages ago in another life where he could clutch his little brother's hand, slick with sweat and blood, their bare feet crunching through snow and razor ice. ("I can't. I can't, V. Stop. I need to stop! I can't breathe!" Sobs. Dragging dead weight. Stumbling and crying. "Get up! Get up you idiot or she'll catch us! Get up!") And then he didn't run anymore. Forgot why he'd run in the first place when fighting was what he'd done all his life. He fought back…which was what she wanted him to do. It made her laugh.
And then she wasn't laughing anymore. She was angry, finally, afraid, finally and he knew he needed just one thing, just one tiny thing…and it would all be over. Finally. Looking for the final piece was difficult. There were contorted fragments of battle, of faces he both knew and knew not, the voices of strangers spun out through his mind like ethereal party banners, confetti bursts of color and adrenaline, of his own face – or perhaps his brother's face – contorted and too young to be chronologically correct, screaming a girl's name like its mere utterance would possess his soul: Kyrie. Kyrie. Kyrie.
And at last, he reached out (through the trappings, through the darkness, through the aphasic atmosphere of isolation and arrest) and grabbed someone's arm.
"Power," he'd said. "Give me more power."
As you may have surmised, this is rated for Nero's fucking mouth. Possibly some sexual themes later, most certainly the gore, but mostly because Nero in a frustrated rage is a force of profanity the likes of which the world has not seen. And to relieve your troubled minds, yes, Vergil is showing up. As if the tags and the foreshadowing weren't enough. CAPCOM is doing my job for me. Mostly I'm just venting with this story, but read and review and if you like it. (PS: helpful reviews do prompt the imagination!) Promise not to disappoint. Laterz!